The Civil War Connections Blog

The Battle of Seven Pines, Part 1

Howdy folks, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: in college, I once volunteered to set up, take down and work a T-Pain concert. The show was not only laughably and painfully bad, but it had the most ridiculously silly mascot I’ve ever seen: a giant blue teddy bear with a top hat.

Having this guy just wandering around made a lot MORE sense than most of the stuff in T-Pain's concert.


Speaking of giant blue teddy bears, can you readers think of a Civil War battle that had absolutely NOTHING to do with giant blue teddy bears whatsoever? Of course you can! And one of those teddy-bear-free battles is the Battle of Seven Pines, which started 150 years ago today! Also referred to as the Battle of Fair Oaks because of a local train station called (you guessed it) Fair Oaks Station, this conflagration was not only the first big battle for the defense of Richmond, but it was the bloodiest battle in the eastern theatre up to that point. Shiloh still held the gold medal in the “bloodiest battle” category, but Seven Pines would get a shiny, blood-splattered silver medal once it ended.

Now if you remember yesterday’s post, General Johnston had decided to attack the exposed Union Corps at Seven Pines/Fair Oaks. The attack was scheduled to take place at dawn, and would open when General Longstreet attacked Seven Pines from the northwest while General Hill attacked from the southwest. Longstreet would move in and capture Fair Oaks Station, then support Hill against the Union forces under General Casey and General Couch. With Longstreet coming from Fair Oaks and Hill advancing on Seven Pines, the Union would be caught between both Longstreet and Hill, and would be killed or captured en mass. It would have been a hammer-and-anvil kind of attack, demonstrated in a terrible sketch below.

This was the Confederate plan.


Unfortunately for the South, things did not go as planned. Now, look at the map below this paragraph – do you see the Confederate troops in the north under General Whiting? Well, that’s where Longstreet was supposed to attack from. However, Longstreet didn’t do that. Instead, he diverted his men all the way around the forest shown below, and waited BEHIND Hill’s men! This move was a disaster for Johnston’s plan, and was one of three big problems that plagued the Confederates during the fight.

This is what actually happened.


First, the weather gods decided to drop thick sheets of rain on the entire battlefield during the night of May 30th and the early morning of the 31st, so the whole area was choked with mud and swollen streams, making movement difficult and life generally miserable. Secondly, Longstreet’s departure from the plan exacerbated an already-existing communication problem. The communication problem grew out of the confusing orders that Johnston gave the night before the battle, which left Johnston’s subordinates – Longstreet, Hill, Whiting, and others – unsure as to who would open the attack the next day. As a result, no one attacked at dawn, since they all thought someone else needed to begin the battle first. It took until early afternoon for the battle to start, as Hill finally got sick of waiting and at 1pm ordered his forces into combat. Lastly, by moving around behind Hill, Longstreet threw away the opportunity for destroying the Union forces at Seven Pines. The hammer-and-anvil strategy doesn’t work without both a hammer AND an anvil, and Longstreet’s redeployment removed the existence of the Confederate anvil. Hill’s men could push the Union back, but Longstreet was not there to trap and destroy them.

Confederate kitty is sad


As a result, the Union forces were pushed back, but not destroyed. As Casey’s forces were driven from the Twin Houses area, they fell back to Couch’s position at Seven Pines, and together they held the line. Meanwhile, just off the map to the north, Union General Sumner heard the sounds of battle coming from the area, so he took the initiative and sent a huge chunk of his corps south across the Chickahominy on a remarkably frail and rickety bridge that looked like it was about to be swept away by the swollen river. Thankfully for the Union, the bridge kindly waited until the last troops had crossed before it promptly collapsed and floated away.

Rollin'... rollin'... rollin' on the riverrrr...


This meant that reinforcements were now en route to the struggling Union forces at Seven Pines. Remember that map earlier on the page? The one that DOESN’T look awful? See how it has the Union troops under General Sedgwick opposite the Confederates under Whiting? Well, that’s where Sedgwick’s men met the Confederates. Johnston was waiting with Whiting while the awkward, uncoordinated events of the day were unfolding. Around 4pm, After the Union troops had fled the Twin Houses and reformed at Seven Pines, Johnston entered the battle with Whiting’s force. He started pushing southeast towards the Fair Oaks Station, but then he encountered the forward elements of Sedgwick’s corps. Battle then ensued between the two forces in the north above Fair Oaks. It was during this time that Johnston – who was there in the thick of the fighting, leading his soldiers like a MAN – got horribly wounded by a bullet and a piece of shrapnel! Oh No!



… aaand that’s where I’m going to leave you! Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion to the Battle of Seven Pines!

Oh and here’s an article if you want to read more about it (article HERE.)