From the book:
"The Civil War Through the Camera"
Together with
"Elson's New History"
In Sixteen Parts
"Comprising a Complete History of the Civil War"

by Henry W. Elson, Professor of History, Ohio University
Published in 1912 by the Patriot Publishing Company, Springfield, Mass.

"Each part a thrilling story in itself.  In every part, the full account
of one or more of the world's greatest battles."

Part Three

"Illustrated by Brady war-time photographs just discovered, though taken fifty years ago;
together with photographs by many other war photographers, North and South."
A shattered and discomforted army were the hosts of McDowell when they reached the banks
of the Potomac, after that ill-fated July Sunday at Bull Run.  Dispirited by the sting of defeat,
this motley and unorganized mass of men became rather a mob than an army.  The
transformation of the chaos of demoralization into the trained, disciplined, and splendid
troops of the Grand Army of the Potomac, was a triumph of the "young Napoleon," Gen.
George Brinton McClellan.  Fresh from his victories in the mountains of West Virginia, he was
called to Washington to transmute 200,000 American citizens, fresh from shop and farm, into

For months it was "drill, drill."  Public opinion grew restless at the cry, "All's Quiet Along the
Potomac."  At last, on March 17th, McClellan moved.  On April 5th, the Union army was
advancing toward Richmond up the Peninsula, but was stopped at Yorktown by the
Confederate General Magruder.  Not until May 3rd were McClellan's siege guns in place.  That
night the Confederates evacuated.

In hot pursuit the Union army followed.  At Williamsburg the lines in Gray stood again.  "Jeb"
Stuart, D. H. Hill, and Jubal Early fought nobly.  They gained their object.....more time for their
retreating comrades.  But McClellan's fighting leaders, Hooker, Kearny and Hancock, were not
to be denied.  Williamsburg was occupied by the Federal army.

With Yorktown and Williamsburg inscribed upon its victorious banners, the Army of the
Potomac took up again its toilsome march from Cumberland, landing toward the Confederate
capital on the James.

It was the 16th of May, 1862, when the advanced corps reached White House, the ancestral
home of the Lees.  On every side were fields of wheat, and, were it not for the presence of
one hundred thousand men, there was the promise of a full harvest.  It was here that General
McClellan took up his headquarters, a distance of twenty-four miles from Richmond.

In the Confederate capital a panic had seized the people.  As the retreating army of Johnston

[Gen. Joseph Johnston, CSA]
sought the environs of Richmond and news of the invading
hosts was brought in, fear took possession of the inhabitants and many wild rumors were
afloat as to the probable capture of the city.  But it was not a fear that Johnston would not
fight.  The strategic policy of the Southern general had been to delay the advance of the
Northern army.  Fortunately for him, the rainy weather proved a powerful ally.  The time had
now come when he should change his position from the defensive to the offensive.  The Army
of Northern Virginia had been brought to bay, and it now turned to beat off the invaders and
save its capital.

On the historic Peninsula lay two of the greatest and most splendid armies that had ever
confronted each other on the field of battle.  The engagement, now imminent, was to be the
first in that series of contests, between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern
Virginia, ending three years thereafter, at Appomattox, when the war-worn veterans of gray
should lay down their arms, in honor, to the war-worn veterans of blue.

The Union advance was retarded by the condition of the weather and the roads.  Between
McClellan's position at the White House and the waiting Confederate army lay the
Chickahominy, an erratic and sluggish stream, that spreads itself out in wooded swamps and
flows around many islands, forming a valley from half a mile to a mile wide, bordered by low
bluffs.  In dry weather it is but a mere brook, but a moderate shower will cause it to rise
quickly and to offer formidable opposition to any army seeking its passage.  The valley is
covered with trees whose tops reach to the level of the adjacent highlands, thus forming a
screen from either side.  The bridges crossing it had all been destroyed by the retreating army
except the one at Mechanicsville, and it was not an easy task that awaited the forces of
McClellan, as they made their way across the spongy soil.

The van of the Union army reached the Chickahominy on May 20th.  The bridge was gone but
the men under General Naglee forded the little river, reaching the plateau beyond, and made a
bold reconnaissance before the Confederate lines.  In the meantime, newly constructed
bridges were beginning to span the Chickahominy, and the Federal army soon was crossing to
the south bank of the river.

