McClellan Unveils the Urbanna Plan

February 3, 1862 – Federal General-in-Chief George B. McClellan submitted a 22-page report arguing in favor of his plan to move the Army of the Potomac down the Virginia coast by water.

Federal General-in-Chief George B. McClellan | Image Credit:
Federal General-in-Chief George B. McClellan | Image Credit:

Distressed by the President’s Special Order No. 1 to move the army overland into northern Virginia and capture Manassas Junction, McClellan finally unveiled his secret plan to move down the Potomac into Chesapeake Bay, land at Urbanna, and then march east to the Confederate capital at Richmond. Lincoln, who had granted McClellan time to write this report, wrote out some questions in anticipation of what the general would propose. Among them:

“Does not your plan involve a larger expenditure of time and money than mine? Would it not be less valuable in that yours would not break a great line of the enemy’s communications, while mine would? In case of disaster, would it not be more difficult to retreat by your plan than mine? If you will give me satisfactory answers… I shall gladly yield my plan to yours.”

When Lincoln received McClellan’s paper, it answered most of his questions, at least in part. McClellan contended that the overland advance to Manassas Junction, even if successful, would not result in the fall of Richmond. Landing on the Virginia coast would put less distance between the Federals and the capital, giving them a clearer path to that objective.

Also, Lincoln had nothing to fear about Confederates attacking Washington because they would hurry south to defend Richmond as soon as McClellan landed. McClellan declared, “I regard success as certain by all the chances of war.” He also pledged, “I will stake my life, my reputation on the result–more than that, I will stake upon it the success of our cause.”

McClellan received Lincoln’s questions but did not respond to them, figuring that the report had answered them already. Grateful that McClellan had finally committed to a plan of attack and shared it with him, Lincoln did not press the issue. Lincoln still had concerns, but he reluctantly approved the Urbanna plan in the hopes that McClellan would put it into action.



Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 72; Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 73; (February 3); Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7142; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 248-49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 104; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 166; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 92-93; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 773-74

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