Monday, July 2, 2012

Malvern Hill-Covering the Retreat, July 1-2, 1862

When electing to pull back from Richmond and conduct his "change of base," General George McClellan instructed the Army of the Potomac to fall back towards Harrison's Landing on the James River.    With the Confederate Army in hot pursit, the Union Army made its stand at Malvern Hill.  The James River Flotilla at the time consisted of the the ironclads USS Galena and Monitor, along with the wooden gunboats USS Jacob Bell, Aroostook, and Mahaska. 

Monitor and Jacob Bell provided cover for the Army upstream near City Point. Aroostook served as a communications vessel with signaling officers keeping lines open between ships and the Army on shore. Galena and Mahaska anchored at a section of the James River known as Turkey Bend (now known as Turkey Point, go here for a modern day map of the region) with a clear view of Malvern Hill. In a move that would bring great ridicule upon him in the press, McClellan then came on board Galena for discussions with the Navy. 

Alfred Waud deptiction of Galena and Mahaska during Malvern Hill.
On July 1 watches on Galena spotted the Confederate Army approaching Malvern Hill.  With U.S. Army Signal Corps officers on board, Galena and Mahaska opened up on Confederate positions with their 100-Parrot Rifle and IX-Inch Dahlgrens for two hours.  When rapid fire bombardment stopped at 8 p.m., the two ships fired 206 shells.

While the rate of fire was impressive, there were considerable problems with the bombardment.  All issues originated in the fact that the Confederate formations were upwards of two miles away.  The longest fuzes in the ships' arsenal was for 15-seconds, thus several shells exploded prematurely and some even exploded near Union formations.   Despite the issues, Union soliders were thankful that the Navy had their back during the retreat.  Several times, U.S. Naval officers reported that when Union soldiers spotted them from shore, they cheered. 

An 1864 Republican cartoon lampooning General George McClellan's presence on board USS Galena during the Battle of Malvern Hill. 

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