Tag Archives: Virginia Peninsula

The Peninsula Campaign Ends

August 13, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan tried one last time to persuade the Federal high command to cancel the order to pull the Army of the Potomac off the Virginia Peninsula.

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

In a letter to his wife, McClellan wrote that although General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck had ordered him to leave the Peninsula a week ago, he intended to stay and coax General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates into attacking his defenses at Harrison’s Landing. Apparently unaware that Lee would never try such a foolish thing, McClellan wrote, “If I succeed in my coup, everything will be changed in this country so far as we are concerned & my enemies will be at my feet.”

McClellan denounced Halleck and Major General John Pope as “enemies of the country & of the human race,” and the more he learned “of their wickedness, the more am I surprised that such a wretched set are permitted to live much less to occupy the positions they do.” He predicted, “I have a strong idea that Pope will be thrashed during the coming week, & very badly whipped he will be & ought to be–such a villain as he is ought to bring defeat upon any cause that employs him.”

Boasting that he would march on Richmond (even though he was just 25 miles away and made no effort to do so for over a month), McClellan wrote, “I will try to catch or thrash (Major General James) Longstreet (of Lee’s army), & then if the chance offers follow in to Richmond while they (the rest of Lee’s army) are lamming away at Pope.” If this desperate move failed, “why well & good. I will fall back.” But if successful, “I shall have saved my country & will then gratefully retire to private life.”

After divulging his true sentiments to his wife, McClellan sent one more frantic plea to stay on the Peninsula. He cited the overwhelming logistical problems that went with moving such a large army to Aquia Creek, as well as the lack of adequate living space for his men once they got there. McClellan argued, “If Washington is in danger now this Army can scarcely arrive in time to save it. It is in much better position to do so from here than from Aquia.”

On the 13th, McClellan traveled to Cherry Stone Inlet, over 70 miles away, to have a direct conversation with Halleck from the telegraph office there. He received a final message from Halleck in the early hours of the 14th:

“I have read your dispatch. There is no change of plans. You will send your troops as rapidly as possible. There is no difficulty in landing them. According to your own accounts there is now no difficulty in withdrawing your forces. Do so with all possible rapidity.”

Informed that Halleck had left the Washington telegraph office for the night, McClellan replied, “Your orders will be obeyed. I return at once. I had hoped to have had a longer and fuller conversation with you, after traveling so far for the purpose.”

McClellan finally began withdrawing on the 14th, 11 days after Halleck had ordered him to move immediately. Troops of III and IV corps began boarding transports, covered by the gunboats U.S.S. Galena, Port Royal, and Satellite. The transfer to Aquia Creek was completed two days later, ending McClellan’s failed five-month campaign to capture Richmond. His Federals had been as close as five miles to the Confederate capital, only to be driven off and neutralized on the Peninsula.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 203; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 595-96, 605; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 192-93; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4272-83; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 473-74; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 251; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q362; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

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Northern Virginia and the Peninsula

August 1, 1862 – Federal Major General John Pope began probing southward from northern Virginia while the Lincoln administration prepared to end the Peninsula campaign.

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As August began, new Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck was planning to remove Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac from the Virginia Peninsula. Halleck intended to transfer the army to Aquia Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River in northern Virginia, about 12 miles from Fredericksburg. From there, the troops would protect Washington and reinforce Pope’s Army of Virginia.

In July, the administration had granted McClellan’s request for reinforcements by sending troops from Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Department of North Carolina and Major General David Hunter’s Department of the South. But on August 1, Halleck redirected Burnside’s force from the Peninsula to Aquia Creek, beginning the general removal. McClellan remained unaware that Halleck intended for him to abandon the Peninsula.

Outside Richmond, Confederate General Robert E. Lee faced two major threats: McClellan to the east, and Pope (and now Burnside) to the north. Keeping most of his Army of Northern Virginia facing McClellan, Lee had dispatched 24,000 Confederates under Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to Gordonsville to defend against any southward advances by Pope.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Pope’s army was spread across 60 miles, from the Blue Ridge west to Fredericksburg east. Burnside’s arrival at Aquia Creek enabled Pope to compact his line by bringing his men west from Fredericksburg. Pope had recently secured Culpeper Court House and intended to make it his base of operations. From there, he would protect Washington from any threat by Jackson. He would also try disrupting the lines between Jackson and Lee, which would facilitate McClellan’s removal from the Peninsula.