General McClellan had been promised reenforcements from the north.  General McDowell with
forty thousand men had started from Fredericksburg to join him north of the Chickahominy.  
For this reason, General MClellan had thrown the right wing of his army on the north of the
river while his left would rest on the south side of the stream.  This position of his army did
not escape the eagle eye of the Confederate general, Joseph E. Johnston, who believed the
time had now come to give battle, and perhaps destroy the small portion of the Union forces
south of the river.

Meanwhile, General "Stonewall" Jackson, in the Shenandoah, was making threatening
movements in the direction of Washington, and McDowell's order to unite with McClellan were

The roads in and about Richmond radiate from that city like the spokes of a wheel.  One of
these is the Williamsburg stage-road, crossing the Chickahominy at Bottom's Bridge, only
eleven miles from Richmond.  It was along this road that the Federal corps of Keyes and
Heintzelman had made their way.  Their orders were "to go prepared for battle at a moment's
notice" and "to bear in mind that the Army of the Potomac has never been checked."

Parallel to this road, and about a mile to the northward, runs the Richmond and York River
Railroad.  Seven miles from Richmond another highway intersects the one from Williamsburg,
known as the Nine Mile road.  At the point of this intersection once grew a clump of seven
pines, hence the name of "Seven Pines," often given to the battle fought on this spot.  A
thousand yards beyond the pines were two farmhouses in a grove of oaks.  This was Fair
Oaks Farm.  Where the Nine Mile road crossed the railroad was Fair Oaks Station.

Southeast of Seven Pines was White Oak Swamp, Casey's division of Keyes' corps was
stationed at Fair Oaks Farm.  A fifth of a mile in front lay his picket line, extending crescent
shape, from the swamp to the Chickahominy, Couch's division of the same corps lay to the
rear; Kearney's division guarded the railroad at Savage's Station and Hooker's the
approaches to the White Oak Swamp.  This formed three lines of defense.  It was a
well-wooded region and at this time was in many places no more than a bog.  No sooner had
these positions been taken, than trees were cut to form abatis, rifle-pits were hastily dug, and
redoubts for placing artillery were constructed.  The picket line lay along a dense growth of
woods.  Through an opening in the trees, the Confederate army could be seen in force on the
other side of the clearing.

The plans of the Confederate general were well matured.  On Friday, May 30th, he gave
orders that his army should be ready to move at daybreak.

That night the "windows of heaven seemed to have been opened" and the "fountains of the
deep broken up."  The storm fell like a deluge.  It was the most violent storm that had swept
over that region for a generation.  Throughout the night the tempest raged.  The
thunderbolts rolled without cessation.  The sky was white with the electric flashes.  The earth
was thoroughly drenched.  The lowlands became a morass.  From mud-soaked beds, the
soldiers arose the next morning to battle.

Owing to the storm, the Confederates did not move so early as intended.  However, some of
the troops were in readiness by eight o'clock.  Hour after hour the forces of Longstreet and
Hill awaited the sound of the signal-gun that would tell them General Huger was in his
position to march.  Still they waited.  It was near noon before General Hill, weary of waiting,
advanced to the front, preceded by a line of skirmishers, along the Williamsburg road.  The
Union pickets were lying at the edge of the forest.  The soldiers in the pits had been under
arms for several hours awaiting the attack.  Suddenly there burst through the woods the
soldiers of the South.  A shower of bullets fell beneath the trees and the Union pickets gave
way.  On and on came the lines of gray in close columns.  In front of the abatis had been
planted a battery of four guns.  General Naglee with four regiments, the Fifty-sixth and One
hundredth New York and Eleventh Maine and One hundred and fourth Pennsylvania, had
gone forward, and in the open field met the attacking army.  The contest was a stubborn
one.  Naglee's men charged with their bayonets and pressed the gray lines back again to the
edge of the woods.  Here they were met by a furious fire of musketry and quickly gave way,
seeking the cover of the riflepits at Fair Oaks Farm.  The Confederate infantrymen came
rushing on.

