Peninsula Campaign

Peninsula Campaign

The Peninsula Campaign (also known as the Peninsular Campaign) of the American Civil War was a major Union operation launched in southeastern Virginia from March through July 1862, the first large-scale offensive in the Eastern Theater. The operation, commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, was an amphibious turning movement intended to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond by circumventing the Confederate States Army in northern Virginia. McClellan was initially successful against the equally cautious General Joseph E. Johnston, but the emergence of General Robert E. Lee changed the character of the campaign and turned it into a humiliating Union defeat.

McClellan landed his army at Fort Monroe and moved northwest, up the Virginia Peninsula. Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder had constructed three defensive lines across the narrow peninsula. The first significant one, the Warwick Line, extending from Yorktown to Mulberry Island, caught McClellan by surprise. His hopes for a quick advance foiled, McClellan ordered his army to prepare for a siege of Yorktown. Just before the siege preparations were completed, the Confederates, now under the direct command of Johnston, began a withdrawal toward Richmond. The first heavy fighting of the campaign occurred in the Battle of Williamsburg, in which the Union troops managed some tactical victories, but the Confederates continued their withdrawal. An amphibious flanking movement to Eltham's Landing was ineffective in cutting off the Confederate retreat. In the Battle of Drewry's Bluff, an attempt by the U.S. Navy to reach Richmond by way of the James River was repulsed.

As McClellan's army reached the outskirts of Richmond, a minor battle occurred at Hanover Court House, but it was followed by a surprise attack by Johnston at the Battle of Seven Pines or Fair Oaks. The battle was inconclusive, with heavy casualties, but it had lasting effects on the campaign. Johnston was wounded and replaced on June 1 by the more aggressive Robert E. Lee, who reorganized his army and prepared for offensive action.

Although they are formally considered part of the Peninsula Campaign, the final battles of June 25 to July 1, with Lee in command and on the offensive against McClellan, are popularly known as the Seven Days Battles, and are described in their own article.


McClellan spent the winter of 1861–62 training his new Army of the Potomac and fighting off calls from President Abraham Lincoln to advance against the Confederates. Lincoln was particularly concerned about the army of General Joseph E. Johnston at Centreville, just 30 miles (50 km) from Washington, D.C. McClellan greatly overestimated Johnston's strength and shifted his objective from that army to the Confederate capital of Richmond. He proposed to move by water to Urbanna on the Rappahannock River and then overland to Richmond before Johnston could move to block him.

Although Lincoln favored the overland approach because it would shield Washington from any attack while the operation was in progress, McClellan argued that the road conditions in Virginia were intolerable, that he had arranged adequate defenses for the capital, and that Johnston would certainly follow him if he moved on Richmond. This plan was discussed for three months in the capital until Lincoln approved McClellan's proposal in early March. By March 9, however, Johnston withdrew his army from Centreville to Culpeper, making McClellan's Urbanna plan impracticable. Little Mac then proposed to sail to Fort Monroe and then up the Virginia Peninsula (the narrow strip of land between the James and York Rivers) to Richmond. Lincoln reluctantly agreed.

Before departing for the Peninsula, McClellan moved the Army of the Potomac to Centreville on a "shakedown" march. He discovered there how weak Johnston's force and position had really been, and faced mounting criticism. On March 11, Lincoln's War Order No. 3 relieved McClellan of his position as general-in-chief of the Union armies, so that he could devote his full attention to the difficult campaign ahead of him. The Army of the Potomac began to embark for Fort Monroe on March 17.

Opposing forces

The Army of the Potomac had approximately 50,000 men at Fort Monroe when McClellan arrived, but this number grew to 121,500 before hostilities began. Transporting these men, almost 15,000 horses and mules, and 1,150 wagons was an enormous task. It required 113 steamships, 188 schooners, and 88 barges. The army was organized into three corps and other units, as follows: [Eicher, "Longest Night", pp. 214-15; Sears, pp. 359-63.]
* II Corps, Brig. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner commanding: divisions of Brig. Gens. Israel B. Richardson and John Sedgwick
* III Corps, Brig. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman commanding: divisions of Brig. Gens. Fitz John Porter, Joseph Hooker, and Charles S. Hamilton
* IV Corps, Brig. Gen. Erasmus D. Keyes commanding: divisions of Brig. Gens. Darius N. Couch, William F. "Baldy" Smith, and Silas Casey
* 1st Division of the I Corps, Brig. Gen. William B. Franklin commanding
* Reserve infantry commanded by Brig. Gen. George Sykes
* Cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. George Stoneman
* The garrison of Fort Monroe, 12,000 men under Maj. Gen. John E. Wool; Wool was quickly transferred to another department for duty in Baltimore after the War Department realized that he technically outranked McClellan.

