150 Years Ago This Week: The Seven Days’ Campaign

At the end of June, Maj. Gen. John Pope was organizing his Army of Virginia, stationed for the most part in Rappahannock County, into three army corps, all totaling 60,000 to 65,000 officers and men. The First Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel (Fremont’s old Mountain Department), was posted around Little Washington. The Second Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks (the old Shenandoah Department), was posted between Sperryville and Woodville. The Third Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Irwin McDowell (the old Rappahannock Department) remained east of Warrenton.

The civilian population of Rappahannock County was to suffer greatly at the hands of the Union troops during much of the summer of 1862. No private property was safe, and soldiers were not inclined to be disciplined by their officers for committing offenses against the population.

The general feeling in the army, from Gen. Pope down to the soldiers, was that the civilians were supplying the Confederate Army with manpower, food and supplies, and that made the citizens and their property (which included slaves) fair game. Homes were broken into and in some cases destroyed, women and children were assaulted and worse, and crops and livestock were taken. Often the “reason” given by Union soldiers ransacking homes and barns was that they were looking for weapons. Often property was simply destroyed for the “thrill” of it.

Around Richmond during the last week in June, some of the most severe fighting of the war took place every single day, as Gen. McCellan’s Army of the Potomac attempted to destroy Gen. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and take the Confederate capital. On June 26, it was at Oak Grove. On June 26, at Mechanicsville. On June 27, at Gaines’s Mill; on June 28, at Garnett’s and Goldings’ farms. The outcome of the Confederate victory at Gaines’s Mill saved Richmond for the Confederacy. On June 29, the armies clashed at Savage’s Station on the Richmond & York River Railroad. During this engagement, Brig. Gen. Richard Griffith of Mississippi was mortally wounded. His command was assumed by Col. William Barksdale, soon to be commissioned a brigadier general and put in charge of what was to be the famous Mississippi Brigade.

On June 30, the fighting was concentrated in and around the White Oak Swamp near Glendale as Gen. McClellan attempted to pull back his army to his base at Harrison’s Landing on the James River. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops were delayed at White Oak Swamp by intense fighting against Gen. William B. Franklin’s Union troops. At least five Union and Confederate generals were wounded, and this was Gen. Lee’s best chance to cut off the Union Army from the James River.

As July opened, Gen. McClellan placed his army on the defensible heights of Malvern Hill. Gen. Lee ordered his men to attack, but after costly delays and intense fighting, the Confedrates were forced to withdraw. Gen. Lee had saved his capital but had failed to destroy Gen. McClellan’s army and was criticized for it. Gen. McClellan fought well at Malvern Hill but failed to destroy Gen. Lee’s army or capture the capital, and he was criticized for that.

In the Seven Days’ Campaign, Confederate casualties numbered more than 20,000 killed, wounded, missing or captured. Nearly every building in Richmond became a hospital. Union casualties were just as bad: more than 16,000 killed, wounded, missing or captured. Gen. McCellan took his army back to Harrison’s Landing to recover and rebuild, and he continued his sharp criticism of the Lincoln administration, saying that with more troops, he could have easily defeated the Army of Northern Virginia and taken Richmond. President Lincoln grew increasingly irritated with his army commander, for his apparent ineffectiveness and for McClellan’s increasing attempts to enlarge the scope of his influence by advising the President on political as well as military policy.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.