1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Seven Days' Battle

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SEVEN DAYS’ BATTLE, a name given to a series of combats in the neighbourhood of Richmond, Virginia, during the American Civil War, June 26–July 2, 1862. The Federal Army of the Potomac, advancing from the sea and the river Parmunkey over the Chickahominy on Richmond, had come to a standstill after the battle of Seven Pines (or Fair Oaks), and General Robert Lee, who succeeded Joseph Johnston in command of the Confederates, initiated the series of counter attacks upon it which constitute the “Seven Days.”

McClellan had at his disposal 32 brigades and 67 batteries organized in five corps each of two or three divisions. His cavalry consisted of 10 regiments and 22 companies. Lee's army consisted of 40 brigades and 59 batteries organized in eleven divisions and an independent brigade: four divisions were grouped under Jackson and three under Magruder. The reserve artillery consisted of 23 batteries and Stuart's cavalry corps of 3000 sabres. McClellan lingered north of Richmond, despite President Lincoln's constant demand that he should “strike a blow” with the force he had organized and taken to the Yorktown peninsula in April, until General Lee had concentrated 73,000 infantry in his front; then the Federal commander, fearing to await the issue of a decisive battle, ended his campaign of invasion in the endeavour to “save his army”; and he so far succeeded that on July 3 he had established himself on the north bank of the James in a position to which reinforcements and supplies could be brought from the north by water without fear of molestation by the enemy. But he lost 15,000 men in the course of his seven days retreat, and 20%, of the remainder became ineffective from disease contracted in the swamps of the Chickahominy, while enormous quantities of valuable stores at White House on the Pamunkey had been burnt to avoid seizure by the enemy. McClellan described this flight to the James as a change of base, but his resolve to abandon the attitude of an invader was formed when General Lee in the middle of June had caused Stuart's cavalry to reconnoitre the flanks and rear of McClellan's and had summoned Jackson's corps from the

Seven Days' Battle 1862
Seven Days' Battle 1862

Shenandoah Valley (q.v.). The news soon reached McClellan, who thereupon prepared to evacuate White House on June 25 and moved his trains southward to the James covered by his army. Jackson had preceded his troops in order personally to confer with Lee, and had then appointed the morning of June 26 for his appearance north of the Chickahominy to lead the march and attack McClellan's right wing under General Fitzjohn Porter. Jackson was to be supported by the divisions of A. P. Hill, Longstreet and D. H. Hill. Lee 's other divisions under Magruder, Huger and Holmes were to defend the lines which covered Richmond from the east, and so prevent McClellan effecting a counter stroke. Huger had demonstrated on the Williamsburg Road on June 25 in order to draw McClellan's attention to his left wing, and though on June 26 Jackson had failed to appear, General A. P. Hill at 3 p.m. crossed the Chickahominy and attacked the enemy's right wing at Beaver Dam Creek assisted by D. H. Hill, while Longstreet crossed at Mechanicsville. General Lee and President Davis were present and witnessed the loss of 2000 men in a frontal attack which continued till 9 p.m. Meanwhile General Jackson, with Stuart's cavalry corps, “marched by the fight without giving attention, and went into camp at Hundley's Corner half a mile in rear of the enemy's position.”

The Federal detachment retreated during the night to a stronger position in rear at Gaines's Mill near Cold Harbor, and on June 27 the Confederates again attacked Porter's corps. Lee's six divisions formed an échelon. D. H. Hill moving towards the enemy's right was followed by Jackson's corps (three divisions), while A. P. Hill engaged the enemy in front and Longstreet in reserve moved along the left bank of the Chickahominy. The resistance of the Federals was stubborn; at 5 p.m. General Lee required Longstreet to attack the enemy's left, and at this moment he procured the assistance of some part of Jackson's corps which had become separated from the remainder. About sunset the Federals under Porter (three divisions) yielded to the pressure of the attack at all points, and withdrew in the night across the Chickahominy, leaving 5000 prisoners in the hands of General Lee. The Confederates lost 7000 men on June 27.

