McCLELLAN'S PENINSULA CAMPAIGN
In the spring of 1862 the historic peninsula was again the scene of war, on a scale far greater, but with results of little consequence compared with those which have been briefly narrated. Dissatisfied with the conduct of offensive operations, President Lincoln on the 8th March, 1862, in General War Order No. 2, divided the Army of the Potomac into four army corps, and in accordance with the previously expressed wishes of McClellan, then in command, ordered an advance upon Richmond by way of the Chesapeake. The troops were embarked at Alexandria and moved to Fortress Monroe, at which place Heintzelman's corps was landed on the 23d day of March. Other detachments followed, and McClellan, leaving Washington on the 1 st April, arrived at Fortress Monroe the following day. There has always been a dispute as to the number of men under his immediate command. The returns showed that on the 7th April the entire force on the peninsula amounted to 105,000 men, but General McClellan declared that at that very date 85,000 was the extent of his force, all counted. The discrepancy may be accounted for by absences upon furloughs, and perhaps some irregularities in the manner of keeping the muster rolls of a force, made up of various material, by inexperienced adjutants and company officers, each desirous of appearing at his best on the field return. Historians of the campaign assert that little could be learned of the topography of the country at Fortress Monroe, and that it had to be gained by' experience. The numerous French and American maps of the campaign of 1781, which have recently been published, would have supplied much of the necessary information.
The army was put in immediate motion against the Confederate works at various points between Fortress Monroe and Yorktown. Heintzelman, who led the advance, arrived before Yorktown on the afternoon of April the 5'h. Heavy rains impeded the operations, and the artillery could only be moved over corduroy roads constructed for the purpose. McClellan, considering his force insufficient to take by assault the Confederate lines, which were held by Magruder with ten thousand men, resorted to regular approaches. The object of the Confederates being attained by the delay, they evacuated the positions on the 3d and and 4th May, and fell back towards Richmond, which in the month which elapsed had been materially strengthened. McClellan entered Yorktown early on Sunday morning, the 4th May. The retreating forces of the Confederates were found to have taken the direct road to Williamsburg, at the neck of the peninsula. Following in pursuit, the Union troops were stopped at the fork of the road, which crossed Warwick river at Lee's Mills with the main road from Yorktown to that place, where a strong bastioned earthwork, flanked by a redoubt and protected by abattis, stretched across the dry land between two swamps covering the flanks, enabled the Confederates to offer a serious resistance. The battle which ensued was fought by the Union generals as they arrived without any concerted plan or direction, but resulted in the capture of the position, where the army was halted. Notwithstanding the advantage which the control of the York river gave the Union commanders, the terrible condition of the roads impeded every movement. A depot of supplies was established at the White House, on the right bank of the Pamunky river, near West Point, and railroad communication was opened with the Chickahominy. Meanwhile General Wool led an expedition from Fortress Monroe, which on the 10th May captured Norfolk, and recovered this the naval station of the Southern coast. The batteries on the James river were now abandoned, and the Union gunboats pushed their way by the 14th May to Drewry's Bluff, within ten miles of Richmond, where the Confederates concentrated their entire force. On the 15th May McClellan brought his army corps together on the great plain of Cumberland, on the south bank of the Pamunky, where an encampment, which covered an extent of twenty miles, was made.
On Monday, the 19th, the army again moved, the left wing with the corps of Keyes and Heintzelman leading, toward Bottom's bridge on the Chickahominy. Sumner marched on the line of the railroad with the centre, while Franklin and Porter led the right in a northwesterly direction. Stoneman with his cavalry crossed the Chickahominy bridge without opposition. On the 20th the centre and left reached the river at this point, and the day after the right went into camp at Coal Harbor, and McClellan established his headquarters at New Bridge. On the 25 th the left was across the Chickahominy, near Seven Oaks, and the right was advanced to Mechanicsville, about five miles from Richmond, where Casey held the front. The swampy condition of the bottom lands, subject to sudden inundations, compelled the construction of numerous bridges and log-ways. On the 26th McClellan issued a general order directing the army to hold itself in readiness for instant battle. To prevent a concentration of the Union troops about Richmond, Jackson was dispatched to the northward to create a diversion by threatening the security of Washington, a movement in which he entirely succeeded. In his absence Johnston, who was in command at Richmond, assaulted the Union position at the Seven Pines or Fair Oaks, crushed Casey's corps and rolled it back upon Couch's division, which was in turn thrown into disorder, and endeavored to cut off the left wing by passing between Bottom's bridge and Savages' Station, which they would have accomplished but for the prompt energy of Sumner. The Confederates were routed; night closed the contest. The next morning, Sunday, the 1st of June, the Confederates renewed the attack, but were again repulsed before noon. The loss was heavy on both sides, the Union army losing five thousand and the Confederates eight thousand men. There was now a lull in the operations, McClellan waiting for the river to fall. General Albert Sydney Johnson having been severely wounded, General Robert E. Lee took command of the Confederate army.
