Battle of Malvern Hill

The Battle of Malvern Hill, also known as the Battle of Poindexter’s Farm, was fought on July 1, 1862 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 was 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.

Battle of Malvern Hill

The Union Army of the Potomac arrived at Malvern Hill, a 100-foot plateau about one mile north of the James River, on June 30.  McClellan briefly inspected the position and then boarded a gunboat, leaving Union General Fitz-John Porter in command.  Porter deployed the infantry in a U-shaped line, with the open side facing the James, supported by approximately 36-guns on both the hill’s western and northern slopes. The army’s heavy artillery, including 20- and 30-pound Parrott rifles, stood in reserve on the southern end of Malvern Hill.  That afternoon an advance Confederate division shelled the Union position from the west with five guns. The concentrated Union guns smothered the Confederate battery and another one in support, forcing the Confederates to abandon two cannon and six limbers.  It was a preview of what was to come.

The main portion of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia arrived the next morning, sensing that McClellan’s troops were beginning to break under the unrelenting pressure.  Reconnoitering the Union position, Confederate Generals James Longstreet and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson identified positions on the Confederate right and left from which to deliver converging artillery fire.  After this bombardment disrupted the Union position, Lee’s infantry would attack. Despite repeated attempts, the Confederates failed to amass their guns.  Of approximately 45 Confederate artillery pieces that participated in fighting, only six to eight did so simultaneously on either flank.  The massed Union guns pounded the Confederate batteries and drove them from the field, inflicting about a 100 casualties and killing more than 70 horses.  Union gunboats also lobbed shells into the Confederate lines.

At around three o’clock in the afternoon, Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead’s brigade attacked Union skirmishers.  The Union gunners directed their fire against him, and his men took cover in a ravine part of the way up Malvern Hill.  At 5:30 p.m. Confederate General John B. Magruder launched a series of piecemeal brigade attacks from the right.  Confederate General D. H. Hill’s division, hearing the firing, advanced on the left, as did other Confederate units.  Union artillery, supported by infantry, broke the Confederate formations, but new ones continued to surge forward.  Porter repeatedly committed fresh troops and batteries, ultimately employing 107 cannon, and repelled the disjointed attacks until darkness halted the fighting.  Union guns continued to wreak havoc on the Confederate lines until ten o’clock that night.

Confederate casualties at Malvern Hill totaled 5,650, compared with the Union’s 3,007.  The following morning, a Union officer reported that the numerous wounded Confederates who littered Malvern Hill “give the field a singular crawling effect.”  Porter encouraged McClellan to resume the advance on Richmond, but the ordeal of the Seven Days had mentally defeated him. Instead, McClellan ordered the army to retreat to Harrison’s Landing, where it remained until late August, effectively ending the Peninsula Campaign.