Pope sent Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalry and Brigadier General Samuel Crawford’s infantry to probe Orange Court House, where they skirmished with pickets on Jackson’s left flank. This marked Pope’s farthest southward penetration thus far, and it put his troops within 10 miles of Jackson’s main force at Gordonsville. Within a few days, the Federals pulled back to Culpeper Court House as Pope continued trying to concentrate his army so he could make an even stronger southward thrust.

When Pope learned of the skirmish at Orange Court House, he telegraphed Halleck, “The enemy is in considerable force at and south of Gordonsville, though not so strong, I think, as was supposed.” Pope estimated Jackson’s strength at 28,000 with the addition of A.P. Hill’s men, which was close to the actual number of 24,000. Pope wrote, “Unless the enemy is heavily re-enforced from Richmond, I shall be in possession of Gordonsville and Charlottesville within ten days.”

Meanwhile, McClellan’s Federals remained at Harrison’s Landing, where they had been since their retreating victories in the Seven Days Battles. In late July, Halleck had directed McClellan to reconnoiter the Confederate positions on the Peninsula to determine if Lee was staying around Richmond or moving north to take on Pope. McClellan thought this was preparatory to another drive on Richmond, not a withdrawal from the Peninsula.

McClellan directed a Federal division under Brigadier General Joseph Hooker to conduct “an expedition of importance in the direction of the enemy’s lines near Malvern.” On the night of August 2, Hooker, accompanied by General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry, began advancing the six miles from Harrison’s Landing to Malvern Hill, site of the decisive Federal victory on July 1. A small Confederate unit led by General Wade Hampton guarded the hill.

This reconnaissance failed, as Hooker reported the next day, “In consequence of the incompetency of guides furnished me, I regret to be obliged to inform you that I have deemed it expedient to return to camp. The German guide furnished me was lost before I left camp,” and only building a new road would “be likely to secure important results to the movement on Malvern Hill.”

As the Federals worked on organizing a new reconnaissance, McClellan received the official message from Halleck on the morning of the 4th: “It is determined to withdraw your army from the Peninsula to Aquia Creek. You will take immediate measures to effect this, covering the movement as best you can.” The movement “should be concealed even from your own officers. The entire execution of the movement is left to your discretion and judgment.”

To obey the order, McClellan would have to move his army down the Peninsula to Fort Monroe, load the troops on transports, and move them up Chesapeake Bay to the Potomac River to get to Aquia Creek. This would be a massive undertaking, especially considering that McClellan had not yet even moved his sick and wounded troops as Halleck had ordered him to do in late July.

The Lincoln administration wanted McClellan to withdraw so he could reinforce Pope’s army, which was the new hope to defeat the Confederates and capture Richmond after McClellan had failed. Politics also played a role in the administration’s shifting emphasis from McClellan to Pope: the latter was a fellow Republican unlike the former, who was a Democrat and considered by many to be hostile toward his Republican superiors.

Once McClellan’s troops reached Aquia Landing, they were to continue to Alexandria. They would then defend Washington and reinforce Pope’s army. McClellan deeply resented Halleck’s order, perceiving it as an effort to place Pope above him in rank. He resisted the directive as best he could, protesting vehemently while staying put at Harrison’s Landing. Meanwhile, Lee gradually began realizing that the next major Federal offensive would come from the north.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17096; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 199-200; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 591-92, 595-96, 598, 605; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 187-90; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4260, 4272-83; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 473-74; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 247; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 447; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95, 98-99; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 121-22; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q362; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

The Peninsula Campaign Winds Down

July 30, 1862 – General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote a delicate and personal letter to Major General George B. McClellan hinting that an order may soon come pulling McClellan’s Army of the Potomac off the Virginia Peninsula.

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

As July wore on, McClellan became convinced that the Lincoln administration had turned against him. He singled out Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, his once-close friend, as betraying him, even though the men had recently pledged to “let no cloud hereafter arise between us.” McClellan wrote his wife from Harrison’s Landing:

“I think that he is the most unmitigated scoundrel I ever knew, heard, or read of; I think that (and I do not wish to be irreverent) had he lived in the time of the Saviour, Judas Iscariot would have remained a respected member of the fraternity of the Apostles, and that the magnificent treachery and rascality of E.M. Stanton would have caused Judas to have raised his arms in holy horror and unaffected wonder–he would certainly have claimed and exercised the right to have been the Betrayer of his Lord and Master, by virtue of the same merit that raised Satan to his ‘bad eminence.’ I may do the man injustice–God grant that I may be wrong–for I hate to think that humanity can sink so low–but my opinion is just as I have told you.”

