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Battle of Seven Pines

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Battle of Seven Pines
Part of the American Civil War
Battle of Fair Oaks Franklin's corps retreating.jpg

Franklin's corps retreating from the Battle of Fair Oaks (from a sketch by Alfred R. Waud)
DateMay 31 – June 1, 1862
Result Inconclusive[1]
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
George B. McClellan Joseph E. Johnston(W.I.A.)
G.W. Smith
Units involved
Army of the Potomac Army of Northern Virginia
34,000 [2] 39,000 [2]
Casualties and losses
5,031 total
(790 killed,
3,594 wounded,
647 captured/missing)[3]
6,134 total
(980 killed,
4,749 wounded,
405 captured/missing)[3]

The Battle of Seven Pines, also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks or Fair Oaks Station, took place on May 31 and June 1, 1862, in Henrico County, Virginia, as part of the Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War. It was the culmination of an offensive up the Virginia Peninsula by Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, in which the Army of the Potomac reached the outskirts of Richmond.

On May 31, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston attempted to overwhelm two Federal corps that appeared isolated south of the Chickahominy River. The Confederate assaults, although not well coordinated, succeeded in driving back the IV Corps and inflicting heavy casualties. Reinforcements arrived, and both sides fed more and more troops into the action. Supported by the III Corps and Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick's division of Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner's II Corps (which crossed the rain-swollen river on Grapevine Bridge), the Federal position was finally stabilized. Gen. Johnston was seriously wounded during the action, and command of the Confederate army devolved temporarily to Maj. Gen. G.W. Smith. On June 1, the Confederates renewed their assaults against the Federals, who had brought up more reinforcements, but made little headway. Both sides claimed victory.[1]

Although the battle was tactically inconclusive, it was the largest battle in the Eastern Theater up to that time (and second only to Shiloh in terms of casualties thus far, about 11,000 total). Gen. Johnston's injury also had profound influence on the war: it led to the appointment of Robert E. Lee as Confederate commander. The more aggressive Lee initiated the Seven Days Battles, leading to a Union retreat in late June.[4] Seven Pines therefore marked the closest Union forces came to Richmond in this offensive.

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  • ✪ Longstreet & Huger: The Battle of Seven Pines (Lecture)
  • ✪ The Peninsula Campaign: Animated Battle Map
  • ✪ 1862 - 30 Battle of Seven Pines
  • ✪ Battle of Seven Pines - Seven Days Campaign 150th Civil War Reenactment
  • ✪ Seven Days Battle


