Sunday, July 1

This Week in The Civil War: July 1, 1862

Battle of Malvern Hill

This week opened 150 years ago in the Civil War with the roaring finish to the Seven Days' Battle — that bloody, pivotal week of combat between Union and Confederate forces in swampy terrain outside Richmond, Va. The Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, opened when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee unleashed a flurry of brazen assaults on the virtually impregnable Union position atop the hill. Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan fired back, mowing down Southern soldiers trying to charge up the grassy slope toward them. All told, the Confederacy suffered more than 5,300 casualties in the day's fighting, defeated at Malvern Hill. But while the Union appeared to end the week of fighting on a strong note, McClellan was effectively withdrawing his massive army to the protection of federal gunboats on the James River. And soon he would be pulling out of the area entirely, cutting short his long-planned Peninsula Campaign and its aim of taking Richmond. Lee would soon return to Richmond a hero, lionized in the South for successfully defending the capital of the Confederacy from the Union onslaught. Lee later wrote that his true aim at the time was to crush the federal army as a fighting force. "Under ordinary circumstances the Federal Army should have been destroyed," he wrote. But he noted that Malvern Hill had afforded the Union army a "position of great natural strength" to retreat. And he said bad weather and the battle-weariness of his fighters stymied attempts to pursue the enemy army on its retreat. As The Richmond Examiner reported of the climactic week of fighting, Southern forces went into the battle "with coats off and sleeves rolled up, fighting like tigers."

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