Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer of '62: Impact of Seven Days Battles

Over seven days -- June 26, 1862 through July 1, 1862 -- Confederates under Robert E. Lee engaged in a series of six fierce clashes with Federals bent on taking Richmond, Va.

Historians sometimes argue that Gen. George B. McClellan didn't seem too bent on the taking the Southern capital -- given his caution and tendency to inflate enemy numbers. But on this occasion, he and Lee did fight, with significant consequences.

Writing this month in the Weekly Standard magazine, Geoffrey Norman details Lee's swing to the offensive outside Richmond.

The culmination of the Union's Peninsula Campaign, however, appeared to be inconclusive. Some 36,000 casualties later, McClellan left the field despite his subordinates urging him to press the attack after repelling Southern forces at Malvern Hill (above).

"The Seven Days is, in this regard, analogous to the Battle of the Marne in the First World War: Confused, inconclusive, and a tragically missed opportunity for both sides, after which the war would not merely go on, but take over and become a force beyond human control," writes Norman, spending much of his article taking McClellan to task for his hubris.

The Seven Days Battles is the subject of an upcoming lecture by Civil War historian and author Gary W. Gallagher (right).

The July 11 program in Richmond, co-sponsored by the National Park Service and the Virginia Historical Society, is entitled, "More Important Than Gettysburg: The Seven Days' Campaign as a Turning Point."

Gallagher, editor of "The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula and the Seven Days" (2000), will discuss ramifications of McClellan's failure to take Richmond and where the armies went next as a result.

The Civil War Trust's summary of Seven Days says Lee's strategic victory would mean three more bloody years of war.

And Thomas Donnelly, also writing in the Weekly Standard, says between the conclusion of Seven Days and Gettysburg, "the course of the war, the fate of the American continent, and the prospects for human liberty hung by a thread."

Malvern Hill illustration, courtesy of Library of Congress. Gallagher's lecture is set for 5:30 p.m.- 7 p.m. July 11 at the Virginia Historical Society, 428 N. Boulevard, Richmond, Va. For more informaton: RICH_Interpretation@nps.gov or call 804-226-1981.

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