On the Confederate side, Johnston's Army of Northern Virginia (newly named as of March 14 [Eicher, "High Commands", pp. 323, 889; Sears, p. 46.] ) was organized into three wings, each composed of several brigades, as follows: [Eicher, "Longest Night", p. 215; Sears, pp. 364-67.]
* Left Wing, Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill commanding: brigades of Brig. Gen. Robert E. Rodes, Winfield S. Featherston, Jubal A. Early, and Gabriel J. Raines
* Center Wing, Maj. Gen. James Longstreet commanding: brigades of Brig. Gens. A.P. Hill, Richard H. Anderson, George E. Pickett, Cadmus M. Wilcox, Raleigh E. Colston, and Roger A. Pryor
* Right Wing, Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder commanding: division of Brig. Gen. Lafayette McLaws (brigades of Brig. Gens. Paul J. Semmes, Richard Griffith, Joseph B. Kershaw, and Howell Cobb) and division of Brig. Gen. David R. Jones (brigades of Brig. Gens. Robert A. Toombs and George T. Anderson)
* Reserve force commanded by Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith
* Cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart

However, at the time the Army of the Potomac arrived, only Magruder's 13,000 men faced them on the Peninsula. The bulk of Johnston's force (43,000 men) were at Culpeper, 6,000 under Maj. Gen. Theophilus H. Holmes at Fredericksburg, and 9,000 under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Huger at Norfolk. In Richmond, General Robert E. Lee had returned from work on coastal fortifications in the Carolinas and on March 13 became the chief military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Forces in the Shenandoah Valley played an indirect role in the campaign. Approximately 50,000 men under Maj. Gens. Nathaniel P. Banks and Irvin McDowell were engaged chasing a much smaller force under Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign. Jackson's expert maneuvering and tactical success in small battles kept the Union men from reinforcing McClellan, much to his dismay. He had planned to have 30,000 under McDowell to join him.

Magruder had prepared three defensive lines across the Peninsula. The first, about 12 miles north of Fort Monroe, contained infantry outposts and artillery redoubts, but was insufficiently manned to prevent any Union advance. Its primary purpose was to shield information from the Union about a second line extending from Yorktown to Mulberry Island. This Warwick Line consisted of redoubts, rifle pits, and fortifications behind the Warwick River. By enlarging two dams on the river, the river was turned into a significant military obstacle in its own right. The third defensive line was a series of forts at Williamsburg, which waited unmanned for use by the army if it had to fall back from Yorktown. [Sears, pp. 26, 70.]


; Battle of Hampton Roads (March 8ndash March 9, 1862): March 8 marked the first combat of ironclad ships as the new CSS "Virginia" made its entrance before the wooden Union warships blockading the entrance from the Chesapeake Bay to Hampton Roads and wreaked devastation upon them. However, the next day, "Virginia" was met by the new Union ironclad USS "Monitor". The two ironclads fought an inconclusive battle, with each retreating at the end of the day.

Hampton Roads caused a newfound sense of concern because the Army's transport ships could be attacked by this new weapon directly in their path. And the U.S. Navy failed to assure McClellan that they could protect operations on either the James or the York, so his plan of amphibiously enveloping Yorktown was abandoned, and he ordered an advance up the Peninsula to begin April 4. On April 5, McClellan learned that McDowell's corps would not be joining him at Fort Monroe. In addition to the pressure of Jackson's Valley Campaign, President Lincoln believed that McClellan had left insufficient force to guard Washington and that the general had been deceptive in his reporting of unit strengths, counting troops as ready to defend Washington when they were actually deployed elsewhere. McClellan protested that he was being forced to lead a major campaign without his promised resources, but he moved ahead anyway.

