Union General George B. McClellan, who led 100,000 men and moved as fast as an iceberg, attempted to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond in a series of six different battles along the Virginia Peninsula from June 25 to July 1, 1862). Confederate General Robert E. Lee drove back McClellan’s Union forces from a position 4 miles (6 km) east of the Confederate capital to a new base of operations at Harrison’s Landing on the James River.

Map for this Episode

Background

    1. Yorktown (April 5 – May 5)
      1. McClellan received about 30,000 reinforcements, bringing his total strength to 100,000 men.
      2. He marched toward Yorktown (yes, THAT Yorktown!).  Union officers, forced to rely on store-bought maps, lost their way.  Roads were muddy and barely passable.
      3. The Confederates there were commanded by John B. Magruder, who only had 11,000 soldiers, only about a tenth of McClellan’s force.
      4. Magruder used a variety of techniques to fool McClellan into thinking the Confederate force was much larger than it really was.  
      5. Convinced the Confederates had 100,000 to 200,000 soldiers in front of him, McClellan kept asking for more soldiers. McClellan decided to lay siege to Yorktown.  He maintained it for a month. Lincoln practically begged McClellan to attack. Johnston said “Only McClellan would not have attacked us.”
      6. The Confederates pulled back. McClellan SLOWLY advanced. His subordinate Philip Kearney called him “The Virginia Creeper.”
  • Jackson in the Valley
    1. Jackson was sent reinforcements.
    2. Mental map of Valley
    3. Jackson said: “Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow…a small army may thus destroy a large one in detail, and repeated victory will make it invincible.”
    4. In a brilliant campaign, Jackson marched his small army all over the Valley (over 350 miles!), striking all of the Union forces in the area and tying them down so that none could assist McClellan. He inflicted 7000 casualties and seized huge quantities of badly needed supplies in just over a month.
    5. Jackson’s Valley campaign lifted Confederate morale.
    6. Jackson was ordered to join Johnston’s forces in June.

Fair Oaks and the Seven Days’ Battles

  • Fair Oaks (Seven Pines) – May 31
      1. Johnston had retreated his army nearly to the outskirts of Richmond and could not retreat any further without having to submit to a siege.
      2. McClellan had deployed about 1/3 of his army south of the Chickahominy River (between the York and the James) and 2/3 of the army north of the river.  The Union troops could see the spires or Richmond and hear the clocks chiming.
      3. Johnston decided to attack the 1/3 of the Union army that was south of the Chickahominy.
      4. The Confederates did not execute Johnston’s plan well.  The battle was a tactical draw, with about 5000 casualties on each side.
      5. Although the battle was largely inconsequential, it had two major consequences:
        1. McClellan was shaken by the great carnage, saying “Victory has no charms for me when purchased at such cost.”
        2. Joseph Johnston was wounded.  Jefferson Davis replaced him with Robert E. Lee.  (Quick bio on Lee)
        3. Regarding Lee, one Richmond newspaper said “Now our army will never be allowed to fight.”
        4. McClellan wrote, “I prefer Lee to Johnston. Lee is too cautious and weak under grave responsibility. Personally brave and energetic to a fault, he is yet wanting in moral firmness when pressed by heavy responsibility.”
  • The Seven Days

 

    1. When Lee took command, Confederate morale was still quite low.
    2. Lee reorganized the army and recalled Jackson.  His army reached a total size of about 90,000.
    3. Lee was much more aggressive than Johnston.  He believed in staying on the offensive.
    4. McClellan repositioned his army so that 1/3 of the army was north of the Chickahominy and 2/3 was south of it.
    5. Lee sent his cavalry chief, J. E. B. Stuart, who took a detachment and rode all the way around the Federal army.  His own father-in-law, who had stayed loyal to the Union, led the Federal cavalry force that tried (in vain) to stop him.
    6. Lee decided to attack the Federal right (the soldiers north of the river).  Jackson’s soldiers were to play a major role in the attack.
    7. The series of battles began on June 25, when Lee repulsed a Federal attack at Oak Grove.
    8. On the 26th, Lee attacked the Federals at Mechanicsville.  Jackson did not show up, so the Confederate attack was repulsed.
    9. On the 27th, Lee attacked again at Gaines’s Mill. There the rebels pushed back the Union troops.  A key role was played by Gen. John B. Hood and his Texas Brigade.  Again, Jackson performed poorly. The Federals retreated across the Chickahominy so that the entire force was now united.  (Gaines’ Mill was the biggest of the Seven Day’s battles and the largest Confederate attack of the entire war. It was also the only Confederate victory in the Seven Days).
    10. McClellan retreated his army toward the James River, away from Richmond.
    11. On the 29th and the 30th, Lee attacked at Savage Station and Glendale (Frazer’s Farm), but again the Confederates performed poorly.  McClellan retreated further to Malvern Hill, a great defensive position.
    12. On July 1, Lee attacked the Federals at Malvern Hill, but again the attack was poorly coordinated.  General D. H. Hill later wrote that Malvern Hill was not war, it was murder.  This was a huge mistake on Lee’s part.
    13. McClellan’s subordinates urged him to lead a counterattack, but he refused.  He was a beaten man. He retreated even further to Harrison’s Landing. Gen Philip Kearney said “We ought, instead of retreating, to follow up the enemy and take Richmond.  I say to all of you, such an order can only be prompted by cowardice or treason.”
    14. After the battle, McClellan sent Edwin Stanton a telegram that ended with the words:  “If I save this army now, I tell you plainly I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.”  Fortunately for him, the telegraph officer at the War Dept. censored these sentences.
    15. The Seven Days’ Battles produced 20,000 Confederate casualties and 16,000 Union ones.  This was an even bloodier battle than Shiloh.
    16. Still, Confederate morale rebounded.  Lee became a hero to the South. Northern morale sank.  Lincoln calls for 300,000 more volunteers.
    17. On July 7, Lincoln visited McClellan, who told him he had not lost, but merely failed to win.  McClellan also asked for 50,000 soldiers. Lincoln said “sending soldiers to that army is like shoveling fleas across a barnyard.  Half of them never get there.
    18. In early September, Lincoln ordered McClellan and his army back to Richmond.