Battle of Gaines’s Mill (First Battle of Cold Harbor or the Battle of Chickahominy River) 1862
Seven Days Battles during the Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War
The failed assault at Beaver Dam Creek was disappointing for the Confederate Army, but it unnerved the Union Commander, McClellan even more. They had pushed to within a few miles of the Confederate capital of Richmond only to start a slow withdrawal back towards the James River.
During the Seven Days battles, McClellan was only facing a token defensive force and probably could have easily taken Richmond. Unfortunately, he was tricked into believing that a superior force lay in front of him and he had lost his nerve and the initiative for this campaign.
On the 27th of June, the northern section of McClellan’s force had occupied some high ground above a steep valley and Boatswain’s Swamp. Unlike Beaver Dam Creek, Boatswain’s Swamp is much more like a creek. Not much of an obstacle at all. It was the steep rise on either side that would make the attack challenging.
The V Corps of the Union Army was commanded by Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter and they were the only portion of the army north of the Chikahominy River, which could be better described as a swamp. But even with some 35,000 and a strong defensive position, he was vulnerable to a strong coordinated attack.
The Confederates had a numerical superiority, almost 60,000, but the attacks throughout the hot summer day could never be effectively coordinated. Late in the evening, Gen. John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade finally broke through and this led to a chaotic retreat of Union forces to the south.
This was one of the fiercest battles of the campaign with almost 15,000 casualties between the two armies. This was also the first clear victory for Lee and removed the threat to Richmond, at least for the next two years.
McClellan pulled the army back even further, occupying some high ground called Malvern Hill next to the James River for the final phase of the battle.
Dashing on with unfaltering step in the face of those murderous discharges of canister and musketry, General Hood and Colonel Law, at the heads of their respective brigades, rushed to the charge with a yell. Moving down a precipitous ravine, leaping ditch and stream, clambering up a difficult ascent, while exposed to an incessant and deadly fire from the intrenchmants, these brave and determined men pressed forward, driving the enemy from his well-selected and fortified position,
In this charge, in which upward of one thousand men fell killed and wounded before the fire of the enemy, and which fourteen pieces of artillery and nearly a regiment were captured, the Fourth Texas, under the lead of General Hood, was the first to pierce these strongholds and seize the guns. — General Thomas J (Stonewall) Jackson – February 20, 1863
It is interesting to note that like the 1st & 2nd Battles of Bull Run/Manassas, the Battle of Gaines’ Mill was fought just a couple of miles from where the Battle of Cold Harbor would be fought 2 years later.
I reached the battlefield late in the day and was only able to catch a few images before light became a factor in my photography. The first two images show the Union positions. Note the drop just beyond the tree line. The second two photos show the “swamp” and the climb up towards the Union line. Mind you, this is under enemy fire, carrying equipment, and in the middle of summer. Heck, it was some work for me in shorts in May!
Location of battlefield: