Major General Benjamin Butler hoped to push Confederate forces out of the Virginia Peninsula and protect important ship building locations in the area, so he dispatched approximately 3,500 soldiers under the command of Brigadier General Ebenezer Pierce to accomplish the task.2 The Confederates, well entrenched, around 1,200 soldiers strong, and under the duel command of Colonel John Magruder and Colonel D.H. Hill would be the target of the Union forces.1
The Union forces were counting on the element of surprise to carry them to a swift victory. However, due to the lack of an official Union Army uniform, many of the Northern soldiers were wearing gray uniforms. This lead to an incident in which Unions soldiers opened fire on a friendly unit, which led to casualties and ruined any chance of a surprise attack. As dawn broke on the morning of June 10th the Union forces committed themselves to a frontal assault on a fortified fixed position and were repelled. The same action was attempted a second time with no better results. After the failure of the second assault, the Union forces withdrew from the area and regrouped with Major General Benjamin Butler’s forces.
The battle became an embarrassment for the Union and a major propaganda tool for the Confederates, who used it bolster morale and the belief that Confederate soldiers were superior to their Union counterparts. Maps of the battle were copied and distributed throughout the South as souvenirs and to commemorate the victory.