Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 27, 1862

June 27, 1862: 
Eastern Theater, Peninsula Campaign:


Battle of Gaines Mill (First Battle of Cold Harbor):  Once again, Lee tries the same strategy he used for the previous day’s battle at Mechanicsville (Beaver Dam Creek): to force the Federal right, turn it, and hopefully destroy it---and once again, poorly coordinated Confederate attacks prevent the success Lee hopes for.  To do this, he needed Jackson to push around the isolated flank of the Federal army, which is mostly Porter’s V (Fifth) Corps, 27,000 strong.  Porter’s three divisions, under Morell, Sykes, and McCall, are deployed behind Boatswain’s Creek, a tributary whose course is a swampy vale with heavy vegetation.  McCall is held in reserve.  Jackson is supposed to hit behind Porter’s flank, supported by D.H. Hill, whose whole force has now crossed to the north side of the Chickahominy, and A.P. Hill is supposed to drive at Porter’s line closer to the Chickahominy, supported by Longstreet’s divisions---a total of 57,000 men attacking about half of that number under Porter’s command.  What happens instead comes partly from D.H. Hill’s advance, toward Old Cold Harbor, which he believes is beyond and even behind the Union flank; when he approaches Cold Harbor, he finds that Yankees from Sykes’ division are firmly in position in front of him.  The Confederate attacks do not begin until after 2:00 PM. 
A.P. Hill's opening attacks on Porter's position, @2:30 PM

A.P. Hill launches attacks again (as yesterday) without the coordinated support of his colleagues, and Northern artillery shreds his formations so that he can only hold his ground and exchange with the Yankees in an infantry firefight, hoping for Jackson to arrive.  Longstreet launches some diversionary attacks on Porter’s left.  Jackson is slow in getting to his position, which he finds is not the right place to attack, and so countermarches his troops to find a better position.  When he finally engages the enemy, he feeds his brigades in piecemeal, Ewell’s troops finally going forward @ 4:00 PM, with Elzey’s and Trimble’s brigades in the fore; these are thrown back with losses. 
Gaines Mill, @ 3:30 PM

Lee orders a more coordinated attack, and orders Jackson to pour in all his troops at once, with a renewal of A.P. Hill’s attacks, and with D.H. Hill feeling for the Union flank.  Porter senses the coming Rebel assault, and asks for reinforcements; he receives brigades from Slocum’s VI Corps.  After 7:00 PM, an hour before dusk, the Confederate attack goes forward: Jackson has Whiting’s division and Walker’s Stonewall Brigade in front.  Whiting’s brigade of Texans (supported by Hampton’s Legion and Law’s Brigade), under Brig. Gen. John B. Hood, goes in with wild abandon, and takes heavy losses, but plows through the heavy woods and swamp, and pierces the Union line.  In spite of inflicting heavy losses on the Rebels, Porter’s line begins to crumble on the left (where Longstreet sends in Wilcox and Pickett), the center (Hood’s attack), and the right (as D.H. Hill hits the Union flank). 
Final Confederate attacks, and collapse of the Union lines

As the Union infantry retreats, Porter’s artillery now has a clear field of fire, and are able to claw the advancing Rebels dreadfully with canister before the attack hits.  The Yankees lose 14 guns to capture.  The Union retreat is uneven: some regiments retreat in order, and some disintegrate and panic, leading to over a thousand being captured.  Thus ends an incredibly bloody battle, considering the brief amount of time it took.  Confederate Victory.
Gen. Hood breaks through

Union artillery decimates advancing Rebel infantry

(There is evidence that when McClellan understands Lee’s plan, he considers attacking with the main part of his army the thin line Lee has left south of the Chickahominy and driving through the Rebel line straight into Richmond.  When he discovers Jackson out on the Union right flank, however, he abandons all such ambitions and thinks strictly in defensive terms thereafter.  Little Mac assumes that 100,000 Rebels are in front of Richmond, and he faces them with only 64,000.  In fact, his 64,000, who remain idle at  day, face only 30,000 Southerners in a thin line.  Huger and Magruder succeed in inflating the Yankees’ fears and intelligence estimates.)

