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The Seven days Battles: the Confederate capital saved.

Henry W. Elson

View on the James, the river to which McClellan decided to swing his base on the first of the Seven days, June 26, 1862--not six weeks before, the gun shown had helped to repel the Union gunboats that endeavored to open McClellan's way to richmond


McClellan's one hope, one purpose, was to march his army out of the swamps and escape from the ceaseless Confederate assaults to a point on James River where the resistless fire of the gunboats might protect his men from further attack and give them a chance to rest. To that end, he retreated night and day, standing at bay now and then as the hunted stag does, and fighting desperately for the poor privilege of running away.

And the splendid fighting of his men was a tribute to the skill and genius with which he had created an effective army out of what he had described as “regiments cowering upon the banks of the Potomac, some perfectly raw, others dispirited by recent defeat, others going home.” Out of a demoralized and disorganized mass reenforced by utterly untrained civilians, McClellan had within a few months created an army capable of stubbornly contesting every inch of ground even while effecting a retreat the very thought of which might well have disorganized an army.--George Cary Eggleston, in The history of the Confederate War.

General Lee was determined that the operations in front of Richmond should not degenerate into a siege, and that the Army of Northern Virginia should no longer be on the defensive. To this end, early in the summer of 1862, he proceeded to increase his fighting force so as to make it more nearly equal in number to that of his antagonist. Every man who could be spared from other sections of the South was called to Richmond. Numerous earthworks soon made their appearance along the roads and in the fields about the Confederate capital, giving the city the appearance of a fortified camp. The new commander in an address to the troops said that the army had made its last retreat.

Meanwhile, with the spires of Richmond in view, the Army of the Potomac was acclimating itself to a Virginia summer. The whole face of the country for weeks had been a [313]

Johnston and Lee — a photograph of 1869. These men look enough alike to be brothers. They were so in arms, at West Point, in Mexico and throughout the war. General Joseph E. Johnston (on the left), who had led the Confederate forces since Bull Run, was wounded at Fair Oaks. That wound gave Robert E. Lee (on the right) his opportunity to act as leader. After Fair Oaks, Johnston retired from the command of the army defending Richmond. The new commander immediately grasped the possibilities of the situation which confronted him. The promptness and completeness with which he blighted McClellan's high hopes of reaching Richmond showed at one stroke that the Confederacy had found its great general. It was only through much sifting that the North at last picked military leaders that could rival him in the field.

[314] veritable bog. Now that the sweltering heat of June was coming on, the malarious swamps were fountains of disease. The polluted waters of the sluggish streams soon began to tell on the health of the men. Malaria and typhoid were prevalent; the hospitals were crowded, and the death rate was appalling.

Such conditions were not inspiring to either general or army. McClellan was still hoping for substantial reenforcements. McDowell, with his forty thousand men, had been promised him, but he was doomed to disappointment from that source. Yet in the existing state of affairs he dared not be inactive. South of the Chickahominy, the army was almost secure from surprise, owing to well-protected rifle-pits flanked by marshy thickets or covered with felled trees. But the Federal forces were still divided by the fickle stream, and this was a constant source of anxiety to the commander. He proceeded to transfer all of his men to the Richmond side of the river, excepting the corps of Franklin and Fitz John Porter. About the middle of June, General McCall with a force of eleven thousand men joined the Federal army north of the Chickahominy, bringing the entire fighting strength to about one hundred and five thousand. So long as there remained the slightest hope of additional soldiers, it was impossible to withdraw all of the army from the York side of the Peninsula, and it remained divided.

That was a brilliant initial stroke of the Confederate general when he sent his famous cavalry leader, J. E. B. Stuart, with about twelve hundred Virginia troopers, to encircle the army of McClellan. Veiling his intentions with the utmost secrecy, Stuart started June 12, 1862, in the direction of Fredericksburg as if to reenforce “StonewallJackson. The first night he bivouacked in the pine woods of Hanover. No fires were kindled, and when the morning dawned, his men swung upon their mounts without the customary bugle-call of “Boots and saddles.” Turning to the east, he surprised and captured a Federal picket; swinging around a corner of the road, he [315]

The fleet that fed the army

The abandoned base White House, Virginia, June 27, 1862.-Up the James and the Pamunkey to White House Landing came the steam and sailing vessels laden with supplies for McClellan's second attempt to reach Richmond. Tons of ammunition and thousands of rations were sent forward from here to the army on the Chickahominy in June, 1862. A short month was enough to cause McClellan to again change his plans, and the army base was moved to the James River. The Richmond and York Railroad was lit up by burning cars along its course to the Chickahominy. Little was left to the Confederates save the charred ruins of the White House itself.

[316] suddenly came upon a squadron of Union cavalry. The Confederate yell rent the air and a swift, bold charge by the Southern troopers swept the foe on.

