In March 1862, McClellan opened the Peninsula Campaign by sailing from
[Alexandria], Virginia, to Fort Monroe. Over the next two
months, his army
cautiously advanced toward Richmond, but Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston checked
him at Seven Pines on May
31–June 1. Lee, assuming command for the wounded Johnston, seized the initiative
on June 26 by attacking the Union right flank at Mechanicsville. McClellan retreated
southeast toward the protection of the Union Navy on the James River, while Lee
aggressively pursued, attacking at Gaines's Mill, Savage's Station, and Glendale.
The Union Army of the Potomac arrived at Malvern Hill, a one
hundred-foot plateau about one mile north of the James River, on June 30.
McClellan briefly inspected the position and then boarded a gunboat, leaving Union
general Fitz-John Porter in command. With the army united for the first time that
week, Porter wisely took advantage of the terrain. He deployed the infantry in a
U–shaped line, with the open side facing the James, supported by approximately
thirty-six guns on both the hill's western and northern slopes. The army's heavy
artillery, including twenty- and thirty-pound Parrott rifles, stood in reserve on
the southern end of Malvern Hill. That afternoon an advance Confederate division
shelled the Union position from the west with five guns. The concentrated Union
guns smothered the Confederate battery and another one in support, forcing the
Confederates to abandon two cannon and six limbers (two-wheeled carts that
supported the artillery piece). It was a preview of what was to come.
The main portion of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia arrived the next morning, sensing that
McClellan's troops were beginning to break under the unrelenting pressure.
Reconnoitering the Union position, Confederate generals James Longstreet and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson identified
positions on the Confederate right and left from which to deliver converging
artillery fire. After this bombardment disrupted the Union position, Lee's
infantry would attack. Despite repeated attempts, the Confederates failed to mass
their guns because of both poor communication work done by the generals' staff
officers and the Confederate practice of deploying batteries with each brigade
rather than with the larger division. Of approximately forty-five Confederate
artillery pieces that participated in fighting, only six to eight did so
simultaneously on either flank. The massed Union guns pounded the Confederate
batteries and drove them from the field, inflicting about a hundred casualties and
killing more than seventy horses. Union gunboats also lobbed shells into the
At around three o'clock in the afternoon,
Confederate general Lewis A.
Armistead's brigade attacked Union skirmishers. The Union gunners
directed their fire against him, and his men took cover in a ravine part of the
way up Malvern Hill. A garbled report of this "success," coupled with an erroneous
one that Union troops were withdrawing (they were actually moving wagons to escape
overshot Confederate artillery), prompted Lee to order a discretionary attack. At
5:30 p.m. Confederate general
B. Magruder] launched a series of piecemeal brigade attacks from the
right. Confederate general D. H. Hill's division, hearing the firing, advanced on
the left, as did other Confederate units. Union artillery, supported by infantry,
broke the Confederate formations, but new ones continued to surge forward. Porter
repeatedly committed fresh troops and batteries, ultimately employing 107 cannon,
and repelled the disjointed attacks until darkness halted the fighting. Union guns
continued to wreak havoc on the Confederate lines until ten o'clock that
Confederate casualties at Malvern Hill
totaled 5,650, compared with the Union's 3,007. The following morning, a Union
officer reported that the numerous wounded Confederates who littered Malvern Hill
"give the field a singular crawling effect." Porter encouraged McClellan to resume
the advance on Richmond, but the ordeal of the Seven Days had mentally defeated
him. Instead, McClellan ordered the army to retreat to Harrison's Landing, where
it remained until late August, effectively ending the Peninsula Campaign.
Dougherty, Kevin with J. Michael Moore. The Peninsula
Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis. Jackson: University Press of
Gallagher, Gary W., ed. The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The
Peninsula and the Seven Days. Chapel Hill: The University of North
Carolina Press, 2000.
Miller, William J., ed. The Peninsula Campaign of 1862:
Yorktown to the Seven Days: Essays on the American Civil War. 3 vols.
Campbell, California: Savas Woodbury Publishers, 1995–1997.
Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula
Campaign. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Gabriel, M. P. Battle of Malvern Hill. (2011, April 5). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Malvern_Hill_Battle_of.
- MLA Citation:
Gabriel, Michael P. "Battle of Malvern Hill." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities,
5 Apr. 2011. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: February 3, 2010 | Last modified: April 5, 2011
Contributed by Michael P. Gabriel, a professor and chair of the Department of History at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.