Ten Biggest Battles of the American Civil War – Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville


Eastern Theatre of the Civil War

Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville (map)

With Lincoln’s dismissal of McClellan after Sharpsburg the post of commander of the Army of the Potomac again became vacant and Lincoln pitched around for a replacement – finally appointing Gen Ambrose Burnside into the position. Born in Indiana, of Scottish ancestry, Burnside had graduated from West Point in 1847 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Artillery. Posted to Veracruz during the closing stages of the Mexican war, he arrived too late to see any action and served only on garrison duty. After the war he was assigned to the western frontier, where he briefly served in the cavalry under Braxton Bragg, then a Captain, protecting  the mail routes to California.

He resigned from the Army in 1853 and, although only a minor figure in his military career,  set up a company to manufacture the product for which he became widely known in military circles before the war – a superior design of cavalry rifle known as the Burnside Carbine. Initially contracted to mass produce the weapon for the army, his business collapsed among accusations that government officials had been bribed by a rival to cancel the contract, even though he had already heavily invested in plant – leading to financial ruin for Burnside. In 1858, he ran for a Congressional seat in Rhode Island for the Democrats, but was heavily defeated and went on instead to secure a senior position with the Illinois Central Railroad, where he met and befriended the company’s Vice President – a certain George Brinton McClellan.  Tall and imposing in stature, and jovial and friendly by nature, Burnside’s most prominent physical features were the huge bushy side whiskers that he wore all his adult life and for which he became famous . Originally known as “burn-sides”, the fashion became popular on both sides of the Atlantic and gives us the modern word “sideburns”.

Burnside had been offered command of the Army of Potomac twice before, the first being after the collapse of Peninsula campaign. However, partly out of loyalty to his close friend McClellan, but mostly through a stark realisation that he was unqualified for so demanding a role, he refused. After the fiasco of Sharpsburg, Lincoln again offered and he again refused, before finally – after an appeal to his patriotism – accepting in Oct 1862. In the late autumn of that year, and under heavy pressure from Lincoln, Burnside hatched a plan for a winter offensive. His army was massed south of Washington, between Manassas Junction and Thoroughfare Gap with Lee’s main force to his south at Culpepper Courthouse, and Stonewall Jackson and the Shenandoah Valley army to his west, south of Winchester. Burnside rejected the favoured plan of Lincoln and the Cabinet – a crossing of the Rappahannock at  Rappahannock Station and a direct assault on Culpepper along the line of the Orange and Alexandria railroad, followed by a thrust towards Richmond. He was afraid that Stonewall would attack his supply lines from the west, just as he had done to Pope in the summer, plus he had – perfectly correct – concerns that the railway would be insufficient to keep his massive army supplied. Instead, he dusted off an old plan of McClellan’s for a rapid march southeast, and cross the river at the small town of Fredericksburg, 25 miles away, outflanking Lee and opening the way for a descent on Richmond along the line of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac railroad. The plan, while bold, was also risky since it relied on a critical dependency – the bridge at Fredericksburg was inadequate for the passage of a large force, and at any rate led directly into the town on the south bank creating a single choke point. This was to be surmounted by the deployment of pontoon bridges at various points, to allow a speedy crossing.

Burnside set out on 15th Nov and his leading elements reached Falmouth, a mile upstream of Fredericksburg on the north bank 2 days later, finding only 500 Confederate troops guarding the town on the south bank. The first part of the plan worked – when Lee realised what Burnside was doing he thought that the Federal troops would certainly cross immediately, and so deployed his army 20 miles to the south along the banks of the North Anna river, the next realistic defensive line. From that point on however, Burnside’s plan began to unravel. Due to a catalogue of administrative errors the pontoons failed to arrive on the 17th. The officer commanding the lead elements, Gen Edwin Sumner, begged to be allowed to attempt a crossing immediately using the existing bridge and nearby fords – arguing that this was their only chance to take the town while it was lightly held and then push on to occupy a ridge to the west of the town called Marye’s heights before Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia arrived. Burnside refused, believing that the heavy autumn rains would render the fords impassable and leave Sumner stranded on the south bank. This decision was to have catastrophic consequences for the Union when battle was finally joined.

