Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy
By Henry Alexander White



THE day that saw General Lee’s assumption of authority over all the forces of the Southern Confederacy marked also the final adoption of General McClellan’s plan for the capture of Richmond. March 13, 1862, while Lee was casting his first official glance over the entire field of war, McClellan was holding a council at Fairfax Court-House with the corps-commanders of the Army of the Potomac. These officers ratified the Federal leader’s plan to menace the Confederate capital with a land and naval force moving from Fort Monroe as a base, through Yorktown and West Point as the Hne of operations. McClellan’s well-drilled host of one hundred and forty thousand men was to be transferred by water from Alexandria to Fort Monroe. From the latter point the army was to force passage up the Peninsula between the James and the York. The Federal fleet was expected to sail past the Confederate defences at Yorktown, and bring supplies up the York River to furnish the land force as it advanced on Richmond from West Point.

In the forts around Washington, McClellan proposed to leave eighteen thousand men under Wadsworth; about seven thousand were to plunge through the mud as far as Manassas, and over thirty-five thousand under Banks were to cross the Potomac and hold Winchester. On the southern branch of the Potomac in western Virginia were massed the fragments of the army of Rosecrans, soon afterwards increased to sixteen thousand six hundred men, and placed under the direction of Frémont. On the Gauley River were eight thousand Federal soldiers commanded by Cox; some reserves under arms in Pennsylvania were directed to march to Manassas. These different bands of armed men, with complete equipments and vast stores of supplies, received orders to press toward the city of Richmond from three points of the compass.

The prospects of the Confederacy in March, 1862, were overcast with clouds. Roanoke Island and New Berne had just fallen, and twelve thousand men under Burnside were on the soil of North Carolina; Fort Pulaski, defending Savannah, was threatened. The coasts of Florida were lost. Farragut with his men-of-war was approaching the Lower Mississippi and New Orleans. In February, Forts Henry and Donelson had surrendered, and along with them passed the military control of Kentucky and a part of Tennessee; Nashville and Island No. 10, soon likewise became Federal spoil. The Confederacy was surrounded by a wall of fire. Every point was assailed by strong forces. The devoted men of the South stood at bay at the threshold of nearly every State.

To meet McClellan’s multitude in Virginia, Lee could muster only a few scattered bands. Magruder held the lower Peninsula with eleven thousand muskets. Huger was on guard at Norfolk with some heavy guns and seven thousand infantry. In Hampton Roads were the Confederate ironclad, Merrimac, and the Federal ironclad, Monitor. Since the struggle of March 8, these two naval giants had been glaring at each other, neither of them confident of victory; but the Merrimac held the Monitor and the Federal fleet at bay, and the James River was safe as yet from hostile prows. Johnston had withdrawn from Manassas his army of about forty-seven thousand behind the Rappahannock and Rapidan. Holmes commanded a brigade of two thousand at Fredericksburg. Edward Johnson near Staunton had thirty-five hundred, and Stonewall Jackson was watching Winchester with five thousand men. Lee could marshal only about seventy-five thousand men along the line of defence threatened by the Federal force of two hundred thousand.

Thus far in Virginia, however, the prestige of success had remained with the small battalions. The Federal retreat from Manassas in July, 1861, had been followed by the disaster at Ball’s Bluff on the Potomac, wherein Evans, the Confederate hero of the Stone Bridge Visited destruction upon a strong Federal column under Baker, Senator from Oregon. Moreover, J. E. Johnston’s army of less than fifty thousand on the plains of Manassas was supposed by McClellan to be a host more than double that number, and during the long winter weeks kept the Federal Administration in constant fear of the capture of Washington. President Lincoln desired to celebrate Washington’s Birthday by a general advance and ordered all his armies forward on that day. But February 22 dawned and closed upon his inactive regiments. With redoubled energy, again the cry was raised, “On to Richmond,” and the closing days of March saw the Federal brigades floating down the Potomac to gain a foothold at Fort Monroe.

Lee found the Confederate army organised into separate divisons, and at once began the work of securing arms and supplies, and of concentrating his forces to meet threatened assaults. We find him writing in one direction to quiet the murmurings among a group of captains in garrison: “This is not a time to squabble about rank; every one must work, and do what he can to promote the cause.” In another direction he was compelled to deny a request for artillery because there were no guns available, and, moreover, organised companies “all through the Confederacy” were waiting to be supplied.

The twenty-first day of March brought some revelation of McClellan’s plan of operation. Magruder reported the landing of large bodies of Federal troops at Fort Monroe, and asked for thirty thousand men to withstand their advance. Lee then began to fortify the water-approach to Richmond by obstructions in the James and batteries at Drewry’s Bluff; at the same time he called back the troops from the line of the Rappahannock to Richmond. The daring attack of Stonewall Jackson against Shields at Kernstown, March 23, put a new face upon affairs in northern Virginia. Banks had sent one division east of the Blue Ridge to take possession of Manassas and rebuild the railroad; the division of Shields he retained at Winchester. With three thousand men Jackson assaulted the seven thousand of Shields; during three hours the scale of battle wavered, and in the gathering darkness Jackson withdrew from the field. He maintained ever afterward that the result would have been a Confederate victory if Garnett had not retired his brigade when their ammunition failed. But the results of Jackson’s attack were of great value to the Confederacy. The other forces of Banks were hastened westward from Manassas and also up the valley from the Potomac to Winchester. Moreover, the Federal Administration began at once with anxious care to count the soldiers in the defences of Washington, and Blenker’s division of ten thousand men brought additional trouble by failing to find the direct route to the Valley of Virginia. In the face of increasing foes, Jackson suggested the idea underlying his subsequent Valley campaign. On April 5, he wrote this: “If Banks is defeated, it may greatly retard McClellan’s movements.” “Stonewall” sheltered his little band in the Swift Run Pass, and established communication across the Blue Ridge with Ewell at Gordonsville.