Meanwhile, Lincoln questioned McClellan yet again on his math: “I am told that over 160,000 men have gone into your army on the Peninsula. When I was with you the other day we made out 86,500 remaining, leaving 73,500 to be accounted for.” Lincoln estimated that 28,500 had been killed, wounded, or captured, which left another 45,000 “still alive and not with (the army), half or two thirds of them are fit for duty to-day. Have you any more perfect knowledge of this than I have?”

Lincoln then stated, “If I am right, and you had these men with you, you could go into Richmond in the next three days. How can they be got to you, and how can they be prevented from getting away in such numbers for the future?”

McClellan finally responded a week later, stating that his army actually numbered 101,000 officers and men. He added that many more were needed because he estimated General Robert E. Lee’s strength at 170,000 men (Lee’s army actually totaled less than half that number).

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

When Halleck arrived at Washington to become general-in-chief, he met with Lincoln and Stanton to discuss what should be done with the Army of the Potomac in general and McClellan in particular. Lincoln decided to replace McClellan with Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, but Burnside refused to accept the position. So McClellan remained in command for now.

Halleck traveled to Harrison’s Landing to meet with McClellan and inspect his army. McClellan shared a plan with him in which 30,000 reinforcements would be needed so that McClellan could send part of his force across the James River to capture Petersburg, a vital railroad town south of Richmond. This would isolate Richmond from most railroad lines and force the Confederates to either fight or flee.

Halleck countered that if Lee had 170,000 troops as McClellan estimated, he could easily defeat the divided Federal army, one piece at a time. Or, Lee could leave part of his army to guard against both Federal pieces while sending the main force north to confront Major General John Pope’s Army of Virginia.

Halleck told McClellan that he would get 20,000 reinforcements from the Carolinas, and he would use those men to attack Richmond. If McClellan did not attack, he would have to leave the Peninsula. McClellan said that 20,000 men may be enough to take the Richmond.

The awkward reversal of roles between Halleck and McClellan strained their relationship. Upon returning to Washington, Halleck wrote his wife that meeting with McClellan had been “necessarily somewhat embarrassing,” and “it certainly was unpleasant to tell one who had been my superior in rank that his plans were wrong, but my duty to myself and the country compelled me to do so.” While Halleck considered McClellan “a most excellent and valuable man, he does not understand strategy and should never plan a campaign.” Halleck concluded:

“We can get along very well together if he is so disposed, but I fear that his friends have excited his jealousy and that he will be disposed to pitch into me. Very well. My hands are clean. When in command of the army no one did more than I did to sustain him and in justice… to the country he ought now to sustain me. I hope he will but I doubt it. He is surrounded by very weak advisers.”

Halleck called upon Burnside in North Carolina and Major General David Hunter in South Carolina to donate the troops needed to reinforce McClellan. Hunter, who had recently sent seven regiments to Virginia, replied that “no more could be spared without seriously jeopardizing the important basis of operations and depots of stores in this department.” Hunter had asked permission to recruit and arm local slaves to make up for the manpower shortage, but the Lincoln administration was not yet prepared to allow it.

Meanwhile, it only took a day for McClellan to start complaining about getting only 20,000 men. Recently paroled Federal prisoners told their officers that Confederates were coming from all directions to defend Richmond, leaving McClellan to conclude that “the Southern States are being drained of their garrisons to reinforce the Army in my front.” He now asked for all of Burnside’s and Hunter’s troops, 35,000 in all, along with “15,000 or 20,000 men from the West to reinforce me temporarily.”

McClellan also continued ranting to his wife, but his prime target was no longer Stanton but Lincoln. McClellan fumed that “We never conversed on the subject” of who should become general-in-chief, “I only know it from the newspapers.” McClellan accused Lincoln of doing this “to make the matter as offensive as possible.”

To McClellan, Lincoln “had not shown the slightest gentlemanly or friendly feeling & I cannot regard him as in any respect my friend–I am confident that he would relieve me tomorrow if he dared do so. His cowardice alone prevents it.” In another letter, McClellan wrote of Lincoln, “I can never regard him with other feelings than those of thorough contempt–for his mind, heart & morality.”

McClellan also expressed disdain for Lincoln’s advisors and hoped “Halleck will scatter them to the four winds.” He singled out Major General Irvin McDowell, whom he called “morally dead” and asserted that “he has no longer one particle of influence & is despised by all alike.”

Halleck received McClellan’s amended request for 55,000 men and not the 20,000 he had been promised on the 29th. He responded by ordering every steamer in Baltimore Harbor to start moving toward the James River. These would not bring troops to the Peninsula; they would take McClellan’s army off. Halleck reasoned that if Lee’s army had become as strong as McClellan claimed, then the Federals faced certain destruction if they stayed on the Peninsula.

