The Virginia Legislature, disgusted with the cowardice and perfidy of President Davis his colleagues, passed resolutions (May 14) calling upon them to defend Richmond at all hazards, and resolved, with a clearness that deprived the trembling government of every excuse but fear, that "the President be assured that whatever destruction or loss of property of the State or individual shall thereby result, will be cheerfully submitted to." It is believed that this act was inspired by General Johnston, who saw with indignation the railroad bridge at Richmond covered with plank, for facilitating the flight of artillery across them, and a train of cars in constant readiness for the flight of Davis and his cabinet.
The first collision between the two armies near the Chickahominy occurred on the 23d and 24th of May, one at New Bridge and the other at and near Mechanicsville, less than eight miles from Richmond. The Confederates were driven beyond the Chickahominy at Mechanicsville, and a large part of the Nationals took possession of the Richmond side of the stream. This bold dash was followed the next morning by a stirring order by McClellan for an immediate advance on Richmond. The loyal people rejoiced. He had said to the Secretary of War, ten days before, "I will fight the enemy, whatever their force may be, with whatever force we may have." Everything was in readiness for an advance and every circumstance was favorable, for panic had seized the inhabitants in Richmond, and the Confederate troops were not sanguine of a successful defence. But the over-cautious general hesitated until the golden opportunity was lost forever. This chronic hesitancy President Lincoln evidently anticipated, for about the time when McClellan issued his inspiring order, the former, anxious for the safety of the Capital, telegraphed to the general, "I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defence of Washington."
For several days afterward, operations on the flank of the great army made the sum of its action. General Fitz John Porter was sent to Hanover Court-House with a considerable force to keep the way open for McDowell to join the army, which McClellan persistently demanded. Porter had some sharp skirmishes near the Court-House, and cut railway communications with Richmond, all but the important one with Fredericksburg. The general telegraphed to the Secretary of War, that Washington was not in danger, and that it was "the policy and the duty of the Government" to send him "all the well-drilled troops available." When the raids on the Confederate communications had been effected, Porter rejoined the main army lying quietly on the Chickahominy, and McClellan again telegraphed to the Secretary of War, saying: "I will do all that quick movements can accomplish, but you must send me all the troops you can, and leave me full latitude as to choice of commanders. "
Three days afterward there were "quick movements" in the Army of the Potomac. General Johnston, perceiving McClellan's apparent timidity and the real peril of his army so injudiciously divided by the fickle Chickahominy, marched boldly out from his entrenchments in front of Richmond, to attack the Nationals on the city side of the stream. On the 31st of May he fell with great vigor upon the National advance under General Silas Casey, lying upon each side of the Williamsburg road, half a mile beyond a point known as the Seven Pines, and six miles from Richmond. General Couch's division was at Seven Pines, his right resting at Fair Oaks Station. Kearney's division of Heintzelman's corps was near Savage's Station, and Hooker's division of the latter corps was guarding the approaches to the White Oak Swamp. The country around was quite level and mostly wooded.