But again they were held in check.  In this position, for nearly three hours the Federals waged
an unequal combat against three times their number.  Then, suddenly a galling fire plowed in
on them from the left.  It came from Rains' brigade, which had executed a flank movement.  
At the same time the brigade of Rodes rushed toward them.  The Federals saw the
hopelessness of the situation.  The officers at the batteries tried to spike their guns but were
killed in the attempt.  Hastily falling back, five guns were left to be turned on them in their
retreat.  This move was not too soon.  In another minute they would have been entirely
surrounded and captured.  The gray lines pressed on.  The next stand would be made at
Seven Pines, where Couch ws stationed.  The forces here had been weakened by sending
relief to Casey.  The situation of the Federals was growing critical.  At the same time General
Longstreet sent reenforcements to General Hill.  Couch was forced out of his position toward
the right in the direction of Fair Oaks Station and was thus separated from the main body of
the army, then in action.

The Confederates pushed strongly against the Federal center.  Heintzelman came to the
rescue.  The fight waged was a gallant one.  For an hour and a half the lines of blue and gray
surged back and forth.  The Federals were gradually giving way.  The left wing, alone, next to
the White Oak Swamp, was holding its own.

At the same time over at Fair Oaks Station whither Couch had been forced, were new
developments.  He was about to strike the Confederate army on its left flank, but just when
the guns were being trained, there burst across the road the troops of General G. W. Smith,
who up to this time had been inactive.  These men were fresh for the fight, superior in
number, and soon overpowered the Northerners.  It looked for a time as if the whole Union
army south of Chickahominy was doomed.

Over at Seven Pines the center of McClellan's army was about to be routed.  Now it was that
General Heintzelman personally collected about eighteen hundred men, the fragments of the
broken regiments, and took a decided stand at the edge of the timber.  He was determined
not to give way.  But this alone would not nor did not save the day.  To the right of this new
line of battle, there was a rise of ground.  From here the woods abruptly sloped to the rear.  
If this elevation were once secured by the Confederates, all would be lost and rout would be
inevitable.  The quick eye of General Keyes took in the situation.  He was stationed on the left;
to reach the hill would necessitate taking his men between the battle-lines.  The distance was
nearly eight hundred yards.  Calling on a single regiment to follow he made a dash for the
position.  The Southern troops, divining his intention, poured a deadly volley into his ranks
and likewise attempted to reach this key to the situation.  The Federals gained the spot just in
time. The new line was formed as a heavy mass of Confederates came upon them.  The
tremendous Union fire ws too much for the assaulting columns, which were checked.  They
had forced the Federal troops back from their entrenchments a distance of two miles, but they
never got farther than these woods.  The river fog now came up as the evening fell and the
Southern troops spent the night in the captured camps, sleeping on their arms.  The Federals
fell back toward the river to an entrenched camp.

Meanwhile at Fair Oaks Station the day was saved, too, in the nick of time, for the Federals.  
On the north side of the Chickahominy were stationed the two divisions of Sedgwick and
Richardson, under command of General Sumner.  Scarcely had the battle opened when
McClellan at his headquarters, six miles away, heard the roar and rattle of artillery.  He was
sick at the time, but he ordered General Sumner to be in readiness.  At this time there were
four bridges across the river, two of them were Bottom's Bridge and the railroad bridge.  To
go by either of these would consume too much time in case of an emergency.  General
Sumner had himself constructed two more bridges, lying between the others.  The heavy
flood of the preceding night, which was still rising, had swept one of these partially away.  In
order to save time, he put his men under arms and marched them to the end of the upper
bridge and there waited throughout the greater part of the afternoon for orders to cross.  
Before them rolled a muddy and swollen stream, above whose flood was built a rude and
unstable structure.  From the other side could be distinctly heard the roar of the battle.  The
fate of the day and of the Army of the Potomac rested upon these men at the end of the

The possibility of crossing was doubted by everyone, including the general himself.  The
bridge had been built of logs, held together and kept from drifting by the stumps of trees.  
Over the river proper it was suspended by ropes attached to trees, felled across the stream.

At last the long-expected order to advance came.  The men stepped upon the floating bridge.  
It swayed to and fro as the solid column passed over it.  Beneath the men was the angry
flood which would engulf all if the bridge should fall.  Gradually the weight pressed it down
between the solid stumps and it was made secure till the army had crossed.  Had the passage
been delayed another hour the flood would have rendered it impassable.