McClellan wrote Halleck the next day, unaware that steamers were en route, “I hope that it may soon be decided what is to be done by this army, and that the decision may be to reinforce it at once.” McClellan guessed that Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates had headed north with 35,000 men, while Major General A.P. Hill’s men stayed in Richmond. In reality, Jackson had gone north with just 11,000, but Hill recently joined him with 18,000 more.

McClellan warned, “Heavy (enemy) re-enforcements have arrived in Richmond and are still coming.” He urged Halleck to “re-enforce the army by every available means and throw it again upon Richmond. Should it be determined to withdraw it, I shall look upon our cause as lost and the demoralization of the army certain.”

Halleck responded with a deeply personal letter meant to convey his respect for McClellan but also his need to do his job as McClellan’s new superior. Halleck began:

“You are probably aware that I hold my present position contrary to my own wishes, and that I did everything in my power to avoid coming to Washington; but after declining several invitations from the President I received the order of the 11th instant, which left me no option.”

He gave McClellan his “full approbation and cordial support. There was no one in the Army under whom I could serve with greater pleasure, and I now ask from you that same support and co-operation and that same free interchange of opinions as in former days. If we disagree in opinion, I know that we will do so honestly and without unkind feelings. If we permit personal jealousies to interfere for a single moment with our operations, we shall not only injure the cause but ruin ourselves.”

Halleck requested that McClellan probe the Richmond defenses to verify rumors that Lee had sent the bulk of his army northward to confront Pope. He also directed McClellan to transfer all his sick and wounded troops from Harrison’s Landing, “in order to enable you to move in any direction.” It was suspected that this was a preparatory move for ending McClellan’s Peninsula campaign.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 78; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 199; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 595; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 186; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 245

Lincoln Visits the Virginia Peninsula

July 8, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln visited the Army of the Potomac on the Virginia Peninsula and contemplated a major military change.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln arrived at Harrison’s Landing on the 8th aboard the U.S.S. Ariel, and met with Major General George B. McClellan and his staff at 6 p.m. During the meeting, McClellan refused to admit defeat or take responsibility for his army’s “retrograde movement,” and he continued citing the lack of reinforcements as the reason he had not yet destroyed the Confederate army and conquered Richmond.

The men then conducted a twilight troop inspection, which included a light show from the men firing their muskets into the darkening sky. Regarding Lincoln, a lieutenant wrote, “Long and hearty was the applause and welcome which greeted him. His presence after the late disaster… seemed to infuse new ardor into the dispirited army.” A chaplain concurred: “The boys liked him, his popularity is universal.”

But McClellan disagreed, writing his wife that Lincoln was “an old stick and of pretty poor timber at that… I had to order the men to cheer and they did it very feebly.” Nevertheless, the soldiers seemed upbeat to Lincoln, who was relieved to see that army morale was not as low as feared.

Returning to army headquarters, McClellan handed Lincoln what became known as the “Harrison’s Bar Letter.” Lincoln read the letter and said, “All right,” before putting it in his pocket. He said nothing more about it, and he did not act upon any of McClellan’s suggestions. To Lincoln, McClellan seemed to be urging a return to the policies he tried when the war started, only to see them fail. The “Harrison’s Bar Letter,” in which McClellan boldly lectured his superior on military policy, irreparably tarnished the general’s career.

Turning back to his main purpose for visiting the Peninsula, Lincoln tried to determine what should be done with the army. He asked McClellan three major questions:

  • How many men were in the army?
  • Where was the Confederate army?
  • Would it be possible to withdraw the army from the Peninsula?

McClellan responded:

  • There were 80,000 officers and men in the army, but the total could be closer to 75,000.
  • The Confederates were “four to five miles from us on all the roads, I think nearly the whole army–both Hills, Longstreet, Jackson, Magruder, Huger.” (Actually, Lee was falling back closer to Richmond.)
  • Leaving the Peninsula “would be a delicate and very difficult matter.”

The next day, Lincoln conferred with McClellan’s five corps commanders (Edwin V. Sumner, Samuel P. Heintzelman, Erasmus D. Keyes, Fitz John Porter, and William B. Franklin). To McClellan’s shock, Lincoln sought no details about the recent battles. Instead, he posed the same three questions to them as he had to McClellan the night before.

The commanders stated that Lee’s army had fallen back toward Richmond. This bothered Lincoln because McClellan had told him Lee was just four or five miles away, and the corps commanders should not have been more aware of the enemy’s location than the army chief. But it was soon discovered that Lee was in the process of moving back between the 8th and 9th, thus explaining the discrepancy.