The early morning of April 4 found McClellan directing two columns from Fort Monroe against Magruder. The latter had six thousand men for the defence of Mulberry Island and Yorktown, and in addition he had arrayed five thousand between these two points in breastworks behind the Warwick River. To force a passage toward Richmond, McClellan’s scheme was as follows: A column of assault under Heintzelman was to move against Yorktown; a column of advance under Keyes was to brush aside Magruder’s infantry and press up the Peninsula; the Federal navy was to co-operate in the demolition of Yorktown, and McDowell’s corps was to sail up the York to some point offering a favorable flank movement on the Confederate Capital. First among the disappointments met by McClellan was the information that the entire fleet of Federal war-ships must continue to keep watch over the Merrimac, then floating in front of Norfolk. Only a few gunboats were sent to co-operate in the assaults upon Yorktown and Gloucester-Point. Nevertheless, he put his columns in motion. Through the mud and rain of the 4th day of April, they left twelve miles of the journey behind them. The morning of April 5 dawned upon the column of Keyes as it was peering through the rain and mist across the twenty-foot stream of waist-deep water at Lee’s Mills. Through the tangled underbrush across the Warwick were seen the cannon and the rifle-pits of the Confederates. In the presence of this barrier, peopled, as McClellan supposed, by a great host of soldiery, the column of Keyes tarried for one month! Ten o’clock of the same day found the column of Heintzelman receiving a salutation of shells from the guns of Yorktown. As McClellan stood thus, on the afternoon of April 5, with both columns halted, chagrined at the absence of the Federal fleet, which was kept on guard before the Merrimac, he was handed a telegram announcing that McDowell’s corps had been separated from his army and retained as a bulwark to withstand Jackson’s entrance into Washington. The flanking column, intended for the upper York, was thus withheld and McClellan now began to concentrate his force for the beleaguerment of Yorktown.

Not long was Lee occupied in discerning McClellan’s plan. The Confederate commander spent the remaining days of April in arraying Johnston’s army across the Peninsula, and in uniting Jackson and Ewell for the movement against Banks. Jackson’s suggestion of April 5 was now developed. To his lieutenant Lee wrote, in these terms, on April 25: “I have hoped in the present divided condition of the enemy’s forces that a successful blow may be dealt them by a rapid combination of our troops.” Four days later, Jackson mapped out to Lee the main campaign itself; first the blow against Milroy and McDowell, and then the assault upon Banks at Winchester. “You must use your judgment and discretion,” Lee wrote in assent to the plan, May 1.

Johnston was now in control of the Peninsular field. He advised a retreat to the works in front of Richmond. Lee opposed the withdrawal of troops from the Southern seaports to assist in defending Richmond, and Johnston was ordered to meet McClellan in the trenches prepared by Magruder. But McClellan’s heavy guns were soon in readiness to pour their fire upon Yorktown. Johnston did not consider his fifty-five thousand strong enough to march out of the rifle-pits and assail McClellan’s eighty-five thousand. During the night of May 3, Johnston withdrew his forces toward Richmond. On May 5, Longstreet arrayed his division with that of D. H. Hill athwart the path of McClellan’s advance at Williamsburg. Hooker’s division advanced against Longstreet’s right wing, but the Confederate fire sadly thinned his ranks, and compelled him to leave his artillery on the field. D. H. Hill held the Confederate left firm against Hancock. Time for the withdrawal of the Confederate army was gained by the repulse of the Federal attack at Williamsburg, and Johnston now arranged his forces in line of battle between Richmond and the Chickahominy. Huger evacuated Norfolk and the Merrimac was given to the flames. Franklin’s Federal division had been moved up the York to Eltham, above West Point, in order to strike Johnston’s line in flank. But McClellan was compelled now to draw up his forces behind the Chickahominy, facing Richmond at a distance of from seven to twelve miles. He still expected aid from McDowell, who had pressed forward from Manassas to Fredericksburg with forty-one thousand men. A union of McDowell with the right wing of his own army was urged by McClellan. But the movements of Jackson in the valley again frustrated the Federal plan of campaign.

Early in May, Jackson was able to count six thousand muskets in his own army. Opposed to him were six thousand six hundred, under Milroy, threatening Staunton from the westward. Ten thousand more were marching with Frémont to unite with Milroy. Banks held twenty thousand in the lower valley, and McDowell’s forty-one thousand tarried at Fredericksburg. May 8 saw Jackson, at the close of a swift march, crushing Milroy near the village of McDowell, and pursuing him to Franklin. Thence he turned eastward to the valley and united his force with Ewell’s division. Shields had now been sent to add strength to McDowell at Fredericksburg, and with only one division Banks received Jackson’s sudden onset at Winchester, May 23. “Stonewall” pursued the flight of Banks to the Potomac, and added the huge Federal supply train to his own meagre equipment.

The vain dream of taking Jackson in the toils now entered the mind of President Lincoln. Orders were sent to Frémont to hasten eastward across the mountain to Strasburg; McDowell was directed to make speed from Fredericksburg back to Front Royal with twenty thousand men. Moreover, McDowell’s advance toward Richmond was checked,and McClellan’s assault on Richmond was thus delayed until a quietus should be administered to Jackson.

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER VII.


On May 25, while Jackson was chasing Banks, McClellan was completing the movement of his Third and Fourth corps d’armée to the southern bank of the Chickahominy. There they were fortified in position across the turnpike leading to Richmond. McClellan’s other corps, three in number, remained still on the northern bank of the stream, pushing out their right toward Fredericksburg to grasp McDowell’s friendly hand. But May 30 found McDowell at Front Royal, the companion of Frémont in watching the passage of Jackson’s rearguard up the valley. The fox had escaped from Lincoln’s trap. As Frémont and Shields both started in pursuit only to meet disaster from the strong arm of “Stonewall“ a few days later at Cross Keys and Port Republic, on that same thirtieth day of May, Johnston was ordering his line of battle to assault the two advanced corps of McClellan’s army. May 31 saw this assault delivered at Seven Pines. The advanced Federal left wing was driven back against the Chickahominy, but delays on the part of the Confederate officers gave time for the passage of Sumner’s corps across the swollen river, and thus prevented the probable destruction of the two corps of Keyes and Heintzelman. June 1 witnessed some additional Confederate assaults and then the two antagonists secured themselves behind intrenchments.

General J. E. Johnston received a severe wound on the field of May 31, and President Davis at once directed General Robert E. Lee to take control of the Army of Northern Virginia. June 1 found Lee riding to the front at Seven Pines to assume that active leadership in the field which he retained until the close of the bloody drama. Concerning his new duties Lee thus wrote: “I wish his [Johnston’s] mantle had fallen upon an abler man, or that I were able to drive our enemies back to their homes. I have no ambition and no desire but for the attainment of this object.” In the first general order issued by Lee occurs this appeal to the Confederate army:

The presence of the enemy in front of the Capital, the great interests involved, and the existence of all that is dear to us, appeal in terms too strong to be unheard, and he [Lee] feels assured that every man has resolved to maintain the ancient fame of the Army of Northern Virginia, and the reputation of its general [Johnston] and to conquer or die in the approaching contest.

