June-July, 1862: Seven Days’ Battles Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Union general George B. McClellan’s Peninsula campaign was underway in the summer of 1862; the general hoped to lead Union troops to the Confederate capital of Richmond. However, in several encounters with rebel forces, McClellan failed to strike the city. General Robert E. Lee had assumed command of the Confederate forces after General Joseph Eggleston Johnston had been wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines a few weeks earlier. Lee began preparations to defend Richmond and attacked a Union corps just south of Chickahominy. During the next week, both sides clashed at Mechanicsville (June 26), Gaines Mill (June 27), Savage Station (June 29), White Oak Swamp (June 30), and Malvern Hill (July 1). In this last battle, Lee ordered waves of infantry up a hill where the Union forces cut them down with well-positioned artillery. However, although the Union lost only the Gaines Mill engagement, McClellan made the decision to retreat.

A typical ruse employed during the Civil War was the Confederacy’s mounting of logs in place of cannons at this Centerville, Virginia, fortification, to fool Union troops. The dummy cannons were known as “Quaker guns,” after the pacifist Society of Friends. (National Archives)

Union general George B. McClellan’s Peninsula campaign was underway in the summer of 1862; the general hoped to lead Union troops to the Confederate capital of Richmond. However, in several encounters with rebel forces, McClellan failed to strike the city. General Robert E. Lee had assumed command of the Confederate forces after General Joseph Eggleston Johnston had been wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines a few weeks earlier. Lee began preparations to defend Richmond and attacked a Union corps just south of Chickahominy. During the next week, both sides clashed at Mechanicsville (June 26), Gaines Mill (June 27), Savage Station (June 29), White Oak Swamp (June 30), and Malvern Hill (July 1). In this last battle, Lee ordered waves of infantry up a hill where the Union forces cut them down with well-positioned artillery. However, although the Union lost only the Gaines Mill engagement, McClellan made the decision to retreat.

The Peninsula campaign, especially McClellan’s failure to pursue Lee after the Seven Days’ Battles, reinforced McClellan’s reputation as a field commander who lacked aggressiveness. Lee took the offensive in the East; two months later, Lee and McClellan would meet at Antietam.

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