Lincoln then asked, “If it were desired to get the army away from here, could it be safely effected?” Keyes and Franklin said it could and should be done. The other three disagreed. Heintzelman said, “It would be ruinous to the country,” Sumner said, “We give up the cause if we do it,” and Porter said, “Move the army and ruin the country.” McClellan supported an attack only if he received the reinforcements he had requested.

After Lincoln headed back to Washington on the 10th, McClellan wrote his wife that the president “seemed that of a man about to do something of which he was ashamed.” Unbeknownst to McClellan, Lincoln had already contemplated the general’s suggestion for a commander-in-chief in the “Harrison’s Bar Letter,” and he already had a man in mind for the job.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17053-61; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7580, 7591-7603; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 346-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 530-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 180; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 450-51; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 238; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 502; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 346

McClellan Writes the Harrison’s Bar Letter

July 7, 1862 – As the Army of the Potomac settled into its defenses on the Virginia Peninsula, Major General George B. McClellan took the time to write a letter to President Abraham Lincoln on how the war should be waged.

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

By today, McClellan’s position at Harrison’s Landing was secure, in large part due to the Federal gunboats protecting against attacks and Federal transport vessels keeping the army abundantly supplied. Commander John Rodgers, in charge of the Federal naval forces on the James River, reported to Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Fleet:

“There is to be a convoy of gunboats each day from Harrison’s Bar to near the mouth of the Chickahominy, going and returning each day. As there was no better reason for the time than the arrival and departure of the mail from Old Point, it was agreed that at 9 a.m. all the transportation down should sail, convoyed by gunboats–I had selected four for it. And at 3 p.m. all the army transportation to this point should come up, convoyed by the same force.”

This protection apparently emboldened McClellan, who reported to Washington, “My position is very strong and daily becoming more so. If not attacked to-day I shall laugh at them.” To Major General John Pope, organizing his new Army of Virginia, McClellan wrote, “I am in a very strong natural position, rendered stronger every day by the labor of the troops, and which in a few days will be impregnable.”

This gave McClellan time to consider matters outside his scope as military commander. About a month ago, Lincoln had given McClellan permission to share his views on the overall military situation beyond just his army, as long as he did so in writing. McClellan now acted upon that permission by writing a letter detailing his views on what war policies the administration should adopt. McClellan began:

“You have been fully informed, that the Rebel army is in our front, with the purpose of overwhelming us by attacking our positions or reducing us by blocking our river communications. I can not but regard our condition as critical and I earnestly desire, in view of possible contingencies, to lay before your Excellency, for your private consideration, my general views concerning the state of the rebellion…”

McClellan insisted that “Our cause must never be abandoned; it is the cause of free institutions and self government. The Constitution and the Union must be preserved, whatever may be the cost in time, treasure and blood.” However, he argued that the administration must follow some ground rules to accomplish these goals. He wrote, “The time has come when the Government must determine upon a civil and military policy, covering the whole ground of our national trouble.”

The general then lectured his commander-in-chief on what types of policies he should employ:

“This rebellion has assumed the character of a War: as such it should be regarded; and it should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event. It should not be, at all, a War upon population; but against armed forces and political organizations.”

McClellan listed four actions that the Federal government should never take: “Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” Of these actions, the first two were already being done with Lincoln’s consent. The Republican majority in Congress had submitted legislation to mandate the third action, and the fourth was currently under debate.

McClellan continued:

“In prosecuting the War, all private property and unarmed persons should be strictly protected; subject only to the necessities of military operations. All private property taken for military use should be paid for or receipted for; pillage and waste should be treated as high crimes; all unnecessary trespass sternly prohibited; and offensive demeanor by the military towards citizens promptly rebuked. Military arrests should not be tolerated, except in places where active hostilities exist; and oaths not required by enactments–Constitutionally made–should be neither demanded nor received. Military government should be confined to the preservation of public order and the protection of political rights.”

Regarding military scope, McClellan wrote:

“Military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude, either by supporting or impairing the authority of the master; except for repressing disorder as in other cases. Slaves contraband under the Act of Congress, seeking military protection, should receive it. The right of the Government to appropriate permanently to its own service claims to slave labor should be asserted and the right of the owner to compensation therefore should be recognized… A declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present Armies.”

McClellan also stressed the need for a “Commander in Chief of the Army,” and although he did not “ask that place” for himself, he was “willing to serve you in such position as you may assign me and I will do so as faithfully as ever subordinate served superior.”