Every day Lee was seen riding along the Confederate lines, while he kept watch over McClellan’s men working like beavers. An eye-witness thus speaks of him:

“Calm, dignified and commanding in his bearing, a countenance strikingly benevolent and self-possessed, a clear honest eye, that could look friend or enemy in the face; clean-shaven, except a closely trimmed moustache which gave a touch of firmness to the well-shaped mouth; simply and neatly dressed in the uniform of his rank; felt hat, and top-boots reaching to the knee; sitting his horse as if his home was in the saddle: such was Robert E. Lee as he appeared when he assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia.” The following is Lee’s description of himself: “My coat is of gray, of the regulation style and pattern, and my pants of dark blue, as is also prescribed, partly hid by my long boots. I have the same handsome hat which surmounts my gray head (the latter is not prescribed in the regulations), and shields my ugly face, which is masked by a white beard as stiff and wiry as the teeth of a card. In fact, an uglier person you have never seen, and so unatractive is it to our enemies that they shoot at it whenever visible to them.”

During the first half of the month of June, 1862, McClellan was massing four of his corps on the southern bank of the Chickahominy, near Seven Pines, for the advance against Richmond. Porter’s corps was fortified on the northern bank of the river. This separation of the wings of his army was caused by McClellan’s expectation that McDowell would march southward from Fredericksburg to lend aid to his right wing. The York River railroad furnished supplies to the Army of the Potomac from the wharf at the White House on the Pamunkey. June 13 brought to Porter’s assistance McCall’s division of McDowell’s corps; Jackson’s victories at Cross Keys and Port Republic kept McDowell’s remaining divisions on the alert along the northern borders of Virginia. June 20 found one hundred and fifteen thousand men arrayed under McClellan’s battle flag, ready for the struggle with Lee. Lee could, at first, muster only fifty-seven thousand men against McClellan. From the coast of the Carolinas he brought forward about fifteen thousand more. On June 6 Jackson sent the following suggestion: “Should my command be required at Richmond, I can be at Mechum’s River depot, on the Central railroad, the second day’s march.” This letter was based upon a previous exchange of views. Just after the defeat of Banks at Winchester, Jackson sent word to Richmond that if reinforced, he would capture Washington. “Tell General Jackson,” replied Lee, “that he must first help me to drive these people away from Richmond.” June 8, while Jackson was defeating Frémont at Cross Keys, Lee was thus writing to his lieutenant: “Should there be nothing requiring your attention in the Valley, so as to prevent your leaving it for a few days, and you can make arrangements to deceive the enemy and impress him with the idea of your presence, please let me know, that you may unite at the decisive moment with the army near Richmond.” When Jackson received this, he had already routed Shields at Port Republic, June 9, and was now watching Frémont and Shields retire down the valley. From the generous commander-in-chief he soon read this despatch of June 11:

Your recent successes have been the cause of the liveliest joy in this army as well as in the country. The admiration excited by your skill and boldness has been constantly mingled with solicitude for your situation. The practicability of reinforcing you has been the subject of earnest consideration. It has been determined to do so at the expense of weakening this army. Brigadier-General Lawton with six regiments from Georgia is on the way to you; and Brigadier-General Whiting with eight veteran regiments leaves here to-day. The object is to enable you to crush the forces opposed to you. . . . With your main body, including Ewell’s division and Lawton’s and Whiting’s commands, move rapidly to Ashland by rail or otherwise—and sweep down between the Chickahominy and Pamunkey, cutting up the enemy’s communications, while this army attacks General McClellan in front.

With banners waving and drums beating, the brigades of Lawton and Whiting departed from Richmond. Lee took measures to convey to McClellan the news of this reinforcement of Jackson. The Federal commander thus remained under the impression that Jackson would continue in the valley. Lawton proceeded to Port Republic, but Whiting was turned back at Staunton. On June 12, Lee despatched Stuart, with twelve hundred horsemen, to reconnoitre McClellan’s rear. This daring trooper passed through Hanover Court House to Tunstall’s Station on the York River railroad; across this road he pressed southward, passed the swollen Chickahominy, and by moving night and day reached the James River and rode thence to Richmond. Stuart cut a pathway entirely around McClellan’s army in forty-eight hours and brought to Lee information concerning the Federal position. Lee’s plan was finally arranged by the 16th, as he announced it to Jackson in a letter of that date:

Frémont and Shields are apparently retrograding, their troops shaken and disorganised, and some time will be required to set them again in the field. If this is so, the sooner you unite with this army the better. McClellan is being strengthened. . . . The present, therefore, seems favourable for a junction of your army and this. If you agree with me, the sooner you can make arrangements to do so the better. In moving your troops, you could let it be understood that it was to pursue the enemy in your front. Dispose those to hold the Valley, so as to deceive the enemy, keeping your cavalry well in their front, and at the proper time suddenly descending upon the Pamunkey. To be efficacious, the movement must be secret. Let me know the force you can bring, and be careful to guard from friends and foes your purpose and your intention of personally leaving the Valley. The country is full of spies and our plans arc immediately carried to the enemy.

The second day after this letter left Richmond Jackson began the march from the valley. His footsore men trudged from Port Republic to Gordonsville between June 18 and June 21, inclusive. Sunday, June 22, was spent in camp. Since McClellan held a portion of the railroad, the hour of one o’clock, Monday morning, found Jackson galloping towards Richmond with a single companion. He left fifty-two miles behind him by noon, and at 3 P.M. began the conference with Lee concerning the movement against McClellan’s right wing. At early dawn of this same day, June 23, Jackson’s men formed column for the march to the Chickahominy.

Bewilderment now prevailed in the Federal councils. June 24, McClellan telegraphed the rumour concerning Jackson’s approach and then asked for “the most exact information you have as to the position and movements of Jackson.” Stanton forwarded to McClellan, June 25, the various reports that located Jackson at many points from Gordonsville to Luray, and the mountains of western Virginia. Sixty thousand Federal troops were on the alert guarding the mouth of the valley, and the city of Washington against “Stonewall.” The late afternoon of June 25 brought convincing news to McClellan, who thus, announced the situation: “I incline to think that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force is stated at two hundred thousand, including Jackson and Beauregard. I shall have to contend against vastly superior odds if these reports be true!”


