In 1862, about the only good news for the Union, during the whole Seven Days Battles saga, was a victory at Malvern Hill on 30 June. But before that battle took place, the Confederacy would have one more victory. Confederate cavalry general, Jeb Stuart, was also active, during these events, albeit somewhat detached from the main army.
Malvern Hill by David AtwellHaving been given orders to operate to the left hand flank of Jackson's command, he soon found his cavalry force on the prowl against any unprepared Union forces. These usually were not any fighting units, but supply and logistic ones. Nevertheless, that mattered little to Stuart as his cavalry wreaked havoc on the Union supply trains retreating towards Harrison's Landing, on the James, along with everyone else.
Still, even with the success of the cavalry, Lee was a frustrated man. Having to deal with the practicalities of cleaning up a battlefield, especially in dealing with thousands of prisoners, not to mention caring for the wounded, regardless of side, meant to say he lost a day in getting at those people as Lee would say. Yet, his orders went out to continue the pursuit of the retreating Army of the Potomac. Soon, Magruder, with 13 000 troops, the only Confederate force not yet involved in any combat, was hammered with orders to engage the next US Corps before it could escape. Meanwhile, Lee gathered the rest of the army together, including A. P. Hill's and D. H. Hill's divisions, then in reserve, and set off in pursuit once more.
A Chapter from Action Jackson 1862
Magruder, however, took his time, which did not win him any favours after the campaign was over. Lee was far from impressed, but that did not mean that Magruder's efforts were not ignored. McClellan, now that he was well aware that VI Corps had been annihilated, only knew too well what fate awaited for him, and the rest of the army, if the Confederate pursuit was not stopped. Albeit he was reluctant to order it, the US III Corps of General Heintzelman soon found itself having to conduct a last ditched rearguard action akin to VI Corps only two days before. One major thing, though, worked in III Corps favour: and that was the ground they had decided to fight upon.Malvern Hill proved to be the best location that any defender could have imagined. It could not be outflanked. Instead only a frontal assault could take place. And even though Lee was able to combine his entire army together for once, more or less, at the Battle of Malvern Hill, the meagre 17 500 Union troops were up to the task of defeating them. There were, however, several mistakes made by the Confederates which ensured Union victory.
The first mistake to take place was that Magruder arrived on the scene on 1 July, several hours before the others, and got immediately into action. With urgent orders coming from Lee to rapidly take the fight to those people, he finally followed these orders instead of waiting for the Army of Northern Virginia to concentrate together its numbers. His 13 000 troops, hence, were completely outnumbered and Magruder's force had no chance whatsoever in breaching the Union defences. Error then compounded upon error, when the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia finally arrived. Lee, thinking victory could come at any moment, decided to support Magruder in his futile efforts, by sending reinforcements into the attack as they arrived on the battlefield. In doing so, though, the attack continued piecemeal, instead of building up the formidable army Lee had finally concentrated for a major concerted effort. These errors would continue, until mid afternoon, when Lee finally realised the situation and decided to have one major all-out assault. The problem by now, however, was that Magruder's troops were thoroughly exhausted along with half of the rest of Lee's army. Consequentially Lee's first and only major assault at Malvern Hill, in the afternoon, was also repulsed.
Heintzelman knew, nonetheless, that his III Corps was in no better condition than Lee's army, even though his casualties were light, his ammunition stocks were low, not to mention his men were exhausted. Thus, under the cover of darkness, having done its job superbly, III Corps withdrew from their positions and was, more or less, safely in Harrison's Landing by dawn the next day. Lee knew this would probably happen, so he dispatched Stuart and his cavalry after III Corps at dawn on 1 July. Stuart discovered, to his horror, when reaching Harrison's Landing, that the place was a natural fortress after a brief engagement with the Union defenders. He reported this to Lee who regretted not completely destroying the Army of the Potomac, but was nevertheless satisfied with the results thus far. It seemed a siege would now commence, but other factors would soon came into play to change this.
Read the whole story of Action Jackson 1862 - Stonewall's Foot Cavalry Wins The Day on the Changing the Times web site