Lincoln was on his way to the Peninsula to assess the situation and investigate rumors that the army was demoralized; McClellan planned to hand him this letter when he arrived. McClellan wrote his wife, “I have written a strong, frank letter to the President. If he acts upon it, the country will be saved.” He asked his wife to keep a copy of the letter to prove to future generations “that I understood the state of affairs long ago, and that had my advice been followed we should not have been in our present difficulties.”

McClellan also exchanged letters with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. The two men had once been close friends, but since Stanton had taken office, he became one of McClellan’s most vocal critics. Stanton took the time to set aside their differences by writing that “wicked men” had caused animosity “between us for their own base and selfish purposes. No man had ever a truer friend than I have been to you and shall continue to be.”

McClellan responded, “Of all men in the nation you were my choice for that position.” However, Stanton’s treatment of him “was marked by repeated acts done in such manner as to be deeply offensive to my feelings and calculated to affect me injuriously in public estimation.” This “led me to believe that your mind was warped by a bitter personal prejudice against me.”

However, McClellan admitted that he may have been “mistaken in regard to your real feelings and opinions, and that your conduct, so unaccountable to my own fallible judgment, must have proceeded from views and motives which I did not understand.” As such, he would “resume the same cordial confidence which once characterized our intercourse.”

McClellan then turned to the main purpose of his letter: getting Stanton to side with him against Lincoln on military policy:

“You have more than once told me that together we could save this country. It is yet not too late to do so… I have briefly given in a confidential letter to the President my views (please ask to see it) as to the policy which ought to govern this contest on our part. None other will call forth its energies in time to save our cause. For none other will our armies continue to fight… Let no cloud hereafter arise between us.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17053-61; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 192; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7580, 7591-7603; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 346-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 530-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 179-80; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 450-51; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 237-38; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 502; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91, 95; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 346

Standoff on the Peninsula

July 4, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln worked to funnel more reinforcements to Major General George B. McClellan on the Virginia Peninsula, and General Robert E. Lee decided that the Federal positions were too strong to attack.

The Federals and Confederates both celebrated Independence Day, and with the pickets stationed so close to each other, a Confederate soldier wrote that “our boys and the Yanks made a bargain not to fire at each other, and went out in the field, leaving one man on each post with the arms, and gathered berries together and talked over the fight, traded tobacco and coffee and exchanged newspapers as peacefully and kindly as if they had not been engaged for the last seven days in butchering one another.”

From Washington, Lincoln answered McClellan’s request for another 100,000 men by writing that collecting such a number “within a month, or even six weeks, is impossible… Under these circumstances the defensive for the present must be your only care. Save the army–first, where you are, if you can; secondly, by removal, if you must. P.S. If at any time you feel able to take the offensive, you are not restrained from doing so.”

McClellan did not feel able to take the offensive. Instead, he issued a proclamation to the officers and men of his army:

“Under every disadvantage of numbers, and necessarily of position also, you have in every conflict beaten back your foes with enormous slaughter. That your conduct ranks you among the celebrated armies of history, no one will ever question; then each of you may always say with pride, ‘I belonged to the Army of the Potomac.’”

Declaring that his men “shall enter the Capital of their so-called Confederacy” yet, McClellan insisted that his army’s performance in the Seven Days Battles would be “acknowledged by all competent judges” as “unparalleled in the annals of war.” But this did little to change the fact that McClellan’s “retrograde movement” had been a demoralizing retreat for his men.

The Lincoln administration reacted to McClellan’s withdrawal by transferring a portion of Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federals stationed in North Carolina to the Peninsula. Burnside left with about 7,000 of his 15,782 men, leaving Brigadier General John G. Foster in charge of the Department of North Carolina with the remaining 8,782.

With such a small force, Foster could not capitalize on the coastal gains made earlier this year. And the railroad between Richmond and Wilmington, North Carolina, remained open to supply Lee’s army with necessities. The vital railroad junction at Goldsborough also remained in Confederate hands. Foster could now only garrison Beaufort, Fort Macon, Hatteras Inlet, New Bern, and Plymouth.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Closer to Richmond, the Confederates continued regrouping and reorganizing after the terrible fighting. Lee personally inspected McClellan’s positions and reported to President Jefferson Davis:

“The enemy is strongly posted in the neck formed by Herring creek and James River… The enemy’s batteries occupy the ridge along which the Charles City road runs, north to the creek, and his gunboats lying below the mouth of the creek sweep the ground in front of his batteries. Above his encampments which lie on the river, his gunboats also extend; where the ground is more favorable to be searched by their cannon. As far as I can now see there is no way to attack him to advantage; nor do I wish to expose the men to the destructive missiles of his gunboats… I fear he is too secure under cover of his boats to be driven from his position…”

Lee officially reported that during the Seven Days Battles, his men had captured 52 guns, 10,000 prisoners, and almost 31,000 small arms. The Confederates had also driven McClellan back 25 miles and secured the safety of Richmond, regaining control of the railroad system outside the capital and forcing McClellan to abandon his sick and wounded soldiers in the process.

