Here are some of the events of the Civil War that were happening 150 years ago this week. Sources are numbered according to the list at the bottom of this post.
I strongly recommend a close look at the Encyclopedia Virginia and National Park Service pages on the Seven Days’ Battles. They have details of all the battles and many images, especially the National Park Service pages.
The detail can be overwhelming, for this was a confrontation between two major armies. For a quick visual overview, select the Seven Days Battle box at Civil War Animated’s Peninsula Campaign page. Just remember – it has inaccuracies. For example, they have the wrong year on the main page (it was in 1862, not 1863). I spotted a few others, too, but do like the overall sense of the flow of battle that it gives.
Military Events: Confederate cavalry derail and capture a train near Germantown, Tennessee. (8)
Battles: Peninsula Campaign: Seven Days’ Battle starts at Oak Grove/King’s Schoolhouse/The Orchard/French’s Field. General McClellan makes the first move, and US General Joe Hooker’s troops clash with the forces of CS General Ambrose R. Wright. Federal forces make progress at first, but stiffening resistance and a flank attempt stop them. By the end of the day, the lines remain basically unchanged. Estimated casulaties: US 516, CS 541. (Note: Just for consistency, I’m using casualty figures from AmericanCivilWar.com’s listing for each battle; casualty figures for the Seven Days’ battles actually vary from source to source.) Meanwhile, General Lee is concerned that McClellan may be starting an advance. Lee’s plan requires the Union forces to stay where they are, and CS General Jackson and his men are still moving into position. Lee finally decides that McClellan isn’t going to advance and so keeps his plan in effect. McClellan learns of General Jackson’s movements and calls off his attack on Old Tavern, believing he is facing enemy forces of some 200,000 (in fact, there are around 85,000). Neither side realizes it yet, but this battle is the last of General McClellan’s offensive against Richmond. (1, 2, 11)
Military Events: President Lincoln issues an order combining the forces presently under Generals Fremont, Banks, and McDowell into a new Army of Virginia under the command of General Pope. (5) General Fremont resigns, to the dismay of his supporters.
Western Theater: In Memphis, General Grant sends two regiments to reinforce an expedition on the White River in Arkansas. (8)
Battles: Cole’s Creek, Mississippi: Three Union vessels en route to Vicksburg silence a Confederate battery. (12)
Peninsula Campaign: Seven Days’ Battle. Beaver Dam Creek/Mechanicsville/Ellerson’s Mill. General Jackson is 12 miles out of position and more than 4 hours behind schedule, having been delayed by a late start and obstacles along his route left by Union forces under McClellan’s closest adviser and friend, General Fitz John Porter. Around 3 p.m., General A. P. Hill, at 36 the youngest of Lee’s division commanders, moves out in spite of Jackson’s absence and is soon engaged with a stronger Union force than expected. Hill’s men are eventually turned back by Porter’s infantry and artillery. Casualties: US 400, CS 1,300. While arriving too late to join in the battle, General Jackson’s 18,500-man force does eventually reach its designated position on the Union flank. During the night, McClellan orders a withdrawal, demoralizing those Federal troops who will now have abandon the ground they have just won and, due to the lateness of the order, leave without drawing up a proper rearguard. Scores of them will be captured the next day by rapidly advancing Confederates. (1, 2, 6, 11)
Battles: Vicksburg, Mississippi: US Flag Officer Farragut’s mortar fleet arrives at its station near Vicksburg and some of the ships start a bombardment. (12)
Peninsula Campaign: Seven Days’ Battle. Gaines’s Mill/First Cold Harbor/Battle of the Chickahominy. Fitz John Porter established a strong defensive line on high ground east of Gaines’s Mill and behind Boatswain’s Creek. Starting at around 2:30 p.m., Confederates charge the line with little effect until Generals Jackson and D. H. Hill arrive. All Confederate forces mount an uncoordinated but simultaneous attack, and Porter’s line breaks. Per the Encyclopedia Virginia,
Confederates argued for years about who broke through first. John Bell Hood’s 4th Texas and part of the 18th Georgia usually took the honors, but actually Porter’s line, although reinforced, yielded in many places before the overwhelming assaults by the various Confederate units.
