The Seven Days I

George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee, respective commanders of the Union and Confederate armies in the Seven Days

Near the end of the fighting on June 1 General McClellan appeared on the battlefield. His lieutenants had matters well in hand and little required his attention. “Sumner and his generals press themselves around the General, excited and triumphant,” wrote the Comte de Paris, who went on to sketch the scene. Sumner “has an even more withered air than usual”; the Irish Brigade’s Thomas Meagher “caracoles from right to left, always followed by a big green guidon, as if to say . . . ‘I am the most Irish of the Irish’”; William French “twitches his nose and winks his left eye convulsively.” An exception to the animated group was “the silent and contrite figure of Couch, wandering in vain in search of his division . . . cut off the previous day.”

McClellan gave thought to striking at the retreating enemy with Porter’s and Franklin’s corps. But the river was reported running higher and more violent than ever, making bridging impossible. McClellan crumpled the dispatch in his fist, wrote the Comte de Paris, “but he limited himself to this gesture of impatience.” The Battle of Seven Pines would not be followed up.

On June 2 the general commanding issued an address to his troops. As he had promised, “you are now face to face with the rebels, who are at bay in front of their Capital. The final and decisive battle is at hand.” He asked of them one last crowning effort, and he renewed his pledge: “Soldiers! I will be with you in this battle and share its dangers with you.” Read to the troops at dress parade, it “was greeted by many and loud cheers,” wrote a staff man.

McClellan pledged to Washington as well. He claimed victory at Seven Pines and said he would move quickly to build on it. “I only wait for the river to fall to cross with the rest of the force & make a general attack.” He telegraphed his wife, “One more & we will have Richmond & I shall be there with Gods blessing this week.”

But that night, in his solitude, he turned introspective in a letter to Ellen. June 1 marked his first-ever look at the scene of a major battle. He found it deeply disturbing. The impression in his mind’s eye of Seven Pines was crowded with the images of hundreds of gravely wounded men awaiting care and, scattered across the muddy, trampled field, scores of killed from the previous day’s fighting. He had seen battle dead before, in Mexico, but this scene was different—different in scale, different because these killed and wounded men were his men. He was confident of ultimate success, he wrote. “But I am tired of the sickening sight of the battlefield, with its mangled corpses & poor suffering wounded! Victory has no charms for me when purchased at such cost.”

Seven Pines proved to be the only Peninsula combat George McClellan experienced this close up. His revulsion at the bloody arithmetic of battle pointed to something deep-rooted in his military character—a reluctance to accept the human toll necessarily expended by a commander to win a battle or a campaign. As he put it in another letter, “Every poor fellow that is killed or wounded almost haunts me!” In his address to the army he promised his men he would join them in the fighting to come and share its dangers. But critically at issue was whether in battle he would—or could—demonstrate the “moral courage,” the ruthless acceptance of responsibility, to risk and to expend those lives, in whatever numbers required, to gain victory.

McClellan’s incaution in pushing forward his left wing, and his misjudgment in thinking Johnston “too able” a general to risk countering that move, put the Army of the Potomac in jeopardy on May 31. Fortuitously, Johnston’s planning was so bungled that the Federals rallied and finally halted the assault, and then on June 1 regained the lost ground. From his sickbed McClellan’s direction was limited to ordering Sumner’s Second Corps to support the embattled left. The Federals lost 5,000 men and the Confederates 6,100, and the two armies ended the battle about where they began it.

In reporting to Washington on the fighting, McClellan drew on Heintzelman’s dispatches to denounce Silas Casey’s division for giving way “unaccountably & discreditably” on May 31. As at Williamsburg, McClellan’s report was highly judgmental of events where he was absent; and it too was released to the press. The press expanded the story. Correspondent Samuel Wilkeson pictured Casey’s troops as “sweeping in a great shameful flow down the Williamsburg road.” Casey’s men, wrote Wilkeson, “had been taught nothing save how to march and camp, and . . . deteriorated daily under the command of a General who had neither youth, enthusiasm, pride, or combativeness.”

Casey tried to defend himself and his men. Just because his division was “the subject of a false and malicious telegram, it is certainly no reason that it should be deprived of that which is justly its due.” He said his long casualty list earned his division credit, not discredit. The “unaccountably & discreditably” charge was withdrawn, but the damage was done. Beyond doubt Casey’s division had been severely handled. On June 23 McClellan relieved Casey, replacing him with John Peck. Casey would not again serve in the field. While the matter was handled awkwardly, McClellan’s summation was accurate enough. At Seven Pines “the division of Gen Casey was broken in such manner as to show that its commander had failed to infuse proper morale into his troops.”

Seven Pines was a battle suited to Bull Sumner’s dedicated if limited generalship. “The old man seemed to be making up for Williamsburg,” wrote Charles Wainwright. Scorched by the press after the earlier battle, Sumner sought vindication on May 31. When a McClellan dispatch crediting Sumner’s role in the fighting was garbled in the New York Herald, Sumner insisted McClellan make it public as originally written. He did so, and Sumner sent a copy to his wife endorsed, “Show this dispatch to our friends.” Alerted, he had assembled his men and marched them right to the Chickahominy bridges, thus wasting not a moment in crossing when the order came . . . saved moments that saved Keyes and Heintzelman. In the fighting Sumner grasped the measures needed, and competent lieutenants John Sedgwick and Israel Richardson carried them out.

The Comte de Paris, so contemptuous of Erasmus Keyes at Williamsburg, conceded that “General Keyes . . . this time is not afraid to expose himself” to enemy fire. Keyes’s horse and accouterments were hit three times by musketry during the chaotic fighting on May 31. A staff man wrote, “Keyes again rode up cheering and encouraging all around him, and his presence and words then as many other times during the day infused new vigor and determination into the men. . . .”

Still, Keyes found himself tarred by the same brush used on Casey, and belittled by the same rumors about his fortitude that Philippe earlier reported. Keyes wrote New York’s Senator Ira Harris that “great injustice has been done to my corps & to me in giving currency to the idea that Casey’s Division ran at once.” Most of the Fourth Corps, he insisted, was much longer under fire than that; he himself “was under hot fire for six consecutive hours on the 31st & . . . I personally reformed my lines many times.” But Erasmus Keyes had been caught in a situation not of his making, in a posting not of his choice, and could only try to stem what became (whether sooner or later) a stampede. To Chief of Staff Marcy, an old friend, Keyes wrote, “I cannot of course believe that Genl. McClellan is going to frown on me for my conduct on the 31st,” but should he in any way disapprove, Keyes appealed “to our old associations” to allow him to resign quietly and not suffer the humiliation of being relieved.

McClellan lacked cause to relieve Keyes, but he distrusted him sufficiently to post him in the coming weeks far from the sound of the guns. For his part, Keyes sought intervention from Treasury Secretary Chase: “I am called a Republican and if you know the manner in which McClellan & his clique make war on republicans, you will understand what pressure I am obliged to sustain.” He sought “the favor to have me ordered out of this army in some way which will not reflect on my capacity or devotion to the cause.”

Darius Couch, heading Keyes’s other division, was cut off at Fair Oaks Station with hardly a third of his command. He defended the spot stubbornly until Sumner came to his relief, and was not forgiving of McClellan’s failure to recognize his division’s hard fight. Like Keyes, he wrote privately to Chief of Staff Marcy: “If I am obnoxious to Gen. McClellan, let him send me to another field. I am willing to do anything, in order that the men know that they saved the left wing of the army.”

Sam Heintzelman initially reacted to the attack in slow motion, due to the ninety-minute delay in reporting from the front. But as he had at Williamsburg, he rushed to the scene, thrust himself into the fighting, pushed reinforcements forward and posted them, and his reporting brought Sumner’s Second Corps into the battle. McClellan held out his hand, Heintzelman wrote in his diary, “& remarked calling me by name, ‘You have done what I expected, you have whipped the enemy.’”

In answering the call on the 31st, Phil Kearny sought to reprise Williamsburg and play the part of rescuer. While he again demonstrated that as a battlefield leader of troops he had few peers, his command arrogance limited his performance. He overrode Heintzelman’s orders to David Birney merely on the grounds (as he told his wife) that “weak old fool” Heintzelman “mismanaged me as usual.” Kearny then did not admit it was he who was accountable for Birney’s supposed inaction. In his memoir Baldy Smith termed Phil Kearny “ungovernable,” a trait very much on display at Seven Pines.

In the second day’s fight there were no surprises by the Rebels, and no lapses by the Federal command. June 1 proved an incisive reversal of May 31. “I believe the report that the rebels are retreating,” Heintzelman wrote. “They cast their last die & lost.”

On May 30, as Joe Johnston prepared his assault on Seven Pines, far to the west in Mississippi P.G.T. Beauregard evacuated Corinth, slipping away from the clutches of Henry Halleck’s Federal army. This event triggered, on the part of General McClellan, an extended series of Beauregard sightings. Remarkably, the first came on May 30, McClellan reporting to Stanton, “Beauregard arrived in Richmond day before yesterday, with troops & amid great excitement.” On June 10 he passed on further intelligence of Beauregard’s arrival, and proposed “detaching largely” from Halleck’s army to strengthen his own. Halleck bristled, reporting Beauregard and his army still a presence in Mississippi. McClellan continued to post Beauregard sightings regardless, thereby considerably inflating the host defending Richmond.

As the Potomac army battled at Seven Pines, the campaign the president was managing in the Shenandoah Valley rushed toward its own climax. McDowell from the east and Frémont from the west sought to trap Stonewall Jackson. On May 30, having chased Banks into Maryland, Jackson started back up the Valley. By Jackson’s calculation, McDowell and Frémont were aiming for Strasburg, “and are both nearer to it now than we are.” In Washington, Quartermaster Meigs was writing, “Jackson’s army is being gradually surrounded. I pray that the movement may be successfully carried out & that he may be caught in the web we have woven with care and labor in the last week.”

McDowell’s 20,000 men in the Valley saw James Shields’s division in the van. Shields had just reached Fredericksburg to join the march to the Peninsula, but having campaigned in the Valley he seemed best suited to spring the trap. The Pathfinder, for all his experience in the mountains of the West, was finding the Alleghenies a terrible place to make war. Still, by May 31, despite their many trials, he and Shields were poised to head off Jackson at Strasburg. “It seems the game is before you,” Lincoln telegraphed them.

Then both Federal generals blinked. On June 1 Shields halted and turned to defend against James Longstreet’s command that rumor of the most improbable sort had brought from Richmond to threaten him. Frémont feebly skirmished with the Rebel rear guard while the last of Jackson’s troops hurried through Strasburg. “The latest information from the Shenandoah Valley,” wrote Lincoln’s secretary John Nicolay on June 2, “indicates that Jackson’s force has slipped through our fingers there, notwithstanding that he was almost surrounded by our armies.”

“Do not let the enemy escape from you,” the president demanded of McDowell and Frémont. They attempted pursuit, but on June 8, at Cross Keys, Jackson rounded on Frémont and drove him back. The next day, at Port Republic, Shields in his turn was driven back. A resigned Lincoln told Frémont to give up the chase and stand on the defensive. Shields was ordered to rejoin McDowell’s command. The Valley campaign was over, and Stonewall Jackson had won it decisively.

Lincoln’s directions to his generals in the Shenandoah reflected sound military instincts. He discounted Jackson’s threat to Washington, recognized Jackson’s intent to tie up Federal forces in the Valley, and without hesitation seized on the moment to cut off Jackson’s escape. Despite all the obstacles of terrain and weather, he managed to position Shields and Frémont in time to spring the trap. The failure was theirs. James Shields proved all bluster, Pathfinder Frémont, all excuses. Neither would redeem his lost military career.

The president’s strategy for energizing McClellan’s stagnant campaign went awry at the very start, when from the best of motives he pulled Shields’s division out of the Valley to join McDowell for transfer to the Peninsula. Had he not had to wait for Shields, McDowell and his three divisions at Fredericksburg ought to have joined McClellan by mid-May . . . at which Richmond, seeing the Yankees so strongly reinforced, would surely have recalled Jackson to defend the capital.

Lacking a general-in-chief, Lincoln’s only source of professional military advice was Stanton’s War Board and the ineffectual Ethan Allen Hitchcock. No one seems to have pointed out that without Shields’s division the Valley’s defenders were seriously “out of balance” and a tempting target for Jackson. “Messrs. Lincoln & Stanton are not as great Generals as they had supposed themselves to be,” remarked W.T.H. Brooks. John Gibbon wanted the war left to the generals, “who ought to know what they are about, and if they don’t I think it very certain nobody else does.”

In fact it was still possible to achieve an exalted state of reinforcement even after Jackson’s escape. George McCall’s division that had remained at Fredericksburg was started to the Peninsula (by water) on June 6. The president determined that Frémont and a rejuvenated Nathaniel Banks ought to be enough to keep a grip on the Valley, so on June 8 McDowell was directed to the Peninsula “with the residue of your force as speedily as possible.” That residue comprised the divisions of Shields, Rufus King, and James B. Ricketts (replacing E.O.C. Ord). But by now Shields’s division, in Lincoln’s homely phrasing, “has got so terribly out of shape, out at elbows, and out at toes” that it required refitting. Still, McDowell promised that he with King and Ricketts would join the Potomac army before June 20.

That order never came. Once again, affairs in the Valley turned perplexing. Lincoln told McClellan he had hoped to send him more force, “but as the case stands, we do not think we safely can.” The continued bumbling of Frémont and Banks kept the Valley’s defenses in disarray, and General Lee, with calculation, added to the perplexity. He dispatched three brigades to strengthen Jackson, greatly alarming the Yankees, then recalled Jackson and his entire command to the defense of Richmond. Frémont and Banks crowned their ineptitude by failing to discover that Jackson was gone.

Lincoln saw the reports of these Rebel reinforcements for the Valley as another McClellan opportunity. Every soldier sent away from Richmond was one less soldier the general would have to face—if he acted promptly. The logic of that quite escaped McClellan. Secure in his delusions about Confederate numbers, he replied that if 10,000 or 15,000 men “have left Richmond to reinforce Jackson it illustrates their strength and confidence.” Detective Pinkerton fed the general’s fantasy, reporting the Rebel army was “variously estimated” as 150,000 to 200,000 strong. McClellan took the 200,000 figure as his benchmark for the campaign.

During the First Corps’ checkered chronicle, Irvin McDowell met growing disdain from the Potomac army’s officer corps. McClellan was convinced of McDowell’s perfidy in angling for an independent command, and told Stanton if he could not have full control of McDowell’s men, “I want none of them, but would prefer to fight the battle with what I have & let others be responsible for the results.” Fitz John Porter tipped off New York World editor Manton Marble that McDowell was “a general whom the army holds in contempt and laughs at—and has no confidence in.” Israel Richardson spoke of “the gay and accomplished Gen. McDowell . . . who puts one in mind very much of a second Jack Falstaff. . . . We should like much to have his troops to assist us, but don’t want him.” McDowell wrote a friend, “Yet I, who have been striving and struggling to get down to join McClellan’s army . . . find myself thoroughly misunderstood both by the press and by the people . . . with a not worthy motive ascribed to me.”

The net result of Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign was that his two divisions joined the Peninsula battles while just two divisions (of four) of McDowell’s reached McClellan. The unsettling situation sent the president up to West Point to seek counsel from the retired Winfield Scott. The old general advised dispatching McDowell’s corps to the Peninsula, and offered his thoughts on a general-in-chief and on a response to the Valley debacle. On June 26, the day after he returned to Washington, Lincoln combined the Union forces remaining in northern Virginia and in the Shenandoah Valley into a new Army of Virginia, to be commanded by one of Halleck’s Western generals, John Pope.

George McCall’s Pennsylvania Reserves division was assigned on arrival to the Fifth Corps. It boasted three promising brigadiers, John F. Reynolds, George G. Meade, and Truman Seymour. The Fifth was now the largest corps in the Potomac army and, under Fitz John Porter, the particular favorite of General McClellan.

McClellan gained a second substantial reinforcement by working himself free of General Wool at Fort Monroe. John Wool, seventy-eight, wily veteran of army politics, ran his Department of Virginia as an independent fiefdom, holding fast to his troops and deflecting McClellan’s pleas that he garrison the army’s rear areas at Yorktown, Williamsburg, and White House. Lincoln resolved the impasse by an exchange of department heads—Wool taking the place of John A. Dix at the Middle Department in Baltimore, Dix taking over at Fort Monroe. The Department of Virginia was folded into McClellan’s command, and two-thirds of Dix’s troops—eleven regiments—attached to the Potomac army. Dix’s regiments and the 20,000 men of McCall’s division, said Sam Heintzelman, “ought to carry us into Richmond.”

Edwin Sumner was given charge of the three corps now posted south of the Chickahominy—his Second, Heintzelman’s Third, Keyes’s Fourth. Armed with semi-independent status, Sumner resumed his alarmist habits. On June 1, even as the Rebels’ retreat ended the Seven Pines fighting, he announced, “I have good reasons to believe that I shall be attacked early in the morning by 50,000 men,” and he called out the Third Corps for support. Heintzelman disagreed, detailing his reasoning to Sumner. It was wasted effort. On June 3 Heintzelman’s diary read, “The promise of a pleasant day till Sumner created, or rather tried to create, a stampede.” June 8: “Gen. Sumner has another stampede & paraded his troops & Kearny’s. I could not see the slightest necessity.” Sumner was only calmed when McClellan shifted headquarters south of the river and the three corps commanders resumed their normal roles.

Phil Kearny loudly complained about Sumner (“Bull in a china shop”), and raised objection when John C. Robinson replaced the injured Charles Jameson as head of one of Kearny’s brigades. Robinson was a veteran officer with a good record, and Kearny was rebuffed. “Gen. McClellan has written a letter & sent it through me,” Heintzelman wrote, “as severe & unexceptional as a letter well can be written. It will do Kearny good. He is always finding fault & making exceptions.”

No objections met two other new brigade commanders. John C. Caldwell replaced wounded Otis Howard in the Second Corps. Caldwell was a school principal from Maine, a Republican whose party affiliation gained him the colonelcy of the 11th Maine and a promotion to brigadier general. Charles Griffin, the fiery artillery veteran who lost his battery at Bull Run, gave up the guns for an infantry brigade (and a brigadier’s star) in the Fifth Corps, replacing the promoted George Morell.

On June 2 headquarters set forth a reorganization of the Army of the Potomac’s artillery arm. On taking command, McClellan had shifted the assignment of batteries from brigade to division, with a general army artillery reserve. In the new scheme, each corps took roughly half the batteries assigned to its divisions to form a corps artillery reserve. The Second, Third, and Fourth Corps carried out this reorganization in time for the next battle. Porter’s Fifth Corps, to which Henry Hunt’s artillery reserve was attached, had no separate corps reserve. The thought here was to give the corps commanders more flexibility for tactical purposes. The guns still remained under control of infantry generals, however; artillery flexibility directed by artillery officers was yet to come.

