Battle of Gaines' Mill
Location: Hanover County, VA
(near Mechanicsville, VA)
Dates: June 27, 1862
Fitz John Porter,
E. Lee, General
After pushing to the "Gates of Richmond,"
George B. McClellan's Army
of the Potomac was positioned to bring siege to the Confederate capitol.
However, with CS General
Joseph Johnston's severe wounding, at Seven Pines,
the soon to be christened Army of Northern Virginia, had a new commander -
Robert E. Lee. Lee would immediately go on the offensive,
pushing McClellan's army southeast, at the battle of Mechanicsville.
McClellan, noting the arrival of CS Major General
divisions, came quickly to the conclusion that he was facing a vastly larger
army, then he actually was. While Jackson did not attack McClellan's
army, his presence off McClellan's right flank threatened his railroad
supply line. McClellan's next fateful decision would set the tone for
the remainder of what was known as The Seven Days campaign. He decided
that he would make the James River his supply base and quickly put his army
in motion. The supply base on the James would not have a railroad link
to the Army of the Potomac, so his grand plan to siege Richmond came to an
George McClellan began putting his
Corps in motion, he ordered
Fitz John Porter to move behind the Boatswain's
Swamp, five miles from his current position at Beaver Dam Creek.
Porter would deploy his V Corps on a plateau on the southeast side of the
swamp, while the other four Federal corps would retreat across the Chickahominy River on their way to their new camp, on the James.
Unfortunately with the Chickahominy rising, Porter's V Corps (at 30,000 it
was the largest in McClellan's army), was trapped at Boatswain's Swamp.
At his best here,
Porter set up a line, almost two miles long, along
plateau, with trenches also below the plateau, near the swamp.
Commanding his divisions were US Brigadier General George W. Morrell, US
George Sykes and US Brigadier General George McCall.
Porter placed Morrell's division, on his left, with its left flank near the Chickahominy River. Sykes's division would represent the army's right
flank, protecting the Grapevine bridge. McCall's division would be in
the center. Additionally, Porter positioned his artillery to
concentrate on any openings in the woods above the swamp.
Robert E. Lee ran into many difficulties
McClellan's army towards the Chickahominy River. Most of his
difficulties were traced to faulty maps, and in
Thomas Jackson's case, to a
wrong turn recommended by a local guide. However, by the morning of
A.P. Hill's Light Division had arrived at New Cold Harbor.
Lee immediately put his division in motion, across a 1/4 mile of open fields
- towards Boatswain's Swamp. In the lead, would be CS Brigadier
Maxcy Gregg's brigade. With the Federal cannon raining case,
and shell on them, Gregg's veterans raced across the field, down through
Boatswain's Swamp and to the top of the crest, where they took a short rest.
Gregg's subsequent attack, would come against the center of the Federal line
held by US Colonel
Gouverneur K. Warren's brigade, of
division. This brigade included the fighting Zouaves of the 5th New
York. As Maxcy Gregg's South Carolinians charged across the open
field, towards Warren's position, the Yankee troops charged into them.
This opening phase of the battle would include much hand-to-hand combat,
with clubbed muskets, fists and bayonets being the primary weapons.
After nearly half the combatants were killed, or wounded, the Confederates
withdrew to the trees of Boatswain's Swamp.
This type of piecemeal attack was typical of the opening salvos of the
battle at Gaines' Mill. On the Confederate left, CS Major General
Daniel Harvey Hill would send the 20th North Carolina, of CS Brigadier
General Samuel Garland, Jr.'s brigade, against the far right of
George Syke's line. They would have some success, and would capture several
cannon, however, the victory would be short lived, as a Federal
counterattack would recapture the guns after a short time.
On the Confederate right, the division of CS Major
James Longstreet was held in reserve, awaiting the arrival of
Around 5:00 PM, with the
Robert Lee set to organizing his troops for an all
out assault against
Fitz John Porter's V Corps. Realizing the danger,
McClellan dispatched reinforcements commanded by brigadier
Henry Slocum, William French and Thomas Meagher. With these
additional 15,000 troops, there were nearly 100,000 combatants arrayed at
Lee's all out assault would
start at 7:00 PM, and would focus on George Morrell's Federal division -
over ground that
A.P. Hill's division struggled earlier. Leading this
division would be the brigades of CS Brigadier General
John Bell Hood
and CS Colonel
Evander Law. Asked by Lee, prior to the charge, if he
could break their line, Hood said, "I will try." Marching to the left
of Law's brigade, Hood's attack would land in a weakened spot in the Federal
lines. Told not to fire until they reached the enemy lines, the
assault was too much for the Federals and Hood's attack would pierce the
line. Broken regiments of Morrell's division began to retreat, which
ended up causing a general retreat along the entire Union line. With
light rapidly fading,
Fitz John Porter started a withdrawal towards the Chickahominy River, under cover of darkness.
One last action, would stir years of debate. US Brigadier General
Philip St. George Cooke ordered 2nd, and 5th, US Cavalry regiments to slow
the rapidly advancing Confederates. This would quickly turn into a
Hood's Rebels capturing fourteen
guns, and killing many cavaliers. This brought to an end, the bloodiest day of fighting, thus
far in the Civil War.
The Seven Days
Outcome: Confederate Victory
Union: 6,837 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 8,750 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Robert E. Lee suffered more casualties, at Gaines' Mill, than
Fitz John Porter, this was his first significant victory as a field
commander. He was able to push
George McClellan's Army of the Potomac
from the "Gates of Richmond," to the southeast, thus depriving McClellan of
the siege, he so wanted. There would be more battles, and many more
casualties, before the Seven Days were over, but Robert E. Lee would succeed
in pushing the Army of the Potomac from the peninsula, and back to Washington
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