Lee stops McClellans advance

McClellan finally pushed past Yorktown in early May. From there he resumed his march on Richmond, but his army continued to move slowly. In fact, Lincoln became so impatient with McClellan's progress that on May 25 he issued an order directing him to either launch his attack or return to Washington.

On May 31, the long-awaited clash between the two gathering armies finally erupted at Fair Oaks, only six miles from the outskirts of Richmond. The two-day battle ended in a virtual draw, but it also resulted in a change in Confederate military leadership. Joseph Johnston suffered a serious wound during the battle, so Jefferson Davis replaced him with Robert E. Lee.

Lee immediately proved that he was up to the job. On June 25, he led a force of seventy thousand rebel troops (including Stonewall Jackson's army) against McClellan's units. Over the following week, the two sides engaged in a

General Henry Halleck
Henry Halleck became general-in-chief of the Union Army in 1862. (Photograph by J. A. Scholten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

series of fierce battles across the Virginia peninsula. These clashes, which came to be known as the Seven Days Battles, stopped McClellan in his tracks. Confederate losses were grave—twenty thousand rebel soldiers were killed or wounded in the Seven Days Battles—but North and South alike viewed the final result as a loss for the Union. Led by Lee, the Confederacy had successfully protected Richmond from a major Union offensive. In the days following the Seven Days Battles, the entire South erupted in praise for Lee, the newest hero of the Confederacy. "He has established his reputation forever," gushed the Richmond Whig, "and has entitled himself to the lasting gratitude of his country."

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