The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula and the Seven Days

By Sears, Stephen W. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula and the Seven Days


Sears, Stephen W., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula and the Seven Days. Edited by GARY W. GALLAGHER. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. xvi, 272 pp. $34.95.

IN this seventh title in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series, editor Gary Gallagher has gathered nine essays that elucidate finer points of what optimistic Yankees in 1862 christened the Grand Campaign. Gallagher leads off by documenting just how critically important Lee's defense of Richmond was to the struggling young Confederacy. "The `half-success' at Richmond," he writes, "had a seismic effect on the Confederacy's war for nationhood." Furthermore, Lee's emergence in the Seven Days "marked the most important watershed in the development of the Army of Northern Virginia..." (p. 19).

In offering up George Brinton McClellan distilled, John T. Hubbell reveals the pressures (mostly self-inflicted) that weighed on the Union commander, and their devastating effects on his psyche. Like Lee, this was McClellan's first campaign; unlike Lee, he broke under the stress. But before this, in the view of McClellan's engineering chief, the campaign ought to have been won by way of the Chickahominy crossings. "`General McClellan was not waiting for the bridges,"' insisted John G. Barnard, " `but the bridges were waiting for General McClellan"' (p. 56). William J. Miller employs engineer Barnard's arguments to illuminate the missed opportunity.

The Confederates, too, missed opportunities. Robert K. Krick investigates the mystery of Stonewall Jackson's zombie-like performance during the Seven Days, and convincingly demonstrates that the man was, both physically and mentally, exhausted. What remains mysterious is why Jackson never recognized the need to pace himself. The failings of John B. Magruder at Savage's Station and Malvern Hill are the subject of Peter S. Carmichael's investigation. He finds that Magruder had various problems and various excuses, but at base (like McClellan), the stress of command unhinged him and left him almost mentally paralyzed. …

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