The 5th Cavalry’s Charge at Gaines Mill – Help Save the Site

Many of our readers get the preservation mailings from the American Battlefield Trust, asking to save land at various sites. The most recent one covers several sites around Richmond, at Cold Harbor, Gaines Mill, Seven Pines, and related. You are welcome to read the appeal here.

W.T. Trego’s depiction of the 5th Cavalry at Gaines Mill.

The Gaines Mill one in particular caught my attention, as it covers the land that was the site of the 5th U.S. Cavalry’s charge late in the battle on June 27, 1862. W.T. Trego’s depiction of that charge (right) was the cover of my Virginia 1862 book for the Army’s Sesquicentennial commemorative series

Here’s how I described the action:

Porter’s exhausted command was running low on ammunition. With the sun setting, Lee decided to launch his entire force simultaneously against the Federals and win the day by strength of numbers. By 1830 he had amassed 50,000 Confederates to assault Porter’s line, the largest single attack Lee’s army would make in the war. Spearheaded by Brig. Gen. John B. Hood’s brigade, the Confederates swarmed toward the Union position and broke into the V Corps’ lines all along the front, capturing much of Porter’s artillery. Increasing darkness and a desperate Union charge by Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke’s cavalry brigade halted the Confederate advance, enabling the Federals to withdraw from the field and march toward the Chickahominy River bridges, which they destroyed after crossing.

The Battle of Gaines Mill was the largest and bloodiest of the Seven Days Battles, and it was an unquestioned defeat for McClellan’s army. Porter’s command suffered almost 7,000 casualties, including 2,800 prisoners, and had to leave the field. Lee’s army, however, suffered about 9,000 men killed, wounded, and missing. Strategically, Porter’s retreat exposed McClellan’s supply line to West Point and forced him to change his logistical base to the James River. The battle was important to the Confederates’ morale as General Lee’s first tactical victory as the army’s commander.

The 5th Cavalry remains on active duty, with a long and distinguished service record. It has been an integral part of the 1st Cavalry Division since World War II. The Gaines Mill charge is commemorated on the regimental crest.

In short, this is an opportunity to save some critical historical ground. Please consider helping.

2 Responses to The 5th Cavalry’s Charge at Gaines Mill – Help Save the Site

  1. I always understood that the 5th’s charge was an utter fiasco that achieved nothing positive for the Union, only disrupting the integrity of their lines.

  2. I’m all for saving the site, but nothing to do with the 5th Cavalry– my own ancestors were present, while serving in the 9th Virginia Cavalry, CSA.

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