Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The largest offensive ever mounted by a Confederate army. . .

Historian Bobby Krick addresses members of the CompuServe
Civil War Forum at their 15th annual battlefield conference, April 2011
Yesterday was the anniversary of the battle of Gaines's Mill, a major fight that remains obscure even to many self-proclaimed students of the American Civil War. Why Gaines's Mill, the rest of the Seven Days Battles, and the overall 1862 Peninsula Campaign remain in the backwaters of Civil War studies is a mystery to me.

Fortunately for us, organizations on the front lines of the Civil War preservation movement have not given the Seven Days backwater status. Just this year, important portions of the Gaines's Mill battlefield have been saved by the Richmond Battlefields Association and the Civil War Trust.

Speaking of the Civil War Trust, the July 1-8 issue of "The Week" named Civil War Trust as their "Charity of the Week," noting that they have saved 30,000 acres on 110 Civil War battlefields in 20 states. Not a bad track record.

Civil War Trust's web site continues to grow into one of the most useful and fascinating resources on the Civil War. The articles, maps, interviews, photo galleries, and videos make up a treasure trove of some of the most reliable and interesting information to be found in one place. Their Gaines's Mill page, for example, is the perfect starting point for planning a visit to the battlefield. Once there, you would do well to get in on one of NPS historian Bobby Krick's tours of the battlefield.
In the penultimate essay, Krick looks at the climax of the battle of Gaines's Mill, by far the bloodiest of the Seven Days. His topic is Brig. Gen. W. H. C. Whiting's two-brigade division and its late-afternoon assault that breached Union lines near the Watt House. Krick draws on an impressive array of materials to make sense of the attacks, which, among other results, catapulted the soldiers of John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade to fame as the army's finest shock troops. Krick reminds readers that the offensive at Gaines's Mill was the largest ever mounted by any Confederate army, its 50,000 participants far exceeding the number involved in more famous attacks by George E. Pickett and James Johnston Pettigrew at Gettysburg and Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville. He also sees the attack on June 27 as a pivotal event that marked the first offensive tactical victory for Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. The general and his soldiers built on that foundation to create one of the most famous and effective military partnerships in American history.
[The extract above is from the introduction to Gary Gallagher's, The Richmond Campaign of 1862: the Peninsula and the Seven Days, speaking of Bobby Krick's contribution to the volume.]


Tim Kent said...

Great blog. I always thought the Seven Days battles were under played in history. I think this is because most of those battlefields were not preserved as well as others.

Damian Shiels said...

I agree the Civil War Trust website is a fantastic resource for these sites. I am currently reading Brian Burton's 'Extraordinary Circumstances' about the 7 Days Battles- it surprises me that Gaines Mill hasn't had more coverage as well given its size, I would love to see an individual study of it.