Casualties: US 6,800, CS 8,700.
This defeat, including the severing of his supply line, convinces General McClellan he must withdraw to the James River.
Meanwhile, south of the Chickahominy, some of CS General Magruder’s men attack the Union line near Garnett’s Farm but are repulsed. Estimated casualties overall: 830. (1, 2, 6, 11)
Battles: Vicksburg, Mississippi: The entire US mortar fleet opens up on Confederate batteries while Farragut’s salt water fleet runs the batters to make a junction with the US fresh water fleet under US Flag Officer Charles H. Davis and his Mississippi Flotilla. (8)
Peninsula Campaign: Seven Days’ Battle. There is some inconclusive fighting south of the Chickahominy at Garnett’s and Golding’s farms (overall casualties 830) but Lee waits this day to see what McClellan will do. Little Mac packs his trains (the term in those days referred to supply wagons, not railroad vehicles), destroys the supplies he can’t take with him and burns his supply base of White House Landing, including the historic plantation house there that the wives of both George Washington and Robert E. Lee had once called home. He abandons the more than 2500 Union wounded at his former advance base, Savage’s Station. Artillery and two infantry corps cover his retreat to the James River, and Lee that evening gives orders to pursue and capture the Army of the Potomac. (2, 11)
On this day, per the Lincoln Log, McClellan sends the following telegram to Secretary of War Stanton – luckily for him, a telegraph supervisor deletes the last two lines, which won’t be found again until 1907:
I now know the full history of the day. On this side of the river (the right bank) we repulsed several strong attacks. On the left bank our men did all that men could do, all that soldiers could accomplish, but they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, even after I brought my last reserves into action. The loss on both sides is terrible. I believe it will prove to be the most desperate battle of the war.
The sad remnants of my men behave as men. Those battalions who fought most bravely and suffered most are still in the best order. My regulars were superb, and I count upon what are left to turn another battle, in company with their gallant comrades of the volunteers. Had I 20,000 or even 10,000 fresh troops to use to-morrow I could take Richmond, but I have not a man in reserve, and shall be glad to cover my retreat and save the material and personnel of the army.
If we have lost the day we have yet preserved our honor, and no one need blush for the Army of the Potomac. I have lost this battle because my force was too small.
I again repeat that I am not responsible for this, and I say it with the earnestness of a general who feels in his heart the loss of every brave man who has been needlessly sacrificed to-day. I still hope to retrieve our fortunes, but to do this the Government must view the matter in the same earnest light that I do. You must send me very large re-enforcements, and send them at once. I shall draw back to this side of Chickahominy, and think I can withdraw all our material. Please understand that in this battle we have lost nothing but men, and those the best we have.
In addition to what I have already said, I only wish to say to the President that I think he is wrong in regarding me as ungenerous when I said that my force was too weak. I merely intimated a truth which to-day has been too plainly proved. If, at this instant, I could dispose of 10,000 fresh men, I could gain a victory to-morrow. I know that a few thousand more men would have changed this battle from a defeat to a victory. As it is, the Government must not and cannot hold me responsible for the result.
I feel too earnestly to-night. I have seen too many dead and wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the Government has not sustained this army. If you do not do so now the game is lost.
If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington.
You have done your best to sacrifice this army.
In response – and unaware of the inflammatory last two lines – President Lincoln replies:
Save your Army at all events. Will send re-inforcements as fast as we can. Of course they can not reach you to-day, to-morrow, or next day. I have not said you were ungenerous for saying you needed re-inforcement. I thought you were ungenerous in assuming that I did not send them as fast as I could. I feel any misfortune to you and your Army quite as keenly as you feel it yourself. If you have had a drawn battle, or a repulse, it is the price we pay for the enemy not being in Washington. We protected Washington, and the enemy concentrated on you; had we stripped Washington, he would have been upon us before the troops sent could have got to you. Less than a week ago you notified us that re-inforcements were leaving Richmond to come in front of us. It is the nature of the case, and neither you or the government that is to blame. Please tell at once the present condition and aspect of things. A. LINCOLN
P.S. Gen. Pope thinks if you fall back, it would be much better towards York River, than towards the James. As Pope now has charge of the Capital, please confer with him through the telegraph. A. L.