They had not traveled far when they came again to a force drawn up in columns of fours, ready to dispute the passage of the road. This time the Federals were about to make the charge. A squadron of the Confederates moved forward to meet them. Some Union skirmishers in their effort to get to the main body of their troops swept into the advancing Confederates and carried the front ranks of the squadron with them. These isolated Confederates found themselves in an extremely perilous position, being gradually forced into the Federal main body. Before they could extricate themselves, nearly every one in the unfortunate front rank was shot or cut down.

The Southern cavalrymen swept on and presently found themselves nearing the York River Railroad--McClellan's supply line. As they approached Tunstall's Station they charged down upon it, with their characteristic yell, completely surprising a company of Federal infantry stationed there. These at once surrendered. Telegraph wires were cut and a tree felled across the track to obstruct the road. This had hardly been done before the shriek of a locomotive was heard. A train bearing Union troops came thundering along, approaching the station. The engineer, taking in the situation at a glance, put on a full head of steam and made a rush for the obstruction, which was easily brushed aside. As the train went through a cut the Confederates fired upon it, wounding and killing many of the Federal soldiers in the cars.

Riding all through a moonlit night, the raiders reached Sycamore Ford of the Chickahominy at break of day. As usual this erratic stream was overflowing its banks. They started to ford it, but finding that it would be a long and wearisome task, a bridge was hastily improvised at another place where the passage was made with more celerity. Now, [317]

Ellerson's Mill — where Hill assaulted. Not until after nightfall of June 26, 1862, did the Confederates of General A. P. Hill's division cease their assaults upon this position where General McCall's men were strongly entrenched. Time after time the Confederates charged over the ground we see here at Ellerson's Mill, near Mechanicsville. Till 9 o'clock at night they continued to pour volleys at the position, and then at last withdrew. The victory was of little use to the Federals, for Jackson on the morrow, having executed one of the flanking night marches at which he was an adept, fell upon the Federal rear at Gaines' Mill.

The waste of war Railroad trains loaded with tons of food and ammunition were run deliberately at full speed off the embankment shown in the left foreground. They plunged headlong into the waters of the Pamunkey. This was the readiest means that McClellan could devise for keeping his immense quantity of stores out of the hands of the Confederates in his hasty change of base from White House to the James after Gaines' Mill. This was the bridge of the Richmond and York River Railroad, and was destroyed June 28, 1862, to render the railroad useless to the Confederates.

[318] on the south bank of the river, haste was made for the confines of Richmond, where, at dawn of the following day, the troopers dropped from their saddles, a weary but happy body of cavalry.

Lee thus obtained exact and detailed information of the position of McClellan's army, and he laid out his campaign accordingly. Meanwhile his own forces in and about Richmond were steadily increasing. He was planning for an army of nearly one hundred thousand and he now demonstrated his ability as a strategist. Word had been despatched to Jackson in the Shenandoah to bring his troops to fall upon the right wing of McClellan's army. At the same time Lee sent General Whiting north to make a feint of joining Jackson and moving upon Washington. The ruse proved eminently successful. The authorities at Washington were frightened, and McClellan received no more reenforcements. Jackson now began a hide-and-seek game among the mountains, and managed to have rumors spread of his army being in several places at the same time, while skilfully veiling his actual movements.

It was not until the 25th of June that McClellan had definite knowledge of Jackson's whereabouts. He was then located at Ashland, north of the Chickahominy, within striking distance of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan was surprised but he was not unprepared. Seven days before he had arranged for a new base of supplies on the James, which would now prove useful if he were driven south of the Chickahominy.

On the very day he heard of Jackson's arrival at Ashland, McClellan was pushing his men forward to begin his siege of Richmond — that variety of warfare which his engineering soul loved so well. His advance guard was within four miles of the Confederate capital. His strong fortifications were bristling upon every vantage point, and his fond hope was that within a few days, at most, his efficient artillery, for which the Army of the Potomac was famous, would be [319]

The bridge that stood The force under General McCall was stationed by McClellan on June 19, 1862, to observe the Meadow and Mechanicsville bridges over the Chickahominy which had only partially been destroyed. On the afternoon of June 26th, General A. P. Hill crossed at Meadow Bridge, driving the Union skirmish-line back to Beaver Dam Creek. The divisions of D. H. Hill and Longstreet had been waiting at Mechanicsville Bridge (shown in this photograph) since 8 A. M. for A. P. Hill to open the way for them to cross. They passed over in time to bear a decisive part in the Confederate attack at Gaines' Mill on the 27th.

Doing double duty Here are some of McClellan's staff-officers during the strenuous period of the Seven Days Battles. One commonly supposes that a general's staff has little to do but wear gold lace and transmit orders. But it is their duty to multiply the eyes and ears and thinking power of the leader. Without them he could not direct the movements of his army. There were so few regular officers of ripe experience that members of the staff were invariably made regimental commanders, and frequently were compelled to divide their time between leading their troops into action and reporting to and consulting with their superior.

