The Battle of Malvern Hill
Other Names: Poindexter’s Farm
Location: Henrico County, VA
Campaign: Peninsula Campaign (March-September 1862)
Union: Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan [US]
Confederate: Gen. Robert E. Lee [CS]
Forces Engaged: Armies
Estimated Casualties: 8,500 total
Description: This was the sixth and last of the Seven Days’ Battles. On July 1, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee launched a series of disjointed assaults on the nearly impregnable Union position on Malvern Hill. The Confederates suffered more than 5,300 casualties without gaining an inch of ground.
It seemed to Lee that one more push might be all the Federal army could take, but Fitz-John Porter, who held the 150-foot-high Malvern Hill with over 100 fieldpieces, disproved Lee's assumption. Longstreet placed the Rebel cannon so as to take Porter's guns in crossfire. If he could silence them, he thought the Confederate infantry would repeat its brilliant Gaines' Mill charge and drive Porter off his perch. It was not to be. Union artillery was to prove itself again and again during the war, but at Malvern Hill, it probably achieved its highest measure of superiority. In a short time, every Southern battery within range had been silenced.
A mix-up in Lee's orders caused the troops of Magruder, Huger, and D. H. Hill to make gallant but suicidal charges into the massed fire of Porter's guns. As Hill remarked later, "It was not war, it was murder." Some 5,500 Confederates fell on the slopes of Malvern Hill. The next morning, when a horrified Union officer looked at the body-strewn hill: "A third of them were dead or dying, but enough of them were alive and moving to give the field a singular crawling effect."
Despite his victory, McClellan withdrew to entrench at Harrison’s Landing on James River, where his army was protected by gunboats. This ended the Peninsula Campaign.
When McClellan’s army ceased to threaten Richmond, Lee sent Jackson to operate against Maj. Gen. John Pope’s army along the Rapidan River, thus initiating the Northern Virginia Campaign.
National Park Service
The Civil War, American Heritage (Doubleday, 1960)
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