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The Peninsula Campaign-In early 1862 the Union Army launched a major operation in southeastern Virginia, the first large-scale offensive in the Eastern Theater. Lincoln replaced McDowell with George B. McClellan as commander. He reorganized the army, whipped it into shape, and also renamed it the Army of the Potomac. The goal was to roll over the Confederacy. The Rebels were not about to let that happen.

Map For This Episode


Excursus: Military Technology

  1. The Influence of Napoleon on the Civil War. 
  2. Smoothbore vs Rifled Muskets
  3. The Minie Ball and the impact it and rifled muskets had on tactics —
  4. How a typical infantryman fired
  5. The role of cavalry
  6. Artillery – various types (solid shot, case shot, canister, grapeshot)
  7. Entrenchments became increasingly important.

Background of Peninsula Campaign

  • Change in Command
      1. Recall that the Confederate army commanded by P. G. T. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston soundly defeated the Union army under Irvin McDowell, which retreated to Washington in disarray.
      2. Beauregard was sent west to aid Albert Sidney Johnston, leaving Joseph Johnston in sole command of the Confederate army at Manassas.
      3. After the debacle at Bull Run, Irvin McDowell was demoted to a division commander.
      4. Lincoln replaced McDowell with George B. McClellan (mini bio: West Point, Mex War, observer in Crimean War, business experience, early success in WV)
      5. McClellan reorganized the army and whipped it into shape.  He also renamed it the Army of the Potomac. By November the army had grown to 168,000.
      6. McClellan was extremely popular with his troops, who called him “Little Mac.”
      7. In November, Winfield Scott announced his retirement. Lincoln named McClellan as his successor, which meant McClellan was General in Chief of the entire U. S. Army as well as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
      8. When Lincoln warned McClellan that having these two jobs would be extremely difficult, McClellan replied “I can do it all.”
  • Lincoln and McClellan
      1. McClellan was a Democrat who believed in slavery and just wanted to restore the Union to the status quo ante bellum.
      2. He had no respect for Lincoln, calling him an idiot and “The Original Gorilla.”
      3. One night, Lincoln and Seward went to see McClellan.  The butler told them McClellan was out. When McClellan came home, he went straight to his bedroom.  When Lincoln asked to see him, the butler said “He has gone to bed.”
      4. Lincoln put up with all this because he thought McClellan would bring a Union victory.
  • Fall – Winter 1861
    1. Despite Lincoln’s urging, McClellan refused to march the army toward Johnston. The summer and fall passed, and then winter set in, when campaigning was nearly impossible.
    2. In October, McClellan sent a small force toward Leesburg.  This force was defeated by a Confederate force at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff.
    3. As a result of Ball’s Bluff, Congress formed a Joint Committee to Investigate the War.  They investigated officers, particularly Democratic ones.

The Peninsula Campaign Begins

  • The Plan
      1. Instead of marching straight toward Richmond as McDowell had done, McClellan proposed a giant flanking movement.
      2. (Mental Map of VA rivers and peninsulas)
      3. He proposed to transport his army by water down the Potomac into the Chesapeake Bay and down to the peninsula between the Rappahannock and York Rivers.  The army would then approach Richmond from the southeast.
      4. Johnston (who was in N. Virginia), would have to retreat to Richmond and probably attack McClellan (remember that the defense is favored)
      5. Lincoln approved the plan and asked him to begin.  McClellan stalled. Lincoln famously said “If General McClellan isn’t going to use his army, I’d like to borrow it for a time.”  In January 1862, Lincoln finally ordered him to move.
      6. McClellan continued to stall.  Lincoln again ordered him to move.  Finally, in March, Lincoln relieved McClellan as General in Chief.
  • Movement


    1. Johnston moved his army back to the Rappahannock.  
    2. Because of this, McClellan decided to deploy his army further south to Ft. Monroe, on the peninsula between the York and James Rivers.
    3. In late March 70,000 Union soldiers set out for Ft. Monroe.
    4. Johnston shifted the bulk of his army to the peninsula campaign, putting them in between McClellan and Richmond.
    5. Meanwhile, 35,000 troops under Irvin McDowell marched to Fredericksburg, VA, 50 miles north of Richmond.
    6. Another 25,000 troops under Nathaniel Banks went to the Shenandoah Valley.
    7. 10,000 troops under John C. Fremont went to western VA.
    8. Johnston sent 5000 soldiers under Stonewall Jackson to the Valley. 


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