This Week in the Civil War
The Associated Press
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 24: Seven Days' Battle Begin.
The Seven Days' Battles opens this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. The weeklong series of battles will consolidate the rise of starring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and prove influential in shaping the remaining course of the war. On June 25, 1862, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan sent his combat forces marching toward Richmond, intent on putting the Confederate capital within range of his siege guns. The Associated Press reported in a June 25 dispatch that the fighting was fierce as Union troops "met with a most determined resistance" in its Confederate foes. "The ground fought for was a swamp, with thick underbrush," AP notes. In such terrain, McClellan's push is not enough and Lee goes on the offensive the next day. Lee's battle plan succeeds in pushing back federal troops, forcing McClellan's fighters to withdraw southeast along the Chickahominy River. On June 27, 1862, Union troops clash with Confederate forces at the major Battle of Gaines' Mill. There, after hours of afternoon fighting, Lee hurls his combined forces in an all-out attack that forces Union rivals to retreat. His is a sweeping tactical victory, his first. But it comes at a great cost in lives. The 15,000 estimated casualties at Gaines' Mill mark the deadliest and largest battle in the East yet. More fighting follows on June 30, 1862, at Savage's Station. And on June 30, 1862, Confederate forces engaged in close combat with Union forces, unsuccessfully trying to cut their retreat to the James River. July 1, 1862, would see the last and deadliest battle of the Seven Days at Malvern Hill where Confederate forces are unable to withstand withering fire from Union forces hunkered down on high ground. Strategically, Lee is hailed as a hero for successfully defending Richmond, leaving McClellan's monthslong bid to take Richmond in disarray.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 1: Battle of Malvern Hill.
This week opened 150 years ago in the Civil War with the roaring finish to the Seven Days' Battle - that bloody, pivotal week of combat between Union and Confederate forces in swampy terrain outside Richmond, Va. The Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, opened when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee unleashed a flurry of brazen assaults on the virtually impregnable Union position atop the hill. Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan fired back, mowing down Southern soldiers trying to charge up the grassy slope toward them. All told, the Confederacy suffered more than 5,300 casualties in the day's fighting, defeated at Malvern Hill. But while the Union appeared to end the week of fighting on a strong note, McClellan was effectively withdrawing his massive army to the protection of federal gunboats on the James River. And soon he would be pulling out of the area entirely, cutting short his long-planned Peninsula Campaign and its aim of taking Richmond. Lee would soon return to Richmond a hero, lionized in the South for successfully defending the capital of the Confederacy from the Union onslaught. Lee later wrote that his true aim at the time was to crush the federal army as a fighting force. "Under ordinary circumstances the Federal Army should have been destroyed," he wrote. But he noted that Malvern Hill had afforded the Union army a "position of great natural strength" to retreat. And he said bad weather and the battle-weariness of his fighters stymied attempts to pursue the enemy army on its retreat. As The Richmond Examiner reported of the climactic week of fighting, Southern forces went into the battle "with coats off and sleeves rolled up, fighting like tigers."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 8: Nathan Bedford Forrest Attacks.
This week 150 years ago in the Civil War saw Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedfort Forrest capture a Union garrison at Murfreesboro, Tenn., after a surprise attack by his cavalry. Forrest and his fighters staged a dramatic offensive against some 900 Union troops that July 13, 1862, and forced the surrender of the federal garrison. At the time, Murfreesboro was a key Union supply point on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. Before dawn on that date, Forrest's riders surprised Union pickets and then overran a Union hospital before more rebel troops attacked other Union camps around Murfreesboro. Forrest's daring not only led to the destruction of railroad tracks and supplies but also stopped Union forces intent on driving on to Chattanooga. All told more than 1,000 casualties were reported. Forrest would not be able to hang onto the town for long, but his raid was the first of many bold strikes into Union-held territory that would make him one of the famous fighters of the war. The Associated Press was one of the first with news of Forrest's exploit on July 15, 1862. One Northern newspaper reported then that "A special dispatch to the Associated Press says that Murfreesborough has been taken by the confederates, who are mostly Texan Rangers under Colonel Forrest, but was afterwards shelled by our battery." The dispatch reported two ranking Union officers were among those taken prisoner when the federal garrison fell. An AP dispatch a day later reported that rebels afterward spirited away captured officers but released privates in the ranks. "The citizens are taking good care of the wounded, and have buried the dead left by the rebels," AP added.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 15: CSS Arkansas runs past Vicksburg.
The CSS Arkansas, a famed Confederate ironclad of the Mississippi River, runs a gauntlet of U.S. Navy warships with its guns blazing on July 15, 1862, near Vicksburg, Miss. The ironclad, one of two authorized by the Confederate Congress a year earlier, would make it through only 23 days of sporadic river fighting before meeting its end. Built at Memphis, the CSS Arkansas steamed down toward the federal warships with its weapons firing. The CSS Arkansas heavily damaged two of the first Union ships it encountered.The ironclad then ran past 16 other Union vessels, damaging them, on its route to Vicksburg - despite receiving heavy damage itself. David Farragut, a celebrated Union commander, was so angered by the Arkansas' damaging run that he sought to destroy the ironclad soon afterward at Vicksburg. But the Arkansas avoided further damage and would go on to more river skirmishing with two other Union ships later in the month before being scuttled. The ship headed south to Louisiana in early August 1862 to deliver firepower to Confederate military actions there. However, damage to a propeller forced it aground and the crew had to blow the ironclad up before federal forces could arrive. Elswhere, The Associated Press reports on July 16, 1862, from Louisville, Ky., that the border state is rife with Confederate guerrilla activity this month 150 years ago in the Civil War. One band of rebels operating in the farming countryside has "cut the telegraph wire and tore up the railroad, and took everything convertible to his use." The AP dispatch adds that supporters of the Union side in Kentucky are alarmed, particularly in Lexington. It locals were setting up defenses and "the people say they have ample force to protect the town, but not to take the offensive."