On July 1, 1862, in the sixth and last of the Seven Days’ Battles, Union Gen. McClellan ordered his army to unlimber their cannons atop Malvern Hill and command the open fields of fire beneath them in what would become one of the strongest positions ever held by either side during the Civil War. While McClellan observed the battle from aboard the USS Galena, an ironclad gunboat on the James River, Robert E. Lee launched a series of deadly, futile frontal assaults on the Union position that produced more than 5,300 Confederate casualties. One of Lee's commanders later fumed that, "It was not war, it was murder." Union casualties hit approximately 3,000, and many of the wounded were treated at nearby at Shirley Plantation, which became a Union field hospital during the Battle of Malvern Hill.

Despite victory, McClellan did not hold the ground and retreated to Harrison’s Landing on the Galena near the Union headquarters at Berkeley Plantation, thus ending the Peninsula Campaign and the Union's fight to gain control of Richmond.

Visiting the Battlefield

Your best bet to visit Malvern Hill is to start at the Malvern Hill Richmond National Battlefield Park. Here there is a 1-1/2 mile loop trail where you can walk the path of the Confederate attacks and view the Malvern Cliffs, artillery exhibits, Crewe House, West House, and Parsonage Ruins. Malvern Hill is one of the most well-preserved Civil War Battlefields and appears much as it did in the mid 19th century. The trail here consists of a dirt and grass track that is a little hilly in places and winds through wheat fields and forests with interpretive signs and markers. You can start at the Parsonage and walk in the footsteps of Confederate soldiers charging the Union line, or you can start at the car park near the Union battery and witness the strength of the Union position on a 'splendid field of battle.'

The Battlefields and Tasting Rooms Malvern Hill Tour begins at Malvern Hill and then visits Shirley Plantation and Berkeley Plantation which served as Union field hospital and headquarters, respectively, during the Battle of Malvern Hill. Shirley Plantation was the family home of Robert E. Lee's mother, Anne Hill Carter Lee, and it was here that she married Robert E. Lee's father, Revolutionary War hero Light Horse Harry Lee. Both of these historic plantations date back to the early 1600s and are open to the public with tours that tell you all about their rich history including the Civil War era.

A Malvern Hill Battlefield app is also available from Civil War Trust. This excellent resource contains a driving tour as well as readings, photographs and interactive media describing the background and battle actions.

Visit Civil War Trust and Encyclopedia Virginia for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the top: During the Battle of Malvern Hill the West family tied a red table cloth to a pole and flew it over the house while hiding in the basement of the original house that stood on this spot during the battle.

malvern hill confederate battery

The Confederate battery that stood on this spot proved futile in the face of the opposing half-mile long, 40-cannon Union front that was one of the strongest fields ever held during the Civil War.

malvern hill moonrise

A Union Army engineer declared the Union's position to be a 'splendid field of battle on the high plateau where the greater part of the troops, artillery, etc. were placed.'

malvern hill parsonage

The battlefield trail at Malvern Hill takes you past the Methodist Parsonage that was a landmark during the battle but later destroyed by fire.

Historical Photo

McClelland the Gunboat Candidate

The gunboat candidate; At the battle of Malvern Hill., Currier & Ives, New York, c1862 (Library of Congress)

During his presidential run in 1864 against Abraham Lincoln, Union Gen. McClellan was criticized for his failures at Drewry's Bluff and Malvern Hill. In a political cartoon of the time McClellan is shown riding shotgun on the USS Galena while watching the battle rage at Malvern Hill.