On the 12th of June a dashing raid was made by General J. E. B. Stuart with fifteen hundred cavalry, who turned the Union lines, and destroyed the track and stations on the York River Railroad. Halting till midnight at New Kent Court House, he crossed the Chickahominy before morning near Forge bridge, and reached the Confederate lines in safety near White Oak Swamp. This daring expedition exposed to McClellan the dangers of his situation, which was now also exposed to an attack upon his base of supplies at the White House. A forward movement was resolved upon, and on the 25th June, Heintzelman, who was in the advance at Fair Oaks, moved forward, and after a sharp skirmish, in which Hooker's division took the principal part, gained the open ground beyond the swamps, in which the corps had lain. Meanwhile news was received of Jackson's approach from his victorious diversion, and McClellan resolved to change his base to the James River. Before his plans were completed the Confederates renewed the offensive. Moving in separate columns, Longstreet in command, on the afternoon of the 20th of June they crossed the river near Mechanicsville and Meadow Bridge, and fell upon McCall, who was entrenched along the road at Beaver Dam Creek, but they were repulsed with great slaughter, losing between three and four thousand men. Jackson, crossing the Beaver Dam Creek above and turning the Union position, rendered it untenable. McClellan was now compelled to choose between one of three plans: to cross the Chickahominy and fight a general engagement on the north bank, to concentrate his troops on the south bank and march directly upon Richmond, or to change his base to the James River, about seventeen miles distant. The last was decided upon; on the night of the 26th June the heavy guns and stores were retired, and the next day put in motion over the single road to the James. The White House was evacuated, Stoneman removing the stores, after which he fell back upon Yorktown. To cover the change of base Porter was compelled to hold the north bank of the Chickahominy, where he was attacked by Hill, who led the advance of Lee's column, in the early afternoon of the 27th. Porter's troops held their ground firmly, and the attack was repulsed. Longstreet in turn assaulted the left of the Union position, and, Jackson coming up to his support, a general attack was made along the entire Union line, which had been reinforced by Slocum's division only; a severe action ensued, which night again alone closed. Of this juncture, Swinton, the historian of this campaign, remarks: "And thus it happened, that while on the north side of the Chickahominy 30,000 Union troops were being assailed by 70,000 Confederates, 25,000 Confederates on the south side held in check 60,000 Union troops."
In the night McClellan withdrew his right wing across the river and concentrated his entire force on its right bank, and the movement to the southward was begun with order and precision. Lee does not seem to have apprehended McClellan's purpose, and only began pursuit of the retiring army on the morning of the 29th June, when he moved in two columns, one under Jackson by the White Oak Swamp, and the other under Longstreet by the river road, on the bank of the James, to intercept the retreat. The destruction of the bridge and the fire of the Union batteries prevented a junction of these corps, and Longstreet was obliged to fight the battle of Glendale, or Turkey Bridge, alone. McCall's position was defended by heavy artillery, and could not be forced. Night again closed the contest. This repulse baffled the effort of the Confederates to seize the river road, and enabled McClellan, after his last trains had reached Haxall's landing, to withdraw his forces and take the strong position on Malvern Hill, the same that Lafayette had held in his campaign against Cornwallis in the summer of 1781. Here the artillery was massed and supported by the entire Union force on the line of heights. The position was impregnable, and an assault made by Magruder was repulsed with fearful slaughter. An old cannoneer of the regular "service, one of those who received a medal for his bravery at Fort Sumter, said that he saw five regimental flags go down before one fire from the battery which he served on Malvern Hill. Such was the demoralization of the Confederates after this repulse, that, it is said, the Union army could have followed their retreat to Richmond, with every probability of capturing the city. Thus terminated the memorable retreat and the series of engagements known as the Seven Days' Battles, in which were alike conspicuous the dashing valor of the Southern and the grim tenacity of the Northern troops. The South, though inferior in numbers, had, in the first year of the war, the advantage of entire homogeneity and perfect accord, and were officered by men accustomed to command. The losses are computed to have reached on the Union side 15,000, and on that of the Confederates 19,000. This, however, was nothing compared with the mortality caused by the protracted stay in the poisonous swamps of the Chickahominy. The purpose of the campaign was frustrated, and although McClellan strongly urged the sending of reinforcements, to enable him to renew the attack upon Richmond by way of Petersburg—a movement which the judgment of military critics approved, and subsequent results have justified—such was the discontent of the administration, that he was ordered, on the 3d of August, to withdraw from the peninsula. Leaving Harrison's Landing, the army marched to Williamsburg and Yorktown, and on the 20th August were embarked for Acquia Creek, about forty miles from Washington, on the Potomac. The line of attack by the Peninsula was now abandoned and not again resumed until General Grant made Petersburg his objective point in 1864.
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