Malvern Hill

Ye elms that wave on Malvern Hill

In prime of morn and May,

Recall ye how McClellan’s men

Here stood at bay?

While deep within yon forest dim

Our rigid comrades lay –   Some with the cartridge in their mouth,

Others with fixed arms lifted South –

Invoking so

The cypress glades? Ah wilds of woe!

The spires of Richmond, late beheld

Through rifts in musket-haze,

Were closed from view in clouds of dust

On leaf-walled ways,

Where streamed our wagons in caravan;

And the Seven Nights and Days

Of march and fast, retreat and fight,

Pinched our grimed faces to ghastly plight –   Does the elm wood

Recall the haggard beards of blood?

The battle-smoked flag, with stars eclipsed,

We followed (it never fell!) –

In silence husbanded our strength –

Received their yell;

Till on this slope we patient turned

With cannon ordered well;

Reverse we proved was not defeat;

But ah, the sod what thousands meet! –

Does Malvern Wood

Bethink itself, and muse and brood?

We elms of Malvern Hill

Remember every thing;

But sap the twig will fill:

Wag the world how it will,

Leaves must be green in Spring.

Herman Melville

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Published in: on July 1, 2012 at 6:15 am  Comments Off on Malvern Hill  
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Taps

Something for the weekend.  The mournful tones of Taps, the song written by Union general Daniel Butterfield,  first sounded at the conclusion of the Seven Days on July 1, 1862.  It is a fitting memorial to the Americans, wearing blue or gray, who died in those seven days 150 years ago. (more…)

Published in: on June 30, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Taps  
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June 30, 1862: Battles of Frazier’s Farm and White Oak Swamp

As June 3oth dawned the Union army was in full retreat to the James.  By noon, one-third of the Army of the Potomac had reached the James, while the other two-thirds was strung out on roads leading to the James between Glendale and White Oak Swamp.  This presented a tempting target to General Lee.  Ordering Jackson in the north to cross White Oak Creek and press the Union rear guard, the remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia, some 45,000 men, would attack two miles southwest at Glendale, and inflict what Lee hoped would be a crushing defeat on the Union forces marching to the James.  It was a good plan that fell down almost completely in execution.

Jackson, with that strange lethargy that marred all his operations in the Seven Days, spent all of the day north of White Oak Creek, launching feeble assaults which were easily repulsed by the Union VI Corp under General William Franklin.

The Confederate attack at Glendale fared little better.  Huger’s division failed to participate in the offensive,  slowed by felled trees and the failure of Huger to take an alternative route.  Holmes and Magruder launched a weak attack against the V Corps of General Fitz John Porter, the attack being broken up by Union artillery fire, supplemented by naval bombardment.

At 4:00 PM the divisions of Longstreet and A.P. Hill attacked at Glendale with the fighting centering on Frazier’s Farm, held by the Pennyslvania Reserves division of the V Corps under General George McCall.  Hard fighting continued until 8:30 PM.  The Union line held, and the Union army continued its retreat to Malvern Hill on the James.  The battle resulted in similar casualties for both sides:  Confederate 3,673 and Union 3, 797.  A golden opportunity to do severe damage to the Union army had been missed due to the poor execution which was a hallmark of the inexperienced Confederate command structure during the Seven Days.  Here is General Lee’s report written on March 6, 1863: (more…)

Published in: on June 30, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 30, 1862: Battles of Frazier’s Farm and White Oak Swamp  
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June 28, 1862: McClellan Orders Retreat to Harrison’s Landing

After the Confederate victory at Gaines Mill on June 27, General McClellan, the commander of the Army of the Potomac completely lost his nerve.  Certain that he was massively outnumbered by the Confederate’s, he ordered the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac from its positions in front of Richmond to Harrison’s Landing on the James River.  McClellan did not direct this retreat, abandoning the army while he went to a position south of Malvern Hill.  He gave no marching orders for the corps under his command, leaving it to his corps commanders to do so.  Massive mountains of supplies and ordinance were set on fire, and the Union wounded were abandoned after the retreat following the battle of Savage’s Station.  Few episodes have been as shameful in the history of the United States Army, and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of McClellan.  Instead of acting as the commander of an Army, McClellan was busily attempting to shift the blame for the debacle his inept generalship had created: (more…)

Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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June 27, 1862: Battle of Gaines Mill

Continuing on with our look at the Confederate offensive of the Seven Days, we come to the battle of Gaines Mill.  After the battle of Mechanicsville, Lee assembled a Confederate attack force of six divisions, 57,000 men, for the largest Confederate attack of the War, aimed at Porter’s V Corps, McClellan neither sending sufficient units from south of the Chickahominy to reinforce Porter, nor attacking against the weak Confederate forces holding Richmond, McClellan paralyzed by his belief that he was massively outnumbered both north and south of the Chickahominy.

McClellan’s order for Porter to withdraw came just before dawn on the 27th.  Numerous men in Brigadier General McCall’s division were captured by the Confederates due to the precipitate retreat necessary to comply with the order.  Porter picked out a good defensive position on a plateau behind Boatswain’s Swamp to make his stand.   He placed two divisions on the line and two divisions in reserve.

The battle began at 1:00 PM with a series of unsuccessful frontal assaults.  Jackson on the Confederate left was late again and not in position to attack until the general assault of 7:00 PM.  By this time the outnumbered Union troops were weary and the Union line crumpled up, Porter withdrawing in good order to the bridges over the Chickahominy, his corps crossing to the south side at 4:00 AM on June 28.  The battle was a clear-cut Confederate victory, although their casualties of 7,933 were slightly greater than the Union casualties of 6, 833.  The victory could have been greater if Jackson had been in position by 1:00 PM.  A retreat by Porter with eight hours of daylight could easily have ended in the destruction of Porter’s Corps.  As it was, McClellan was completely unnerved by the Confederate victory, and ordered a full retreat of his entire army from Richmond, which Lee and his army had saved.

Here is General Lee’s report on the Battle of Gaines Mill and its aftermath which was written on March 6, 1863: (more…)

Published in: on June 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm  Comments Off on June 27, 1862: Battle of Gaines Mill  
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June 26, 1862: Battle of Mechanicsville

The Battle of Mechanicsville, also known as the battle of Beaver Dam Creek. which opened the Confederate offensive of the Seven Days on June 26, 1862 was a tactical fiasco and defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia and a strategic defeat for the Army of the Potomac.

Lee’s plan to attack Porter’s V Corps, the only corps of the Army of the Potomac north of the Chickahominy, defeat it and turn the right flank of the Army of the Potomac went badly awry in execution.  Beginning the poor performance that would plague him throughout the Seven Days, Jackson was four hours late in attacking the north flank of Porter’s corps.  Instead, AP Hill attacked with his division  in futile and bloody frontal assaults which were easily repulsed by Porter.  After Jackson’s arrival, he bivouacked his men, although the sounds of a major attack were clear.  AP Hill renewed his attacks, reinforced by DH. Hill’s brigade, although Lee had ordered no more attacks and was again bloodily repulsed.  Confederate casualties were 1461 with Union casualties half this number.  So a humiliating tactical defeat for the Confederates marked by an inept inability on the part of Lee to put forward a coordinated attack.

However, McClellan turned this day of Confederate defeat into one of victory.  Assuming, as he always did, that he was heavily outnumbered, and fearing that Jackson was positioned to march into his rear and cut off his supply lines, McClellan ordered Porter to retreat, and decided to abandon his supply line which relied upon the rail line north of the Chickahominy, the York and Richmond Railroad, and to rely upon a supply line by water up the James River.  This decision meant that he was going to have to withdraw from his positions in front of Richmond and retreat down the Peninsula.  Few defeats have reaped such rich rewards as Mechanicsville did for the Confederacy.  Here is General Lee’s report on the battle of Mechanicsville which was written on March 6, 1863: (more…)