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1862 July 2: Battle of Gaines’s Mill on June 27

July 3, 2012

The Battle of Gaines’s Mill, sometimes known as the First Battle of Cold Harbor or the Battle of Chickahominy River, took place on Friday, June 27, 1862, in Hanover County, Virginia.  It was the third of the Seven Days’ Battles, which closed General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign.

The day after the inconclusive Battle of Mechanicsville, Confederate General Robert E. Lee renewed his attacks against the right flank of the Union Army, which was relatively isolated on the northern side of the Chickahominy River.  This report is a continuation of yesterday’s article.

W A R   N E W S !

Great Battle Before Richmond.


NEW YORK, June 30.

The Tribune has issued an extra, dated battle field, giving an account of two days’ desperate fighting.  A company of Bucktail Rifles were surround and captured on the retreat of our right wing.  Over 125,000 men were engaged. All the civilians were ordered away from White House, etc.

[Tribune Extra]—A severe and most determined battle was fought on the right wing on Thursday and Friday, which is claimed by some of our officers as a successful strategic movement, into which the enemy had unwillingly been drawn and which will soon result in the capture of Richmond and the entire rebel army.

Of the next day’s [June 27] battle, the correspondent says:

The cannonading and musketry were terrific.  Duryee’s gallant Zouaves1 were lying upon the ground for two hours, while our batteries were shelling the works over them.  Finally towards night the enemy attempted to break the line in front of Duryee’s Zouaves.  The musketry going became terrific, lasting twenty or thirty minutes.

Thomas Francis Meagher in his Union Army uniform, from the Montana Historical Society (see footnote 2)

Shorty afterwards an attempt was made to break through the fight which was repulsed, and half an hour later another attempt was made on the left with the same result.  The battle had then been raging for some hours without any apparent change on either side, re-enforcements of artillery and infantry then came steadily along over the bridge to the field.  The enemy then seemed to make their last desperate determined effort, and came forcing our men back into the low ground between the hill and the bridge where they could have been slaughtered by tens of thousands before they have crossed that long narrow bridge—wagons, artillery, ambulances, and men were hurrying towards the bridge and a panic was almost inevitable, when a strong guard was place across the bridge at the time when the enemy had almost reached the main hospital, half a mile front he river.  Then Francis Meagher’s2 Irishmen came over the hill, stripped to the bare arms and were ordered to go in.

They gave a yell and went to work and the result was that the enemy fell back to the woods, and thus matters stood up to 11 o’clock yesterday, Sunday morning.

At dark an attack was made along the front of the entire line and was renewed at two A. M, in front of Generals Hooker [Joseph Hooker], Kearney [Philip Kearny], and Sumner [Edwin V. Sumner], without material result.

Another corespondent says of Friday’s battle,—twice all along the front did the rebels attack our lines our rifle pits and redoubts.  Porter, with fifty cannon, and Sumner’s, Hooker’s,  Ayers’3 guns mowed them with a death harvest; their loss in killed and wounded was horrible.

Under date of Friday, midnight, the same correspondent says ten guns were taken from us by a sudden flank attack covered by the thick smoke which hung around.

Phillipe, Comte de Paris, in his Union Army uniform (cropped), from the Library of Congress (see footnote 4)

Count de Paris4 captured a rebel major who belonged to Jackson’s [Stonewall Jackson] army.  He said he had been in the Valley of the Shenandoah all winter and came here yesterday with a part of Jackson’s army; the rest arrived this morning.  The whole of it was here.  He said that in the attack of our right the rebels had from 60,000 to 80,000 troops.  This will explain the enormous fire under which our men were borne down and swept away, precisely as some of the regiments were swept away at the Seven Pines.

Yesterday the Pennsylvania reserve drove the attacking regiments of Jackson’s command. To day they were overpowered by the same troops re-enforced.—Styles’ regulars were called up , and proved unequal to the task of stopping them, and Solcum’s [Henry Slocum] command had to be added to them.

The Count de Paris testifies to them remarkably good conduct of all the regiments that sustained the unequal attack on Porter.  They gave way indeed, but none of them ran.  Their losses are enormous.

The regular 11th infantre [sic] is nearly animated.  Almost every officer in it is killed or wounded.

1.  The 5th New York Volunteer Infantry was a volunteer infantry regiment led by Colonel Abram Duryée; it is known as “Duryée’s Zouaves.”
2.  Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867) was an Irish rebel who was condemned to death for sedition but instead was sent to a penal colony in Australia. In 1852 he escaped  and came to America. Meagher joined the U. S. Army at the start of the Civil War and became a brigadier general. He is notable for recruiting and leading the Irish Brigade, and for encouraging support for the Union among Irish immigrants. The Battle of Gaines’s Mill is considered the highlight of Meagher’s military career.
After the War, Meagher, like many other former Civil War soldiers, moved to Montana Territory. He was appointed Territorial Secretary, and, while Acting Governor, he fell to his death from a steamboat on the Missouri River near Fort Benton. It is still debated whether the fall was accidental or murder. His statue, showing him on horseback with sword raised, is in front of the Montana state capitol.
This photograph of Meagher is from the Montana Historical Society.
3.  Romeyn Beck Ayers (1825-1888) was a graduate of West Point and a career military officer, having served in the Mexican War. In October of 1861, Ayres was appointed chief of artillery for William F. “Baldy” Smith’s division. He served in that position in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days’ Battles.
4.  Louis Philippe Albert d’Orléans, Comte de Paris (1838-1894), or simply Philippe, Count of Paris, was the heir-apparent to the French throne. He, his younger brother, and his uncle volunteered to serve in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He served on General McClellan’s personal staff from September 1861 until July 1862, and distinguished himself during the Peninsula Campaign.
Photograph of Philippe, Comte de Paris, is from the Library of Congress. For a translated transcript of portions of Philippe’s Civil War journal, see “To See This War”: The Comte de Paris Journal on the Civil Warriors blog.

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