The pontoons finally arrived, two weeks late, on 30th of Nov, by which time both armies had had ample time to assemble; 114,000 men of the Army of the Potomac on the north bank, and 73,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia on the south, by now well dug in on Marye’s heights overlooking the town. It wasn’t until 11th of December that Union engineers constructed the first pontoons, on either side of the town and under a murderous fire from Confederate snipers. Attempts to suppress the sniper fire by Union artillery on the north bank were ineffective as the rebels simply took shelter in the cellars under Fredericksburg until a brigade of Union troops crossed the newly constructed pontoon and fought a street by street battle to clear the snipers from the town, supported by more than 5,000 artillery shells fired from Union batteries on the north bank – the first major incident of urban fighting in the war.

Burnside’s army began to cross in the mid afternoon, and by noon of the following day the main force was on the south bank. Lee had withdrawn from the town and divided his army in two wings. The left under Gen James Longstreet, was dug in along Marye’s heights overlooking the town, whilst the right, led by Stonewall Jackson was massed in woods on Prospect Hill, with a railway line running parallel to the river, a mile south of the town opposite the southern pontoon bridge, as a thick early morning fog carpeted this section of battlefield. Probing attacks by Union troops revealed a gap in the defences where a patch of swampy woodland 600 yards wide extended in front of the railway line, and 5,000 Union men under Gen George Gordon Meade moved forward to exploit it. An artillery duel followed by a hand-to-hand battle rapidly developed around the gap as both sides poured in reinforcements and at one point Meade’s men succeed in breaking through the gap and reaching the main defences on the wooded hill, but failure to adequately support the breakthrough meant that Jackson was able to stabilise his front, albeit at the cost of 3,500 casualties to 5,000 for the attackers. By late afternoon, Jackson was withdrawing to positions south of town as the main focus of the battle moved to Marye’s heights.

The Commander of Lee’s left wing, Longstreet, had his men along a 600 yard long stone wall that ran across Marye’s Heights, deployed three deep with 7,000 reserves behind them as well as his massed artillery batteries. In front of him an open plain sloped down to the town of Fredericksburg, cut by a canal with just three small bridges, meaning that attacking Union troops would have to be funnelled at each of these crossing points, all well within range of Longstreet’s artillery – in short, the Confederates had created a near – impregnable position. Burnside, who had expected the morning action to the south of the town to be the main fight now ordered his subordinate Gen Sumner to assault the ridge, but it was a hopeless endeavour. Under heavy artillery fire as they crossed the plain, and each wave was cut down about 100 yards from the stone wall by repeated rifle volleys. When Sumner’s men failed to carry the defences Burnside sent Gen Joseph Hooker’s corps up from the town to try as well, but with predictable results. In all fourteen charges were made against Longstreet’s men, but all were bloody failures – no Union troops got closer than 40 yards to the stone wall before the attack was called off as darkness fell and Burnside ordered his men to retreat back across the river, having lost 8,000 casualties to only 1,500 Confederate in an action that was originally intended to be a purely diversionary effort to draw the Confederates away from Jackson’s position on Prospect Hill.

That evening a distraught Burnside first tried to blame his subordinates, then declared that he would lead a fresh assault the following morning in person, before being talked out of it by his aides. The night of the 13 – 14th Dec 1862 was bitterly cold, with the aurorae playing in the clear skies above as thousands of wounded lay scattered across the battlefield. The author Louisa May Alcott documented their plight in the 1863 novel Hospital Sketches, based on her experiences as a nurse tending the wounded after Fredericksburg. In total the Army of the Potomac lost 12,000 casualties against only 5,000 Confederate, most of them on Jackson’s front.

