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As soon as the right to secede was denied by the North, I strongly approved of its assertion and maintenance by force if necessary . . . The Confederacy was raising an army. The only place for me was in that army… Edward Porter Alexander

By June of 1862, following its slow advance up the Peninsula, McClellan’s army was so close to Richmond Union soldiers could hear the church bells ring in the city. The end of the war seemed near at hand. But in a bold stroke, Robert E. Lee took the initiative, attacking the Union army in what would be known as the Seven Days’ Battles. The end came at Malvern Hill, a mini-Gibraltar studded with cannon that dominated open approaches and excellent vistas. Wave after wave of gray-clad infantry swept up the gentle slope of Malvern Hill to be greeted by tornadic blasts of canister and musketry. No Confederates reached the artillery, and an enormous swath of dead and dying littered the slopes.   McClellan retreated to Harrison’s Landing on the James and Lee called off the pursuit but the moral effect spread to the distant corners of both countries. A cheering victory that saved the capital city energized the South and gave it another hero in R. E. Lee. The union defeat injured McClellan’s standing with Lincoln, stalled the first campaign to take Richmond, and ultimately led to the evacuation of the Union army from Virginia. No campaign of the war before 1865 had so many consequences of such far-reaching importance.

One of the Confederate infantry advances against entrenched union guns. The battle ended the Peninsula campaign of 1862 and lifted the siege of Richmond but at a cost of 5,300 casualties.

This entire book is well worth the reading but the subject matter immediate to this blog is the chapter on Malvern Hill which was the sixth and last of the Seven Days’ Battles. On July 1, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee launched a series of assaults on the union position on Malvern Hill. The Confederates suffered more than 5,300 casualties. Despite Lee’s failure to secure his objective, McClellan withdrew to entrench at Harrison’s Landing on James River, where his army was protected by gunboats. This ended the Peninsula Campaign.  When McClellan’s army ceased to threaten Richmond, Lee sent Jackson to operate against Maj. Gen. John Pope’s army along the Rapidan River, thus initiating the Northern Virginia Campaign.

Bringing home the irony of war Malvern Hill was like the first battle of Kernstown – in both cases the Confederate commanders, Jackson and Lee failed to secure their objectives. Jackson failed because he was outnumbered three to one and Lee failed because he was attacking a nearly impregnable position. Both should have been resounding defeats however due to the unions failure to capitalize both turned into strategic victories – the first lifting the siege of Richmond and ending the Peninsula campaign and the later allowing the Northern Virginia Campaign. Objectively speaking they were both defeats for McClellan rather than victories for the Confederate commanders but they both demonstrate that the real outcome of the battle is not limited to the action on the field.

Warriors seven : seven American commanders, seven wars, and the irony of battle    New York : Savas Beatie, c 2006 Barney Sneiderman Military biography United States Hardcover. First edition and printing. xx, 298 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.  Includes bibliographical references (p. [279]-284) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

Warriors Seven offers a fascinating collection of American commander “profiles” written in a lively and graphic style. The unique aspect of Dr. Sneiderman’s approach is that each essay sketches the ironic twists of fate that befell these men at or near the peak of their careers.

Map showing the terrain of Malvern Hill and McClellands “retrograde advance” to Harrison’s Landing.

The subjects of this study include: Benedict ArnoldAndrew JacksonWinfield ScottRobert E. LeeGeorge Dewey,  Billy Mitchell, and George Patton. These courageous leaders are successively featured in each of America’s seven wars from 1775 to 1945: the Revolutionary War,  the War of 1812,  the Mexican War,  the Civil War,  the Spanish-American War,  World War I,  and World War II. Each entry highlights or focuses upon a single battle:  Saratoga (1777),  New Orleans (1815),  Mexico City (1847),  Malvern Hill (1862),  Manila Bay (1898),  St. Mihiel (1918), and Messina (1943).

Each entry highlights the life and military career of each commander up to the moment of the featured battle, with a thread of continuity coursing through each chapter. For example, the essay on Andrew Jackson opens with a battle fought during the Revolutionary War that Jackson witnessed as a 13-year-old courier for the Continental Army.

Twenty-seven original battlefield maps facilitate the reader’s understanding of the momentous events described in these pages. Warriors Seven will be welcomed by anyone who appreciates gripping narrative military history leavened with a slice of historical irony.

A contemporary caricature mocking McClelland for conducting the Peninsula campaign from a gunboat anchored safely away from the battle.


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