Lee added, “The siege of Richmond was raised, and the object of the (Federal) campaign, which had been prosecuted after months of preparation at an enormous expenditure of men and money, completely frustrated.” However, Lee had lost about 11,000 men of the “first line,” and he acknowledged, “Under ordinary circumstances, the Federal army should have been destroyed.”

Davis responded the next day: “I fully concur with you as to the impropriety of exposing our brave and battle-thinned troops to the fire of the gunboats.” Confederate conscripts began arriving in Richmond to fill Lee’s depleted ranks, and Davis expressed gratitude to Lee’s “Army of Eastern Virginia” in an address to the officers and men:

“I congratulate you on the series of brilliant victories which, under the favor of Divine Providence, you have lately won, and, as the President of the Confederate States, do heartily tender to you the thanks of the country, whose just cause you have so skillfully and heroically served… The fortitude with which you have borne toil and privation, the gallantry with which you have entered into each successive battle, must have been witnessed to be fully appreciated; but a grateful people will not fail to recognize you, and to bear you in loved remembrance…

“Let it be your pride to relax in nothing which can promote your future efficiency; your one great object being to drive the invader from your soil, and carrying your standards beyond the outer boundaries of the Confederacy, to wring from an unscrupulous foe the recognition of your birthright, community independence.”

Lee began pulling his army back closer to Richmond, leaving Brigadier General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry to continue observing Federal activity. Lee reported that he could not get any closer to the Federal army because of the gunboats on the James River:

“After a thorough reconnaissance of the position taken up by the enemy on James River, I found him strongly posted and effectually flanked by his gunboats… I caused field batteries to play on his forces, and on his transports, from points on the river below. But they were too light to accomplish much, and were always attacked with superior force by the gunboats…”

Colonel Garnet J. Wolseley, a British army observer with the Confederate army, wrote that he “noted with some interest the superstitious dread of gunboats which possessed the Southern soldiers. These vessels of war, even when they have been comparatively harmless, had several times been the means of saving northern armies.”

Davis wrote his wife Varina:

“McClellan certainly showed capacity in his retreat, but there is little cause to laud a general who is driven out of his entrenchments by a smaller and worse-armed force than his own and compelled to abandon a campaign in the preparation of which he had spent many months and many millions of dollars and seek safety by flying to other troops for cover, burning his depots of provisions and marking his route by scattered arms, ammunition, and wagons.”

A report from Richmond stated that “thousands of fathers, brothers, mothers, and sisters of the wounded are arriving in the city to attend their suffering relations, and to recover the remains of those who were slain.” The standoff on the Peninsula continued.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: Mr. Lincoln’s Army (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1951), p. 143; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 39, 84; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (5 Jul 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16998-7006; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 191-92; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 518-19, 530; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 179; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4164-88; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 237; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 282, 536; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91, 95; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q362; Wikipedia: Seven Days Battles

The Seven Days Battles: Aftermath

July 3, 1862 – Both Federals and Confederates regrouped as General Robert E. Lee probed the Federal defenses and Major General George B. McClellan issued yet another plea for more men.

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

Heavy rain drenched the Virginia Peninsula as the Federals began withdrawing from Malvern Hill between 2 and 3 a.m. on the 2nd. During that time, President Abraham Lincoln telegraphed McClellan, “If you think you are not strong enough to take Richmond now, I do not ask you to try just now. Save the army, material, and personnel, and I will strengthen it for the offensive again as fast as I can.” McClellan reported:

“As usual, we had a severe battle yesterday and beat the enemy badly, the men fighting even better than before. We fell back to this position during the night and morning… I have not yielded an inch of ground unnecessarily, but have retired to prevent the superior force of the enemy from cutting me off and to take a different base of operations.”

The Federals fell back eight miles from Malvern Hill to Harrison’s Landing, a wharf on the three-mile-wide Berkeley Plantation, birthplace of 9th U.S. President William Henry Harrison. Naval Commander John Rodgers had chosen this site for the army because it was the closest point to Richmond where the troops could be easily supplied by water. Also, Rodgers’s gunboats could protect the army’s flanks, both of which were anchored on creeks.