The news of the defeat at Fredericksburg was received with consternation in Washington, with  Lincoln writing “If there is a worse place than hell, then I am in it”. Yet such was his desperation to find someone, anyone, to lead the Army of the Potomac, that he initially retained Burnside in his post. Three weeks later, in January 1863, Burnside made an abortive attempt at a further winter offensive by marching back up the north bank of the Rappahannock, intending to force a crossing at US Ford, close to Chancellorsville. The heavy winter rains however turned the roads to mud and, with some of his subordinates openly agitating against him, Lincoln was finally forced to act, and Burnside was stood down, to be re-assigned to the western theatre where, in command of smaller forces in a theatre with less political interference, he enjoyed a measure of success.

There can be little doubt, that of all the commanders of the Army of the Potomac, there can have been few more unfitted to the role than Burnside, indeed it was said of him that he should never have held any commission at all above the rank of Colonel. Yet in general, the judgement of history has been kinder to him than it might have been, for the simple reason that no-one was more aware of his shortcomings than Burnside himself, it was role he never wanted and, had it not been for his sense of patriotism, he never would have accepted it. After the war, he enjoyed a successful career in the railway business, served three terms as governor of Rhode Island, having switched parties to the Republicans, attempted mediation in the Franco – Prussian war whilst on a visit to Europe and served  two terms as Senator for Rhode Island; he was also appointed the inaugural president of the National Rifle Association.

Burnside’s replacement as commander was Gen Joseph Hooker. After graduating from West Point in 1837, he served with distinction in the Seminole wars of the 1840’s and 1850’s and in the Mexican war. After leaving the army in 1853, he worked in farming and made an unsuccessful attempt to enter politics in California. He returned to the army at the outbreak of war with the rank of Brig Gen and again served with distinction during the Peninsula campaign and at Sharpsburg. Like his earlier predecessor as commander of the Army of the Potomac, McClellan, Hooker was an extremely able administrator and a very effective motivator of his men; but where he differed was in his aggressive attitude to combat – his nickname among the troops  was “Fighting Joe”.

After re-organising, reinforcing, re-equipping and restoring the army’s battered morale after the debacle of Fredericksburg, Hooker went on the offensive. In late April 1863, while maintaining his main force before Fredericksburg, he sent 10,000 cavalry under Gen George Stoneman northwest to cross the river at Rappahannock Station, and thrust south to attack Confederate lines of communication back to Richmond. At the same time 40,000 men under Gen John Sedgwick would renew the attack on Fredericksburg while Hooker himself took the bulk of his force, some 70,000 strong back up the north bank of the Rappahannock, then across to the south bank and across the Rapidan river to the south, just west of the confluence to the two rivers, intending catch Lee in a pincer. Hooker took up position with his force around a small hamlet called Chancellorsville, in a broad clearing close to an area of dense woodland known as the Wilderness, a few miles south of the Rapidan, and ten miles west of Fredericksburg.  Although outnumbered two to one, and in a precarious position, Lee – still at Fredericksburg –  wasn’t fooled by the move and defied military convention by dividing his force, leaving just 10,000 men to hold off Sedgwick, while he rushed with his remaining 50,000 to confront Hooker in the woods south of Chancellorsville.

The main action of the battle of Chancellorsville opened on the 1st May with an attack by Hooker to the southeast, where he soon ran into Stonewall Jackson’s men advancing towards him close to an unfinished railway line at Tabernacle Church. Despite early success by his men, Hooker seems to have lost his nerve – perhaps believing after the failed attacks at Fredericksburg that the best way to take advantage of his superiority in numbers was to draw Lee towards a defensive position and wear him down. Whatever the reason, Hooker withdrew from the fight and by nightfall had his men dig breastworks around Chancellorsville and waited for Lee to come on to them.

