Author: Drew A. Gruber

of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He is also a member of the Commonwealth of Virginia's Board of Historic Resources

The Battle of Williamsburg

The Battle of Williamsburg, fought on May 5, 1862, was the first battle of the Peninsula Campaign during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Union general George B. McClellan, in an attempt to march his Army of the Potomac up the Peninsula between the York and James rivers, had initially stalled at Yorktown, where he feared his 130,000 men faced perhaps 40,000 Confederates. In fact, John B. Magruder‘s force numbered between 11,000 and 15,000. McClellan spent a month preparing for a siege, and when he was finally ready to advance, Magruder retreated to Williamsburg. There, on May 5, the advancing Union army met the Confederate rearguard, under James Longstreet, in a daylong and inconclusive battle. The battle turned particularly fierce at what became known as the “bloody ravine,” where, in the pouring rain, Union soldiers from New York and New Jersey fought Virginians under A. P. Hill and George E. Pickett. After various attacks and counterattacks, the day ended with Confederate general Jubal A. Early‘s men being cut down as they charged across a field and through a farmyard. The next day, Confederate forces continued to retreat toward the capital at Richmond, and events at Williamsburg were largely overshadowed by the fierce fighting that lay ahead.