; Battle of Yorktown (April 5ndash May 4): The Union army advanced to Yorktown (site of the 1781 surrender of Lord Cornwallis to George Washington), where Magruder's 11–13,000 men had entrenched a line on both sides of the town and along the Warwick River, stretching almost completely across the Peninsula. McClellan decided to besiege Yorktown and spent almost a month assembling the heavy artillery and supplies he felt necessary for the task. Magruder, who was an amateur actor before the war, was able to fool McClellan by ostentatiously marching small numbers of troops past the same position multiple times, appearing to be a larger force. McClellan suspended the march up the Peninsula toward Richmond, ordered the construction of siege fortifications, and brought his heavy siege guns to the front. In the meantime, Johnston brought reinforcements for Magruder. On April 16, Union forces probed a weakness in the Confederate line at Lee's Mill or Dam No. 1. Failure to exploit the initial success of this attack, however, held up McClellan for two additional weeks, while he tried to convince the U.S. Navy to bypass the Confederates' big guns at Yorktown and Gloucester Point and ascend the York River to West Point, thus outflanking the Warwick Line. McClellan planned for a massive bombardment to begin at dawn on May 5, but the Confederate army slipped away during the night of May 3 toward Williamsburg. During McClellan's lengthy delay, caused in part by weather, logistical difficulties, and McClellan's apparent lack of nerve, Johnston had adequate time to redeploy his army in defense of Richmond. Elements of James Longstreet's wing, deployed as the rear guard for the withdrawal, occupied some of Magruder's entrenchments. On May 4, a minor skirmish occurred between the two armies. Stoneman's Union cavalry also skirmished with Jeb Stuart.

; Battle of Williamsburg (May 5): The first pitched battle of the campaign included nearly 41,000 Union men and 32,000 Confederates. McClellan was absent in the rear most of the day, and the operational command of the Union Army fell to Sumner, who employed only half of the army. Joseph Hooker's division encountered the Confederate rear guard near Williamsburg. Hooker assaulted Fort Magruder, an earthen fortification alongside the Williamsburg Road (from Yorktown), but was repulsed. Longstreet counterattacked and threatened to overwhelm the Union left flank, until Brig. Gen. Philip Kearny's brigade arrived to stabilize the Federal position. Brig. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock's brigade then moved to threaten the Confederate left flank, occupying two abandoned redoubts. The Confederates counterattacked unsuccessfully. Hancock's localized success was not exploited. The Confederate army continued its withdrawal during the night. Although the battle was essentially inconclusive—and a disappointment for the Union because it failed to destroy the much smaller force in front of it—McClellan cabled the War Department, claiming a victory.

; Battle of Eltham's Landing (or West Point) (May 7): McClellan's next plan was to move four divisions (Franklin's, Porter's, Sedgwick's, and Richardson's) one by one up the York River to Eltham's Landing, near West Point, Virginia, cutting off Johnston's retreat up the Peninsula. Johnston learned of the movement and sent the division of G. W. Smith to intercept Franklin, the first division to land. Smith won a tactical victory over Franklin in a heavy skirmish, dissuading McClellan from any further amphibious movements, despite the continued bad road conditions in the direction of Richmond.

On May 9, the isolated Confederate force at Norfolk, facing the large Union force across Hampton Roads, evacuated the city and naval base. On May 11, the CSS "Virginia" was blown up to prevent its capture by the U.S. Navy. President Lincoln witnessed this part of the campaign, having arrived at Fort Monroe on May 6 in the company of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase on the Treasury Department's revenue cutter "Miami". Lincoln believed that the city of Norfolk was vulnerable and that control of the James was possible, but McClellan was too busy at the front to meet with the president. Exercising his direct powers as commander in chief, Lincoln ordering naval bombardments of Confederate batteries in the area on May 8 and set off in a small boat with his two Cabinet secretaries to conduct a personal reconnaissance on shore. Troops under the command of Maj. Gen. John E. Wool, the elderly commander of Fort Monroe, occupied Norfolk on May 10, encountering little resistance. [Sears, pp. 89-92.]