Lee’s right wing had in the meantime demonstrated against the main body of the Federals about Fair Oaks, on the south bank of the river. On June 28 complete inactivity supervened among the Confederates north of the Chickahominy save that Stuart’s cavalry and Ewell’s division were advanced as far as the railway to reconnoitre, but on this day McClellan was making good his retreat southwards to the James with little interference, for Magruder was instructed to “hold his lines at all hazards,” and accordingly acted on the defensive except that Jones’s division opposed a Federal division under W. F. Smith near Fair Oaks. On June 29 General Lee became aware of the situation and then issued orders for his six divisions to cross the Chickahominy in pursuit. Jackson’s corps and D. H. Hill’s division were to follow the enemy, while Longstreet and A. P. Hill were to move their divisions via New Bridge to the Darbytown or James River Road to cut off McClellan from the James. Stuart was to operate at his discretion north of the Chickahominy, and it seems that he was attracted by the enemy’s abandoned depot at White House more than by McClellan’s retreating army. On this day Magruder with two divisions attacked superior forces about Fair Oaks and was repulsed, and again attacked at Savage Station with like results. General Lee, however, rebuked Magruder for slackness in pursuit. Holmes’s division was moving in front of Longstreet on the James River Road, but two Federal divisions were holding the route at Willis Church and at Jordan’s Ford. On June 30 Jackson got into action with Whiting’s division at White Oak Swamp, while Longstreet encountered the Federals at Frazier’s Farm (or Glendale). Longstreet was supported by A. P. Hill and together they lost 3200 men; it was hoped that Jackson’s corps would come up during the engagement and attack the enemy’s rear, and Huger’s division assail his right, but Federal artillery stopped Huger, and of Jackson’s three divisions only one came into action. Magruder and Holmes were engaged to their own advantage at Turkey Bridge. Longstreet and Hill were thus opposed to five Federal divisions, while General McClellan was pushing his wagons forward to Malvern Hill, on which strong position the Army of the Potomac was concentrated at nightfall. On July 1 Jackson’s corps and D. H. Hill’s division had been drawn again into the main operation and followed the Federal line of retreat to Malvern Hill with Huger and Magruder on their right. The divisions of Longstreet and A. P. Hill were in support.

General Lee had thus on the seventh day concentrated his army of ten divisions in the enemy’s front; but Jackson’s dispositions were unfortunate and General Lee’s plan of attack was thus upset; and while seeking a route to turn the enemy’s right the Confederate commander was apprised that a battle had been improvised by the divisions in advance. In the result these troops were repulsed with a loss of 6000 men, a circumstance hardly to be wondered at, since McClellan had entrenched eight divisions on the strongest position in the country, and was aided by his siege artillery and also by a flanking fire from his gunboats on the river near Haxall’s Landing. General Lee’s offensive operations now ended, though Stuart’s cavalry rejoined the main army at night and followed the enemy on July 2 to Evelington Heights, while Lee rested his army. Stuart discovered a position which commanded the Federal camp, and maintained his cavalry and horse artillery in this position until the afternoon of July 3, when, his ammunition being expended, he was compelled to retire before a Federal force of infantry and a battery. Longstreet and Jackson had been dispatched to his support, but the former did not arrive before nightfall and the latter failed to appear until the next day (July 4). Stuart afterwards moved farther down the James, and shelled McClellan’s supply vessels in the river until recalled by General Lee, who on July 8 withdrew his army towards Richmond.

The operations resulted in re-establishing the confidence of the Confederates in their army which Johnston’s retreat from Yorktown had shaken, in adding prestige to President Davis and his government, and in rectifying the popular view of General Lee as a commander which had been based upon his failure to recover West Virginia in the autumn of 1861. In the north a feeling of despondency overtook Congress at the “lame and impotent conclusion” of a campaign of invasion which was expected to terminate the war by the defeat of the Confederate army, the capture of Richmond and the immediate overthrow of the Confederacy.  (G. W. R.)