Battle of Gaines' Mill

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Battle of Gaines' Mill
Virginia Civil War History

Battle of Gaines' Mill

Other Names: First Cold Harbor, Battle of Chickahominy River

Location: Hanover County

Campaign: Peninsula Campaign (March-July 1862)

Date(s): June 27, 1862

Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter [US]; Gen. Robert E. Lee [CS]

Forces Engaged: 91,232 total (US 34,214; CS 57,018)

Estimated Casualties: 15,500 total (US 6,800; CS 8,700)

Result(s): Confederate victory

Battle of Gaines Mill
Battle of Gaines Mill.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Introduction: This was the third of the Seven Days Battles and last phase of the Peninsula Campaign. 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.

Background: The Peninsula Campaign (also known as the Peninsular Campaign) during the American Civil War was a major Union operation launched in southeastern Virginia from March through July 1862, and it was the first large-scale offensive in the Eastern Theater. The operation, commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, was an amphibious turning movement intended to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond by circumventing the Confederate States Army in Northern Virginia. McClellan was initially successful against the equally cautious General Joseph E. Johnston, but the emergence of the aggressive General Robert E. Lee, who assumed command immediately following Seven Pines or Fair Oaks (where Johnston was seriously wounded), turned the subsequent Seven Days Battles into a humiliating Union defeat. The Seven Days Battles, commonly referred to as the Seven Days Battles Around Richmond, consisted of six major battles around the Confederate capitol. This is the history of the third battle.

Civil War Battle of Gaines' Mill
Civil War Battle of Gaines' Mill.jpg
Gaines' Mill Interpretive Marker

Summary: Although victorious at Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville) on June 26, 1862, Union General George B. McClellan believed Stonewall Jackson’s 25,000 Confederates threatened the Union right flank. The next morning, June 27, McClellan ordered Fitz John Porter’s Fifth Corps to retire from its position behind Beaver Dam Creek toward the Chickahominy and continue with the rest of the Union army to the James River. McClellan’s decision signaled the end of offensive operations against Richmond. He had surrendered the initiative to Robert E. Lee.


Porter’s Union soldiers reached this plateau by mid-morning of June 27th. They faced west and north, occupying a two mile front on this high ground overlooking Boatswain’s Creek. Porter’s defense shielded the army’s retreat which had already started on the other side of the Chickahominy River.

Battle of Gaines Mill, Virginia, Civil War Map
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Battle of Gaines Mill Map

Lee, Jackson, Hill, Gaines Mill
Lee, Jackson, Hill, Battle of Gaines Mill.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Setting the Stage: The Battle of Gaines' Mill, also known as the First Battle of Cold Harbor or the Battle of Chickahominy River, took place on June 27, 1862, in Hanover County, Virginia, as the third of the Seven Days Battles (Peninsula Campaign) of the American Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee renewed his attacks against Union Brig. Gen. Fitz John 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 on the attackers.

Stonewall Jackson Forces Union Retreat
Battle of Gaines Mill Union Retreat.jpg
(Historical Marker)

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 Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to abandon his advance on Richmond and begin the retreat to the James River. The Confederates were too disorganized to encircle and then pursue the main Union force. Gaines' Mill saved Richmond for the Confederacy in 1862. The battle occurred in almost the same location as the 1864 Battle of Cold Harbor and had similar numbers of total casualties.


McClellan's Army of the Potomac had pushed to within a few miles of the Confederate capital of Richmond and had stalled following the Battle of Seven Pines in late May 1862. Lee wanted to take the initiative, believing that remaining on the strategic defensive would play into Union hands and allow the Confederacy to be worn down. He planned to shift the 90,000-man Confederate Army to the north of Richmond, and bring crushing strength to bear on McClellan's left flank. The Confederate cavalry under the command of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart had ridden around and exposed this flank, and confirmed its vulnerability. Lee then wanted to use Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson's force, transported by rail from the Shenandoah Valley, to attack on this sector and crush the Union forces in a vice.


The Seven Days Battles began with a Union attack in the minor Battle of Oak Grove on June 25, but the first major battle started the next day when Lee launched a large-scale assault against McClellan at the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek (or Mechanicsville). Lee attacked Porter's V Corps north of the Chickahominy, while the bulk of the Union Army was relatively unoccupied south of the river. By the next morning, the Union forces were concentrated into a semicircle with Porter collapsing his line into an east-west salient north of the river and the four corps south of the river remaining in their original positions. Porter was ordered by McClellan to hold Gaines' Mill at all costs so that the army could change its base of supply to the James River. Several of McClellan's subordinates urged him to attack the Confederate division of Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder south of the river, but he feared the vast numbers of Confederates he believed to be before him and refused to capitalize on the overwhelming superiority he actually held on that front.