Lee’s plan of attack against McClellan’s right, on the northern bank of the Chickahominy, was outlined as follows: Jackson was to lead his sixteen thousand from Ashland, on June 25, to an encampment west of the Central railway. Thursday morning, June 26, at 3 A.M., he was to advance across the railway toward Pole Green Church, a point in the rear of Porter’s right flank. As Jackson crossed the railway, he was to inform Branch, who held one of A. P. Hill’s brigades on the Brook road; Branch had orders then to cross the Chickahominy and move down the northern bank upon Mechanicsville. The next step in the movement was to be taken by A. P. Hill’s eleven thousand men, as thus ordered: “As soon as the movements of these columns [Jackson and Branch] are discovered. General A. P. Hill, with the rest of his division, will cross the Chickahominy near Meadow Bridge [Central railway] and move direct upon Mechanicsville.” After that, in succession. Longstreet was to move his nine thousand, and D. H. Hill his ten thousand, across the Mechanicsville bridge and unite with the general flank movement down the northern bank of the river. Stuart’s cavalry was sent to guide Jackson’s column. These fifty thousand men were to strike the flank and the rear of McClellan’s right wing. They moved in four divisions en échelon. D. H. Hill was expected to support Jackson’s rear attack, and Longstreet to support A. P. Hill’s attack at Mechanicsville. It was prescribed that Jackson’s column should be in advance of the others, “bearing, well to his left, turning Beaver Dam Creek and taking the direction towards Cold Harbor.” From Cold Harbor, Jackson and D. H. Hill were to “press forward towards the York River railroad, closing upon the enemy’s rear and forcing him down the Chickahominy.” In this order Lee arrayed his own left wing, and moved it into action. His right wing, thirty thousand strong, was left in the line of fortifications covering the eastern and southern approaches to Richmond. Holmes held three brigades at Drewry ‘s Bluff and Chaffin’s Bluff. Magruder and Huger, with twenty-five thousand men, confronted the four advanced Federal corps of nearly eighty thousand. It was a dangerous movement for Lee thus to divide his forces in the face of the foe. But Lee knew McClellan’s extreme caution, and he ordered Magruder and Huger to impose upon him with great demonstrations in his front, and, if need be, to hold their own trenches at the point of the bayonet.

Jackson was ordered to set the pace. By the night of June 25, he had pushed his column only as far as Ashland. The footsore and weary veterans passed over the distance of fifty miles from Gordonsville in three days. June 26, at 3 A.M., Whiting led the advance from Ashland on the Ashcake road; the head of his column began to cross the Central railway at 9 A.M., and at 10 A.M. Branch was reading Jackson’s announcement of progress. The columns of Jackson and Branch were just six hours later in advancing than had been expected. This delay was due to the fatigue of Jackson’s men incurred in the long march, and to the tardiness of the arrival of the provisions sent him from Richmond. It was not due to his own weariness from the ride of Monday morning. “Stonewall’s” vigour was unabated and his spirit was aglow with the ardour of battle.

In accordance with instructions, Jackson kept well to the left and pressed toward Cold Harbor, with Stuart’s cavalry guarding his flank. At 3 P.M., Hood’s Texans were engaged in a hot skirmish across the Totopotomoy Creek, where the bridge had to be rebuilt. Darkness fell upon Jackson at Hundley’s Corner, six or eight miles to the rear of the Federal position. He was not within reach of the battle prematurely commenced by A. P. Hill at Mechanicsville, and his orders bound him to an eastward course.

Branch’s advance down the northern bank of the stream was delayed by Federal skirmishers, and at Atlee’s Station he found serious battle. When the hour of 3 P.M. brought neither Jackson nor Branch, A. P. Hill feared that the delay might “hazard the failure of the whole plan.” He therefore crossed the river, drove the Federal soldiers from Mechanicsville and drew up his lines before McClellan’s fortress on the bank of Beaver Dam Creek. D. H. Hill and Longstreet moved across their bridge to Hill’s support.

A. P. Hill’s advance was daring but imprudent. Lee’s plan was seriously embarrassed. Jackson was marching toward Porter’s rear; he had almost obtained a vantage point when Hill’s forward movement brought three of Lee’s four flanking divisions face to face with the shotted guns frowning from the Federal fortifications. Beaver Dam Creek was waist-deep and bordered by swamps. Trees had been felled along the steep ascent and their branches sharpened to resist the assailants. The artillery posted on the eastern bank could sweep every approach. Five brigades of riflemen under McCall stood ready behind breastworks of logs. It was to flank this force that Lee sent Jackson to strike Porter’s rear. Now that A. P. Hill’s passage had divulged his plan, Lee rode forward from his headquarters on the Mechanicsville turnpike and pressed the attack. At 5 P.M., while Jackson was still north of the Totopotomoy, engaged in bridging that stream, A. P. Hill was ordering Archer, Anderson and Field into active battle along the Bethesda road, at Beaver Dam Creek. D. H. Hill sent Ripley to support Pender at Ellison’s Mill. This disposition was made in obedience to Lee’s order to assail both flanks of the Federal line. But the Confederate brigades were torn and shattered by the storm of iron poured upon them from guns in position and infantry intrenched.

June 27 dawned upon Ewell leading Jackson’s advance eastward from Hundley’s. Porter’s five brigades under McCall had scented danger from the rear, and were falling back to Porter’s central position near Cold Harbor. Jackson’s flank movement thus accomplished what A. P. Hill’s assault failed to do.

A difficulty of fearful significance now began to disturb the movements of the Confederate divisions. This difficulty was ignorance of the country. The Confederate maps were of little value. The corps of engineers selected by President Davis had not discovered the exact location of the Federal defences. Jackson’s guide led him south-eastward to Walnut Grove Church until Ewell’s division stood face to face with A. P. Hill’s division. The latter was moving from Ellison’s Mill toward New Cold Harbor, while Longstreet was pursuing the river road to the Gaines House. While Jackson’s advance column was jammed into a narrow cross-road, and Ewell was reversing his guns, D. H. Hill hastened from Beaver Dam Creek and led the march eastward along the Bethesda road towards Porter’s right rear. At the same time A. P. Hill started on the two-mile journey to find Porter’s left flank at Gaines Mill.