First of all on behalf of the National Park Service, let me welcome you to Gettysburg National Military Park and our mid-winter talks. My name is Ranger Karlton Smith and as the title says today we are going to be talking about the controversy between James Longstreet and Benjamin Huger at the Battle of Seven Pines. I should also probably point out as one of my guide friends keeps telling me that we should probably pronounce Huger’s name as Huger because it is a French Huguenot family. But I also notice there are not accent marks in the last name so to keep it simple I am going to Americanize it and just keep it as Huger. As we go along here. But first of all to set this whole thing up: at the beginning of 1862 things are not looking good for the South as a whole. Fort Henry on the Tennessee River falls to General Grant on February 6. Ten days later Grant will capture Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. And Federals will occupy the capital of Nashville by February 25. So all of western Tennessee now is over run. That forces Confederate general Albert Sydney Johnston to fall back to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about mid-way down the state on the eastern side. Also by February 8, Roanoke Island, North Carolina, is going to be taken by Union general named Ambrose Burnside. And he will soon be in position to take Norfolk, Virginia from the rear. While all that is going on, General Joseph Johnston is moving his Confederate Army of the Potomac from the Manassas line to, Rappahannock, to Fredericksburg, Virginia and the Rappahannock line by March 9. On March 14, Johnston’s army is re-designated as the Army of Northern Virginia. Coming into the scene with Johnston’s army, is Gustavus Woodson Smith. Now Smith is born in 1821 in Kentucky; graduates from West Point in the class of 1842. Among his classmates is another Confederate general, James Longstreet. Smith graduates a little higher than Longstreet and goes into the engineers. He receives three brevets for action in Mexico. He served as an instructor at West Point and then resigned in 1854 becoming the street commissioner for New York City. His resignation is officially accepted on September 20, 1861. And I say officially because the day before, on September 19, Gustavus Smith is made a major general in the Confederate army. Where he outranks every other major general except Earl Van Dorn and David Twiggs. That also means he is second in command of the army to Joe Johnston. Despite the fact that he has not fought at First Manassas and has never commanded troops in combat, whatsoever. But he one of those people who for some reason some people had a high opinion of, including Joe Johnston. In fact, Johnston wrote to Jefferson Davis on August 19 about people coming into the army and what rank they should have. And Johnston said: “In this connection let me recommend as two of the best officers whose services we can command, G. W. Smith and [Mansfield] Lovell. They are as fit to command divisions as any men in our service. Smith is a man of high ability, fit to command in chief…” Now not everyone had a high opinion of Smith’s ability and one of them, apparently, was James Longstreet. Longstreet is going to write: “When I returned to my home to take part in the cause of my people, I sacrificed everything except, as I thought, the hope of a proper recognition of my services. The placing of persons above me whom I have always ranked and who have just joined this service I regard as great injustice. I therefore request that an officer be detailed to relieve me of this command.” What Longstreet is talking about is he’s in command of the forward forces from Manassas. So Longstreet’s forces are near Fairfax Court House on Munson’s Hill where they have a view of the U. S. Capitol. So Longstreet is not being asked to resign, he is asking to be relieved of that forward duty. Now he is somewhat mollified by the fact that within the next month, October 7, he himself will be promoted to major general. Also on March 9, 1862, is going to be fought the battle of the Monitor and the Virginia. The Monitor is going to win. And that victory will help pave the way for Union Major General George Meade, George McClellan, excuse me, to being moving his Army of the Potomac to the Peninsula on March 17. By March 27, Johnston is ordered to reinforce the Confederate forces on the Peninsula. Also on March 23, Major General Thomas J. Jackson will fight a battle at Kernstown, Virginia, just outside of Winchester; which some historians will mark as the beginning of Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The siege of Yorktown, on the Peninsula, right here, will begin on April 5. Johnston is going to evacuate Yorktown by May 3. In between that time on April 6 & 7, is fought the battle of Shiloh in western Tennessee. Also on April 21, April 25, the city of New Orleans, the largest city in the South, will fall the Flag Officer David Farragut. And retreating back from Yorktown is not easy. Apparently there has been a lot of rain before they even start. And Longstreet wrote to Smith on May 3: “If your road can beat this for mud I don’t want to see it….My men have their bellies full, also their cartridge boxes; so I don’t fear McClellan or any one in Yankeedom. If you see the General [meaning] General Johnston] say to him that we are as happy as larks over here till we get 126 wagons (the total number) up to the hub at one time.” So they are happy so long as all 126 wagons don’t get stuck in the mud. At Williamsburg, on May 5, is going to be fought a rearguard action directed by James Longstreet. Johnston noted in his official report: “About sunrise the rear guard was again attacked. The action gradually increased in magnitude until about 3 o’clock, when General Longstreet, commanding the rear, requested that a part of Major-General [D. H.] Hill’s troops might be sent to his aid. Upon this I rode upon the field, but found myself to be a mere spectator, for General Longstreet’s clear head and brave heart left me no apology for interference.” Longstreet himself if born in 1821, in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia and Alabama, and graduated from West Point in 1842. He received two brevets for gallantry in the Mexican War and served in every major engagement of the war except for Buena Vista. He became, he left the line, became a paymaster with the rank of major on July 19, 1859. He resigned his commission effective June 1, 1861 and was made a brigadier general on June 17, 1861 and a major general on October 7, 1861. Along with evacuation of Yorktown , Johnston also orders the evacuation of the Norfolk Navy Yard. That begins on May 9. The commander of the Norfolk Navy Yard is Major General Benjamin Huger. Huger was born in South Carolina in 1805 and graduated from West Point in 1825. He commanded several US Arsenals, serves on the Ordnance Board, and was chief of ordnance for the army under Winfield Scott in Mexico where he received three brevets of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel. He was finally promoted to the full rank of major on February 15, 1855. He resigned after Fort Sumter. He was made a brigadier general on June 17, 1861, the same day as James Longstreet, and major general on October 7, 1861, the same date as Longstreet. While in command of Norfolk, he believed the defenses were too weak to withstand an attack, so he started to dismantle the fortifications, set fire to the navy yard, and evacuated on May 9. He’ll reach Petersburg with his troops by May 15. He is leaving Norfolk with three brigades, about 9,000 men altogether. Also, prior to Norfolk, had been fought the battle, as I mentioned, of Roanoke Island on February 8. Now that’s important because the overall commander of Roanoke is Benjamin Huger. The commander on the scene is General Henry Wise. Huger is Wise’s immediate commander. And a rebel war clerk wrote in his diary on January 13, 1862: “The department leaves Gen. [Henry A.] Wise to his superior officer, Gen. Huger, at Norfolk, who has 15,000 men. But I understand that Huger says that Wise has ample means for the defense of the island, and refused to let him have more men. “ The war clerk also noted on April 12: “The committee (Congressional) which have been investigating the Roanoke Island disaster have come to the conclusion, unanimously, and the House has voted accordingly, and with unanimity, that the blame and guilt of that great calamity rest soley upon ‘Gen. Huger and Judah P. Benjamin.” Who at the time was Secretary of War. So they are blaming Huger for the loss of Roanoke Island. There was also a public perception that Huger is the one who evacuated Norfolk, and even if he did receive orders from Johnston, he somehow botched the evacuation. It was not as complete as it should have been. So in a one sense, Huger now has two strikes against him. On May 15, the Union navy will launch an attack against Confederate forces on Drewry’s Bluff. Here we see the Union navy led by the USS Monitor; here’s Drewry’s Bluff; here’s obstructions; and up the James River is Richmond. So you now raise the possibility of a joint operation on the James River. Johnston is going to continue his retreat up the Peninsula toward Richmond. By May 15 he is about 7 miles outside the outskirts of the city. By May 17 he is within 3 miles of the city. So Johnston continues to evacuate up the Peninsula moving closer and closer to Richmond. Now why is he doing that? One reason you see the Peninsula begins to widen out, he has a lot more room to maneuver. And right in here, this blue ribbon, is the Chickahominy River. And you can see as the Union troops are moving up the follow Johnston the river can play a part in this action; in that it can split the Union army in two. The Chickahominy itself is normally 40 to 60 feet wide and two to three feet deep. So it is not a major obstacle in normal weather. But if you just had a thunderstorm or something like that, that river, as we know even from around here, can get pretty treacherous. So what exactly is Joe Johnston’s strategy here? He doesn’t spell it out in any orders or anything like that. But Douglas Southall Freeman, a main Civil War historian, felt this is what Johnston was doing. Johnston want to “…concentrate close to Richmond, in rear of his retreating army, all the forces that could be gathered from other parts of the Confederacy; give to these forces unified command, and ample, competent leadership; regard no position in front of Richmond as fixed, in the sense that it had to be defended to the last at any cost; retreat and manoeuvre as necessity and the movements of the enemy demanded; when opportunity offered itself at the proper stage of concentration - strike!” Now also complicating this whole thing is Union Major General Irvin McDowell who is sitting in Fredericksburg, Virginia with 35,000 men. And on May 17, McDowell is ordered to march to Richmond, about 50 miles away, and link up with George McClellan’s force of 100,000 men. On May 24th though, McDowell is ordered to send 20,000 men toward the Shenandoah Valley in response to Jackson’s move down the valley. The Valley Campaign now commences in full swing on May 8 with the battle at McDowell. On May 23 is fought the battle of Front Royal and on May 25 Jackson re-captures the city of Winchester. On May 27, plans on now made for Smith, the ranking division commander, to attack with three divisions the Federal positions north of the Chickahominy to prevent the junction of the two Mc’s: McClellan and McDowell. By the evening of May 28 the preparations are complete. And Smith wrote: “On May 28m by direction of General Johnston, I assumed command of the left wing of the Army and on the same day placed my own division temporarily under the command of the senior Brigadier-General [W. H. C.] Whiting.” That night though, Brigadier General J. E. B. Stuart is going to report that McDowell had stopped his forward movement and seems to be turning around and returning to Fredericksburg. So on May 29, the attack is called off. Smith now proposes to attack the Union army south of the Chickahominy. Longstreet though is still in favor of the original plan, which Joe Johnston will overrule. Longstreet then suggests an attack in the area of Seven Pines for the next morning, May 30; which Johnston also overrules. But also on this date riding out, expecting to see a battle is President Jefferson Davis. And Davis wrote: “Riding on to the main road which led to the Mechanicsville Bridge, I found General Longstreet, walking to and fro in an impatient; it might be said fretful manner. Before speaking to him, he said his division had been under arms all day waiting for orders to advance, and that the day was now so far spent that he did not know what was the matter.” Johnston, though, on May 29, is going to write to General W. H. C. Whiting, who is temporary commander of Smith’s division. And Johnston writes: “Who knows but that in the course of the morning Longstreet’s scheme may accomplish itself. If we get into a fight here you’ll have to hurry to help us. I think it will be best for A. P. Hill’s troops to watch the bridges and for yours to be well in this direction to act anywhere. Tell G. W.” So, in other words, the second in command of the army is not going to receive direct orders from Joe Johnston. Instead, Johnston wants Whiting to tell Smith what’s going on. So there is not direct communication at that point between Joe Johnston and his second in command. On May 30, Major General D. H. Hill will conduct a reconnaissance in force along the Williamsburg road and discover the enemy posted to the west of Seven Pines. But he can’t find the Federal left flank; which is either refused or rests on the boggy ground between the Williamsburg road and the Charles City road. In a long conference though, between Joe Johnston and James Longstreet, Johnston works out the details for an attack on May 31. Longstreet is to take command on the right with his own division, almost 14,000 men; Hill’s 11,000 man division; and Huger’s 9,000 man division. Hill and Huger are given written orders. Longstreet’s orders are going to be verbal. And it’s going to be reported that : “Agreeable to verbal instructions from the commanding general, the division of Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill was on the morning of May 31st ultimo formed at an early hour on the Williamsburg road as the column of attack upon the enemy’s front on that road.” Now what about the orders to Huger? Remember these are written orders. The first goes to Huger on May 30 and is timed at 8:40. And this is how they read: “The reports of Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill give me the impression that the enemy is in considerable strength in his front. It seems necessary to me that we should increase our force also. For that object I wish to concentrate the troops of your division on the Charles City road and concentrate the troops of Major-General Hill on that to Williamsburg. To do this it will be necessary for you to move as early in the morning as possible to relieve the brigade [Robert Rodes’ Brigade] of General Hill’s division now on the Charles City road….Be ready, if an action should be begun on your left, to fall upon the enemy’s left flank.” Huger gets another set of written orders sometime on the morning of May 31st. And these review, or these state: “I fear that in my note of last evening, of which there is no copy, I was too positive on the subject of your attacking the enemy’s left flank….As our main force will be on your left, it will be necessary for your progress to the front to conform at first to that of General Hill. If you find no strong body in your front, it will be well to aid General Hill; but then a strong reserve should be retained to cover our right.” Notice in neither of these set orders is Huger informed of the entire battle plan or his specific role in it. He is not told, for example, that the whole thing is going to start when your brigade relieves Rodes brigade. That’s what is going to start the dominoes forward in a sense. He’s also not informed that Longstreet is going to be in command of all those forces on the right wing. Now the orders to Smith don’t go out until 12:30 o’clock on the morning of May 31. And Smith writes: “…at my headquarters, on the Brook turnpike, I received a note from General Johnston, directing that my division should take position as soon as practicable upon the Nine-mile road, near the New Bridge fork , to support, if necessary, the divisions upon the right in an attack upon the enemy, which was to be made early in the morning.” At 3 a.m. on May 31st, Huger, through his aid-de-camp, is sending a message to D. H. Hill. And the message reads: “…a brigade will start for the Charles City road as soon as possible, and when they are in motion he will