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Battle of Beaver Dam Creek
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Battle of Beaver Dam Creek
Campaigns: Peninsula Campaign, Seven Days Retreat
The second day of the Seven Days began with Benjamin Huger and John Magruder protecting Richmond, Virginia from four corps of the Army of the Potomac south of the Chickahominy River. Along the Chickahominy Lee had stationed Daniel Harvey Hill, James Longstreet and A. P Hill, waiting for Stonewall Jackson to attack Porter's men as a signal to start the battle. Jackson was to have completed a march from the Shenandoah Valley the night before.
Opposing these forces north of the river was Major General Fitz-John Porter 5th Corps, who built two redoubts, one near a bridge on the Mechanicsville Pike, the second at Meadow Bridge, the next bridge upstream. These forward outposts were northeast of Robert E. Lee's base in Richmond, Virginia and McClellan's closest position to the Confederate capital, but the men had been ordered to withdraw to Beaver Dam Creek at the first sign of trouble. The main body of Porter's command was safely ensconced behind the creek east of Mechanicsville in an area known as Ellerson's Mill.
Rebels lined the Mechanicsville Pike and Meadow Bridge Road waiting for the signal to cross the bridges and attack. Lee watched from Chickahominy Bluffs and President Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War George Randolph and other civilians waited nearby. A. P. Hill had detached a brigade under Lawrence Branch, who waited further upstream to provide a communications link with Stonewall Jackson. When Jackson signaled to Branch that he was moving slowly, Branch failed to pass the information on to either his commander or Lee. Upon receiving the first communication Branch crossed the Chickahominy and began moving southeast towards Mechanicsville. On the move, Branch could no longer communicate with Powell Hill.
Rebels numbering in the tens of thousands waited on orders to cross the Chickahominy and attack Porter's men. At 3:00 pm A. P. Hill, unable to reach Stonewall Jackson or Larry Branch ordered a general advance on his own initiative. Porter's men at the Meadow Bridge redoubt engaged Hill's men before withdrawing. In less than an hour Rebel observers at the bridge over the Chickahominy at Mechanicsville Pike were reporting movement from the Union fort. Suddenly a Union skirmish line appeared, pulling back out of some woods and crossing the Mechanicsville Pike, quickly followed by Confederate skirmishers. When observers reported this to General Lee, orders went out to Longstreet and D. H. Hill to advance.
Lee rode forward to meet A. P. Hill in Mechanicsville. They met in chaos as Union artillery fire fell nearby and returning Confederate fire shrieked overhead. It was here that the Army of Northern Virginia commander learned that Hill had advanced on his own initiative. Rather than risk losing his momentum, Lee ordered Hill to continue his advance. Leaving Mechanicsville Lee stumbled on Jefferson Davis and his civilian followers.
At about the same time as Lee met with Hill, George McClellan was trying to decide what to do at his field headquarters in the Trent House. McClellan mulled over the idea of attacking the Rebels in his front, a plan backed by William B. Franklin and "Baldy" Smith.
Soon almost 20,000 Rebels were rushing towards Fitz-John Porter's line. Anchored on the south to the swamps of the Chickahominy River, Brigadier General George McCall's Pennsylvanians had taken up a position behind Beaver Dam Creek. A short tributary of the Chickahominy, the creek had been dammed by a man named Ellerson who built a mill race and mill just north of Old Cold Harbor Road. Above the race Union forces had built entrenchments, creating an exceptionally strong position. Behind the entrenchments were the brigades of John Reynolds and Truman Seymour while George Meade waited behind the line in reserve.
James Archer [CS] hit Reynolds, on the Union right, pushing a regiment (35th Georgia) across Beaver Dam Creek, but they were pinned down by massive artillery firepower. From the point of Archer's attack the battle rolled south, with sucessive waves of Rebels easily turned back by their Union counterparts.
The final and largest of Powell Hill's attacks came at Ellerson's Mill as men under Dorsey Pender advanced. When they ran into the same problems as the men to their north, Roswell Ripley [CS - D. H. Hill]] was ordered in on Pender's right as support. However, there was no path to advance to the right of Pender, so Ripley's were forced to follow the same line of advance as Pender's. The results were exactly the same.
Unfortunately, Stonewall Jackson ended up one road north of the Union position, with no direct route by which he could move 3 divisions of men to the battle. A mistake in Lee's orders routed Jackson to Hundley's Corner at the corner of Pole Green Church Road and Shady Grove Church Road while Lee expected him to hit Porter's right flank on Old Church Road.
After deciding not to attack Richmond, McClellan rode out to Porter's headquarters and watched the final hours of the battle. The battle had been a complete failure for the South but at around midnight General McClellan made a stunning decision. He must retreat from Richmond.
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Battle of Beaver Dam Creek was last changed on - August 1, 2009
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