(July 4, 2017) Stonewall Jackson’s poor performance during the early summer 1862 Seven Days Campaign near Richmond immediately following his brilliant independent Shenandoah Valley victories may have been at least partly due to inaccurate maps of the countryside around the Confederate capital. Historians have long puzzled over his tendency to arrive late and in the wrong positions while failing to attack as directed during a week of nearly continuous fighting around Richmond under Robert E. Lee.
On 26 June at the first battle of the campaign, for example, Jackson was to arrive on the enemy’s north flank at Beaver Dam Creek and coordinate his attack with the rest of Lee’s units that would attack from the west. When Stonewall arrived too late at five o’clock in the afternoon he was in the wrong place even though his faulty map indicated that he was correctly located.
On 27 June, Jackson was again to lead a key flank attack at Gaines Mills but was late a second time because he was not familiar with the roads. He did not join the Rebel assault until nearly twilight. On 29 June, Jackson failed to launch a flank attack on the Federals at Savage’s Station. That time he did not show up at all. The third error, however, may have resulted from poorly worded orders from Lee’s adjutant, C. H. Chilton, who also played a role in the famous Lost Dispatch incident shortly before the Battle of Antietam three months later in Maryland.
Lee’s last chance for a decisive win in the Seven Days Campaign was on 30 June when he directed four columns of Rebel units totaling 70,000 men to converge on a marching column of 55,000 Federals at Glendale Crossroads. The defenders were part of a 100,000-man Union army that would be split in two if the Glendale attack were successful. In the end, only two of Lee’s four columns pressed their assaults vigorously and Jackson’s was not among them. That time, however, Jackson was close enough to see, or hear, the firing from his objective without a need of maps.
A number of Lee subordinates complained about the poor quality of maps used during the Seven Days Campaign. Daniel H. Hill said “the maps furnished the division commanders were worthless.” After the war Richard Taylor wrote “the Confederate commanders knew no more about the topography of the country [east of Richmond] than they did about central Africa.” Benjamin Huger complained, “I had no one to show me what road to take.” John Magruder said the only map he ever saw was a grossly inaccurate one at Lee’s H-Q. An Alabama officer was surprised that even Lee was apparently unaware of a route the Union army took to retreat from the last battle of the campaign at Malvern Hill.
In contrast, Stonewall’s success in his earlier Shenandoah Valley Campaign benefitted significantly from his cartographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, who remained on staff until the general was killed in May 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Jackson’s reputation for lightning movements and surprise attacks, befuddling his enemies, owes much to Hotchkiss’s mapping. Hotchkiss, however, had no time to prepare maps around the Richmond area before the Seven Days Campaign began. Unfortunately, the campaign could not be delayed with any prospect of victory in order to provide him time to make such maps.
Together with the three men who served as Secretary of War during the first fourteen months of the Confederacy, President Jefferson Davis along with Generals Joseph Johnston and Robert E. Lee should share the blame for the inadequate maps of the Richmond area during the summer of 1862. As Commander in Chief, Davis had at least a year after the war started in April 1861 to order that such maps be prepared. Similarly, Robert E. Lee could have ordered them after his March 1862 appointment as President Davis’s military advisor. Finally, Joe Johnston had commanded of the chief Confederate army in the Eastern Theater since the previous summer. None, apparently, gave it enough thought.