What was the significance of the Seven Days Battles and how did it impact the Civil War?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two most important results culminating from the Seven Days Battles (June 25-July 1, 1862) around Richmond were that (1) General Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia; and (2) the larger Union Army of the Potomac was defeated and forced away from Richmond--effectively ending Union General George McClellan's ambitious Peninsula Campaign. McClellan's army of more than 100,000 men was first thwarted near Yorktown in April, where the Federals began siege operations. But Confederate commander General Joseph Johnston decided to withdraw his forces, retreating to the outskirts of Richmond. After the inconclusive Battle of Williamsburg, the ever-cautious Johnston launched a surprise attack at the Battle of Seven Pines. It also resulted in a bloody stalemate, but Johnston's wounding led to Lee taking command of the disorganized forces in May 1862. After a month of reorganization while McClellan remained immobile, Lee went on the offensive. During six major battles over seven days, Lee's army, now including Stonewall Jackson's four divisions--drove the Federals back to the James River without winning a decisive victory. In the battles--Oak Grove, Mechanicsville, Gaines's Mill, Garnett's and Golding's Farms, Savage's Station, Frayser's Farm and White Oak Swamp, and Malvern Hill--Lee lost about 20,000 men, but he had succeeded in protecting the capital and forcing McClellan back toward Washington. Considered a major Confederate victory, the Seven Days Battles also

  • ended McClellan's doomed Peninsula Campaign;
  • raised hopes in the South while "Northern morale was crushed by McClellan's retreat";
  • served as the beginnings of the "Lee Myth," making Lee the most respected man in the South;
  • began a string of victories (aside from the Battle of Antietam) by Lee over his Union adversaries;
  • led to McClellan being passed over (by Henry Halleck) as the Union General-in-Chief;
  • "emboldened" Lee to stay on the offensive, following up his victories in the Seven Days with more triumphs at 2nd Bull Run and Fredericksburg a few months later.

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