[320] belching forth its sheets of fire and lead into the beleagured city. In front of the Union encampment, near Fair Oaks, was a thick entanglement of scrubby pines, vines, and ragged bushes, full of ponds and marshes. This strip of woodland was less than five hundred yards wide. Beyond it was an open field half a mile in width. The Union soldiers pressed through the thicket to see what was on the other side and met the Confederate pickets among the trees. The advancing column drove them back. Upon emerging into the open, the Federal troops found it filled with rifle-pits, earthworks, and redoubts. At once they were met with a steady and incessant fire, which continued from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon. At times the contest almost reached the magnitude of a battle, and in the end the Union forces occupied the former position of their antagonists. This passage of arms, sometimes called the affair of Oak Grove or the Second Battle of Fair Oaks, was the prelude to the Seven Days Battles.

The following day, June 26th, had been set by General “StonewallJackson as the date on which he would join Lee, and together they would fall upon the right wing of the Army of the Potomac. The Federals north of the Chickahominy were under the direct command of General Fitz John Porter. Defensive preparations had been made on an extensive scale. Field works, heavily armed with artillery, and rifle-pits, well manned, covered the roads and open fields and were often concealed by timber from the eye of the opposing army. The extreme right of the Union line lay near Mechanicsville on the upper Chickahominy. A tributary of this stream from the north was Beaver Dam Creek, upon whose left bank was a steep bluff, commanding the valley to the west. This naturally strong position, now well defended, was almost impregnable to an attack from the front.

Before sunrise of the appointed day the Confederate forces were at the Chickahominy bridges, awaiting the arrival of Jackson. To reach these some of the regiments had [321]

The retrograde crossing

Lower bridge on the Chickahominy Woodbury's Bridge on the Chickahominy. Little did General D. F. Woodbury's engineers suspect, when they built this bridge, early in June, 1869, as a means of communication between the divided wings of McClellan's army on the Chickahominy that it would be of incalculable service during battle. When the right wing, under General Fitz John Porter, was engaged on the field of Gaines' Mill against almost the entire army of Lee, across this bridge the division of General Slocum marched from its position in the trenches in front of Richmond on the south bank of the river to the support of Porter's men. The battle lasted until nightfall and then the Federal troops moved across this bridge and rejoined the main forces of the Federal army. Woodbury's engineers built several bridges across the Chickahominy, but among them all the bridge named for their commander proved to be, perhaps, the most serviceable.

[322] marched the greater part of the night. For once Jackson was behind time. The morning hours came and went. Noon passed and Jackson had not arrived. At three o'clock, General A. P. Hill, growing impatient, decided to put his troops in motion. Crossing at Meadow Bridge, he marched his men along the north side of the Chickahominy, and at Mechanicsville was joined by the commands of Longstreet and D. H. Hill. Driving the Union outposts to cover, the Confederates swept across the low approach to Beaver Dam Creek. A murderous fire from the batteries on the cliff poured into their ranks. Gallantly the attacking columns withstood the deluge of leaden hail and drew near the creek. A few of the more aggressive reached the opposite bank but their repulse was severe.

Later in the afternoon relief was sent to Hill, who again attempted to force the Union position at Ellerson's Mill, where the slope of the west bank came close to the borders of the little stream. From across the open fields, in full view of the defenders of the cliff, the Confederates moved down the slope. They were in range of the Federal batteries, but the fire was reserved. Every artilleryman was at his post ready to fire at the word; the soldiers were in the rifle-pits sighting along the glittering barrels of their muskets with fingers on the triggers. As the approaching columns reached the stream they turned with the road that ran parallel to the bank.

From every waiting field-piece the shells came screaming through the air. Volley after volley of musketry was poured into the flanks of the marching Southerners. The hillside was soon covered with the victims of the gallant charge. Twilight fell upon the warring troops and there were no signs of a cessation of the unequal combat. Night fell, and still from the heights the lurid flames burst in a display of glorious pyrotechnics. It was nine o'clock when Hill finally drew back his shattered regiments, to await the coming of the morning. The Forty-fourth Georgia regiment suffered most in the fight; [323]

The fight for the wagon trains Three times General Magruder led the Confederates against this position on June 29, 1862, and was as Here we see the peaceful morning of that day. Allen's farmhouse in the foreground stands just back from the Williamsburg Road, along which the Federal wagon trains were attempting to move toward Savage's Station. The corps of Sumner and Heintzelman are camped in the background. At dusk of the same day, after Magruder's attacks, the Camp was hastily broken and the troops, to avoid being cut off, were marching swiftly and silently toward Savage's Station, leaving behind large quantities of supplies which fell into the hands of the eager Confederates.

[324] three hundred and thirty-five being the dreadful toll, in dead and wounded, paid for its efforts to break down the Union position. Dropping back to the rear this ill-fated regiment attempted to re-form its broken ranks, but its officers were all among those who had fallen. Both armies now prepared for another day and a renewal of the conflict.

