The Regiment

The Peninsula Campaign

In 1862 the Michigan 4th participated in the Peninsula campaign under the command of George B McClellan. It was present at the Siege of Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Newbridge. The 4th fought valiantly at Hanover Court House, Mechanicsville, and Gaines’ Mills. The 4th sustained heavy loss at the battles of Turkey Bend, and White Oak Swamp.

The Battle of New Bridge — The 4th Michigan attacks the Louisiana Tigers, defeating them handedly. They are the first Union Regiment to defeat the Tigers in battle. The 4th was out numbered almost five to one. They captured 38 tigers, two artillery pieces, and killed or wound over 123 others.

Mechanicsville — The 4th was part of Griffin’s Brigade at Mechanicsville. The 4th fought along side the 14th New York, and repelled Archer’s and Field’s Brigades as they attempted an assault of the right center of the Union line. The 4th entered the battle at approximately 4:00 pm. They were supported by Battery B Pennsylvania Light Artillery (2 sections), 1 section of Battery K, U.S. 5th Artillery, and 1 section of Battery G, 1st Pennsylvania Artillery. The Northerners set up a twisted maze of fallen trees in front of their works. As the Confederates worked their way across this, the two regiments and artillery batteries laid down a hellish fuselage of lead. Archer’s Brigades’ attack broke 40 yards in front of the Union battle line. Archer’s Brigade consisted of the 1st, 7th, & 14th Tennessee Regiments, the 19th Georgia Regiment, and the 5th Alabama Battalion. Archer’s Brigade was part of A. P. Hill’s Light Division. This was Lee’s baptism of fire as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. It was also his first defeat.

Gaines Mill — The 4th Michigan again fought next to the 14th New York on this day. They were defending the left center of the Union Line. The 4th Michigan was supported by the cannons of Battery C 1st Rhode Island Artillery. A. P. Hill sent Anderson’s Brigade consisting of the 14th, 35th, 45th, & 49th Georgia Regiments, and the 3rd Louisiana Battalion against the 4th Michigan’s and 14th New York’s works. The 35th & 45th Georgia attacking on the 4th Michigan’s front. The 4th had fought for over 2 hours repelling three attacks on their front. The 4th had expended all of it’s ammunition. After Anderson’s final assault the 4th was relieved of its position on Union line by Newton’s Brigade the 1st, 2nd & 3rd New Jersey.

Near twilight Stonewall Jackson’s Division arrived on the field advancing into the attack. The 4th Michiganders were again moved into their former position in the Union works. The 4th now fought along side Newton’s Brigade. Trimble’s Brigade attacked with a veracity that none of the prior confederate regiments had shown. The onslaught was too much! Wave after wave of Confederate soldiers attacked. The ammunition of the 5th Corps was exhausted. Many of the Union troops gave ground for want of ammunition. On the 4th Michigan’s left the 4th New Jersey was surrounded and surrendered in mass to Trimble’s advancing Brigade. The 11th Pennsylvania who were fighting next to the 4th New Jersey came under the threat of a flanking movement by the Confederate advance and retired from the field. This forced the 4th Michigan and the rest of Newton’s Brigade to retire across the Chickahominy River to fight another day.

After fighting the Confederate Army all day long at Gaines Mills, General McClellan tells Colonel Woodbury that, “the 4th Michigan Infantry has again covered itself in Glory,” — the greatest honor a commander can bestow upon his troops.

It was observed by several of the Confederate Generals who fought against Fritz John Porter at Gaines Mill, that, Porter’s defense at Gaines Mill was the best strategically fought battle by a Union General during the Civil War. Oh for want of ammunition! The result could have been very different.

In the battle of Gaines Mill, Fritz John Porter held off the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia for almost a whole day. He did this with the 5th Corps and portions of Franklin’s Corp approximately 38,000 men of which 10,000 didn’t arrive on the field until after the battle was over (Irish Brigade). Porter fought Longstreet’s Division, A. P. Hill’s Light Division, and Jackson’s Army of the Valley over 60,000 men. It was an amazing feat to defend the Union works against overwhelming odds. Fritz John Porter’s skills as an engineer and artillerist were displayed at their highest levels during Gaines Mill. If he hadn’t held off the Confederate attack, the Grand Army of the Potomac would have been flanked and destroyed. This expertise would be surpassed in the following days at the battle of Malvern Hill — a Confederate defeat.

Gaines’s Mill, Va. – 15 killed, 41, wounded, and 32 missing

Total Casualties: 88

The Battle of Malvern Hill — was one the 4th Michigan’s finest moments in history. The regiment lay on the ground to avoid the iron curtain of shot from the Confederate attack. Colonel Woodbury had commanded the 4th to lay down to conserve its strength for the moment it would be needed to repel the Confederate attack. As the 4th was waiting to engage, Union infantrymen started retreating through the 4th’s position. Upon seeing this, Colonel Woodbury — forsaking is own safety — gallantly stood up to rally these troops shouting, “We can hold them men!” In that moment the able commander of the 4th Michigan was struck down by a minnie ball, fatally wounded in the head. The 4th Michigan would miss its most capable commander throughout the rest of the war.

Major General Fritz John Porter to the 4th, “You have again covered yourselves in Glory! Today the 4th Michigan has saved the Army of the Potomac!”

Malvern Hill, Va. – 41 killed, 100 wounded, and 23 missing

Total Casualties: 164

4th Michigan Casualties during the Peninsula Campaign

Hall’s Hill, Va. – 1

Yorktown, Va. – 2

Newbridge, Va. – 3

Mechanicsville, Va. – 4

Gaines’s Mill, Va. – 15 killed, 41, wounded, and 32 missing

Malvern Hill, Va. – 41 killed, 100 wounded, and 23 missing

Turkey Creek, Va. – 1

Total casualties: 263