The Civil War Connections Blog

The Battle of Oak Grove, Pt. 2

OK welcome back! Now where were we? Ah, yes – well, when General Heintzelman began his attack at Oak Grove around 8:30am, he met with fierce resistance. One of Heintzelman’s division commanders, General Hooker, was making progress on his front. As a result, Hooker sent Heintzelman a message asking for reinforcements. Asking for reinforcements during a battle was standard military practice back then – when a military force was attacking or defending, not all of the units would go forward to fight at once. Some men would stay in the back, and they were called a “reserve” – they would be used later on in the battle, to help defend against or exploit any breakthroughs that might take place. This was exactly what happened at the Battle of Oak Grove – Hooker needed some of the reserves to come help him break the Confederates. Seems like a perfectly logical and reasonable situation.

"WE HAVE RESERVES." - Edward I, in a VERY historically-inaccurate movie.


Here’s the problem: Heintzelman had to forward all of his battlefield correspondence back to General McClellan. When Heintzelman forwarded Hooker’s request for some extra troops, McClellan panicked. Remember how often McClellan himself asked for reinforcements? Well, to McClellan’s mind, any request for reinforcements meant that the Confederates were too strong to be defeated. Therefore, Hooker’s reinforcement request must have mean that the situation was extremely dire! Thinking he knew better than the men actually fighting the battle, at 10:30am McClellan ordered all the Union troops to pull back immediately and wait for him to arrive.

Gah! He beat me to it!


Apparently, McClellan wanted to see the situation first hand for once. One would imagine that after forcing Heintzelman to pull back, McClellan would hurry to the battlefield as quickly as possible. Since his safe Headquarters was about three miles from the fighting, one would figure that McClellan and his aid could gallop their horses at around 15 miles per hour and reach the battlefield in roughly 12 minutes. Sadly, one would be mistaken. Instead of 12 minutes, it took McClellan two and a half HOURS to get to the battlefield! That’s barely over one mile per hour!

It was a poor choice, riding a turtle to war...


When he eventually reached the battlefield around 1pm, McClellan realized that there wasn’t much of a problem after all. Finally, he let Heintzelman continue the attack. And by “continue,” I mean “redo.” Since McClellan had ordered the men to return to their original pre-attack positions, Heintzelman now had to re-take all the ground they had initially claimed during the morning. By the time night settled, the Union had retaken some of the ground, but by and large it was an insignificant gain.

Like a drop in the bucket.


The next day, on June 26th, General Lee would launch the offensive he had been preparing for. The Battle of Oak Grove was the first and last Union attack on Richmond during the entire Peninsula Campaign. Even though it marked only the start of the Seven Days Battles, from here on out the McClellan would lead his army on retreat after retreat in the face of the Confederates. And those retreats – like the one he ordered at Oak Grove – would squander all of the Union’s chances at victory.

"Thanks for repeatedly wasting our lives, McClellan! It sure is fun, dying in droves while accomplishing nothing!" - Thousands of Union Dead.


Well gang, that about does it for today. There are lots of battles to cover in the Seven Days… so tune in next time and I’ll tell you about Lee’s offensive on the 26th!