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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Irish 9th Massachusetts at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill

The Irish 9th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment, part of the Army of the Potomac of the Union Army, is heavily engaged at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, sometimes known as the Battle of Chickahominy River, in Hanover County, Virginia, on June 27, 1862. It is the third of the Seven Days Battles (Peninsula campaign) of the American Civil War.

Following the inconclusive Battle of Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville) the previous day, Confederate General Robert E. Lee renews his attacks against the right flank of the Union Army, relatively isolated on the northern side of the Chickahominy River. There, Brigadier General Fitz John Porter‘s V Corps establishes a strong defensive line behind Boatswain’s Swamp. Lee’s force is destined to launch the largest Confederate attack of the war, about 57,000 men in six divisions.

Porter’s reinforced V Corps holds fast for the afternoon as the Confederates attack in a disjointed manner, first with the division of Major General A. P. Hill, then Major General Richard S. Ewell, suffering heavy casualties. Put into an exposed, forward position near the bridge over Powhite Creek, the 9th Massachusetts sustains heavy casualties while delaying the advance of A.P. Hill’s division, allowing other Federal forces to improve their defenses. Among the Confederates attacking the 9th’s position are the Irishmen of Company K, 1st South Carolina Rifle Regiment.

After pulling back to the main Federal line, the 9th Massachusetts regiment is hotly engaged again later in the day. Numerous attacks by Hill’s Confederates are repulsed through the day, and the 9th also helps cover the retreat of their brigade. The 9th Massachusetts is one of the last regiments of the V Corps remaining on the field as General Thomas Francis Meagher and his Irish Brigade rush into line to relieve the beleaguered remnant of the brave Massachusetts regiment. The arrival of Major General Stonewall Jackson‘s command is delayed, preventing the full concentration of Confederate force before Porter receives some reinforcements from the VI Corps.

Seeing the green flags of the Irish Brigade coming to the aid of the 9th Massachusetts, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Guiney, who had been watching his regiment shrink in number all day, shakes the hand of Meagher and exclaims, “Thank God, we are saved.”

At dusk, the Confederates finally mount a coordinated assault that breaks Porter’s line and drives his men back toward the Chickahominy River. The Federals retreat across the river during the night. The Confederates are too disorganized to pursue the main Union force. Gaines’ Mill saves Richmond for the Confederacy in 1862. The tactical defeat there convinces Army of the Potomac commander Major General George B. McClellan to abandon his advance on Richmond and begin a retreat to the James River. The 9th Massachusetts’ loses for the day are 82 killed and 167 wounded.

The battle occurs in almost the same location as the Battle of Cold Harbor nearly two years later.


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The Battle of Malvern Hill

battle-of-malvern-hillIrish take up arms against each other in the American Civil War as the Irish Brigade of the Union Army and the Confederate 6th Regiment, Louisiana Infantry take part in the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862.

Also known as the Battle of Poindexter’s Farm, the Battle of Malvern Hill is fought between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, and the Union Army of the Potomac under Major General George B. McClellan. It is the final battle of the Seven Days Battles, taking place on a 130-foot elevation of land known as Malvern Hill, near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and just one mile from the James River. Including inactive reserves, more than fifty thousand soldiers from each side take part, using more than two hundred pieces of artillery and three warships.

The Seven Days Battles are the climax of the Peninsula Campaign, during which McClellan’s Army of the Potomac sails around the Confederate lines, lands at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, southeast of Richmond, and strikes inland towards the Confederate capital. Confederate commander-in-chief Joseph E. Johnston fends off McClellan’s repeated attempts to take the city, slowing Union progress on the peninsula to a crawl. When Johnston is wounded, Lee takes command and launches a series of counterattacks, collectively called the Seven Days Battles. These attacks culminate in the action on Malvern Hill.

The Union’s V Corps, commanded by Brigadier General Fitz John Porter, takes up positions on the hill on June 30. McClellan is not present for the initial exchanges of the battle, having boarded the ironclad USS Galena and sailed down the James River to inspect Harrison’s Landing, where he intends to locate the base for his army. Confederate preparations are hindered by several mishaps. Bad maps and faulty guides cause Confederate Major General John B. Magruder to be late for the battle, an excess of caution delays Major General Benjamin Huger, and Major General Stonewall Jackson has problems collecting the Confederate artillery.

The battle occurs in stages: an initial exchange of artillery fire, a minor charge by Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, and three successive waves of Confederate infantry charges triggered by unclear orders from Lee and the actions of Major Generals Magruder and Daniel Harvey Hill, respectively. In each phase, the effectiveness of the Federal artillery is the deciding factor, repulsing attack after attack, resulting in a tactical Union victory.

After the battle, McClellan and his forces withdraw from Malvern Hill to Harrison’s Landing, where he remains until August 16. His plan to capture Richmond has been thwarted. In the course of four hours, a series of blunders in planning and communication had caused Lee’s forces to launch three failed frontal infantry assaults across hundreds of yards of open ground, unsupported by Confederate artillery, charging toward firmly entrenched Union infantry and artillery defenses. These errors provide Union forces with an opportunity to inflict heavy casualties.

The human toll of the Battle of Malvern Hill and the Seven Days Battles is shown clearly as both capitals, Washington and Richmond, set up numerous provisional hospitals to care for the dead and wounded. Ships sails from the Peninsula to Washington carrying the wounded. Richmond is nearest to the battlefields of the Seven Days, and the immense number of casualties overwhelms hospitals and doctors. People from about the Confederacy descend upon Richmond to care for the conflict’s casualties. Graves cannot be dug quickly enough. In total, the Confederacy counts some 5,650 casualties while the Union Army estimates approximately 3,000 casualties.

In the aftermath of the battle the Confederate press heralds Lee as the savior of Richmond. In stark contrast, McClellan is accused of being absent from the battlefield, a harsh criticism that haunts him when he runs for president in 1864.

(Pictured: A watercolor painting of the Battle of Malvern Hill, made by Robert Sneden during the American Civil War at Malvern Hill in Henrico County, Virginia. Sneden was the mapmaker for Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps.)