Porter had intrenched himself east of Powhite Swamp, with his back turned to the Chickahominy bridges. His line of battle formed a semicircle upon the bluffs within the curve of Boatswain’s Swamp. Through tangled underbrush, boggy swamps, and felled trees, the Confederates must advance to meet the plunging fire of a park of artillery and of twenty-five thousand muskets, increased in the evening to more than thirty-five thousand.

At 2 P.M., Jackson was passing Old Cold Harbor with D. H. Hill’s division; he had pressed forward against sharp-shooters and through fallen trees, and was closing in upon Porter’s right flank. General Lee, at the Walnut Grove Church, had directed Jackson to hold the eastward course until he should strike Porter in reverse and threaten his communication with York River, while A. P. Hill and Longstreet should drive him down the Chickahominy. At Old Cold Harbor, Jackson sent forward a battery to test the Federal position. Fierce was the artillery-fire poured upon Bondurant, and Jackson knew at once that he stood in Porter’s front. Just as Jackson, with the head of his column was locating Porter’s line, at 2.30 P.M., A. P. Hill was ordering his entire division into assault at New Cold Harbor. Away from Gaines Mill, he had before this driven Porter’s strong skirmish line. When he learned that Longstreet was at his right hand. Hill dashed through the tangled brushwood of the swamps against the strong batteries of the Federal centre. Gallant and fierce was this attack, and for two hours the roar of Hill’s battle continued to summon the other Confederate divisions to his field. He forced Porter to ask aid, and at 3.30 P.M. Slocum’s five thousand came to give strength to the Federal defence.

The force of Hill’s attack gradually abated; his line of riflemen could not drive three lines of muskets from rifle-pits and barricades one above another on the steep wooded slope, while the plateau above was studded with heavy guns that rained an iron storm upon the devoted Southerners. At four o’clock, Lee ordered Longstreet to relieve the pressure on Hill by making a feint against Porter’s left wing. Sixty feet above the plateau where Longstreet’s brigades formed their line of assault, the guns of Morell frowned from the crest of Turkey Hill. Rifle-pits and fallen trees gave protection to the Federal infantry. Moreover, the approaches towards the Federal left wing were swept by the fire of the heavy siege guns that McClellan was operating from the southern bank of the Chickahominy. Longstreet sent his men forward. The fire which they provoked revealed a foe so strong that the full vigour of Longstreet’s entire division would be required for the blow. The hour of seven had come when Longstreet was ready to strike.

The Confederate left wing, however, was the first to beard Porter in his lair on the crest of the hill. When the roar of the battle against the Federal left wing called Jackson into the field at Old Cold Harbor, no time remained for outflanking Porter’s right wing. Jackson supposed that Hill and Longstreet had found the Federal left flank, and that they were driving Porter sidewise into his own corps. Jackson, therefore, drew up his men in the edge of the field at Old Cold Harbor. Across the open space in his front he expected Porter to be driven toward the York. But the sound of the firing taught him that his comrades on the right were assailing fortifications. He sent a staff-officer to bring his men forward. The officer misunderstood the command and left the brigades at rest. But R. L. Dabney, chief of staff, had heard Jackson’s order in detail and he now hurried the troops into battle. As they entered the forest a wild yell rang around the Confederate semicircle, “Jackson’s come!” D. H. Hill formed the left of Jackson’s attacking column. To the right of Hill was Ewell, and to his right, en échelon, advanced the old division of Jackson and then the division of Whiting. The lack of guides even yet prevented unity of action. Jackson’s brigades moved obliquely into the tangled swamp toward the sound of A. P. Hill’s musketry. They enveloped Porter’s entire right and centre, and took the place of Hill’s exhausted troops against a portion of the Federal left. The Confederate cannon could not be moved through the dense brushwood. With bayonets fixed, “Stonewall’s” soldiers dashed forward through the wilderness of obstructions against the hail of lead and iron. Lee now sent orders to his entire line to press forward in the Wellington style of “up and at them.”

Porter’s hours of successful defence were numbered. He had sent urgent demands for aid to McClellan across the Chickahominy. But apprehension for the safety of the four corps filled the mind of McClellan and his subordinates on the southern bank of the river. The gallant Magruder did admirable work with his twenty-five thousand. The Confederate artillery under General Pendleton in different places blazed forth with furious bursts of fire; the infantry marched and counter-marched, and seemed ever on the point of making fierce assault against the lines of Franklin and Sumner. When McClellan made requisition upon these two commanders for some brigades in Porter’s behalf, Franklin replied, “not prudent,” and Sumner said “hazardous.” Only the brigades of French and Meagher were sent. These five thousand men reached the rear crest of Porter’s fortress in the evening twilight, in time to receive into their arms the routed and fleeing fugitives of Porter’s defeated corps.

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER VII.


The Confederate battle-storm fell most heavilyupon Porter’s right flank. D. H. Hill was the first to gain a foothold beyond the swamp to confront his old West Point room-mate, Sykes. The latter was fortified behind fence, ditch, and hill-top, and his heavy guns made the steep ascent appear like a tower of fire. The McGehee knoll, held by Sykes, was the key to this part of the field. The keen vision of Hill’s brigadiers, Garland and G. B. Anderson, caught sight of the right end of Sykes’s line. With Hill’s permission, the men of North Carolina began to swing around against the Federal right flank. With a wild yell they touched the vital point in the Federal defence and began to roll back the line of regulars. At the same moment with this flank attack, against the front of Sykes’s line glittered the bayonets of the “Stonewall“ brigade under Winder. The latter had moved obliquely across the path of Ewell to D. H. Hill’s support. The impact of Carolinians and Virginians against flank and front, scattered the men of Sykes in rout. Lawton’s Georgians swept forward on Winder’s right and made another gap in Porter’s line.