The action at Beaver Dam Creek convinced McClellan that Jackson was really approaching with a large force, and he decided to begin his change of base from the Pamunkey to the James, leaving Porter and the Fifth Corps still on the left bank of the Chickahominy, to prevent Jackson's fresh troops from interrupting this great movement. It was, indeed, a gigantic undertaking, for it involved marching an army of a hundred thousand men, including cavalry and artillery, across the marshy peninsula. A train of five thousand heavily loaded wagons and many siege-guns had to be transported; nearly three thousand cattle on the hoof had to be driven. From White House the supplies could be shipped by the York River Railroad as far as Savage's Station. Thence to the James, a distance of seventeen miles, they had to be carried overland along a road intersected by many others from which a watchful opponent might easily attack. General Casey's troops, guarding the supplies at White House, were transferred by way of the York and the James to Harrison's Landing on the latter river. The transports were loaded with all the material they could carry. The rest was burned, or put in cars. These cars, with locomotives attached, were then run into the river.

On the night of June 26th, McCall's Federal division, at Beaver Dam Creek, was directed to fall back to the bridges across the Chickahominy near Gaines' Mill and there make a stand, for the purpose of holding the Confederate army. During the night the wagon trains and heavy guns were quietly moved across the river. Just before daylight the operation of removing the troops began. The Confederates were [325]

A vain ride to safety During the retreat after Gaines' Mill, McClellan's army was straining every nerve, to extricate itself and present a strong front to Lee before he could strike a telling blow at its untenable position. Wagon trains were struggling across the almost impassable White Oak Swamp, while the troops were striving to hold Savage's Station to protect the movement. Thither on flat cars were sent the wounded as we see them in the picture. The rear guard of the Army of the Potomac had hastily provided such field hospital facilities as they could. We see the Camp near the railroad with the passing wagon trains in the lower picture. But attention to these wounded men was, perforce, secondary to the necessity of holding the position. Their hopes of relief from their suffering were to be blighted. Lee was about to fall upon the Federal rear guard at Savage's Station. Instead of to a haven of refuge, these men were being railroaded toward the field of carnage, where they must of necessity be left by their retreating companions.

The stand at Savage's Station Here we see part of the encampment to hold which the divisions of Richardson, Sedgwick, Smith, and Franklin fought valiantly when Magruder and the Confederates fell upon them, June 29, 1862. Along the Richmond & York River Railroad, seen in the picture, the Confederates rolled a heavy rifled gun, mounted on car-wheels. They turned its deadly fire steadily upon the defenders. The Federals fought fiercely and managed to hold their ground till nightfall, when hundreds of their bravest soldiers lay on the field and had to be left alone with their wounded comrades who had arrived on the flat cars.

[326] equally alert, for about the same time they opened a heavy fire on the retreating columns. This march of five miles was a continuous skirmish; but the Union forces, ably and skilfully handled, succeeded in reaching their new position on the Chickahominy heights.

The morning of the new day was becoming not and sultry as the men of the Fifth Corps made ready for action in their new position. The selection of this ground had been well made; it occupied a series of heights fronted on the west by a sickle-shaped stream. The battle-lines followed the course of this creek, in the are of a circle curving outward in the direction of the approaching army. The land beyond the creek was an open country, through which Powhite Creek meandered sluggishly, and beyond this a wood densely tangled with undergrowth. Around the Union position were also many patches of wooded land affording cover for the troops and screening the reserves from view.

Porter had learned from deserters and others that Jackson's forces, united to those of Longstreet and the two Hills, were advancing with grim determination to annihilate the Army of the Potomac. He had less than eighteen thousand men to oppose the fifty thousand Confederates. To protect the Federals, trees had been felled along a small portion of their front, out of which barriers protected with rails and knapsacks were erected. Porter had considerable artillery, but only a small part of it could be used. It was two o'clock, on June 27th, when General A. P. Hill swung his division into line for the attack. He was unsupported by the other divisions, which had not yet arrived, but his columns moved rapidly toward the Union front. The assault was terrific, but twenty-six guns threw a hail-storm of lead into his ranks. Under the cover of this magnificent execution of artillery, the infantry sent messages of death to the approaching lines of gray.

The Confederate front recoiled from the incessant outpour of grape, canister, and shell. The heavy cloud of battle [327]

A grim capture The Second and Sixth Corps of the Federal Army repelled a desperate attack of General Magruder at Savage Station on June 29th. The next day they disappeared, plunging into the depths of White Oak Swamp, leaving only the brave medical officers behind, doing what they could to relieve the sufferings of the men that had to be abandoned.. Here we see them at work upon the wounded, who have been gathered from the field. Nothing but the strict arrest of the stern sergeant Death can save these men from capture, and when the Confederates occupied Savage's Station on the morning of June 30th, twenty-five hundred sick and wounded men and their medical attendants became prisoners of war. The Confederate hospital facilities were already taxed to their full capacity in caring for Lee's wounded, and most of these men were confronted on that day with the prospect of lingering for months in the military prisons of the South. The brave soldiers lying helpless here were wounded at Gaines' Mill on June 27th and removed to the great field-hospital established at Savage's Station. The photograph was taken just before Sumner and Franklin withdrew the rear-guard of their columns on the morning of June 30th.