; Battle of Drewry's Bluff (May 15): With Yorktown in Union hands and "Virginia" scuttled, the James River was now open to Federal gunboats. On May 15, five gunboats of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, including the ironclads USS "Monitor" and USS "Galena", steamed up the James to test the defenses of Richmond. Upon reaching a bend in the river above Dutch Gap, about 7 river miles (11 km) from Richmond, the five gunboats encountered submerged obstacles and fire from the batteries of Fort Darling at Drewry's Bluff, which inflicted severe damage on the "Galena". The Confederate guns, situated 600 feet (180 m) above the river, were so high that the naval guns could not be elevated enough to engage them. The Navy suffered at least 14 dead and 13 wounded and was turned back. Commander John Rodgers of the "Galena" reported to McClellan that they would be able to land the Union troops within 10 miles (16 km) of the Confederate capital, but McClellan never took advantage of that ability during the campaign.

Denied his coveted approach to Richmond via the James River, McClellan established a supply base on the Pamunkey River (a navigable tributary of the York River) at White House Landing where the Richmond and York River Railroad extending to Richmond crossed the river. He commandeered the railroad, transporting steam locomotives and rolling stock to the site by barge.

Over the next three weeks. he edged cautiously toward Richmond. On May 18, he reorganized the Army of the Potomac in the field and promoted two major generals to corps command: Fitz John Porter to the new V Corps and William B. Franklin to the VI Corps. The army had 105,000 men in position northeast of the city, outnumbering Johnston's 60,000, but faulty intelligence from the detective Allan Pinkerton on McClellan's staff caused the general to believe that "he" was outnumbered two to one. Numerous skirmishes between the lines of the armies occurred from May 23 to May 26. Tensions were high in the city, particularly following the earlier sounds of the naval gun battle at Drewry's Bluff.

; Battle of Hanover Court House (May 27): As the Union Army drew towards the outer defenses of Richmond, it became divided by the Chickahominy River, weakening its ability to move troops back and forth along the front. On May 27, elements of Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter's V Corps extended north to protect the right flank of the Army of the Potomac. Porter's objective was to deal with a Confederate force near Hanover Court House, which threatened the avenue of approach for Union reinforcements under McDowell that were marching south from Fredericksburg. The smaller Confederate force, under Brig. Gen. Lawrence O'Bryan Branch, was defeated at Peake's Crossing after a disorganized fight. The Union victory was moot, however, for McDowell was recalled to Fredericksburg upon word of Banks's rout in the Shenandoah Valley at First Winchester. During the absence of Porter, McClellan was reluctant to move more of his troops south of the Chickahominy, making his left flank a more attractive target for Johnston.

; Battle of Seven Pines (or Fair Oaks) (May 31ndash June 1) : On May 31, Johnston attempted to capitalize on the Union Army's straddle of the rain-swollen Chickahominy River by attacking the two corps (Heintzelman's III Corps and Keyes's IV Corps) south of the river, leaving them isolated from the other three corps north of the river. The Confederate attack plan was complex and not well coordinated, resulting in misdirected movements and delayed attacks, but it succeeded in driving back the IV Corps and inflicting heavy casualties. Both sides fed more troops into the action, although the Confederates never achieved the concentrated mass necessary to prevail; of the thirteen brigades on their right flank, no more than four were engaged at once. Supported by the III Corps and John Sedgwick's division of Edwin V. Sumner's II Corps (which crossed the river on Sumner's initiative), the Federal position was finally stabilized before the IV Corps could be routed. Gen. Johnston was seriously wounded during the action, and command of the Army of Northern Virginia was assumed temporarily by G.W. Smith; Gen. Robert E. Lee soon assumed permanent command. On June 1, the Confederates renewed their assaults against the Federals who had brought up more reinforcements, but they made little headway. Both sides claimed victory with roughly equal casualties, but neither accomplished much in the battle. George B. McClellan's advance on Richmond was halted, and Johnston's army fell back into the Richmond defensive works.

Aftermath and the Seven Days

General McClellan chose to abandon his offensive operations, to lay siege and await reinforcements he had requested from President Lincoln. He never regained his strategic momentum (for his involvement in the entire war, in fact).

Lee used the month-long pause in McClellan's advance to fortify the defenses of Richmond and extend them south to the James River at Chaffin's Bluff. On the south side of the James River, defensive lines were built south to a point below Petersburg. The total length of the new defensive line was about 30 miles (50 km). To buy time to complete the new defensive line and prepare for an offensive, Lee repeated the tactic of making a small number of troops seem larger than they really were. McClellan was also unnerved by Jeb Stuart's audacious (but otherwise militarily pointless) cavalry ride completely around the Union army (June 13–June 15).

The second phase of the Peninsula Campaign took a negative turn for the Union when Lee launched fierce counterattacks just east of Richmond in the Seven Days Battles (June 25ndash July 1, 1862). Although none of these battles were significant Confederate tactical victories (and the Battle of Malvern Hill on the last day was a decisive Confederate defeat), the tenacity of Lee's attacks and the sudden appearance of Stonewall Jackson's "foot cavalry" on his western flank unnerved McClellan, who pulled his forces back to a base on the James River. Lincoln later ordered the army to return to the Washington, D.C., area to support General John Pope's army in the Northern Virginia Campaign and the Second Battle of Bull Run. The Virginia Peninsula was relatively quiet until May 1864, when Benjamin Butler again invaded as part of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.

See also

* Richmond National Battlefield Park
* Union Army Balloon Corps


* Bailey, Ronald H. and the Editors of Time-Life Books, "Forward to Richmond: McClellan's Peninsular Campaign", Time-Life Books, 1983, ISBN 0-8094-4720-7.
* Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., "Civil War High Commands", Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
* Eicher, David J., "The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War", Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
* Esposito, Vincent J., [ "West Point Atlas of American Wars"] , Frederick A. Praeger, 1959.
* Sears, Stephen W., "To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign", Ticknor and Fields, 1992, ISBN 0-89919-790-6.
* [ National Park Service battle descriptions]


External links

* [ Animated History of The Peninsula Campaign]
* [ 1862 Peninsula Campaign]
* [,app,brum,detr,swann,look,gottscho,pan,horyd,genthe,var,cai,cd,hh,yan,bbcards,lomax,ils,prok,brhc,nclc,matpc,:@FIELD(SUBJ+@band(++Peninsular+Campaign,+1862++)) Photographs of the Peninsular Campaign]
* [ Stuart's Ride around McClellan]
* [ "West Point Atlas" map of Peninsular Campaign]
* [ National Park Service Richmond National Battlefield Park]
* [ Map of modern battlefield sites]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Avalon Peninsula Campaign — v · King Wi …   Wikipedia

  • Huon Peninsula campaign — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Huon Peninsula campaign partof=World War II, Pacific War caption=A Matilda tank, named Clincher , from the Australian 4th Armoured Brigade, moves towards Japanese strong points near Finschhafen, on November 9,… …   Wikipedia

  • Campaign — Pays  Royaume Uni Langue Anglais Genre Histoire militair …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Peninsula Extension — The Peninsula Extension of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway led to Hampton Roads at Newport News, Virginia where West Virginia coal was loaded aboard colliers and shipped worldwide. The Peninsula Extension which created the Peninsula Subdivision… …   Wikipedia

  • Campaign history of the Roman military — This article is part of the series on: Military of ancient Rome (portal) 753 BC – AD 476 Structural history Roman army (unit types and ranks …   Wikipedia

  • Northern Virginia Campaign — Part of the American Civil War …   Wikipedia

  • Valley Campaign — The Valley Campaign was Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson s brilliant spring 1862 campaign through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia during the American Civil War. Employing audacity and lightning movements, Jackson s 17,000 men… …   Wikipedia

  • Vicksburg Campaign — Lithograph of the Mississippi River Squadron running the Confederate blockade at Vicksburg on April 16, 1863 …   Wikipedia

  • Maryland Campaign — George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee, commanding generals of the Maryland Campaign …   Wikipedia

  • Salamaua–Lae campaign — Salamaua Lae campaign Part of World War II, Pacific War A U.S. Army Air Forces B 24 Liberator bomber, flying over explosions on …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.