Gaines' Mill Battlefield
This decisive Civil War battle took place on June 27, 1862 and was the largest of what has come to be known as the Seven Days Battles. Both sides suffered a high number of casualties and the Confederate victory ended the Union’s dream of capturing the CSA capital of Richmond. This victory was Lee's first of many, following his promotion to lead the Confederate Army after its previous commander was wounded during the Battle of Seven Pines. The battle raged over 2,000 acres, but only just over 300 acres have been preserved by the Civil War Trust and the Richmond National Battlefield Park system. Within those 300 acres are numerous walking trails, interpretive signs, artillery pieces, split rail fences and the historic Watt House which stood at the center of the battlefield and remains to this day.
Backstory and Context
Following the Battle of Seven Pines, Robert E. Lee took command of the Confederate Army in the field against Union forces as the previous commander, Joseph Johnston, was severely wounded. Gaines' Mill was Lee's first battle as the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The Battle of Gaines’ Mill (or the first Battle of Cold Harbor) was a continuation of the previous day’s Battle of Beaver Dam Creek. The Union forces hastily set up defensive works throughout the night and awaited the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, to renew the previous day’s assault. Lee did not disappoint and the Confederate forces launched several uncoordinated attacks, led by the troops of Generals A.P. Hill and Richard Ewell. However, the Union line held throughout the afternoon as sunset approached.
Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson and his soldiers arrived at the battlefield late, but finally joined the fray as dusk approached. This coordinated Confederate assault succeeded in breaking the Union line along the right flank and center. However, the Confederate victory was tempered as nightfall permitted the Union forces to withdraw across the Chickahominy River, destroying the bridges as they crossed.
The battle was Lee’s first major victory in the Civil War and effectively ended the Union threat to Richmond. The final Confederate attack is also thought to have been their largest of the Civil War. This battle also is the first in which both sides employed observation balloons to assist with reconnaissance.
"The Battle of Gaines' Mill." National Park Service. February 25, 2015. Accessed October 20, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/rich/learn/historyculture/gainesmillbull.htm
Walker, John. "Costly Confederate victory at Gaines' Mill." Warfare History Network. December 19, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/civil-war/costly-Confederate-victory-at-gaines-mill/
Burton, Brian. "The Battle of Gaines' Mill." Essential Civil War Curriculum. Accessed October 20, 2017. http://essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/the-battle-of-gaines-mill.html