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1862 June 11: Great Victory Before Richmond?

June 16, 2012

The June 11, 1862, issue of The Hudson North Star carried an article on the details of the second day of the Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks.  The second day was Sunday, June 1, 1862.  Despite the title of this article, the outcome of the battle was militarily inconclusive.  The most important result of the battle was the wounding of General Joe Johnston and his resulting replacement as commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia by Robert E. Lee.

GREAT VICTORY BEFORE RICHMOND.
Full Details of the Second Day’s Fight.

How the Battle was Fought and how it was Won—The Rebels Driven Back with Great Slaughter.

Correspondence of the New York Times.

PREPARATION FOR THE BATTLE ON SUNDAY.

Gen. Heintzelman [Samuel P. Heintzelman], at 6 A. M. ordered a reconnoissance [sic] to be made by a small force on the left of the wood and to the right, toward the railroad.

In the meantime the other parties sent out came in and reported the enemy in great force in front of our right and left flanks.

Gen. Heintzelman then ordered out Gen. Hooker’s [Joseph Hooker] Division—part of which had been left to guard the camp, and a certain position on our extreme left.  The regiments General Hooker brought on the field were the five regiments comprising the Excelsior Brigade, under command of Gen. D. E. Sickles [Daniel Edgar Sickles], and the Fifth and Sixth New Jersey regiments ;  General Heintzelman having resolved to attack the enemy and drive them from the wood.

THE BATTLE.

It was about a quarter of seven when Gen. Heintzelman ordered Gen. Hooker to attack the rebels in his front, and drive them from the woods.  The Excelsior Brigade marched out from their camp in the woods to Williamsburg road, the New Jersey Fifth and Sixth following.  The Excelsior Brigade filed in the wheatfield in front of our earthworks, to the right of the road, while the two New Jersey troops took a position to the left.  As the Second Regiment, Excelsior Brigade, was forming in position to the front of the wood, the rebels opened a rapid and heavy fire upon it, killing two or three privates, and wounding about six.  Among those wounded at the first fire of the rebels was Lieutenant Lawria (formerly aid to Gen. Sickles) and Captain Nolan.

The fire of the enemy immediately became simultaneous along their entire line.

The New Jersey troops fought splendidly, loading and firing without flinching from their position.  Gen. Sickles’ regiments did great execution, advancing at every fire upon the rebels masked by the wood.  However, it was plainly to be seen the enemy had every advantage, and it was resolved to clear the woods at the point of the bayonet.

General Sickles rode along the front of his men in the midst of an iron hail which the rebels poured in, and gave orders for the Second Regiment of Col. G. B. Hall to charge bayonets.  No sooner was the order given than all the men fixed bayonets.  Col. Hall gallantly led the charge—one of the most brilliant ever made in any battle.  Not a man shirked or straggled from the ranks.

The rebels presented a strong front to the gleaming bayonets of our men, not a hundred yards distant.

As the Second advanced on the double quick, cheering and shouting, the rebels held back their fire until our men were hardly one hundred feet from their line, when they fired a murderous volley into the ranks of the Second.  It proved too low, and few were killed or wounded.

Immediately after the rebels fired this volley, they broke ranks and fled through the wood.  A few of their bravest remained to resist our passage, but they were soon mowed down by the steel front of the gallant Second Excelsior.

Major Herbert, of the Eighth Alabama Regiment, was taken prisoner at this time.  His horse had been shot under him, and as he fell he received a shot in his side.  He sprang to his feet, however, almost instantly, and seeing several of our men in front of him, mistook them for some of his own regiment.

“Rally once more, boys!” he cried, but they corrected his mistake by presenting their bayonets and demanding him to surrender, which he did with all the grace and finish that an original secessionist, as he afterwards informed he was, could do under the circumstances.  The rebels made two or three attempts to flank us on the left, after retreating from their centre, but they were beat back with great loss, our troops pursuing them nearly two miles.

