The Battle of Oak Grove took place on June 25, 1862 in Henrico County, Virginia and marked the beginning of the Seven Days’ Battles that were part of the Peninsula campaign of 1862, a grand scheme to destroy the Rebel army in Richmond and effectively end the Civil War. Union Major General George B. McClellan planned to end the war through short and decisive battles rather than one major, war-winning battle. He corresponded with his wife before the undertaking; “It now looks to me as if the operations would resolve themselves into a series of partial attacks, rather than a general battle.” McClellan’s goal was to seize the high ground on the Nine Mile Road with the objective of bringing his siege guns within range of the Confederate capital. Union Private Thomas B. Leaver of the 2nd New Hampshire wrote home on the night prior to the battle, “I hope the day of decision will come soon…I believe the Rebels will skedaddle as they did at Yorktown and Corinth. Keep up good courage dear Mother, the end is near at hand.”
Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee met the Union attack and defended against the attempted Union advance with three brigades of Confederate General Benjamin Huger. Huger encountered the forces of Union Brigadier Generals Joseph Hooker and Philip Kearny. Intense fighting throughout the day led to inconclusive results for the Union Army. McClellan failed to achieve his objective, his troops gaining only 600 yards while sustaining estimated casualties of 626. The Confederate soldiers sustained 441 casualties bringing the total for the battle over 1000. Included in this total is the death of Thomas B. Leaver, whose last letter home predicted his ironic and tragic fate.
The Battle of Oak Grove set the tone for the Seven Days’ Battles and the rest of the Peninsula campaign, alluding to the intensity of fighting that both sides would encounter. Much of the battle consisted of the Union soldiers advancing on ground that they had previously won earlier in the day. Confusion and poor communication hindered the Union Army throughout the battle. Sergeant Edgar Newcomb of the 19th Massachusetts eloquently described the wearisome nature of battle:
“It is not the marching nor the firing that wears men, but the suspense of the slow advance and frequent halt…till finally when at once the storm of bullets whirs over and on each side, and men begin to fall, and orders come think and fast, the sweet oozes from every pore. It is not fear but uncertainty, that makes men live days in every moment.”
For more information on the battle and the Peninsula campaign, Stephen W. Sears’ To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign is one of the best available secondary sources on the subject and details the Battle of Oak Grove within the context of the grand campaign. The book is partially available on Google Books and includes maps of the battle and a great bibliography for further readings. Another scholarly secondary source partially available on Google Books is John S. Salmon’s The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide which offers a great overview and background information on the Seven Days’ Battles. For primary material, teachers should utilize the Official Records, volume 11 for reports on the Peninsula campaign including one from Union General Joseph Hooker.