The closing battle of the Seven Days saw the Army of Northern Virginia assaulting the Army of the Potomac at Malvern Hill on the James River. The entire Army of the Potomac minus a division holding the Union supply depot at Harrison’s Landing on the James. Malvern Hill was shorn of trees and supplied excellent firing lines both for Union land artillery and for Union naval gunfire. Unwisely Lee decided upon a direct frontal assault upon this formidable position. The attacks launched by Huger’s division and D.H. Hill’s division were bloodily repulsed by Union artillery, superbly directed by Colonel Henry Hunt, with the Union infantry largely passive spectators. After the War, D. H. Hill, summing up the battle of Malvern Hill, said: It wasn’t war; it was murder. Confederate casualties were 5, 650 to Union casualties of 2,214. Here is General Lee’s report written on March 6, 1863:
BATTLE OF MALVERN HILL
Early on July 1 Jackson reached the battle-field of the previous day, having succeeded in crossing White Oak Swamp, where he captured a part of the enemy’s artillery and a number of prisoners. He was directed to continue the pursuit down the Willis Church road, and soon found the enemy occupying a high range, extending obliquely across the road, in front of Malvern Hill. On this position of great natural strength he had concentrated his powerful artillery, supported by masses of infantry, partially protected by earthworks. His left rested near Crew’s house and his right near Binford’s. Immediately in his front the ground was open, varying in width from a quarter to half a mile, and, sloping gradually from the crest, was completely swept by the fire of his infantry and artillery. To reach this open ground our troops had to advance through a broken and thickly-wooded country, traversed nearly throughout its whole extent by a swamp passable at but few places and difficult at those. The whole was within range of the batteries on the heights and the gunboats in the river, under whose incessant fire our movements had to be executed.
Jackson formed his line with Whiting’s division on his left and D. H. Hill’s on his right, one of Ewell’s brigades occupying the interval. The rest of Ewell’s and Jackson’s own divisions were held in reserve. Magruder was directed to take position on Jackson’s right, but before his arrival two of Huger’s brigades came up and were placed next to Hill. Magruder subsequently formed on the right of these brigades, which, with a third of Huger’s, were placed under his command. Longstreet and A. P. Hill were held in reserve and took no part in the engagement. Owing to ignorance of the country, the dense forests impeding necessary communication, and the extreme difficulty of the ground, the whole line was not formed until a late hour in the afternoon. The obstacles presented by the woods and swamp made it impracticable to bring up a sufficient amount of artillery to oppose successfully the extraordinary force of that arm employed by the enemy, while the field itself afforded us few positions favorable for its use and none for its proper concentration. Orders were issued for a general advance at a given signal, but the causes referred to prevented a proper concert of action among the troops. D.H. Hill pressed forward across the open field and engaged the enemy gallantly, breaking and driving back his first line; but a simultaneous advance of the other troops not taking place, he found himself unable to maintain the ground he had gained against the overwhelming numbers and numerous batteries of the enemy. Jackson sent to his support his own division and that part of Ewell’s which was in reserve, but owing to the increasing darkness and intricacy of the forest and swamp they did not arrive in time to render the desired assistance. Hill was therefore compelled to abandon part of the ground he had gained after suffering severe loss and inflicting heavy damage upon the enemy. On the right the attack was gallantly made by Huger’s and Magruder’s commands. Two brigades of the former commenced the action; the other two were subsequently sent to the support of Magruder and Hill. Several determined efforts were made to storm the hill at Crew’s house. The brigades advanced bravely across the open field, raked by the fire of a hundred cannon and the musketry of large bodies of infantry. Some were broken and gave way, others approached close to the guns, driving back the infantry, compelling the advanced batteries to retire to escape capture, and mingling their dead with those of the enemy. For want of concert among the attacking columns their assaults were too weak to break the Federal line, and after struggling gallantly, sustaining and inflicting great loss, they were compelled successively to retire. Night was approaching when the attack began, and it soon became difficult to distinguish friend from foe. The firing continued until after 9 p.m., but no decided result was gained. Part of the troops were withdrawn to their original positions, others remained on the open field, and some rested within a hundred yards of the batteries that had been so bravely but vainly assailed. The general conduct of the troops was excellent.– in some instances heroic. The lateness of the hour at which the attack necessarily began gave the enemy the full advantage of his superior position and augmented the natural difficulties of our own.