While Jackson was thus crushing the Federal right wing, the Federal centre and left wing still made obstinate defence. The hill’s crest was crowned with Federal guns. Here was the keystone of Porter’s arch. Jackson sent Whiting to carry these central works at the point of four thousand bayonets. More than this number of Federal troops held the defences in Whiting’s immediate front. He ordered his two brigades under Hood and Law to move down the long slope to the foot of the Federal fortress in double-quick time, with trailed arms and without firing a shot. A withering storm of balls and shell began to beat into the faces of the Confederates as they advanced. Federal cannon from the sixty-foot plateau volleyed and thundered; muskets blazed from the trenches on the steep ascent, and from the log breastworks at its base. Into the jaws of death dashed Hood and Law without a pause. Hood led the right with the 4th Texas; Law led the left with the 11th Mississippi and the 4th Alabama. In silence and swiftness advanced the two lines of grey; not a shot did they fire. A thousand men fell, but the lines closed up where the cannon tore gaps in the ranks, and the pace was quickened to a run. As the Confederates rushed against the very muzzles of the enemy’s rifles, the Federal soldiers turned and fled up the hill. With a fierce yell the men of Hood and Law leaped the ravine and the breastworks, and poured a close fire into the mass of fugitives. Up the steep ascent the Confederates clambered, in pursuit, and drove the Federal line in confusion across the plateau. Thus in quick succession, after the rout of Sykes, Jackson’s line under Whiting crushed Porter’s centre and captured two regiments and fourteen guns. As Whiting’s brigades reached the hill’s crest, they heard the cheers of Jackson’s left wing already sweeping in victory across the McGehee ridge toward the Chickahominy; at the same moment the brigades of R. H. Anderson and Pickett led the advance of Longstreet’s division against the Federal left wing. But the victory snatched by Longstreet’s gallant battalions from the brow of Turkey Hill, was shared by two of the brigades (Cunningham and Fulkerson) of Jackson’s old division. These had pressed far to the right, and furnished aid in breaking through the line opposed to Longstreet.

Behind the Adams House in the edge of the Chickahominy swamps. Porter’s men found shelter within the new line of battle formed by the brigades of French and Meagher. More than thirty-five thousand men, in all, thus faced the Confederate advance on the north bank of the Chickahominy. The Federal soldiers held their lines with great obstinacy, and Porter conducted his battle with coolness and ability. But the Confederate soldiers out-fought their opponents. It is true that Lee sent fifty thousand to drive Porter from his lair. But the unsupported attack of A. P. Hill, at 2.30 P.M. threw the Confederate battle out of balance, until Jackson brought his entire line into action near the close of the day. Even then, the Federal line was out-numbered at scarcely a single point of attack, while against Whiting’s column Porter presented a more numerous front. Tangled swamps, ravines, heaps of logs and fallen trees, trenches, earthworks, and blazing cannon had not kept back the rush of Jackson’s men, although they could not make use of their own heavy guns and were resisted at most points by equal numbers, and in some places by a more numerous foe. The mantle of complete darkness fell upon the Confederate advance as they reached the summit of Porter’s fortress. Confederate ignorance of the roads and bridges across the Chickahominy prevented the complete destruction of Porter’s corps. Porter lost about seven thousand men and twenty-two guns. The Confederate loss was about six thousand. When the sun first beamed across the field of blood on the morning of June 28, he found the troops of Porter on the southern bank of the Chickahominy. Under cover of darkness they had crept across the stream, and the axe and the torch removed every plank and trestle. The swamp and the river were unbridged between McClellan and Lee’s main army.

Lee’s plan, thus far successful, contemplated the capture of the York River railroad, and the severance of McClellan’s communication with the Pamunkey; this was to be followed by the destruction or capture of the Federal army. This plan was in part frustrated by McClellan’s decision to cut loose from the Pamunkey as a base, and to move his army into vital connection with his war vessels on the James River. Such a change of base he had anticipated some days before by sending a fleet of supply-boats up the James to Westover. At the midnight hour following the disaster of Cold Harbor, McClellan gave his five corps leaders instructions for the flight across White Oak Swamp to the James. No other favourable course was open to him.

The morning of June 28 saw McClellan’s hundred and five thousand men massed on the Richmond side of the river. Between him and the Confederate capital was a force one-fourth the size of his own, under Magruder and Huger. Lee’s army was cut in twain; two-thirds of his force were on the northern bank of the unfordable swamp. What an opportunity for a vigorous leader to lay the hand on Richmond! But McClellan already sought escape, and it seems that none of his subordinates urged an assault against Magruder’s thin line. Porter’s corps faced northward, and with a vast array of heavy guns guarded the Chickahominy against Lee’s advance. Four corps held the line facing Richmond, stretching from the Golding farm to the brink of the White, Oak Swamp. Between these two lines of bristling bayonets, McClellan made ready his five thousand waggons and started them toward the James. A herd of lowing cattle followed the waggons. Great columns of smoke marked the destruction of stores that could not be moved. Along the single roadway that traverses the Swamp, marched the corps of Keyes in advance to force the way for the supply train. Noonday, June 28, found Keyes’s corps guarding the cross-road four miles southward from the Swamp bridge. All day the waggons and the cattle were crawling through the wilderness, concealed by the dense forests and the walls of living men.

Twenty-four hours passed away from the beginning of the Federal retreat until Lee discovered the intention of McClellan. Early on the 28th, Lee sent Stuart and Ewell to Dispatch Station. The railway was seized, part of the track torn up, and Stuart spread destruction as far as the White House. The Federal troops withdrew to the southern side of the river, burned the railway bridge, and ran entire ammunition trains with their engines into the Chickahominy. Lee then knew that McClellan must seek another base than the Pamunkey. But what base? The James was open to him across White Oak Swamp. The Peninsular route was also accessible across the lower fords of the Chickahominy. If McClellan should retreat down the Peninsula, Lee’s army must remain where it was on the northern bank of the Chickahominy. It was impossible to follow McClellan’s rear in the face of Porter’s batteries on the bluff. Ewell was therefore sent to hold Bottom’s Bridge, and Stuart’s cavalry moved down to guard the Peninsular route to Williamsburg. But the Federal retreat troubled not again the waters of the Chickahominy. The clouds of dust arising from the march of the Federal host warned Lee in the evening twilight of June 28 that his foe was seeking the James. The assault of two of Magruder’s regiments against Franklin at Golding’s, revealed the fact that this wing of the Federal force was withdrawing from the Chickahominy.