notify you, and would be glade if you would send a guide to conduct them. Brig. Gen. L.A. Armistead will report to General Rodes. I fear delay may occur owing to the state of the roads.” Now one of the things, in my research of this, I’ve never really read what anyone said about how far Huger is first of all from Gillies Creek, which he has to cross, and how far is he from replacing Rodes’ division, or Rodes’ brigade on the Charles City road. No one ever really talks about that. Huger is…I’m a slide behind, excuse me, there we go. Huger is supposed to start from near Oakwood Cemetery, the northeast suburb of Richmond. And I actually have to thank my fellow ranger Bobby Krick of Richmond for giving me some of this information. And according to him, Oakwood Cemetery is about ½ mile from Gillies Creek. And depending on where you place Rodes’ brigade on the Charles City road, Huger has about a four to five mile march to get there. Okay? Which it should take Huger between 2 ½ and 3 hours, given the conditions of the road, to replace Rodes’ brigade. Now let’s give him an hour to prepare, so 3 a.m. he’s getting ready, everyone is ready to march by 4. That means he should be reaching Rodes position about 7 o’clock in the morning. By 9 o’clock in the morning Rodes has not been relieved. And in fact he is not going to be relieved until almost one o’clock in the afternoon. And I have never seen anybody raise the issue about why it is taking Huger so long to make this five mile march. No one ever really goes into detail about that. What they are going after is the Union Army IV Corps, which has crossed the Chickahominy, and has fortified Seven Pines. Gen. D. H. Hill wrote: “These facts I communicated to General Johnston about noon on Friday, May 30. I received a prompt answer from him, saying that, satisfied by my report of the presence of the enemy in my immediate front, he had resolved to attack him, and directed me to serve with Major-General Longstreet and under his orders. I was directed by General Longstreet to move my whole division at dawn on the Williamsburg road and to lead the attack on the Yankees. I was, however, directed not to move until relieved by Huger’s Division.” Now there is a rainstorm on the night of May 30 and that is going to make the roads muddy, so it could slow down the Confederate advance but hopefully will flood the Chickahominy and prevent Union re-enforcements from coming from the north of the river to re-enforce the IV Corps on the south side. Again, what they hope to do is to overwhelm the IV Corps under Major General Erasmus D. Keyes, about 17,000 men, who are posted in and around Seven Pines along the Williamsburg road. Heintzelman’s corps, about 17,000 men, is roughly five miles in rear of Keyes. Sumner’s Corps, another 17,000, are only four miles away but on the other side of the Chickahominy. And on the morning of May 31, Keyes wrote to General McClellan: “Everything on the part of the Confederates indicates an attack on my position, which is only tolerably strong, and my forces are too weak to defend it properly. Brigadier-General Sumner told me yesterday he should probably cross the Chickahominy last night. If he did so, and takes post nigh Old Tavern and this side, I should feel more secure than I do now.” Silas Casey is commanding a division, one of Keyes’ divisions, about a ½ mile west of Seven Pines, with a redoubt helping to guard the line; that’s the first line of defense. Darius M. Couch is commanding Keyes’ other division at Seven Pines itself with abatis in front of it, that’s the second line. Both are along the Williamsburg road. The third line is in rear of Casey and at this point is unoccupied. And this is a map showing the basic routes we have been talking about. Here is the Nine Mile road to the north. At this location it branches off to a place called New Bridge and the Chickahominy. The main road continues south, past Fair Oaks Station, toward Seven Pines. Here’s the Williamsburg road coming out of the city directly toward Seven Pines. And down here is the Charles City road. And some place down in here was supposed to be Rodes’ brigade. This next kind of shows the general disposition of the forces right before the battle. And most of McClellan’s army is north of the Chickahominy River. That’s the black line right through the middle of the map. Smith’s division is to make sure that no re-enforcements come across the river to Keyes support and also support the Hill/Longstreet attack. In Johnston’s official report, he is going to state: “General Hill, supported by the division of General Longstreet (who had the direction of operations on the right), was to advance by the Williamsburg road to attack the enemy in front. General Huger, with his division, was to move down the Charles City road in order to attack in flank the troops who might be engaged with Hill and Longstreet, unless he found in his front force enough to occupy his division. General Smith was to march to the junction of the New Bridge road and Nine-mile road, to be in readiness either to fall on Keyes’s right flank or to cover Longstreet’s left. They were to move at daybreak.” Now later on, in an article for Battles and Leaders, in 1884, Johnston wrote that: “Longstreet and Huger were directed to conduct their divisions to D. H. Hill’s position on the Williamsburg road, and G. W. Smith to march with his to the junction of the Nine-mile road with the New Bridge road, where Magruder was with four brigades. Longstreet, as ranking officer of the troops on the Williamsburg road, was instructed verbally to form D. H. Hill’s division as first line, his own as second, across the road at right angles, and to advance in that order to attack the enemy; while Huger’s division should march by the right flank along the Charles City road, to fall upon the enemy’s flank when our troops were engaged with him in front…Longstreet’s command of the right was to end when the troops approached Seven Pines and I should be present to direct the movements…” So Longstreet will be in command of the initial attack but once the troops get to the area of Seven Pines Joe Johnston expected to be there himself and he’ll take command of the forces at that point. And Longstreet would go back to just division command. Smith is going to write that: “On arriving at the Headquarters of General Johnston about sunrise, I learned from his that his intention was that General Longstreet’s Division should move by the Nine-mile road, and that of General Hill by the Williamsburg Stage Road, and General Huger’s by the Charles City Road.” So according to Smith on the morning all of this is happening, that’s when Johnston’s finally telling him about the details of the attack. That he’s to move, that Longstreet is on the Nine Mile road, Hill on the Williamsburg road, Huger on the Charles City road, and Smith coming in to support Longstreet’s attack on the left, if necessary. General Whiting who remember is in command of Smith’s division, is ready to move down the Nine Mile road by 6 o’clock in the morning of May 31 but he is blocked on his advance by Longstreet’s division; so it is still on the Nine Mile road. So Lt. Robert Beckham of Smith’s staff is sent to find Longstreet; and he finally finds him. Not on the Nine Mile road, but on the Williamsburg road and opposite the point where the Charles City road intersects it. It is at the one point where congestion is going to be most likely to occur. And there is congestion now at that point. Longstreet had moved from the Nine Mile road to the Williamsburg road and had to cross Gillies Creek. Because of the evening storm, the creek was raging. And Longstreet decided to bridge the creek. The way he did that was to put a wagon in the middle of the creek and then lay planks from there to the shore. But that only allowed his division to cross one, to cross in single file. So it is going to take a while to get them across. Meanwhile, Huger’s division finally shows up at Gillies Creek and no one at the crossing is aware that Huger is to replace one brigade of Hill’s division to start this whole thing going forward. And so as a result, Longstreet’s men who are already there insist on crossing first and Huger’s men have to wait. There’s no evidence that either Longstreet or Huger were at the bridge itself when this occurred. Huger is going to report: “There was a delay owing to the sudden rising of the stream on which the troops were camped.” Huger also reportedly “was delayed in leaving his camp by a sudden freshet (or flash flood) in Gillies Creek, which at daylight was a raging torrent. Longstreet’s division reached Huger’s camp between 7 and 8 a.m.” Now remember according to my time frame at 7 a.m. Huger should be relieving Rodes. Longstreet is getting to the camp and Huger apparently is still behind him. So again you have to wonder why is it taking Huger so long to leave his camp. According to Captain Benjamin Sloan, on Huger’s staff, “Longstreet’s brigades as they successively reached the plain above the creek halted and remained for an hour or two resting on their arms. This plain…was perhaps between three and four miles in rear of the battle-field. Here, at a farm-house, Huger met Longstreet and Hill, and a discussion was had as to the movements of the divisions, and as to the relative rank of the division commanders. Longstreet claimed (by instructions of General Johnston) to be in command of that portion of the army. After protest Huger acquiesced.” It also came that Longstreet’s men were resting while Huger passed them to get into position to finally relieve Hill. Longstreet himself is across the creek by 9 a.m. Smith is going to write that: “General Johnston’s intentions, as then explained to me, [again on the morning of May 31] were that whilst General D. H. Hill’s division was attacking the enemy’s advanced position on the Williamsburg Stage Road in front, General Huger’s division, from the Charles City Road, would attack the left flank, and General Longstreet’s division would engage the enemy on Hill’s left.” Now coming back to report is Captain Beckham and he now reports that he “had found Longstreet’s division on the Williamsburg Road, halted, for the purpose of allowing General D. H. Hill’s troops to file by, and soon after Beckham returned with information that General Hill’s troops had passed, and that General Longstreet was making all his dispositions to attack the enemy in conjunction with General Hill’s Division…” As far as all this confusion goes, if you remember as far as Smith said he was told Longstreet is supposed to be on the Nine Mile Road, not the Williamsburg Road. That is strictly for Hill. So Smith reported that he had a conversion with Johnston about this, and according to Smith, or actually Johnston wrote Smith a letter about this. And he said: “I received information of Longstreet’s misunderstanding (which may be my fault as I told you at the time) while his troops were moving to the Williamsburg road…) Smith also wrote: “After General Johnston had been informed that Longstreet’s division had crossed over to the Williamsburg road, he still had faith in the ability of the 20,000 men, under Longstreet, to crush the enemy in the vicinity of Seven Pines.” Now Johnston eventually hears gunfire coming south, from the south. A messenger is sent to Longstreet who returns with a report that Longstreet is involved in heaving fighting and gaining ground. Longstreet sent a message at 3 p.m., but no one kept a record of the note at that time. So in 1883 Johnston wrote to Longstreet if he remembered this note and Longstreet wrote back and said: “As nearly as I can now recall the note of the 31st, it reported our successful advance [,] the capture of Casey’s camp and position, the failure of Huger to cooperate on our right, and stated that in going forward we encountered also a flanking fire from the enemy in front of G. W. Smith which was exceedingly annoying, particularly with fresh troops…” General Hill reported: “I was directed by General Longstreet to move with my whole division at dawn [about 4:20 a.m.] on the Williamsburg road and to lead the attack on the Yankees. I was, however, directed not to move until relieved by Huger’s division. The relieving force not having reached me at 1 o’clock, the signal guns were fired, and my division moved off in fine style, Rodes’ brigade on the right of the road, supported by Raines’ brigade; Garland on the left, supported by G. B. Anderson.” And Johnston had to admit in his official report that: “Owing to some peculiar condition of the atmosphere the sound of the musketry did not reach us. I consequently deferred giving the signal for General Smith’s advance until about 4 o’clock, at which time Maj. Jasper Whiting, of General Smith’s staff, whom I had sent to learn the state of affairs with General Longstreet’s column, returned, reporting that it was pressing on with vigor.” Has anyone ever been to the battlefield of Seven Pines? Some of you have? You know the battlefield of Seven Pines no longer exists. It’s now basically the town of Sandston, Virginia. North of the town is Interstate 64; south of the town is the Richmond International Airport. So the entire battlefield is now covered by this town. Although there are some markers you can follow to try to get a sense of what happened there. And the first one marks McClellan’s Picket Line. This is on West Williamsburg Road, which is Route 60, between Early Avenue and Jackson Avenue. It’s about 1,000 yards in front of Casey’s position. And the picket line actually ran from White Oak Swamp to the Chickahominy River. Now this view is actually looking east toward the Union lines. The next one is going to read: “On May 31, 1862, the Right Wing of the Confederate forces under Joseph E. Johnston advanced Eastward from this point on both sides of the Williamsburg Road to attack the left of McClellan’s Army which held Seven Pines and was preparing to besiege Richmond.” Now this one is about 600 feet east from the Picket Line. And again we are looking east toward the Union position. The next one reads: “The Federal first line, against which the right wave of the Confederate army directed the main assault on May 31, crossed the Williamsburg Road near this spot. Casey’s Redoubt, the centre of the Federal resistance on this line, was 200 yards southward.” To get to the next one, you have to go one block south to Casey Street. Excuse me, I got my slides confused. This one is still on the Williamsburg Road. The next one is on Casey Street. And this one states: “Nearby stood ‘The Twin Houses’ from the vicinity of which Confederate troops moving eastward, charged the Federal Second Line near Seven Pines after they had stormed Casey’s Redoubt and the rest of the Federal First Line on May 31.” The Twin Houses they are talking about are these. They were two twin farm houses along the Williamsburg Road. And at the time they were very good battlefield markers (that) everybody could focus on. This marker was also on Casey Avenue, or Casey Street. And this one reads: “In the abatis occupying this ground and covering the second Federal line, the advance of Rodes’ Brigade was halted by heavy fire after sunset, May 31. The Confederate dead in this last charge were never removed. They still slumber hereabout.” Now this one is especially tough, because the plague itself was stolen in the 1970’s. The granite base it was on was removed to make way for a housing development. So that marker doesn’t even exist anymore. I also asked Bobby Krick about that last statement about the Confederate never having been removed. I said when they were putting this housing development in were there any reports of bodies being dug up and he said none that he knew of. And he suspects if there were, this is a case where the developer kind of threw the body parts off to the side and didn’t say anything about it. Because the minute you find something like that all work comes to a stop. So rather than make the work stop, they just kind of pretended nothing was there and went right on with the work. McClellan’s Second Line, this marker is actually at the Seven Pines National Cemetery, which is at the intersection of East Williamsburg Road and East Nine Mile Road. And if you think the term “Seven Pines” was just something they used, at this location there really were seven pines, so that’s where the term of the battle comes from. A professor of mine at college once told the story of a Confederate mother was asked if she was concerned about her son fighting at this placed called Seven Pines. And she was pretty convinced if there were seven pines there he would be hiding behind one of them. The last plague here is McClellan’s third line of defense. And it says in part that: “The Confederates, taking the first and second lines on this road, did not reach the third.” So the Confederates never got to this position. And