Report of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, SEVEN DAYS' BATTLES
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XI/2 [S# 13]
PENINSULAR CAMPAIGN--SEVEN DAYS' BATTLES
Report of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, U.S. Army,
Commanding Army of the Potomac.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
Camp at Berkeley, Va., July 15, 1862.
Brig. Gen. LORENZO THOMAS,
Adjutant-General, Washington, D. C.
GENERAL: Without waiting to receive the reports of all the subordinate commanders, I submit the following very brief narrative of the operations of this army since the 25th ultimo:
On the 24th of June I received information that appeared entitled to some credit, that General Jackson was at Frederick's Hall with his entire force, consisting of his own division, with those of Ewell and Whiting, and that his intention was to attack our right flank and rear, in order to cut off our communications with the White House and throw the right wing of the army into the Chickahominy. Fortunately I had a few days before provided against this contingency, by ordering a number of transports to the James River, loaded with commissary, quartermaster, and ordnance supplies. I therefore felt free to watch the enemy closely, wait events, and act according to circumstances, feeling sure that if cut off from the Pamunkey I could gain the James River for a new base. I placed General Stoneman in command of the cavalry on the right, intrusting to his charge the picket duty toward Hanover Court-House, to give the earliest possible information of an advance of the enemy from that direction.
On the 25th General Heintzelman was directed to drive in the enemy's pickets from the woods in his front, in order to give us command of the cleared fields still farther in advance. This was gallantly and handsomely done under a stubborn resistance, the brunt of the fighting falling upon the division of Hooker. Just as the new line was gained I was called from the field by intelligence which tended strongly to confirm the belief that Jackson was really approaching. I immediately repaired to the camp of General Fitz John Porter, commanding on the right of the Chickahominy, to obtain further information and arrange the movements for the morrow. On my arrival I found that there was a strong probability of Jackson's advancing, although not a certainty of it. I therefore determined to leave our heavy guns in battery and to retain McCall's division in its strong position on Beaver Dam Creek, near Mechanicsville, posting merely small outposts to watch the crossings near Meadow Bridge and Mechanicsville and to give General McCall immediate notice of the enemy's approach. Porter's remaining troops were to be held in reserve, ready to act according to circumstances. The center and left of the army were also to be held in readiness to repulse any attack or to move to the assistance of the right. It had long before been determined to hold the position of Beaver Dam Creek in the event of being attacked on that side, for the reasons that the position was intrinsically a very strong one, was less liable to be turned on either flank than any position in advance of it, and brought the army in a more concentrated and manageable condition. The natural strength of the position had been somewhat increased by slight rifle pits and felling a little timber in front of it. With the exception of epaulements for artillery near Gaines' and Hogan's houses to act against the enemy's batteries on the right bank of the Chickahominy, there were no other artificial defenses on the left bank of that stream.
Our position on the right bank of the river had been rendered reasonably secure against assault by felling timber and the construction of slight earthworks. Measures had already been taken to secure the passage of White Oak Swamp. The right wing, under the command of General Fitz John Porter, consisted of the divisions of Morell, Sykes, and McCall, with a large part of the cavalry reserve. He had ten heavy guns in battery on the banks of the Chickahominy.
Such was the state of affairs on the morning of June 26. I was by that time satisfied that I had to deal with at least double my numbers, but so great was my confidence in the conduct of the officers, and the bravery, discipline, and devotion of my men, that I felt contented calmly to await the bursting of the coming storm, ready to profit by any fault of the enemy, and sure that I could extricate the army from any difficulty in which it might become involved.
No other course was open to me, for my information in regard to the movements of the enemy was too meager to enable me to take a decided course. I had not long to wait. During the afternoon of the 26th the enemy crossed in several columns in the vicinity of Mechanicsville and Meadow Bridge and attacked McCall in his position at Beaver Dam Creek.
His repeated efforts were constantly repulsed, with but little loss on our side, but with great slaughter on the part of the enemy. The contest ceased here about 9 p.m., the enemy leaving us in full possession of every part of the field of battle.
During the action McCall was supported by the brigades of Martin-dale and Griffin, of the division of Morell. While this was going on there were some sharp affairs of pickets on the center and left, but nothing of a serious nature.
By this time I had certain information that Jackson was rapidly advancing in strong force from Hanover Court-House; that his advance guard had probably participated in the battle of Beaver Dam Creek. This rendered that position untenable. I therefore determined still further to concentrate the army, by withdrawing Porter's command to a position near Gaines' Mill, where he could rest both his flanks on the Chickahominy and cover the most important bridges over that stream. The wagons and heavy guns were withdrawn during the night, the troops falling back to their new position early in the morning. The enemy attacked Seymour's brigade, constituting the rear guard of the division, McCall's, but were sharply repulsed, and the movement was not further molested.
In the course of the morning of the 27th I received intelligence that Longstreet's corps was at Mechanicsville, ready to move down on either bank of the Chickahominy, according to circumstances. This intelligence, and many threatening movements of the enemy on various parts of the center and left, placed a limit to the amount of the re-enforcements available for the support of Porter. Under the circumstances, it was impossible to withdraw him to the right bank of the Chicka-hominy by daylight. The enemy were so close upon him that the attempt would have insured the loss of a large portion of his corps, and in any event the abandonment of his position at that time would have placed our right flank and rear at the mercy of the enemy. It was necessary to fight him where we stood, to hold our position at any cost until night, and in the mean time to perfect the arrangements for the change of base to the James River.
In the report of General Porter will be found a detailed description of the field of battle at Gaines' Mill and the circumstances of that eventful contest, creditable alike to the energy of the enemy and the desperate valor of the comparatively small band that repelled the attacks of his enormous masses.
It will suffice for the purposes of this report to state that the action commenced about 2 p.m., and that during the afternoon I ordered up the division of Slocum to the support of Porter, and soon after the brigades of French and Meagher, of Richardson's division. The latter were not engaged. At a later period two brigades of Peck's division were ordered forward, but as their services were not needed they did not cross the Chickahominy. The contest continued with varying fortunes until dark, when the enemy discontinued his attack. During the night the final withdrawal of the right wing across the Chickahominy was completed without difficulty and without confusion, a portion of the regulars remaining on the left bank until the morning of the 28th. Early on that morning the bridges were burned, and the whole army was thus concentrated on the right bank of the Chickahominy.
During the battle of Gaines' Mill the position of General Smith was warmly attacked, but the enemy was at once repulsed with loss. In the course of the night of the 27th General Keyes was ordered to cross the White Oak Swamp with the Fourth Corps and take up a position to cover the passage of the trains. Measures were also taken to increase the number of bridges across the swamp. The trains were set in motion at an early hour, and continued passing across the swamp night and day without intermission until all had crossed.
On the 28th, Porter's corps was also moved across the White Oak Swamp, and on the morning of the 29th took up a position covering the roads leading from Richmond toward the White Oak Swamp and Long Bridges.
During the night of the 28th and 29th the divisions of Slocum and McCall were ordered across the White Oak Swamp, and were placed in position to cover the passage of the remaining divisions and trains. In the course of the same night the corps of Sumner and Heintzelman and the division of Smith were ordered to fall back from their original position to an interior line resting upon Keyes' old intrenchments on the left and so arranged as to cover Savage Station. They were ordered to hold this position until dark, then to fall back across the swamp and rejoin the rest of the army. This order was not fully carried out, nor was the exact position I designated occupied by the different divisions concerned; nevertheless the result was that two attacks of the enemy---one a very determined onset--were signally repulsed by Sumner's corps, assisted in the last by Smith's division, of the Sixth Corps. These are the two actions known as the affair of Allen's Field and the battle of Savage Station. The Third Corps crossed the swamp before dark, having left its position before the hour assigned and was not in action during that day (the 29th). The Second Corps and Smith's division safely crossed the swamp during the night with all their guns and materiel, and brought up the rear of the wagon train. In the night of the 29th and 30th the Fourth and Fifth Corps were ordered to move to James River, to rest on that river at or near Turkey Bend and occupy a position perpendicular to the river, thus covering the Charles City road to Richmond, opening communication with the gunboats, and covering the wagon train, which was pushed as rapidly as possible upon Haxall's and Harrison's plantations.