Seven Days Battle Map
Seven Days Battle Map.jpg
(Union and Confederate Battlefield Maneuvering)

Boatswain Creek & Gaines Mill
Battle of Boatswain Creek & Gaines Mill.jpg
(Historical Marker)

On June 27, Lee continued his offensive, launching the largest Confederate attack of the war, about 57,000 men in six divisions. Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill resumed his attack across Beaver Dam Creek early in the morning, but found the line lightly defended. Moving eastward and approaching Gaines' Mill, his lead brigade, under Brig. Gen. Maxcy Gregg, was held up by fierce resistance from the 9th Massachusetts Infantry. By early afternoon, he ran into strong opposition by Porter, deployed along Boatswain's Creek and the swampy terrain was a major obstacle against the attack. Attacks by the brigades of Brig. Gens. Gregg, Dorsey Pender, Joseph R. Anderson, and Lawrence O'Bryan Branch made little headway. As Maj. Gen. James Longstreet arrived to the south of A.P. Hill, he saw the difficulty of attacking over such terrain and delayed until Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson could attack on Hill's left. 

Stonewall Jackson Joins Attack
Stonewall Jackson Attacks Battle Gaines Mill.jpg
(Historical Marker)

For the second time in the Seven Days, however, Jackson was late. Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill attacked the Federal right and was held off by the division of Brig. Gen. George Sykes; he backed off to await Jackson's arrival. Longstreet was ordered to conduct a diversionary attack to stabilize the lines until Jackson could arrive and attack from the north. In Longstreet's attack, Brig. Gen. George E. Pickett's brigade attempted a frontal assault and was beaten back under severe fire with heavy losses.

Bayonets Force Union Withdrawal
Bayonets Force Union Withdrawal Gaines Mill.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Jackson finally reached D.H. Hill's position at 3 p.m. and was completely disoriented following a day of pointless marching and countermarching. Believing that Longstreet's attack was underway, he kept his men and those of Hill's out of the fight to avoid friendly fire. Receiving messages from Lee, Jackson began his assault at 4:30 p.m. 


Porter's line was saved by Brig. Gen. Henry W. Slocum's division moving into position to bolster his defense. Shortly after dark, the Confederates mounted another attack, poorly coordinated, but this time collapsing the Federal line. Brig. Gen. John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade opened a gap in the line, as did Pickett's Brigade on its second attempt of the day.


The brigades of Brig. Gens. Thomas F. Meagher and William H. French arrived, too late to help other than as a rear guard for Porter's retreat. A battalion of the 5th U.S. Cavalry under Captain Charles J. Whiting suffered heavy losses and was forced to surrender. By 4 a.m. on June 28, Porter withdrew across the Chickahominy, burning the bridges behind him.


For the second day, Magruder was able to continue fooling McClellan south of the river by employing minor diversionary attacks. He was able to occupy 60,000 Federal troops while the heavier action occurred north of the river.

Cold Harbor and Gaines Mill Battlefield
Cold Harbor and Gaines Mill Battlefield.jpg
(Historical Marker)


Heavy Fighting Forces Withdrawal
Seven Days Battles Gaines Mill.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Battle: Despite the battlefield victory at Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville) on the evening of June 26, 1862, the Union Fifth Corps under Fitz John Porter abandoned the strong position there shortly after midnight. Army commander George B. McClellan, aware of an approaching Confederate column under “Stonewall” Jackson, decided to relocate his base of operations south to the James River. For the next five days his army moved toward the river, fighting a series of rearguard battles in a desperate effort to stave off triumphant Confederates. The Battle of Gaines’ Mill, on June 27, marked the first in that series of battles.


McClellan deployed Porter’s Fifth Corps across an arc of 1 miles, with its back to the swampy Chickahominy River. Porter recognized that his assignment was to hold off the pursuing Confederates while the balance of the Union army began its movement toward the James. With only 27,000 men, Porter had little hope of achieving any great victory, particularly when R. E. Lee brought approximately 60,000 Confederates to the attack. A small force of reenforcements elevated Porter’s strength to 34,000, but Lee enjoyed a great numerical advantage—one of the largest of the war for his army.

