previous next

5% of the text is displayed below. If you wish to view the entire text, please click here


IV. the Peninsular campaign. March—August, 1862.

I. Before Yorktown.

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 [100] no fewer than four hundred steamers and sailing-craft, and that upon them had been transported from Alexandria and Washington 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—afterwards Kearney'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. General McClellan 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 and Pamunkey, which [101] unite at West Point. Richmond, 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 and Smith) formed the left; and General Heintzelman with the Third Corps (divisions of Fitz-John Porter and Hamilton, 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

Sketch of the lines of Yorktown.

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 [102] 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. Warwick River, 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 towards Richmond, 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 [103] 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, Johnston 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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Yorktown (Virginia, United States) (48)
Williamsburg (Virginia, United States) (32)
Jackson (Mississippi, United States) (17)
York (Virginia, United States) (13)
Chickahominy (Virginia, United States) (13)
White Oak Swamp (Virginia, United States) (10)
Fredericksburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (8)
Fortress Monroe (Virginia, United States) (8)
Strasburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (7)
Malvern Hill (Virginia, United States) (6)
West Point (Virginia, United States) (5)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (5)
Port Republic (Virginia, United States) (5)
Gloucester Point (Virginia, United States) (5)
Norfolk (Virginia, United States) (4)
Harper's Ferry (West Virginia, United States) (3)
Front Royal (Virginia, United States) (3)
Charles City (Virginia, United States) (3)
Warwick (Virginia, United States) (2)
Virginia (Virginia, United States) (2)
Rochambeau Village (Virginia, United States) (2)
Quaker (West Virginia, United States) (2)
Mulberry Island (Virginia, United States) (2)
Glendale, Va. (Virginia, United States) (2)
Gaines Mill (Virginia, United States) (2)
Beaver Dam (Wisconsin, United States) (2)
Ashland (Virginia, United States) (2)
West Virginia (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Vermont (Vermont, United States) (1)
United States (United States) (1)
Turin (Italy) (1)
South Carolina (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Shipping Point, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Shenandoah county (Virginia, United States) (1)
Port Royal, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Petersburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Pamunkey (Virginia, United States) (1)
New Cold Harbor (Virginia, United States) (1)
Napoleon (Ohio, United States) (1)
Marlboro, Mass. (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Louisiana (Louisiana, United States) (1)
Hampton Roads (Virginia, United States) (1)
Halltown (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Fort Hamilton (Ohio, United States) (1)
England (United Kingdom) (1)
Chesapeake Bay (United States) (1)
Boulogne (France) (1)
Berwick City (Louisiana, United States) (1)
Austria (Austria) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
George B. McClellan (78)
Stonewall Jackson (48)
J. E. Johnston (41)
Robert E. Lee (39)
Irvin McDowell (37)
Sumner (34)
Longstreet (31)
Fitz-John Porter (26)
D. H. Hill (23)
J. B. Magruder (21)
A. Hooker (21)
Couch (17)
Huger (16)
Heintzelman (15)
Winfield Scott Hancock (15)
Fremont (15)
Casey (13)
Banks (13)
McCall (11)
Keyes (11)
A. P. Hill (11)
W. B. Franklin (11)
Warrenton Ewell (11)
Kearney (10)
G. W. Smith (9)
Shields (9)
Whiting (7)
W. F. Smith (7)
Abraham Lincoln (6)
C. Smith (5)
John Sedgwick (5)
Naglee (5)
Hood (5)
Stoneman (4)
Richardson (4)
Napoleon (4)
Milroy (4)
Barnard (4)
J. E. B. Stuart (3)
Slocum (3)
Seymour (3)
Reynolds (3)
Operations (3)
Morell (3)
Edward Johnson (3)
Berry (3)
Wessel (2)
Webber (2)
Turenne (2)
Sykes (2)
Randall (2)
Pickett (2)
Peck (2)
Moreau (2)
Montholon (2)
Meagher (2)
G. G. Meade (2)
Mc-Clellan (2)
Gorman (2)
Goldsborough (2)
B. F. Davis (2)
Davidson (2)
R. B. Ayres (2)
Averill (2)
Xenophon (1)
Wool (1)
Warwick (1)
Valkenberg (1)
R. O. Tyler (1)
Tucker (1)
J. C. Tidball (1)
Ten Thousand (1)
E. Thomas (1)
Tatnall (1)
Spinola (1)
Sinter (1)
Simmons (1)
Sickles (1)
Schenck (1)
Schalk (1)
Rosecrans (1)
Rodgers (1)
Rodes (1)
Robertson (1)
Rey (1)
Official Records (1)
Ramsay (1)
Rains (1)
Pryor (1)
Pendleton (1)
Patterson (1)
B. Part (1)
Parrott (1)
Palmer (1)
William Napier (1)
Merrimac (1)
McDougall (1)
Lisle (1)
Law (1)
Kirby (1)
Kingsbury (1)
Kim (1)
Kern (1)
Kenly (1)
Joinville (1)
Jameson (1)
H. J. Hunt (1)
Hudson (1)
H. Hill (1)
Hamilton (1)
Charles Griffin (1)
U. S. Grant (1)
Frazier (1)
Fabius (1)
Early (1)
Dietrich (1)
Devin (1)
Jefferson Davis (1)
Dana (1)
Crowen (1)
Cooper (1)
Philip St. George Cook (1)
Clellan (1)
Chevy Chase (1)
Carnot (1)
Caldwell (1)
Branch (1)
J. J. Bartlett (1)
Barry (1)
G. D. Bailey (1)
Armistead (1)
R. H. Anderson (1)
Allen (1)
Alison (1)
Alexander (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1864 AD (5)
30th (5)
June 26th (3)
June 1st (3)
29th (3)
1862 AD (2)
July 1st (2)
June 7th (2)
May 30th (2)
May 28th (2)
May 20th (2)
May 4th (2)
April 5th (2)
31st (2)
27th (2)
25th (2)
24th (2)
March, 1864 AD (1)
1863 AD (1)
August, 1862 AD (1)
April 4th, 1862 AD (1)
1805 AD (1)
1675 AD (1)
July 8th (1)
June 28th (1)
June 17th (1)
June 5th (1)
June 2nd (1)
June (1)
May 26th (1)
May 25th (1)
May 24th (1)
May 16th (1)
May 14th (1)
May 10th (1)
May 7th (1)
May 6th (1)
May 3rd (1)
April 30th (1)
April 22nd (1)
April 4th (1)
April 2nd (1)
March 27th (1)
March 17th (1)
February 27th (1)
26th (1)
22nd (1)
18th (1)
16th (1)
6th (1)
4th (1)
1st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: