Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks. May 31 - June 1, 1862

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Victor Vignola
Pub Date:
October 2023
Foreword by Robert E. L. Krick, photos, maps, 312 pp.


"Groundbreaking new study . . . Highly Recommended." -- Civil War Books and Authors

Winner of the prestigious Fletcher Pratt Award!

Purchase your eBook here!

Click HERE to read the Front Matter, Foreword by Robert E. L. Krick, and part of Chapter 1!

Click on thumbnail images above to view two of the outstanding maps!

About the book

Surprisingly little has been written about the important Battle of Fair Oaks (and the simultaneous Seven Pines). The bloody two-day affair (May 31-June 1, 1862), fought on the doorstep of the Confederate capital, was the first major battle in the Eastern Theater since Bull Run/Manassas the previous summer. It left more than 11,000 casualties in its wake and the primary Southern army without its commander. The possession of Richmond hung in the balance. Victor Vignola’s Contrasts in Command, which is centered around the Fair Oaks fighting, rectifies this gap in the literature. (A future volume in the works will examine the related Seven Pines combat).

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan marched his Army of the Potomac up the Virginia Peninsula during the spring weeks of 1862 before committing a near-fatal error by placing his inexperienced IV Corps at the tip of the spear south of the flood-prone Chickahominy River. Opposing McClellan at the head of the Virginia army was Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who had fallen back without offering much in the way of opposition. When the opportunity to strike beckoned, Johnston crafted an overly complex attack plan to crush the exposed IV Corps. A series of bungled Confederate marches, piecemeal assaults, and a lack of assertive leadership doomed the Southern plan. One of the wounded late in the day on May 31 was Gen. Johnston, whose injury led to the appointment of Gen. Robert E. Lee to take his place—a decision that changed the course of the entire Civil War.

Author Vignola based his study on a host of primary and archival sources, many of which have never been published. The result is a well-illustrated and mapped readable tactical and leadership account that will please the most discriminating reader. Sandwiched between Shiloh and The Seven Days’ Battles, the combat at Fair Oaks (and Seven Pines) has been mostly forgotten or overlooked. Although tactically inconclusive, the ramifications were far-reaching in ways no one could have foreseen. And like Shiloh, the battle provided a clear warning that the war would be long and bloody.


Advance Praise

“The Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks set up the seismic clash outside Richmond between the armies of George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee in the late spring of 1862. This welcome study provides by far the most detailed treatment to date of the two-day battle, with a focus on leadership and the tactical ebb and flow at the Fair Oaks sector of the field. Students of the Eastern Theater, and of the military history of the Civil War more generally, will turn to this study with profit.” — Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis


“Victor Vignola’s Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks is an engaging and thoroughly researched examination of a critical Civil War engagement that until recently received scant attention. Accompanied by an impressive array of battlefield maps, Vignola’s vivid narrative is a highly readable volume bristling with insights. I highly recommend it.” — Gordon C. Rhea, author of The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7–12, 1864 and To The North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13–25, 1864


“The fighting on May 31 and June 1, 1862, in front of Richmond often is mentioned only in the context of Joe Johnston’s wounding. In reality, it was a dramatic story on both sides, with ramifications lasting well after the battle’s end. Contrasts in Command brings those important stories out of the shadows and illuminates a neglected part of the war in Virginia.” — Christopher L. Kolakowski, author of The Virginia Campaigns, March–August 1862


“The author’s new and important study concentrates on the Fair Oaks part of the battle. His research is thorough, he has walked the ground, and his narrative brings the battle to life.” — Doug Crenshaw, co-author of To Hell or Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign and author of Richmond Shall Not Be Given Up: The Seven Days’ Battles




Victor Vignola is a lifelong student of the Civil War. His first book Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks, May 31 – June 1, 1862, is a recipient of the prestigious Fletcher Pratt Award (2023) – awarded by the Civil War Roundtable of New York. In addition to the Pratt Award, Contrasts in Command was named as a finalist for another prestigious award as Best Military History Book (2023), sponsored by the American Battlefield Trust. His research while developing Contrasts in Command directly led to the preservation of a twelve-acre parcel of hallowed ground where the Fair Oaks fighting occurred. That parcel remains the only preserved ground for the entire Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) battlefield. His work continues as he is completing a book on the Battle of Seven Pines. Vic has also authored magazine articles for Civil War publications. He also conducts Civil War history programs and tours of various sites. He retired from executive level management for New York State’s Office of Mental Health. He resides with his family in Orange County, New York, home of the 124th New York “Orange Blossoms” Regiment.