Lee did not lose a day this time, choosing to bear down on Mc-Clellan. His rather complicated plan called for coordinated assaults by seven Rebel divisions outside the crossroads hamlet of Glendale, several miles southeast of Savage's Station. Lee believed that, if he could take Glendale and control the crossroads, he could split McClellan's forces just as the Chickahominy had. Then he could defeat the larger of the two halves. But, once again, coordination failed as only two divisions—one headed by Longstreet and the other by Daniel Harvey "D.H." Hill—were pushed into the battle against five Union divisions.
Incredibly, Jackson again failed to enter the fight as fully as expected. At one point during the battle, Jackson actually took a nap! Jackson's failure to really engage the enemy that day was "complete, disastrous, and unredeemable," notes historian Clifford Dowdey in his book The Seven Days. Again, the battle did not get going until late in the day.
But the fighting on June 30 would prove key to the Seven Days. The battle would be remembered by various names— Glendale, White Oak Swamp, Frayser's Farm, as well as several others. Federal troops fought hard for the crossroads and managed to hold out long enough to keep their positions. They did so even as McClellan, once more, shockingly ordered another retreat to the south toward Harrison's Landing on the banks of the James River. Lee finished the day frustrated. He had pushed the Union forces farther south, away from Richmond, but had lost another opportunity to crush McClellan's army. After days of heavy fighting, Lee now found himself facing an enemy that had moved repeatedly out of good defenses only to take up some of its best field positions yet.
Malvern Hill stands 3 miles (5 km) south of Glendale, not far from the northern banks of the James River. It was an ideal position on which to make a stand, and the Federals knew it. The hill rose 150 feet (45 meters) in height and lay between two long ravines sitting a mile (1.5 km) apart. The only option for a commander who desperately wanted to fight the Union Army was to approach the hill in a direct frontal assault. This would place Lee's forces out in the open with McClellan's men occupying the high ground. From those heights, Union cannons could concentrate their deadly fire on the enemy. In all, four Union divisions backed with 100 artillery pieces were in position before the battle began, with an additional 150 guns waiting to take their places.
Lee had a decision to make. He could send his men up Malvern Hill or wait the enemy out. Lee would not wait. He and Jackson met early that morning to decide where to position Rebel cannons to maximize their firepower. But it was all for nothing. As noted by historian Steven Woodworth, "Union guns were larger, more numerous, better served, better sited, and supplied with better ammunition." Federal cannons destroyed Confederate artillery units before they even had an opportunity to get set up.
One factor that led Lee to launch the attack was his sense that Union forces were already feeling whipped, and so, perhaps, was their commander, McClellan. There was evidence of this, Lee thought. As Federals had retreated from north of the Chickahominy toward Harrison's Landing on the James, they had abandoned a significant amount of equipment along the roads. Confederates had picked up 30,000 muskets and rifles,
The last of the fighting during the Seven Days battles occurred at a crossroads near Frayser's Farm in Virginia (above). Robert E. Lee, whose military orders were bungled by his unit commanders, hoped to completely destroy McClellan's army, but he was disappointed when the Union retreated farther into the South. The failures of the Union Army during the Seven Days battles were a shock to Northerners who had previously expected the Civil War to be a short-lived affair.
as well as 50 cannons. During six days of fighting, 6,000 Union men had been captured, including some that very morning. If McClellan's forces were as low on spirit as McClellan himself, Lee thought victory might still be within his grasp at Malvern Hill.
Once Lee ordered the infantry assault up the gently sloping hill, Federal forces were more than ready. The Rebel commander had ordered cannons of his own set up on two small hills north of Malvern's location, but staff problems caused some artillery units to get the message while others did not. For those who did take up their positions, they were soon blasted apart.
Lee would have to rely solely on the work of his infantry, men he sent marching up Malvern into the face of withering Federal firepower. Union artillery blasted apart Confederate units before they were even in good range for the rifles of the infantry. Lee lost 5,500 men, double the number lost on the Union side.
Incredibly, even as Lee had clearly lost the day, McClellan once again ordered another retreat. As noted by historian Bruce Catton, McClellan's reluctance prompted an officer under his command, Philip Kearny, to state angrily: "Such an order can only be prompted by cowardice or treason. . . . We ought instead of retreating to follow up the enemy and take Richmond."
The week of battles was over. Lee gave up his attacks, certain there was no way to defeat the Federals, especially given his losses: 20,000 men killed or wounded, a number equal to a quarter of his army, and twice as many as the Federals had lost. In some ways, the end of the week could not be explained. Union forces had only actually experienced one tactical defeat—the fight at Gaines' Mill—but they ended the week having retreated south of the Chickahominy. They abandoned their original rail supply line only to take up positions at Harrison's Landing, which put them in place for a full-blown abandonment of the peninsula. Richmond was safe, and Lee had saved it.
Despite his "success" during the Seven Days, Lee was not happy. His men had failed him, especially some of his commanders. Orders had not been delivered properly, and units had moved into position in a lazy fashion, and sometimes not at all. Commanders seemed slow to follow through on Lee's plans. He owed his success as much to McClellan's lack of nerve as to anything. According to historian Clifford Dowdey, Lee would write of the week: "Our success has not been as great or as complete as I could have desired. Under ordinary circumstances the Federal Army should have been destroyed."
The week of fighting resulted in nearly 35,000 casualties, including the wounded and those killed. This was a horrifying number at that point in the war, equal to the casualties farther west during the first six months of 1862, including the bloody Battle of Shiloh. Northern casualties amounted to 15,800 men compared to Lee's 20,100. The Seven Days would set the course for later battles that placed the North's Army of the Potomac against Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. These were engagements that required hard fighting and high casualties. In fact, throughout the war, "40 of the 50 highest-casualty regiments served in the Army of Northern Virginia," according to historian James McPherson. Lee would lead the pack as the commander with the highest casualty rate.
In the aftermath of the Seven Days, the direction of the conflict in the East would shift. Forced to give up his march to Richmond, one he had spent most of a year planning, McClellan was relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac. He was replaced by General John Pope, who was certain he would quickly defeat Robert E. Lee, even before summer was over.
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