The Federals retreated despite winning a resounding victory the previous day. Many generals, including Fitz John Porter, one of McClellan’s favorites, opposed withdrawing and unsuccessfully urged McClellan to counterattack. During the retreat, discipline broke down and morale sunk to a new low. McClellan reported:

“My men are completely exhausted, and I dread the result if we are attacked today by fresh troops… I now pray for time. My men have proved themselves the equals of any troops in the world, but they are worn-out… We have failed to win only because overpowered by superior numbers.”

McClellan still failed to realize that the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was much smaller than his.

At Confederate headquarters on Poindexter farm, Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson urged General Lee to attack again, believing the Federals to be so demoralized that one more assault might finally destroy them. But the rain had turned the roads to mud, and Lee was not yet sure exactly where the Federals went.

President Jefferson Davis and his brother, Colonel Joseph Davis, visited Lee’s headquarters to offer encouragement and suggestions. Lee then introduced Davis to Jackson, and when Davis asked Jackson’s opinion on what should be done, the general replied, “They have not all got away if you go immediately after them.” But Davis ultimately sided with Lee that the rain was too heavy and the men too exhausted to continue fighting.

Lee dispatched Brigadier General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry to find and pursue the Federal army. Lee also directed a portion of his army to move farther down the Peninsula to guard against any Federal counterattack, and he sent General Theophilus H. Holmes’s division to Drewry’s Bluff to stop any Federal effort to cross the James River and join the Federals in North Carolina.

Throughout the 2nd, both Federals and Confederates buried the dead. General Jubal Early, whose Confederates had just arrived to reinforce Lee the night before, reported:

“The parties from both armies, in search of the dead and wounded, gradually approached each other, and continued their mournful work without molestation on either side, being apparently appalled, for the moment, into a cessation from all hostile purposes, by the terrible spectacle presented to their view.”

In the Seven Days Battles, the Confederates sustained a horrific 20,204 casualties (3,494 killed, 15,758 wounded, and 952 missing), or nearly 25 percent of the army’s total. The division of Major General James Longstreet lost 40 percent of its strength. The Federals, who had won almost every battle but retreated after each one, lost 15,853 (1,734 killed, 8,066 wounded, and 6,053 missing). Porter’s V Corps sustained over half those casualties.

Southerners hailed Lee as a new hero who saved Richmond from Federal conquest. Davis issued a proclamation of thanksgiving for driving the Federals away from the capital. However, some criticized Lee’s heavy losses and loose management style, and Lee himself expressed great disappointment over missing so many opportunities to destroy McClellan’s army in the campaign.

Several reasons contributed to Lee’s failure to destroy the Federals, including a lack of adequate maps, the failure of subordinates to carry out his orders, and poor employment of his artillery and cavalry. However, he still drove McClellan off due to superior strategy, his troops’ willingness to sustain heavy losses to achieve their mission, and McClellan’s refusal to counterattack.

The next morning, the rain stopped and Lee resumed his pursuit of the retreating Federals. As he began probing for a weakness in the defenses, Stuart reported that most of the enemy had already reached Harrison’s Landing. Stuart also refuted rumors that McClellan was planning to cross the James. Meanwhile, wounded Confederates continued pouring into Richmond.

In the North, newspapers began publishing reports of McClellan’s “Great Skedaddle,” which dealt a blow to morale and brought intense criticism upon both McClellan and Lincoln. McClellan reported, “It is of course impossible to estimate as yet our losses, but I doubt whether there are to-day more than 50,000 men with their colors.” In reality, McClellan probably had about 90,000 effectives.

McClellan then amended his July 1 request for 50,000 men (which Lincoln had called “simply absurd”): “To accomplish the great task of capturing Richmond and putting an end to this rebellion, re-enforcements should be sent to me rather much over than much under 100,000 men.” McClellan asked his superiors to “be fully impressed by the magnitude of the crisis in which we are placed.”

Lincoln had previously asked Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding in the Western Theater, to send 25,000 troops to reinforce McClellan, but Halleck reported that it would be impossible without losing the ground they had gained in Tennessee and Mississippi. Lincoln then reminded McClellan that he had refused the president’s offer to send him the Federals stationed in North Carolina under Major General Ambrose E. Burnside. Now Lincoln ordered Burnside to bring his troops to the Peninsula, along with another 10,000 men from Major General David Hunter’s Department of the South.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 189-90; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 515, 517, 530; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 178; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4128-40, 4152, 4164-88; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 236; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 470-71, 490; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 73, 93; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 346; Wikipedia: Battle of Malvern Hill, Seven Days Battles