The Peninsula Campaign: Dissension on Both Sides

May 8, 1862 – As General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates fell back to the Chickahominy River, Major General George B. McClellan continued complaining to the Lincoln administration about lack of adequate support.

Gens G.B. McClellan and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit:
Gens G.B. McClellan and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit:

The Federal Army of the Potomac continued its pursuit of Johnston’s force up the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James rivers. On the 8th, McClellan wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton asking yet again for reinforcements:

“The time has arrived to bring all the troops in Eastern Virginia into perfect cooperation. I expect to fight another and very severe battle before reaching Richmond and with all the troops the Confederates can bring together… All the troops on the Rappahannock, and if possible those on the Shenandoah, should take part in the approaching battle. We ought immediately to concentrate everything.”

The next day, McClellan once again objected to President Abraham Lincoln’s insistence that the army be divided into corps. McClellan alleged that the corps structure “very nearly resulted in a most disastrous defeat” at Williamsburg, though he did not explain why he had placed Major General Edwin V. Sumner, commanding II Corps, in charge of divisions from III and IV corps, thus causing great confusion. McClellan declared that he intended to remove “incompetent commanders” such as Sumner and Major Generals Samuel P. Heintzelman (III Corps) and Erasmus D. Keyes (IV Corps).

Lincoln approved but urged McClellan to consider the consequences of removing all three men at once; he also warned McClellan that some might consider the move to be “merely an effort to pamper one or two pets, and to persecute and degrade their supposed rivals.” Lincoln then defended the army’s corps system, asserting that it had been based “on the unanimous opinion of every military man I could get an opinion from, and every modern military book, yourself only excepted.”

On the Confederate side, Johnston lodged many complaints of his own to General Robert E. Lee, advisor to President Jefferson Davis, at Richmond. These mainly centered on the lack of resources to fend off such a numerically superior enemy. Lee delicately tried to address these grievances to not make the dangerous situation any worse. By this time, the Confederates had fallen back to within 15 miles of the Chickahominy River, the last waterway between them and the Confederate capital.

Davis tried encouraging Johnston by writing on May 10, “I have been much relieved by the successes which you have gained, and I hope for you the brilliant result which the drooping cause of our country now so imperatively claims…” Davis noted that Federal forces on the Rappahannock River also posed a threat to Richmond from the north.

Meanwhile, McClellan sent another message to Washington complaining that he needed more men. Stating that he had only 70,000 effectives, he wrote, “If I am not reinforced, it is probable that I will be obliged to fight nearly double my numbers, strongly intrenched.”



Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 129; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7430; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 413, 418; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 149; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3394-3405; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 209-10; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 133-34


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