National Park Service black bar with arrowhead logo
NPS History E-Library
 
 

Civil War Series

The Battles for Richmond, 1862

   

Once again in this long campaign on the Peninsula, "Prince John" Magruder found himself in the limelight. Three months had passed since the Virginian had duped the Federals with theatrics at Yorktown. Now he was at the heart of Lee's plan to crush McClellan's army. Unfortunately, he was barely up to the task. Magruder had been ill and was taking medication laced with opium. He could not relax enough to sleep and seemed to some around him to be nearing the end of his endurance. Nevertheless the decisive hour was at hand, and Lee expected Magruder to do his duty. The general's orders were plain: press vigorously toward Savage's Station.

Magruder moved forward with 13,000 men on Sunday morning, June 29 and skirmished with Federals along the railroad. The Northerners, under General Sumner, made a stand near a peach orchard at Allen's Farm on the railroad but withdrew after delaying Magruder a couple of hours. The Confederates pushed on, but as they neared Savage's, Magruder began to grow apprehensive. Federal activity in his front convinced him he was about to be attacked, and he asked Lee for reinforcements. Lee likely discounted Magruder's fears but supported him with two extra brigades anyway, stipulating that the brigades must be returned if not used promptly. The Federal attack never came, and the two brigades trudged wearily back to where they belonged.

MCCLELLAN BURNED BRIDGES, LIKE THIS ONE OVER THE CHICKAHOMINY RIVER, TO STALL THE CONFEDERATE PURSUIT. (USAMHI)

Lee had hoped to squeeze the Federal position at Savage's with pressure from Magruder on the west and Jackson on the north, but the latter was again mysteriously slow in fulfilling his assignment. His men worked to rebuild bridges over the Chickahominy, but the task took much longer than expected, and Jackson seems not to have pressed his men to get the job done with all haste. In the afternoon, Jackson received a copy of a note from headquarters that he believed ordered him to hold his position at the bridges. When an officer from Magruder's command asked Jackson why he was not crossing the Chickahominy to attack Savage's Station, Jackson replied that he had "other important duties to perform." This puzzled both Magruder and Lee. The commanding general said Jackson had made a mistake and should be advancing vigorously. But the misunderstanding had gone too far to be reclaimed. Magruder was on his own and advanced cautiously.

After Sumner had withdrawn his Second Corps troops from Allen's Farm, he joined most of the Sixth Corps and Third Corps around Savage's. McClellan had moved on toward the James with the rest of the army without appointing anyone to command the rear guard, nor had he issued any orders about deployment at Savage's. Sumner, the senior general present, did not quickly grasp the developing tactical situation and made no cohesive defensive deployment, but he would have little trouble fending off Magruder's tentative thrusts at Savage's Station. The Confederate sent only a few of his brigades forward into the woods and fields west of the station, and Sumner would send only a few in response. The Confederates, especially the brigades of Brigadier General Joseph B. Kershaw and Brigadier General Paul J. Semmes, pressed on gallantly, inflicting severe punishment and threatening to breach the Federal line. Brigadier General William Burns's Philadelphians surged forward to stem the tide, and reinforcements from the large Federal reserve stifled all further Southern advances. When Brigadier General William T. H. Brooks's Vermont brigade stormed into the woods toward dusk, it ran smack into Semmes's men and Colonel William Barksdale's Mississippians. For a short time, the fight in the darkening woods matched anything Shiloh or Seven Pines or Gaines's Mill could boast in the way of ferocity. "In less time than it takes to tell it," recalled one of Brooks's men, "the ground was strewn with fallen Vermonters." The 5th Vermont lost 206 men, more than half its strength, in 20 minutes. Among the fallen were five Cummings brothers, one of their cousins and their brother-in-law. Six of the seven men were killed; only the eldest brother, Henry Cummings, survived.

SAVAGE'S STATION BECAME A SMOLDERING RUIN. "THE SCENE WAS ALTOGETHER UNEARTHLY AND DEMONIAC," WROTE AN OBSERVER. "THE WORKMEN SEEMED TO HAVE A SAVAGE AND FIENDISH JOY IN CONSIGNING TO THE FLAMES WHAT A FEW DAYS AFTERWARDS THEY WOULD HAVE GIVEN THOUSANDS TO ENJOY." (BL)

When the fighting stopped west of Savage's, almost 450 of Magruder's men had become casualties. The South Carolinians of Kershaw's Brigade got the worst of the fight, losing 290 men, and in a vain cause, for Magruder had not accomplished his mission or attained any significant strategic advantages. Later that night, Lee uncharacteristically expressed his dissatisfaction with Magruder's lack of progress. The commanding general saw that his opportunities to seriously harm the Federals were slipping away and told Magruder "we must waste no more time or he will escape us entirely."