this is actually on the Old Williamsburg Road. It is not Route 60. It is the old Williamsburg Road so you have to get off a little bit to find this. So there are some markers designating what happened but forget about trying to follow the course of the battle because it is not going to happen today, unfortunately. Also at some point on May 31, Joe Johnston is going to be hit by shell fire and seriously wounded. At that point, Smith is going to assume command. And he’ll order a renewal of the action on June 1, but his nerves start to become shattered. In fact on June 2, it is reported that: “…General Smith finds himself utterly unable to endure the mental excitement incident to his actual presence with the army. Nothing but duty under fire could possibly keep him up, and there is danger of his entire prostration. He goes to town today to gain a few days’ respite. All business and all exciting questions must be kept from him for awhile…Since writing the above I have again seen the general, and am pained to learn that partial paralysis has already commenced. The case is critical and the danger imminent.” So it seems that Smith is starting to crack under the pressure of actual army command at this point. And basically what’s going to happen on June 1, the Federals, reinforced, are going to launch a counter attack and recapture all the ground they lost on May 31. Longstreet though is going to state: “I have reason to believe that the affair would have been a complete success had the troops upon the right been put in position within eight hours of the proper time. The want of promptness on that part of the field and the consequent severe struggle in my front so greatly reduced my supply of ammunition that at the late hour of the move on the left I was unable to make the rush necessary to relieve the attack.” Joe Johnston is going to write in his official report: “The skill, vigor, and decision with which these operations were conducted by General Longstreet are worthy of the highest praise. He was worthily seconded by Major-General Hill, of whose conduct and courage he speaks in the highest terms….Had Major-General Huger’s division been in position and ready for action when those of Smith, Longstreet, and Hill moved, I am satisfied that Keyes’ corps would have been destroyed instead of merely being defeated. Had it gone into action even at 4 o’clock the victory would have been much more complete.” Now of course Huger is doing to dispute these criticisms by Longstreet and Johnston. And he seeks to have either a court martial or at the least a court of inquiry to try to straighten it out. And when Johnston is asked about a court of inquiry, he wrote: “I have no disposition to prefer charges against Major General Huger. The passage in my report of which he complains was written to show that the delay in commencing the action of May 31 was not my fault….Major-General Huger’s assertion that I ‘shield myself by endeavoring to make General Longstreet responsible for my statements’ is utterly unfounded. He certainly knows that I cannot contradict that officer’s report unless upon weight of evidence against it. He makes no material contradiction of what I said of his troops.” And Longstreet, in his military memoirs, wrote that: “Upon meeting General Huger in the morning, I gave him a succinct account of General Johnston’s plans and wishes; and after he inquired as to the dates of our commissions, which revealed that he was the ranking officer, when I suggested that it was only necessary for him to take command and execute the orders. This he decline.” So if Longstreet’s statement is correct, he told Huger everything that was going on, what the plans were, and since Huger is senior, offers to turn over command. And Huger turned it down. Not a good sign for an army officer to turn down responsibility. So maybe another strike against Huger. And some of this is isn’t stuff that comes way after the battle. Our rebel war clerk wrote in his diary of May 31, the day of the battle: “Gen. Huger’s division was not at the allotted place of attack at the time fixed upon. His excuse is that there was a stream to cross, and understanding Gen. Longstreet was his senior in command (which is not in fact, however), he permitted his division to have precedence. All the divisions were on the ground in time but Huger’s, but still no battle.” On June 1 he wrote: “The battle was renewed to-day, but not seriously. The failure of Gen. Huger to lead his division into action at the time appointed, is alleged as the only reason why the left wing of the enemy was not completely destroyed.” The rebel war clerk also noted on June 30: “Once more all men are execrating Gen. Huger. It is alleged that he again failed to obey an order, and kept his division away from the position assigned it, which would have prevented the escape of McClellan. “This is in reference to action at Frazier’s Farm or Glendale on June 30 when Huger failed to move up and block McClellan’s retreat route. The war clerk noted: “If this be so, who is responsible, after his alleged misconduct at the battle of Seven Pines.” Now Dr. Freeman stated there might be some more things working in here besides this mis-understanding of orders and things like that. He felt: “It is possible, also, though, it cannot be stated as a fact, that Johnston and the division commanders from the Manassas line had a camaraderie that made them defend one another and assume a certain sense of superiority to the Army of the Peninsula and to Huger’s command from Norfolk. Perhaps it was not solely by chance that, after General Johnston came to Yorktown, he entrusted all major operations to his own troops.” Johnston is going to write his Narrative of Military Operations in 1874: “Although the condition of the ground and little streams had delayed the troops in their movements, those of Smith and Longstreet were in position quite early enough. But the troops from Norfolk [Huger], who had seen garrison service only, and were unaccustomed to the incidents of a campaign, were unnecessarily stopped in their march by a swollen rivulet, which, unfortunately, flowed between them and their destination.” Now as I mentioned Joe Johnston is seriously wounded by May 31 and taking over Joe Johnston effective June 1, as temporary commander, remember, temporary commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, is Robert E. Lee. Now some of Johnston’s supporters at the time told him they thought this was a disaster for the South. But Johnston’s response was: “No, sir! The shot that struck me down is the very best that has been fired for the Southern cause yet. For I possess in no degree the confidence of our government, and now they have in my place one who does possess it, and who can accomplish what I never could have done – the concentration of our armies for the defence of the capital of the Confederacy.” Now Lee, of course, is going to inherit this situation between Longstreet and Huger. And actually on the evening of June 1, Longstreet detached all of Huger’s troops and placed them under D. H. Hill. Huger, with Longstreet’s permission, goes to Lee’s headquarters. And on June 2 Huger is ordered to report back to Longstreet. When Huger doesn’t report immediately, Longstreet placed the division under the command of J. E. B. Stuart. When Huger complained about this action by Longstreet, Longstreet wrote to Lee explaining everything. And he ended by saying that” “He [Huger] has joined his Division this morning and taken command.” And that was it. Lee thought will suggest twice in two weeks that Huger be transferred. His slow manner, his adherence to army routine, his seeming negligence in the face of the enemy, Huger was considered too old army and too old to adjust to new conditions and realities. Huger is finally relieved of command on July 12, 1862 and assigned as inspector of artillery and ordnance. A position he is more than qualified to fill. He later becomes the chief of ordnance, chief of the bureau of ordnance in Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department. So they are going to send Huger as far away from Richmond as they can get him. Douglas Southall Freeman wrote: “He [Huger] had been too long habituated to the slow, peace-time routine of the ordnance service to adjust himself to field command, for which he had no aptitude….Although he was no more than 56, he had the look of a man prematurely aged by hardened arteries.” So when I first looked at this I thought Huger had to be, at least, in his late 60’s. He’s 56. Longstreet, on the other hand, by October of 1862, becomes the senior lieutenant general in the entire Confederate army. He is going to help Lee win the 2nd Manassas and Fredericksburg campaigns. He conducts the Suffolk Campaign. He will fight the First Corps at Gettysburg and Chickamauga. And at Chickamauga he basically wins the battle there. Saves Lee’s army on the second day at the Wilderness, is severely wounded, comes back to duty and serves with Lee through Appomattox. He dies in 1904, one of the most controversial figures from the old Confederacy. But one of Longstreet’s keys to success with his troops is how he treats them. And one of things he feels all the troops are entitled to are battle honors, if they won them properly. And in fact actually on June 12, 1862, he writes to D. H. Hill: “I send enough of the Seven Pines for your troops, but think that neither of the regiments that left the battle-field have the slightest claim to it nor the regiment that lost its colors. Properly, it is not even entitled to colors. We must endeavor to have this thing select, or it will be of no service. Any regiment that goes through the battle creditably I think entitled to the inscription; but I hold that no regiment goes through creditably when it leaves the field before the fight is over; particularly when repeated efforts have to be made to get it back upon the field. I have spoken in strong terms about this, because I am entirely satisfied that it is just.” In other words if you prove creditable on the battlefield, you can put that battle honor on your flag, but if you leave or lose your flag, you’re not entitled to it. So Longstreet wanted to make sure those who earned it, got it. And those who don’t earn it don’t get it. One of Longstreet’s aids, T. J. Goree, wrote to his sister on June 17, this is about two weeks after the battle. And he said: “For some inexplicable cause he [Huger] did not commence to move his troops until 11 or 12 o’clock A.M. and was at least six hours behind time, & the consequence was the attack, which was intended should be made at 8 o’clock A.M. was not begun until 2 o’clock P.M., entirely too late for Genl. Huger to attack the enemy’s left flank.” Col. E. P. Alexander, writing in his military memoirs, stated: “General Longstreet entirely misconceived his orders and instead of marching straight down Nine Mile Road massing in front of G. W. Smith, he crosses over to the Williamsburg Road, to get behind D. H. Hill. Of course he would not have done it had he not conceived himself ordered to do it.” Now some modern historians, who don’t like Longstreet, put a different spin on this. Eckenrode and Conrad wrote their biography in 1934. And if you want to look for a hatched job on Longstreet this is a good one to start with. In regard to Seven Pines, Eckenrode and Conrad stated: “Longstreet, however, with that burning ambition of his, was in no mood to play second fiddle to G. W. Smith….What seems to have happened is that Longstreet sought Johnston, some time in the evening of May 30, and persuaded the commander to let him transfer his own force from the Nine-mile road to the Williamsburg road. Moreover, he induced Johnston to give him the command of the right wing, which the commander probably did on the assumption that Longstreet was next in grade to Smith and, consequently, the senior major general on that flank….The truth is that the small, nervous Confederate commander, lacking in self-confidence, could not resist Longstreet’s magnificent self-assurance and physical largeness.” So in other words, to keep Smith from getting any credit for fighting at Seven Pines, Longstreet is going to completely disrupt Joe Johnston’s battle plans, and in fact, you almost get the impression in reading this, that he somehow overwhelmed Joe Johnston with his largeness. Longstreet is about six feet two and weighs about two hundred pounds. But I have never really heard anyone really mention Joe Johnston as lacking in self-confidence, before this. Now Douglas Southall Freeman writing in 1942 had a different take on it. He said: “It scarcely is reasonable to say that he [Longstreet] marched over to the Williamsburg road to get rid of Johnston and of Smith, and to fight his own battle in his own way. The probability is that he moved southward through honest mistake in the issuance or interpretation of orders. Staff work at General Headquarters on May 30 – 31 was about as bad as it could have been. For this Johnston in large measure was responsible – witness his failure to have a copy made of the instructions he personally wrote for Huger, for Huger, the night before the battle. Longstreet has no culpability in this. If his orders were equivocal, his subsequent confusion was the result of inexperience in the logistics of a far larger command than ever he had handled in the field.” A nice even biography of Longstreet was done by Col. B. D. Sanger in 1952. And he really did not have too much to say about it. He simply wrote: “The heavy rain and wretched conditions of the roads, poor staff work, lack of written orders, misunderstanding of verbal orders, and Longstreet’s delay in attacking all acted to create confusion, delay, and lack of co-ordinated movement. The result was piecemeal attacks, ending in local success, but not in any sustained, co-ordinated advance all along the line.” As I mentioned Johnston wrote his narrative in 1874. In 1959 a new edition was published with an introduction by historian Frank E. Vandiver. And Vandiver’s conclusion was: “Seven Pines could not be rated a success. The action began slowly with consequent loss of the element of surprise. Johnston’s subordinates were uncertain of who commanded on what part of the field – his fault, certainly – and coordination of several large bodies of men appeared beyond the capacity of inexperienced generals and staff officers. Much confusion could have been avoided had Johnston taken the time to issue precise orders and to make certain that they were carefully distributed. Instead he relied on his friends among the generals to see that everyone knew his plan. Since he did not make clear the chain of command, he ignored the very point which had most confused him in the Battle of Manassas. And there was some indication that in the heat of this essentially well planned but indecisive action he lost control of various parts of the battle.” So according to Vandiver, the guy to blame for all of this, is Joe Johnston; not James Longstreet. In a paper written in 1995, by Major Hampton E. Hite, this was his thesis paper for the Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, and part of what he wrote of Longstreet was: “That Longstreet’s first attempt at division command was not successful. He demonstrated strength in several leadership competencies but failed in communications, planning, and ethics. He appeared to have favored a strategic offensive and his tactical actions on the field were aggressive but at times impulsive and reckless. It is early in the war and this was Longstreet’s first attempt at handling large numbers of troops, so his mistakes, with the exception of ethics, are reasonable.” Dr. Freeman did conclude that: “The inexcusable part of Longstreet’s conduct was his successful effort to make Huger the scapegoat.” But as we have seen Huger, in my opinion, was late crossing the creek, to begin with, and was already several hours behind when he ran into Longstreet. Also, even after that Huger doesn’t really do anything to endear himself with anyone in a command position with the Army of Northern Virginia. He was too much of a go by-the-book. He had no talent for field command, and in the end, both Joe Johnston and Robert E. Lee will support Longstreet. So despite Longstreet’s supposed failings, Johnston and Lee saw more of the fighting spirit in Longstreet than they did in Huger. Keep in mind Longstreet will still with Lee until Appomattox. And he was referred to Lee in the up-coming Seven Days’ Campaign as “the staff in my right hand,” and more affectionately, after Antietam, as “my old war horse.” I want to thank everybody for joining us this afternoon for the talk. I probably went a little over, what time is it? Quarter after two? Sorry for going over a little bit. Those of you who want to leave, feel free, does anybody else have any questions at this point?



