Seven Days Battles
The Seven Days Battles was a series of six major battles over the seven days from June 25 to July 1, 1862, near Richmond, Virginia, in the American Civil War. It is sometimes known erroneously as the Seven Days Campaign, but it was actually the culmination of the Peninsula Campaign, not a separate campaign in its own right.
Start of the Peninsula Campaign
The Peninsula Campaign was the unsuccessful attempt by Union Major General George B. McClellan to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond and end the war. It started in March, 1862, when McClellan landed his Army of the Potomac at Fort Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Moving slowly and cautiously up the peninsula, McClellan fought a series of minor battles and sieges against General Joseph E. Johnston, who was equally cautious in the defense of his capital, retreating step by step to within six miles of Richmond. There, the Battle of Seven Pines (also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks) took place on June 1, 1862. It was a tactical draw, but it had wide-ranging consequences for the war—Johnston was wounded and replaced by the much more aggressive General Robert E. Lee. Lee spent almost a month extending his defensive lines and organizing his Army of Northern Virginia; McClellan accommodated this by sitting passively to his front until the start of the Seven Days.
- Battle of Oak Grove (June 25, 1862) — A minor clash that preceded the major battles of the Seven Days. Attempting to move siege guns closer to Richmond, Union forces attacked through a swamp without affecting the Confederate assault that would start the next morning.
- Battle of Mechanicsville (June 26, 1862) — Mechanicsville, or Beaver Dam Creek, was the first major battle of the Seven Days. Lee observed that McClellan had positioned his army straddling the Chickahominy River and could be defeated in detail. He struck McClellan's right flank on the northern bank and was repulsed with heavy casualties. Despite being a Union tactical victory, it was the start of a strategic debacle. McClellan withdrew to the southeast and never regained the initiative.
- Battle of Gaines' Mill (June 27, 1862) — Lee continued his offensive, launching the largest Confederate attack of the war. (It occurred in almost the same location as the 1864 Battle of Cold Harbor and had similar numbers of casualties.) The attack was poorly coordinated and the Union lines held for most of the day, but Lee eventually broke through and McClellan withdrew again, heading for a secure base at Harrison's Landing on the James River.
- Battle of Garnett's & Golding's Farm (June 27–28, 1862) — A minor Confederate demonstration and attack south of the river, which was easily repulsed, but served to further unnerve McClellan.
- Battle of Savage's Station (June 29, 1862) — During the Union withdrawal, Confederate general John B. Magruder struck the corps of Edwin V. Sumner in an attempt to divide the Union army. The attack was repulsed and the withdrawal continued.
- Battle of White Oak Swamp (June 30, 1862) — An artillery duel that is generally considered part of Glendale.
- Battle of Glendale (June 30, 1862) — A bloody battle in which three Confederate divisions converged on the retreating Union forces in the White Oak Swamp, near Frayser's Farm, another name for the battle. Due to a tired and lackluster performance by Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, Lee's army failed in its last attempt to cut off the Union army before it reached the James.
- Battle of Malvern Hill (July 1, 1862) — The final battle of the Seven Days consisted of reckless Confederate assaults against the impregnable Union defenses—buttressed by masterful artillery placements—on Malvern Hill. Lee's army suffered over 5,000 casualties in this wasted effort.
The Seven Days Battles ended the Peninsula Campaign. McClellan withdrew to the safety of the James River, protected by fire from Union gunboats. The Army of the Potomac stayed there until August, when they were withdrawn by order of President Abraham Lincoln in the run-up to the Second Battle of Bull Run.
The casualties to both sided were dreadful. Lee's Army of Northern Virgina suffered a total of 3,286 killed, 15,909 wounded, and 946 captured or missing out of a total of over 90,000 soldiers during the Seven Days. McClellan reported casualties of 1,734 killed, 8,062 wounded, and 6,053 captured or missing out of a total of 105,445.
The effects of the Seven Days Battles were widespread. After a successful start on the Peninsula that foretold an early end to the war, Northern morale was crushed by McClellan's retreat. Despite heavy casualties and Lee's clumsy tactical performance, Confederate morale skyrocketed and Lee was emboldened to continue his aggressive strategy through Second Bull Run and the Battle of Antietam. McClellan was relieved as general-in-chief of all the Union armies on July 11, 1862, replaced by Henry W. Halleck, although he did retain command of the Army of the Potomac.