June 25, 1862: The Seven Days Begin

Monday, June 25, AD 2012

One of the more important series of battles in American history, collectively known as the Seven Days, occurred in Virginia 150 years ago this week.  By driving away McClellan’s larger Army of the Potomac from Richmond, Robert E. Lee ensured that the Civil War was not going to be a quick Union victory, and that the Civil War, instead of a minor blip in US history, would, by the beginning of 1863, be transformed into a revolutionary struggle that would destroy slavery and alter the Union forever.

Before taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia after the wounding of General Joe Johnston at the battle of Seven Pines, Robert E. Lee had acquired the nickname of “Granny Lee” due to his construction of fortifications and a perception that he was too cautious and lacked an aggressive spirit.  Few nicknames in history have been more inapposite.  As a commander Lee was a gambler and far preferred to attack the enemy than to passively await an attack.  After taking over command from Johnston at the beginning of June, Lee began working towards a big offensive to drive the larger Union army away from the outskirts of Richmond.  To accomplish this he began to draw reinforcements to Richmond from throughout Virginia, most notably Jackson’s Valley Army.

From June 12-15th he had the cavalry of his army, brilliantly commanded by Jeb Stuart, ride around McClellan’s army to ascertain what portion of McClellan’s army was north of the Chickahominy River.

Lee got the information he  needed from Stuart’s reconnaissance.  McClellan had about 25,000-30,000 men north of the Chickahominy.  The remainder of his army, about 60,000, was south of the Chickahominy, in front of the Richmond defenses.  Lee’s plan was bold.  Leaving about 25,000 men in the Richmond defenses, he would take the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, and attack McClellan’s troop north of the Chickahominy, giving him a two-one battlefield superiority over the Union forces that side of the Chickahominy.  The plan of course was contingent on McClellan remaining passive in front of Richmond.  Lee planned on cutting McClellan’s supply lines by turning McClellan’s flank after winning on the north side of the Chickahominy and crossing to the south side and forcing McClellan to retreat or to be destroyed by the converging Confederates from Richmond and Lee’s forces.  The plan was daring and complicated, especially for an army as green as the one Lee led.

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10 Responses to June 25, 1862: The Seven Days Begin

  • Has any commander in the history of American arms thrown away as many chances as McClellan? Mark Clark, maybe?

  • McClellan basically abandoned his army Dale after Gaines Mill when he personally retreated to south of Malvern Hill. He gave no marching orders for the retreat, leaving his corps commanders to their own devices. Immense stores of supplies and ordinance were burned with no attempt to transport them along with the troops. The Union wounded, 2500, were shamefully abandoned at Savage’s Station. In a less forgiving country McClellan would have been shot for his performance in the Peninsula. In our country he ran for President in 1864, and but for the autumn military victories of that year might have won.

  • Yeah, McClellan basically did what Rosecrans did after Chickamauga, but it somehow didn’t ruin his reputation–too many influential political supporters, I think. It’s a wonder the AoP wasn’t destroyed in detail, and all the credit goes to men like Porter, Hunt and the division commanders.

    In retrospect, my comparison wasn’t fair to Clark–whatever Clark’s other flaws, he had cast-iron clockweights.

  • Dang it! How did we wind up losing the war? Well, next time we conquer!

  • George Pickett after the war was asked who was responsible for losing the battle of Gettysburg. He thought about it for a litte bit and said words to the effect that he always thought the Yankees had something to do with it!

    Linked below is a post where I asked the alternate history question: Was the victory of the Conferacy inevitable?

  • Love a good alternate history, and the Civil War is about as fertile a ground as you can till for such.

    Forstchen and Gingrich’s (!) Gettysburg trilogy is a very good one, and though a trifle hard to follow in spots, Tsouras’ “Gettysburg” is another intriguing “what if.”

  • And from the alternate Gettysburg post:

    “Complicated does not begin to fathom the many facets of Thomas Jonathan Jackson.”

    A-yep. His favorite term of endearment for his beloved wife was “Mi esposa,” picked up from his service in the Mexican War. In warrior mindset, he was rather like Sherman–both were excitable eccentrics determined to smash the foe. Though Jackson was by far the better tactician (though I’ll give Cump higher marks for operational level manuevering).

    Stonewall remains one of the most fascinating characters in American history. What’s the best biography you can recommend?

  • I still like Mighty Stonewall by Frank Vandiver.


    A story that tells a great deal about Jackson is that during the War a private had been sentenced to death by Jackson. A group of chaplains came to Jackson to ask him for mercy. Jackson responded that the soldier’s crime had been great and that he did not see how the ultimate penalty could be avoided. Jackson talked with them, and suggested arguments in favor of mercy that they had not raised. He prayed with them and as they were leaving he said with tears in his eyes that if he could think of any just reason to spare the soldier he would spare him. The execution went ahead as scheduled the next morning. No matter his personal inclinations, Jackson always did what he thought duty and justice required.

  • If Pickett had given it more thought he could have added “And, General Custer beating J.E.B. Stuart behind the Union center.”

    Pickett’s charge was Fredericksburg in reverse.

    If you Yankees have the time, I recommend Custer Victorious by Gregory J. W. Urwin re: the boy general’s stellar record in the War of Northern Aggression.

    BTW: the general’s younger brother, Tom Custer, won two MoH’s in that war.

  • Mike the Geek,
    God was on our side.