Virginia Civil War Map of Battles in 1862
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(Virginia Civil War Battlefields Map)

Stonewall Arrives at Gaines Mill
Stonewall Arrives at Battle of Gaines Mill.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Although not entrenched in the usual style, the Union infantry made full use of the terrain and enjoyed fine fields of fire. Abundant artillery helped Porter’s men as the battle grew in scope and violence. The initial Confederate attacks only began at about 2:30, leaving just 5 hours of daylight. For both sides, the ticking clock was of critical importance. If Porter’s men could survive until sunset, darkness would shelter their withdrawal across the river. If Lee could shatter the Union line during the daylight hours, he stood a real chance of fully destroying Porter’s command by driving it into the river.


For most of the afternoon the attacks of R. E. Lee's army sputtered and stalled, with substantial loss. A. P. Hill’s division began the battle, its six brigades colliding with the Federal divisions of George Sykes and George Morell. After one wrong turn, Stonewall Jackson’s wing of the army arrived and extended Lee’s force from the New Cold Harbor intersection eastward to the Old Cold Harbor crossroads. Jackson fed his divisions into the fight, producing a roar of rifle and musket fire that many veterans later remembered as the loudest they heard during the entire Civil War.


The defensive power of Porter’s position played an important part in the initial success of his troops. In many places his infantry commanded long fields of fire. To reach the Fifth Corps, most Confederate attackers had to cross long open stretches where they were vulnerable to damage. On other stretches of the line, thick woods and steep slopes aided the defenders by blunting the momentum of the attackers. 

Battle of Gaines Mill Map
Battle of Gaines Mill Map.jpg
Civil War Battle of Gaines Mill Virginia Map

McClellan Withdrawals
McClellan Withdrawals.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Finally, less than an hour before sunset, Lee hurled his combined force into a final attack—the largest single attack he ever launched during the war. His infantry broke Porter's line in at least two places, but insufficient daylight remained to overwhelm the beaten Federal force. The division of William H. C. Whiting, spearheaded by “The Texas Brigade” of John B. Hood, earned accolades for securing the first break in Porter’s line. As the Federal lines crumbled, entire regiments wandered through the smoky woods and fell into captivity at the hands of victorious Confederates. Porter’s position unraveled. The last Confederate attacks aimed at his line of reserve artillery, all that stood between the survivors of the Fifth Corps and the Chickahominy River. Charging against those massed cannon, Lee’s men absorbed shocking casualties while securing many of the trophies. In the afternoon’s action they captured two dozen Union cannon and seized control of the battlefield. But the successes occurred too late in the day to produce the total destruction of Porter’s command. Darkness obscured the battlefield, allowing the remnants of the Fifth Corps to retreat across the river and rejoin their comrades. Engineers blew up the various bridges, leaving Lee in control of the battlefield and of the Richmond and York River Railroad—the line that had supplied the Union army during the preceding six weeks of operations outside Richmond.


Each side achieved its goal on June 27. Porter's men mortgaged lives (6000 total casualties, killed, wounded, and captured) to buy time for the balance of the Union army to make for the James River. The Confederates had their first large, sweeping tactical victory in Virginia since July 1861, but at the steep cost of approximately 9000 men killed and wounded. Today Richmond National Battlefield Park owns only 60 acres of this large battlefield—the largest battle of the entire Seven Days—including the spot where John B. Hood's Confederates achieved the first breakthrough in the Union line.

Seven Days Battle Map
Seven Days Battle Map.jpg
Seven Days Battle Map

Historical Gaines Mill Battlefield Map
Historical Gaines Mill Battlefield Map.jpg
Gaines Mill Battlefield Map

Aftermath: Gaines' Mill was an intense battle, the largest of the Seven Days and the only clear-cut Confederate tactical victory of the Peninsula Campaign. Since the Confederate assault was conducted against only a small portion of the Union Army (the V Corps, one fifth of the army), the army emerged from the battle in relatively good shape overall. Lee's victory, his first of the war, could have been more complete if it were not for the mishaps of "Stonewall "Jackson.


(Left) Historical Civil War Battle of Gaines Mill Map. It shows the proximity of both Union and Confederate infantry and artillery battlefield positions.


Historian Stephen W. Sears speculates that it were not for Jackson's misdirected march and his poor staff work, the major assault that Lee unleashed at 7 p.m. could have occurred three or four hours earlier. This would have put Porter in grave jeopardy, without any last-minute reinforcements and the cover of darkness. He quotes Edward Porter Alexander, prominent Confederate artillery officer and postwar historian: "Had Jackson attacked when he first arrived, or during A.P. Hill's attack, we would have had an easy victory—comparatively, & would have captured most of Porter's command."