Lee’s orders were at once given for pursuit to begin at the dawning of June 29. Longstreet and A. P. Hill were ordered to move across the river at the New Bridge and to follow the Darbytown route to the Long Bridge road until they should strike the Federal flank. Magruder was sent in pursuit down the Williamsburg road, and Huger moved along the parallel Charles City road. Holmes led six thousand men down the River road to intercept the retreat at Malvern Hill. Jackson was commanded to rebuild the Grape Vine Bridge and to follow McClellan’s rear through the Swamp.

The afternoon of Sunday, June 29, offered Lee an opportunity for striking a blow, and he bent all his energies toward bringing his columns into action. McClellan’s army was then outstretched over the long roadway from Savage’s Station to Malvern Hill. The corps of Keyes was in advance, supported by the shattered brigades of Porter; these watched the waggons on the Quaker road and were feeling their way across the Malvern slopes toward the James. The broken divisions of McCall and Slocum had just emerged from the Swamp road and were in camp near the WilHs Church. Heintzelman’s advance was crossing at Brackett’s ford at 6.30 P.M., and going into bivouac just south of the Swamp at 10 P.M. About the hour of four in the afternoon, Sumner’s corps and Smith’s division of Franklin’s corps, were resisting the onslaught of Magruder at Savage’s Station. The vulnerable part of this long, creeping serpent was the middle part of his body, at the southern edge of the Swamp. Toward this point Lee urged Huger forward by the Charles City road, Longstreet and A. P. Hill by the Darbytown road, and Holmes on the River road. Much now depended on the vigour of Huger and the celerity of Longstreet. Huger was held back by the trees felled across his path, while Longstreet marched only twelve miles from the Chickahominy to Atlee’s farm on the Darbytown road, and went into camp some miles from McClellan’s retreating line. Jackson spent the day in bridging the Chickahominy, while Magruder sent only a part of his men into battle under McLaws at Savage’s Station. Moreover, Holmes failed to strike the serpent’s head on Malvern Hill, and McClellan’s movement continued. With a more rapid march by Longstreet and Hill, Lee might have cut the long line in twain at the Willis Church and thus have forced the Federal commander to attack the Confederates in position.

The early dawn of June 30, found the situation completely changed. Success had crowned McClellan’s retreat across the Swamp. His trains had all made the passage, and his rearguard, Richardson’s division, was destroying the Swamp bridge at 10 A.M. The main body of the Federal army, over sixty thousand men, was now concentrated south of the Swamp in defence of the line of retreat. At the edge of the Swamp, facing northward and commanding the roadway by a park of artillery, stood the rearguard of twenty thousand men under Franklin. Encircling the Charles City cross-roads, in front of Frayser’s farm, were arrayed over forty thousand men under Sumner and Heintzelman with their cannon and muskets commanding the two Richmond approaches.

McClellan’s position was strong; he occupied a compact defensive stronghold on the edge of the Swamp, his right and his left within supporting distance of each other on inner lines.

At eleven o’clock, the head of Jackson’s column in pursuit ran against Franklin’s heavy guns in position to defend the road across the unbridged Swamp. Crutchfield’s batteries, twenty-eight guns, opened fire on Franklin and drove back his artillery; Jackson then made an attempt to cross, but the effort only revealed Franklin’s strength in cannon and muskets. Two brigades of Sedgwick’s division moved rapidly to Franklin’s aid to repulse Jackson’s advance at Brackett’s ford. Franklin thus arrayed twenty-five thousand men against Jackson’s twenty-one thousand. The latter saw the odds against him and wisely held back his wearied veterans from a costly charge against the intrenched foe.

While Jackson sent a storm of shells across the Swamp, Huger began an exchange of cannon-shot with Slocum at 3 P.M. Slocum’s guns were planted on the Charles City road behind dense masses of fallen trees, and Huger could not advance. At 4 P.M., Longstreet’s battle began against McCall at Glendale or Frayser’s farm. General Lee in person moved the Confederate column of less than twenty thousand along the New Market road against the Federal host of twice that number. Longstreet directed the operations on the field. The Confederates had to advance through tangled underbrush over uneven ground on their left, and on their right the foe had to be sought behind a marsh. With the spring of the tiger, Longstreet leaped through the jungle upon McCall’s left flank, and routed him from the field. Hooker saw McCall’s panic-stricken regiments follow their own colours in a wild rush backward through his line of battle. Randol’s battery, guarding the gap between McCall and Kearney, became Confederate spoil. Against Kearney’s left rushed the Confederates, but Kearney was aided by Slocum; two brigades returned from Franklin’s field to strengthen Sedgwick’s part of the battle, while Hooker made assault against Longstreet’s flank. A. P. Hill’s men now rushed into the fight, but the Confederates could only hold the ground from which McCall’s men had fled. McCall himself remained behind as Longstreet’s prisoner, in company with fourteen Federal field-guns.

While the battle raged at Frayser’s farm, Holmes led his six thousand and a six-gun battery over the slopes of the Malvern Hill to Turkey Island Bridge. But Warren’s brigade of fifteen hundred men and thirty guns, assisted by the formidable shells from the gunboats, drove Holmes back. In answer to his call for help, Magruder’scolumn was deflected from the edge of Longstreet’s battle and sent to Malvern Hill, but that conflict was concluded before he reached the field.

The result of this day’s struggle was to leave McClellan in possession of his line of retreat. Gladly did his corps-commanders avail themselves of it without specific directions from McClellan, and in the hours of darkness his column was withdrawn along the Quaker road to the crest of Malvern Hill. As night settled down upon the carnage of June 30, McClellan was thus telegraphing Stanton: “Another day of desperate fighting. We are hard pressed by superior numbers. I fear I shall be forced to abandon my material to save my men under cover of the gunboats. You must send us very large reinforcements.”

Sixty feet above the James stand the Malvern bluffs. Northward to the distance of nearly two miles, the Malvern plateau falls away in a gradual slope until it enters the swamps of upper West Run. Across this plateau, along the crest of the hill, commanding the approach by the Quaker roadway, McClellan massed his guns and his infantry. In an arc from Crew’s house to Binford’s were planted the corps of Porter and the division of Couch. McCall stood in Porter’s rear; to Couch’s right and rear were stationed the three corps of Heintzelman, Sumner and Franklin. The corps of Keyes linked this fortress with the Federal gunboats; the declivities on each flank were made strong with cannon and men.

