Battle of Savage's Station
Campaign: Seven Days Retreat
For four days the battles of The Seven Days had raged north of the Chickahominy as the Army of the Potomac withdrew. Then Richard Ewell reported Dispatch Station and a nearby bridge was burned. J. E. B. Stuart reported destruction of the railroad further east. Robert E. Lee decided it was time to move the fighting south of the river.
About 3:30 am on June 29, 1862, General Lee summoned Magruder to a meeting on Nine-Mile Road east of Richmond, Virginia. Lee's plan called for Magruder to follow the Richmond and York Railroad while Stonewall Jackson crossed the Grapevine Bridge and struck Edwin Vose Sumner from the north. Benjamin Huger would follow Nine-Mile Road in hopes of striking McClellan's column while A. P. Hill and James Longstreet would circle south of Huger, also hoping to strike the retreating Yankees.
Until now, the Army of the Potomac had withdrawn as they had advanced, along the Richmond and York River Railroad. Now they were preparing to withdraw to the safety of Harrison Landing on the James River, where the artillery fire from Union gunboats could protect them. George McClellan had been told to "protect his army" by Abraham Lincoln and the massive retreat (or "change of base" as McClellan called it) had begun. Savage Station would be the last connection to his supply base at White House, on the York River.
It wouldn't hard for Virginia-born Magruder to spot the location of the Union Army - thick, billowing clouds of black smoke told him exactly where the Yankees were. Bluecoats were burning everything in sight that could not be carried. "Hard bread (hard tack or crackers), flour, rice, sugar, coffee, salt and pork," wrote one surgeon, "were thrown upon the burning piles and consigned to the flames." Clothing and shoes were being added as well.
Ordinance, however, was handled differently. Savage's Station sits at the end of the low plateau on which the city of Richmond, Virginia was built. To the east the railroad begins to drop 50 feet in just under two miles to a bridge over a small creek. The munitions were loaded onto a train and each car carefully set on fire before the train was pushed far enough to begin rolling down the hill on its own. Soon the sound of explosions from the train filled the air and set the bridge on fire.
With D. R. Jones to the north and Evander McLaws to the south of the Richmond and York River Railroad, Magruder's division advanced along the railroad tracks themselves. Jones, moving through open fields, advanced more quickly than either McLaws or Magruder, and struck Sumner's Second Corps west of Savage's Station. Jones looked for support from Jackson to his left or Magruder to his right and found neither of them, wisely digging in until the Confederates could advance. This battle was distinct from Savage's Station and commonly called The Peach Orchard or Allen's Farm.
By the time Magruder arrived to Jones's right, Sumner's men had withdrawn. Once again the Rebels began to pursue the retreating Yankee army. Edwin Vose Sumner was sick and tired of McClellan's retreat when they had been close enough to see Richmond church spires three days earlier. Sumner decided to defend a Union hospital established at Savage's Station after the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek. What remained here were 2,500 Union soldiers from the Battle of Gaines Mill too badly injured to walk or be moved.
On Sumner's right, dependable "Baldy" Smith held the line, while on his left Samuel Heintzelman was positioned south of the railroad. The Second Corps withdrawal from The Peach Orchard left Heintzelman thinking his own right flank lay open. He withdrew to his crossing of White Oak Swamp and awaited further developments. About 5:00 p.m. McLaws began the Confederate attack south of the railroad with Joseph Kershaw's brigade. Kershaw's Confederates actually broke through William Burn's Yankee brigade in the federal line. Napoleon (N. J. T.) Dana tried to support Burns during the Confederate attack to no avail. Sumner was finally forced to call up his reserve, William Brooks and his Vermont brigade, to patch the hole created by the South Carolinians.
Although only brigades were involve, Sumner was pleased with the outcome and prepared not only to defend his position but to take the initiative against the small Confederate force. By this time however, Sumner's corps was an island in a sea of Confederates. When Fitz-John Porter explained the situation, Sumner finally agreed to retreat, although leaving 2,500 men in the field hospital was against his nature. At dark, Baldy Smith's division began the retreat. By the next morning, Sumner had withdrawn and Magruder was in possession of the hospital.
From the north, Stonewall Jackson and Daniel Harvey Hill marched in pursuit of Sumner. Hill's division picked up almost a thousand prisoners between Savage's Station