Malvern Hill saw the last fighting of the Seven Days’ Battles. By 1 July General McClellan had successfully moved his army to a new base on the James River. Robert E. Lee had successfully forced the Union army away from Richmond. However, he had not managed to inflict a serious defeat on the Union army, and this had been his real aim all along. Lee was always looking to win the decisive battle that would destroy the Army of the Potomac.
The Union rearguard now had a very strong position on Malvern Hill. Their flanks were secure, they were on a slight hill, and any attacker would have to advance across an open field. Four Union divisions and 100 guns were in place, with as many men and more guns in reserve. Lee’s chance of inflicting a victory on the Union army while it was stretched out on the move had gone.
Despite this, Lee still decided to launch an attack on the Union position. Even if the attack had been properly coordinated, the Union position was probably too strong to be taken. In the event, things did not go according to plan. A planned artillery bombardment never really got going. The infantry attacks were badly coordinating, exposing each unit to ferocious artillery fire. Very few Confederate soldiers reached musket range. Lee lost 5,500 men killed and wounded, half of them victims of the Union artillery, a much higher proportion than normal. Union losses were only half that figure.
Malvern Hill finally convinced Lee that there was no point continuing to attack McClellan’s men in their new base. Instead, his attention turned north, towards a second, smaller, Union army that was based near Washington. His campaign against that army was to meet with much more success. It ended at the Second Battle of Bull Run, where Lee finally began to demonstrate his great abilities.