Seven Days' Battles
The Seven Days' Battles were fought outside Richmond, Virginia, between June 25 and July 1, 1862, beginning when Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided to attack the Army of the Potomac under General George B. McClellan, who had slowly advanced to within several miles of Richmond, the Confederate capital. Lee, recently given command of the Army of Northern Virginia, understood McClellan to be cautious in battle and believed that a series of attacks could lead him to withdraw from his campaign. Fought during the period of a week, Lee would win for the Confederacy a strategic victory in the forcing of McClellan to withdraw his army and end the Peninsula Campaign, and enabling Lee to begin his effort at an invasion of Maryland.
Oak Grove was the first of the Seven Days’ battles. On June 25, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan advanced his lines along the Williamsburg Road with the objective of bringing Richmond within range of his siege guns. Union forces attacked over swampy ground with inconclusive results, and darkness halted the fighting. McClellan’s attack was not strong enough to derail the Confederate offensive that already had been set in motion. The next day, Lee seized the initiative by attacking at Beaver Dam Creek north of the Chickahominy.
Gen. Robert E. Lee initiated his offensive against McClellan’s right flank north of the Chickahominy River. A.P. Hill threw his division, reinforced by one of D.H. Hill’s brigades, into a series of futile assaults against Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, which was drawn up behind Beaver Dam Creek. Confederate attacks were driven back with heavy casualties. Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley divisions, however, were approaching from the northwest, forcing Porter to withdraw the next morning to a position behind Boatswain Creek just beyond Gaines’ Mill.
On June 27, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee renewed his attacks against Porter’s V Corps, which had established a strong defensive line behind Boatswain’s Swamp north of the Chickahominy River. Porter’s reinforced V Corps held fast for the afternoon against disjointed Confederate attacks, inflicting heavy casualties. At dusk, the Confederates finally mounted a coordinated assault that broke Porter’s line and drove his soldiers back toward the river. The Federals retreated across the river during the night. Defeat at Gaines’ Mill convinced McClellan to abandon his advance on Richmond and begin the retreat to James River. Gaines’ Mill saved Richmond for the Confederacy in 1862.
While battle raged north of the Chickahominy River at Gaines’ Mill on June 27, Magruder demonstrated against the Union line south of the river at Garnett’s Farm. To escape an artillery crossfire, the Federal defenders from Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps refused their line along the river. The Confederates attacked again near Golding’s Farm on the morning of June 28 but were easily repulsed. These “fixing” actions heightened the fear in the Union high command that an all out attack would be launched against them south of the river.
On June 29, the main body of the Union army began a general withdrawal toward the James River. Magruder pursued along the railroad and the Williamsburg Road and struck Sumner’s Corps (the Union rearguard) with three brigades near Savage’s Station. Confederate Brig. Gen. Richard Giffith was mortally wounded during the fight. Jackson’s divisions were stalled north of the Chickahominy. Union forces continued to withdraw across White Oak Swamp, abandoning supplies and more than 2,500 wounded soldiers in a field hospital.
On June 30, Huger’s, Longstreet’s, and A.P. Hill’s divisions converged on the retreating Union army in the vicinity of Glendale or Frayser’s Farm. Longstreet’s and Hill’s attacks penetrated the Union defense near Willis Church, routing McCall’s division. McCall was captured. Union counterattacks by Hooker’s and Kearny’s divisions sealed the break and saved their line of retreat along the Willis Church Road. Huger’s advance was stopped on the Charles City Road. “Stonewall” Jackson’s divisions were delayed by Franklin at White Oak Swamp. Confederate Maj. Gen. T.H. Holmes made a feeble attempt to turn the Union left flank at Turkey Bridge but was driven back by Federal gunboats in James River. Union generals Meade and Sumner and Confederate generals Anderson, Pender, and Featherston were wounded. This was Lee’s best chance to cut off the Union army from the James River. That night, McClellan established a strong position on Malvern Hill.
The Union rearguard under Maj. Gen. William Franklin stopped Jackson’s divisions at the White Oak Bridge crossing, resulting in an artillery duel, while the main battle raged two miles farther south at Glendale or Frayser’s Farm. White Oak Swamp can be considered part of the Glendale engagement.
The last of the Seven Days’ Battles. On July 1, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee launched a series of disjointed assaults on the nearly impregnable Union position on Malvern Hill. The Confederates suffered more than 5,300 casualties without gaining an inch of ground. Despite his victory, McClellan withdrew to entrench at Harrison’s Landing on James River, where his army was protected by gunboats. This ended the Peninsula Campaign. When McClellan’s army ceased to threaten Richmond, Lee sent Jackson to operate against Maj. Gen. John Pope’s army along the Rapidan River, thus initiating the Northern Virginia Campaign.
(Summaries taken from public domain material via the National Park Service )
Although the Army of Northern Virginia suffered excessive casualties due to uncoordinated leadership, poor tactial decisions by Lee and many of his generals, and a strange sluggishness not normally seen in Stonewall Jackson, the battle was a huge morale victory. McClellan had approached to within miles of Richmond, and many Northerners believed the war would be won. McClellan's withdrawal and the heavy losses caused a lack of confidence in McClellan. Although not fired from his post in command of the Army of the Potomac, General Henry W. Halleck was appointed above McClellan as General-in-Chief. Conversely, Lee became a hero where previously he had been noted for his failures in earlier Confederate campaigns. He also learned his lesson from the leadership failures of the battle and reorganized his army. For the following campaigns, Lee retained the aggressiveness that characterized the Seven Days' Battle.
The total casualties of the battles were: