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Seven Days’ Battles

 

The month of May 1862 was a hard month for the 12th Georgia Regiment.  The men who had been killed, wounded, or captured would leave the ranks of their regiment badly thinned, and some companies without officers and non-commissioned officers. 

 

On June 9, Jackson’s Army of the Valley moved southeast from Port Republic, towards Brown’s Gap in a drenching afternoon rain.  By June 12, they were encamped on the wheat covered plains along the South River.  After fighting on three consecutive Sunday’s, they were finally able to hold church services.  The men had time to swim and bathe in the river, visit the nearby Weyer’s Caves, and rest up before the next engagement.   On June 17, Jackson’s Army broke camp after midnight, and marched towards Waynesboro.  By the following day, “the whole western slope on both sides of the road for over three miles was covered with troops with campfires burning.”

 

When the 12th Georgia left the Valley, they were in General Arnold Elzey’s Fourth Brigade of Ewell’s Division.  Besides the 12th Georgia, the 4th Brigade consisted of the 13th, 25th, 31st, 44th, 52nd, and 58th Virginia. Jackson had marched his troops to Mechuns River where they used the Virginia Central Railroad for the trip to Richmond.  These trains were also bringing soldiers that were well enough to fight from the hospitals at Staunton.  On June 25, Jackson’s Army reached Ashland and joined Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia for a combine force of 80,000 men. 

 

During the early months of 1862 the Southern forces had suffered costly defeats in Tennessee, on the Mississippi, in the Carolinas, and in eastern Virginia.  General Joseph E. Johnston, the commander of the southern forces had been seriously wounded at Fair Oaks Station (Battle of Seven Pines) east of Richmond.  More than 120,000 Federals were less than 10 miles from Richmond.  The South was being hard pressed.  This was the state of affairs when General Robert E. Lee was placed in command of the Southern forces.  General Lee had three options, abandon Richmond, fight a defensive battle for Richmond, or attack.  The new southern commander chose to attack.  Lee understood the Federal weakness was its dependence on the railroads that supplied more than 600 tons of supplies to them each day, and that McClellan had placed his army on both sides of the Chickahominy River to protect his supply line.  Lee would move his army south in three columns, each on its own road, with the objective of cutting the Union supply line.

 

The Seven Days’ Battles could be described as a running gun battle around Richmond.  Oak Grove was fought on June 25, Beaver Dam Creek, also called Mechanicsville on June 26, Gaines’ Mill, also called First Cold Harbor (June 27), Garnett’s Farm (June 27), Golding’s Farm (June 28), Allen’s Farm (June 29), Savage’s Stations (June 29), White Oak Swamp (June 30), Glendale (June 30), and Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862.   The 12th Georgia, as part of Jackson’s command participated in many of them. 

 

At the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek (June 26) Major General A. P. Hill’s men had driven the Federals though Mechanicsville, but suffered bloody repulses when assaulting the strong Union defensive positions overlooking  Beaver Dam Creek.  Jackson’s army came up on the enemy’s right flank and forced the Federals to abandon their advantageous position.

 

On June 27, Lee ordered Jackson to march around the Union’s right and seize a key crossroads at Old Cold Harbor (near Gaines’ Mill), while the rest of Lee’s army would sweep down the Chickahominy and link up with Jackson later that day.  Lee’s forces collided with the Federals at Boatswain’s Swamp where they had established a strong defensive line.  The Stonewall Brigade and Elzey’s Brigade moved to Gaines’ Mill to support D. H. Hill.  Ewell’s Division was hotly engaged and suffered heavy losses.  The battle raged furiously.  The Federals finally gave ground and under the cover of night crossed the Chickahominy.  During the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, nearly 95,000 men clashed along a two-mile front that resulted in the greatest slaughter of the Seven Days’ Campaign.  With the Federal defeat at Gaines’ Mill, the Union supply line had been cut, and McClellan was forced to abandon his advance on Richmond and retreat to the James River.

 

While fighting at Gaines’ Mill, General Elzey was badly wounded.  All of his aides were also either killed or wounded.  This resulted in the temporary command of the brigade to be given to General Jubal Early on July 1, 1862.   During this battle, the 12th Georgia along with the 25th and 52nd Virginia was detached to support the artillery.  In General Early’s reports, he stated that when he took command of the brigade “it consisted of fragments” of the former regiments which had numbered nearly 1,050 men. 

 

After several battles and missed opportunities Lee found the Federals at Malvern Hill. While en route, Early and his assistant adjutant tried to rally a large number of men retreating in confusion.  As he attempted to stop the fleeing men, the 12th Georgia, commanded my Captain James Rogers came up.  The 12th Georgia captain led his regiment through the large body of disorganized men, who were giving the most disheartening accounts of the battle, all the time encouraging his own men and trying to persuade those running away to fall into his ranks and return to the battlefield.  Lee had launched a series of assaults against the nearly impregnable Union position.  At the Battle of Malvern Hill the Confederates suffered more than 5,300 casualties and failed to drive the enemy from the battlefield.  McClellan, however, withdrew his army to the safety of Harrison’s Landing on the James River where they would be protected by gunboats.  This battle ended the Federals Peninsula Campaign and its threat to Richmond.

 

After the battle, one soldier from Charles City would write home about the “Worse fighting” he’d ever seen, “hard fighting plenty of killed and wounded men,” “Whipped the Yanks.”

 

By mid-July, Ewell’s Division, would be camped at Gordonsville, Virginia about a mile from the residence of James Madison. By early August, more soldiers would start to fill their ranks. One soldier stated that Company G, “has over forty men and it is the largest company in the brigade.”