So soon as the Chickahominy flooding subsided, McClellan put his engineers to bridge building. By mid-June there were ten bridges, and Franklin’s Sixth Corps was brought across. Only Porter’s reinforced Fifth Corps remained north of the Chickahominy, guarding the right flank and the railroad. The four corps south of the river entrenched themselves. Francis Barlow grumbled that the army lay crouched behind earthworks along the whole line. “I don’t know whether we are to be the attacking or the attacked party.” Phil Kearny grumbled too. “We always seem to take a nap after every Battle, which thus completely throws away all the good results.” Still, confidence was building. “Richmond is sure to fall,” Hiram Berry wrote. “. . . I trust when Richmond falls the war closes.”

On June 15 McClellan outlined for his wife, but not for Washington, his plan for capturing Richmond. Lincoln was given only the vague assurance that “we shall fight the rebel army as soon as Providence will permit.” The site of the next battle, McClellan told Ellen, would be Old Tavern, elevated ground a mile south of the Chickahominy and some five miles from Richmond. “If we gain that the game is up for Secesh—I will have them in the hollow of my hand.” At Old Tavern he would mass 200 guns to “sweep everything before us,” then advance the heavy guns and mortars and invest Richmond—“shell the city & carry it by assault.”

Much to McClellan’s embarrassment, on June 12–15 Jeb Stuart expanded a reconnaissance into a complete circuit of the Army of the Potomac. General Lee concluded that “McClellan will make this a battle of posts. He will take position from position, under cover of his heavy guns, & we cannot get at him without storming his works. . . .” Lee determined to seize the initiative. He took as his target Porter’s Fifth Corps north of the Chickahominy, and assigned Stuart to reconnoiter. The Rebel troopers traced Porter’s lines, and to conceal his purpose Stuart continued on around the Federals, returning to Richmond along the bank of the James.

Pursuit was a family affair, directed by Philip St. George Cooke, head of the cavalry reserve and Stuart’s father-in-law. Cooke set off on Friday the 13th and his luck foundered. Lacking an independent cavalry force like Stuart’s, Cooke had to paste together a command. Then he was hobbled by faulty intelligence that gave the Rebel column an infantry component. Cooke ordered up infantry of his own—Gouverneur Warren’s brigade—thus limiting the pace of the pursuit to that of the foot soldiers. He never came close to catching Stuart. “I have just returned after a weary tramp (and an unsuccessful one foolishly managed) . . . ,” Colonel Warren reported; “the rebels have been quite enterprising.”

Set against Union successes in other theaters that spring, the drumbeat of demands and complaints and excuses from the Peninsula increasingly wore on Washington. John Nicolay invoked an 1862 version of Murphy’s Law: “McClellan’s extreme caution, or tardiness, or something, is utterly exhaustive of all hope and patience, and leaves one in that feverish apprehension that as something may go wrong, something most likely will go wrong.” Quartermaster Meigs was sure “McClellan never did & never will give an order for attack.”

For his part, McClellan shared his alienation with his lieutenants. George Meade wrote his wife that he and Franklin and Baldy Smith visited McClellan, who “talked very freely of the way in which he had been treated, and said positively, that had not McDowell’s corps been withdrawn, he would long before now have been in Richmond.” McClellan passed on to Ellen the latest capital gossip: “I learn that Stanton & Chase have fallen out; that McDowell has deserted his friend C & taken to S!! . . . that Honest A has again fallen into the hands of my enemies & is no longer a cordial friend of mine! . . . Alas poor country that should have such rulers.” He named caution his watchword: “When I see such insane folly behind me I feel that the final salvation of the country demands the utmost prudence on my part & that I must not run the slightest risk of disaster. . . .”

Fitz John Porter took up his commander’s cause with virulent dedication. He urged New York World editor Marble to reveal to the country the nefarious conspiracy of the Lincoln administration. “The secy and Prest ignore all calls for aid. They have been pressed and urged but no reply comes. . . . I wish you would put the question,—Does the President (controlled by an incompetent Secy) design to cause defeat here for the purpose of prolonging the war, or to have a defeated General and favorite (McDowell) put in command . . . ?”

The Seven Days II

On June 24 McClellan ordered the first move of his intended battle for Richmond. Taking the lesson of Casey at Seven Pines, for the advance on Old Tavern he put his most experienced lieutenant, Sam Heintzelman, and his best troops, on the firing line. “It will be chiefly an Artillery & Engineering affair,” he told Heintzelman. “Keep your command as fresh as possible, ready for another battle—I cannot afford to be without Heintzelman, Kearny & Hooker in the next effort.”

In joining battle for Richmond, McClellan counted under his immediate command 105,800 men of all arms. While he based his strategic and tactical decisions on confronting a Confederate army 200,000 strong, in fact the two armies were a close match. General Lee, who culled reinforcements from every direction in addition to calling in Jackson from the Valley, counted just over 101,000 in the Army of Northern Virginia. Back in April Lincoln had warned his general that the Confederates “will probably use time, as advantageously as you can.” That proved a major understatement.

Wednesday, June 25, 1862—Day One of the Seven Days—did not witness anything very auspicious militarily. The Third Corps’ Heintzelman assigned Joe Hooker to advance his lines a mile or so to Oak Grove, a conspicuous stand of timber (like Seven Pines) in this heavily wooded landscape. Gaining that objective, said McClellan, would be a major step toward seizing Old Tavern, prospective jumping-off place for the siege and assault on Richmond.

Hooker posted Dan Sickles’s Excelsior Brigade on the right, astride the Williamsburg Stage Road, and Cuvier Grover’s brigade on the left, with Joseph B. Carr’s in reserve. Grover, veteran of the hard fighting at Williamsburg, led with a skirmish line two regiments strong, pushing aggressively through the woods and driving the Rebel pickets. Today marked political general Sickles’s first real test. It did not go well. He put out an undermanned skirmish line and the advance was too slow to keep pace with Grover. The Rebels punched back, striking the least experienced Excelsior regiment, the 71st New York, which (in Sickles’s words) “broke to the rear in disgraceful confusion.”

McClellan and entourage rode up to consult and to restart the advance. Generals and staffs, wrote the Comte de Paris, were “seated on the parapet . . . hearing a few bullets whistle and quite a lot of cannon balls; one of them plants itself in the parapet, causing several people to scatter.” That was as close as General McClellan came to sharing the dangers of the battlefield with his men during the Seven Days.

This advance to Oak Grove on June 25 cost the Federals 626 casualties and came to nothing, for that evening Heintzelman was called back to the starting point. McClellan’s abrupt turnabout was triggered by a dispatch from Fitz John Porter at Fifth Corps headquarters north of the Chickahominy. A contraband just in from Richmond, Porter wrote, “says a large portion of Beauregard’s army arrived yesterday and that the army expected to fight today or tomorrow and fight all around. . . . He saw the troops arrive and heard the cheering welcome to them. They say we have one hundred thousand (100,000) men and they two hundred thousand (200,000) and that Jackson is to attack in the rear.”

This singular piece of unsubstantiated intelligence brought all three of McClellan’s deepest fears boiling to the surface—a supposedly eyewitness Beauregard sighting, a count of 200,000 for Richmond’s defenders, and an imminent attack by the renowned Stonewall Jackson. At 6:15 that evening he sent a despairing telegram to Secretary Stanton: “I shall have to contend against vastly superior odds if these reports be true. . . . I regret my great inferiority in numbers but feel that I am in no way responsible for it as I have not failed to represent repeatedly the necessity of reinforcements. . . . I will do all that a General can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command & if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers can at least die with it & share its fate. But if the result of the action . . . is a disaster the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders—it must rest where it belongs.”

Having assumed the identity of martyr and shed accountability for whatever might happen, McClellan converted his energies from offense to defense, to saving his army. He directed Chief of Staff Marcy to order the four corps commanders south of the Chickahominy to look to their defenses: “You cannot too strongly impress upon the Generals the fact that I wish to fight behind the lines if attacked in force.” Earlier McClellan had begun stockpiling stores afloat on the James with an eye to helping the navy force the Drewry’s Bluff defenses. Now he redoubled that effort, his purpose to secure a haven on the James for the army if need be. He notified Flag Officer Goldsborough that the navy’s cooperation was “of vital importance & may involve the existence of this Army.” He sent to Ambrose Burnside in North Carolina to sever the railroad Beauregard was supposed to be using to transport his army from Mississippi. (Upon second thought, he ordered Burnside’s men to Fort Monroe. They reached there after the fighting was over.)

As if to legitimize his fears, McClellan was handed Pinkerton’s newest “summary of the general estimates” of the Confederate army—180,000 men, endorsed with Pinkerton’s caution that this number was probably “considerably short” of the enemy’s actual strength.

Fitz John Porter’s Fifth Corps was well posted to meet an attack from Richmond. His main line was a half mile east of Mechanicsville behind Beaver Dam Creek, where it emptied into the Chickahominy. It was inherently a strong position, fortified originally by Joe Johnston. George McCall’s recently arrived division manned the line, John Reynolds’s brigade on the right, Truman Seymour’s on the left, George Meade’s in reserve. They were supported by six batteries. Except for Seymour’s brigade at Dranesville (under E.O.C. Ord) back in December, these Pennsylvania Reserves were new to battle, but they were well led, well drilled, and well posted. The posting was mostly the work of Reynolds. A West Pointer, a twenty-year regular, Reynolds had won two brevets in Mexico and was highly regarded by McClellan, who had pulled strings to get him for the Army of the Potomac.

Lee’s plan for June 26 called for an advance down the north bank of the Chickahominy, coordinated with Stonewall Jackson’s Valley army striking Porter’s right and rear. Lee anticipated this envelopment forcing the Yankees to abandon their position, perhaps without a fight. By plan, Porter would be heavily outnumbered, leaving only some 30,000 Confederate infantry in the Richmond lines to confront the more than 76,000 Federals south of the river. There seemed great risk here, but Lee had taken his opponent’s measure—his cautious, deliberate pace—and read in the Northern press the wildly inflated estimates of Confederate numbers issued by Potomac army headquarters, and he recognized McClellan’s commitment to siege warfare. “He sticks under his batteries & is working night & day,” Lee wrote President Davis. “I will endeavour to make a diversion to bring McClellan out.”

But like Joe Johnston at Seven Pines, Lee’s complex battle plan fell to pieces. Just five brigades, 13,000 men, got into action on June 26, hardly a fifth of the intended force. Jackson’s army never reached the battlefield, never fired a shot. Instead of an overpowering envelopment, Beaver Dam Creek became a bloody, hopeless series of frontal assaults.

Much of John Reynolds’s antebellum service was in the artillery, and he posted his batteries to cover every approach with direct fire and crossfire. The infantry was well protected in rifle pits. The fighting at Beaver Dam Creek lasted some six hours and was never in doubt; “night closed the action with the enemy defeated and discomfited,” Reynolds wrote. The Rebels lost 1,475 men, the Federals, 361. Back in the fall Reynolds despaired of ever turning volunteers into disciplined soldiers. Now he had words of praise for his Pennsylvanians: “The conduct of the troops, most of them for the first time under fire, was all that could be desired and creditable to their State and Country.” Reynolds himself was widely praised for his first battle, Truman Seymour declaring that “much of the credit of this day belongs justly to him; his study of the ground and ample preparations . . . justify his high reputation as a soldier. . . .”

At noon that June 26, before the fighting began, McClellan telegraphed Stanton confirming that Jackson was closing in, threatening his communications. Stanton should “not be discouraged” by reports that the army’s lifeline was cut, even that Yorktown was lost. “I shall resort to desperate measures & will do my best to out manoeuvre & outwit & outfight the enemy.” He telegraphed his wife, “I think the enemy are making a great mistake, if so they will be terribly punished. . . . I believe we will surely win & that the enemy is falling into a trap. I shall allow the enemy to cut off our communications in order to ensure success.”

These two telegrams implied some bold, aggressive intention. In fact they were advance cover for the reality that General McClellan, facing what he took as implacable odds, was giving up his campaign, retreating from the gates of Richmond. To fall back down the Peninsula would be to admit utter defeat. Instead (to his mind), the Rebels’ “great mistake” was focusing on the Potomac army’s railroad lifeline. He would “outwit the enemy” by giving up the railroad, slipping the army away southward, and starting over with the James River as his new line of communications. In due course, operating from the James—and greatly reinforced—he might still “ensure success.”

Victory at Beaver Dam Creek (or Mechanicsville, as the battle was named) left McClellan momentarily exultant. “Victory of today complete & against great odds,” he told Stanton. “I almost begin to think we are invincible.” He crossed to Porter’s, and to Marcy back at headquarters he sang the praises of McCall’s division: “Tell our men on your side that they are put to their trumps & that with such men disaster is impossible.” In the Sixth Corps, “cheer after cheer rang all along the line, the bands came out for the first time in a month.”

By Baldy Smith’s account, McClellan, on his way to Porter’s that evening, stopped at the Sixth Corps. Smith and Franklin urged him to seize the moment—bring the Fifth Corps south of the river, destroying the bridges behind it. Then, said Smith, “we who were fresh should attack in force . . . and capture Richmond before Lee could make the long detour by Mechanicsville” to defend it. This exactly defined the risk Lee was taking, but failed to move McClellan. He reckoned a Rebel army 200,000 strong would leave a force at least the size of the Potomac army to hold Richmond even as Lee maneuvered north of the river. Of his and Franklin’s scheme Smith wrote ruefully, “This was not done.”

McClellan remained at Porter’s until after midnight, debating options. In his report, Porter laid out the daunting dilemma as he and McClellan imagined it. It was necessary “to select which side of the Chickahominy should be held in force, there being on each side an army of our enemies equivalent . . . to the whole of our own.”

Porter wanted reinforcements to hold the Beaver Dam Creek line, but McClellan’s concern was its open right flank. The alternative was to fall back four miles or so to a position near Gaines’s Mill covering the Chickahominy bridges, the links to the rest of the army. McClellan said he would return to headquarters, evaluate the situation there, and telegraph Porter his decision. A staff man overhead their parting words. “Now, Fitz, you understand my views and the absolute necessity of holding the ground, until arrangements over the river can be completed. Whichever of the two positions you take, hold it.” Porter replied, “Give yourself no uneasiness; I shall hold it to the last extremity.”

McClellan was being less than forthcoming with his favorite general. He did not reveal his intention to retreat to the James—an intention developed sufficiently by that time to outline it to the Comte de Paris and other staff during their ride back to headquarters. Porter’s understanding was quite different. As he explained to historian John C. Ropes, “McClellan left me after 12 o’clock that night to decide, after returning to his head-quarters, whether I should remain at Beaver Dam & be reinforced or move as quick as possible to the selected position at Gaines’ Mill where I would be reinforced from the right bank, or he would attack Richmond and I resist Lee’s attack even to my destruction, & thereby to prevent Lee going to the defense of Richmond.”

Apparently General McClellan was more comfortable asking his lieutenant to fight to the last ditch to secure a victory rather than to protect a retreat.

McClellan chose the Gaines’s Mill option, and at first light on June 27 Porter skillfully broke contact with the enemy at Beaver Dam Creek and steered his command to its new position. South of the river McClellan surveyed his battle line for potential reinforcements for the Fifth Corps. Anticipating that line as well as Porter’s to be attacked by the enemy host, he asked the four corps commanders there how many troops they could spare for Porter and still hold their lines for twenty-four hours.

From the Sixth Corps on the Chickahominy opposite Porter, Franklin marked Henry Slocum’s division as the lead reinforcement. Next came the Second Corps, and Bull Sumner volunteered half his corps to cross the river if ordered. To Sumner’s left was the Third Corps of Sam Heintzelman, who offered two of his six brigades. The Fourth Corps was on the far left, and General Keyes, mindful of his ordeal at Seven Pines, was cautious to a fault. “As to how many men will be able to hold this position for twenty-four hours, I must answer, all I have, if the enemy is as strong as ever in front. . . .”

To prepare for the retreat, McClellan sent engineers to survey the roads leading south to the James, and to bridge White Oak Swamp, the major barrier the army would have to cross. Ammunition and rations were called up from the White House depot. McClellan’s posture was everywhere defensive. To prepare Stanton, he telegraphed he was contending “at several points against superior numbers” and might be forced “to concentrate between the Chickahominy & the James. . . .”

The Gaines’s Mill position marked out by chief engineer John Barnard was an elevated plateau about two miles wide by a mile deep overlooking the four military-bridge crossings of the Chickahominy. A sluggish stream called Boatswain’s Swamp curled around the northern and western sides. Elder’s Swamp bordered the plateau on the east. These streams were thickly edged with timber and undergrowth. The plateau itself was largely open, but the sloping sides were well wooded. The approaches offered little cover for attackers. If the Fifth Corps was to hold its position “to the last extremity,” this was good ground for it.

Posted on the left, facing west, was the division of George W. Morell, his brigades led by Dan Butterfield, John Martindale, and Charles Griffin. For most of these troops and their generals, this would be their first battle. Morell, head of the 1835 Academy class, served two years before leaving the army for railroading and then the law. He reentered the service on the staff of the New York militia. Dan Butterfield, businessman-in-arms, was also a former New York militia officer. Martindale, a classmate of Morell’s, never served a day before resigning for a career in the law. Charles Griffin of the regulars was the only one of the four with battle experience, fighting his battery at Bull Run. Facing north (from where Stonewall Jackson was expected) was George Sykes’s division—two brigades of regulars, under Robert C. Buchanan and Charles S. Lovell, and Gouverneur Warren’s brigade of volunteers. Except for Sykes, these officers had not seen action previously. Sykes, who covered the army’s retreat at Bull Run, was a twenty-year man. McCall’s division that fought on the 26th was posted as corps reserve.

There were ninety-six guns on the plateau, supporting the lines or in reserve. Three of Henry Hunt’s reserve batteries of heavy guns were posted on the right bank to fire on Rebels advancing along the left bank. The Fifth Corps counted some 27,000 men. When engineer Barnard left that morning for headquarters, Porter thought it was agreed that Barnard would explain to McClellan “the necessity for additional troops, and also to send me axes, that the proper defenses might to some degree be prepared.”

Porter recalled bitterly that his request never registered at army headquarters. Barnard “found McClellan asleep, went to sleep himself & paid no attention to my request,” conduct he termed criminal. (Barnard admitted that when he found “the commanding general was reposing, I went to my tent and remained there until afternoon.”) In due course Porter renewed his call to headquarters for help, but reinforcements arrived very late and axes arrived, unhelved, even later. Whatever few fieldworks the defenders threw up were hasty makeshifts.

Porter expected reinforcement that morning after seeing the head of Slocum’s division approach the bridges but then turn back without explanation, “and I supposed the attack would be made upon Richmond.” In fact, in yet another of his second thoughts, McClellan countermanded Slocum’s movement out of concern that the Sixth Corps, lacking Slocum’s division, could not contain an attack from Richmond. Porter waited six hours with growing impatience for some response from Barnard’s mission. Only at 2:00 p.m. did he signal headquarters, “If you can send Slocum over please do so.”

