McClellan Launches Campaign in Southeastern Virginia
Gen. Magruder Bluffs Brig. Gen. Keyes, Union Forces Lay Siege to Yorktown
Confederate Army Stalls Yankees at Williamsburg
Union Establishes Staging Area at Eltham's Landing
Gen. Johnston Killed at the Seven Pines, Gen. Lee Takes Over Confederate Army
The Peninsula Campaign, launched by General George McClellan in the spring of 1862, was an attempt by the Union to end the Civil War quickly by capturing Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. McClellan devised the plan at the behest of President Abraham Lincoln, who wished to bring the hostilities to an end and restore peace to the country.
McClellan’s Army of the Potomac began the trip down the river into the Chesapeake Bay toward Fortress Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, arriving by early April. His army of 120,000 men began the trek to Richmond, but was bluffed into laying siege to Yorktown by General John Magruder. The only significant skirmish was at Dam No. 1 near Lee’s Mill. Magruder used his entrenchments along the Warwick River, along with theatrical tactics such as continuously marching men in circles, to convince the union generals that many more men defended the peninsula than were actually there. By the time the federal army was ready to attack in early May, the rebels had retreated to Williamsburg, where the rendezvoused with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Northern Virginia.
The Battle of Williamsburg was the first pitched battle of the campaign, with more than 75,000 men engaged. Though McClellan had claimed victory, the rebels used the delay to move further back to protect Richmond. At the same time, McClellan had sent General William B. Franklin up the York River with assistance from The Navy. Franklin’s troops arrived at Eltham’s Landing at fought a skirmish with the Confederates, eventually seizing the ground with the assistance of the navy’s guns. The victory gave McClellan a place from which to stage a final advance on Richmond.
The two armies eventually met east of Richmond near a small village called Seven Pines, along the banks of the Chickahominy River. McClellan had been slow to arrive at the site due to faulty intelligence and his own cautious nature. On May 31 the Army of Northern Virginia struck quickly when Johnston realized that the Army of the Potomac was split in two across the river. Johnston had only 60,000 men at his disposal, and felt that a quick offensive strike was better than waiting out a siege his army could not withstand. The ensuing battle lasted several days. The attack served to halt the Union advance upon Richmond, but Johnston was wounded and eventually died. He was succeeded by Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ military advisor, General Robert E. Lee. Lee would use McClellan’s natural reticence against him, eventually defeating the union at the battle of the Seven Days at the end of June. Lincoln recalled the Army of the Potomac to aid in campaigns in Northern Virginia.
The aftermath of the battle was the alleviation of the pressure on Richmond. The decisions made by McClellan lead Lincoln to begin to question the fighting spirit of his commander, a doubt that would lead to eventual removal after the battle of Antietam. Perhaps the most important result of the campaign was the promotion of Robert E. Lee to head of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee remains one of the most famous military tacticians in military history and one of the most daring generals of all time. His leadership would help stretch the war for another three years, and would almost result in a victory for the Confederacy.