On June 25, 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched a series of six battles in seven days that pitted the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia against Major General George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac. Collectively known as the Seven Days Battles, Lee's assaults drove McClellan's army away from the outskirts of Richmond, ending the Union's Peninsula Campaign of 1862.
On March 17, 1862, Union General George B. McClellan launched his Peninsula Campaign. McClellan planned to transport the Army of the Potomac by ship to Fort Monroe, on the peninsula between the York and James Rivers in southeastern Virginia. With the bulk of the Confederate forces positioned in northern Virginia, near Manassas, McClellan planned to advance up the peninsula and capture Richmond, the Confederate capital, bringing the Civil War to a quick end.
On April 4, McClellan's 120,000-man army began its march up the peninsula. Despite some cunning Rebel resistance, the Union army was encamped along both sides of the Chickahominy River, only several miles from Richmond, by late May. When heavy spring rains flooded the Chickahominy, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston seized the opportunity to attack McClellan's army while it was divided by the swollen river. On May 31, Rebel troops launched attacks against the isolated Third and Fourth of Corps of the Army of the Potomac near Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, Virginia. During the Battle of Seven Pines, Johnston was severely injured. President Jefferson Davis used Johnston's injury as an opportunity to place the more aggressive General Robert E. Lee in command of the Army of Northern Virginia.
After the battle, McClellan sat idly for nearly a month, developing plans for a siege of Richmond. Taking advantage of McClellan's inactivity, Lee prepared for an offensive designed to drive the Union army away from Richmond. On June 25, the two armies clashed at Oak Grove, in what was the first in a series of six battles that cumulatively are known as the Seven Days Battles. At the Battle of Oak Grove, Rebel forces repulsed Federals attempting to position siege guns within range of Richmond. The next day, Lee seized the initiative by attacking Union forces at Beaver Dam Creek, but the Federals inflicted heavy casualties on the Rebels and repelled the attack. Undaunted, Lee, renewed his offensive on June 27, at Gaines' Mill. Despite staunch resistance, Rebel forces broke the Union lines late in the day, sending the Federals in retreat.
The Confederate victory at the Battle of Gaines' Mill convinced McClellan to abandon his plan to capture Richmond and to begin a general retreat back down the peninsula. Lee continued to pursue doggedly and struck the Union army again on June 29, at Savage's Station. Although the results of that battle were inconclusive, the retreating Federals were forced to abandon more than 2,500 wounded soldiers in a field hospital. On June 30, Lee tried, unsuccessfully, at the Battle of Glendale, to prevent McClellan's retreating army from reaching the James River. The battle results were inconclusive, but McClellan was able to extract his retreating army to a stronger defensive position on Malvern Hill. The next day, the Rebels suffered heavy casualties trying to dislodge the Federals during the Battle of Malvern Hill. Despite the Union victory however, McClellan chose to withdraw and entrench his army near the James River under the protection of Union gunboats.
No exclusively Ohio units participated in the Seven Days Battles, although McClellan, the Union's commanding general, was an Ohioan.
The Seven Days Battles proved costly for the Army of Northern Virginia, which suffered over 20,000 casualties, compared to approximately 16,000 Federal losses. Nevertheless, Lee's offensive had achieved its strategic objective. In the span of seven days, the Rebels had driven the powerful Army of the Potomac away from the outskirts of Richmond and saved the Confederate capital. McClellan had lost his opportunity to bring the war to a swift conclusion. With the Army of the Potomac no longer an immediate threat to the South, Lee was able to shift the focus of the action in the Eastern Theater back north.
Cite this Entry
"Seven Days Battles," Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 21 May 2019 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=215>
"Seven Days Battles." (2019) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved May 21, 2019, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=215
- Army of Northern Virginia
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Battle of Beaver Dam Creek
- Battle of Gaines' Mill
- Battle of Glendale
- Battle of Malvern Hill
- Battle of Oak Grove
- Battle of Savage's Station
- Battle of Seven Pines
- George B. McClellan
- Jefferson Davis
- Joseph E. Johnston
- Peninsula Campaign
- Robert E. Lee
- Thomas J. Jackson