For George McClellan, Gaines’s Mill was a battle not seen, not understood, not really sensed. He did not stir from headquarters at the Trent house, a half mile south of the Chickahominy crossings; his only links to the two fronts were the telegraph and couriers. He took no initiatives, waiting instead upon the enemy’s initiatives. What was the strength of the attackers? Porter was asked: “The General wishes to be exactly informed before he gives you an order.”

Throughout the day, as McClellan awaited intelligence from Porter’s battlefront, alarms raised by the generals facing the Confederates’ Richmond lines south of the river clamored for his attention. Joe Hooker reported “the passage of 2 or 4 thousand Rebel troops” toward Sumner’s Second Corps. Baldy Smith reported “six or eight regiments have moved down to the piece of woods in front of General Sumner.” Smith then warned, “The enemy are massing heavy columns” facing his own lines. Franklin confirmed: “Three regiments are reported to be moving from Sumner’s to Smith’s front.” Sumner added an alarm: “Enemy threaten an attack on my right near Smith.” Aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe made an ascension and announced, “By appearances I should judge that the enemy might make an attack on our left at any moment.” A McClellan staff man summed up: “In fine the enemy appears to be intending to sweep down the Chickahominy on both sides.”

The perpetrator of these impending attacks south of the river was Prince John Magruder, whose notion of a good defense was a pseudo-offense. As he had done in those first days at Yorktown, the vastly outnumbered Magruder emptied out his bag of tricks to hoodwink the Yankees. Columns of troops marched hither and yon in plain sight. In plain hearing came shouts of command and drummers beating the long roll. There were bursts of picket-line firing and sudden artillery barrages.

Not everyone was fooled by these antics. Colonel Samuel K. Zook, 57th New York, reported no enemy in his front. Zook had crept out in advance of the picket line “and saw a whole lot of niggers parading, beating drums, and making a great noise.” Zook’s report was overlooked amidst the general intelligence din. Prince John’s efforts met the same credulous response on June 27 as they had at Yorktown in April—the phantom Confederate army of General McClellan’s invention acting exactly as he anticipated it would.

The day before, at Mechanicsville, Lee had hoped to drive the Federals into the waiting arms of Stonewall Jackson approaching from the flank and rear, but Jackson failed to appear. On the 27th Lee sought to repeat that tactic. He could commit some 54,000 men (twice Porter’s strength before any reinforcement). But Gaines’s Mill looked to be an even stronger position than yesterday’s. There seemed little choice except to storm the Yankees. Again Jackson was very slow getting his Valley army to the field, and until late in the day the Richmond army’s assaults, while fiercely made, were piecemeal and poorly supported. As late as 4:10 that afternoon Porter could report that he “found everything most satisfactory. . . . Our men have behaved nobly and driven back the enemy many times, cheering them as they retired.” Slocum was arriving now, and Porter even considered counterattacks.

Initially Porter fought his battle with a certain passivity, believing McClellan understood his situation, accepting his role as decoy to occupy the enemy while the rest of the army advanced on Richmond. In that belief he had waited until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when already under heavy attack, to even ask for Slocum’s division. Caught up in the pseudo-attacks in front of him, McClellan was oblivious to the intensity of the real attacks across the river. Andrew Humphreys ascended in Lowe’s balloon and reported the aerial view of Porter’s battle “for the first time that afternoon showed me how serious it was; for although we were but a short distance from the field the strong wind prevented my hearing the musketry. . . .” The reality on the ground was captured by Richard Auchmuty of Morell’s staff, who described the Fifth Corps caught in “a storm of shot, shell, and musketry, which made the trees wave like a hurricane.”

Within an hour of Porter’s confident 4:10 dispatch the battle turned against him. William F. Biddle of the headquarters staff, sent across the river to report on the fighting, found Porter sitting his horse at the rear of the battle line. “The bullets were coming thro the woods & dropping all around,” Biddle recalled. “Genl. Porter pointed to the woods & said, ‘You can see for yourself, Captain—we’re holding them, but it’s getting hotter & hotter.’” Shortly after 5 o’clock Porter telegraphed in desperation, “I am pressed hard, very hard. About every Regiment I have has been in action. I have asked several times for assistance, and unless I receive, I am afraid I shall be driven from my position.”

McClellan adjured Porter to “hold your own” and pledged, “You must beat them if I move the whole Army to do it & transfer all on this side.” It was an empty pledge. In asking—not ordering—his generals on the Richmond front to furnish what they could to Porter, McClellan met firm resistance. “I do not think it prudent to send more troops from here at present,” said Franklin. “Everything is so uncertain that I think it would be hazardous to do it,” said Sumner. Just two brigades—French’s and Meagher’s—crossed the river after Slocum, and they arrived only in time to pick up the pieces.

For Porter and his lieutenants to maintain a command grip on the battlefield became all but impossible as the fighting rushed toward a decision. Morell’s and Sykes’s line was stretched too thin to maintain reserves. When the line wavered or regiments exhausted their ammunition under the relentless assaults, Porter reached into McCall’s division for support. Truman Seymour described the resulting turmoil: “Regiment after regiment advanced, relieved regiments in front, in turn withstood, checked, repelled, or drove the enemy, and retired, their ammunition being exhausted, to breathe a few moments, to fill their cartridge boxes, again to return to the contested woods.” The regiments of Seymour, Meade, and Reynolds were scattered beyond control.

The Comte de Paris, directing reserves to the front, rushed up to George W. Taylor’s New Jersey brigade, Slocum’s division, and braced Taylor in rapid-fire French. The startled Taylor turned to his aide and asked, “Who the devil is this, and what is he talking about?” His bilingual aide explained it was the Comte de Paris of General McClellan’s staff, in his excitement lapsing into his native tongue. Despite his doubts, Taylor said, “Very well then, give him the Fourth Regiment and go see where he puts it.” (Shortly the 4th New Jersey was surrounded and captured; the young Frenchman escaped.)

The Seven Days III

On the northern front, facing Jackson, George Sykes posted his veteran regulars as a steadying second line, but soon they too were fully committed. Sykes’s left, Gouverneur Warren’s volunteer brigade, was subject to repeated assaults. “Oh I wish you could have seen that fight,” Colonel Warren wrote his fiancée-to-be, “when our regiment rushed against a South Carolina one that charged us. . . . Nothing you ever saw in the pictures of battles excelled it. . . . In less than five minutes 140 of my men were killed or wounded and the other regiment was completely destroyed.” Warren, who was nicked by a spent bullet, handled not only his own brigade but directed any other regiments that came under his eye in the confusion.

Dispersing Slocum’s reinforcing division far and wide by regiments, even by companies, was deemed essential by Porter, but it offended Henry Slocum’s military sensibilities. He would send a bill of particulars to Secretary Stanton “which preclude the idea of any credit being due Genl. Porter for his services on that occasion.” He spoke of Porter’s abundant artillery, “yet he made but little use of it,” of Porter’s “absurd disposition of his infantry force,” of his scattering of reinforcements. By Slocum’s accounting, “nine thousand brave men, two thousand of whom were of my division, were unnecessarily—I had almost said wantonly—sacrificed. . . .”

Porter responded with harsh words of his own. General Slocum, said Porter, had failed to report to him, “with whom his presence and advice might perhaps have averted some of the disasters he claims to have arisen.” Slocum needed to explain “his absence from his command and the battle field,” and why he left “without authority the north side of the Chickahominy.” This contretemps went unresolved, and marked the first of Slocum’s poisonous dealings with the Potomac army’s high command.

The sun was low in the sky, blood-red in the haze of battle smoke, when in one final convulsive charge the Confederates overwhelmed Porter’s line right and left and surged onto the plateau. Sykes’s regulars fell back in fair order, but where unit organization was fragmented, command collapsed and retreat became disordered. Former artillerist Charles Griffin attempted to rally his brigade, and any other infantry he could collect, to defend the divisional artillery. “Men, this battery must not be taken,” he pleaded. “I cannot cover your retreat; you must cover mine.” His effort was unavailing and most of the guns were lost. “Gen. Griffin wept hot tears and was unable to give any order,” reported the Comte de Paris. George McCall, at sixty old before his time and ailing, “exhausted by fatigue and opium, could no longer hold his horse and his speech had lost all coherence,” wrote the count. He also witnessed Dan Butterfield, on foot, his horse killed, separated from his scattered brigade, put his hat on the point of his sword and “advancing entirely alone, encouraged his men and sought to reform the disorganized regiments.” George Morell also rushed forward alone, seized a flag, and planted it as a rallying point for the fugitives.

One general the Frenchman did not see was John Martindale, of Morell’s division. Apparently Fitz John Porter did not see Martindale either. From the moment he arrived on the field, Martindale had voiced objections, remonstrating against Porter’s positioning of his brigade, against Porter’s posting of the artillery. When it came to Martindale leading his brigade in battle, Porter found him wanting. Porter made the case bluntly: “He abandoned the field at Gaines Mill in the day time or just before dark.”

The singular high command casualty that day was John Reynolds, who lost his way in the confusion and was captured. He was taken to Confederate general D. H. Hill, a onetime messmate of his in the old army. “Reynolds, do not feel so bad about your capture. It is the fate of wars,” said Hill. Some six weeks later Reynolds would return to the Potomac army in a prisoner exchange.

The closing moments of the fighting witnessed an astonishing, hell-for-leather charge by five companies of the 5th U.S. Cavalry. Philip St. George Cooke’s reserve cavalry was posted behind Boatswain’s Swamp at Porter’s direction to guard the flank. Looking for redemption after failing to catch son-in-law Jeb Stuart in the recent brazen circumnavigation of the Federal army, Cooke chose not to sit by idly in the crisis. Acting “without orders, of course,” Cooke sent in the 5th Cavalry to rescue the threatened artillery line on the plateau.

It was a disaster. The Rebels stood their ground and shot the charging troopers to pieces. The survivors sheered off and galloped back through the artillery line, creating the impression of a Rebel cavalry charge, and in the chaos batteries were lost. But the charge did give the attackers pause, and other batteries limbered up and escaped. About as many guns were saved as lost. Porter insisted Cooke’s ill-chosen tactic was the turning point of the battle. In fact the battle was already well lost.

Darkness saved the Federals from being driven into the river, and the arrival of French’s and Meagher’s brigades restored enough order to prevent a rout. “I was obliged to charge bayonets by the heads of regiments to force a passage through the flying masses,” French reported. Irishman Thomas Meagher, inspirited with Irish whiskey, galloped about in a drunken show of rallying fugitives.

“On the other side of the Chickahominy the day is lost,” McClellan wired Sam Heintzelman. “You must hold your position at all cost.”

As the survivors of Porter’s beaten command trailed back across the Chickahominy in the darkness, their way marked by pitch pine torches, McClellan called in his generals for orders. The gathering was lit by a fire of pine logs that cast flickering shadows across the clearing. A reporter thought the scene worthy of commemorating in a “grand national painting. The crisis, the hour, the adjuncts, the renowned participants. . . .” Present were corps commanders Porter, Franklin, Sumner, and Heintzelman. The outcast Keyes was not summoned; his corps, the army’s reserve, would lead the march to the James. By Heintzelman’s account, McClellan sketched out two possible courses of action—to give up the present campaign and withdraw the army to a new base on the James, or “to abandon this side & our wagons & with all the troops fight a battle on the other side. . . . Gen. McClellan professed a desire on his part personally to concentrate the Army & risk it on one general Battle.” This was a bravura gesture. As the Comte de Paris tactfully put it, “Heintzelman fought it and did not have trouble dissuading him from it.” Without debate, the retreat, already decided upon, was official. The last to cross the river destroyed the bridges.

In the midnight hour General McClellan, his grand campaign in ruins, anguished captive to his delusions, telegraphed Secretary Stanton his unique summary of the Gaines’s Mill battle. South of the Chickahominy “we repulsed several very strong attacks,” while north of the river the troops “were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers even after I brought my last reserves into action. . . .” He had lost this battle “because my force was too small. I again repeat that I am not responsible for this & I say it with the earnestness of a General who feels in his heart the loss of every brave man who has been needlessly sacrificed today.” He felt “too earnestly tonight—I have seen too many dead & wounded comrades”—a sight only in his mind’s eye—“to feel otherwise than that the Govt has not sustained this Army.” So there be no misunderstanding this last point, he underlined it: “If I save this Army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other persons in Washington—you have done your best to sacrifice this Army.”

Stunned by this accusation of what amounted to treason, Stanton hurried to the White House to justify himself. “You know—Mr. President that all I have done was by your authority. . . .” Lincoln described the moment for Orville Browning: “McClellan telegraphed to Stanton in very harsh terms, charging him as the author of the disaster.” The president could only grit his teeth and tell his distraught general, “Save your Army at all events.”

McClellan intended his indictment to reach a larger audience if need be. On June 29 he repeated his particular accounting of Gaines’s Mill to General John A. Dix at Fort Monroe: “I for one can never forgive the selfish men who have caused the lives of so many gallant men to be sacrificed.” Dix was to consider this confidential, except “if I lose my life make such use of it as you deem best.”

Gaines’s Mill proved to be the costliest of the Seven Days’ battles. Of the Federals’ 6,837 casualties, 4,008 were killed and wounded and 2,829 taken prisoner. (The Confederates suffered 7,993 casualties, nearly all of them killed and wounded, almost twice the Federals’ count.) Twenty-two Federal guns were captured. The two reinforcing divisions of Slocum and McCall lost between them about 600 more men than the divisions of Morell and Sykes in the original Fifth Corps line, a result of the scattershot manner their troops were pressed into action. Indeed, Slocum’s division lost the most men of the four divisions engaged, much to Henry Slocum’s embitterment.

Gaines’s Mill might easily have become the decisive battle that McClellan envisioned as the centerpiece of his grand campaign—a battle fought defensively, on ground of his choosing, against the Rebels’ principal army, with Richmond as the prize. Had he not countermanded the dispatch of Slocum’s division at dawn that morning to support the Fifth Corps, Porter would have presented a solidly posted three-division front to the enemy, on choice defensive ground, his flanks secure, his lines stoutly backed by artillery, with a reserve at hand and additional reinforcements on call. “That battle should have been won,” said Phil Kearny. “It was lost by imbecility.”

But Gaines’s Mill as an opportunity never crossed McClellan’s mind. He saw instead only the phantom enemy of his imagination, replete now with Stonewall Jackson and P.G.T. Beauregard, menacing him with “vastly superior numbers” on every front.

Saturday, June 28, Day Four of the Seven Days, dawned with the promise of renewed trials for the Federals. “However, the day advanced,” wrote the Comte de Paris, “and the enemy did not attack, the hours went by in silence . . .” Gaines’s Mill secured the initiative for General Lee, but for the moment he could only watch for McClellan to react. The Yankees might stay and fight for their railroad supply line. They might retreat down the Peninsula, reorganize, and renew their campaign. They might give up both the Chickahominy line and the railroad and retreat southward to the James and their gunboats. Lee was unconcerned that they might lunge straight for Richmond. McClellan had missed his chances on the previous days; surely he would not try it now.

The road network south to the James was limited. The Yankees had to fall back from their lines facing Richmond to Savage’s Station on the railroad, turn south, cross White Oak Swamp, and make their way past the hamlet of Glendale to Malvern Hill, overlooking the James. The route covered some 20 miles, but for the Army of the Potomac—nearly 100,000 men, 307 field and heavy-artillery pieces, 3,800 wagons and ambulances, 2,500 beef cattle—navigating that distance, much of it over a single road, proved to be an agonizing and deadly three-day ordeal.

Keyes’s Fourth Corps led the way. The engineers rebuilt the White Oak Swamp bridge, earlier destroyed to secure the army’s flank. A mile or so upstream, at Brackett’s Ford, they built a second bridge. Once across the swamp, Keyes learned of a woods road paralleling the Quaker Road, the main route to the James. This eased his march, but word of his find did not immediately reach those following. The Quaker Road would remain a lumbering mass of men and vehicles and lowing beeves.

Porter’s battered Fifth Corps, with the reserve artillery, was next to march. Porter occupied Malvern Hill and Keyes reached Haxall’s Landing, on the James, securing the immediate objective of the retreat. The rest of the army had to fight its way free.

On June 28 the fighting was limited to a sharp skirmish on Baldy Smith’s front, but the 29th promised a more serious confrontation as Lee determined McClellan’s intentions and set out to thwart them. Magruder was to pursue from the Richmond lines toward Savage’s Station. Jackson would bridge the Chickahominy and try to catch the Yankees before or at the White Oak Swamp crossing. But again Jackson lagged behind, so initiating any fighting that day was left to Magruder.

The three corps facing Richmond south of the Chickahominy—Sumner’s Second, Heintzelman’s Third, Franklin’s Sixth—pulled back to a new line in front of Savage’s Station. McClellan made headquarters south of White Oak Swamp, leaving to his three corps commanders the task of fending off the enemy long enough for the trains to escape, then escape themselves. That day, and thereafter, McClellan stayed to the rear, devoted exclusively to details of the retreat. He named no one to command at Savage’s. The three generals acted at their own discretion.

Savage’s Station served as the supply railhead for the army, and was crowded with immense stores of provisions, equipment, and ammunition. Here too was a large field hospital filled with wounded. Staff cartographer Robert Sneden described the scene at midday on June 29: “Long trains of wagons were still coming from the woods in front and columns of troops in motion filled the fields in front of Savage’s. Amid cracking of whips and braying of mules, all were hurrying to ‘the swamp road.’ . . . Generals Heintzelman, Sumner, Sedgwick, Franklin, and their staff officers were consulting and giving orders. All were taking the situation coolly. No excitement showed itself on their faces, though all were more or less anxious.”

Slocum’s bloodied Sixth Corps division was sent on across White Oak Swamp that morning by McClellan, who neglected to mention this to anyone else in the Sixth Corps. At Savage’s Franklin was surprised to find only Baldy Smith’s division at hand. He was surprised as well to find Sumner’s corps nowhere in sight. General Sumner, Heintzelman complained, “had obstinately refused to occupy the position assigned him . . . leaving a space of three fourths of a mile unoccupied.” Ever since Sumner failed to support Heintzelman at Williamsburg, the two generals had been at swords’ points, a situation made worse by Sumner’s frequent alarms calling out the men for no cause. Heintzelman likened him to the fabled shepherd boy who cried wolf, and was best ignored. Franklin made complaint to McClellan about Sumner, then he and Smith and Heintzelman determined (as Smith put it) “to try and inveigle” Sumner into taking up the new position by telling him that Smith was in imminent danger of being cut off. “To any appeal for aid he was prompt to respond,” Smith said of old Sumner.

Savage’s Station now witnessed an orgy of destruction. Anything that could not be carried away was smashed or burned or blown up. There were giant bonfires of hardtack boxes. Stored ammunition was fired, and the result, reported Robert Sneden, “resembled a volcano!” A trainload of artillery shells was set ablaze, the locomotive’s throttle tied down and the train sent rushing off toward the demolished rail bridge over the Chickahominy. “Through the roofs and sides of the cars sprang hundreds of live shells, which burst in the woods on either side of the track, screaming like fiends in agony.” This carnival of destruction climaxed spectacularly when locomotive and cars spilled off the wrecked bridge into the river.