Johnston withdrew his 75,000-man army from the Virginia Peninsula as McClellan's army pursued him and approached the Confederate capital of Richmond. Johnston's defensive line began at the James River at Drewry's Bluff, site of the recent Confederate naval victory, and extended counterclockwise so that his center and left were behind the Chickahominy River, a natural barrier in the spring when it turned the land to the east of Richmond into swamps. Johnston's men burned most of the bridges over the Chickahominy and settled into strong defensive positions north and east of the city. McClellan positioned his 105,000-man army to focus on the northeast sector, for two reasons. First, the Pamunkey River, which ran roughly parallel to the Chickahominy, offered a line of communication that could enable McClellan to get around Johnston's left flank. Second, McClellan anticipated the arrival of the I Corps under Maj. Gen. Irwin McDowell, scheduled to march south from Fredericksburg to reinforce his army, and thus needed to protect their avenue of approach.[5]

The Army of the Potomac pushed slowly up the Pamunkey, establishing supply bases at Eltham's Landing, Cumberland Landing, and White House Landing. White House, the plantation of W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee, son of General Robert E. Lee, became McClellan's base of operations. Using the Richmond and York River Railroad, McClellan could bring his heavy siege artillery to the outskirts of Richmond. He moved slowly and deliberately, reacting to faulty intelligence that led him to believe the Confederates outnumbered him significantly. By the end of May, the army had built bridges across the Chickahominy and was facing Richmond, straddling the river, with one third of the Army south of the river, two thirds north.[6]