[328] smoke rose lazily through the air, twisting itself among the trees and settling over the forest like a pall. The tremendous momentum of the repulse threw the Confederates into great confusion. Men were separated from their companies and for a time it seemed as if a rout were imminent. The Federals, pushing out from under the protection of their great guns, now became the assailants. The Southerners were being driven back. Many had left the field in disorder. Others threw themselves on the ground to escape the withering fire, while some tenaciously held their places. This lasted for two hours. General Slocum arrived with his division of Franklin's corps, and his arrival increased the ardor of the victorious Federals.

It was then that Lee ordered a general attack upon the entire Union front. Reenforcements were brought to take the place of the shattered regiments. The engagement began with a sharp artillery fire from the Confederate guns. Then the troops moved forward, once more to assault the Union position. In the face of a heavy fire they rushed across the sedgy lowland, pressed up the hillside at fearful sacrifice and pushed against the Union front. It was a death grapple for the mastery of the field. General Lee, sitting on his horse on an eminence where he could observe the progress of the battle, saw, coming down the road, General Hood, of Jackson's corps, who was bringing his brigade into the fight. Riding forward to meet him, Lee directed that he should try to break the line. Hood, disposing his men for the attack, sent them forward, but, reserving the Fourth Texas for his immediate command, he marched it into an open field, halted, and addressed it, giving instructions that no man should fire until ordered and that all should keep together in line.

The forward march was sounded, and the intrepid Hood, leading his men, started for the Union breastworks eight hundred yards away. They moved at a rapid pace across the open, under a continually increasing shower of shot and shell. At every step the ranks grew thinner and thinner. As they [329]

The tangled retreat Through this well-nigh impassable morass of White Oak Swamp, across a single Long Bridge, McClellan's wagon trains were being hurried the last days of June, 1862. On the morning of the 30th, the rear-guard of the army was hastily tramping after them, and by ten o'clock had safely crossed and destroyed the bridge. They had escaped in the nick of time, for at noon “StonewallJackson opened fire upon Richardson's division and a terrific artillery battle ensued for the possession of this, the single crossing by which it Was possible to attack McClellan's rear. The Federal batteries were compelled to retire but Jackson's crossing was prevented on that day by the infantry.

[330] reached the crest of a small ridge, one hundred and fifty yards from the Union line, the batteries in front and on the flank sent a storm of shell and canister plowing into their already depleted files. They quickened their pace as they passed down the slope and across the creek. Not a shot had they fired and amid the sulphurous atmosphere of battle, with the wing of death hovering over all, they fixed bayonets and dashed up the hill into the Federal line. With a shout they plunged through the felled timber and over the breastworks. The Union line had been pierced and was giving way. It was falling back toward the Chickahominy bridges, and the retreat was threatening to develop into a general rout. The twilight was closing in and the day was all but lost to the Army of the Potomac. Now a great shout was heard from the direction of the bridge; and, pushing through the stragglers at the river bank were seen the brigades of French and Meagher, detached from Sumner's corps, coming to the rescue. General Meagher, in his shirt sleeves, was leading his men up the bluff and confronted the Confederate battle line. This put a stop to the pursuit and as night was at hand the Southern soldiers withdrew. The battle of Gaines' Mill, or the Chickahominy, was over. When Lee came to the banks of the little river the next morning he found his opponent had crossed over and destroyed the bridges. The Army of the Potomac was once more united. During the day the Federal wagon trains were safely passed over White Oak Swamp and then moved on toward the James River. Lee did not at first divine McClellan's intention. He still believed that the Federal general would retreat down the Peninsula, and hesitated therefore to cross the Chickahominy and give up the command of the lower bridges. But now on the 29th the signs of the movement to the James were unmistakable. Early on that morning Longstreet and A. P. Hill were ordered to recross the Chickahominy by the New Bridge and Huger and Magruder were sent in hot pursuit of the Federal forces. It was the brave Sumner who covered the [331]

Three groups of McClellan's fighting officers.

Major Meyers and Lieutenants Stryker and Norton, 10th Penn. Reserves

Colonel A. V. Colburn, Colonel D. B. Sackett, and General John Sedgwick

Colonel James H. Childs and officers, Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry photographed the month after the Seven days Battles

[332] march of the retreating army, and as he stood in the open field near Savage's Station he looked out over the plain and saw with satisfaction the last of the ambulances and wagons making their way toward the new haven on the James.

