American Civil War: Battle of Glendale (Frayser's Farm)

George McCall
Brigadier General George McCall. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Glendale - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Glendale was fought June 30, 1862, during the American Civil War and was part of the Seven Days Battles.

Armies & Commanders



Battle of Glendale - Background:

Having commenced the Peninsula Campaign earlier in the spring, Major General George McClellan's Army of the Potomac stalled before the gates of Richmond in late May 1862 after the inconclusive Battle of Seven Pines. This was largely due to the Union commander's overly-cautious approach and the incorrect belief that General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia badly outnumbered him. While McClellan remained idle for much of June, Lee relentlessly worked to improve Richmond's defenses and plan a counter strike. Though outnumbered himself, Lee understood his army could not hope to win a protracted siege in the Richmond defenses. On June 25, McClellan finally moved and he ordered the divisions of Brigadier Generals Joseph Hooker and Philip Kearny to advance up the Williamsburg Road. The resulting Battle of Oak Grove saw the Union attack halted by Major General Benjamin Huger's division.

Battle of Glendale - Lee Strikes:

This proved lucky for Lee as he had shifted the bulk of his army north of the Chickahominy River with the goal of destroying Brigadier General Fitz John Porter's isolated V Corps. Attacking on June 26, Lee's forces were bloodily repulsed by Porter's men at the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville). That night, McClellan, concerned about the presence of Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's command to the north, directed Porter to fall back and shifted the army's supply line from the Richmond and York River Railroad south to the James River. In doing so, McClellan effectively ended his own campaign as the abandonment of the railroad meant that heavy guns could not be carried to Richmond for the planned siege.

Assuming a strong position behind Boatswain's Swamp, V Corps came under heavy attack on June 27. In the resulting Battle of Gaines' Mill, Porter's corps turned back numerous enemy assaults through the day until being forced to retreat near sunset. As Porter's men crossed to the south bank of the Chickahominy, a badly shaken McClellan ended his campaign and began moving the army towards the safety of the James River. With McClellan providing little guidance to his men, the Army of the Potomac fought off Confederate forces at Garnett's and Golding's Farms on June 27-28 before turning back a larger attack at Savage's Station on the 29th.

Battle of Glendale - A Confederate Opportunity:

On June 30, McClellan inspected the army's line of march towards the river before boarding USS Galena to view US Navy operations on the river for the day. In his absence, V Corps, minus Brigadier General George McCall's division, occupied Malvern Hill. While the majority of the Army of the Potomac had crossed White Oak Swamp Creek by noon, the retreat was disorganized as McClellan had not appointed a second-in-command to oversee the withdrawal. As a result, a large portion of the army was log-jammed on the roads around Glendale. Seeing an opportunity to inflict a decisive defeat on the Union army, Lee devised an intricate plan of attack for later in the day.

Directing Huger to attack down the Charles City Road, Lee ordered Jackson to advance south and cross over White Oak Swamp Creek to strike the Union line from the north. These efforts would be supported by assaults from the west by Major Generals James Longstreet and A.P. Hill. To the south, Major General Theophilus H. Holmes was to aid Longstreet and Hill with an attack and artillery barrage against Union troops near Malvern Hill. If executed correctly, Lee hoped to split the Union army in two and cut part of it off from the James River. Moving forward, the plan quickly began to unravel as Huger's division made slow progress due to downed trees blocking the Charles City Road. Forced to cut a new road, Huger's men did not take part in the coming battle (Map).

Battle of Glendale - Confederates on the Move:

To the north, Jackson, as he had a Beaver Dam Creek and Gaines' Mill, moved slowly. Reaching White Oak Swamp Creek, he spent the day attempting to push back elements of Brigadier General William B. Franklin's VI Corps so that his troops could rebuild a bridge across the stream. Despite the availability of nearby fords, Jackson did not force the matter and instead settled into an artillery duel with Franklin's guns. Moving south to rejoin V Corps, McCall's division, consisting of the Pennsylvania Reserves, halted near the Glendale crossroads and Frayser's Farm. Here it was positioned between Hooker and Kearny's division from Brigadier General Samuel P. Heintzelman's III Corps. Around 2:00 PM, Union guns on this front opened fire on Lee and Longstreet as they met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Battle of Glendale - Longstreet Attacks:

As the senior leadership retired, Confederate guns unsuccessfully attempted to silence their Union counterparts. In response, Hill, whose division was under Longstreet's direction for the operation, ordered troops forward to attack the Union batteries. Pushing up the Long Bridge Road around 4:00 PM, Colonel Micah Jenkins' brigade attacked the brigades of Brigadier General George G. Meade and Truman Seymour, both of McCall's division. Jenkins' attack was supported by the brigades of Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox and James Kemper. Advancing in a disjointed fashion, Kemper arrived first and charged at the Union line. Soon supported by Jenkins, Kemper managed to break McCall's left and drive it back (Map).

Recovering, the Union forces managed to reform their line and a seesaw battle ensued with the Confederates attempting to break through to the Willis Church Road. A key route, it served as the Army of the Potomac's line of retreat to the James River. In an effort to bolster McCall's position, elements of Major General Edwin Sumner's II Corps joined the fight as did Hooker's division to the south. Slowly feeding additional brigades into the fight, Longstreet and Hill never mounted a single massive assault which may overwhelmed the Union position. Around sunset, Wilcox's men succeeded in capturing Lieutenant Alanson Randol's six-gun battery on the Long Bridge Road. A counterattack by the Pennsylvanians re-took the guns, but they were lost against when Brigadier General Charles Field's brigade attacked near sunset.

As the fighting swirled, a wounded McCall was captured as he attempted to reform his lines. Continuing to press the Union position, Confederate troops did not stop their assaults on McCall and Kearny's division until around 9:00 that night. Breaking off, the Confederates failed to reach the Willis Church Road. Of Lee's four intended attacks, only Longstreet and Hill moved forward with any vigor. In addition to Jackson and Huger's failures, Holmes made little headway to the south and was halted near Turkey Bridge by the remainder of Porter's V Corps.

Battle of Glendale - Aftermath:

An exceptionally brutal battle which included widespread hand-to-hand fighting, Glendale saw Union forces hold their position allowing the army to continue its retreat to the James River. In the fighting, the Confederate casualties numbered 638 killed, 2,814 wounded, and 221 missing, while Union forces sustained 297 killed, 1,696 wounded, and 1,804 missing/captured. While McClellan was roundly criticized for being away from the army during the fighting, Lee fretted that a great opportunity had been lost. Withdrawing to Malvern Hill, the Army of the Potomac assumed a strong defensive position on the heights. Continuing his pursuit, Lee attacked this position the next day at the Battle of Malvern Hill.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Glendale (Frayser's Farm)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). American Civil War: Battle of Glendale (Frayser's Farm). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Glendale (Frayser's Farm)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).