That night, Lee consulted with his main subordinate Stonewall Jackson and, at his urging, hatched what is remembered as the most audacious manoeuvre of his career. The following morning, Lee split his force yet again and sent Jackson westward with 26,000 men on a broad flanking march along the narrow roads snaking through the dense woodland in front of, and then around, the huge Union army until they reached the extreme western flank of Hooker’s position. In the late afternoon, Hooker’s men were preparing their meal when their pickets reported that an unusual number of animals were bounding out of the forest, first squirrels and foxes then larger creatures such as deer. Within a few minutes the reason for every creature large and small being flushed out of the woodland became horribly apparent as Jackson’s 26,000 rebel infantry began to pour out of the forest at a right angle to Hookers entrenched troops. Pandemonium ensued as the Confederates formed into line of battle and opened fire; within minutes panic began to spread along the Union line, which collapsed like a house of cards. Within a few hours, the Confederates came within range of Hooker’s headquarters at Chancellor House. The confusion in the Union ranks was increased further when a stone pillar against which Hooker was leaning was struck by a canon ball, knocking him temporarily unconscious. Dazed, Hooker refused to relinquish command and, but for the timely arrival of Union reinforcements, his entire army would have disintegrated there and then.

Night fell with the Union troops having retreated two miles before the fighting died down. Lee’s great victory, often called his “perfect battle”, was tinged with tragedy however. That night Stonewall and few aides were returning from a reconnaissance of the Union positions when they were mistaken by Confederate pickets for a Union raiding party and fired at. Jackson was severely wounded and was carried to a field medical station where his arm was amputated. Although transferred to a military hospital the following day, pneumonia set in and eight days later he died; robbing Lee of his most able and talented subordinate. Still to this day, Stonewall Jackson’s sweep around the wing of the Union army at Chancellorsville is studied as the perfect example of how to carry out an outflanking manoeuvre.

Fighting resumed the following day, with the arrival of significant Union reinforcements, and the two armies clashed again at Salem Church and at the second battle of Fredericksburg, but by the end of the 4th of May, Hooker had had enough and withdrew back across the Rappahannock, robbing Lee of the chance to destroy the Army of the Potomac. The Union lost 17,000 casualties at Chancellorsville (out of 133,000 engaged) against 13,000 Confederate (out of 61,000). The two interlinked battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville were the high watermark of Confederate fortunes in the eastern theatre. Although both were resounding rebel victories, never again would a numerically superior Union force be beaten so easily in the field.



Copyright ©2012 Savereo John

Ten Biggest Battles of the American Civil War – The Seven Days

Inventor and entrepreneur Thaddeus Lowe in his balloon Intrepid deploying to observe Confederate troop movements at the Battle of Fair Oaks Station

Eastern Theatre of the Civil War (map)

The Seven Days (map)

The complex series of interlinked battles fought between 25th June and 1st July, to the east and south of Richmond, known as the Seven Days, were the decisive engagement of the Peninsula campaign of the eastern theatre of the American Civil war. Lasting from March to July of 1862 , this was the Union’s first major offensive operation in that theatre since the disaster of 1st Manassas (1st Bull Run) the previous year, the war’s first major battle. The Union forces numbered 104,000 and were commanded by George Brinton McClellan, and were opposed by 92,000 Confederates under Robert E Lee.

Robert Edward Lee was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia descended originally from an English settler, Richard Lee, who arrived in the colony in 1638, founding one of Virginia’s oldest families; his father was Henry Lee III, known as “Light Horse Harry”, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Lee attended West Point and graduated in 1829 second in his class; entering the Army Corps of Engineers as a second Lieutenant  the same year. After a successful career in the Engineers, he served with great distinction in the Mexican war as a Chief Aide to the expedition commander Gen Winfield Scott; he also met and served alongside the man who would one day be his battlefield nemesis – Ulysses Grant. In 1852 he became Superintendant of West Point, before earning promotion to deputy command of a Texas cavalry regiment, where he served under Albert Sidney Johnston, then a Colonel, fighting the Comanche and Apache; he also commanded the small force sent by President Buchannan in 1859 to apprehend John Brown at Harper’s Ferry after his failed attempt at fomenting a slave uprising.