In the morning of that same day he had already held at bay the forces of Magruder at Allen's Farm. On his way from Fair Oaks, which he left at daylight, he had halted his men at what is known as the “Peach Orchard,” and from nine o'clock till eleven had resisted a spirited fire of musketry and artillery. And now as the grim warrior, on this Sunday afternoon in June, turned his eyes toward the Chickahominy he saw a great cloud of dust rising on the horizon. It was raised by the troops of General Magruder who was pressing close behind the Army of the Potomac. The Southern field-guns were placed in position. A contrivance, consisting of a heavy gun mounted on a railroad car and called the “Land Merrimac,” was pushed into position and opened fire upon the Union forces. The battle began with a fine play of artillery. For an hour not a musket was fired. The army of blue remained motionless. Then the mass of gray moved across the field and from the Union guns the long tongues of flame darted into the ranks before them. The charge was met with vigor and soon the battle raged over the entire field. Both sides stood their ground till darkness again closed the contest, and nearly eight hundred brave men had fallen in this Sabbath evening's battle. Before midnight Sumner had withdrawn his men and was following after the wagon trains.

The Confederates were pursuing McClellan's army in two columns, Jackson closely following Sumner, while Longstreet was trying to cut off the Union forces by a flank movement. On the last day of June, at high noon, Jackson reached the White Oak Swamp. But the bridge was gone. He attempted to ford the passage, but the Union troops were there to prevent it. While Jackson was trying to force his way across the stream, there came to him the sound of a desperate battle being [333]

Heroes of Malvern Hill Brigadier-General J. H. Martindale (seated) and his staff, July 1, 1862. Fitz John Porter's Fifth Corps and Couch's division, Fourth Corps, bore the brunt of battle at Malvern Hill where the troops of McClellan withstood the terrific attacks of Lee's combined and superior forces. Fiery “Prince John” Magruder hurled column after column against the left of the Federal line, but every charge was met and repulsed through the long hot summer afternoon. Martindale's brigade of the Fifth Corps was early called into action, and its commander, by the gallant fighting of his troops, won the brevet of Major-General.

The navy lends a hand Officers of the Monitor at Malvern Hill. Glad indeed were the men of the Army of the Potomac as they emerged from their perilous march across White Oak Swamp to hear the firing of the gunboats on the James. It told them the Confederates had not yet preempted the occupation of Malvern Hill, which General Fitz John Porter's Corps was holding. Before the battle opened McClellan went aboard the Galena to consult with Commodore John Rodgers about a suitable base on the James. The gunboats of the fleet supported the flanks of the army during the battle and are said to have silenced one of the Confederate batteries

[334] fought not more than two miles away, but he was powerless to give aid.

Longstreet and A. P. Hill had come upon the Federal regiments at Glendale, near the intersection of the Charles City road, guarding the right flank of the retreat. It was Longstreet who, about half-past 2, made one of his characteristic onslaughts on that part of the Union army led by General McCall. It was repulsed with heavy loss. Again and again attacks were made. Each brigade seemed to act on its own behalf. They hammered here, there, and everywhere. Repulsed at one place they charged at another. The Eleventh Alabama, rushing out from behind a dense wood, charged across the open field in the face of the Union batteries. The men had to run a distance of six hundred yards. A heavy and destructive fire poured into their lines, but on they came, trailing their guns. The batteries let loose grape and canister, while volley after volley of musketry sent its death-dealing messages among the Southerners. But nothing except death itself could check their impetuous charge. When two hundred yards away they raised the Confederate yell and rushed for Randol's battery.

Pausing for an instant they deliver a volley and attempt to seize the guns. Bayonets are crossed and men engage in a hand-to-hand struggle. The contending masses rush together, asking and giving no quarter and struggling like so many tigers. Darkness is closing on the fearful scene, yet the fighting continues with unabated ferocity. There are the shouts of command, the clash and the fury of the battle, the sulphurous smoke, the flashes of fire streaking through the air, the yells of defiance, the thrust, the parry, the thud of the clubbed musket, the hiss of the bullet, the spouting blood, the death-cry, and beneath all lie the bodies of America's sons, some in blue and some in gray.

While Lee and his army were held in check by the events of June 30th at White Oak Swamp and the other battle at [335]

The second army base in the Penninsula Campaign

Again we see the transports and supply schooners at anchor — this time at Harrison's Landing on the James River. In about a month, McClellan had changed the position of his army twice, shifting his base from the Pamunkey to the James. The position he held on Malvern Hill was abandoned after the victory of July 1, 1862, and the army marched to a new base farther down the James, where the heavy losses of men and supplies during the Seven Days could be made up without danger and delay. Harrison's Landing was the point selected, and here the army recuperated, wondering what would be the next step. Below we see the historic mansion which did service as General Porter's headquarters, one of McClellan's most efficient commanders. For his services during the Seven Days he was made Major-General of Volunteers. McClellan was his lifelong friend.

Harrison's Landing.

