The Battle of Beaver Dam Creek, 1862

June 26, 1862

The Beaver Dam Creek was fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America June 26, 1862, during the Civil War. The outcome of the battle was a Union victory. The battle is most well-known for being part of the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles.

George McClellan, Portrait, Brady

The Battle of Beaver Dam Creek fought on June 26, 1862, was the second engagement of the Seven Days Battles during Major General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Battle of Beaver Dam Creek Quick Facts

  • Also Known As — Battle of Mechanicsville, Battle of Ellerson’s Mill
  • Date — June 26, 1862
  • Location — Henrico County, Virginia, near Richmond
  • Opponents — United States of America (USA) and Confederate States of America (CSA)
  • USA CommandersGeorge B. McClellan, Fitz John Porter
  • CSA CommandersRobert E. Lee, A.P. Hill
  • Winner — United States of America

Battle of Beaver Dam Creek

On March 17, 1862, Union General George B. McClellan launched his Peninsula Campaign. After transporting the Army of the Potomac by ships to the Virginia peninsula between the York and James Rivers, McClellan planned to advance on Richmond and bring the American Civil War to a quick conclusion. By late May, the Federals had fought their way to the outskirts of the Confederate capital.

Battle of Seven Pines

On May 31, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston struck back at the Battle of Seven Pines. Two days of hard fighting rendered a tactical draw and high casualties on both sides. The aftermath of the engagement, however, produced two important strategic developments. First, Robert E. Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia after Johnston suffered a severe wound during the fighting. Second, the high casualty rate convinced McClellan to target Richmond rather than risk costly assaults against the Rebel defenses around the capital.

Reprieve for Lee

For nearly a month, McClellan sat idly, developing plans for a siege. The unexpected reprieve presented Lee with an opportunity to organize his command and to plan an offensive designed to drive the Union army away from Richmond. Toward the end of June, McClellan developed a renewed sense of urgency when he learned that Major General Stonewall Jackson was moving to reinforce Lee after concluding his highly successful Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

Battle of Oak Grove

On June 25, at the Battle of Oak Grove, Rebel forces repulsed McClellan’s attempt to advance his siege artillery approximately one and one-half miles closer to the capital so he could “shell the city and take it by assault.”

Lee Seizes the Initiative at Beaver Dam Creek

On the next day, Lee seized the initiative. Leaving only two divisions to protect Richmond from the bulk of McClellan’s army (four corps positioned south of the Chickahominy River), Lee focused on defeating Brigadier General Fitz John Porter’s 5th Corps, isolated north of the river. Lee’s plan was to defeat Porter’s corps, which formed the right (northern) wing of the Federal army, and then to sever McClellan’s supply line, the York and Richmond Railroad.

Lee’s Plan

Lee’s plan depended upon coordinated assaults by Major General Stonewall Jackson and Major General A. P. Hill. Jackson’s men were to attack and turn Porter’s right flank, forcing the Union general to reinforce his lines with troops stationed at the village of Mechanicsville just north of the Chickahominy River. Meanwhile, Hill’s men would cross the river, take Mechanicsville, and then assault Union defensive works behind Beaver Dam Creek, a short tributary of the Chickahominy.

Federals Repulse Rebels

Events did not unfold as Lee had planned. Jackson’s men, weary from their trip from the Shenandoah Valley, did not arrive on time. By 3 p.m., an impatient Hill crossed the Chickahominy and started the battle without Jackson’s support. The Yankees stationed at Mechanicsville gave way to Hill’s frontal assault and withdrew to the Federal defensive works along Beaver Dam Creek near Ellerson’s Mill. There, Porter’s 14,000 Bluecoats, supported by heavy artillery, repulsed Hill’s repeated charges, inflicting heavy casualties on the Rebels.

Meanwhile, Jackson finally arrived near the site of the fighting around 5 p.m. Despite hearing the sounds of the battle three or four miles ahead, Jackson inexplicably ordered his men to make camp for the night. Left to his own resources, Hill attempted one more frontal assault at dusk, which the Northerners also repulsed. The fighting subsided at nightfall.

Battle of Beaver Dam Creek Outcome

Lee’s first battle as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia was a total tactical failure. Of the 60,000 soldiers he amassed to overpower Porter’s isolated corps, only 16,000 were engaged at the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek. The uncoordinated assault failed to threaten McClellan’s supply lines, and Hill’s repeated attacks lost over 1,300 soldiers, compared with fewer than four hundred casualties for the Federals.

McClellan turned the Confederate defeat into a strategic victory for Lee. Characteristically overestimating the strength of his enemy, McClellan ordered Porter to abandon his entrenchments at Beaver Dam Creek during the night and to fall back to higher ground near Gaines’ Mill. In addition, McClellan shifted his supply line to the James River, abandoning the railroad and giving Lee what he did not achieve on the battlefield.

Battle of Beaver Dam Creek Significance

McClellan’s decisions after the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek started a pattern of retreat that did not end until Lee drove the Army of the Potomac back to the banks of the James River in less than one week.

Battle of Beaver Dam Creek Facts

Campaign

Military Forces Engaged

  • USA — Army of the Potomac
  • CSA — Army of Northern Virginia

Number of Soldiers Engaged

  • USA — Roughly 15,000
  • CSA — Roughly 16,000

Estimated Casualties

  • USA — fewer than 400 soldiers
  • CSA — 1,400 soldiers

Battle of Beaver Dam Creek Timeline

This list shows the main battles and events that took place before and after the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek, and how it fits into the chronological order of the Peninsula Campaign. The battles that occurred from June 25 to July 1, 1862, are collectively known as the Seven Days Battles.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The Battle of Beaver Dam Creek, 1862
  • Date June 26, 1862
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Beaver Dam Creek, Battle of Mechanicsville, Battle of Ellerson's Mill, Peninsula Campaign
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 16, 2024

Taxonomies