Upon the outbreak of war the Lee family home was Arlington House (now Arlington National Cemetery) located just across the Potomac from the White House, its dome still then under construction. Initially accepting promotion to Colonel, Lee was an opponent of secession but, like many men of that time felt a greater loyalty to his state and had doubts about bearing arms against it should it secede. He initially rejected a post within the Confederate army, but on 18th April 1861 when offered promotion to Major General and command of the Washington defences, he rejected that also and resigned from the army two days later on hearing of the final decision of Virginia to secede. Three days later on the 23rd, he was offered, and accepted, command of the Virginia State forces.

His early service in the Confederate army was less than stellar – the defeat at the small battle of Cheat Mountain in Sept 1861 earned the derisive nickname in the press of “Granny Lee”; but by the time of the Peninsula campaign he had gained the confidence of President Davis who appointed him his Military Advisor; it was during this tenure that he supervised the construction of trench-works around Richmond – ridiculed by the press at the time, they were to play an important role in the latter stages of the Overland Campaign in the closing phases of the war.

After the shock defeat of the Union in the war’s first major battle, Lincoln dismissed it’s commander Irwin McDowell and introduced emergency legislation to recruit and equip and army of 500,000 for a period of three months. The forces around Washington were renamed the Army of the Potomac, with McClellan placed in command. A highly experienced officer who, just like Robert E Lee, had graduated from West Point second in his class and went on to serve in the Corps of Engineers during the Mexican war. After the conflict he went on to a peacetime career where, as a fluent French speaker, he was appointed official observer to the Crimean war and witnessed the siege of Sevastopol. After leaving the army, he enjoyed a highly successful career in business and held the post of Chief Engineer and Vice President of the Illinois Central Railroad company and was also president of the Ohio and Mississippi railroad. In addition, he developed his political connections during this period and was a noted supporter of Democrat candidate Stephen Douglas in the 1860 presidential campaign, won by Lincoln.

Although frequently criticised during the war as being overly cautious on the battlefield, there was no denying McClellan’s outstanding abilities as an administrator. He completely built up the Army of the Potomac from scratch turning it from a disorganised and defeated rabble after 1st Manassas into a well drilled and exceedingly well equipped force; plus he was hugely popular with his men, who dubbed him “little Napoleon”, a nickname he did nothing to discourage. This warm relationship however was not shared with Lincoln, whom he detested, regarding him as an upstart and rude mannered provincial lawyer hopelessly out of his depth in the White House – referring to him more than once as “the original gorilla”.

To break the deadlock that had set in on the eastern front, McClellan conceived an audacious plan to move the entire Army of the Potomac by sea down Chesapeake Bay to Fort Munroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, just 75 miles east of Richmond. Bounded to the north by the York river and to the south by the James river, the assault was intended to outflank the Confederate defences south of Washington and capture the rebel capital Richmond in a surprise attack. The Union force set sail from Alexandria, Virginia on 17th March 1862, just seven months after 1st Manassas, with 122,000 men and 15,000 horses, landing the following day at Fort Munroe and commencing the advance up the Peninsula on 4th April.

From the outset, the Union force was hampered by the excessive caution of its commander combined with wildly inaccurate intelligence as to the enemy. The US in the 1860’s possessed no professional military intelligence service and instead had to employ the Pinkerton Detective Agency in its place. The reports provided by the Pinkertons badly over-estimated the strength of the Confederate opposition; at the first engagements for instance, close to the old British defensive works around Yorktown, McClellan was informed that the enemy numbered at least 100,000, the same size as his own army – in reality there were barely 15,000 men manning the entrenchments.

As the Confederates, commanded by the experienced Joseph Eggleston Johnston, retreated up the Peninsula the first pitched battle occurred on 5th May close to Williamsburg, where 32,000 Confederates held off 41,000 Union troops for the cost of 4,000 casualties in total, before Johnston drew off, cautiously pursued by McClellan; with further clashes at West Point and Drewry’s Bluff; the port of Norfolk was also occupied on 10th May, the operation observed by President Lincoln, then on an inspection tour of the army’s progress.

