Monday, July 23, 2012

Civil War 150

I've been interested in the Civil War for a long time. Living in DC, it is hard not to be interested in it since so many of the battle fields are so close to the city. After all Bull Run is about less than a 30 minute drive from DC depending on the traffic.

I decided since it was the 150th anniversary of the Civil War to try and do entries on the battles major and not so major on the days in which they happened. Best laid plans don't always come out that way. I'm going to attempt to play some catch up with that over the next few weeks.

Here's a major battle whose anniversary happened back at the end of May/beginning of June: Seven Pines.

Seven Pines May 31, 1862 - June 1, 1862

This was part of the Peninsula Campaign to move up the peninsula Richmond was located on and capture Richmond. The idea was that would some how end the war or at the very least be a huge blow to the Confederacy.

The commanders on the field were: Confederate: Joseph E. Johnston; (William) Dorsey Pender; James J. Pettigrew and for the Union: George B. McClellan.

Details of the battle:

The Armies mustered around 84,000 men available.

Casualties were heavy: the North lost nearly 6,000, the South about 8,000 men.

On May 31, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston attempted to overwhelm two Federal corps that appeared isolated south of the rain-swollen Chickahominy River. Johnston readied a plan that was not well suited for the variety of commanders he had – several had only recently joined his army and were not used to his style. Nor did he spend much effort to make sure his subordinates understood their roles.

The advance started late, and got confused. Instead of an early-morning attack it was 1 pm before even part of the Confederate force got into action. For a time the fight around Seven Pines see-sawed back and forth, and if more of the available rebel troops had attacked they would likely have carried that part of the field. Meanwhile at Fair Oaks the fighting yielded no advantage to either side until Sumner (acting without orders – neither McClellan nor Johnston did much commanding during the battle) took his troops over the available bridge. They arrived to smash a developing Confederate attack and make sure the Union held the field.

Late that day Johnston was badly wounded and G W Smith, the senior division commander, took over. Smith changed the plan a little for the next day. He would aim north towards the Chickahominy bridges rather than just driving the bluecoats east. But Longstreet (who’d botched his attack on the 31st) did it again on the 1st, moving east. Moreover, he moved weakly and achieved almost nothing. (McClellan had reinforced, so the whole basis of the attack – the vulnerability of the Union left – was altered.) Robert E. Lee arrived in early afternoon with a piece of paper that would affect the rest of the war: orders to take command. He broke off the action – it was going nowhere – and that night pulled the disappointed, mishandled troops back into the Richmond defenses.

Both sides claimed victory, but if this was the best the South could do they were doomed: McClellan would take Richmond by siege.

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