Peninsular campaign

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Peninsular campaign,

in the American Civil War, the unsuccessful Union attempt (Apr.–July, 1862) to capture Richmond, Va., by way of the peninsula between the York and James rivers.

The Plan

Early in 1862, Gen. George B. McClellanMcClellan, George Brinton,
1826–85, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Philadelphia. After graduating (1846) from West Point, he served with distinction in the Mexican War and later worked on various engineering projects, notably on the survey (1853–54) for
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, who had kept the Army of the Potomac inactive through the winter, proposed a plan for transporting his troops by sea to Urbana, near the mouth of the Rappahannock River, and from there advancing on Richmond. This plan was soon rendered unfeasible by the advance of the Confederate army under Joseph E. JohnstonJohnston, Joseph Eggleston,
1807–91, Confederate general, b. Prince Edward co., Va., grad. West Point, 1829. He served against the Seminole in Florida and with distinction under Winfield Scott in the Mexican War.
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 to the Rappahannock, so McClellan chose Fort Monroe (at the tip of the peninsula between the York and James rivers) as the debarkation point for his offensive. President Lincoln, who preferred an overland advance, reluctantly agreed to McClellan's plan, provided that a force was left behind to protect Washington. The 1st Corps, under Irvin McDowellMcDowell, Irvin,
1818–85, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Columbus, Ohio. He taught at West Point (1841–45) and was made captain for his service in the Mexican War.
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, was detached from the Army of the Potomac for that purpose.

Evacuation of Yorktown

Early in Apr., 1862, McClellan had about 100,000 men at Fort Monroe. Instead of trying to break through the Confederate line across the peninsula, he prepared to besiege Yorktown, the strongest point in the line. General Johnston evacuated Yorktown (May 3) just as McClellan had completed his preparations. An indecisive, though severely contested, rear-guard action was fought at Williamsburg (May 5) as the Confederates retired toward Richmond. The evacuation of Yorktown opened up the York River to the Union fleet, and on May 16, McClellan established his base at White House Landing (c.20 mi/32 km east of Richmond) on the Pamunkey River.

Union Advance and Jackson's Diversion

At the same time as Yorktown, the Union advance into the interior forced the Confederates to abandon Norfolk (May 10) and to scuttle their formidable ironclad, the Virginia (see Monitor and MerrimackMonitor and Merrimack,
two American warships that fought the first engagement between ironclad ships. When, at the beginning of the Civil War, the Union forces abandoned the Norfolk Navy Yard at Portsmouth, Va., they scuttled the powerful steam frigate Merrimack.
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), thus opening up the James as far as Drewry's Bluff (9 m/14 km south of Richmond), where Confederate batteries repulsed them on May 15. McClellan soon had his army encamped on both sides of the Chickahominy River near Richmond: the 3d and 4th corps were on the south side; the 2d, 5th, and 6th on the north. Irvin McDowell's corps (now called the Army of the Rappahannock) was to march south from its position near Fredericksburg and unite with the right wing north of the Chickahominy. McClellan would then move against the inferior forces of Johnston. However, the brilliant campaign of Thomas (Stonewall) JacksonJackson, Stonewall
(Thomas Jonathan Jackson), 1824–63, Confederate general, b. Clarksburg, Va. (now W.Va.), grad. West Point, 1846. Like a Stone Wall
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 in the Shenandoah Valley caused the diversion of McDowellMcDowell, Irvin,
1818–85, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Columbus, Ohio. He taught at West Point (1841–45) and was made captain for his service in the Mexican War.
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's corps from the army threatening Richmond.

The End of the Campaign

Late in May heavy rains swelled the Chickahominy so that communication between the two wings of McClellan's army became precarious. On May 31, Johnston moved against the left wing (on the south side of the river), where the lines extended to Fair Oaks, a railroad station c.6 mi (9 km) east of Richmond. In the ensuing battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines (May 31–June 1, 1862), the Confederate attack, led by James LongstreetLongstreet, James,
1821–1904, Confederate general in the American Civil War, b. Edgefield District, S.C. He graduated (1842) from West Point and served in the Mexican War, reaching the rank of major. At the outbreak of the Civil War he resigned from the U.S.
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, was badly executed. With the help of some divisions of the 2d corps, which managed to cross the river, the Union left wing held its ground. Johnston, severely wounded on May 31, was succeeded on June 1 by Gen. Robert E. LeeLee, Robert Edward,
1807–70, general in chief of the Confederate armies in the American Civil War, b. Jan. 19, 1807, at Stratford, Westmoreland co., Va.; son of Henry ("Light-Horse Harry") Lee.
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, who withdrew the Army of Northern Virginia to Richmond. Lee's subsequent counteroffensive in the Seven Days battlesSeven Days battles,
in the American Civil War, the week-long Confederate counter-offensive (June 26–July 2, 1862) near Richmond, Va., that ended the Peninsular campaign. After the battle of Fair Oaks the Union general George B.
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 led to McClellan's withdrawal and the close of the campaign. Union forces did not again come so close to Richmond until 1864.


See study by J. P. Cullen (1973).

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