Heintzelman concluded there was neither space nor need for his corps to remain at Savage’s, so he set his men on the march for the rear. He did not inform anyone at Savage’s that he was leaving—no doubt deliberately, to avoid debating his decision and command issues with Sumner. Franklin and John Sedgwick discovered his absence when they encountered Confederate troops where Heintzelman’s had been. “Why, those men are rebels!” Sedgwick exclaimed. “We then turned back in as dignified a manner as the circumstances would permit,” Franklin wrote. Sumner was furious, and on meeting Heintzelman the next day refused to speak to him.

In late afternoon Magruder attacked the Savage’s Station line. First to engage was William W. Burns’s Philadelphia Brigade, Sedgwick’s division. Burns was shot in the face but refused to leave the field, calling on Sumner for help. This only produced confusion, for Sumner seized any regiment that fell under his eye, sending it forward helter-skelter with a shout and a wave of his hat. Franklin, with a clearer grasp of the fighting, ordered up W.T.H. Brooks’s Vermont Brigade, and Brooks (despite a leg wound) and Burns soon beat back the attackers. The two sides ended up where they had started, the Federals suffering 919 casualties, the Rebels 444.

Franklin prepared to join the retreat, but Bull Sumner, his fighting blood up, refused to move. “I never leave a victorious field,” he insisted. At his wits’ end, Franklin showed him McClellan’s orders of that morning. “General McClellan did not know the circumstances when he wrote that note,” Sumner said with heat. “He did not know that we would fight a battle and gain a victory.” Franklin realized if they stayed they would be struck in the morning with redoubled force, and he sent to McClellan to report Sumner’s latest obduracy. A headquarters officer soon reached Sumner with unequivocal orders: “Present the accompanying order to Genl E. V. Sumner Comdg 2d Corps. If he fails to comply with the order you will place him in close arrest.” The direct order from the general commanding was enough for Edwin Sumner. “Gentlemen,” he told his staff, “you hear the orders; we have nothing to do but obey.” He and Franklin joined Heintzelman in retreat, and so the Army of the Potomac survived a long day of high command disorder.

Sam Heintzelman’s decision to cross the swamp at Brackett’s Ford somewhat relieved the congestion at the White Oak Swamp bridge, but still it was a maddeningly slow, tedious, dispiriting night march for everyone. At one point traffic at the bridge came to a dead stop. “Then we heard through the darkness General Richardson swearing like a trooper, and after considerable of that we moved on,” wrote one of Israel Richardson’s men; “. . . old ‘Dick’ with his fusillade of oaths was clearing them out and getting them over. . . .” Phil Kearny hurried his men along, warning that they were “the rear guard of all God’s creation.”

Nothing wrenched morale more than leaving behind wounded comrades at the Savage’s Station field hospital. “Those who could hobble or walk started from the hospital and mixed in with the moving wagon trains,” Private Sneden wrote. “Some were taken up by the teamsters, others, carrying their guns, supported a comrade. Some limped on sticks or improvised crutches.” Those left to the enemy’s care were counted by Lee’s medical director as 3,000.

Early on June 30 the rear guard crossed White Oak Swamp bridge and burned the span. The retreat routes through the swamp funneled into the road junction of Glendale two miles to the south. Glendale was as well the target of Jackson’s pursuing force and of Lee’s columns from Richmond intent on intercepting the Yankees’ retreat. Lee determined to make this Day Six of battle decisive. He focused his entire army on the objective of cutting the Potomac army in two. Confederate soldier-historian Porter Alexander would write of Glendale, “Never, before or after, did the fates put such a prize within our reach.” Of the Confederacy’s few chances for a success so great as to promise independence, Alexander wrote, “this chance of June 30th ’62 impresses me as the best of all.”

There was full intelligence on the Rebels that morning. From the north, Jackson was known to be advancing on the White Oak Swamp bridge site. From the west, Confederates were detected in force on both the Charles City and Long Bridge roads, close by Glendale. There was no doubt within the Union high command that saving the army’s trains—indeed saving the army—would require major fighting at Glendale. The Prince de Joinville, McClellan’s trusted adviser, had studied the maps and divined Glendale’s critical importance. “My Uncle spoke about this to the General,” wrote the Comte de Paris, “who grasped it at once. . . .”

Nevertheless, at this self-evident crisis in his fortunes, what remained of General McClellan’s warrior spirit evaporated. He deserted his army, or at least the largest part of it. At noon, following a sketchy inspection of the Glendale lines and a meeting with Sumner, Franklin, and Heintzelman, the commanding general and his entourage “took off at a fast trot” down the Quaker Road and over Malvern Hill to Haxall’s Landing on the James. “It is difficult to express the pleasure that everyone felt upon seeing with his own eyes the goal of our efforts, the end of our retreat,” Philippe recalled.

Some sixty hours had passed since McClellan determined the collapse of his campaign and committed to retreat. Hour by hour his demoralization intensified. He described himself that day to his wife as “worn out—no sleep for many days. We have been fighting for many days & are still at it. I still hope to save the army.” Saving the army meant one thing now: personally seeking out a safe haven on the James River. As to the more immediate crisis at Glendale, however, his loss of the moral courage to command in battle was complete, and he fled the responsibility. Andrew Humphreys of the engineers wrote his wife, “Never did I see a man more cut down than Genl. McClellan was when I visited him on board Com. Rodgers’ vessel. . . . He was unable to do anything or say anything.”

John Rodgers’s gunboat Galena was McClellan’s haven. At 4:00 p.m. he boarded the Galena to confer with Rodgers about the navy guarding the army when it should reach the river. Already at Haxall’s McClellan was miles too far from Glendale to exercise any command functions . . . although not too far to escape hearing the rising sounds of battle there. At 4:45, with general and staff aboard, the Galena steamed upriver some miles to shell a Rebel column on the riverbank. That evening, wrote the Comte de Paris, “I found the General at table with the naval officers. . . . When one has led so rude a life for several days, one feels out of place on arriving aboard a ship where everything is proper, whose officers have white linen and where one suddenly finds a good dinner and some good wine.”

In common with Savage’s Station the day before, McClellan left no one in overall command before he departed Glendale. This decision was surely dictated by Bull Sumner’s intransigence at Savage’s, but it thrust the Army of the Potomac into one of the worst command tangles it would ever experience. Sam Heintzelman, in congressional testimony, was asked about this peculiar trait of General McClellan’s. “Well, sir,” he replied, “he was the most extraordinary man I ever saw. I do not see how any man could leave so much to others; and be so confident that everything would go just right.” He added, “The corps commanders fought their troops entirely according to their own ideas.”

The Federal defenses on June 30 were divided—the rear guard at the White Oak Swamp bridge site facing Jackson’s advance from the north, and two to three miles distant, the flank guard at Glendale facing Lee’s advance from the west. After leaving his generals at Glendale to sort out matters for themselves, McClellan sent privately to the trusted William Franklin to command the rear guard at the swamp crossing. Franklin’s force was a mix of the last to leave Savage’s Station the night before—Baldy Smith’s Sixth Corps division, Israel Richardson’s Second Corps division, Henry M. Naglee’s Fourth Corps brigade. When the shooting started, Franklin appealed to ever-generous Sumner, who lent him two brigades from John Sedgwick’s Second Corps division.

The command at the Glendale crossroads was if anything even more tangled. The defending infantry was posted in line west of and parallel to the Quaker Road, along which the supply trains were still passing, fronting both the Long Bridge and Charles City roads. On the far right, blocking the Charles City Road, was Henry Slocum’s Sixth Corps division. Slocum was separated from his corps commander Franklin and acting independently; as he was short of artillery, Heintzelman loaned him two Third Corps batteries. Phil Kearny’s Third Corps division was next in the line. In his contrary way, Kearny took up a position (as Heintzelman put it) “in front of where I was ordered to hold & it was hours before I could move him.” Into the resulting gap had appeared George McCall with his laggard Fifth Corps division, inserting himself between Kearny and Hooker’s Third Corps division, on the far left. This mix-up left Heintzelman managing a divided command, well separated by McCall’s orphaned division; like Slocum, McCall reported to no one. To round out the entanglement, the Second Corps’ Bull Sumner went to battle that afternoon in charge of but a single brigade, from Sedgwick’s division, posted as a reserve.

General Franklin would encounter no difficulty managing the mix of forces under his command, for Stonewall Jackson’s attack proved merely a noisy, prolonged artillery duel, contributing in the end nothing to Lee’s battle plan. Franklin was returning to his command from Glendale when Jackson’s bombardment opened. “The wood through which I was riding seemed torn to pieces with round shot and exploding shells,” he wrote. At the front Baldy Smith was caught bathing, and as shot and shell fell about him he dressed “in what I judged was dignified haste.” The shelling caused panic among the supply trains, but inflicted no disruption of Franklin’s defenses. There was no follow-up to the shelling, so Franklin and Smith passed quiet hours relieving an abandoned sutler’s wagon of its stock of brandy and cigars.

At Glendale the Federal battle line was a ragged, improvised affair. Lacking central direction, each general selected his own position. Slocum on the far right was well separated from Kearny, who held a more advanced posting than anyone else. McCall’s line was tied neither to Kearny’s on his right nor to Hooker’s on his left. Joe Hooker was surprised to discover McCall’s division where he expected Kearny’s to be, distant 600 yards “and stretching off in an obtuse angle with the direction of my own.” McCall was astride the Long Bridge Road, which proved to be the axis of the Confederates’ main assault. In Lee’s design for June 30, while Jackson attacked the Yankees’ rear guard he would strike at Glendale with five divisions, intending to cut McClellan’s army in two. Benjamin Huger’s division would challenge Slocum on the Charles City Road. James Longstreet’s and A. P. Hill’s commands, supported by two of Magruder’s divisions, took McCall’s division as their primary target.

The Seven Days IV

Battle of Malvern Hill; Confederate forces are indicated in red, and Union forces are indicated in blue.

To the Federals’ great good fortune, Lee’s battle plan fell to pieces just as it had at Mechanicsville four days earlier. Jackson applied only artillery to his task, leaving his powerful infantry force standing idle. Huger fumbled his assignment as well, weakly engaging his artillery and none of his infantry. A confused Magruder marched his divisions first one way and then another, and they too failed to fire a shot. Thus the fighting at Glendale was left to just the twelve brigades of Longstreet and A. P. Hill—a severe enough test for the Yankees, to be sure, and nearly more than they could handle.

McCall’s Pennsylvania Reserves, confronting their third fight in five days (after Mechanicsville and Gaines’s Mill) were battle-weary and undermanned. John Reynolds had been captured on June 27 and his brigade was under Colonel Seneca G. Simmons. The division had suffered 1,650 casualties at Gaines’s Mill, a thousand of those from George Meade’s brigade. It was only by chance—a misdirected nighttime march—that the Reserves were not then on Malvern Hill with the rest of the Fifth Corps . . . and only by chance that their posting was at the center of the Glendale defenses.

George McCall’s inexperience, or incompetence, was evident in his postings. His flanks were not covered and he positioned his six batteries too far in advance of supporting infantry. Meade regarded the postings as very faulty and told one of his captains he suspected McCall of being either drunk or ailing and under the influence of opium. The opium charge was not new; the Comte de Paris had raised it at Gaines’s Mill. Truman Seymour’s brigade formed on the left in a large field and well in advance of Joe Hooker’s division to his left. Meade’s brigade was on the right and not tied to Kearny, while Simmons’s lay in reserve. The only other reserve in the Quaker Road sector was one of John Sedgwick’s Second Corps brigades.

Longstreet, guiding on the Long Bridge Road, attacked on a three-brigade front. The Rebels stormed out of the thick woods, driving the Yankee skirmishers before them and aiming for McCall’s exposed gun line. On Seymour’s front two batteries, from the artillery reserve and unused to such close work, pulled back with unseemly haste. There was bitter fighting around the other four batteries; Seymour’s infantry line was breached and his flank turned, and he and most of his men retreated in disorder, leaving a large gap in the battlefront. Joe Hooker was still in a fury about it when he drafted his report: Officers and men of Seymour’s brigade “broke through my lines, from one end of them to the other, and actually fired on and killed some of my men as they passed. Conduct more disgraceful was never witnessed on a field of battle.”

As Longstreet and Hill tried to widen and deepen the breach, the Federals fought to seal it, striking head-on and from both flanks. Seneca Simmons, only days in command of Reynolds’s brigade, led a charge into the gap and was killed. George Meade too rushed into the midst of the fighting. Alanson M. Randol, whose battery was subjected to repeated attacks, remembered seeing Meade pressing his men into the fight, “encouraging & cheering them by word and example.” Then Meade was hit, in the right arm and in the chest. He told Randol he was badly wounded and must leave the field. “Fight your guns to the last, but save them if possible.” Now, of McCall’s three brigade commanders, Simmons was dead, Meade wounded, and Seymour missing in action. A staff man came on a dazed General Seymour behind the lines, on foot, “his hat and clothes pierced by balls. He was alone. I asked him where his Brigade was: he told me it was entirely dispersed.” All twenty-six of the guns on McCall’s front were captured, abandoned, or withdrawn.

Behind the broken front Sumner and Heintzelman pushed reserves forward as fugitives fled past them. The shrill yip of the Rebel yell marked the enemy’s gains, close enough that both Heintzelman and Sumner were grazed by spent bullets. John Sedgwick was nicked twice and his horse killed. Sedgwick’s one brigade then present, under William Burns, was thrust into the breach, and Burns met the challenge as he had at Savage’s the day before. Sumner called on Franklin to return Sedgwick’s other two brigades loaned him, and Franklin did so promptly. Confident now of his own position, Franklin sent along two additional brigades of Richardson’s. To the arriving 15th Massachusetts, Sumner called out, “Go in, boys, for the honor of old Massachusetts! I have been hit twice this afternoon, but it is nothing when you get used to it.” These 11,700 men proved decisive in stemming the breakthrough.

On the northern shoulder of the broken front Phil Kearny reported Rebels attacking “in such masses as I had never witnessed,” a notable appraisal from a soldier of his experience. Guarding his flank was a section of Battery G, 2nd U.S. Artillery, Captain James Thompson, and guarding Thompson was Alexander Hays’s 63rd Pennsylvania. Twice Colonel Hays counterattacked to save the guns. Finally Thompson said he was out of ammunition and must withdraw. “I told him to go ahead and I would give him a good chance,” wrote Hays in a letter home. “Again it was ‘up, 63rd, give them cold steel; charge bayonets, forward, double quick!’ In a flash, yelling like incarnate fiends, we were upon them. . . . Such an onset could not last long, and towards dark we retired, having silenced the last shot.” This drama was witnessed by Kearny, and Alex Hays was flattered by the attention: “Kearny is somewhat hyperbolical in his expressions, but says it was magnificent, glorious, and the only thing that he saw like the pictures made in the papers. . . .”

Sam Heintzelman, rushing back and forth between his divided command, saw that Hooker now had matters in hand, so he focused on Kearny’s needs. He sought out Henry Slocum, whose division on the far right was comparatively idle. Slocum agreed to lend him the New Jersey brigade, Kearny’s old command, and with a shout the Jerseymen rushed into the fight at the double-quick. Another reinforcement was Lieutenant Colonel Francis Barlow’s 61st New York, loaned from Richardson’s division. Barlow wrote, “At a charge bayonets & without firing we went at a rush across the large open field. It was quite dark & very smoky so that we could not distinctly see the enemy in the open ground but they heard us coming & broke & ran. . . .” The 61st ended the day holding its position with the bayonet, its cartridge boxes empty. By then Barlow was leading three regiments as senior officer present.

In the dark woods Kearny was as usual personally (and recklessly) scouting out the fighting. “I got by accident in among the enemy’s skirmishers . . . and was mistaken by a rebel Captain for one of his own Generals,” he wrote his wife; “he looked stupid enough & said to me, ‘What shall I do next, Sir,’ to which I replied . . . ‘Do, damn you, why do what you have always been told to do,’ & off I went.” By leading from the front, his men “know that when matters are difficult, I am at their head, between them & danger—at least showing that I count on being followed,” not exposing them to dangers “I do not share.”

As darkness ended the fighting, George McCall concluded a day of general misfortune by losing his way and stumbling into the enemy lines. He was the second Union brigadier general, after John Reynolds, to be taken prisoner in the Seven Days fighting. This left battle-shocked Truman Seymour in command of the Pennsylvania Reserves and colonels in command of its three brigades.

Glendale cost the two armies a roughly equal number of casualties—3,673 Confederate, 3,797 Federal, plus eighteen guns lost. McCall’s and Kearny’s divisions accounted for almost three-fifths of the Federal total. George Meade’s chest wound proved dangerous but not life-threatening. He recuperated at home in Philadelphia and returned in time for the next campaign. McCall would be exchanged in August, but ill health and his unsteady record at Glendale combined to end his military career.

In the absence of the commanding general, the officer corps improvised very capably at Glendale. Franklin’s rear guard had little to do beyond hunkering down against Jackson’s artillery, and Franklin was prompt and generous in reinforcing McCall. Henry Slocum, not seriously threatened, reinforced Kearny. Heintzelman added to his solid record of leadership, managing a divided command even as he fed reinforcements into McCall’s broken front. Edwin Sumner and John Sedgwick and George Meade were in their element pressing troops into the fighting. Hooker on the left of the break and Kearny on the right continued to show exceptional skills at troop leading, although again Kearny did so in the most reckless manner. “He rides about on a white horse, like a perfect lunatic,” wrote Richard Auchmuty, adding that a posting on Kearny’s staff was decidedly unhealthy. There were some questions about Truman Seymour’s indecisive handling of his brigade, but he would head the Pennsylvania Reserves until the next campaign.

Disaster was averted (narrowly), the army was wounded but intact, and the Quaker Road remained open. Still lacking any guidance from McClellan, his lieutenants continued deciding matters on their own. Convinced that a second day of inaction by Stonewall Jackson was highly unlikely, Franklin sent to Heintzelman to ask how soon his command would clear the road for the rear guard to withdraw. Heintzelman replied that he had no orders to move and should not move without them. Slocum, like Franklin in an exposed position, added his voice for withdrawal, as did Seymour for McCall’s bloodied division. Heintzelman had sent off a staff officer to find McClellan, report on the day’s events, and get his orders. Finally, despairing of hearing from him (the Comte de Paris noted McClellan reading Heintzelman’s dispatch aboard the Galena and making no reply), Heintzelman and Sumner agreed on retreat. Heintzelman summed up: “General McClellan had been down the James River & we had to fall back or be cut off & on our own responsibility.”

Slocum pulled back first, followed by Kearny, Seymour, Sedgwick, and Hooker. Franklin was able to withdraw the rear guard “in parallel” with the others after one of Baldy Smith’s staff rediscovered the woods road General Keyes had found three days earlier. One of Smith’s men wrote in disgust, “We pulled up stakes again in the night and skedaddled.” They were not pursued. “It was after one a.m. when we took the road,” wrote diarist Heintzelman, “& at 2 a.m. were at Gen. Porter’s Hd. Qrs. where I met Gen. McClellan who had just heard of what was going on.”