Union Left Flank at Gaines Mill
Union Left Flank at Gaines Mill.jpg
(Click to Enlarge)

However, although McClellan had already planned to shift his supply base to the James River, his defeat unnerved him and he precipitously decided to abandon his advance on Richmond and begin the retreat of his entire army to the James. Gaines' Mill and the Union retreat across the Chickahominy was a psychological victory for the Confederacy, signaling that Richmond was out of danger.


Analysis: The tactical situation was now extremely critical for both Lee and McClellan. Because of the repulse at Beaver Dam (Mechanicsville), Lee had not yet achieved his first objective, which, according to his battle order, was to "drive the enemy from his position above New Bridge," about 4 miles east of Mechanicsville. Lee's whole plan for the defense of Richmond, in the event McClellan should elect to march on the city with his main force south of the Chickahominy, hinged on his ability to cross the river quickly and attack the Federal rear. Lacking control of New Bridge this would be impossible. Although the Union position behind Boatswain Swamp was actually east of New Bridge, the approaches to the bridge could be covered by Porter's artillery.


The situation was equally serious for McClellan. With Jackson enveloping his right flank and rear, and believing he "had to deal with at least double" his numbers, White House would have to be abandoned. Having made the decision to change his base to the James, he desperately needed time to perfect the arrangements and to get the thousands of wagons and the herd of cattle safely started. His order to Porter was explicit, "hold our position at any cost until night."

Ruins from the Battle of Gaines Mill
Ruins from the Battle of Gaines Mill.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Wilcox Brigade & Gaines Mill
Wilcox Brigade & Gaines Mill.jpg
(Historical Marker)

Porter's corps now occupied a semicircular line of battle along the crest of the partially wooded plateau behind Boatswain Swamp, with both extremes resting on the Chickahominy River. It was another naturally strong position further strengthened by felling trees and digging rifle pits. The approaches to the position were over an open plain and across a sharp ravine. Gen. George Morell's division held the left and Gen. George Sykes' right, with McCall's weary troops in reserve. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke's cavalry was on Porter's extreme left, in the lowlands bordering the Chickahominy. During the course of the impending battle of Gaines' Mill, Porter would be reinforced by Gen. Willard Slocum's division, giving him a total strength of about 35,000, as opposed to about 60,000 for Lee. 


On the Confederate side, Longstreet was on Lee's right opposite Morell, A. P. Hill in the center, and Jackson and D. H. Hill on the left. Lee was convinced that the greater part of the Federal army was in his front, and he still thought McClellan would try to protect his base and retreat toward White House. On these erroneous assumptions he made his plans.


A. P. Hill would attack the center while Longstreet made a feint on the Union left. Then when Jackson appeared on the Union right, Lee believed Porter would shift part of his troops to meet Jackson's threat in order to keep him from getting between the Union army and its base at White House. As soon as Porter did this, Longstreet would turn the feint into a full assault, and together with Hill drive the Union forces into Jackson and D. H. Hill, waiting on Lee's left.


About 2:30 p.m. Hill attacked the center of the Federal line, but under a devastating fire of artillery and musketry, "where men fell like leaves in an autumn wind," his troops were hurled back with heavy losses. Longstreet, realizing a feint now would not help Hill, ordered a full-scale attack, but he too suffered a bloody repulse. Jackson, sensing that "Porter didn't drive worth two cents," as he quaintly put it, threw D. H. Hill against Sykes on Porter's right.


By now A. P. Hill's division was badly cut up, and on Lee's request Jackson sent Whiting's division, consisting of Gen. E. M. Law's and John B. Hood's brigades, over to support him. Porter then threw in Slocum's division of Franklin's corps, to protect threatened points along the line. The vicious battle waged furiously for 4 hours. "The noise of the musketry," said one veteran, "was not tattling, as ordinarily, but one intense metallic din." 

Alabama Casualties at Gaines Mill
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(Historical Marker)

Gaines Mill Battlefield
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Richmond National Battlefield Park

Finally, just as darkness covered the bloody field, Hood's Texas brigade, along with Gen. George Pickett's brigade on Longstreet's left, penetrated the right of Morell's line in a courageous bayonet charge that broke the morale of the Federal troops. They went streaming back across the plateau to the safety of the Chickahominy River. In a last desperate attempt to stem the tide, General Cooke ("Jeb" Stuart's father-in-law) sent his cavalry in a wild charge against the pressing Confederates. But the retreating Union infantry and artillery obstructed the cavalry and broke its attack. The only result was the loss of several more artillery pieces in the confusion.


