the Peninsular campaign.
To take up an army of over one hundred thousand men, transport it and all its immense material by water, and plant it down on a new theatre of operations near two hundred miles distant, is an enterprise the details of which must be studied ere its colossal magnitude can be adequately apprehended.1
It was an undertaking eminently characteristic of the American
genius, and of a people distinguished above all others for the ease with which it executes great material enterprises— a people rich in resources and in the faculty of creating resources.
Yet, when one reflects that at the time the order was given to provide transportation for the Army to the Peninsula
, which was the 27th of February, this had first of all to be created;
and when one learns that in a little over a month from that date there had been chartered and assembled
no fewer than four hundred steamers and sailing-craft, and that upon them had been transported from Alexandria
to Fortress Monroe
an army of one hundred and twenty-one thousand five hundred men, fourteen thousand five hundred and ninety-two animals, forty-four batteries, and the wagons and ambulances, ponton-trains, telegraph materials, and enormous equipage required for an army of such magnitude, and that all this was done with the loss of but eight mules and nine barges (the cargoes of which were saved), an intelligent verdict must certainly second the assertion of the Assistant Secretary of War
, Mr. Tucker
, whose administrative talent, in concert with General McClellan
, directed this vast undertaking, that ‘for economy and celerity of movement, this expedition is without a parallel on record.’
A European critic calls it ‘the stride of a giant’— and it well deserves that blazon.
The van of the grand army was led by Hamilton
's—division of the Third Corps (Heintzelman
's), which embarked for Fortress Monroe
on the 17th of March.
It was followed by Porter
's division on the 22d, and the other divisions took their departure as rapidly as transports could be supplied.
reached Fortress Monroe
on the 2d of April, and by that time there had arrived five divisions of infantry, three regiments of cavalry, the artillery division, and artillery reserve—making in all fifty-eight thousand men and one hundred guns.
This force was at once put in motion in the direction of Yorktown
, in front of which the remainder of the army joined as it arrived.
The region known as ‘the Peninsula
,’ on which the army thus found itself planted, is an isthmus formed by the York
and the James rivers
, which rising in the heart of Virginia
, and running in a southeasterly direction, empty into Chesapeake Bay
It is from seven to fifteen miles wide and fifty miles long.
The country is low and flat, in some places marshy, and generally wooded.
The York River
is formed by the confluence of the Mattapony
unite at West Point
, the objective of the operations of the Army of the Potomac, is on the left bank of the James
, at the head of navigation, and by land is distant seventy-five miles from Fortress Monroe
From Fortress Monroe
the advance was made in two columns—General Keyes
with the Fourth Corps (divisions of Couch
) formed the left; and General Heintzelman
with the Third Corps (divisions of Fitz-John Porter
, with Averill
's cavalry) and Sedgwick
's division of the Second Corps, the right.
At the very outset the roads were found nearly impracticable, the season being unusually wet. No resistance of moment was met on the march; but on the afternoon of the 5th of April the advance of each
column was brought to a halt—the right in front of Yorktown
and the left by the enemy's works at Lee's Mill
These obstructions formed part of the general defensive line of
the Warwick River
, which General Magruder
had taken up, and which stretched across the isthmus from the York
to the James
, an extent of thirteen and a half miles. The Confederate left was formed by the fort at Yorktown
, the water batteries of which, with the guns at Gloucester Point
, on the opposite bank of the York
, barred the passage of that river; the right, by the works on Mulberry Island
, which were prolonged to the James
, running nearly across the Peninsula
from river to river, and emptying into the James
, heads within a mile of Yorktown
Its sources were commanded by the guns of that fort, and its fords had been destroyed by dams defended by detached redoubts, the approaches to which were through dense forests and swamps.
Very imperfect or inaccurate information existed regarding the topography of the country at the time of the arrival of the army, and the true character of the position had to be developed by reconnoissances made under fire.
The Confederate defence of the peninsular approach to Richmond
had, almost since, the beginning of the war, been committed to a small force, named the Army of the Peninsula, under General Magruder
When the Army of the Potomac landed at Fortress Monroe
, this force numbered about eleven thousand men. At Norfolk
was an independent body of about eight thousand men under General Huger
The iron-plated Merrimac
, mistress of Hampton Roads
, barred the mouth of the James
, the direct water-line to Richmond
So soon as his antagonist's movement had become fully developed, General Johnston
put his army in motion from the Rapidan
, where for a time he kept it in hand.
The Confederate leader did not expect to hold the Peninsula
; for both he and General Lee
, who then held the position of chief of staff to Mr. Davis
, pronounced it untenable.
Soon after the advent of the Union
army, General Johnston
went down to Yorktown
, examined its line of defences, and urged the military authorities at Richmond
to withdraw the force from the Peninsula
Assuming that the Federal
commander would, with the aid of the navy, reduce
the fort at Yorktown
, thus opening up the York River
, and, by means of his numerous fleet of transports, pass rapidly to the head of the Peninsula
regarded the capture of any force remaining thereon as almost certain.
The works at Yorktown
he found very defective (though the position was naturally strong); for, owing to the paucity of engineers, resulting from the employment of so many of this class of officers in other arms, they had been constructed under the direction of civil and railroad engineers.
In this state of facts, General Johnston
wished to withdraw every thing from the Peninsula
, effect a general concentration of all available forces around Richmond
, and there deliver decisive battle.2
These views were, however, overruled, and it was determined to hold Yorktown
at least until Huger
should have dismantled the fortifications at Norfolk
, destroyed the naval establishment, and evacuated the seaboard,—a step that was now felt to be a military necessity.
To carry out this policy, in view of which it was determined to hold the lines of Yorktown
as long as practicable, re-enforcements were from time to time sent forward from the army at Richmond
, and soon afterwards General Johnston
went down and personally took command.
In his plans for forcing the enemy's defences, there were two auxiliaries on which General McClellan
had confidently counted, and with these he expected to make short work of the operation of carrying Yorktown
The first of these auxiliaries was that of the navy, by the aid of whose powerful batteries he designed to reduce the strong place at