What: Individually all Union victories but one; overall Confederate strategic victory
Where: The Virginia Peninsula or Southern Neck, Virginia
Why: McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was on the outskirts of Richmond
When: June 25 – July 1, 1862
“It was not war, it was murder,” Major General D.H. Hill (CSA) about Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862.
By June 1862 the Confederacy was in a dire predicament. General George B McClellan had led the more than 100,000 strong Army of the Potomac up the Virginia Peninsula since April, and although John B Magruder had blunted the quick advance, the Federals had toiled their way up to the outskirts of Richmond. They could even hear the church bells. Commanding Confederate General Joseph E Johnston had attempted a surprise counter-attack at the Battle of Seven Pines on June 1, only to be seriously wounded. He was replaced by Robert E Lee. Lee knew he was hopelessly outnumbered, but devised an aggressive offensive nonetheless The Confederates engaged the Union at Oak Grove, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, Garnett’s Farm, Savage’s Station, Frayser’s Farm and finally at Malvern Hill, seven days of near continuous battle, culminating in around 20,000 Confederate and 16,000 Union casualties. The Confederates only won one of the battles, but the Union Army retreated nonetheless, as the Confederates pushed them back down the Peninsula. Finally, the Union fell back to strong defensive positions around the Berkeley Plantation, birthplace of former President William Henry Harrison. The Union position was strong, and Lee withdrew back to Richmond. All the while, Stonewall Jackson’s 17,000-strong army had been causing havoc in the Shenandoah Valley, successfully engaging three Union armies comprised of 52,000 men, only suffering a single defeat, before heading south to meet up with what Lee was now calling the Army of Northern Virginia. In August, Lincoln withdrew the Army of the Potomac completely. McClellan’s great gambit had failed.