With darkness closing in and the Confederate troops disorganized after the breakthrough, Lee did not attempt to pursue the Federals farther. Porter withdrew the remnants of his corps across the river and rejoined the main Union army. Total casualties in this crucial battle, the most costly and vicious of the Seven Days, were: Union 6,837; Confederate 8,751.


In a sense, both sides had achieved their immediate objectives. Porter had held until night, so McClellan could get his army safely started for Harrison's Landing. Lee had cleared the north side of the Chickahominy of all Federal forces, broken their supply line to White House, controlled strategic New Bridge, and had turned back McClellan's advance on Richmond.

(Sources listed at bottom of page.)

Recommended Reading: To The Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, by Stephen Sears. Description: To the Gates of Richmond charts the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, General George McClellan’s grand scheme to march up the Virginia Peninsula and take the Confederate capital. For three months McClellan battled his way toward Richmond, but then Robert E. Lee took command of the Confederate forces. In seven days, Lee drove the cautious McClellan out, thereby changing the course of the war. Intelligent and well researched, To the Gates of Richmond vividly recounts one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Continued below...

Publishers Weekly: Sears complements his 1988 biography of George McClellan with this definitive analysis of the general's principal campaign. McClellan's grand plan was to land an army at Yorktown, move up the Virginia peninsula toward Richmond, and fight a decisive battle somewhere near the Confederate capital, thereby ending the Civil War while it was still a rebellion instead of a revolution. The strategy failed in part because of McClellan's persistent exaggerations of Confederate strength, but also because under his command the Federals fought piecemeal. The Confederates were only marginally more successful at concentrating their forces, but Sears credits their leaders, especially Lee, as better able to learn from experience. Confederate victory on the Peninsula meant the Civil War would continue. The campaign's heavy casualties indicated the kind of war it would be.

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Recommended Reading: The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula and the Seven Days (Military Campaigns of the Civil War), by Gary W. Gallagher. Description: The Richmond campaign of April-July 1862 ranks as one of the most important military operations of the first years of the American Civil War. Key political, diplomatic, social, and military issues were at stake as Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan faced off on the peninsula between the York and James Rivers. The climactic clash came on June 26-July 1 in what became known as the Seven Days battles, when Lee, newly appointed as commander of the Confederate forces, aggressively attacked the Union army. Casualties for the entire campaign exceeded 50,000, more than 35,000 of whom fell during the Seven Days. Continued below…

This book offers nine essays in which well-known Civil War historians explore questions regarding high command, strategy and tactics, the effects of the fighting upon politics and society both North and South, and the ways in which emancipation figured in the campaign. The authors have consulted previously untapped manuscript sources and reinterpreted more familiar evidence, sometimes focusing closely on the fighting around Richmond and sometimes looking more broadly at the background and consequences of the campaign. About the Author: Gary W. Gallagher is John L. Nau III Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He has published widely on the Civil War, including six previous titles in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series, and he is also a contributing Civil War historian for the History Channel.


Recommended Reading: Seven Days Before Richmond: McClellan's Peninsula Campaign Of 1862 And Its Aftermath (2009) (Hardcover) (728 pages). Description: This exhaustive volume, Seven Days Before Richmond, combines meticulous research with a unique perspective and examines the 1862 Peninsula Campaign of Union General George McClellan and the profound effects it had on the lives of McClellan and Confederate General Robert E. Lee, as well as its lasting impact on the war itself. Continued below…

Rudolph Schroeder’s twenty-five year military career and combat experience bring added depth to his analysis of the Peninsula Campaign, offering new insight and revelation to the subject of Civil War battle history. Schroeder analyzes this crucial campaign from its genesis to its lasting consequences on both sides. Featuring a detailed bibliography and a glossary of terms, this work contains the most complete Order of Battle of the Peninsula Campaign ever compiled, and it also includes the identification of commanders down to the regiment level. In addition, this groundbreaking volume includes several highly-detailed maps that trace the Peninsula Campaign and recreate this pivotal moment in the Civil War. Impeccably detailed and masterfully told, Seven Days Before Richmond is an essential addition to Civil War scholarship. Schroeder artfully enables us to glimpse the innermost thoughts and motivations of the combatants and makes history truly come alive.


