The Seven Days
June 25 to July 1, 1862
With failures to in attempts to advance directly on Richmond at First Manassas and Ball's Bluff, Union commanders decided on a new approach. In April 1862, Gen. George Brinton McClellan moved his Army of the Potomac to Fortress Monroe to advance toward Richmond up the Peninsula between the York and James Rivers. Moving slowly up the Peninsula, McClellan was near the outskirts of Richmond by late May 1862. With his army divided by the Chickahominy River, McClellan was attacked by Joseph Johnston and his Confederate army on May 31st. Despite the great potential of the attack, it was bungled and Johnston was wounded. President Jefferson Davis placed his military advisor, Robert E. Lee in command of the army. Lee had his troops entrench, and they nicknamed him "Granny" Lee in response. Lee had greater plans, however. He sent for Stonewall Jackson from the Shenandoah Valley to reinforce his army.
Beaver Dam Creek
On June 26th, Lee began the operation, concentrated three of his divisions north of the Chickahominy against the isolated Union V Corps, leaving only two divisions south of the river to hold off McClellan's whole army. Jackson was to join Lee north of the river directly from the Valley, but he was uncharacteristically late. A.P. Hill forced the crossing of the Chickahominy and cleared Mechanicsville on time expecting that Jackson would turn the Yankees out of their formidable position behind Beaver Dam Creek. After feeling out the position, it was decided Ripley's brigade would move against the Union left near the Chickahominy. The ground was not inspected and the resulting attack fell short here at the pond of Ellerson's Mill. The Confederate brigade was raked by Yankee artillery atop the hill and infantrymen in riflepits as it moved diagonally to the flank. The attack was a complete and costly failure. Porter withdrew to a position near Gaines Mill early on the next day.
topo map Ellersons Mill battlefield.
By 2 P.M. on June 27th, Lee was attacking Porter's corps near Gaines Mill. This is the slope of the hill defended by Porter's V Corps. Attacking Confederate troops advanced over the swampy Boatswains Creek off the picture to the left and up the hill to the right. While the Yankees were entrenched at the top, the land to their front at the time was cleared with no cover except for near the creek itself. Confederate troops went to ground on the slope, unwilling to go forward or fall back. On the rebel left, Jackson's planned turning movement got lost and attacked the Union center.
Finally, Hood's Texas brigade of Jackson's wing arrived. Hood ordered his men to advance with the bayonet without stopping to fire. Near here, the Texans swept over their prone comrades toward the Union position.
Hood's brigade smashed through the Union defenses atop the hill near the Watts House. The advancing brigade, led by the 4th Texas and 18th Georgia, captured 14 of the 18 guns of Weedon's Artillery in the field beyond. A desperate charge by 250 men of the 5th US Cavalry was repulsed with only 100 survivors. The Texas brigade lost 571 men but had won the day. Porter was forced south of the Chickahominy and McClellan decided to retreat with his whole army to Harrison's Landing.
topo map Gaines Mill Battlefield.
Lee believed he could destroy McClellan's army at Malvern Hill. Union artillery, like that shown here, ringed Malvern Hill. To attack the hill, Lee had to silence the artillery. Confederate artillery emerged from the woods in the distance to duel their Union counterparts but were silenced soon afterward. Confederate infantry was to attack only after the Union artillery had been silenced. One brigade, however, moved forward due to its own local circumstances. The other brigades interpreted this as the beginning of the attack and advanced up Malvern Hill. The Confederate attack was repulsed with heavy losses and no gains. McClellan continued the retreat to Harrison's Landing the next day. Lee had saved Richmond at great cost, but a new army was forming in Northern Virginia. Lee shifted his forces north and struck again at Second Manassas.
topo map Malvern Hill.
Back to Civil War Virtual Battlefield Tours