That night held no rest for the Army of the Potomac. The men stumbled onward though the black forests and endured the lashings of a violent thunderstorm before dawn on June 30 found most of them south of White Oak Swamp. McClellan met with some of his commanders at the nearby Glendale intersection early in the day and issued broad orders to defend the crossroads until all the trains, artillery, and the remainder of the army had passed. The commanding general scattered seven divisions around in a four-mile arc to cover Glendale, then left the field, riding southward to the James and then taking a cutter out to the gunboat Galena, where he would spend the rest of the day and part of the next. Many in the army later felt McClellan had abandoned them. The general claimed he intended to use the gunboat to scout the river and find a safe haven for his army, but he had already assigned that task to army engineers, and, in any event, it would seem that the commanding general's presence would be of greater value with his men while they awaited the approach of the enemy. McClellan had issued no specific orders to any of his generals at Glendale and had assigned none of them to overall command in his absence. "Bull" Sumner was again in command by default, and the fight that day would be a clumsy, uncoordinated effort to stave off repeated Confederate thrusts.

Stonewall Jackson at last crossed the Chickahominy early on the morning of June 30 and moved through Savage's Station, where Lee ordered him to continue pursuing the Federals by way of the bridge over White Oak Swamp. The Valley general set off at once and with his more than 20,000 men made it to the swamp a little before noon, finding the bridge destroyed and the Federals in strength on the south bank. Jackson immediately deployed his artillery under cover of woods then opened a terrific bombardment, the size and suddenness of which created havoc for the Federals.


(click on image for a PDF version)
TROOP MOVEMENTS JUNE 28-30
Following the Confederate victory at Gaines's Mill, McClellan ordered his entire army away from the Chickahominy and toward the James. Lee quickly recognized the opportunity for cutting off McClellan's retreat and defeating the widely scattered Union forces. His plans called for a concentration of troops at the cross roads near Glendale. On June 29 Confederate columns, following different routes, marched toward the crossroads. The Union army found itself in a precarious position, with soldiers scattered over ten miles from the bridge at White Oak Swamp to the River Road leading to Harrison's Landing.

"It was as if a nest of earthquakes had suddenly exploded under our feet," wrote a Vermont soldier. Terrified men, horses, and mules dashed about in confusion. The Federals arranged a few batteries to respond and the affair settled into an artillery duel in which neither side had a clear view of the other because of smoke and trees. Jackson permitted the exchange to continue all day as his cavalry and ambitious subordinate officers probed for ways to get across the swamp. Jackson appears to have made no reasonable attempt to move his men across either by force or by stealth, and, in fact, even found occasion for an afternoon nap. Whatever the reason for Jackson's mysterious behavior at White Oak Swamp, the effect was that the Federals on the south bank conducted yet another successful rear-guard action. For the third time in the five days of Lee's offensive, Jackson's troops would not get into the day's fight.

STONEWALL JACKSON'S CONFEDERATES RAN INTO STIFF RESISTANCE AT WHITE OAK SWAMP BRIDGE. POWERFUL UNION ARTILLERY BOUGHT EXTRA TIME FOR MCCLELLAN'S RETREAT AND THE DEFENDERS AT GLENDALE. (BL)


GLENDALE OR FRAYSER'S FARM?

Having multiple names for the same battle remains one of the war's more interesting curiosities. Explanations are just as varied. One old story goes, "Well, northerners and southerners couldn't agree on much, so why should they agree on what to name the battles." Whatever the reason, this habit, popularized at Bull Run or Manassas, continued indiscriminately throughout the war.

The 1862 actions before Richmond certainly lived up to the tradition with the likes of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks), Oak Grove (King's School House), Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville), and Gaines's Mill (Cold Harbor) making their way into the correspondence. But no battle of the war goes by more names than the one fought on June 30, 1862. Union reports generally referred to the action as Glendale while Confederate writers preferred Frayser's (commonly misspelled Frazier's), Farm. Those two are just the beginning.

