Howdy folks, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: I dearly like going to the movies, and I have recently seen the films “Brave” and “Ted.” They were both quite good, and I heartily endorse them. However, although “Ted” stars a giant stuffed teddy bear, it is NOT a kid’s movie. At all.
So I’ve been meaning to cover the second half of the Seven Days battles, but with the summer heat and monstrous beards occupying my attention of late, there hasn’t been much time for war. Today, I mean to finish the tale!
When last I talked of them, General Lee’s Confederates had beaten General McClellan’s Federals at the Battle of Gaines Mill. Following this, McClellan became convinced that it was impossible to attack Richmond. Scared by the Confederate attacks on his lines, McClellan decided to begin withdrawing back down the Peninsula and abandoned the siege. Richmond was saved, and McClellan had once again been tricked into thinking his opponent was stronger than he was.
Here’s the thing: Lee was an aggressive commander. In just two days, he had completely reversed the strategic situation at Richmond. Instead of the Union army pressuring the Confederates and preparing to besiege the city, the Confederates were pressuring the Union and putting them to flight. Now, with McClellan running for the Peninsula with his tail between his legs, Lee saw an opportunity to smash the Union army while it fled. McClellan withdrew south, to the James River: Lee attempted to intercept him at Savage’s Station, one of the Union’s big supply depots. With the Confederates drawing near, McClellan burned all the supplies he had to leave behind – sadly, he also abandoned his wounded. Savage’s Station was also a makeshift field hospital, and over 2,500 wounded men were recovering there. Though he had just hours earlier told the president in lavish rhetoric that he “feels in his heart the loss of every brave man who has needlessly been sacrificed” McClellan decided the wounded were slowing down his retreat, so he abandoned them to the mercy of the Confederates (article citation).
Although Lee tried to hit McClellan on June 29th while he was withdrawing from Savage’s Station, General Jackson AGAIN didn’t show up in time to attack. After a small skirmish the Confederates withdrew, letting the Union retreat relatively unmolested. The next day, on June 30th, the Confederates attacked at Glendale, but only General Longstreet and General A.P. Hill actually joined the fight: General Jackson decided to take a nap instead of attacking, and the other commanders simply never arrived. These two debacles allowed the Union army to continue withdrawing south and then east, toward the James River. The fact that they were able to withdraw at all is testament to the ineptness of the Confederates and the resourcefulness of the Union’s corps commanders. After bravely abandoning all his wounded at Savage’s Station, McClellan was so scared that he abandoned his army as well – he fled the battlefield right before battle joined at Glendale, and spent the rest of the Seven Days battles on the ironclad USS Galena. He didn’t even appoint a second in command when he left, or issue any orders: the Union corps commanders had to choose their own commander (by default, command went to General Sumner), and improvise their own defense (citation here).
From the safety of his ironclad, McClellan ordered the Union army to continue retreating after General Sumner repulsed the Confederate attack at Glendale. His army drew up on a nice set of heights at Malvern Hill, and deployed scores of cannons to cover all the approaches. Lee saw his chance to destroy the Union slipping away, and launched a frontal attack on the Union position that was repulsed. Forgive me, I put it delicately – Union cannons shredded the attacking Confederate infantry, turning a scenic field of golden wheat into a red-stained waste.
After repeatedly failing to destroy the Union army as it withdrew, the Confederates celebrated their victory. The Union, after handily smashing all of the Confederates’ attacks, continued retreating in defeat. You might be wondering why they were acting this way, since the Union had won almost all the battle. Well, it’s because the whole Seven Days campaign was a strategic contest, not a tactical one. McClellan may have had more men and won most of the fights, but Lee made him retreat whether he won or not. McClellan ended up withdrawing to Harrison’s Landing on the James River where he desperately called for more men, even though he’d only lost around 15,000 during the Seven Days. The Confederates lost around 20,000 but Lee and his generals were elated at having saved Richmond from disaster. Lee would go on to lead the Confederates to glory, while Lincoln finally grew tired of McClellan’s incompetence and gave most of his men to other generals.
That about does it for the Seven Days and Peninsula Campaigns, folks – I’ll see you next time for another Civil War topic!