A staff man on Malvern Hill recalled McClellan “suddenly coming riding hard up the hill in the dark, about 8.30 p.m. I think, & going at once . . . to read the accumulated dispatches.” Earlier, at Haxall’s Landing, McClellan implied to Washington that he was in the midst of the battle: “Another day of desperate fighting. We are hard pressed by superior numbers. . . . If none of us escape we shall at least have done honor to the country. I shall do my best to save the Army.” He asserted bravely he was sending orders to renew the combat the next day at Glendale, “willing to stake the last chance of battle in that position as any other.” But soon enough he found his generals already falling back (without orders, he told the staff disapprovingly). “I have taken steps to adopt a new line. . . .”

At 2:00 a.m. on July 1, McClellan called in topographical engineer Andrew Humphreys and instructed him to lay out lines on Malvern Hill and post the troops coming in from Glendale. “There was a splendid field of battle on the high plateau where the greater part of the troops, artillery, etc. were placed,” Humphreys wrote his wife. “It was a magnificent sight.” If today was to be the Potomac army’s last stand, the place was well chosen.

Malvern Hill was an elevated plateau three-quarters of a mile wide and a mile and a quarter deep that overlooked the James a mile distant. On the west was a sharp drop-off called Malvern Cliffs, and on the east the terrain was wooded and marshy. The Rebels approaching from the north confronted a gradual, open slope leading up to the crest of the hill, where on display was what Alexander Webb called “a terrible array”—the artillery of the Army of the Potomac. Fitz John Porter would be credited with command of the battle fought there that day, but in fact the battle belonged to Henry Hunt, the Potomac army’s chief of artillery.

By midday on July 1 Humphreys had the infantry posted and Hunt had the guns positioned to meet what everyone on Malvern Hill recognized was certain to be yet another assault by the relentless enemy. At an early hour General McClellan appeared on the field and rode the lines. The troops’ welcome inspirited him: “The dear fellows cheer me as of old as they march to certain death & I feel prouder of them than ever,” he told Ellen. “I am completely exhausted—no sleep for days—my mind almost worn out—yet I must go through it.” Going through it would not include taking command of the coming battle, however.

At 10:00 a.m. the Galena again weighed anchor with the general aboard. This time his journey was an hour and a half downstream to Harrison’s Landing, which Commander Rodgers said was the farthest point on the James that the navy could protect the army’s supply line. McClellan spent two hours ashore “to do what I did not wish to trust to anyone else—i.e. examine the final position to which the Army was to fall back.” The Galena’s log showed him returning to Haxall’s Landing at 2:45 that afternoon, and Andrew Humphreys placed him on Malvern Hill at about 4 o’clock, conferring with Porter. McClellan then made a second tour of the lines, after which he remained at the extreme right of the army throughout the period of the heaviest fighting. By the account of his staff officer William Biddle, “We heard artillery firing away off to the left—we were too far to hear the musketry, distinctly. . . .”

Critics would make much of McClellan’s Galena expedition on July 1, accusing him of abandoning his army on the eve of battle, and he was sensitive to the issue. In testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War in March 1863, when asked if he boarded a gunboat “during any part of that day,” he replied that he did not remember. During the 1864 presidential campaign cartoonists labeled him “The Gunboat Candidate,” lounging aboard the Galena as his army fought for its life. In fact, McClellan consulted with Porter during one phase of the Malvern fighting, then deliberately distanced himself from active command. The true, lesser known case of dereliction of duty was absenting himself aboard the Galena on June 30 while at Glendale his army did actually fight for its life. At Malvern Hill on July 1, while conforming to the letter of command, George McClellan certainly violated the code of command.

The Fifth Corps’ Morell and Sykes and Hunt’s reserve artillery were posted on Malvern Hill when McClellan arrived at the James on June 30. He shifted Darius Couch’s Fourth Corps division from Haxall’s Landing to Malvern. As finally established, the battlefront facing the advancing Rebels was Morell’s division on the left and Couch’s on the right, a total of 17,800 men. Sykes’s and McCall’s divisions guarded the western flank. The eastern flank was three army corps strong—Heintzelman’s Third, Sumner’s Second, Franklin’s Sixth. John Peck’s Fourth Corps division, with corps commander Keyes, was at the river.

As was now habit, McClellan designated no overall commander when he went off to Harrison’s Landing, so Porter, as the general posted on Malvern Hill when the rest of the army reached there, was recognized by all as commander pro tem—by all but old Sumner. Edwin Sumner reflexively assumed the command whenever McClellan was not in sight (which was often enough during the Seven Days), and at one point during the Malvern fighting he ordered Porter to fall back to a new position. Porter ignored him. On the Federal battlefront were eight batteries, 37 guns. Hunt would bring up batteries from his reserve to where they were most needed. Altogether on the plateau there were 171 guns posted for action or in reserve.

General Lee intended to clear the way for his infantry with a massive artillery barrage from a “grand battery.” But his guns were poorly handled, while the Yankee batteries were expertly handled, and the barrage scheme collapsed. A series of command misunderstandings then sent the Confederate infantry lunging head-on against Malvern Hill. A single powerful blow might have had at least a chance of breaking the Yankee line, but the assaults were disjointed and beaten back one after another. “It was not war—it was murder,” was Confederate general D. H. Hill’s verdict.

Henry Hunt ranged back and forth along the gun line, checking postings and battle damage, pulling out batteries that had exhausted their ammunition and replacing them from his reserve. Twice his horse was killed under him, twice he sprang up calling for a new mount. Hunt understood that reserves would be decisive. He described his thinking: “I gathered up some thirty or forty guns . . . brought them up at a gallop, got them into position as rapidly as possible, and finally succeeded in breaking the lines of the enemy.” His was a masterful performance.

Captain John C. Tidball’s battery was one of those Hunt called up. To his surprise, Tidball found the battery blazing away next to him was commanded by Captain Alanson Randol. He knew Randol had lost his guns at Glendale after a savage struggle. Randol explained that today he was looking for a part to play and came upon this battery of 20-pounder Parrotts whose German gunners had precipitously left the field at Glendale. Their officers apparently absent, Randol appropriated the battery, aided by his lieutenant who spoke a little “Dutch,” took it to the front, and administered a lesson in both gunnery and leadership.

Darius Couch had his hands full fending off some of the heaviest Rebel attacks, and he turned to Porter for help. Porter appealed to Sumner, but met reluctance—Sumner, as usual, expected to be attacked any moment, no matter that he was more than a mile from the fighting. Sam Heintzelman was willing: “By God! If Porter asks for help, he wants it, and I’ll send him a brigade.” He ordered up Sickles’s brigade, plus a battery. Thus prodded, Sumner sent forward Meagher’s Irish Brigade, and soon the front was stabilized. Couch reported pridefully, “Sumner, Kearny and Sedgwick gave me no little praise for the successes I achieved on this day.” Hunt was equally prideful: General McClellan was “in every way and in all respects thoroughly satisfied with me and my work.”

Phil Kearny acted his usual ungovernable self. That afternoon, after Heintzelman posted one of the Third Corps batteries, Kearny came along and shifted it elsewhere. Heintzelman returned and demanded to know who had moved the guns. Lieutenant Charles Haydon took up the story: “On being told he rode brim full of wrath for Gen. K. ‘You countermand another order of mine & I will have you arrested, Sir’ said H. ‘Arrest my ass, God damn you,’ said Kearny and rode off. . . . Heintzelman looked after him very earnestly for near a minute. A faint smile came over his features & he himself turned around & rode slowly off leaving the battery where he found it.”

“The struggle continued until nine o’clock p.m., when the rebels withdrew,” wrote artillerist Alexander Webb. “The author, an eye-witness, can assert that never for one instant was the Union line broken or their guns in danger.” At 6:10 p.m. Porter had reported to McClellan, “The enemy has renewed the contest vigorously—but I look for success again.” By 9:30 he declared victory: “After a hard fight for nearly four hours against immense odds, we have driven the enemy beyond the battle field. . . .” If reinforced, if the men were provisioned and their ammunition replenished, “we will hold our own and advance if you wish.” His victorious men “can only regret the necessity which will compel a withdrawal.”

The general commanding, however, had already issued orders for the final leg of the retreat, to Harrison’s Landing. Porter’s report of a complete victory did not move him to reconsider. He explained to Lincoln: “I have not yielded an inch of ground unnecessarily but have retired to prevent the superior force of the Enemy from cutting me off—and to take a different base of operations.”

McClellan’s lieutenants were dismayed (or worse) by his order to continue the retreat. Darius Couch, who had smothered the assaults on Malvern Hill, recalled his “great surprise” at leaving a victorious field, and his bitterness at abandoning “many gallant men desperately wounded.” For staff man William Biddle, “the idea of stealing away in the night from such a position, after such a victory, was simply galling.” Israel Richardson observed that “if anything can try the patience and courage of troops,” it was fighting all day every day, then falling back every night. Phil Kearny was livid. To fellow officers he declaimed, “I, Philip Kearny, an old soldier, enter my solemn protest against this order to retreat. We ought, instead of retreating, to follow up the enemy and take Richmond. . . . I say to you all, such an order can only be prompted by cowardice or treason!”

In the early hours of July 2 Fitz John Porter and Baldy Smith found time for a conversation as their commands trudged toward Harrison’s Landing. Porter described the decisiveness of the victory at Malvern Hill, and said he had spent the night trying to persuade McClellan to change his mind and move against Richmond at daylight. Knowing Porter to be McClellan’s closest confidant, and knowing Porter’s own native caution, Smith was fully persuaded just how ill-judged was McClellan’s decision. When he reached Harrison’s Landing, he wrote his wife “saying I had arrived safely but that General McClellan was not the man to lead our armies to victory.”

Malvern Hill was indeed a decisive victory. Confederate losses on July 1 came to 5,650. The Federal loss was just 3,007, and some 800 of those were stragglers picked up by the enemy during the retreat on July 2. Moreover, in its amphitheater-like setting Malvern was a highly visible victory, for all to witness (all but General McClellan) and a tonic to the fighting men of the battered Army of the Potomac.

A retreat already ugly turned uglier when it began to rain, a downpour that lasted twenty-four hours. “The retreat was a regular stampede, each man going off on his own hook, guns in the road at full gallop, teams on one side in the fields, infantry on the other in the woods,” wrote Richard Auchmuty. “At daybreak came rain in torrents, and the ground was ankle deep in mud.” To Francis Barlow “it was more like a rout than a ‘strategical movement.’” Joe Hooker called it “the retreat of a whipped army. We retreated like a passel of sheep. . . .” John Peck’s unbloodied Fourth Corps division acted as rear guard, hurrying along the stragglers and untangling massive tie-ups among the trains. The stunned and wounded Army of Northern Virginia offered no pursuit.

No one excelled George McClellan at inspiriting troops. At Harrison’s Landing on July 4, Independence Day, he raised spirits with an address to the army. Like an alchemist he sought to transmute leaden reality into silvery triumph. “Attacked by vastly superior forces, and without hope of reinforcements, you have succeeded in changing your base of operations by a flank movement, always regarded as the most hazardous of military expedients. You have saved all your material, all your trains, and all your guns, except a few lost in battle. . . .” (The Potomac army in the Seven Days lost war matériel beyond counting, wagons by the hundreds, and forty guns in battle.) “Your conduct ranks you among the celebrated armies of history. . . .”

The address played well to the rank and file, which needed assurance that their stout fighting and their costly sacrifices over the past bloody week had not been wasted. What had seemed a retreat was now officially a change of base. “All our banners were flung to wind,” Charles Haydon told his journal. “A national salute was fired. The music played most gloriously. Gen. McClellan came around to see us & we all cheered most heartily for country, cause & leader.”

If Charles Haydon spoke for a majority of the troops, fellow Third Corps soldier Felix Brannigan represented a vocal and growing minority. The papers speak of the “splendid strategy of McClellan,” Brannigan wrote. “I think he was forced to it. Anyhow, he gets too much credit for what other people do. McClellan kept at a respectable distance in action, but the real saviours of the army were Heintzelman, Kearny, Hooker, Richardson, and their subordinate generals. They were here, there, and everywhere . . . mixing in the thickest of the fray. Heintzelman with his old cloak and battered hat, and the one-armed Kearny, were particularly conspicuous.” Henry Ropes, Sedgwick’s division, thought “a great deal of faith in McClellan is gone, and I fear will not return.”

In the officer corps faith in McClellan was clearly shaken. “You have no idea of the imbecility of management both in action & out of it,” Francis Barlow wrote home. “McClellan issues flaming addresses though everyone in the army knows he was outwitted.” Everything he saw and heard, said Barlow, “more & more convinces me that McClellan has little military genius & that he is not a proper man to command this Army. I think the Division Genls & about everybody else here have lost confidence in him.” Barlow’s remark on discontent among the generals of division was perceptive. Of those who expressed opinions, Kearny, Hooker, and Baldy Smith were McClellan’s more outspoken critics. Richardson and Couch regarded the final retreat, to Harrison’s Landing, as a mistake. Henry Slocum wrote his wife, “I have allowed matters connected with our movements here to worry me until I came near being sick.”

The five corps commanders were more discreet. Edwin Sumner’s narrow vision focused more on obeying orders than on reasoning why. Still, he favored holding Malvern Hill “if my opinion had been asked about it.” Sam Heintzelman, highly critical of McClellan’s repeated failures to lead, welcomed his own chances at independent command. Erasmus Keyes was so isolated by McClellan that he scarcely witnessed a shot fired. William Franklin, while a McClellan loyalist, was quietly unhappy with events. “I wept at the mismanagement and waste, and I know other officers who did so too,” he told his wife. While Fitz John Porter argued against the final move to Harrison’s Landing, he remained a McClellan partisan; he cast all the blame on Washington. Samuel Barlow warned McClellan of “the jealousy of your own Generals, including Sumner, Heintzelman, Kearny & I fear even of Baldy Smith!”

Harrison’s Landing was a secure base, with swampy creeks forming its flanks and gunboats as watchdogs. But as an encampment it was a miserable place. Kearny complained that “we are completely boxed up, like herrings.” Into some four square miles of lowland were crowded 90,000 men, 25,000 horses and mules, 2,000 beef cattle, almost 3,500 wagons and ambulances, and 289 guns. The water was bad, flies were a constant plague upon man and beast, and it was stiflingly hot and humid. The army’s sick list at its peak reached 22 percent.

Malvern Hill was a superior base in every respect—stronger defensively, certainly healthier, and (should it come to that) a proper starting point for a renewed offensive against Richmond. By McClellan’s account, the navy was the reason he did not exercise the victor’s claim to the Malvern battlefield. Gunboats could guarantee the army’s supply line only as far as Harrison’s Landing, where the James was wide. Above that it narrowed at Haxall’s Landing, and McClellan imagined harassing fire from the south bank.

McClellan might have secured Haxall’s himself—and doubled his threat to Richmond—by seizing the south bank of the river with his own or with fresh troops. Ideal for that was Ambrose Burnside’s command just then landing at Fort Monroe from North Carolina. But that option did not occur to the Young Napoleon. His only thought now was securing his army from the ravening enemy host.

Warfare in the Spanish Reconquista Era I

During the age of the crusades the organization and operations of Christian armies engaged in the reconquest developed significantly. Not only was the formation of armies improved, but there were frequent opportunities to consider strategic issues of defense and offense, including the relative wisdom of undertaking raids, sieges, or pitched battles. Whereas the focus of this chapter is on peninsular warfare, many will observe that its methods and operations were often typical of medieval warfare in general. Any attempt to distinguish between reconquest and crusade in this regard is meaningless. Whether an expedition had the formal character of a crusade or not, the military organization, strategy and tactics were the same. The ultimate military objective was the reconquest of lands once held by Christians and occupied, unjustly it was believed, by the Muslims, who, in the end, would be expelled from Spain.

Strategic planning to achieve that goal was usually determined by the king and his council. In the Curia of León in 1188 Alfonso IX voiced a principle reflecting ongoing practice: “I promised that I would not make war or peace or treaty without the counsel of the bishops, nobles, and good men by whose counsel I ought to rule.” Strategic discussions surely took place during the Council of León in 1135, when Alfonso VII ordered his frontiersmen “to wage war assiduously against the Saracen infidels every year.” Alfonso VIII, in consultation with his court, developed the plan for the Crusade of Las Navas, and Fernando III, prior to embarking on his initial campaign, took counsel with his mother, his nobles, the Military Orders, and others. Jaime I, who recorded numerous instances when he took counsel, planned the Crusades of Mallorca and Valencia after consulting military experts.

The first line of defense was castles and towns strategically situated along the frontier to provide maximum protection and to delay, if not to prevent, enemy penetration into the heart of the realm. About 1,500 to 2,000 castles in various states of repair still exist. Most were erected on promontories enabling the garrison to see for miles in every direction and to prepare for an approaching enemy. At times a moat was dug as a further protection. Many castles originated as a simple tower around which towns gradually developed. The walls of Ávila, still intact, were likely typical of most frontier towns. Maintenance of the walls was a continuing responsibility. The alcaide (Ar., al-qāʾid) or castellan, who rendered homage to the king, assumed the obligation “to make peace and war” at the king’s command and received a certain sum to provide castle guard, as well as sufficient food, water, and arms. Castles had to be given up to the king on demand, but could not be surrendered to the enemy without his consent.

The Formation of Armies

As there was no standing army, all military operations were essentially ad hoc, usually planned in the winter or early spring to be executed in the late spring, summer, and early fall. If the prince alerted his people by letter, messenger, or lighted fires, according to the Usatges of Barcelona, all men of appropriate age and capacity had to go his aid. A time (about three to four weeks) and a place was usually fixed when the army would assemble with suitable equipment and supplies. The principal ecclesiastical and secular lords were likely summoned individually and in writing. Royal messengers also publicly proclaimed the summons. Everyone summoned had to appear or give a suitable excuse. Failure to respond could result in fines, confiscation, and excommunication. Nobles usually had to serve for three months, in return for a monetary stipend, or tenancy. Towns had a similar obligation. After the expiration of that term troops might be persuaded to remain if their expenses were paid or they were assured of substantial booty. The Muslims of Córdoba, for example, were about to surrender in 1236, but on learning that the Christians were short of food and that the Leonese militias did not wish to remain beyond their three months, they opted to hold out longer.

The Latin sources usually employed the word exercitus for an army, but fonsado and hueste were also used to refer to any military expedition. As a medieval king was expected to lead troops in battle, princes of the royal family were trained to the military life from an early age. Besides his brothers and sons, the king was accompanied by his mesnada, an elite corps of knights acting as his bodyguard. Reilly estimated that about fifty mounted warriors, each supported by a squire and a groom, or about 150 men, attended Alfonso VII. Thirty-five caualleros de mesnada of Fernando III and thirty-three of Alfonso X received land in Seville after its conquest. Jaime I remarked at one point that he was escorted by fifty knights of his maynada.

