Seven Days Battles 1862: Lee's Defense of Richmond

Seven Days Battles 1862: Lee's Defense of Richmond

Angus Konstam


When General Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Confederacy was in crisis. General McClellan's Union army lay encamped less than ten miles from Richmond, and the Southerners were outnumbered and dispirited. Lee changed all that in a brilliant weeklong campaign. Stuart's reconnaissance in force, immortalised as his ride around McClellan's army, had revealed flaws in McClellan's dispositions. Lee used this intelligence well, and massed his outnumbered force against the Union right flank. On 26 June the Confederates struck, fighting two hard-fought and bloody battles in two days; Mechanicsville (26 June) and Gaine's Mill (27 June). Although the victories were won at a terrible human cost, the ferocity of the Confederate assaults convinced McClellan that he was outnumbered. He duly retreated towards his supply base on the James River. Lee's men pursued, and McClellan was forced to make a fighting retreat, stopping twice to delay his pursuers. Despite two more battles at Frayser's Farm (30 June) and Malvern Hill (1 July), he was unable to keep the Confederates at bay, and the Union army was recalled to Washington. Despite losing a quarter of his army in a week, Lee had saved Richmond, and inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Army of the Potomac. Although other victories would follow, Lee's battles in defence of the Confederate capital were crucial to the survival of the Southern cause, and won him the respect of the fighting men on both sides. Angus Konstam traces the course of this short and bloody campaign, the beginnings of Robert E. Lee's legendary reputation, and the origins of the battle-winning elan of the Army of Northern Virginia.

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