As the Union army entered the thickly wooded valley of the Chickahominy river, swollen from the early spring rain, McClellan  soon discovered that not only were their own maps wholly inaccurate, showing rivers flowing in the wrong direction, but that no local maps of the area existed at all. Due to a decision to deploy on both sides of the river, his force was divided in two by the swollen river at the first major battle of the campaign, Fair Oaks Station (Seven Pines) just 5 miles east of Richmond, when Johnston attacked him on the 31st May. A three day battle ensued resulting in a stalemate, as McClellan withdrew from the vicinity of Richmond to re-group and relocate his supply base from White House to Harrison’s Landing, bringing the first phase of the campaign to a close. The confederates lost 6,000 casualties at Fair Oaks Station, but among them was Johnston himself, wounded by a stray bullet. His replacement, appointed a few days later, was Robert E Lee.

The stalemate after Fair Oaks Station lasted a month, while McClellan re-grouped and deployed his forces in an arc around the eastern side of Richmond, but still lying astride the flooded river, as he prepared for a siege, but Lee had other ideas. On the 10th June, he ordered a cavalry raid and reconnaissance in force by 1,200 troopers under Gen JEB Stuart.

James Ewell Brown (“JEB”) Stuart was Lee’s cavalry commander, and had a long personal association with his superior, going back to the early 1850’s, having known Lee socially before the war. He attended West Point during Lee’s superintendence of the Academy and earned several distinctions for his outstanding skills in horsemanship. Assigned to the cavalry after graduation he served with distinction on the western frontier and showed early leadership promise, soon achieving promotion to first Lieutenant and later Regimental Quartermaster. In 1857 he was wounded fighting against the Cheyenne, whilst serving under Edwin Sumner, then a Colonel, and in 1859 was one of the troopers serving under Robert E Lee when he captured John Brown at Harper’s Ferry. He defected to the  Confederates on the outbreak of war, and was soon promoted to Brig General, going on to serve in all the major campaigns of the Eastern theatre. Noted for the red-lined cape and wide felt hats adorned with an ostrich feather he habitually wore, Stuart cut a dashing figure, famed not only for his horsemanship but also his mastery of reconnaissance; although he was nonetheless thought by some subordinates to be a little too fond of showmanship and “military foppery “.

Stuart set out a few days later and conducted a circuitous ride by way of Hanover Courthouse, past Cold Harbor, White House, Charles City Crossroads and Malvern Hill, completing a circuit of McClellan’s huge army all the while raiding Union depots, destroying infrastructure, taking prisoners and generally disrupting McClellan’s carefully planned dispositions, pausing only to accept drinks and bouquets from admiring southern women. By one of those quirks of fate that crop up endlessly in the Civil War, the man assigned to pursue, and hopefully capture Stuart, was none other than Gen Philip St George Cooke, his own father in law. As with so many families in the Civil War, the conflict split them down the middle with members joining both sides. At the outbreak of war Cooke opted to fight for the Union, a decision that Stuart remarked he “would regret only once, but that would be continuously !”. Although the raid was of negligible value militarily as a piece of wartime propaganda it was a masterpiece, with Stuart returning to Richmond to a hero’s welcome.

The Seven Days battles began on the 25th June with a minor clash at Oak Grove, a small wooded area cut in two by the waters of White Oak Swamp and was the only offensive action McClellan took during the battles. Two Union divisions took part, one of them containing a brigade commanded by Gen Daniel Sickles, who would later famously defend the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg; the action was inconclusive leading to 1,100 casualties on both sides.

The main action began on the 26th of June when Lee attacked the northern flank of McClellan’s army at Mechanicsville, three miles northeast of Richmond. The original plan had been for the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah Valley led by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to outflank the Union position by an overnight march, but Jackson failed to arrive in time, resulting in a tactical Union victory with heavy Confederate casualties – but as was frequently the case with McClellan, he acted as if the battle had been a defeat, and withdrew his force to the southeast, surrendering the initiative to Lee, who never let it go from that point on.

