150 years ago today the Confederate attacks around Richmond started to see some success after an awkward beginning at Mechanicsville. At the Battle of Gaines’s Mill Robert E. Lee’s army finally pushed forward with enough force to break the federal defenses north of the Chickahominy River. It was an important day in that it effectively ended George McClellan’s offensive against Richmond and led to the collapse of Union momentum in the East. Today we will look at some images of the battle and battlefield later on in the war to get a sense of what it must have been like at Gaines’s Mill 150 years ago today.
Above is a sketch by eyewitness Alfred Waud entitled “Battle of Friday on the Chickahominy.” It shows a resolute line of Union infantry holding against advancing Confederates lines in the distance. This was the situation for much of the afternoon of June 27th. Like the day before most of the Confederate attacks were frontal assaults that guaranteed a costly victory, if they broke through at all. A.P. Hill’s Light Division was once again thrown forward and bore the brunt of the beating. Reinforcements from Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Army would finally come into play, however, and finally enough weight was put on the Union lines to have an effect.
This somewhat eerie sketch, also by Alfred Waud, shows the battlefield towards evening. Superior Confederate numbers enabled them to flank the Union V Corps under Fitz John Porter and the defense crumbled. Shown here in the foreground are dead and dying horses from an artillery battery amongst Union casualties. Two cannon are in the center and sweeping in from the left are victorious Confederates taking the guns while shells burst in the air around them.
The bloody and bitter fighting was visible in the area of Gaines’s Mill long after the battle 150 years ago today. When the war returned to the area in 1864, soldiers on both sides passing over the old battleground saw sights like this, reminding them of the battle in 1862:
On many battlefields of the Civil War bones littered the ground until the war ended. Here we see pieces of uniform, shoes, skulls and bones of Union soldiers left during the retreat from Gaines’s Mill, and unburied during those turbulent few days in June, 1862.