The Seven Days Campaign

Last updated June 12th, 2007 by Jenny
A.P. Hill

One of Lee's first orders of business was also of the "naming" variety; he re-named his force the "Army of Northern Virginia." Then, on a more practical note, he set the men to digging entrenchments. They grumbled long and loud about it but obeyed. Lee also sent for Hill's old classmate Stonewall Jackson, who had been running circles around the second rate Union commanders in the Valley, and called together his main commanders to help decide upon a plan. The plan they developed called for a two prong sweeping movement on the Union right flank. A.P. Hill's role in the plan called for him to wait at Mechanicsville for Jackson, who was bringing his troops from the Valley and who was supposed to link up with Lawrence O'Bryan Branch's North Carolina brigade. Together, Hill and Jackson were to then lead off the attack. Their objective was to clear Mechanicsville, then link up with the divisions of D.H. Hill and James Longstreet to sweep down upon Beaver Dam, linking up along the way with Huger and Magruder, two other Confederate division commanders. The plan depended upon coordination, speed, and people being in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, nothing would go right for the Confederacy.

Lee set the time for the attack on Mechanicsville for early morning on June 26, 1862. June 26th would turn out to be a hot and sunny day. Wearing a red calico shirt, Hill had his men in line of battle and ready to advance by dawn. Two hours passed with no word or sign from Jackson. More hours ticked by, and the question on everyone's lips was "where is Jackson?" Hill, never a particularly patient man, was growing increasingly anxious. What was going on?

More time ticked on. There was no sign of Jackson nor any word from him. The sun passed high noon. Finally, at three o'clock, his patience totally exhausted, Hill decided to just go ahead and launch the attack without Jackson. Hill felt that if he waited any longer the whole plan for the campaign would be jeopardized. Jackson would just have to catch up. The first major battle of a week's worth of fighting that would become known collectively as the "Seven Days" had begun.

The Battle of Mechanicsville

Second of the Seven Days’ Battles. Gen. Robert E. Lee initiated his offensive against McClellan’s right flank north of the Chickahominy River. A.P. Hill threw his division, reinforced by one of D.H. Hill’s brigades, into a series of futile assaults against Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, which was drawn up behind Beaver Dam Creek. Confederate attacks were driven back with heavy casualties. Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley divisions, however, were approaching from the northwest, forcing Porter to withdraw the next morning to a position behind Boatswain Creek just beyond Gaines’ Mill. [Mechanicsville is also sometimes called the battle of Beaver Dam Creek]

At Mechanicsville, Hill illustrated a personality tendency that was to work sometimes to his advantage, sometimes not. A sensitive man, Hill was something like a spring. When the tension became too much, when his excitement rose to too high a level, he would explode and release the strain by jumping into battle. This probably explains, at least somewhat, his impetuousness in many battles.

Lee's plan was intricate and required careful coordination. When Jackson did not arrive, it fell apart. Hill's division struck the Federals hard, sending them scurrying through Mechanicsville. Longstreet and D.H. Hill quickly joined in the attack, throwing their divisions into the fray. Even though Jackson was still not present, the battle was joined and Lee was left with no choice but to continue the assault. After running through Mechanicsville, the Confederates turned to take the formidable line of Fitz John Porter's Fifth Corps at Beaver Dam Creek. Hill was to strike the right flank; the missing Jackson was to be expected soon to help out.

But Jackson never arrived -- he was wandering around tired and lost. Hatless and grimy, Hill jumped into the middle of the fight, throwing in his units at the Federal lines. Nightfall came, with little substantial gained. While D.H. Hill and James Longstreet were present and had joined in the fighting, there was still no sign of Jackson. There were some complaints and criticisms directed towards Hill for attacking without Jackson by some, but Lee preferred aggressiveness to vacillation always in his commanders and so he was apparently not displeased with Hill.

Lee decided to continue the fighting on the next day. As was the case for the battle at Mechanicsville, Jackson was supposed to be on Hill's left. Again, Jackson did not show up.

This time it was Lee's patience that ran out. At one o'clock, Lee ordered Hill and Longstreet to attack along Boatswain's Creek. Hill was to wait for Longstreet to move. When Longstreet did not appear at the appointed time, Hill launched the assault himself at 2:30 rather than wait while the Federals constructed more barricades and gained strength. The battle of Gaines Mill had begun.

The Battle of Gaines Mill

This was the third of the Seven Days’ Battles. On June 27, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee renewed his attacks against Porter’s V Corps, which had established a strong defensive line behind Boatswain’s Swamp north of the Chickahominy River. Porter’s reinforced V Corps held fast for the afternoon against disjointed Confederate attacks, inflicting heavy casualties. At dusk, the Confederates finally mounted a coordinated assault that broke Porter’s line and drove his soldiers back toward the river. The Federals retreated across the river during the night. Defeat at Gaines’ Mill convinced McClellan to abandon his advance on Richmond and begin the retreat to James River. Gaines’ Mill saved Richmond for the Confederacy in 1862.