Guided by the roar of battle the troops hurried on.  The artillery was left behind in the mud of
the Chickahominy.  The steady, rolling fire of musketry and the boom of cannon told of deadly
work in front.  It was nearly six o'clock before Sedgwick's column deployed into line in the
rear of Fair Oaks Station.  They came not too soon.  Just now there was a lull in the battle.  
The Confederates were gathering themselves for a vigorous assault on their opponents'
flaming front.  Their lines were re-forming.  General Joseph E. Johnston himself had
immediate command.  President Jefferson Davis had come out from his capital to witness the
contest.  Rapidly the Confederates moved forward.  A heavy fusillade poured from their
batteries and muskets.  Great rents were made in the line of blue.  It did not waver.  The
openings were quickly filled and a scorching fire was sent into the approaching columns.  
Again and again the charge was repeated only to be repulsed.  Then came the order to fix
bayonets.  Five regiments, Thirty-fourth and Eighty-second New York, Fifteenth and
Twentieth Massachusetts and Seventh Michigan, pushed to the front.  Into the woods where
the Confederates had fallen back the charge was made.  Driving the Southern lines back in
confusion, these dashing columns saved the day for the Army of the Potomac.

Night was now settling over the wooded field.  Here and there flashes of light could be seen
among the oaks, indicating a diligent search for the wounded.  General Johnston ordered his
troops to sleep on the field.  A few minutes later, he was struck by a rifle-ball and almost
immediately a shell hit him, throwing him from his horse, and he was borne off the field.  The
first day of battle was over.

The disability of the Southern commander made it possible for the promotion of a new leader
upon whom the fortunes of the Army of Northern Virginia would soon rest.  This was General
Robert E. Lee; although the immediate command for the next day's contest fell upon General
G. W. Smith.  Early Sunday morning the battle was again in progress.  The command of Smith,
near Fair Oaks Station, advanced down the railroad, attacking Richardson, whose lines were
north of it and were using the embankment as a fortification.  Longstreet's men were south of
the railroad.  The firing was heavy all along this line, the opposing forces being not more than
fifty yards from each other.  For an hour and a half the musketry fire was intensely heavy.  It
was, indeed, a continuous roar.  The line of gray could not withstand the galling fire and for
the first time that day fell back.  But the Union line had been broken, too.  A brief lull ensued.  
Both sides were gathering themselves for another onslaught.  It was then that there were
heard loud shouts from the east of the railroad.

There, coming through the woods, was a large body of Federal troops.  They were the men of
Hooker.  They formed a magnificent body of soldiers and seemed eager for the fray.  Turning
in on the Williamsburg road they rapidly deployed to the right and the left.  In front of them
was an open field, with a thick wood on the other side.  The Confederates had posted
themselves in this forest and were waiting for their antagonists.  The Federals marched upon
the field in double-quick time; their movements became a run, and they began firing as they
dashed forward.  They were met by a withering fire of field artillery and a wide gap being
opened in their ranks.  It immediately filled.  They reached the edge of the woods and as they
entered its leafy shadows the tide of battle rolled in with them.  The front line was lost to view
in the forest, except for an occasional gleam of arms from among the trees.  The din and the
clash and roar of battle were heard for miles.  Bayonets were brought into use.  It was almost
a hand-to-hand combat in the heavy forest and tangled slashings.  The sound of battle
gradually subsided, then ceased except for the intermittent reports of small arms, and the
second day's fight was over.

The Confederate forces withdrew toward Richmond.  The Federal troops could now occupy
without molestation the positions they held the previous morning.  The forest paths were
strewn with the dead and dying.  Many of the wounded were compelled to lie under the
scorching sun for hours before help reached them.  Every farmhouse became an improvised
hospital where the suffering soldiers lay.  Many were placed upon cars and taken across the
Chickahominy.  The dead horses were burned.  The dead soldiers, blue and gray, found
sometimes lying within a few feet of each other, were buried on the field of battle.  The two
giants had met in their first great combat and were even now beginning to gird up their loins
for a desperate struggle before the capital of the Confederacy.
Chapter Three:  Fair Oaks.....In Sight of Richmond
[Fair Oaks is, also, known as the Battle of Seven Pines]

In its entirety, just as it was written, including spelling & punctuation,
with the exception of my notes, which are italicized in brackets.  Nancy
To see photographs from this
book, click on the flags below.
Battle of Seven Pines Index

Civil War Through the Eyes of the Camera: Seven Pines
"The slaughter field of Fair Oaks"