American Civil War: Battle of Oak Grove

Joseph Hooker
Major General Joseph Hooker. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Battle of Oak Grove - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Oak Grove was fought June 25, 1862, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders:

Union

Confederate

Battle of Oak Grove - Background:

After constructing the Army of the Potomac in the summer and fall of 1861, Major General George B. McClellan commenced planning his offensive against Richmond for the following spring.

  To take the Confederate capital, he intended to sail his men down the Chesapeake Bay to the Union base at Fortress Monroe.  Concentrating there, the army would advance up the Peninsula between the York and James Rivers to Richmond.  This shift south would permit him to bypass Confederate forces in northern Virginia and would allow US Navy warships move up both rivers to protect his flanks and help supply the army.  This part of the operation was shelved in early March 1862 when the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia struck Union naval forces at the Battle of Hampton Roads.

Though the danger posed by Virginia was offset by the arrival of the ironclad USS Monitor, efforts to blockade the Confederate warship drew off Union naval strength.  Slowing marching up the Peninsula in April, McClellan was fooled by Confederate forces into laying siege to Yorktown for much of the month.  Finally continuing the advance in early May, Union forces clashed with the Confederates at Williamsburg before driving on Richmond.

  As the army neared the city, McClellan was struck by General Joseph E. Johnston at Seven Pines on May 31. Though the fighting was inconclusive, it resulted in Johnston being severely wounded and command of the Confederate army ultimately passed to General Robert E. Lee. For the next few weeks, McClellan remained inactive in front of Richmond allowing Lee to improve the city's defenses and plan a counterattack.

Battle of Oak Grove - Plans:

Assessing the situation, Lee realized that McClellan was forced to divide his army north and south of Chickahominy River in order to protect his supply lines back to White House, VA on the Pamunkey River.  As a result, he devised an offensive that sought to defeat one wing of the Union army before the other could move to provide aid.  Shifting troops into place, Lee intended to attack on June 26.  Alerted that Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's command would soon reinforce Lee and that enemy offensive action was likely, McClellan sought to retain the initiative by striking west towards Old Tavern.  Taking the heights in the area would permit his siege guns to strike at Richmond.  To accomplish this mission, McClellan planned to attack along the Richmond & York Railroad in the north and at Oak Grove in the south.

Battle of Oak Grove - III Corps Advances:

The execution of the assault at Oak Grove fell to the divisions of Brigadier Generals Joseph Hooker and Philip Kearny from Brigadier General Samuel P. Heintzelman's III Corps.  From these commands, the brigades of Brigadier Generals Daniel Sickles, Cuvier Grover, and John C. Robinson were to leave their earthworks, pass through a small but dense wooded area, and then strike the Confederate lines held by the division of Brigadier General Benjamin Huger.

  Direct command of the forces involved fell to Heintzelman as McClellan preferred to coordinate the action by telegraph from his headquarters in the rear.  At 8:30 AM, the three Union brigades commenced their advance.  While Grover and Robinson's brigades encountered few problems, Sickles' men had trouble clearing the abatis in front of their lines and then were slowed by the difficult terrain at the headwaters of White Oak Swamp (Map).

Battle of Oak Grove - A Stalemate Ensues:           

Sickles' issues led to the brigade falling out of alignment with those to the south.  Recognizing an opportunity, Huger directed Brigadier General Ambrose Wright to advance with his brigade and mount a counterattack against Grover.  Approaching the enemy, one of his Georgia regiments caused confusion among Grover's men as they wore red Zouave uniforms which were thought to only be used by some Union troops.

  As Wright's men halted Grover, Sickles' brigade was repulsed by Brigadier General Robert Ransom's men to the north.  With his attack stalling, Heintzelman requested reinforcements from McClellan and informed the army commander of the situation.  

Unaware of the specifics of the fighting, McClellan ordered those engaged to withdraw back to their lines at 10:30 AM and departed his headquarters to inspect the battlefield personally.  Arriving around 1:00 PM, he found the situation better than anticipated and ordered Heintzelman to renew the attack.  Union troops moved forward and regained some ground but became entangled in an inconclusive fire fight that lasted until nightfall.  In the course of the battle, McClellan's men only managed to advance about 600 yards.

Battle of Oak Grove - Aftermath:

McClellan's final offensive effort against Richmond, the fighting at the Battle of Oak Grove saw Union forces suffer 68 killed, 503 wounded, and 55 missing while Huger incurred 66 killed, 362 wounded, and 13 missing.  Undeterred by the Union thrust, Lee moved forward with his planned offensive the next day.  Attacking at Beaver Dam Creek, his men were ultimately turned back.  A day later, they succeeded in dislodging Union troops at Gaines' Mill.  Beginning with Oak Grove, a week of constant fighting, dubbed the Seven Days' Battles, saw McClellan driven back to the James River at Malvern Hill and his campaign against Richmond defeated.    

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Oak Grove." ThoughtCo, May. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/battle-of-oak-grove-4046957. Hickman, Kennedy. (2016, May 17). American Civil War: Battle of Oak Grove. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-oak-grove-4046957 Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Oak Grove." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-oak-grove-4046957 (accessed April 21, 2018).