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Battle of Gaines' Mill, VA
in the American Civil War

Online Books:
The seven days' battles in front of Richmond, an outline narrative of the series of engagements which opened at Mechanicsville, near Richmond..., by Edward Alfred Pollard (Correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial), 1862

Report of Henry M. Naglee, brigadier-general, of the part taken by his brigade in the seven days, from June 26 to July 2, 1862, Army of the Potomac, by Henry Morris Naglee, 1863

Union Battle Summary

Gaines' Mill, Va., June 27, 1862 - At the time McCall took his position at Mechanicsville on the 19th, all the army except Porter's corps was moved to the south side of the Chickahominy. The affair at Oak Grove on the 25th developed the enemy's position and Franklin, supported by Sumner and Heintzelman, was to attack the Confederate force at Old Tavern, about two miles northwest of Fair Oaks, on the 26th. Before that order could be carried out McClellan learned, late on the afternoon of the 25th, that Jackson was moving to join Lee and would probably attack Porter the next day. This anticipation was realized in the battle of Mechanicsville and caused McClellan to hurry forward his plan of changing his base to the James river. During the night of the 26th Porter's wagon trains and heavy ordnance were taken to the south side of the Chickahominy and he was ordered to fall back nearer the bridges to hold in check the Confederates on the north side of the river until the preparations for the removal could be completed. Porter's new position was similar to that of McCall at Mechanicsville. His line of battle was semi-circular in form. Morell's division was on the left, behind a small stream, with Butterfield's brigade on the left, Martindale's in the center and Griffin's on the right. Sykes' division was on the right, Warren's brigade connecting with Griffin's right near the road to New Cold Harbor, Lovell's in the center and Buchanan's on the right near the McGehee house, east of the Old Cold Harbor road. Reynolds' brigade of McCall's division was sent to Barker's mill, further down the river, to guard the road leading to the Grapevine bridge, while Meade's and Seymour's brigades were held in reserve. Between Morell's left and the river was an almost impassable morass known as Boatswain's swamp, and the right of the line was protected to some extent by Elder swamp. Sykes occupied an elevation known as Turkey hill, the crest of which was about 60 feet higher than the plain in front, over which the enemy must advance for about a quarter of a mile after emerging from the dense woods along the creek. The siege guns that had been taken across the river were placed in position opposite Morell's left, where, protected by Smith's division of Sumner's corps, they were used to enfilade the enemy's lines that moved against Morell.

Jackson's delay on the 26th was occasioned by the destruction of the bridge over Totopotomy creek, which he was compelled to rebuild before he could get his artillery across the stream. That night he bivouacked at Hundley's corner and at daylight the next morning resumed his march with Ewell's division in the lead. Through a mistake of the guide Ewell took the road leading to Walnut Grove Church, to the west of Gaines' mill, instead of the direct road to Old Cold Harbor. At the church Ewell met A.P. Hill's advance coming up from Mechanicsville on the road that crossed Beaver Dam creek at Ellison's mill. Jackson then inclined to the left toward Cold Harbor, but the confusion in the movement of troops resulted in a delay of several hours before the attack could be commenced. Longstreet followed A.P. Hill nearly to Gaines' mill, where he took the road leading to Duane's bridge over the Chickahominy and formed on the extreme right of the Confederate line. D.H. Hill marched from Mechanicsville via the Bethesda road, passed Jackson's rear, and formed on the Confederate left in front of Buchanan's brigade.

When A.P. Hill reached Powhite creek at Gaines' mill, about a mile from Porter's main line, he found the 9th Mass, under Col. Thomas Cass, drawn up to dispute the passage of the stream. For some time Cass held the Confederates on the west bank, and even after they had succeeded in crossing he kept up such an obstinate resistance as he fell back through New Cold Harbor that Hill was compelled to employ a large part of his division to force back a single regiment. This affair gave the name of Gaines' mill to the whole battle which followed. About 2:30 p.m. the Confederate skirmishers began feeling for the weak point in the Federal position and soon afterward the entire line moved forward to the attack. Porter's force was out-numbered three to one, but his men were determined and his small, compact line withstood the shock. Twenty batteries belched forth their showers of canister upon the advancing foe, strewing the ground with dead and wounded. Still on they came until within musket range, when a deadly fire was opened along the whole Union front that dorve the enemy back to the cover of the woods. Again they rallied and renewed the attack, the supporting columns in the rear forcing their way through the disorder of the front lines as they fell back before that terrific fire. On the right D.H. Hill was particularly aggressive. As he advanced on the east of the Old Cold Harbor road one of the Federal batteries began to enfilade his line. Garland made a desperate charge with his brigade, captured the battery and held it for 10 minutes, when he was driven away from the guns with a loss of 70 killed and 202 wounded. At the beginning of the fight Porter sent back to McClellan for reinforcements. Slocum's division was ordered to cross the Chickahominy at Alexander's bridge and hasten to Porter' assistance. He arrived on the field a little after 4 p.m. and his division was divided, different brigades and even different regiments being sent to strengthen the weak places along the line. The arrival of these troops turned the tide of battle for a time in favor of the Federal arms and the hope was entertained that, if the enemy could not be drive back he could at least be held in check until nightfall, by which time the army on the opposite side of the Chickahominy would be safe. For over four hours the Union line held fast against all attempts to break it, but the persistent hammering of the enemy, who was constantly bringing up fresh troops, began to tell on the endurance of Porter's men. About 7 o'clock the Confederates advanced in deployed lines and battalions closed in mass, one directly behind the other, each line discharging its fire as soon as it was unmasked by the line in its front. The center of the attack was directed against Martindale's brigade, at a point where Porter thought his line was the strongest, as Martindale was well supported by part of McCall's and Slocum's divisions. Shortly after sunset the line broke, the Confederates pressed forward into the breach and two regiments were captured. The confusion was augmented by a charge of Rush's cavalry and for a moment it looked like an utter rout. But the regulars and zouaves held their ground and brought up the rear in good order. Just at this critical moment the brigades of French and Meagher, of Richardson's division, arrived on the field and were greeted with cheers. With steady front these two brigades advanced against the enemy, while behind them the line was reformed to resist further assaults should any be attempted. The Confederate generals, under the impression that heavy reinforcements had reached Porter, withdrew from the field. Had French and Meagher arrived a few minutes sooner the result might have been different. During the night all the troops on the north side of the Chickahominy were withdrawn across the river, the 4th U.S. infantry crossing at Woodbury's bridge a little after daylight on the morning of the 28th, after which the bridges were all destroyed. The Union loss in the battle of Gaines' mill was 894 killed, 3,107 wounded and 2,836 missing. No report of losses was made by either Longstreet or A.P. Hill. In the remainder of the Confederate army the casualties amounted to 589 killed, 2,671 wounded and 24 missing, according to the reports of the division commanders. As A.P. Hill's division was in the severest part of the fight it is probable that it sustained the heaviest losses, and the casualties in his and Longstreet's commands would doubtless bring the aggregate above that of Porter's. This engagement is also known as Cold Harbor and the Chickahominy.

Source: The Union Army, Volume 5, Cyclopedia of Battles, 1908


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