As McClellan withdrew from the Mechanicsville area, with the rest of his huge force still deployed in an arc around Richmond, the two armies clashed again the following day, three miles to the east at the battle of Gaines Mill (Chickahominy) where 60,000 Confederates attacked a force of 35,000 entrenched close to the northern bank of the Chickahominy. As at Mechanicsville, confused orders led to the late arrival of Stonewall’s troops, allowing the Union force, led by Gen Fitz John Porter to escape to the southern bank, but at the cost of 7,000 casualties.

Although McClellan’s force was still largely uncommitted, and the small part that had been engaged had performed well, Lee’s aggressive move completely unnerved McClellan and he ordered a general retreat to the southeast with the intention of concentrating around the Union base at Harrisons Landing on the James river. On 29th June, McClellan’s force was located around Savage’s Station on the Richmond and York River railroad, preparing to retreat to the southeast around White Oak Swamp when Lee attacked again with a force of 14,000 led by Gen John Magruder against 26,000 union troops under Gen Edwin Sumner. Yet again, confused orders on both sides led to a disjointed action with only part of Magruder’s force deployed, and part of Sumner’s force withdrawn. The action is notable for the first use of an armoured railroad gun, a 32-pounder rifled Brooke naval gun mounted in a sloping iron casement and pushed by a locomotive. This fearsome weapon however, which far outclassed anything the Union force possessed, was insufficient to overcome the Confederates numerical disadvantage, and the action ended in a bloody stalemate with 1,500 casualties, plus 2,500 Union wounded left behind as McClellan’s force withdrew again after the battle.

The following day, 30th June, with McClellan’s army now safely to the south of White Oak Swamp, Lee attacked again, but this time with a much bigger force. Ten miles southeast of Richmond, at the battle of Glendale (known also as Frayser’s Farm or Charles City Crossroads), he deployed 45,000 against 40,000 Union men. As with so many of Lee’s plans in the Seven Days, his orders were misunderstood, misread and in some cases simply ignored by his subordinates, resulting in a uncoordinated and disjointed battle, with units committed piecemeal to the fight, that ended in a bloody stalemate with 7,500 casualties on both sides. Yet again, although McClellan had succeeded in repulsing Lee and keeping his army intact, he treated the engagement as if it had been a defeat and continued his withdrawal to the south.

The final, and largest, battle of the Seven Days took place on 1st of July just three miles south of the Glendale battlefield where 55,000 Union troops had taken up a fortified position on the north bank of the James river, and were attacked by an equal number of Confederates at the battle of Malvern Hill (known also as Poindexter’s Farm). Lee’s complex plans to defeat the Union force were yet again poorly executed by his subordinates who also came up against a fearsome artillery barrage from the Union guns massed on the hill, supplemented by 50-pounder shells fired by three river gunboats; a feature of the conflict, virtually from the outset, was that the Confederates possessed better infantry, but the Union had far the better artillery. Despite this, Lee’s troops closed to within 200 yards of the Union centre, but by nightfall had been badly repulsed with 6,000 casualties, allowing McClellan to withdraw again to his base at Harrison’s Landing three miles to the southeast.

McClellan now established a strongly fortified base on the James river and Lee declined to renew the attack, retreating instead to the defences of Richmond. A golden opportunity to end the war in its second year had been wasted, and shortly afterwards the entire Union force was withdrawn, to be re-deployed south of Washington to reinforce the newly assembled Army of Virginia under Gen John Pope. President and General blamed each other for the defeat, with Lincoln accusing McClellan of caution bordering on cowardice and McClellan blaming Lincoln for failing to reinforce him against an enemy that he still believed to be twice the size of his own army. Northern morale plummeted after the embarrassing defeat, whilst southern morale skyrocketed, despite the clumsy performances of many of Lee’s subordinates, whilst Lee himself was now raised to the status of a military genius in the eyes of many. McClellan, for his part, would retain command of the Army of the Potomac, but was not retained in his other role, General in Chief of the Union forces, into which Lincoln promoted Gen Henry Halleck without consulting, or even notifying McClellan.


Copyright ©2012 Savereo John