Noonday of July 1 found Lee marshalling a part of the forces of Jackson and Huger across the Quaker road in front of McClellan’s stronghold. Ignorance of the fact that two different roadways were called the Quaker road caused Magruder several miles of counter-marching, and kept him away from the field until the day was waning. Longstreet and A. P. Hill were not ordered into the battle; Holmes, on the River road, faced the Malvern bluff, but made no assault.

The Confederate artillery could not all be moved through the dense thickets into action against the Federal guns. A few of Lee’s batteries for a time withstood the fury of the iron storm. On the Confederate left, the batteries of Balthis, Poague, and Carpenter, held their position; on the Confederate right, Davidson and Pegram faced the Federal guns after the repulse of Grimes and Moorman. As the Confederate infantrymen aligned themselves in the edge of the swamp, they saw the Federal cannon stationed in their front tier above tier. Sixty field-pieces swept the meadows and the slope in front of Porter’s position at the Crew house. Behind this line were ten heavy siege guns. Moreover, the crest of the slope was swarming with riflemen and Couch at the West house stood behind heavy ordnance. Lee ordered an attack by his front line under Huger, Magruder, D. H. Hill, and Whiting. Armistead’s brigade on the right was to give the signal for the assault by advancing with a yell. A yell was heard, but not from Armistead, and Hill attacked alone; afterwards, Armistead gave the signal, but no concert of action followed. Later, Magruder fought his way toward the Crew house, but Huger failed to render adequate support. Porter’s line was shaken, and he called for aid; the additional canister and musketry at last forced Magruder to retire.

D. H. Hill made gallant assault upon the Federal centre and left centre in front of West’s. Whiting on the left heard not Hill’s signal and made no advance. Hill’s blow caused the Federal centre to waver; but reinforcements swarmed to the aid of Couch, and Hill’s battle proved to be only the slaughter of his brave soldiers. The reinforcements hurried forward by Lee were checked by the falling darkness. Five thousand Confederates paid the tribute of wounds and death to their zeal and devotion. The lateness of the hour, the misunderstanding of orders, and the impossibility of forming line of battle in the edge of a dense wilderness, resulted in bringing only fourteen Confederate brigades into the assault. Against the irregular charge of this small body, two or three brigades at a time, McClellan’s position was impregnable. But the Federal commander had no heart to hold his ground; silence had scarcely fallen on the field when McClellan ordered Porter to start the whole army “at once” towards Harrison’s on the James, with this specific injunction: “In case you should find it impossible to move your heavy artillery, you are to spike the guns and destroy the carriages.” The order to Porter contained this final suggestion: “Stimulate your men by informing them that reinforcements, etc., have arrived at our new base.” This night retreat toward the river bore the semblance of a rout. Waggons and equipage were abandoned and rifles by the thousand were thrown away by the disheartened Federal soldiers. Hooker thus describes the flight: “It was like the retreat of a whipped army. We retreated like a parcel of sheep; everybody on the road at the same time, and a few shots from the rebels would have panic-stricken the whole command.”

Lee ordered Longstreet to lead the Confederate advance to the left of Malvern Hill. But Longstreet marched only two miles through the rain of July 2, and halted for the night on the River road. On Thursday, July 3, the army was counter-marched to Willis Church to seek the Charles City roadway, but incompetent guides again retarded the advance of Longstreet. When Lee presented his army in front of McClellan’s camp at Westover, at noon, on Friday, July 4, the, Federal host was safe behind strong defensive works. Failure had fallen upon the entire Federal campaign for the capture of Richmond. Disaster in the valley had been followed by disaster on the James. Eighty thousand Confederates, directed by the skill of Lee and of Jackson, had paralysed the movements of two hundred thousand Federal soldiers. McClellan now called for “more than one hundred thousand” fresh troops, and Mr. Lincoln actually ordered Halleck to send him a strong band from the western army near Corinth. McClellan’s artillery had saved him from destruction. In each battle the Federal hosts held strong positions, in most cases fortified. The Confederates moved across open fields, and by sheer courage carried these intrenchments. They had literally driven McClellan to the James. The result of these bold assaults was a Confederate loss of twenty thousand men, while the Federal loss was sixteen thousand men. But the war-cloud lowered no longer near the capital of the Confederacy.

“Under ordinary circumstances, the Federal army should have been destroyed.” Thus spake Lee of the Seven Days. The chief reason for McClellan’s escape, said Lee, was

the want of correct and timely information. This fact, attributable chiefly to the character of the country, enabled General McClellan skilfully to conceal his retreat, and to add much to the obstructions with which nature had beset the way of our pursuing columns; but regret that more was not accomplished gives way to gratitude to the sovereign Ruler of the Universe for the results achieved.

In his tender of thanks to the army, July 7, Lee summed up the results of the struggle in these terms:

The immediate fruits of our success are the relief of Richmond from a state of siege; the rout of the great army that so long menaced its safety; many thousand prisoners, including officers of high rank; the capture or destruction of stores to the value of millions, and the acquisition of thousands of arms and forty pieces of superior artillery.

The service rendered to the country in this short but eventful period can scarcely be estimated, and the General commanding cannot adequately express his admiration of the courage, endurance and soldierly conduct of the officers and men engaged. These brilliant results have cost us many brave men; but while we mourn the loss of our gallant dead, let us not forget that they died nobly in defence of their country’s freedom, and have linked their memory with an event that will live forever in the hearts of a grateful people.

Soldiers, your country will thank you for the heroic conduct you have displayed, conduct worthy of men engaged in a cause so just and sacred, and deserving a nation’s gratitude and praise.

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER VII.


General Lee now possessed the full confidence of his soldiers. Every day during this struggle they had seen his eyes flash with fire as he urged the lines into battle. Under heavy fire from the enemy’s guns he rode in person to direct the assaults. Reconnaissances to points of danger he made alone in person. His own fierce determination moved Hill and Magruder against the artillery at Malvern Hill, yet not one word of censure did he have for his officers and men when he saw McClellan’s escape. Even amidst the heat of battle he could attribute this to the difficulties of the field itself. At Willis Church, during the stir and bustle of pursuit, D. H. Hill saw Lee calm and cool: “He bore grandly his terrible disappointment of the day before [Frayser’s farm], and made no allusion to it.” A tower of strength had Lee made himself by one month’s service in the field with this army of heroes. Soldiers looked with devotion upon a leader who dared to give battle against heavy odds, and who showed, also, the generous daring to shoulder the responsibility for every movement.


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