The Civil War – Seven Days’ Battles

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

On June 23, 1862, Lincoln took a train to West Point, NY to confer with retired General Winfield Scott¸ considered by the President to be an impartial consultant. Lincoln had doubts about George McClellan’s leadership and ability to defeat Robert E. Lee.

However, after their June 24 meeting, Lincoln did not take Scott’s advice to have Irvin McDowell reinforce McClellan on the James River (Virginia) peninsula.

Meanwhile, on June 23, General Robert E. Lee met with his corps leadership to develop the attack plan against McClellan. Lee had recently taken over command of the Army of Northern Virginia, as General Joe Johnston had been wounded in late May. The two armies would meet in a series of battles over the course of one week at the end of June, known as “The Seven Days’ Battles.”

According to National Park Service data, “No military campaign had more influence on the course of the Civil War than these series of engagements, known collectively as the Seven Days’ battles. In the spring of 1862 General George B. McClellan’s army of more than 100,000 Union soldiers landed at Fort Monroe and fought its way up the peninsula. By mid-May the Army of the Potomac lay on the outskirts of Richmond. McClellan planned to capture the capital of the Confederacy and perhaps end the war. If his strategy succeeded the nation might be reunited, but without the abolition of slavery.

Several variables affected the events in June. Sickness ravaged both armies, particularly McClellan’s. The volatile weather, with extensive rain, greatly injured the Union army’s complicated supply system. Being far from home, that army relied on shipping, wagon trains, and the…Railroad to keep itself fed and clothed.

McClellan required an estimated 700 tons of supplies every day merely to stay in the field. The rain produced unbelievably muddy roads, forcing the railroad to assume an even greater portion of the transportation burden. The Chickahominy River, swampy even in the best of times, raged across a wide valley northeast of Richmond. That river divided the Army of the Potomac.”

On June 25, McClellan pointed his army toward Richmond, intending to make the capital a target for his siege guns. The terrain was difficult – swampy, with tangled, thick underbrush. The Yankees were pushed back. The next day, Union troops were behind Beaver Creek Dam [Mechanicsville], when Lee began his offensive move. Confederate attacks were turned back, with high casualties, while overnight the victorious Yankees relocated behind Boatswain Creek, just past Gaines’ Mill.

On June 27, the two armies were engaged again at Gaines’ Mill. Lee threw his troops at opposing forces, causing the Union army to retreat. This was Lee’s first “sweeping tactical victory” – and a costly one. Total casualties were estimated at more than 15,000, making Gaines’ Mill the most deadly and largest eastern theatre battle to date. The fourth battle, at Savage’s Station, witnessed Lee’s attack on McClellan’s forces as they were retreating.

The two sides continued to battle on June 30, at Glendale [Fraysers’s Farm], where they were involved in close fighting, as Union troops continued to retreat to the James River.

The final battle of the week was at Malvern Hill. Yankees were positioned on the hilltop, which provided little chance of a successful attack from the Rebels, as they attempted to move up the gentle grassy slopes toward the Union line. The Rebels were defeated, incurring over 5,000 casualties.

For the week, casualties were estimated at 16,000 Union and 20,000 Confederate. Lee was praised for saving Richmond, and McClellan would soon leave the Peninsula.