Westover House: headquarters of General Fitz John Porter, Harrison's Landing


Glendale or Nelson's Farm, the last of the wagon trains had arrived safely at Malvern Hill. The contest had hardly closed and the smoke had scarcely lifted from the blood-soaked field, when the Union forces were again in motion toward the James. By noon on July 1st the last division reached the position where McClellan decided to turn again upon his assailants. He had not long to wait, for the Confederate columns, led by Longstreet, were close on his trail, and a march of a few miles brought them to the Union outposts. They found the Army of the Potomac admirably situated to give defensive battle. Malvern Hill, a plateau, a mile and a half long and half as broad, with its top almost bare of woods, commanded a view of the country over which the Confederate army must approach. Along the western face of this plateau there are deep ravines falling abruptly in the direction of the James River; on the north and east is a gentle slope to the plain beneath, bordered by a thick forest. Around the summit of the hill, General McClellan had placed tier after tier of batteries, arranged like an amphitheater. Surmounting these on the crest were massed seven of his heaviest siege-guns. His army surrounded this hill, its left flank being protected by the gunboats on the river.

The morning and early afternoon were occupied with many Confederate attacks, sometimes formidable in their nature, but Lee planned for no general move until he could bring up a force that he considered sufficient to attack the strong Federal position. The Confederate orders were to advance when the signal, a yell, cheer, or shout from the men of Armistead's brigade, was given.

Late in the afternoon General D. H. Hill heard some shouting, followed by a roar of musketry. No other general seems to have heard it, for Hill made his attack alone. It was gallantly done, but no army could have withstood the galling fire of the batteries of the Army of the Potomac as they were massed upon Malvern Hill. All during the evening, brigade after brigade tried to force the Union lines. The gunners [337]

On daring duty Lieut.-Colonel Albert V. Colburn, a favorite Aide-de-Camp of General McClellan's.--Here is the bold soldier of the Green Mountain State who bore despatches about the fields of battle during the Seven Days. It was he who was sent galloping across the difficult and dangerous country to make sure that Franklin's division was retreating from White Oak Swamp, and then to carry orders to Sumner to fall back on Malvern Hill. Such were the tasks that constantly fell to the lot of the despatch bearer. Necessarily a man of quick and accurate judgment, perilous chances confronted him in his efforts to keep the movements of widely separated divisions in concert with the plans of the commander. The loss of his life might mean the loss of a battle; the failure to arrive in the nick of time with despatches might mean disaster for the army. Only the coolest headed of the officers could be trusted with this vital work in the field.

[338] stood coolly and manfully by their batteries. The Confederates were not able to make concerted efforts, but the battle waxed hot nevertheless. They were forced to breast one of the most devastating storms of lead and canister to which an assaulting army has ever been subjected. The round shot and grape cut through the branches of the trees and the battle-field was soon in a cloud of smoke. Column after column of Southern soldiers rushed up to the death-dealing cannon, only to be mowed down. The thinned and ragged lines, with a valor born of desperation, rallied again and again to the charge, but to no avail. The batteries on the heights still hurled their missiles of death. The field below was covered with the dead and wounded of the Southland.

The gunboats in the river made the battle scene more awe-inspiring with their thunderous cannonading. Their heavy shells shrieked through the forest, and great limbs were torn from the trees as they hurtled by in their outburst of fury.

Night was falling. The combatants were no longer distinguishable except by the sheets of flame. It was nine o'clock before the guns ceased their fire, and only an occasional shot rang out over the bloody field of Malvern Hill.

The courageous though defeated Confederate, looking up the next day through the drenching rain to where had stood the embrasured wall with its grim batteries and lines of blue, that spoke death to so many of his companions-in-arms, saw only deserted ramparts. The Union army had retreated in the darkness of the night. But this time no foe harassed its march. Unmolested, it sought its new Camp at Harrison's Landing, where it remained until August 3d, when, as President Lincoln had been convinced of the impracticability of operating from the James River as a base, orders were issued by General Halleck for the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula.

The net military result of the Seven Days was a disappointment to the South. Although thankful that the siege of [339]

Averell — the colonel who bluffed an army. Colonel W. W. Averell and Staff.--This intrepid officer of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry held the Federal position on Malvern Hill on the morning of July 2, 1862, with only a small guard, while McClellan completed the withdrawal of his army to Harrison's Landing. It was his duty to watch the movements of the Confederates and hold them back from any attempt to fall upon the retreating trains and troops. A dense fog in the early morning shut off the forces of A. P. Hill and Longstreet from his view. He had not a single fieldpiece with which to resist attack. When the mist cleared away, he kept up a great activity with his cavalry horses, making the Confederates believe that artillery was being brought up. With apparent reluctance he agreed to a truce of two hours in which the Confederates might bury the dead they left on the hillside the day before. Later, with an increased show of unwillingness, he extended the truce for another two hours. Just before they expired, Frank's Battery arrived to his support, with the news that the Army of the Potomac was safe. Colonel Averell rejoined it without the loss of a man.


Richmond had been raised, the Southern public believed that McClellan should not have been allowed to reach the James River with his army intact.

“That army,” Eggleston states, “splendidly organized, superbly equipped, and strengthened rather than weakened in morale, lay securely at rest on the James River, within easy striking distance of Richmond. There was no knowing at what moment McClellan might hurl it again upon Richmond or upon that commanding key to Richmond — the Petersburg position. In the hands of a capable commander McClellan's army would at this time have been a more serious menace than ever to the Confederate capital, for it now had an absolutely secure and unassailable base of operations, while its fighting quality had been improved rather than impaired by its seven days of battling.”

General Lee's own official comment on the military problem involved and the difficulties encountered was: “Under ordinary circumstances the Federal army should have been destroyed. Its escape was due to the causes already stated. Prominent among these is the want of correct and timely information. This fact, attributable chiefly to the character of the country, enabled General McClellan skilfully to conceal his retreat and to add much to the obstructions with which nature had beset the way of our pursuing columns; but regret that more was not accomplished gives way to gratitude to the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe for the results achieved.”

Whatever the outcome of the Seven Days Battle another year was to demonstrate beyond question that the wounding of General Johnston at Fair Oaks had left the Confederate army with an even abler commander. On such a field as Chancellorsville was to be shown the brilliancy of Lee as leader, and his skilful maneuvers leading to the invasion of the North. And the succeeding volume will tell, on the other hand, how strong and compact a fighting force had been forged from the raw militia and volunteers of the North. [341]

After the Seven days.

Within a week of the occupation of Harrison's Landing, McClellan's position had become so strong that the Federal commander no longer anticipated an attack by the Confederate forces. General Lee saw that his opponent was flanked on each side by a creek and that approach to his front was commanded by the guns in the entrenchments and those of the Federal navy in the river. Lee therefore deemed it inexpedient to attack, especially as his troops were in poor condition owing to the incessant marching and fighting of the Seven Days. Rest was what both armies needed most, and on July 8th the Confederate forces returned to the vicinity of Richmond. McClellan scoured the country before he was satisfied of the Confederate withdrawal. The Third and Fourth Pennsylvania cavalry made a reconnaisance to Charles City Court House and beyond, and General Averell reported on July 11th that there were no Southern troops south of the lower Chickahominy. His scouting expeditions extended in the direction of Richmond and up the Chickahominy.

Officers of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry: after the Seven days

Charles City Court House, Virginia, July, 1862


Where Jackkson's men scored: Gaines' Mill.

From this old ruin, Gaines' Mill, the momentous battle of June 27, 1862, took its name, and on the ridge known as Turkey Hill, a mile to the southeast, the men of the First Maryland Confederate regiment won glory for them-selves and their cause. “StonewallJackson's corps at the end of a rapid march had arrived in the middle of the afternoon. After a brief rest, it was hurled against the Federal center on Turkey Hill. A battery defending the position poured a rapid fire upon the ranks of the attackers. The Confederates wavered, broke, and “regiment after regiment rushed back in utter disorder.” General Winder was then ordered to send his brigade forward and he found, as he advanced, several regiments waiting to join him, among them the First Maryland Infantry headed by Colonel Bradley T. Johnson. The new line swept forward. The Federal battery on Turkey Hill, which Johnson was ordered to take, limbered up and fled. The Union troops were finally driven from their lost position. Meanwhile on Jackson's extreme right General Whiting's division was making what proved to be the fiercest charge of the Seven Days Battles. The Southern troops came on with tremendous impetus, scattering some of their own regiments that were retreating in disorder. The Texan brigades of Hood and Law bore the brunt of the desperate and vain effort of the Federals to drive Whiting back. Finally General Hood and the Fourth Texas broke the line in the center of Morell's division and seized the guns.

Where Jackson's men scored

Col. Bradley T. Johnson

Gen W. H. C. Whiting


The steady men at Gaines' Mill

Officers of a stalwart Irish regiment which gloriously distinguished itself at Gaines' Mill, the third battle in its career. We see them here at Camp Cass on Arlington Heights, where they had been waiting all winter near Washington for a sight of active service. This regiment was organized as the Ninth Massachusetts Infantry in April, 1861. It was not till almost a year later that, joining McClellan's forces on the Peninsula, it jumped immediately into the thick of things at Hanover Court House and Mechanicsville. Battles came fast and furious during the Seven Days struggle, and, with Morell's division of the Fifth Corps, this regiment with marvelous steadiness sustained the fierce assault of “StonewallJackson's troops at Turkey Hill. Its total loss that day was 231, including six line officers killed. Four days later at Malvern Hill its Colonel, Thomas Cass, fell mortally wounded. The regiment was commanded thenceforth by Colonel Patrick R. Guiney, and throughout the war gave abundant evidence of the valor of the Irish soldier.

The steady men at Gaines' Mill: an Irish regiment, Ninth Massachusetts Infantry, established in April, 1861.


Building winter quarters

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