Battle of Seven Pines
May 31, 1862 & June 1, 1862
By the end of May, the Army of the Potomac had moved to within twelve miles of Richmond. McClellan had divided his army, placing two corps south of the Chickahominy River and three to the north. This placed McClellan’s army in a better position to join up with McDowell’s corps moving south from Fredericksburg. It was a dangerous deployment, however, as heavy rains had swollen the Chickahominy.
General Joseph E. Johnston sought to take advantage of the divided Union army. He devised a complicated plan whereby two–thirds of his army would attack Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps and Major General Erasmus Darwin Keyes’ IV Corps south of the Chickahominy. Johnston’s plan called for four different Confederate columns to converge on the Union troops via three roads.
Savage fighting at Seven PinesThe intricate battle plan, issued verbally, fell apart almost immediately on the morning of May 31. Longstreet, instead of using the Nine Mile Road as ordered, moved down the Williamsburg road, which had been assigned to D. H. Hill’s and Benjamin Huger’s troops, thus delaying the Confederate attack. Major General D. H. Hill opened the battle at 1:00 pm when his unsupported brigades struck Keyes’ positions at Seven Pines. The Federals were pushed back under heavy pressure from the Confederates. Longstreet finally supported Hill’s attack with one brigade, and the Federals withdrew to a third position when the fighting ended around 6:00 pm.
Meanwhile, Whiting finally charged the Union positions at Fair Oaks around 4:00 pm. Major General Edwin Sumner pushed reinforcements across the Chickahominy and these troops blunted the Confederate attack. Johnston, riding along his lines striving to achieve victory in the twilight, was seriously wounded. Major General G. W. Smith temporarily replaced Johnston as the Confederate army commander.
June 1, 1862The Confederates renewed their attack the next morning, but Longstreet’s two brigades were repulsed. Smith’s apparent inability to effectively assault the Federal positions prompted President Jefferson Davis to replace him with Robert E. Lee. Lee ended the engagement by ordering a withdrawal.
McClellan, even though a part of his army was nearly destroyed but for poor Confederate organization, won a tactical victory. The Federals suffered 5,031 casualties and the Confederates 6,134.
The Peninsula Campaign did not end here. Through June and into early July 1862, Lee and McClellan would do battle again, particularly during the Seven Days’ Battles, June 25 – July 1. To learn more about the rest of the Peninsula Campaign, as well as the many other battles fought around Richmond during the Civil War, we recommend you stop at the Richmond National Battlefield Park’s Visitors’ Center.