Richardson’s Brigade, before the enemy’s center gave way, had a hard fight ;  the ground was hotly contested by the rebels.  The Fourth and Fifth Excelsior Regiments were sent to support one of Richardson’s Batteries, but before the battery got in fair working order, the enemy began to show signs of retreat.  The rebel officers could be heard distinctly urging the men to fight, but they would run away.  The Irish Brigade fought splendidly, and routed the rebels at the point of the bayonet.

None of our forces on the left flank participated in the fight.  The rebels were defeated and driven back by Hooker’s and Richardson’s Divisions.

Advance parties scoured the woods on both sides of the Richmond road, and succeeded in capturing nearly two hundred of the rebels, among them three Lieutenant.

At 11 o’clock the firing on both sides ceased.  The rebels had fallen back beyond our original lines, leaving guards stationed to watch our advance and also  to bring their wounded off the field.

The enemy was driven from every position they occupied by our troops.  The main column rested a mile in advance of their position, at the commencement of the fight.

At about 12 o’clock Gen. McClellan [George B. McClellan] rode up to the front, accompanied by his Staff and body guard, and met Gen. Heintzelman seated at the foot of a tree.

Gen. McClellan had been seated probably a half an hour, conversing with Gen. Heintzleman, when Gen. Hooker rode up from the extreme advance line gained that morning, and as he was dismounting from his horse Gen. McClellan rose from his seat, and, advancing, shook him warmly by the hand and congratulated him and his noble division in terms of the highest praise.  A long conversation took place between them.  It was plainly seem no further advances was to be made that day, as no troops were ordered up to the front.

At a little after one o’clock Gen. McClellan mounted his horse and rode along the lines of his troops, back and forth, until all the soldiers had a good opportunity of seeing him.  Napoleon never was received by his enthusiastic troops with greater manifestations of delight than was McClellan by his army, showing that he possessed the confidence as well as the hearts of his men.  They feel that they must ever be victorious under his guidance.

Prisoners continued to be brought in very fast ;  we had captured nearly five hundred.  They were immediately handed over to Provost Marshal Young, of Gen. Hooker’s Division, who sent them properly guarded to Heintzelman’s headquarters, at Savage’s Station.  Many of them were dressed in new clothes, captured in Casey’s [Silas Casey] camp, a large supply having been sent up to Casey’s Division a few days before the battle, but had not been distributed to the men.  The result was that the enemy, who had been wearing faded, worn-out, home-spun, doffed their forms in our genteel uniforms.  This was the cause of many serious mistaking them for our own.

THE REBEL COMMANDERS.

The rebel Generals, commanding in this engagement, were Generals Longstreet1, Roger A. Pryor2, Hill3, Bronk, Howell Cobb, Rains [James S. Rains], Huger [Benjamin Huger] and five others whose names I could not learn.

FROM McCLELLAN’S ARMY.
Arrival of Deserters—Further Concerning the Late Battle—Ten Thousand Rebels Killed, Wounded and Missing—Johnston Severely Wounded—Rebel Loss
8,000 Men.

McCLELLAN’S HEADQUARTERS, }
June 6, 1862. }

Two deserters who have just come in, report that Gen. Joe Johnston4 was seriously, if not mortally wounded, through the groin, by a Minnie ball during the late battle.  General G. W. Smith now commands.5  Other information corroberates [sic] this.  Also, that the rebel loss is estimated at 10,000 killed, wounded and missing.

No material change has occurred in the enemy’s position.

Contrabands who left Richmond yesterday, say the city is in a terrible state of contusion.  There are no troops in the city, except those doing guard duty.

There are no signs of an evacuation.  Everything shows their intention to make a determined resistance.

The house-tops in Richmond were covered on Sunday, by the inhabitants, who were expecting to see our troops driven into the Chickahominy ;  but when they saw the rebels run, the greatest consternation prevailed.

It is rumored that Magruder6 is disgusted and intends resigning.

Information received that there are no rebel troops between the Rhappahannock [sic] and the army of the Potomac.