Losses:                      Killed           Wounded         Missing or Captured        Total

Union                         894                 3,107                   2,836                                   6,837

Confederate          1,483                6,402                       108                                   7,993

---Gen. McClellan writes to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton his assessment of the fight at Gaines Mill, sending it via telegraph about midnight:

. . . I have lost this battle, because my force was too small. I again repeat that I am not responsible for this, and I say it with the earnestness of a general, who feels in his heart, the loss of every brave man who has been needlessly sacrificed to-day. I still hope to retrieve our fortunes, but to do this, the government must view the matter in the same earnest light that I do. You must send me very large reinforcements, and send them at once. . . . I only wish to say to the President, that I think he is wrong in regarding me as ungenerous, when I said that my force was too weak. I merely reiterated a truth, which to-day has been too plainly proved. If at this instant I could dispose of ten thousand fresh men, I could gain the victory to-morrow.

I feel too earnestly to-night, I have seen too many dead and wounded comrades, to feel otherwise than that the government has not sustained this army. If you do not do so now, the game is lost.

If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you, or to any other persons in Washington.

You have done your best to sacrifice this army.

---John Beauchamp Jones, of the Confederate War Department, hears the sounds of battle outside of Richmond, and voices the growing admiration most Southerners are feeling for Lee:

What genius! what audacity in Lee ! He has absolutely taken the greater portion of his army to the north side of the Chickahominy, leaving McClellan’s center and left wing on the south side, with apparently easy access to the city. This is (to the invaders) impenetrable strategy. The enemy believes Lee’s main forces are here, and will never think of advancing. We have so completely closed the avenues of intelligence that the enemy has not been able to get the slightest intimation of our strength or the dispositions of our forces.

---Judith White McGuire of Richmond, describes in her journal the effect of the Lee’s many thousand

June 27th.—Yesterday was a day of intense excitement in the city and its surroundings. Early in the morning it was whispered about that some great movement was on foot. Large numbers of troops were seen under arms, evidently waiting for orders to march against the enemy. . . . I am told (for I did not witness it) that it was a scene of unsurpassed magnificence. The brilliant light of bombs bursting in the air and passing to the ground, the innumerable lesser lights, emitted by thousands and thousands of muskets, together with the roar of artillery and the rattling of small-arms, constituted a scene terrifically grand and imposing. What spell has bound our people? Is their trust in God, and in the valour of our troops, so great that they are unmoved by these terrible demonstrations of our powerful foe? It would seem so, for when the battle was over the crowd dispersed and retired to their respective homes with the seeming tranquility of persons who had been witnessing a panorama of transactions in a far-off country

---Charles Francis Adams, Sr., U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, in a letter home on this date, offers observations on the cotton trade and its effect upon the enemy’s war effort:

The cotton problem in England is becoming more and more serious. The stock has got down to about two hundred and fifty thousand bales, and there is a demand for export which is reducing it faster than was anticipated. At present it is calculated that by November there will be none left. Provided always that the slaveholders should be so foolish as to persevere in destroying it and themselves. It has seemed to me all along that they were mere suicides, and I believe it more firmly every day.

---Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes, on duty with his regiment, the 23rd Ohio in the mountainous regions of western Virginia, notes in his diary the forming of the Army of Virginia, with Gen. John Pope in command:

General Pope appointed to “the Army of Virginia” — being the combined forces of Fremont, Shields, Banks, and McDowell, now in the Valley of Virginia. Sorry to see Fremont passed over but glad the concentration under one man has taken place. General Pope is impulsive and hasty, but energetic, and, what is of most importance, patriotic and sound — perfectly sound. I look for good results. —

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