Prelates and other clerics were often an integral part of the army. While the primary role of the nearly fifty bishops was to provide spiritual sustenance, they were also expected to provide a certain number of troops. Some, such as Jerome, bishop of Valencia, whom the Poem of the Cid depicted as equally adept at liturgical celebration and the use of a lance, may be described as warrior bishops. Both Martín of Pisuerga and Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishops of Toledo, led armies against the Muslims. Gregory IX acknowledged that Rodrigo raised 1,000 men-at-arms and 400 jinetes or light cavalry, and fortified thirty-five castles at his own expense. Bishops Gutierre of Córdoba and Sancho of Coria participated in the siege of Seville “with their company of horse and foot.”

Other clerics and monks promised undetermined numbers of knights, sergeants, and food supplies. The clerical contribution of 269 knights and 2,500 sergeants (servientes, sirvens)—2,769 men in all—was quite substantial. The proportion of sergeants to knights appears to be ten to one, or in the case of the archdeacon of Barcelona twenty to one.

During the Crusade of Lisbon Bishop Pedro of Porto and Archbishop João of Braga played prominent roles as preachers and negotiators. Sancho I subsequently exempted the Portuguese clergy from military service except when the Muslims “invade our kingdom.” Although Bishops Sueiro of Lisbon and Sueiro of Évora took an active role in the Crusade of Alcácer, evidence concerning later participation by Portuguese prelates in the reconquest is minimal. The bishop of Porto, who held the city in lordship, strongly objected when Sancho II demanded military service from the clergy and laity of the city; Gregory IX twice ordered the king to desist.

As royal vassals receiving estates in full ownership from the king or else as benefices, the magnates (ricos hombres, barones) were a major component of the army. From the eleventh century onward as the flow of tribute from the petty Muslim kings increased, kings were able to pay their vassals a cash stipend (stipendium, soldadas). Many a noble enriched himself by plunder and was rewarded for faithful service to the king by the concession of additional estates. As feudalism was more fully developed in Catalonia, nobles retained their fiefs and castles so long as they remained loyal and fulfilled their feudal obligations.

The nobility gradually developed an awareness of their distinctive character formed by the common bond of knighthood or chivalry. Young nobles were trained to war from childhood under the direction of a master soldier and served their elders as squires. A young man who distinguished himself on the battlefield might be knighted at once, though it became customary for an aspirant to undertake the vigil of arms and to receive the accolade the next day from an older knight or from the king. Kings such as Afonso I, who, at fourteen, took his arms from the altar on Pentecost Sunday, knighted themselves. Knights were expected to be courageous, experienced in military matters, endowed with good judgment and a sense of loyalty, and capable of evaluating horses and arms. The number of magnates probably was no more than a dozen or two at any given time. Each one was usually accompanied by his own retinue of vassals, responding to a similar obligation to serve. González suggested that the minimum number of knights in the mesnada of a Castilian magnate was 100, but some were able to maintain 200 or 300. At least fifteen magnates and 200 knights received a share in the partition of Seville.

Various magnates pledged a certain number of knights to the Mallorcan Crusade, as well as an indefinite number of archers, and sergeants, and agreed to provide them with food, drink, arms, armor, and horses.

Nobles  Knights

Nunyo Sanç, count of Roselló 100 knights

Hug, count of Empúries 70 knights

Guillem de Montcada, viscount of Béarn 100 knights

Ferran de San Martín 100 knights

Guerau de Cervelló 100 knights

Ramon de Montcada, lord of Tortosa 25 knights

Ramon Berenguer d’Ager 25 knights

Bernat de Santa Eugénia  30 knights

Gilabert de Croyles 30 knights

 Total 580 knights

If a ratio of sergeants to knights similar to that of the prelates is assumed, that is, ten or twenty to one, then the number of sergeants might approach 5,800 or 11,600. That would give a total of either 6,380 or 12,180 men, but it is impossible to say whether these figures are reasonably accurate or not.

The Military Orders comprised the first line of defense, but the number of friars ready for battle at any given moment is difficult to determine. There were perhaps no more than fifty to a hundred, depending on the Order. The Templar commander of Miravet, for example, pledged thirty knights, twenty mounted crossbowmen, and other troops for the Mallorcan Crusade. When Pelay Pérez Correa, master of Santiago, agreed in 1246 to provide Baldwin II of Constantinople with 1,500 men, that included 300 knights, but not all were members of the Order. Nor is it likely that the 200 archers (100 horse and 100 foot), and 1,000 sergeants or footsoldiers belonged to the Order.

Perhaps aware that rivalry between the Templars and Hospitallers had contributed to the downfall of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the peninsular Orders several times promised mutual support and collaboration. In 1221 the masters of Calatrava and Santiago concluded a pact of brotherhood, stipulating that their knights would march together, fight side by side under one commander, and share booty equally. Three years later, the masters of Calatrava, Santiago, the Temple, and the Hospital in León and Castile pledged concerted action in battle. In 1239 the masters of Calatrava and Santiago confirmed all previous agreements between their Orders, and four years later they again emphased the need for cooperation under a single commander.

The municipalities also were required to respond to the summons to war. As the population of most Christian towns probably ranged between 1,500 to 3,000 persons, the number of adult males eligible for military service likely was no more than 600 to 1,200. Sentinels or lookouts were posted to warn of an approaching enemy so that the summons to defend the town could be given. The walls provided a secure haven for both urban residents and those living within the district. Towns also raided enemy territory in the hope of bringing back booty. Indeed, Dufourcq and Gautier-Dalché spoke of “war as an industry” during this era.

The nature and extent of municipal military obligations were spelled out in royal charters, such as the Fueros of Jaca, Teruel, Cuenca, and Coria. While in theory all able-bodied men, organized by districts or parishes, were required to serve, only a limited number might have to do so. Kings often granted exemption from military service in exchange for a tax called fonsadera. Before setting out, a muster (alarde, Ar., al-ʿarḍ) was held in the town square to determine whether the soldiers were properly equipped. Knights, who were a prominent element in the municipal militia, came to enjoy both political and social ascendancy in their towns. After the conquest of Seville, as the towns allowed their military skills and equipment to deteriorate, Alfonso X in 1256 and 1264 assured municipal mounted warriors of significant tax advantages, provided that they were suitably equipped for war. The urban militias were commanded by the juez or chief administrator of the town, but the alcaldes or magistrates organized the troops from each district. Scouts, lookouts, a chaplain, a surgeon, and notaries or scribes responsible for supplies and the distribution of booty, accompanied the militia.

Almogávers or almogávares (Ar., al-maghāwīr, raiders), men wearing rough garments, armed with daggers, short lances, and darts, and often living in forests, engaged in daily raids against the Muslims. In Catalonia they were usually footsoldiers, but in Castile they might also be horsemen. Light infantry carrying lances, knives, and daggers, perhaps the most numerous element of the army, included archers (arqueros) and crossbowmen (ballesteros); some ninety-five ballesteros received lands in the partition of Seville. While the cavalry was more mobile, the infantry was valued because it could go where cavalry could not.

Once an army was organized obedience and prompt execution of orders were essential for discipline. Disobedience, fomenting discord, quarreling, wounding, killing, stealing, desertion, and aiding and abetting the enemy were punished severely. Penalties included fines, exile, shaving the head and face, mutilation of the ears or hands, and execution. Trading with the enemy during wartime, especially in wheat, horses, weapons, iron, and wood, was condemned as treason, although the popes occasionally permitted people on the frontier to purchase necessities from neighboring Muslims.

Arms and Armor

In order to acquit themselves effectively soldiers were required to bring a sword, a lance, a javelin, a bow and arrows, or a crossbow and darts. Knights ordinarily carried an iron sword, usually about three feet long, doublesided and with a hilt. The sword was primarily used for striking an enemy in the hope of cutting through his coat of mail, rather than piercing his body. Both knights and footsoldiers used wooden or iron lances about six or seven feet long, and tipped with a long iron point. Footsoldiers also wielded a shorter javelin. Although the bow and arrow enjoyed some popularity, the crossbow became the most important projectile weapon, employed by both knights and footsoldiers.

Protective armor included the coat of mail, worn over a quilted jacket, and reaching the knees or even below; the helmet or iron cap, sometimes fitted with a nose guard, and worn over a cloth cap; and metal or leather braces protecting the arms and thighs. Shields or bucklers made of wood covered with leather or iron bands, were either round, or triangular, similar to a kite. The coats of arms of kings and knights were painted on their shields. Almoravid shields were made from hippopotamus hides. Body armor and arms varied greatly depending on the warrior’s status. Magnates may have adorned their helmets with precious stones, as visual testimony of their triumphs.

Several codices illustrate various types of weapons and protective gear. A twelfth-century miniature in Beatus’s Commentary depicts soldiers on horseback and on foot, wearing conical iron caps and chain mail covering the body including the head and reaching to the knees; they carried swords, lances, and round shields. A battle scene in Cantiga 63 displays Christian knights wearing chain mail covered with surcoats, gloves, and bowled or square helmets shielding the entire face; their kite shields have distinctive markings such as a zig-zag pattern in black and white (a Muslim shield has gold half-moons on red); they carry lances with triangular pennons, and a red flag. Around 1300 murals in the royal palace of Barcelona portrayed knights in chain mail with pot helmets, footsoldiers bearing lances and swords, and archers equipped with swords, as well as crossbows and darts in quivers.

Knights sometimes imitated the Muslim riding style, known as a la jineta; with a short stirrup strap and bended knees the knight was able to control his horse and to move swiftly. The French practice, known as a la brida, also gained popularity. A long stirrup strap extended the warrior’s legs giving him greater security, though somewhat sacrificing maneuverability. Horses were sometimes protected by a coat of mail. Given their great cost and the expense of maintaining them, the number of mounted warriors likely was small in comparison with infantrymen. Thirteenth-century laws prohibiting the export of horses attested to their scarcity. After losing eighty-six horses, Jaime I purchased replacements but admitted that he probably paid more than they were worth. The Almoravids brought camels to Spain, causing consternation among the Christians, but neither Muslims nor Christians used them regularly.

Armies probably employed trumpets or other horns to summon one another. The sound of Almoravid war drums covered with elephant hides reportedly terrified the Christians who had never heard them before. Cantiga 165 illustrates a Muslim army equipped with standards, trumpets, and drums.

Supply was a major concern of any army. It has been estimated that each man required about two and a half pounds of grain and two quarts of water per day; horses needed eight gallons of water and twenty-eight pounds of fodder. Beasts of burden, rather than wheeled carts, ordinarily were used to transport supplies. Mules, needing less food and water and able to cover as many as twenty-five miles a day with loads of 200 pounds or more, were preferred to horses. Municipal fueros often specified the obligation to provide beasts of burden. Jaime I employed 2,000 pack animals capable of carrying 400,000 pounds of supplies to relieve Puig, while the king of Granada sent 1,500 animals to Fernando III’s siege of Jaén. An army on the move usually followed river routes and marched through areas that might yield forage and plunder.

Warfare in the Spanish Reconquista Era II

Military Standards and Leadership

The military standard was a sign whereby kings, magnates, Military Orders, and town militias identified themselves; it also acted as a rallying point. Guillem de Montcada, who led the van in the battle of Portopí, commanded his men: “let no one separate himself from my standard” and Alfonso VIII ordered his standardbearer to advance into the midst of the battle of Las Navas to hearten his troops. Standards varied in size and shape in accordance with a person’s rank. Royal standards more than likely were similar to royal seals. Castles were probably depicted on the Castilian standard and lions on the Leonese; after the union of the realms, the two were combined. Innocent III permitted Pedro II and his successors to use a banner bearing their arms, four red stripes on a yellow shield. The royal murals of Barcelona show knights carrying standards with distinctive arms and some have similar identifying signs on their helmets.

Town militias gathered for prayer and for the blessing of their standards before setting out on campaign. In the Cortes of Seville in 1250 Fernando III stipulated that a town’s standard must be borne not by an artisan, but by the juez or judge, a person of knightly rank, who would not bring shame on the town in time of danger, presumably by fleeing. Standards given to towns by the king were destroyed after his death and replaced by others presented by his successor. Soldiers were expected to defend the standard, and suffered dire punishments if they fled with it, thereby disrupting the army, or abandoned it, an act tantamount to treason. Rewards were given to those who defended the standard or recovered one taken by the enemy, or raised up one that had fallen, or captured an enemy standard.

The success of any military undertaking depended largely on the quality of leadership. Although the king was the natural commander, he was not necessarily a good general, and so relied on the counsel of his vassals, who brought their own experience into play. Afonso I and Sancho I of Portugal and Alfonso I and Jaime I of Aragón appear to have been more than competent commanders, while the Cid and Pelay Pérez Correa, master of Santiago, stand out as notable generals. The alférez (Ar., al-fāris, knight) or signifer, a prominent noble who bore the royal standard, commanded the army during the king’s absence. The Cid, named as alférez by Sancho II of Castile, was the most famous person to hold that position.

Below the magnates, each of whom commanded his own vassals, there were many other commanders and the law prescribed harsh penalties for those who killed, wounded, or dishonored them. In its most limited sense adalid (Ar., al-dalīl, guide) meant one whose knowledge of roads and passages was such that he could lead troops safely through difficult terrain, and knew where to place lookouts. Sponsored by twelve of his fellows, he was appointed by the king to command a mounted troop; after swearing an oath to defend the realm, he received a standard from the king as a sign of his office. At least twenty adalides shared in the partition of Seville. If someone were to be promoted to the post of almocadén (Ar., al-muqaddam, commander) or infantry commander, twelve others had to swear that he was brave and loyal, knowledgeable in war, capable of command and of protecting his men. The king conferred on him a lance with a small pennant by which he could be recognized. His twelve sponsors then raised him high four times on two lances; pointing his lance toward each of the four corners of the world, he swore the same oath as the adalid. Fifty-one almocadenes, each with a company of foot, were given property in the partition of Seville.

Wars of Pillage and Devastation

Offensive warfare most often took the form of cavalcades or raids of shorter or longer duration into enemy territory. Both Christian and Muslim raiding parties of lightly armed cavalry tried to profit by a rapid strike, seizing livestock and whatever other booty they could in a day or two. Perhaps numbering only 50 to 300 men, raiders usually were familiar with the land and tried to conceal their movements as long as possible. They had to move swiftly so the enemy would not have time to retaliate and so that they could regain the safety of their town. The best guarantee of that was surprise. When Jaime I carried out a raid with 130 knights, 150 almogàvers, and 700 footsoldiers, they traveled by night, but the Muslims of Valencia alerted their people by bonfires.

Raids lasting several weeks or even months and reaching deep into enemy territory often involved thousands of knights and footsoldiers and had to be planned well in advance. They were usually undertaken during the summer and fall when the harvest was ripe for destruction or could provide sustenance for the raiders. The purpose of these raids was devastation: to destroy the enemy’s crops; trees and vineyards were burned and cut down; livestock was seized; villages were pillaged; fortifications were wrecked; and persons having the misfortune of being in the way were captured. The raiders hoped to undermine the enemy’s morale and his will to resist. Once an enemy had been softened up in this way, it was possible to besiege a stronghold in the expectation that the defenders would have insufficient supplies and manpower to maintain themselves for any length of time.

As the element of surprise was missing in a large cavalcade acting in broad daylight, the army had to be well organized and disciplined, moving in a column, ready to defend itself at any moment. The army ordinarily was divided into a vanguard, a rearguard, and flanking detachments. Defensible places adjacent to water and food supplies were chosen for encampments. Tents were set in a circle or a square with the king’s tent in the center. Sometimes defensive barriers were established. In 1231 Jaime I ordered 300 campfires lit so the Muslims would conclude that his army was much larger than in actuality. From a base camp smaller raiding parties were detached to plunder the surrounding area. Alfonso I, departing from Zaragoza in September 1125 and ending about a year later, carried out a notable cavalcade through Andalucía. Once the decision was taken to return home, the army was vulnerable to reprisals because of the burden of captives and livestock seized as booty.

Siege Warfare

Sooner or later, if the king wished to take possession of any area, he had to seize the enemy’s strongholds and the territory dependent on them. Some fortresses were taken by surprise, usually because the garrison was small and unprepared. Taking advantage of the dark of night, the twelfth-century Portuguese adventurer Geraldo the Fearless scaled the walls of several towns but few of his conquests were permanent. Other places were captured when the attackers overwhelmed the defenders. When the crusaders enroute to Las Navas seized Malagón in a few hours, other nearby fortresses, after offering minimal resistance, soon capitulated. After breaking into the suburbs of Córdoba by surprise, the Castilians soon established a full-blown siege.

A siege was a long and costly operation of uncertain outcome (see Figure 6). The approaches to a fortress were often difficult to traverse, especially if it stood on a mountain, or if it were protected by a moat or a palisade. The Genoese closed the moat of Tortosa, reportedly about 126 feet wide by 96 deep, by filling it with stones. The Muslims defending Calatrava la vieja in 1212 set iron spikes in the Guadiana River to impede the crusaders. Stone walls several feet thick protected the defenders while holding off the enemy; sometimes an outer wall encircling the original walls presented an additional barrier. The last bastion of defense was the citadel within the walls and often on a height overlooking a town. Sieges such as those of Toledo (1085), Zaragoza (1118), Lisbon (1147), Almería (1147), Tortosa (1148), Silves (1189), Alcácer do Sal (1217), Mallorca (1229), Córdoba (1236), Valencia (1238), Jaén (1245), and Seville (1248) occupy a significant place in contemporary narratives. The besieging army attempted to sever the enemy’s lines of communication and to deprive the defenders of sustenance by ravaging the surrounding countryside. Care had to be taken, however, not to destroy the army’s own food supply. While the work of pillage continued, the defenders often made sorties, skirmishing with their opponents, and then retreating hastily to safety.

Arms and armor as well as water, wheat, and other food supplies were stockpiled in preparation for a siege. The defenders of Lisbon eventually were reduced to eating cats and dogs—to the horror of the crusaders—as well as garbage thrown from crusader ships and washed up under the walls. Although the food supply supposedly had rotted, when the crusaders occupied the city they discovered 8,000 seams of wheat and 12,000 sextars of oil, which they found quite acceptable. Failure to cut off the food supply or to reduce the defenders to starvation often forced a siege to be abandoned. Limitations on military service also hampered besieging armies, as knights or townsmen opted to depart once their term was up.

A blockade was established so supplies and reinforcements could not be introduced and the defenders could not escape. Attempts were made to breach the walls by sapping or battering them. Mantlets made of hides and osier protected sappers trying to dig under the walls and others using a battering ram from being pummeled from above by stones. If a castle were built on rock, mining would be time-consuming and costly and ultimately unsuccessful. Within a month the crusaders at Lisbon dug a mine with five entrances, extending about sixty feet; when inflammable material was placed in the mine about forty-five feet of the wall fell down. Crusaders mining the walls of Alcácer do Sal caused one tower to collapse. The Muslims thwarted an attempt during the siege of Seville to undermine Triana.

