<<Today is the first of a series of posts on the Seven Days Battles near Richmond, Virginia that occurred 150 years ago this week.>>
Background to the Seven Days Battles
General McClellan has throughout the Spring been bringing his vast Army of the Potomac up the peninsula of the York and James Rivers in an effort to capture the Confederate Capital of Richmond. Over the several months of this movement, McClellan has – along with an intense rainy season – been enduring arguments with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton that he is outnumbered and needs additional reinforcements to have any certainty for success. He numbers about 100,000 at his disposal, with Lee’s forces now having grown to about 85,000 with the addition of Jackson’s Command – fresh off his successful Valley Campaign.
On this date of June 25 in 1862, McClellan wires Stanton that total Confederate forces are “stated as 200,000 including Jackson and Beauregard.” He continued, “I will do all that a General can do with the splendid Army I have the honor to command & if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers can at least die with it & share its fate.”
As McClellan considered his situation, he had the choice of a siege or an assault. The latter required a confidence and reality of overwhelming force, and the former required a strongly established base of operation. He believed he possessed neither of these; but feeling his only choice was a siege, he ordered up his siege guns.
Some few miles to the west in Richmond, Lee understood he could not sit still and endure a siege – which would surely not end well for the Rebels. He needed to force the action and do battle by maneuver in open fields. So Lee took the initiative to turn Lee’s right flank north of the Chickahominy, just as McClellan was also ready to finally move upon the city.
The Battle of Oak Grove – (also known as “King’s School-House” or “French’s Field” or “The Orchard”)
The Union command of General Samuel P. Heintzelman is ordered forward across the headwaters of the White Oak Swamp for a more advanced placement of siege guns, and in advance of a general movement the next day. The Federals are met by General Benjamin Huger’s Confederate Division. McClellan, who is three miles distant, calls back the advance around 10:30 to the original entrenchments until such time as he is able to come to the field. Arriving at 1:00 he sends his men
forward again over the same ground. This prelude to the Seven Days Battles tallies less than 100 deaths on each side and just over 1,000 total casualties. The action is insufficient to halt the major movement of Lee that will result in the next day’s battle at Beaver Creek Dam near Mechanicsville.