Opposing forces


Key Union Commanders

The Union Army of the Potomac of 105,000 men was near the outskirts of Richmond to the northeast, straddling the Chickahominy River. There were three corps north of the river, protecting the Union railroad supply line: the V Corps under Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter; the VI Corps, under Brig. Gen. William B. Franklin; and the II Corps, under Brig. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner. South of the river were the IV Corps, under Brig. Gen. Erasmus D. Keyes, in a position far forward and close to the Confederate lines; and the III Corps, under Brig. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman. At the start of the battle on May 31, McClellan was confined to bed, ill with a flare-up of his chronic malaria.[7]


Key Confederate Commanders

Johnston had 60,000 men in his Army of Northern Virginia protecting the defensive works of Richmond in eight divisions commanded by Maj. Gen James Longstreet, Maj. Gen D.H. Hill, Maj. Gen Benjamin Huger, Maj. Gen Gustavus Smith, Maj. Gen A.P. Hill (who had just gotten command of a brand-new division on May 27), Maj. Gen John B. Magruder, Brig. Gen David Rumph Jones, and Maj. Gen Lafayette McLaws. Just prior to the battle, Johnson appointed Longstreet, Smith, and Magruder as wing commanders. Longstreet had the right wing, consisting of his own division, D.H. Hill's, and Huger's. Smith had the left wing, consisting of his division and A.P. Hill's, while Magruder had his division, Jones, and McLaws in the reserve wing. Brig. Gen Richard H. Anderson and Brig. Gen William H.C. Whiting had operational command of Longstreet and Smith's divisions.[8]

Johnston's plan

Peninsula Campaign, map of events up to the Battle of Seven Pines   Confederate   Union
Peninsula Campaign, map of events up to the Battle of Seven Pines

Johnston, who had retreated up the Peninsula to the outskirts of Richmond, knew that he could not survive a massive siege and decided to attack McClellan. His original plan was to attack the Union right flank, north of the Chickahominy River, before McDowell's corps, marching south from Fredericksburg, could arrive. However, on May 27, the same day the Battle of Hanover Court House was fought northeast of Richmond, Johnston learned that McDowell's corps had been diverted to the Shenandoah Valley and would not be reinforcing the Army of the Potomac. He decided against attacking across his own natural defense line, the Chickahominy, and planned to capitalize on the Union army's straddle of the river by attacking the two corps south of the river, leaving them isolated from the other three corps north of the river.[9]

If executed correctly, Johnston would engage two thirds of his army (22 of its 29 infantry brigades, about 51,000 men) against the 33,000 men in the III and IV Corps. The Confederate attack plan was complex, calling for the divisions of A. P. Hill and Magruder to engage lightly and distract the Union forces north of the river, while Longstreet, commanding the main attack south of the river, was to converge on Keyes from three directions: six brigades under Longstreet's immediate command and four brigades under D. H. Hill were to advance on separate roads at a crossroads known as Seven Pines (because of seven large pine trees clustered at that location); three brigades under Huger were assigned to support Hill's right; Whiting's division was to follow Longstreet's column as a reserve. The plan had an excellent potential for initial success because the division of the IV Corps farthest forward, manning the earthworks a mile west of Seven Pines, was that of Brig. Gen. Silas Casey, 6000 men who were the least experienced and equipped in Keyes's corps. If Keyes could be defeated, the III Corps, to the east, could be pinned against the Chickahominy and overwhelmed.[10]

