American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

Dark Days

A long, long time of defeats for the Union army followed. The Confederates were getting themselves together at Richmond, their capital. They knew that was their stronghold and supposed of course the Union army knew it, too, and would before many days bear down upon them.

Down to the banks of the Chickahominy went our "Army of the Potomac." This river was a sluggish, muddy stream, with swamps on every side. The army was set to work digging trenches, and throwing up banks of earth to defend them from the Confederate force in Richmond. This was a sad, sad time. In this damp, unhealthy spot, our soldiers worked on day and night. Unused to the climate, the men began to die as if seized with a plague. Hundreds and hundreds of them sank beneath the poison of the place, and every day our "Army of the Potomac" grew smaller and smaller.

Again McClellan stood still. Johnston, the "successful retreater," not wishing to retreat this time, came out from the city and attacked McClellan himself at Fair Oaks. Fortune favored our side in the battle, and Johnston was made to retreat this time into the city.

Johnston was wounded in this battle; and so, unfitted for service, he was obliged to give up his command. Robert Lee became the Confederate commander in his place. McClellan still hesitated to push forward and his men were dying off in hundreds.

Stonewall Jackson now arrived at Richmond and joined his forces with those of Lee's.

McClellan still waited, until the enemy again came out and, by attacking him, forced him to act. Now began a series of battles called the "Seven Days' Battles." Every day for a week the two armies engaged in battle, and every day McClellan ordered "retreat, retreat." On the seventh day the Union forces, from a high ridge of land, poured down their fire with such vigor and such success that the enemy, powerful as they were, were driven back broken and confused, having lost greatly in dead and wounded. Even now it is a mystery, explained one way by some, another way by others that McClellan, brave and well-trained as he was should have held his forces back as he did week after week, apparently doing nothing.

Certainly he had some reason for his action (or lack of action) whatever it was. Perhaps some soldier who was in the war can tell you all about it. You and I could hardly form a just opinion regarding it. So, for now, let us go on and read about a battle between McClellan and the brave southern general—Lee.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - IV by Mara L. Pratt