Recommended Reading: The Peninsula Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis (Hardcover). Description: The largest offensive of the Civil War, involving army, navy, and marine forces, the Peninsula Campaign has inspired many history books. No previous work, however, analyzes Union general George B. McClellan's massive assault toward Richmond in the context of current and enduring military doctrine. The Peninsula Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis is an effort to fill this void. Background history is provided for continuity, but the heart of this book is in military analysis and the astonishing extent to which the personality traits of generals will often overwhelm even the best efforts of their armies. Continued below…

The Peninsula Campaign lends itself to such a study. In the book, lessons for those studying the art of war are many. On the waters, the first ironclads forever changed naval warfare (Monitor v. Merrimack). At the strategic level, McClellan's inability to grasp Lincoln's grand objective becomes evident. At the operational level, Robert E. Lee's difficulty in synchronizing his attacks deepens the mystique of how he achieved so much with so little. At the tactical level, the Confederate use of terrain to trade space for time allows for a classic study in tactics. Moreover, the campaign is full of lessons about the personal dimension of war. McClellan's overcaution, Lee's audacity, and Jackson's personal exhaustion all provide valuable insights for today’s commanders and for Civil War enthusiasts still debating this tremendous struggle. Historic photos and detailed battle maps make this study an invaluable resource for those touring all the many battlegrounds from Young's Mill and Yorktown through Fair Oaks to the final throes of the Seven Days Battles.


Recommended Reading: Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles. Description: The Seven Days Battles were fought southeast of the Confederate capital of Richmond in the summer of 1862, and it was the first campaign in the Civil War in which Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee and his fellow officers, including "Stonewall" Jackson, James Longstreet, A. P. Hill, and D. H. Hill, pushed George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac from the gates of Richmond to the James River, where the Union forces reached safety. Along the way, Lee lost several opportunities to harm McClellan. The Seven Days have been the subject of numerous historical treatments, but none more detailed and engaging than Brian K. Burton's retelling of the campaign that lifted Southern spirits, began Lee's ascent to fame, and almost prompted European recognition of the Confederacy. Continued below…


"A full and measured account marked by a clear narrative and an interesting strategy of alternating the testimony of generals with their grand plans and the foot soldiers who had to move, shoot, and communicate in the smoky underbrush." -- The Virginia Magazine

"A thoroughly researched and well-written volume that will surely be the starting point for those interested in this particular campaign." -- Journal of American History

"A welcome addition to scholarship that should be the standard work on its subject for some time to come." -- Journal of Military History

"A well-written, thoroughly researched study of the Seven Days.... Provides thorough and reasonable analyses of the commanders on both sides." -- Georgia Historical Quarterly


Recommended Reading: Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital. Review: When conquering Union soldiers entered Richmond, Virginia, in the first days of April, 1865, they found a city afire, reduced to desperation, but still defiant. Virginia historian Nelson Lankford reconstructs the final hours of the Confederacy's heart in this vivid narrative, which draws on contemporary letters, diaries, and official reports that share both immediacy and a sense of awe at the terrible destruction. Continued below…

Just why the capital burned has long been a subject of speculation; by Lankford's account, much of the damage was due to the defenders' last-minute efforts to destroy war materiel, setting fires that soon spread. Lankford attends to other legends as well, including a reported call on Confederate general George Pickett's home by none other than Abraham Lincoln, while offering verifiable vignettes of such moments as Robert E. Lee's return to the capital and the celebrations of newly liberated slaves and Union prisoners. Lankford's narrative offers a view much different from what he calls "the warm sepia glow cast over our great national trauma by popular books and documentary films." It is a fine effort, and one that students of the Civil War should welcome.

Sources: Editors of Time-Life Books, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run, Time-Life Books, 1984, ISBN 0-8094-4804-1; Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5; Esposito, Vincent J., West Point Atlas of American Wars, Frederick A. Praeger, 1959; Holden-Reid, Brian, The American Civil War and the Wars of the Industrial Revolution, Cassel & Co., 1999, ISBN 0-304-35230-6; Kennedy, Frances H., ed., The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998, ISBN 0-395-74012-6; Robertson, James I., Jr., Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend, MacMillan Publishing, 1997, ISBN 0-02-864685-1; Salmon, John S., The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide, Stackpole Books, 2001, ISBN 0-8117-2868-4; Sears, Stephen W., To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, Ticknor and Fields, 1992; Richmond National Battlefield Park; National Park Service; Civil War Preservation Trust (Civil War Trust) located online; Library of Congress; National Archives.

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