by NJ Rebel

The Seven Days' Battles: An Analysis

About one hundred forty years ago this very date, the battles collectively known as The Seven Days occurred. The Seven Days Battles was the first campaign undertaken by General Robert E. Lee after assuming command of the Army of Northern Virginia at the direct request of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In his masterful analysis of the Confederate strategy of the early war, titled "Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861-1862", Dr. Joseph L Harsh makes a convincing argument that the result of the Seven Days Battles was some sign of hope for victory. While the Seven Days Battles did not result in the tactical destruction of the premier Federal army in the East, namely the Army of the Potomac, the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee had accomplished much. The first accomplishment, which I have alluded to above, was the forcing of the Federal force from the very gates of Richmond to a distance of some twenty-five miles south and east of the Confederate capital. Lee also had, by dint of concentration and his use of maneuver in turning movements, allowed him to seize the initiative and force his opponent, albeit temporarily, to go on the defensive.

Besides the successful raising of the siege of Richmond by the Army of Northern Virginia, much occurred in the late Spring to early Summer of 1862 to restore hope of ultimate Confederate victory, foreign intervention and independence. Among the hopeful signs was the break-up of the massive Federal army at Corinth into several smaller forces after its commanding general, Henry W Halleck, also known as "Old Brains", was called to Washington to assume the position of General in Chief. Another was the successful recapture from Federal forces of some two hundred miles of Mississippi River territory, thereby strengthening Confederate ability to communicate with the vast Trans-Mississippi and receive the rich bounty of supplies from that vital sector.

To be sure, there were mistakes committed by Lee in his first campaign at the helm of the Army of Northern Virginia. The faulty arrangement overall of Confederate forces, that of independent division commanders loosely working under the overall leadership of the commanding general of the Confederacy's main Eastern army, that existed before and during The Seven Days was something Lee realized he needed to correct.

Joe Harsh notes that one lesson of the Seven Days as borne so painfully to Lee was the terrible cost of the removal of his opponent from the gates of Richmond. In a masterful analysis of the percentage of manpower available to the Confederacy versus that of the Union, Joe Harsh reveals that Lee's "20.135 casualties represented a loss of 1.68 percent of the Confederate military pool of whites of military age, while the 15.849 casualties he inflicted on the enemy amounted to only 0.36 percent of their pool." Lee clearly could ill afford victories that drained his resources almost four or five times faster than that of the North.

Lee knew his country did not have the manpower or manufacturing base to offset the almost superior resources of the North. Therefore, he knew his best strategy was to take the "offensive-defensive" to always attack his opponent under conditions favorable to the Army of Northern Virginia and allow minimal casualties while inflicting maximum loss on his enemy. By doing thus Lee hoped to neutralize Federal overall superiority of numbers and protract the War sufficiently long enough for the North to become so war-weary it would quit the struggle.

The importance of what the Army of Northern Virginia accomplished in its first campaign under Robert E Lee cannot be underestimated. In exactly one month from taking command, Lee helped revive Confederate morale, so perilously low just before Seven Pines, to where the military tide could be shifted against the Federals. Ahead of Lee were the campaigns of Second Manassas and First Maryland and, if the Seven Days were an indication, Confederate fortunes in the East were bright indeed.

© 2002
Editors Note: Mr. Mayers is a feature writer on the writers staff. He can be contacted at