Battles: Peninsula Campaign: Seven Days’ Battle. Savage’s Station/Peach Orchard/Orchard Station/Allen’s Farm. The main body of the US army heads for the James River, while miscommunication and delays play havoc with Lee’s battle plan, but General Magruder attacks the Union rear guard under US General Edwin Sumner at Orchard Station, driving them back to Savage’s Station. Intense fighting continues until around 9 p.m., when a rainstorm forces the Union forces to withdraw. Overall casualties are 4,700, including the 2,500 wounded who had been left at the station, and the results are inconclusive. Among the fallen is CS General Richard Griffith, a friend of Jefferson Davis, who is taken to Richmond but dies of his wounds. Meanwhile, the Army of the Potomac marches through the night and through a violent thunderstorm and reaches the vicinity of White Oak Swamp by dawn. (1, 2, 6, 11)
Military Events: A Union gunboat appears in Tampa, Florida.
President Lincoln approves but does not issue a call for a 150,000-man draft. He also tells General Halleck that a planned expedition against Chattanooga, Tennessee, must not be delayed, saying “to take and hold the Rail-road at, or East of, Cleveland in East Tennessee, I think fully as important as the taking and holding of Richmond.” (5)
Battles: Confederate forces attack a US wagon train near Rising Sun, Tennessee. (8)
Peninsula Campaign: Seven Days’ Battle. Glendale/White Oak Swamp/Frayser’s Farm/many other names. More than half of General McClellan’s army is near Glendale, where the major roads from Richmond to the James River meet. General Lee’s plan to block the crossroads fails. General Jackson is stalled at White Oak Swamp, fighting two Union divisions in what becomes an artillery duel. Of the other divisions, only Generals Longstreet and A. P. Hill reach the battlefield, where they encounter fierce resistance from five Union divisions. The Union line breaks but then is reinforced, and the two Confederate divisions are pushed back. The road to the James River is still open. Estimated casualties overall: 7,000. While the Confederates rest, their opponents join the rest of the Union on the high ground at Malvern Hill. (1, 2, 6, 11)
Military Events: General David Hunter organizes the 1st South Carolina Regiment, which will become the 33rd U.S. Colored Infantry. (6)
President Lincoln asks for 300,000 additional volunteers. (5) He also telegraphs General McClellan:
It is impossible to re-inforce you for your present emergency. If we had a million of men we could not get them to you in time. We have not the men to send. If you are not strong enough to face the enemy you must find a place of security, and wait, rest, and repair. Maintain your ground if you can; but save the Army at all events, even if you fall back to Fortress-Monroe. We still have strength enough in the country, and will bring it out.
Battles: In Georgia, CS Fort McAllister is attacked for the first time. (6)
Peninsula Campaign: Seven Days’ Battle. Malvern Hill/Malvern Cliffs/Poindexter’s Farm General Lee fails to break the Union line and calls off the attack. McClellan has saved his army. Estimated casualties overall at Malvern Hill: 8500. (1, 2, 6, 11)
“The golden sea has vanished . . . The ground is crimson now.”
(2) Encyclopedia Virginia: “Seven Days’ Battle”
(3) “Battle Cry of Freedom” by James McPherson
(4) University of North Carolina “Civil War Day by Day”
(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.
(6) Blue and Gray Timeline.
(7) Civil War Daily Gazette timeline.
(8) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(9)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.
(10) Civil War Home’s “The Peninsula Campaign.”
(11) “The Battles for Richmond, 1862.” National Park Service.
(12) Conquest of the Lower Mississippi. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(14) Daily Observations From the Civil War
Categories: American Civil War