by Andy Mateja

The battle of Malvern hill on July 1st 1862 was the last of the famous Seven Days Battles.  It began under new Confederate commander Gen Robt E Lee to remove the pressure on Richmond by Union forces under Mar Gen George B. McClellan and included the arrival of Maj Gen Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson from the Shenandoah Valley and forced the Union commander to alter his strategy and change his base of supply from the Pamunkey River to the James River.  In doing so, the Union army was susceptible to attacks which the aggressive Lee repeatedly took advantage of during the preceding six days

To protect the movement of his army to the new supply base, McClellan concentrated his artillery on Malvern Hill under cover of Federal gunboats on the James River and nearly 90,000 Infantry. Lee’s army arrived to confront McClellan without the usual organization and cooperation it became famous for shortly afterward. Lee had around 80,000 men which his commanders did not want to decimate with frontal attacks against the extremely strong Federal position. Maj Get James Longstreet instead believed 60 pieces of Rebel artillery in conjunction with Maj Gen Stonewall Jackson could create an effective crossfire so allow for a favorable Confederate infantry assault. Malvern Hill’s topography would not allow it. Had the ground been reconnoitered before the attack, The Confederates would have realized the lack of favorable ground for their attack plans.

The Confederate artillery designated to lead off the attack ultimately was mostly disabled by their Union counterpart’s right at the start, but Lee’s stalwart infantry advanced anyway.  Unfortunately without the expected artillery support, the confederates were driven back with heavy losses. Their reinforcements did not arrive in time to support the attack to be of any assistance. The concentration of the Union artillery was very effective in stopping Lee’s forces in its tracks before it fell back ……unsuccessful in breaking the Union line, Rebel losses were over 5000 men, whereas the Union losses were about 3000.

Lee seeing his men cut to pieces by the Federal artillery and realizing his attack had failed, wanted to change his strategy. But being already late in the afternoon the opportunity had passed. The triumphant Union troops were actually better commanded by corp commanders fighting separate battles than by the guidance and directions of their own commanding general ….. George B McClellan.  V Corp commander Maj Gen Fitz-John Porter felt the Union position was a good one and recommended to McClellan that they hold this position which McClellan rejected.

The Union artily mutilated many if the bodies of the attackers.  The next morning after their clear cut victory at Malvern Hill, the Union army nevertheless continued their week long retrograde movement in the rain away from Richmond instead of toward it. While most of the Union troops were willing to continue the fight and to go forward,   they were now exhausted and low on supplies and munitions.

McClellan fell back to Harrison’s Landing under the protection of Federal gunboats. Lee’s forces , ordered to pursuit the withdrawing Union army, were led by Brig Gen JEB Stuart’s Confederate cavalry followed by Maj Gen James Longstreet and Maj Gen AP Hill’s men, which had been held in reserve during the battle.

Some of the retreating Union commanders became convinced under the mistaken impression that the pursuing Confederate cavalry was the spearhead of a much larger flanking force, which turned out to be wrong. Lee gambled and lost at Malvern Hill – McClellan was already retreating and he did not need to be prodding at the cost of 3000 additional Confederate casualties……. Nevertheless, the Rebel capitol of Richmond Virginia was safe…… for now!!!!!

 

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