The complex plan was mismanaged from the start. Johnston chose to issue his orders to Longstreet orally in a long and rambling meeting on May 30. The other generals received written orders that were vague and contradictory. He also failed to notify all of the division commanders that Longstreet was in tactical command south of the river. (This missing detail was a serious oversight because both Huger and Smith technically outranked Longstreet.) On Longstreet's part, he either misunderstood his orders or chose to modify them without informing Johnston. Rather than taking his assigned avenue of advance on the Nine Mile Road, his column joined Hill's on the Williamsburg Road, which not only delayed the advance, but limited the attack to a narrow front with only a fraction of its total force. Exacerbating the problems on both sides was a severe thunderstorm on the night of May 30, which flooded the river, destroyed most of the Union bridges, and turned the roads into morasses of mud.[11]


Battle of Seven Pines
Battle of Seven Pines

The attack got off to a bad start on May 31 when Longstreet marched down the Charles City Road and turned onto the Williamsburg Road instead of the Nine Mile Road. Huger's orders had not specified a time that the attack was scheduled to start and he was not awakened until he heard a division marching nearby. Johnston and his second-in-command, Smith, unaware of Longstreet's location or Huger's delay, waited at their headquarters for word of the start of the battle. Five hours after the scheduled start, at 1 p.m., D.H. Hill became impatient and sent his brigades forward against Casey's division.[12]

Hill's division, some 10,000 men strong, came charging out of the woods. The 100th and 81st New York regiments had been placed up front as heavy skirmish lines, and Hill's assault rolled completely over them. Casey's line, manned by inexperienced troops, buckled with some men retreating, but fought fiercely for possession of their earthworks, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. The Confederates only engaged four brigades of the thirteen on their right flank that day, so they did not hit with the power that they could have concentrated on this weak point in the Union line. Casey sent a frantic request for help, but Keyes was slow in responding. Eventually the mass of Confederates broke through, seized a Union redoubt, and Casey's men retreated to the second line of defensive works at Seven Pines. During this period, both of the high commanders were unaware of the severity of the battle. As late as 2:30 p.m., Heintzelman reported to McClellan, still sick in bed, that he had received no word from Keyes. Johnston was only 2½ miles from the front, but an acoustic shadow prevented him from hearing the sounds of cannons and musketry and he and his staff did not know the battle had begun until 4 p.m. Hill, whose four brigades had been fighting alone for almost four hours, sent a message to Longstreet requesting reinforcements, but Longstreet sent forward only Richard Anderson's brigade. Brig. Gen Robert Rodes went down wounded in the desperate fighting around Seven Pines. Col. John B. Gordon of the 6th Alabama, a future major general, took over command of Rodes's brigade. Most of the officers in the 6th Alabama went down, although Gordon himself survived the battle without an injury despite his clothing and canteen being pierced by several bullets. Gordon also glimpsed his 19-year-old brother Augustus, a captain in the regiment, laying among a pile of dead and dying men with a chest wound, but with the battle raging, had no time to stop and tend to him (Augustus Gordon ultimately survived his injury). Rodes' brigade in total lost more than 50% of its strength. Also wounded was Brig. Gen Gabriel Rains, a few days shy of his 59th birthday and one of the oldest officers in the Army of the Northern Virginia. Command of his brigade devolved on Col. Alfred Colquitt of the 6th Georgia, who would eventually be appointed permanent commander of the brigade.[13]

Prof. Lowe ascending in the Intrepid to observe the Battle of Seven Pines
Prof. Lowe ascending in the Intrepid to observe the Battle of Seven Pines

The Army of the Potomac was accompanied by the Union Army Balloon Corps commanded by Prof. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, who had established two balloon camps on the north side of the river, one at Gaines's Farm and one at Mechanicsville. Lowe reported on May 29 the buildup of Confederate forces to the left of New Bridge or in front of the Fair Oaks train station.[14] With constant rain on May 30 and heavy winds the morning of May 31, the aerostats Washington and Intrepid did not launch until noon. Lowe observed Confederate troops moving in battle formation and this information was relayed verbally to McClellan's headquarters by 2 p.m.[14] Lowe continued to send reports from the Intrepid via telegraph the remainder of May 31. On June 1, Lowe reported that the Confederate barracks to the left of Richmond as being free from smoke.[15] McClellan did not follow up on this information with a counterattack by his corps north of the Chickahominy River.[16]

The Battle of Fair Oaks, Va. by Currier and Ives (1862)
The Battle of Fair Oaks, Va. by Currier and Ives (1862)

Around 4:40 p.m., Hill, now strengthened by the arrival of Richard Anderson's brigade, hit the secondary Union line near Seven Pines, which was manned by the remnants of Casey's division, the IV Corps division of Brig. Gen. Darius N. Couch, and Brig. Gen. Philip Kearny's division from Heintzelman's III Corps. Hill organized a flanking maneuver, sending four regiments under Col. Micah Jenkins from Longstreet's command to attack Keyes's right flank. The attack collapsed the Federal line back to the Williamsburg Road, a mile and a half beyond Seven Pines. Meanwhile, another of Longstreet's brigades under Col. James L. Kemper, arrived on the field and charged the Union lines, but artillery fire forced them to retreat. The fighting in that part of the line died out by 7:30 p.m. During the evening, Longstreet himself arrived on the field along with the remaining four brigades of his division, as well as the three brigades of Huger's division. On the Union side, Brig. Gen Israel Richardson's division of the II Corps arrived on the field, along with Joe Hooker's division of the III Corps (minus one brigade and the division artillery which were left guarding the bridges over White Oak Swamp).[17]

Just before Hill's attack began, Johnston received a note from Longstreet requesting that he join the battle, the first news he had heard of the fighting. Johnston went forward on the Nine Mile Road with four brigades of Whiting's division and encountered stiff resistance from Brig. Gen Charles Devens brigade of Couch's division. Meanwhile, the commander of the II Corps, Brig. Gen Edwin V. Sumner, had brought his command into action from its entrenchments north of the Chickahominy. When told that crossing the rain-swollen river was impossible, Sumner replied "Impossible!? Sir, I tell you I can cross. I am ordered!" The first II Corps brigade to arrive on the field was Brig. Gen William W. Burns's brigade of Brig. Gen John Sedgwick's division, which contacted Brig. Gen Wade Hampton's brigade. After Hampton managed some initial success in forcing back Burns, the latter was quickly reinforced by the other two brigades of Sedgwick's division. Brig. Gen. Robert Hatton, one of the Army of Northern Virginia's newest brigadiers, having just been promoted from colonel of the 7th Tennessee a few weeks earlier, was shot in the head leading his brigade into action and died instantly. Hampton meanwhile was shot in the ankle, and Brig. Gen J. Johnston Pettigrew gravely wounded and left for dead on the field, later being taken prisoner by Sedgwick's division. Repeated assaults on Sedgwick's line were unsuccessful, and the latter's artillery also pounded Whiting's troops, who had no artillery to answer back. Hampton was forced to stretch his brigade's line to near breaking point to prevent his left flank from being overlapped. Meanwhile, Whiting's brigade, commanded by Col. William D. Pender, attempted to attack the Union artillery off to the right, but was cut off by Sedgwick's infantry. With darkness approaching, over 1000 casualties, and most of his officers killed or wounded, Whiting called off the attacks. Sedgwick's division had lost less than 400 men. Two of Magruder's brigades reached the field at dusk, but had no involvement in any of the fighting. Whiting's fifth brigade, the famous Texas Brigade of Brig. Gen John B. Hood, had not fought either; it had been sent off to reinforce Longstreet and was stationed in the woods some distance to the west of Fair Oak Station.[18]