While mining was in progress, wooden towers were constructed and moved up against the walls, sometimes on wheels, sometimes over greased wooden rollers. Standing on top of the towers, archers and crossbowmen shot arrows and other missiles down on the defenders; eventually an assault might be launched across a bridge from the tower to the walls. Two movable towers, one eighty-three feet high and another ninety-five feet, were built during the siege of Lisbon. Mats, penthouses, and mantlets made of interwoven branches protected the towers against fire and stones; however, the defenders dumped burning oil on one tower, reducing it to ashes. During the siege of Almería the Muslims used Greek fire to burn wooden castles built by the Christians.

Siege engines previously used were sometimes transported to the current site, while at other times they were built on the spot. While bombardment might continue by day and night, walls were not easily destroyed. The defenders often had siege engines of their own to hurl missiles at their tormentors. Chevedden argued that all siege machines were essentially variations of the trebuchet, a wooden beam on a rotating axle fixed on a single pole or on a trestle. Attached to the long narrow end of the beam was a sling containing a projectile; ropes tied to the other, wider end, when pulled by a crew, propelled the projectile through the air. Three types were used: the traction trebuchet driven by a crew pulling ropes; the counterweight trebuchet powered by a counterweight placed opposite the sling; and the hybrid trebuchet employing both the counterweight and the pulling crew.

Among the siege engines in which the beam was fixed on a single pole were the mangonel, probably a traction trebuchet; the fundibulum; and the algarrade (Ar. ʿarrādah). Heavier machines set on a trestle included the al-manjanech (Ar. al-manjanīq), probably a hybrid trebuchet; and the brigola, a counterweight trebuchet. Stones were often transported to the siege, but at other times were gathered on site. The maximum size that could be fired by a traction trebuchet was 200 pounds for a maximum distance of about 120 meters or 390 feet. A counterweight trebuchet could launch even heavier missiles. Two Balearic mangonels, hybrid trebuchets used by the crusaders at Lisbon with alternating crews of 100 men, were able to fire 5,000 stones in ten hours, or 250 an hour, or approximately four every minute. One can imagine the destruction that might be done and the fear raised among the population.

Both sides also practiced a form of pscyhological warfare. Jaime I, for example, shot the head of a Muslim captive over the walls of Palma. While the crusaders at Lisbon impaled the heads of eighty Muslim captives so the defenders could see them, the Muslims taunted them, objecting to their worship of Jesus, abusing the cross, and suggesting that their wives were producing bastards at home. When the Almoravids threatened Toledo in 1148, Queen Berenguela called their manhood into question for attacking a woman and told them to seek out her husband, Alfonso VII, who would readily take them on. Shamed, they withdrew.

Persistence eventually brought the besieged to their knees. As supplies were exhausted, starvation loomed; people died; rotting corpses raised a stench, and disease began to spread. In the circumstances the defenders might appeal to their coreligionists for help, promising that if that proved fruitless within a specified period they would surrender. After an army coming to relieve Alcácer do Sal was defeated, the defenders capitulated a month later. When Alfonso IX routed Ibn Hūd at Alange, Mérida surrendered; nearby Badajoz apparently put up little resistance, and the Muslims abandoned Elvas. Fernando III allowed Carmona to seek help in 1247, but when it was not forthcoming, the town yielded.

Although no surrender pacts for Castile-León and Portugal are extant, the chroniclers often reported the terms of surrender. Some Aragonese pacts do survive and are likely representative of the genre. Alfonso VI allowed the Muslims of Toledo to remain, retaining their property, worshipping freely, and living in accordance with Islamic law; those who wished to depart with their movable goods could do so, but they could return later if they wished. Alfonso I gave similar guarantees to the Muslims of Zaragoza. Although the Muslims of Lisbon were permitted to leave, provided that they gave up their arms, money, animals, and clothing, the crusaders sacked the city, killing many. Sancho I agreed to allow the Muslims of Silves to depart with their movable goods, but his crusading allies insisted on their right to plunder the city, even though he offered them 10,000 maravedís as compensation.

Fernando III’s general policy in Andalucía was to require the Muslims to evacuate the principal urban centers capitulating after a siege. Thus the Muslims of Capilla, Baeza, Úbeda, Córdoba, Jaén, and Seville were allowed to depart, taking their movable goods under safe-conduct to Muslim territory. The Muslims similarly evacuated Palma, Borriana, and Valencia, but a significant number remained in Jaime I’s dominions, assured of religious liberty and the observance of Islamic law. The fall of a city usually resulted in the capitulation of smaller towns in the vicinity. Thus when Toledo surrendered, other towns in the Tagus valley acknowledged Alfonso VI’s sovereignty. After the surrender of Córdoba, several adjacent towns offered tribute to Fernando III. Many towns in the countryside surrounding Seville, including Jerez and Medina Sidonia, acknowledged his suzerainty, while retaining their property, law, and religion.

While many sieges ended with capitulation, some towns were taken by assault. This was the bloodiest outcome of a siege and in some respects the least desirable. Men, women, and children were slaughtered indiscriminately, and survivors were reduced to slavery. Although the defenders at Almería offered Alfonso VII 100,000 maravedís if he would lift the siege, the Genoese refused to agree and took the city by assault. Some 20,000 Muslims were said to have been killed and another 30,000 taken captive; 10,000 women and children were transported to Genoa, where they were likely sold as slaves or ransomed. Following Las Navas the Muslims of Úbeda offered Alfonso VIII 1,000,000 maravedís to pass them by, but he refused and assaulted the city, enslaving the survivors. Jaime I reported that 24,000 inhabitants were massacred during the assault of Palma.


Numerous battles resulted when a relieving army attempted to drive off besiegers or to intercept a raiding expedition, but only rarely did kings risk the possibility of a great victory or a terrible defeat by deliberately engaging in a pitched battle. The Cid, besieged in Valencia, repulsed the Almoravids at Cuart de Poblet in 1094, and two years later Pedro I triumphed at Alcoraz over the Muslims coming to relieve Huesca. The Almoravids, in turn, overwhelmed a Christian army trying to succor Uclés in 1108. Alfonso I gained three notable victories on the battlefield, first over the king of Zaragoza who made a sortie from his beleaguered city in 1118; then at Cutanda in 1120 over the Almoravids; and at Lucena in 1126 during his march through Andalucía. He was not so fortunate, however, at Fraga in 1134, when he was defeated and killed by the Almoravids. There is little information about it, but at Ourique in 1139 Afonso I defeated the Muslims attempting to halt incursions into the Alentejo. A century later, as noted above, at Alange in 1230 Alfonso IX bested Ibn Hūd attempting to relieve Mérida. Muslim troops stationed on a height at Portopí overlooking the shore attempted to halt Jaime I’s invasion of Mallorca in 1229, but the Christians forced them to flee. When Zayyān, the king of Valencia, attacked Jaime I’s base at Puig de la Cebolla in 1237, he was driven off. The victory undermined the morale of the Valencian Muslims and stiffened the king’s determination to have the city.

The classic battles of the reconquest, however, were Zallāqa, Alarcos, and Las Navas de Tolosa. Alfonso VI and Yūsuf ibn Tashufīn fought the battle of Zallāqa on 23 October 1086, on a broad plain in a place now called Sagrajas, near the juncture of the Guadiana and the Gevora Rivers, about eight to ten miles north of Badajoz. A description by a contemporary author, Abū Bakr al-Turṭūshī, probably reflects the tactics employed by the Almoravids at Zallāqa:

This is the battle order that we use . . . and which seems most efficacious in our battles with our enemies. The infantry with their shields, lances, and iron-tipped and penetrating javelins are formed in several ranks. Their lances rest obliquely on their shoulders, the shaft touching the ground, the point aimed at the enemy. Each one kneels . . . on his left knee and holds his shield in the air. Behind the infantry are the elite archers, whose arrows can pierce coats of mail. Behind the archers are the cavalry. . . . When the enemy comes near, the archers let fly against them a shower of arrows, while the infantry throw their javelins and receive the charge on the points of their lances. Then infantry and archers . . . open their ranks to right and left and the Muslim cavalry, charging through the open space, routs the enemy, if Allāh so decides.

Alfonso VI, possibly expecting a quick victory over forces assumed to be as ineffective as the reyes de taifas, charged and drove back the taifa contingents, but superior Almoravid numbers halted his advance. Their first line of defense consisted of soldiers equipped with long lances, and the second line threw javelins at the enemy. At this point Yūsuf carried out a flanking movement and surrounded the Christians; many were killed as they attempted to escape, but some apparently died from the labors of the day. Though wounded, Alfonso VI escaped under cover of night. Despite his victory, Yūsuf advanced no further, perhaps reasoning that it was late in the year and that greater success could be achieved in the spring. Thus he gained no significant territory at Christian expense, though the subjugation of Andalucía to Almoravid rule put the Christians on the defensive for many years to come. Another consequence was to attract French knights to the war against Islam in Spain.

Warfare in the Spanish Reconquista Era III

A century later Alfonso VIII chanced the future of his kingdom on a pitched battle at Alarcos on 19 July 1195. There, a few miles south of Toledo, a castle, still unfinished, was situated on a small hill adjacent to the Guadiana River and overlooked a broad plain. Thinking that the Almohads were weakened by rebellions in Morocco and elsewhere, he evidently concluded that he could defeat them on the battlefield and refused to await reinforcements from Alfonso IX. The Caliph al-Manṣūr had the advantage in numbers and also opted to give his men a day of rest rather than accept the challenge offered by the Christians. On the following morning the Almohads, well-rested and organized in tribal groups each with its own standard, initiated the combat. The Christians, disconcerted, charged in a disorderly manner, dispersing some of the volunteers who had come to participate in the holy war; but the main Almohad lines held firm and executed a flanking movement that encircled the Christians. To rescue the situation Alfonso VIII brought up his reserves, but the caliph responded with the full force of his army. In the ensuing mêlée the Christians were driven back and the king had to flee. Those seeking refuge in the castle of Alarcos were shortly forced to surrender. The battle had raged from early morning until sundown. Many other nearby castles surrendered or were abandoned by the Christians, but the caliph did not press his advantage, returning instead to Seville. In the next two years, however, Almohad forces ravaged the Tagus River valley.

The battle of Alarcos was an ignominious defeat for Alfonso VIII, but on 16 July 1212 at Las Navas de Tolosa he redeemed himself with a glorious triumph. Marching southward from Toledo the crusaders seized most of the fortresses lost as a result of Alarcos. As they passed through the Puerto del Muradal they encountered the Almohad army. The battle likely occurred about seven or eight miles north of Las Navas between Santa Elena and Miranda del Rey. The Christians were grouped in three ranks, each organized in a vanguard and a rearguard. Alfonso VIII held the center, while Pedro II occupied the left and Sancho VII of Navarre the right. Lightly armed cavalry, including volunteers dedicated to the holy war, formed the first rank of the Almohad army. The main force consisted of troops from both Morocco and Andalucía. Combat commenced when the crusader vanguard broke through the first enemy lines but the Almohad van stiffened, prompting some of the urban militiamen to flee. Fearing disaster, Alfonso VIII moved up with his rearguard while Pedro II and Sancho VII also joined the attack. At that point the Caliph al-Nāṣir fled, leaving his army to be cut to pieces. In the ensuing days Alfonso VIII temporarily occupied Baeza and Úbeda, but exhaustion and fear of famine forced him to return to Toledo. Although it was not apparent at the time, his victory at Las Navas de Tolosa opened the entire Guadalquivir valley to Christian conquest.

In the three battles just described several factors had a paramouint influence on the outcome. The Muslims appear to have had numerical superiority at Zallāqa and Alarcos, whereas at Las Navas the forces seem to have been evenly matched. Secondly, Yūsuf ibn Tashufīn and al-Manṣūr, the victors at Zallāqa and Alarcos, exercised more effective generalship. Both Alfonso VI and Alfonso VIII underestimated their opponents, and overconfidence probably led them into battles that they should have avoided. The Muslim tactic of giving way and feigning retreat evidently fooled the Christians at Zallāqa and Alarcos, who were then surrounded as the enemy swept around their flanks. Alfonso VIII probably learned something from his experience at Alarcos and put it to good use at Las Navas; the caliph, however, seems to have remained passive during the battle until he fled in disgrace. The terrain at Zallāqa and Alarcos apparently did not favor one side over the other, though at Zallāqa the Almoravids had the river Guadiana at their back; that could have slowed their retreat to Badajoz, if that had been necessary. The battlefield of Las Navas was much hillier than at either of the other sites but the Christians were able to overcome the obstacles posed. Although the chroniclers tend to emphasize the action of the cavalry in all these battles, infantry forces were present as well.

The Question of Numbers

Any attempt to determine the number of troops engaged in any given campaign is a frustrating task. Documents recording numbers are generally lacking, and chroniclers’ statements are often exaggerated and must be viewed with great scepticism. Numbers varied considerably depending on whether the military action was a raid, a seige, or a battle. Some raiding parties probably counted no more than 50 to 100 or 200 to 300, while others were substantially larger, approaching the size of armies. The number of soldiers involved in a siege probably changed over the course of the operation. Some contingents likely did not arrive at the outset, perhaps in accordance with a preconceived plan, while others left early, citing foral limitations on their service. During the several months of the siege of Seville Fernando III commanded perhaps 5,000 to 7,000 men.

Numbers given by the sources of soldiers engaged in pitched battles are generally unacceptable. Muslim authors related that at Zallāqa the Almoravids had 500, or 12,000, or 20,000 light cavalry, and estimated the Christians at 40,000, 60,000, or 80,000 horse and 200,000 foot; the number killed ranged from 10,000 to 54,000, or 300,000. Reilly, however, estimated the Christian army at about 2,500 men, consisting of perhaps 750 heavily armed and 750 lightly armed knights, and about 1,000 squires and footsoldiers. Muslim sources, all of a later date, recorded the death of 30,000 Christians at Alarcos, and the capture of 5,000, while only 500 Muslims were killed; according to al-Maqqarī there were 146,000 dead Christians, and 30,000 prisoners; the booty consisted of 150,000 tents, 80,000 horses, 100,000 mules, and 400,000 asses. Prior to Las Navas, Alfonso VIII estimated that 2,000 knights with their squires, 10,000 sergeants on horseback and up to 50,000 sergeants on foot came to Toledo. Archbishop Rodrigo stated that the Almohads had 185,000 knights and an incalculable number of infantry, and that their losses amounted to 200,000 men. Muslim sources related that only 600 out of 600,000 Almohad soldiers survived the battle. Such figures are wholly unreliable.

The numbers for Jaime I’s crusades are also difficult to calculate because of discrepancies in the sources. According to the number of knights and sergeants pledged by prelates and nobles for the Mallorcan Crusade, cited above, the king may have had anywhere from 9,000 to 13,000 men. While he noted that he embarked 1,000 men in his ships, the Latin Chronicle reported that his letters stated that he had scarcely seventy knights and 13,000 foot when he took Mallorca. At Portopí, according to the king, 2,000 Muslims attempted to prevent the landing of 4,000 to 5,000 men, and the Muslims trying to dislodge the Christians from Puig de la Cebolla numbered 600 knights and 11,000 foot. Whether the size of the Muslim army was as great as reported cannot be ascertained.

Without detailed records it is impossible to determine the size of armies clashing in pitched battles. The number on each side might fall between 1,000 and 10,000 men, and perhaps no more than 3,000 to 5,000 were involved in any one of the battles mentioned. Exaggerating the number of enemy soldiers or those killed, of course, was one way of exalting the triumph of one’s coreligionists or explaining away a terrible defeat.

The Distribution of the Spoils

Booty taken in the innumerable raids typical of frontier warfare was a means of enriching oneself or of attaining higher status. A footsoldier who captured a horse and became a mounted warrior, for example, altered his situation permanently. The capture of enemy arms also replenished the store of weapons. The spoils of war contributed mightily to the economic growth of frontier towns. Nevertheless, the evidence can hardly be quantified, as the chronicles speak in general terms of booty taken. The Toledan militia, after routing the kings of Córdoba and Seville, “took a lot of gold and silver, royal standards, precious vestments, excellent arms, chain mail, helmets, shields, excellent horses with their saddles, and mules and camels laden with great riches.” The day before Las Navas Archbishop Rodrigo threatened with excommunication anyone who abandoned pursuit of the enemy to gather booty. The Almohads left behind “gold, silver, precious garments, silk hangings, and many other precious ornaments, as well as a lot of money and precious vases,” besides camels and other animals, and tents; Alfonso VIII sent the caliph’s tent to the pope and the tent flap to Las Huelgas de Burgos.

Quarrels inevitably erupted concerning the disposal of booty. The municipal fueros, however, stipulated that booty was communal property and prescribed an elaborate process for distribution. Everything was gathered and recorded under the supervision of quadrilleros representing municipal parishes. An auction was held, usually in the town square, under the presidency of the principal magistrate, and the money realized was apportioned among the victors. First, however, families were compensated for the loss of a relative, a horse, another animal, or equipment. Next, muncipal officials who had served with the militia were paid, and those who had distinguished themselves in combat were rewarded. A fifth of all booty, owed to the king as a sign of sovereignty, was in effect a form of taxation that enabled him to execute his functions. At times he consigned a portion to the Military Orders. Once these claims were satisfied the remainder was distributed among the rank and file. People who provided animals or equipment, archers, commanders, surgeons, chaplains, and clerks received additional shares because of their special contributions. The mayordomo mayor had the responsibility for supervising the distribution of booty taken by a royal army; each man was compensated according to the number of men, arms, and animals that he brought to the campaign.

The greatest form of booty was plunder seized when a fortress surrendered. Aside from people, animals, and movable goods, there was also real estate to be distributed. In the twelfth century quadrilleros or municipal company commanders apportioned land among the soldiers planning to settle in the new community. In the thirteenth century royal partitioners assigned houses, shops, farmland, vineyards, and orchards to the conquerors in accordance with their status and contribution to victory. The most comprehensive repartimientos or books recording this distribution of property are those for Mallorca, Valencia, and Seville.

Casualties and Ransoming Captives

Casualties were a consequence of all military actions. Numbers were sometimes reasonably stated, but Alfonso VIII’s assertion that 100,000 Muslims died at Las Navas was a gross exaggeration; equally absurd is his statement that only twenty-five or thirty Christians were killed. Physicians and surgeons often accompanied militia forces and were paid specific fees for treating the wounded. The latter were compensated for injuries and were often cared for in hospitals. In 1225 Jaime I placed all the hospitals in his realms under royal protection. The Military Orders maintained hospitals to care for their wounded. Calatrava, for example, had hospitals at Guadalerzas, Évora, Cogolludo, El Collado de Berninches, and Santa Olalla. The commander of Santa Olalla was obliged to accompany royal armies “to provide for knights and footsoldiers, both the wounded and the poor, the ill and the sick, and to take a chaplain with him to offer viaticum to the wounded, if necessary, and a master of surgery to give medicine to the wounded.” The hospitals of the Order of Santiago were situated at Toledo, Cuenca, Alarcón, Moya, Huete, Talavera, Uclés, Castrotoraf, and Salamanca.