NEW YORK, June 9.—The Richmond Dispatch of the 5th states that the rebels loss in the late battle was 8,000, including 5 Generals, 23 Colonels, 10 Majors, and 57 Captains.

The Dispatch complains that the Federals can at any time cut off the retreat of the Confederates by seizing the railroad at Petersburgh [sic] and intimates that the retreat to Lynchburg and the mountains was the only one left them.

STRENGTH OF THE REBELS.
Two Hundred Thousand Men—They will Make a Desperate Resistance

NEW YORK, June 9.—The Times in an editorial says:

We understand that the Rev. Dr. Styles,7 late of this city, and for the last year a resident of Richmond, states in a private letter recently received by a friend in New York, that the Confederate army there numbers 200,000, and that it is well distrabuted [sic] and determined to make a desperate fight in defense of the city.  One or two rebel officers, who have taken prisoners, are reported to have made statements to the same effect, and so far as we are aware, the whole of those entitled to credence, say that the rebel army approximate, if it does not actually exceed these figures.

Our Loss in the Late Battle.

WASHINGTON, June 6.—Times says it is now conceded that our loss in killed and wounded at the battle of Fair Oaks, was much larger than at first stated.  It will probably reach 7,000.8

1.  James Longstreet (1821-1904) was a graduate of West Point where he was one year ahead o his friend, Ulysses S. Grant. He served with distinction in the Mexican War.  General Robert E. Lee referred to Longstreet as his “Old War Horse,” and will make him his second-in-command. Longstreet’s talents as a general made significant contributions to the Confederate victories at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chickamauga. He also performed strongly during the Seven Days Battles, the Battle of Antietam, and, until he was seriously wounded, at the Battle of the Wilderness. His most controversial service was at the Battle of Gettysburg, where some argue he failed to carry out Lee’s instructions and acted too slowly, and he reluctantly supervised the disastrous Pickett’s Charge.
2.  Roger Atkinson Pryor (1828-1919) was was a newspaper editor, lawyer, and politician in Virginia who became known for his fiery oratory in favor of secession. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1859-March 3, 1861) from Virginia, and in the Confederate States House of Representatives (February-April 1862), also from Virginia. He was colonel of the 3rd Virginia Infantry, and was promoted to brigadier general on April 16, 1862. His brigade fought in the Peninsula Campaign.
3.  Daniel Harvey Hill (1821-1889) was Stonewall Jackson’s brother-in-law and a close friend of both Longstreet and Joe Johnston. He was a graduate of West Point and served with distinction in the Mexican War. He resigned his commission in 1849 to be a mathematics professor. When the War broke out he joined the Confederacy and, as colonel of the 1st North Carolina Infantry, he won the Battle of Big Bethel in 1861. He participated in the Yorktown and Williamsburg operations at the start of the Peninsula Campaign. As a major general, Hill led a division with great distinction in the Battle of Seven Pines and the Seven Days Battles (yet to come).
4.  At the height of the battle, Joseph E. Johnston was severely wounded by an artillery shell, which hit him in his right shoulder and chest.
5.   G. W. Smith, being the senior officer in General Johnston’s army, briefly took command of the army after Johnston was wounded; however, Jefferson Davis replaced him with Robert E. Lee on June 1.
6.  John Bankhead Magruder (1807-1871) was a graduate of West Point and a career military officer who served in the Second Seminole War, in the Mexican War, and on the frontier in California and Kansas. His nickname was “Prince John,” partly because of his predilection for the drama. A native of Virginia, he resigned his commission when that state seceeded. Magruder is most known for his actions in delaying General McClellan’s Union troops during the Peninsula Campaign through elaborate ruses that gave McClellan the impression that the Confederates had more forces than they actually did. Magruder, however, performed poorly and unaggressively in the subsequent Seven Days Battle.
7.  A correction was published in the New York Times on June 10, 1862, to the effect that no letters had been received from the Rev. Dr. STILES.
8.  The actual figures for Seven Pines/Fair Oaks were closer to 5,000-6,000 casualties for the Union, and 6,000-8,000 for the Confederates.

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