The remaining corps were moved in the same direction and posted so as to cover the main roads leading from Richmond as well as the crossings by which the army had passed the White Oak Swamp and to guard the passage of our large trains to the James River. When the troops were in position in the afternoon before the enemy attacked they were posted about as follows: Porter with two divisions (Morell's and Sykes') and the mass of the reserve artillery on Malvern Hill (the left of the position); next Couch, with one brigade of Peck's division in reserve; next Sedgwick; then McCall, Hooker, Kearny, Slocum, Naglee's brigade, Richardson, and Smith.
During the actions which ensued at Turkey Bridge, on the New Market road (Glendale),and at White Oak Swamp, changes were made in this disposition. The result of the various actions of the 30th, during which our whole line was attacked, was that the enemy was everywhere repulsed except in his attack upon McCall's division, which, hard pressed by greatly superior numbers, and having lost three of its general officers, broke and lost most of its artillery. The gallant conduct of their comrades near by, especially Hooker's division, retrieved that mishap, and rendered it impossible for the enemy to reap any advantages from it.
By this time the last of the trains had reached Haxall's Landing, and during the night the troops fell back to the vicinity of that place, all arriving in safety and unmolested at an early hour of the morning. They were promptly placed in position to offer battle to the enemy should he again attack, the left of the line resting on the admirable position of Malvern Hill, with a brigade in the low ground to the left watching the road to Richmond; the line then following a line of heights nearly parallel to the river and bending back through the woods nearly to the James River on our right. On the left we relied upon the natural advantages of the position. On the right, where the natural strength was less, some little cutting of timber was done and the roads blocked.
Although our force was small for so extensive a position it was necessary to hold it at any cost. When the battle commenced in the afternoon I saw that in the faces and bearing of the men which satisfied me that we were sure of victory. The attack was made upon our left and left center, and the brunt of it was borne by Porter's corps (including Hunt's reserve artillery and Tyler's heavy guns) and Couch's division, re-enforced by the brigades of Sickles and Meagher. It was desperate, brave, and determined, but so destructive was the fire of our numerous artillery, so heroic the conduct of our infantry, and so admirable the dispositions of Porter, that no troops could have carried the position. Late in the evening the enemy fell back, thoroughly beaten, with dreadful slaughter. So completely was he crushed and so great were his losses, that he has not since ventured to attack us.
Previously to the battle of Malvern I had fully consulted with Commodore Rodgers, and with him made a hasty reconnaissance of the positions on the river. The difficulty of passing our transports above City Point was so great that I determined to fall back upon the position now occupied by the army; a position, too, much less extensive than that of Malvern, and therefore permitting me to give the men the rest they so much needed. Accordingly the army fell back during the night of the 1st and 2d of July, reaching this place at an early hour on the 2d. On the 3d the troops were placed essentially in their present positions.
To the calm judgment of history and the future I leave the task of pronouncing upon this movement, confident that its verdict will be that no such difficult movement was ever more successfully executed; that no army ever fought more repeatedly, heroically, and successfully against such great odds; that no men of any race ever displayed greater discipline, endurance, patience, and cheerfulness under such hardships.
My mind cannot coin expressions of thanks and admiration warm enough or intense enough to do justice to my feelings toward the army I am so proud to command. To my countrymen I confidently commit them, convinced they will ever honor every brave man who served during those seven historic days with the Army of the Potomac Upon whatever field it may hereafter be called upon to act I ask that it may never lose its name, but may ever be known as "The Army of the Potomac," a name which it never has nor ever will disgrace.
It is not my purpose now to make mention of distinguished services. The names of those who deserve well of their country would swell this report to too great dimensions. I will simply call attention to the invaluable services rendered by the artillery, and say that its performances have fully justified my anticipations, and prove it to be our policy to cherish and increase that arm of the service.
I cannot conclude this report without expressing my thanks to the gallant and accomplished Commodore John Rodgers for the valuable assistance rendered this army in various ways, but especially by the fire of a portion of the flotilla upon the flank of the enemy attacking Malvern Hill on the 30th of June and 1st of July. Their fire was excellent and produced very beneficial results.
I am, general, very, respectfully,your obedient servant,
GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Posted By: Joe Elia