The king and the most powerful magnates had their own physicians, but only three kings seem to have been injured or wounded: Alfonso VI was wounded at Zallāqa; Afonso I broke his leg attempting to escape from Badajoz; and during the siege of Valencia, a bolt from a crossbow creased Jaime I’s forehead. The primitive character of medieval surgery is illustrated in Cantiga 126. A bolt fired from a crossbow lodged in a Christian’s neck, but the surgeon’s initial attempt to extract it was unsuccessful; he then vainly attached the bolt to a crossbow, hoping to fire it. Happily for the wounded man the Virgin Mary, so we are told, was able to pull it out.

One of the hazards of war, both for soldiers and civilians, was the possibility of being captured. The loss of “liberty which is the most precious thing that people can have in this world” was sufficient cause for grief, especially because captivity, aside from the separation from family and friends, was usually quite harsh. Some captives never returned home and others were subjected to torture to force their conversion to Islam. Dominican and Franciscan friars were sent to attend to the spiritual needs of captives in Morocco so they would not apostasize. Sometimes prisoners escaped or were liberated by victorious armies. Both Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Santo Domingo de Silos came to be known as wonderworkers who could break chains and set captives free.

Family members often sought to ransom captured relatives but not every family could raise the money. Catalan confraternities received bequests for that purpose, and municipal fueros regularized the redemption of captives, allowing families to purchase Muslim slaves to be exchanged for Christian captives. Merchants functioning as professional ransomers often turned over ransom money or executed the exchange. The ransomer, called an exea (Ar., shīʾa, guide), or later, alfaqueque (Ar., al-fakkāk, redeemer) was paid a commission of 10 percent for each captive ransomed or a gold maravedí for every prisoner exchanged. The alfaqueque, appointed by a municipality or the king, was expected to be honest and to know Arabic. The hospitals of the Military Orders, such as the Holy Redeemer at Teruel in Aragón, not only cared for the wounded, but also coordinated the process of raising ransom money, and welcomed captives after their release. The hospitals maintained by Calatrava and Santiago, mentioned above, also ransomed captives, but as the need declined by the middle of the thirteenth century, they began to disappear.

The French Order of the Trinity and the Order of La Merced were specifically dedicated to the redemption of captives. St. Jean de Mathe (d. 1213), a Provençal, the founder of the Trinitarians, received Innocent III’s approbation and planned to devote a third of the Order’s revenues to ransom. Trinitarian hospitals were situated at Toledo, Valencia, and other towns. The Order also benefited from the partition of Seville. The origins of the Order of La Merced can be traced to 1230 when a citizen of Barcelona made a bequest to St. Pere Nolasc for ransoming captives. Within a few years the house of Santa Eulalia of Barcelona and others in Mallorca and Girona were established; Gregory IX confirmed the Order in 1235. Ten years later Innocent IV cited the Order’s sixteen houses in the Crown of Aragón and three in Castile. The Mercedarians began by collecting alms to pay ransom but in time they journeyed to Muslim lands to attempt to secure the liberation of captives.

Naval Forces

Naval forces facilitated the capture of some of the most important Muslim ports. Fleets of sailing ships, or naves, and galleys transported troops, horses, and supplies, broke up naval defenses, and blockaded towns under siege. A triangular lateen sail, fixed on a long yard extending down almost to the forward deck and reaching high above the masthead, enabled a sailing ship to maneuver more skillfully. Round ships with high prows and even higher sterns, and a castle or superstructure for cabins set in the stern, are illustrated in the Cantigas de Santa Maria; there were two masts with lateen sails with a crow’s nest atop each mast, and a side paddle rudder for steering. A row boat seems to have been essential for getting to land or rescuing the crew if the ship began to sink. Many of the other sailing ships mentioned in the sources are likely variations of this basic model. The galley, lightly built and propelled by oarsmen, was also equipped with a mast and sail to take advantage of the wind. Noted for its speed and maneuverability, it was preferred for naval warfare. The Cantigas depicts several galleys with one tier of oarsmen, usually twelve on each side.

Although Bishop Diego Gelmírez recruited Genoese and Pisan shipbuilders who built at least two galleys to repel Saracen pirates, the consistent use of naval power on the Galician coast was in the future. The first Christian naval forces deployed against the Muslims came not from the peninsula, but from Italy. In 1113 the Pisans provided most, if not all, of the 200 to 300 ships used in the Mallorcan Crusade. A Genoese fleet of sixty-three galleys and 163 other ships collaborated in the siege of Almería (the count of Barcelona contributed one ship) and later in conquering Tortosa. About 164 to 200 crusading ships participated in the conquest of Lisbon, while some fifty-five to seventy-four northern ships aided the capture of Silves; about 180 northern ships joined in the siege of Alcácer do Sal.

Only in the thirteenth century did the Christian rulers develop their own naval power. The necessity to defend the Catalan coast against pirates encouraged shipbuilding, and during the reign of Jaime I shipyards were constructed at Barcelona. Two years before setting out for Mallorca, he prohibited the use of foreign ships to carry goods from Barcelona when Catalan ships were available. In 1229 he could rely almost entirely on ships from Barcelona, Tarragona, and Tortosa, and an armed galley provided by the abbot of San Feliu de Guixols. All told there were, by his reckoning, “150 capital ships” and many smaller boats, including twenty-five naus, eighteen tarides, twelve galleys, and 100 others. After the conquest of Mallorca he appointed an admiral named Carroz. During the Valencian Crusade ships transported supplies and siege engines along the coast. When the emir of Tunis in 1238 dispatched a relieving fleet of eighteen ships the king assembled three armed galleys and seven other vessels to repel them.

A Castilian fleet of about thirteen naves and galleys from the Bay of Biscay, organized by Ramón Bonifaz of Burgos, collaborated in the siege of Seville. Near the mouth of the Guadalquivir they defeated thirty Muslim vessels. The Muslims vainly attempted to block the river by means of a large raft, full of jars loaded with Greek fire. As the Christians moved up river they broke the chain linking a bridge of boats stretching from the city to the suburb of Triana on the west bank. After the fall of Seville Alfonso X, taking up the project for an African Crusade, reconstructed the old Muslim shipyards, and contracted with twenty-one ship captains, each of whom pledged to maintain a galley manned by 100 armed men. Afonso III also employed a Portuguese fleet to thwart any attempt by Muslim galleys to relieve Faro.

In conclusion, the general strategy of reconquest, now overlaid with the crusading indulgence, aimed first at the devastation of enemy territory by raids carried out by small or large forces. Next, castles, cities, and towns were taken through sieges, or after victory on the battlefield. Although truces were often set, the Christians had to be ready to resume hostilities at any moment. Castles had to be garrisoned and supplied; troops had to be alert to the summons to war and prepared to pass muster with appropriate arms and armor. Warfare involved everyone: kings, nobles, clerics, Military Orders, and town militias, though it is almost impossible to estimate the size of any given army. Fines or other heavy punishments helped to maintain military discipline and both kings and popes enacted laws prohibiting the sale of goods that Muslims might eventually use against Christians. The outcome of war might be victory or defeat, and surely resulted in death, wounding, or capture for many, whose number cannot be calculated. Booty, one of the rewards of victory and a means of personal enrichment, was closely regulated by royal and municipal law. Care of the wounded and redemption of captives were characteristic functions of hospitals established for that purpose. Crusading fleets played a significant role in the capture of coastal towns, but in the thirteenth century the peninsular rulers were able to organize their own fleets.


The taifa kingdoms in 1031 immediately after the fracturing of the caliphate.

The Party Kingdoms, or Taifa Kingdoms, emerged out of the anarchy that followed the collapse of the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba in 1009 CE and the ensuing period of civil war (fitna) that lasted until 1031. The Arabic term muluk al-tawa’if (factional kings) was applied to the rulers of these petty states, because their existence defied the Islamic ideal of political unity under the authority of a single caliph. The era of the Party Kingdoms, which lasted until 1110 CE, was one of great cultural florescence in al- Andalus, particularly among Muslims and Jews. It was also the period in which native Iberian Muslims lost control of their political destiny; from this time forward they would dominated by Iberian Christian and North African Muslim powers.

The Umayyad caliphate had been run, in fact, if not in name, by the ‘Amirid dynasty of ‘‘chamberlains’’ (hajib) since Muhammad ibn Abi ‘Amir al- Mansur (976–1002) seized power during the reign of Hisham II (976–1009/1010–1113). On his death, al- Mansur was succeeded by two sons, ‘Abd al-Malik (r. 1002–1008), and ‘Abd al-Rahman (or ‘‘Sanjul’’), who took power in 1008. Unable to maintain the delicate and volatile balance of factions within the government and Andalusi society, or to counter popular resentment of the growing prestige of Berber groups who had been invited to al-Andalus as part of caliphal military policy, Sanjul provoked the outrage of the Umayyad aristocracy, the religious elite (‘ulama’), and the populace by pressuring the aging and childless Hisham to name him as successor in 1008. Sanjul was deposed by elements of the military, and the people of Co´rdoba rampaged against local Berbers. As civil war erupted in the capital, power was seized in the various provincial cities by local governors, members of the palace slave (saqaliba) contingent, the ‘ulama’, and Berber clans, which had come to dominate the army. The variety of political leadership reflected the divisions that had emerged in Andalusi politics and society since the time of ‘Abd al-Rahman III (r. 912–961). Until the death of Hisham III in 1031, each of the rulers maintained a patina of legitimacy by styling himself as the hajib ruling in the name of the Umayyad caliph, while struggling against neighboring Party Kingdoms both for survival and a greater share of Andalusi territory.

By the 1040s, most of the smaller states had been swallowed up, leaving several major players, which included: Badajoz, ruled by the Aftasids, an Andalusi dynasty; Toledo, ruled by the Dhi’l-Nun, of Berber origin; Zaragoza, ruled by the Banu Hud, of Arab origin; Seville, ruled by the Andalusi ‘Abbasids; Granada, ruled by the Berber Zirid clan; Valencia, ruled by ‘Amirids; and Almerý´a, ruled by a succession of factions. By this point the slave regimes were no more; lacking a broader constituency they fell victim to Andalusi and Berber cliques who had a wider popular base or a more cohesive military core. Among the great rivalries that emerged were those of Seville and Granada (which also faced the hostility of Almería), and Toledo and Zaragoza. Zaragoza was further plagued by internal divisions thanks to the custom of Hudid rulers of dividing their patrimony among their heirs.

These rivalries were capitalized on by the Christian kingdoms of the peninsula, particularly Castile and Leo´ n, which were united under the strong leadership of Fernando I of Castile (r. 1035–1065) and his successor Alfonso VI (r. 1065–1109). Fernando, who exploited Andalusi weakness by pushing far south of the Duero and taking Coímbra in 1064, initiated a policy in which military pressure was used to convert the Party Kingdoms into tributary states. As a consequence, Badajoz, Seville, Toledo, Zaragoza, and Granada were forced to pay large indemnities (parias) of gold and silver in exchange for military support and protection from attack. Other Christian principalities, notably Aragon and Barcelona, quickly imitated this. As a result, Christian powers became increasingly embroiled in Andalusi affairs, supporting their taifa clients against rival kingdoms and using them in their own internecine struggles. Hence, Castile-supported Toledo fought Aragon-supported Zaragoza, and Zaragoza faced a rebellious Lérida aided by Barcelona. It was in this context that the famous Rodrigo Diaz del Vivar, ‘‘El Cid,’’ an exile from Castile, found himself commanding the military forces of Zaragoza against the troops of Aragon and Barcelona. Indeed, ‘‘El Cid’’ had earned his moniker from Sevillan troops in 1064 after he led them to victory against the forces of taifa Granada, when they referred to him gratefully as ‘‘my lord’’ (sidi). Such interventions were symptomatic of a general dependence of the taifa kingdoms on Christian military strength, which further undermined their autonomy.

The taifa kingdoms were able to support the paria regime because of the fact that their economic infrastructure had remained largely undamaged by the unrest of the fitna. These were economies based on intensive agriculture and market gardening, manufacture and craft and, particularly in the case of the Mediterranean coast, trade. The trans-Saharan gold trade that had fueled the incredible prosperity of the caliphate also continued, providing the taifa kings with the funds they needed to meet their tributary obligations. The vibrant Andalusi economy also sustained a cultural renaissance, encouraged by the new political plurality in which rival courts vied as patrons of Arabic letters, science, and theology; the great poet Ibn Hazm (b. Córdoba, 993) is the best-known figure of this age. Jewish culture and letters, including both Arabic- and Hebrew-language literature, also throve, producing remarkable figures such as the poet Isma’il ibn Naghrilla (b. Córdoba, 991), who exercised power as effective head of state of the taifa of Granada from 1027 to 1056. This cultural diversity reflected the ethno-religious composition of the kingdoms, most of which had significant Jewish and Mozarab Christian minorities, members of which not infrequently enjoyed great prestige and wielded considerable political power. For example, Isma’il ibn Naghrilla, wazir and military commander of Granada, was succeeded by his son Yusuf. Sisnando Davídez, a Mozarab who later served as Alfonso VI’s envoy, had been an administrator in Muslim Badajoz, and a number of dhimmis (non-Muslim subjects) served in the government of Zaragoza.

For the most part this diversity was tolerated by the Muslim majority, including the ‘ulama’, although some of the latter were outraged by the prospect that dhimmis should hold formal office under a Muslim regime. Their ire, however, came to be directed increasingly at the taifa kings themselves, many of whom were Berbers who shared no ethno-cultural affiliation with the Andalusi population and who ruled as a foreign military elite. Popular dissatisfaction was aggravated by the increasing burden of taxation, which the ‘ulama’ (who tended to come from the commercial class) and the common people were expected to bear as a result of the paria system. The taifa kings’ imposition of uncanonical taxes and their submission as tributaries to Christian powers served as an ideological rallying point for popular revolt. The situation of the ‘ulama’ was further exacerbated by the disruption of long-distance trade networks, thanks to incursions of the Normans in the Mediterranean and the Banu Hilal in Tunisia, and by the growing unrest in the Andalusi countryside, where the inter-taifa warfare and banditry led to general disorder. In 1085, the populace of Toledo led by the religious elite ejected the taifa king al-Qadir from the city. Turning to his patron, Alfonso VI, al-Qadir agreed that if reinstated he would hand the city over to the Castilian king, on the promise of later being installed as king in Valencia. Thus, in that same year, after negotiating a treaty with the local ‘ulama’, Alfonso entered Toledo as king.

This event made evident the corruption and debility of the taifa kings, who were derided in learned and pious Andalusi circles as decadent and effete. A well-known contemporary satirical verse mocked them: ‘‘They give themselves grandiose names like ‘The Powerful,’ and ‘The Invincible,’ but these are empty titles; they are like little pussycats who, puffing themselves up, imagine they can roar like lions.’’ It also demonstrated to the taifa kings that Alfonso’s aim was conquest; indeed, following up his seizure of Toledo, Alfonso laid siege to the other powerful northern taifa, Zaragoza (as a means of blocking the expansion on his Christian rival, the Kingdom of Aragón). By now both the ‘ulama’ and the taifa rulers agreed outside help was desperately required. The only group to which they could turn was the Almoravids, a dynamic Berber faction that had coalesced on the southern reaches of the African gold routes and had managed to impose their political will on the region of Morocco, having taken Marrakech in 1061 and Fez in 1069. Self-styled champions of a Sunni Islam revival (which resonated with that of the Seljuks in the East), they saw their mission not only as halting the Christian advance in al-Andalus but also of deposing the illegitimate taifa rulers.

In 1086, the Almoravid Yusuf ibn Tashfin led a sizeable army to al-Andalus at the invitation of al- Mu‘tamid of Seville. With the half-hearted help of the Andalusi troops the Almoravid faced Alfonso VI and his loyal Muslim clients in battle at Zallaqa (or Sagrajas) and issued them a major defeat. He did not follow this up, returning instead to Morocco. For the next two years the taifa kings were confident enough to defy Alfonso VI, but when he began to attack them again, they were forced to call on the Almoravids for help once more. Ibn Tashfin waited until 1089 when, having obtained juridical opinions from the ‘ulama’ of the East authorizing him to take power in al-Andalus, he returned and set about deposing the remaining taifa rulers one by one. By 1094, virtually all of the kingdoms had fallen, their rulers having been either killed or shipped off as prisoners to Almoravid Morocco.

Valencia did not fall until 1102. By 1087, ‘‘El Cid,’’ against the opposition of Zaragoza and the various Christian kings, had determined to take the city for himself and was provided with a pretext when an ‘ulama’-led uprising deposed and executed al-Qadir in 1092. Rodrigo besieged the city, which, forsaken by the Almoravids, surrendered in 1093. Having negotiated a treaty with the Muslim population, Rodrigo ruled the city and surrounding territory until his death in 1099—a Christian taifa king. Three years later, unable to resist the growing pressure of the Almoravids, Rodrigo’s wife and successor, Jimena, and her troops abandoned the city to its inhabitants, setting it ablaze as they left. The remaining Party Kingdom, Zaragoza, remained independent partly because the Almoravids were content to use it as a buffer state and partly because its rulers became so adept at playing off their Christian rivals against each other. As in the case of Toledo, however, the populace and the religious elite became increasingly frustrated by a leadership that was so deeply embroiled with the very Christian powers who seemed determined to defeat them. In 1110, a popular uprising banished the last Hudid king from power, and the city submitted to Almoravid rule. Zaragoza would ultimately fall to Alfonso I of Aragon in 1118, surrendering after a lengthy siege, after the surviving members of the Banu Hud struggled vainly with Alfonso VI’s help to regain their patrimony.

The period of the Party Kingdoms marks a turning point in the history of medieval Iberia, when the balance of political and economic initiative shifted from the Muslim-dominated South to the Christian dominated North. Whether as a consequence of a crisis of ‘asabiyya (group identity) on the part of the Andalusis, or as the result of larger political and economic trends, the destiny of the Muslims of Spain would henceforth be in the hands of foreigners. The politics of the taifa period, however, defy the notion that this process or the so-called Christian Reconquest that looms so largely in it was the result of an epic civilizational struggle between Islam and Christendom; the most striking aspect of taifa era al- Andalus was the relative absence of religious sectarianism and the profound enmeshment of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish individuals and political factions.

Benaboud, M’hammad. ‘‘ ‘Asabiyya and Social Relations in Al-Andalus During the Period of the Taifa States.’’

Hesperis-Tamuda 19 (1980–1981): 5–45.

Cle´ment, Franc¸ois. Pouvoir et Le´gitimite´ en Espagne Musulmane a` l’E´ poque des Taifas (Ve-XIe sie`cle): L’Imam Fictif. Paris, 1997.

Wasserstein, David. The Rise and Fall of the Party-Kings:

Politics and Society in Islamic Spain 1002–1086. Princeton, NJ, 1985.

Disintegration of the Caliphate : the Taifa Kingdoms