General Thomas Francis Meagher at the Battle of Fair Oaks, June 1, 1862
General Thomas Francis Meagher at the Battle of Fair Oaks, June 1, 1862

The most historically significant incident of the day occurred around dusk, when Johnston was struck in the right shoulder by a bullet, immediately followed by a shell fragment hitting him in the chest. He fell unconscious from his horse with a broken right shoulder blade and two broken ribs and was evacuated to Richmond. G.W. Smith assumed temporary command of the army. Smith, plagued with ill health, was indecisive about the next steps for the battle and made a bad impression on Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee, Davis's military adviser. After the end of fighting the following day, Davis replaced Smith with Lee as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.[19]

During the night of May 31-June 1, scouts in Israel Richardson's division reported two Confederate regiments camped only about 100 yards away. Richardson declined to make a risky night attack, but had his troops form a line of battle just in case. By daybreak however, the enemy regiments had withdrawn from their exposed location. At 6:30 AM, the Confederates resumed their attacks. Two of Huger's three brigades, commanded by Brig. Gens William Mahone and Lewis Armistead (the third under Brig. Gen Albert G. Blanchard was held in reserve) assaulted Richardson's division and momentarily drove part of it back, but Richardson's men rallied. They were reinforced by Brig. Gen David Birney's brigade of Kearny's division, which had not been engaged the previous day as Birney had accidentally taken the wrong road and gotten lost. He was arrested by Heintzelman for disobeying orders and the brigade was temporarily commanded by Col. J. H. Hobart Ward of the 38th New York (Heintzelman attempted to have Birney court-martialed, but a military tribunal cleared him of all charges and he was restored to command of his brigade two weeks later). After fierce fighting, Huger's division was forced to retreat. In his official report of the battle, Mahone stated his casualties at 338 men. Armistead's report did not give a casualty figure, but his losses were undoubtedly heavy as well. On the Union side, total losses in Richardson and Birney's outfits numbered 948 men, including Brig. Gen Oliver O. Howard, whose right arm was shattered by a Minie ball, necessitating an amputation that kept Howard out of action for months. Approximately 60% of Richardson's total casualties came from Howard's brigade. Pickett's brigade, to the right of Armistead, lost 350 men. To the south, the brigades of Roger Pryor and Cadmus Wilcox were attacked by Hooker's division. Although both brigades resisted stubbornly, the order was given to retreat, which they did with some reluctance. By mid-morning, the Confederates withdrew to Casey's earthworks west of Seven Pines and the fighting ended.[20]


Burying the dead and burning dead horses after the battle
Burying the dead and burning dead horses after the battle

Both sides claimed victory with roughly equal casualties, but neither side's accomplishment was impressive. George B. McClellan's advance on Richmond was halted and the Army of Northern Virginia fell back into the Richmond defensive works. Union casualties were 5,031 (790 killed, 3,594 wounded, 647 captured or missing) and Confederate 6,134 (980 killed, 4,749 wounded, 405 captured or missing), making it the largest and bloodiest battle of the war to date after Shiloh eight weeks earlier.[3] The battle was frequently remembered by the Union soldiers as the Battle of Fair Oaks Station because that is where they did their best fighting, whereas the Confederates, for the same reason, called it Seven Pines. Historian Stephen W. Sears remarked that its current common name, Seven Pines, is the most appropriate because it was at the crossroads of Seven Pines that the heaviest fighting and highest casualties occurred.[21]

Despite claiming victory, McClellan was shaken by the experience. He wrote to his wife, "I am tired of the sickening sight of the battlefield, with its mangled corpses & poor suffering wounded! Victory has no charms for me when purchased at such cost."[22] He redeployed all of his army except for the V Corps south of the river, and although he continued to plan for a siege and the capture of Richmond, he lost the strategic initiative. Casey's division was unjustly blamed for the near-disaster, and McClellan had Casey removed from command. The hapless division would play no further role in the campaign, being relegated to guard duty at Harrison's Landing along the James River, and was left behind permanently on the peninsula after the Army of the Potomac returned to Washington D.C. in early August. An offensive begun by the new Confederate commander, Gen. Robert E. Lee, would be planned while the Union troops passively sat in the outskirts of Richmond. The Seven Days Battles of June 25 through July 1, 1862, drove the Union Army back to the James River and saved the Confederate capital.[23]

After taking command, Robert E. Lee embarked on a reorganization of the Confederate army, breaking up and reassigning some brigades, nominating replacements for dead and wounded officers, and removing two brigadiers, Albert G. Blanchard and Raleigh Colston, who had failed to get their units into action during the battle and generally delivered a below-average performance. The change in leadership of the Confederate Army in the field as a result of Seven Pines had a profound effect on the war. On June 24, 1862, McClellan's massive Army of the Potomac was within 6 miles (9.7 km) of the Confederate capital of Richmond; Union soldiers wrote that they could hear church bells ringing in the city. Within 90 days, however, Robert E. Lee had driven McClellan from the Peninsula, Pope had been soundly beaten at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the battle lines were 20 miles (32 km) from the Union capital in Washington. It would take almost two more years before the Union Army again got that close to Richmond, and almost three years before it finally captured it.

Additionally, the battle is notable for being where Henry Wirz lost the use of his right arm, after being shot by a Minie ball while fighting as a private of the Confederate army. He was taken out of combat duty, eventually becoming the commandant of Camp Sumter, a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp notorious for its terrible conditions where nearly 13,000 Union detainees died. The camp became one of the best known horrors of the Civil War, and Wirz was later one of only two men tried and executed for war crimes during the war.

See also


  1. ^ a b National Park Service
  2. ^ a b CWSAC Report Update
  3. ^ a b c Sears, p.147.
  4. ^ Miller, p. 25.
  5. ^ Salmon, p. 88; Eicher, pp. 273–74; Sears, pp. 95–97.
  6. ^ Salmon, p. 90; Sears, pp. 104–06.
  7. ^ Eicher, pp. 276–77.
  8. ^ Eicher, p. 276.
  9. ^ Salmon, pp. 20–21.
  10. ^ Sears, pp. 118–20; Miller, p. 21; Salmon, pp. 91–92.
  11. ^ Sears, p. 120; Miller, pp. 21–22; Downs, pp. 675–76; Salmon, p. 92.
  12. ^ Miller, p. 22; Eicher, p. 276; Sears, pp. 121–23.
  13. ^ Eicher, p. 277; Salmon, p. 93.
  14. ^ a b Lowe, p. 133.
  15. ^ Lowe, pp. 135–137.
  16. ^ Sears, pp. 149–150.
  17. ^ Miller, p. 23; Eicher, pp. 277–78; Salmon, p. 94.
  18. ^ Eicher, p. 278; Sears, pp. 136–38, 143; Miller, p. 23; Salmon, p. 94.
  19. ^ Sears, pp. 145; Miller, p. 24; Salmon, p. 94.
  20. ^ Sears, pp. 142–45.
  21. ^ Sears, p. 149.
  22. ^ Eicher, p. 279.
  23. ^ Miller, pp. 25–60.


  • Downs, Alan C. "Fair Oaks/Seven Pines." In Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
  • Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
  • Esposito, Vincent J. West Point Atlas of American Wars. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1959. OCLC 5890637. The collection of maps (without explanatory text) is available online at the West Point website.
  • Lowe, Thaddeus S. C. My Balloons in Peace and War: Memoirs of Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, Chief of the Aeronautic Corps of the Army of the United States during the Civil War. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-7734-6522-0.
  • Miller, William J. The Battles for Richmond, 1862. National Park Service Civil War Series. Fort Washington, PA: U.S. National Park Service and Eastern National, 1996. ISBN 0-915992-93-0.
  • Salmon, John S. The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2001. ISBN 0-8117-2868-4.
  • Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1992. ISBN 0-89919-790-6.
  • National Park Service battle description
  • Virginia War Museum battle description
  • CWSAC Report Update

Memoirs and primary sources

Further reading

  • Burton, Brian K. The Peninsula & Seven Days: A Battlefield Guide. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8032-6246-1.

External links

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