THIS PERIOD SKETCH FEATURED THE BATTLEFIELD LANDMARKS WILLIS METHODIST CHURCH, WILLIS CHURCH ROAD, AND NELSON'S FARMHOUSE. (BL)

Many think Glendale referred to a small community or the important crossroads. It was neither. Instead Glendale was the wartime home and property of the R. H. Nelson family. The Nelson farm had belonged to the Frayser family, but that was before the war began. A popular theory has it that when the soldiers asked the locals to name the fields they had fought on, many still called it Frayser's even though the family had long since moved away. Regardless, both Frayser and Nelson appear frequently in soldiers' after-action accounts.

The crossroads where the Long Bridge, Charles City, and Willis Church (or Quaker) Roads came together had several names. On one corner stood Riddell's Shop, a blacksmith business, that was used repeatedly as a battlefield reference. Just as often, though, soldiers used the major roads to name the intersection. Hence many reported on June 30 as the Battle of Charles City Crossroads.

Willis Methodist Church, a battlefield landmark, also lent its name to the day's events. Then, too, many confused the nearby New Market Road with the Long Bridge Road, adding two more battle names to the list. In a perverse twist, the Whitlock farm, site of repeated attacks on June 30, rarely turns up in accounts.

The soldiers who fought over this nondescript landscape knew it by many names. Whatever the name, this now quiet country crossroads will be forever remembered for the deeds of others long ago.

About two miles to the west of the stalemate at White Oak Swamp, Lee's other two attacking columns—one under Benjamin Huger and a larger force composed of A. P. Hill's and Longstreet's divisions, tried to move directly on Glendale. Huger, slowed by trees felled across the road and blocked by Federal artillery and a division of infantry under Brigadier General Henry Slocum, could make little headway on the Charles City Road. To the south, a small column on the River Road under General Theophilus H. Holmes recoiled before massed Federal artillery and fire from gunboats. As the afternoon wore on, Lee realized that his plan to interdict the Federal retreat had gone awry and that the only hope of damaging the Federals lay with Longstreet's column on the Long Bridge Road. About 4 P.M., Lee ordered Longstreet into the fight.

Longstreet attacked with his own and A. P. Hill's men on both sides of the Long Bridge Road. In position to meet the assault were Hill's adversaries from Beaver Dam Creek and Gaines's Mill, the Pennsylvanians of George McCall's division. Hill's and McCall's men had already done more fighting that week than any other troops, and they deserved the day off, but fate threw them together on the Long Bridge Road in what would be perhaps the most savage fighting of that week of battles.

DETERMINED SOLDIERS, LIKE THESE FROM WILLIAM F. "BALDY" SMITH'S DIVISION, HELPED FEND OFF LEE'S ARMY ON JUNE 30. (BL)

Twenty-four field guns from six batteries—New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, and U.S. Regulars—held the crest of a shallow rise above a ravine southwest of Glendale. The artillery presented a formidable front, made even more fearsome by McCall's 6,000 men and Phil Kearny's 7,500 infantrymen. Nearby in reserve stood two more divisions of Federal infantry under Sam Heintzelman and Sumner, plus several batteries. But Longstreet's men seemed possessed by a powerful determination and lunged forward with almost irresistible recklessness. "But a single idea seemed to control the minds of the men," wrote Brigadier General James L. Kemper of his brigade's advance, "which was to reach the enemy's line by the directest route and in the shortest time; and no earthly power could have availed to arrest or restrain the impetuousity with which they rushed toward the foe."

MEN OF PHILIP KEARNEY'S DIVISION FIGHTING IN THE WOODS ABOVE GLENDALE. (LC)

Kemper's Virginians shattered McCall's left flank, then had to withdraw because supports did not come forward quickly enough. But McCall's line had been broken and would never quite be restored in the seesaw fighting through the rest of the afternoon. Longstreet's six brigades and Hill's six repeatedly charged against McCall and Kearny, occasionally breached McCall's line, then reeled back under the force of counterattacks. The climax of the fighting came near sunset when Alabamians under Brigadier General Cadmus M. Wilcox captured the six-gun battery of Lieutenant Alanson Randol on the Long Bridge Road. The Pennsylvanians, joined by an enraged Randol and his gunners, counterattacked and retook the guns in more hand-to-hand fighting. But Virginians under Brigadier General Charles W. Field took the battery back and held it. General McCall, wounded but still riding through the darkening forest to shore up his lines, wandered into the ranks of the 47th Virginia and went to Richmond the next day as a prisoner. McCall's survivors and their supports helped Kearny's stalwart veterans hold the line until the Confederates ceased their attacks well after 9 P.M.


(click on image for a PDF version)
BATTLE OF GLENDALE, JUNE 30
Lee's plan to concentrate the army and control the vital crossroads near Glendale never materialized. Stonewall Jackson's advance stalled at White Oak Swamp against two Union divisions. They spent the day exchanging artillery fire. Artillery and felled trees blocked Benjamin Huger's march along the Charles City Road. Major General Holmes provided scant support along the River Road. Only the divisions of James Longstreet and A. P. Hill reached the battlefield. Once there they met stubborn resistance from five Union divisions. In a bitter, sometimes hand-to-hand, struggle men fought one another with clubbed muskets and bayonets. Darkness brought the action to a close. The road to the James remained open.

Soldiers remembered the fighting at Glendale for its savagery. "No more desperate encounter took place in the war," wrote Confederate E. P. Alexander, "and nowhere else, to my knowledge, so much actual personal fighting with bayonet and butt of gun." The Federals had spent some 2,800 men in defending the army's retreat route. The Confederates had expended 3,600 in their failed attempt (which they referred to as the Battle of Frayser's Farm) to cut the Army of the Potomac to pieces.


THE FEDERAL PERSPECTIVE AT GLENDALE

Some of the most ferocious fighting of the campaign occurred on June 30 at Glendale (Frayser's Farm). The 7th Pennsylvania Reserves were in the thickest of the action. This excerpt is from a postwar account by a member of that regiment, describing an early phase of the battle.

Suddenly a Confederate regiment . . . charged in mass from the black jacks at [the] lower end of the pines, crossing the "breast works" which we had so hastily constructed and from which we had been ordered rearward. They move on a run across Randall's muzzles as though to pass round to his left. But Captain Cooper's battery is on the left of the regulars, Randall's men cease their shell fire at first sight of the charging column, quickly depress their muzzles, load grape and canister, and "let go."

The merciless guns roar in quick succession, and the carnage . . . has begun. Oh that terrible afternoon of June 30, 1862. 'Tis always foremost in my memory of the seven days' battle. The enemy is within easy musket range, and fires a few shots directed on the battery, which seemed like kicking against a whirlwind, or trying to stop a mountain torrent. Many of them are seen to fall in the clouds of dust being raised by the grape shot striking the parched ground . . . . As we looked upon them and waited for some word of command it seemed they did not know what to do about it, that they were in the wrong place and disliked the idea of "getting out." Our gunners slammed into them with rapidity. The ground was somewhat depressed on the battery front, and in order that the canister might produce more havoc the muzzles were held well down thus lifting the gun wheels from the ground at every discharge.

EARLY FIGHTING AT GLENDALE CENTERED ON THE CHARLES CITY ROAD. THE STRAW HATS WORN BY THE 16TH NEW YORK INFANTRY CAUGHT ONE ARTIST'S EYE. (BL)

Col. Harvey commanded "Charge, seventh regiment." We moved away in almost solid mass . . . . As we advance, sounding the charge yell, we see the enemy surging slightly, but heavily, as a mighty wave, the deadly fire of the artillery still pouring into them. They seem, so to speak, to find their level, somewhat after the manner of a large body of water suddenly shot into a reservoir or other inclosure, then suddenly move as water that has found a large outlet, back by the way they had advanced . . . .

The artillery slewed their guns to the right to follow the enemy as we made way for them, until they now fired into the pines . . . . the canister, at every discharge, barked the trees, smacking off patches as large as one's hand from two to six feet from the ground, thus suddenly exposing the white wood, reminding one of the illuminings of numerous very large fire bugs on the tree trunks . . . . I saw about 100 feet in rear, a young pine some thirty feet tall, knocked off by our canister about five feet from the ground, the trunk being carried suddenly forward and upward. The tree fell on its top; the stem pointing upward for an instant then falling over.

Holmes Alexander
Hummelstown (Pa.)
Sun, 1894


THE CAPTURE OF RANDOL'S UNION BATTERY EPITOMIZED THE CLOSE-QUARTERS FIGHTING AT GLENDALE. (BL)
Previous Top Next


 

History and Culture