The army of Joseph E. Johnston, retreating up the Virginia Peninsula, had fought a rear guard action with the pursuing army of George B. McClellan at Williamsburg on May 5th, slowing the pursuit. However, McCoellan was still was considering how to catch Johnston's army when it was most vulnerable, on the retreat. He decided to send Franklin's corps up the York River to land at Eltham's landing, so that they could strike Johnston's flank while on the march. Franklin's corps set off up the river on May 6th, and one division landed that night. This movement, however, was two days too late. By this time Johnston's army had passed Eltham's landing, out of serious danger from Franklin. Johnston, however, sent the Texas brigade of John Bell Hood to fell out the enemy to ensure they did not attack his supply train.
|John Bell Hood|
In this second battle Hood had successfully quelled McClellan's attempt to catch Johnston on the march. Franklin now was more concerned about being driven into the river than making any movements against Johnston. It appeared that the Confederate army would be able to select a new defensive position without McClellan close behind them.