The fighting at Gaines Mill was both intense and bloody. The battle raged for two hours, with Gregg, Branch, and Archer amongst Hill's brigade commanders especially distinguishing themselves in the fighting. Finally, at five, when Hill had called off the fighting, Jackson arrived -- 34 hours late. At dark -- nearly 7 o'clock in the evening -- the combined forces swept forward again. The blue soldiers broke under the renewed gray tide. The hard hitting and relentless tactics of A.P. Hill and his Light Division had contributed greatly to the victory. Perhaps it was here that a soldier in the Army of the Potomac, familiar with the story of how Hill and McClellan had courted the same girl, rolled over out of his blanket in disgust and cried, "My God Nelly! Why didn't you marry him!?!?"

The following two days were relatively quiet for Hill and his Division. The 28th of June brought heavy rain and only sporadic fighting. The 29th also was relatively quiet and uneventful for Hill and his men too.

June 30th, however, saw the Light Division engaged again in heavy fighting, this time at Glendale (also called Frayser's Farm). A humorous, but also deadly serious, incident took place at this battle. President Jefferson Davis was on the battlefield with Lee. The Federals soon began to drop shells amongst their party. Hill dashed up and brazenly told the two men "This is no place for either of you, and as commander of this part of the field, I order you both to the rear!" Davis laughed and told Hill "We will obey your orders." Lee and Davis moved back a ways, and then again halted to watch the fray. The artillery fire continued hotly, and Hill rode up angry. "Did I not tell you to go away from here? And did you not promise to obey my orders? Why, one shell from that battery over yonder may presently deprive the Confederacy of it's President and the Army of Northern Virginia of its commander!" This time, Davis and Lee obeyed. The person who recorded this incident noted that "Mr. Davis spoke in the warmest terms of praise of gallant, little A. P. Hill." J. William Jones recalls Davis called him "Glorious little Powell Hill." Davis said that Hill was "brave and skillful, and always ready to obey orders and do his full duty." When reminded that Hill had been killed at Petersburg with a sick-furlough still in his pocket, having arisen from his sick bed when he heard the enemy was moving, Davis remarked "Yes, a truer, more devoted, self-sacrificing soldier never lived or died in the cause of right.'"

The Battle of Glendale

This is the fifth of the Seven Days’ Battles. On June 30, Huger’s, Longstreet’s, and A.P. Hill’s divisions converged on the retreating Union army in the vicinity of Glendale or Frayser’s Farm. Longstreet’s and Hill’s attacks penetrated the Union defense near Willis Church, routing McCall’s division. McCall was captured. Union counterattacks by Hooker’s and Kearny’s divisions sealed the break and saved their line of retreat along the Willis Church Road. Huger’s advance was stopped on the Charles City Road. “Stonewall” Jackson’s divisions were delayed by Franklin at White Oak Swamp. Confederate Maj. Gen. T.H. Holmes made a feeble attempt to turn the Union left flank at Turkey Bridge but was driven back by Federal gunboats in James River. Union generals Meade and Sumner and Confederate generals Anderson, Pender, and Featherston were wounded. This was Lee’s best chance to cut off the Union army from the James River. That night, McClellan established a strong position on Malvern Hill.

Late in the afternoon of the last day of June, Hill's men moved against McCall's division of Pennsylvania Reserves. Hill was amongst his men, cheering them on, as they marched into deadly fire. Hill's men managed to capture General McCall in the melee near a church. The battle raged till darkness finally put an end to the engagement. Towards the end of the battle, Hill was seen with the flag of the 7th North Carolina, shouting "Damn you, if you will not follow me, I'll die alone!" Hill emerged from the fight again a hero and with a reputation as a stern fighter.

The following day, Lee launched a frontal assault at McClellan's position on Malvern Hill. The Light Division served as a reserve. Little was gained by the frontal attacks because the Federal positions were so strong, but by this point McClellan had decided he had had enough of Robert E. Lee. He began to retreat. Richmond was safe, and the bloody Seven Days battles ended.

Despite probably tactically losing nearly all of the Seven Days battles, Lee had managed to throw McClellan back from the gates of Richmond and had clearly won the campaign. Lee had done so by seizing the initiative and driving McClellan back with daring attacks. A London paper jokingly noted the reason why McClellan did not capture Richmond. The reasons, it noted, were "First he had two HILLS to pass, second a STONEWALL to mount, and third a LONGSTREET to march through. And seeing the impossibility of attempting such a capture, he wisely chose to skedaddle."

The Seven Days Campaign was followed by a period of relative quiet. Lee used this time to better organize his Army. Because of the quiet period, most commanders were able to write and file reports of the fighting in the Seven Days battles.

On Site Resources for the Seven Days

On site resources for the Seven Days Campaign include Reports from the Light Division (from the Official Records).

Quiet was not always good for the Army of Northern Virginia, however. Many of the same qualities that made its generals such great fighters on the battlefield worked to a disadvantage in times of peace. The Army of Northern Virginia in time would prove to have an officer corps that was particularly known to be cantankerous, sensitive, and prone to arguing amongst each other. Unfortunately, Hill was about to prove the truth of that contention.

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