Six battles between the Union and Confederate armies to the east of Richmond, Virginia, cost both sides 36,000 casualties out of nearly 200,000 combatants. It was an early, ominous sign that this war was not only going to be long, but more deadly than its instigators ever imagined. Union General George McLellan and his staff launched an early massive strike along the Virginia Peninsula, hoping to capture the Confederate capital and bring about a quick and necessarily deadly end to the Civil War. Newly appointed Confederate commander, Gen. Robert E. Lee, struck back viciously, sparing no ammunition or lives to protect the vital political center of the Confederacy a century and a half ago this week.
Lee's army crossed the Chickahominy River in the mid afternoon on the June 26, 1862. Two companies from Laurens County, who carried the banner of "The Blackshear Guards, 14th Georgia, and "The Laurens Volunteers", 49th Georgia, both in Anderson's brigade, Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill's division. Powell's division crossed Meadow's Bridge over Brook Run to join with Branch's advance on Mechanicsville. Field's brigade led the way with Anderson's behind him.
When Lee reached Mechanicsville, he split his army in three directions. Richard Anderson's (Left) Brigade led Hill's march along the Old Church Road toward Beaverdam Creek. Within a few hundred yards of Mechanicsville, Hill's division came under the fire of Federal artillery. Anderson's Brigade took the extreme Confederate left near the head of Beaverdam Creek above Mechanicsville, Virginia. Their mission was to march through one mile of dense woods to capture the Federal artillery. Anderson moved up to the west rim of the valley of the creek opposite Gen. Reynolds' Federal division.
Lee and Hill were waiting on Stonewall Jackson. The iconic Jackson was supposed to have marched down from the north and attack and turn the Federal right. Hill could wait no longer. Shortly after arriving at the creek, Hill's order for a late afternoon attack came. Col. E.L. Thomas led the 35th Georgia in the initial attack on the Federal right. Col. R.W. Folsom got up from his sick bed to lead the 14th Georgia in support of Thomas. When the attack first began, Anderson's men had woods and thickets to cover their advance. Those in the open fields were pounded with sweeping artillery fire. Once they came down the steep banks toward the waist-deep, fifteen to twenty foot wide creek, they were in full view of Federal riflemen. Every assault was repulsed by the Federal forces. Only the 35th Georgia were able to cross the creek. Under heavy fire they were forced to retire at the end of the fighting.
Lt. Hardy Smith, (left) then leading the company after the wounding of Capt. Thomas M. Yopp at Seven Pines, led the Blackshear Guards as they charged Union positions. Elkinia Faulk and William L. Jones were killed on the field. Amos L. Moore suffered a severe wound to the head and died nine days later. George Jenkins, Daniel G. Pope, and Emory Smith were wounded during the brutal fighting. Lt. Smith was shot in the right arm. His wound was so severe that his arm was later amputated. Although the Laurens Volunteers were not as heavily engaged, Thomas J. Parsons John C. Bracewell and Benjamin F. Dixon were wounded in the fighting at Mechanicsville.
Col. A.J. Lane, commanding the 49th Georgia, received a severe wound in the arm during the fighting. Brigade commander Gen. Joseph Anderson, who was wounded in the fighting, was succeeded by Gen. Edward L. Thomas. Union General Porter remembered the moans of the dying and wounded penetrating the night following the battle. The Confederates lost one-fifth of their men, while the Union losses were relatively light. Even though the Federals claimed victory, McLellan moved his men to the southeast in an effort to better his position.
"The Rebels came on, from the woods, out of the swamps, down the roads, along the entire front, with shriek and yell," a Pennsylvania soldier recalled.
The Guards and Volunteers continued their march the next morning along Old Church Road turning toward New Cold Harbor. The armies squared off a mile to the southeast of Gaines' Mill. At 2 :00 on the afternoon of the 27th, A.P. Hill's Division, the largest in the army, made the first attack on the Union center and left. J.T. Faulk and John R. McDaniel of the Guards were wounded.
When Anderson's brigade formed a line, three quarters of a mile long at the edge of the woods, the Federals commenced a brisk attack. A deep ravine separated the Rebels from the Federal fire on the hill. Anderson halted his men under heavy fire before ordering a double-quick charge followed by a third charge. The embattled Confederates found that crossing the ravine was impractical and fell back and held their original position.
After Anderson's brigade made three unsuccessful charges, everybody kept wondering "Where is Jackson?" After two hours of battle, the uncoordinated Confederate attack fell apart. The Confederates attacked again and pushed the Federals back. The 14th spent the next day resting along Powhite Creek south of Gaines Mill. On the 29th, Hill and Longstreet marched west toward Richmond before turning back toward the Federals on the Darbytown Road and moving in the direction of Malvern Hill on the James River.
Hill and Longstreet attacked the Federals at Frayser's Farm near Glendale on the 30th. At the beginning of the battle, Anderson's brigade was left in the extreme rear. After the battle raged for hours, A.P. Hill was forced to use Anderson's Brigade, the last of the army's reserves. At sunset, Anderson marched his men along Long Bridge Road with orders to cheer and make as much noise as possible. The 14th Ga. and 3rd La. took the left with the 35th, 45th, and 49th Ga. regiments making up the right wing. Confederate President Jefferson Davis came out from his headquarters and galloped along the column. A chorus of cheers rang out.
Anderson marched a half mile toward the Federals lying on the left of the road. Orders were given to withhold musket fire until the division joined with the Confederate front. As the division moved to within 200 feet of the Federals, cries rang out "For God's sake, don't fire on us, we are friends!" Anderson ordered a bayonet charge. The approaching forces yelled "Fire!" giving Anderson no doubt that they were the enemy. Gen. Anderson was again wounded and E.L. Thomas assumed command of the Brigade. Within a few minutes the fighting ceased. The battle was a draw. McLellan pulled back to a more strategic position at Malvern Hill. Only John W. Cross of the Laurens Volunteers was wounded in the fighting of the last battle.
The climax of the Seven Days Battles came on July 1, 1862 with a Confederate attack on Malvern Hill. Hill and Longstreet remained at Frayser's Farm and did not participate in the action. Thomas's Brigade was positioned at the fork in the road behind the main Confederate force. Anderson's Division suffered 364 casualties during the Battles of the Seven Days. Lee's men suffered more casualties during the campaign, but managed to push McLellan away from Richmond.
After the Battles of the Seven Days, Hill's Light Division was assigned to the Corps of Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Jackson led Lee's move northward. Jackson arrived at Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862, where the killing resumed and accelerated.