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Yorktown: up the Peninsula

Henry W. Elson

Guns marked “Gen. Magruder, Yorktown” in the positions where they defied McClellan's army a month


The superfluous siege The Mortar Battery that Never Fired a Shot. By his much heralded Peninsula Campaign, McClellan had planned to end the war in a few days. He landed with his Army of the Potomac at Fortress Monroe, in April, 1862, intending to sweep up the peninsula between the York and James rivers, seize Richmond at one stroke, and scatter the routed Confederate army into the Southwest. At Yorktown, he was opposed by a line of fortifications that sheltered a force much inferior in strength to his own. For a whole month McClellan devoted all the energies of his entire army to a systematic siege. Its useless elaboration is well illustrated by Battery No. 4, one of fifteen batteries planted to the south and southeast of Yorktown. The ten monster 13-inch siege mortars, the complement of No. 4, had just been placed in position and were almost ready for action. It was planned to have them drop shells on the Confederate works, a mile and a half distant. Just a day before this could be done, Yorktown was evacuated, May 4, 1862.


The elaborate defenses Advanced Section, Three Mortars of Union Battery, No. 4. Looking due north and showing the same three mortars pictured in the preceding views. The photograph shows (1) the stockade built above the excavations as a protection from attack by Confederate infantry; (2) the ammunition that would have been used the next day if the Confederates had not evacuated, and (3) the temporary bridge crossing the narrow branch that runs into a northern arm of Wormley's Creek at this point. By this bridge communication was held with the batteries to the west. The heavy stockade was intended to forestall any attempt of the Confederate infantry to rush the battery. The mortars shown in this photograph are 13-inch sea-coast mortars and exceeded in weight any guns previously placed in siege batteries. The first of these mortars was landed at daybreak on April 27th and the whole battery was ready to open bombardment in a week's time.

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George Brinton McClellan (3)
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