Thursday, February 11, 2010

CWL On The Road---Malvern Hill: Battle and Prophecy

The sixth and last of the Seven Days Battles of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign was prophetic. Robert E. Lee did on July 1, 1862 in Henrico County, Virginia what he would do on July 3, 1863 in Adams County, Pennsylvania.

Lee launched a series of disjointed assaults against a plateau of Federal artillery and infantry. Confederates suffered more than 5,300 casualties without gaining an inch of ground and suffered the about the same number of casualties as they would during the Grand Assualt of July 3.

June 30,the previous day, Fitz John Porter and his Fifth Corps, prepared Malvern Hill as a bastion to cover the retreat of McClellan's Army of the Potomac to Harrison's Landing. On the east side of the flat-topped hill, the gradually climbing slopes were cleared of timber. Th open pastures and grain fields to the west were already suitable for field of fire for by 250 artillery placed by Henry J. Hunt, McClellan's chief of artillery. Yes, on July 2 and 3 11863Hunt would also arrange the artillery at Gettysburg.

The terrain from which the Rebels attacked was swampy and thickly wooded. The double chimneys mark the site of the Willis Methodist Church parsonage on the Confederate center and right. The pastor's house was on a slight rise above the low, muddy depression that the Confederate would have to cross. From the crest of Malvern Hill the house was easily seen and served as a range marker for Federal artillery.

As he would do a year later at Cemetery Hill, Lee attacked Malvern Hill directly, rather than flanking the position. As he did at Gettysburg, Lee used his artillery clear the plateau for successful infantry occupation of the crest. As he would in 367 days later, Lee believed that his soldiers were better fighters than Federal soldiers.

Lee planned the battle of Malvern Hill. The divisions of Jackson, Ewell and D.H. Hill would first assaulte the Federal left then the divisions of James Longstreet and A.P. Hill, which had been the most heavily engaged on June 30 were to follow with coordinated assualts on the Federal right as the first assault crested the hill. Federal causualties were 3,200 and the Confederates' butcher's bill was 5,300.

Follow up reading: Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles by Brian K. Burton;
The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula and the Seven Days, Gary W. Gallagher, editor;
The Peninsula Campaign Of 1862: Yorktown To The Seven Days, Vol. 1 & II, William J. Miller, editor;To The Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign by Stephen W. Sears, and Sword Over Richmond: An Eyewitness History Of McClellan's Peninsula Campaign by Richard Wheeler.

Top and Middle Image Source: Civil War Librarian,

Bottom Image Source: Civil War Preservation Trust

No comments: