tv [untitled] April 5, 2012 12:00am-12:30am EDT
captioning performed by vitac sure this young man has the fortitude to fight. he's a good talker, but is he a fighter? in december of 1861 that progress that was being made was dealt quite a setback when mcclellan came down with a serious case of typhoid fever. and basically he was in bed for three weeks. during this time abe lincoln being constantly pounded by his cabinet and by the republicans decided, i better move on by myself if mcclellan is too sick to do so, so he invited all mcclellan's is you ord that generals up for a conversation. how would you defeat the confederates? doing so very effectively forced little mack's hand, so he got himself out of his sick bed in
january of 1862 and met with the president and the cabinet, laid out his plan for the capture of the confederate capital here in richmond and the defeat of the confederate forces defending richmond. he told them that his plan would involve defeating the enemy's capacity to make war and he would do so through the use of maneuver as opposed to costly headlong assaults against confederate bastions. the seizure of what was known as strategic points by the napoleonic scholars of the day would enable him to grab the initiative and force the confederates to respond to his initiatives. and what he laid out then was a giant flanking attack. not a headlong assault from washington right down the telegraph road along the line of richmond, fredericksburg railroad to richmond. no. no, he would go down the chesapeake bay after touching base at fortress monroe in hampton which never, ever surrendered to the confederates,
his plan was then to move up to the rappahannock and then move inland. cutting off joe johnston's forces up there around manassas and centreville. he said he'd need 140,000 soldiers to do that and obviously priority on navy assets to move them down through the bay to virginia. well, that concept troubled lincoln and his newly appointed secretary of war edwin stanton. it appeared to them that the army at the potomac could do a better job of protecting washington and defeating the confederate forces in virginia by attacking headlong into manassas and clean up those camps and then head south. by way of fredericksburg. or alternatively move southwest and cut that virginia central railroad line that was bringing
so much sustenance that was the breadbasket of the confederacy from the shenandoah valley to richmond. however, mcclellan was adamant. and as he very carefully, the second time he went back with his whole staff, engineers and so forth, he laid out that concept. then they reluctantly agreed to it. but although they did approve to his concept of this turning movement through the chesapeake bay, they insisted that before he remove his forces from washington, he agreed to leave enough forces there to defend washington in 1862, and that insistence on a garrison force, a defense force around the nation's capital would prove to be a recurring irritant between mcclellan in the field, the secretary of war, stanton, and the president throughout 1862. and he would not be the only
general to have that discussion with people in the washington area. before mack's plan go sailing down the chesapeake with all those soldiers to be put into place, however, abraham lincoln had one or two shots in his qui quiver to fire. in january of 1862, president lincoln issued general war order number one which mandated offensive action by all elements of the u.s. army and the u.s. navy by the end of february. he followed this up with a special war order number one requiring mcclellan to take the army of the potomac from washington, at least parts of it, and attack the clear manassas and centreville of all those confederate forces, again, by the end of february. mcclellan responded by ordering his western field commanders, general hallic at that point,
subordinates people like general grant to follow up on the successes in early february at ft.s henry and donaldson, move into eastern tennessee, move into the upper mississippi. he ordered segments of the army of potomac to move out to manassas, they would do so in early march. but in every case he urged caution, in other words, well to put it in modern army jargon, the current strategy goes like this, don't do nothing dumb. be careful of your flanks. tidy flanks would be important. not wanting to find himself isolated in northern virginia when joe johnston heard about all this activity especially the fact that there was going to be a major attempt to move down the chesapeake bay, he said i'm very vulnerable here, and as bob crip
pointed out, joe johnston had no ambition to attack washington. so he withdrew. and when he did withdraw his forces from manassas and centreville, he left mountains of supplies that he didn't have any way of moving out. those supplies were still burning on the 11th of march when the union forces just basically marched into centerville and manassas, unopposed, bacon, rations of all sorts, uniforms and perhaps most critical bales of newly constructed leather brogans. if you think of a confederate cause for concern for lee's army and every other army luthrougho the war, what particular piece of equipment might it be? shoes. in any case that was the problem that joe johnston had with his
commander in chief. mcclellan got in there and reported that they had seized manassas. crossing in the mail with two messages. i've got manassas. here comes another from the president. very good. by the way, i want you to reorganize your army. i want you to break it into four parts. i want you to create four army corps. oh, unless you have any concern, i want them named first, second, third, and fourth corps and these are the generals i want commanding them. they were not the men that mcclellan would have picked himself. the ones that were designated by the president were typically older, who spent most of their lives in the peacetime army. mcclellan would have preferred to see those men in action against a confederate force and then promote those that had done really well. but the president had already issued the order. it was a done deal. i should note, though, that within a few months mcclellan had created two more corps
within the army of the potomac, the fifth corps and the sixth corps and putting in command people he wanted in command, fit john porter and another protege william franklin in the sixth corps. a major change, of course, in mcclellan's personal status also came at this time. i told you he'd been commanding general of the whole army. he gets another order which he receives in manassas, you're no longer commanding general of the whole u.s. army, you are now commanding the army of the potomac, and the rational is we want you to concentrate on the job at hand, defeating the confederates down here in virginia. don't worry about the rest. we'll take care of it at the war department. secretary of war stanton will issue orders from the president. we do appreciate your opinion, general mcclellan. lincoln and secretary of war stanton also in that order specifying him as commander of
the army of the potomac, and before any order took place, he would be ordered to leave 40,000 troops in defense of the washington area. well, what about his plan? with the withdrawal of joe johnston's forces from the northernmost part of virginia, the initial concept that he had, move down the chesapeake bay, bump off of fortress monroe, head up the rappahannock to urbana and move inland probably wasn't going to work as well as he'd hoped it would. because he wasn't going to catch the confederates napping up in northern virginia. so, as i pointed out here, he comes up with a plan two, if you will. they will start the action at fortress monroe and they'll maneuver north from fortress monroe up the peninsula of virginia between the york and the james river as opposed to between the york and the rappahannock.
he was going to depend on the u.s. navy to make this work. as i pointed out here, flag officer louis goldsboro, we didn't have any admirals until flag officer farragut was appointed. kind of wishy-washy, the capacity to support mcclellan was in direct relationship it seems to how angry the confederates were along the riverbank. if they were shooting at the u.s. navy, the support was not as strong as if they were simply waving as the u.s. navy sailed by. the army of the potomac began to execute its movement to the river ports near washington and
baltimore in mid-march with the initial troop ships moving downriver toward the bay on the 17th of march. and this was no small undertaking, because, remember, at this time anything that was too heavy for a man to lift or pull or move had to be moved by a horse or a mule. and so thousands of horses and mules had to go at about the same time as the troops, because otherwise when you got them off the ships down here at fortress monroe, how would you move anything out of the landing area? it was very complex. very complex. and as mcclellan was moving his army out, he was being sniped at by the committee on the conduct of the war and other politicians from the radical republicans. he thought i think so a successful rear guard action with them and actually on the 1st of april, he himself got out of town. he arrived out at monroe on the 2nd of april within just a few days he began moving up the
peninsula toward yorktown. now here's where he had his first major shock in the field. part of his plan, a key part of his plan, was the movement of the first corps as designated by president lincoln under the command of general irving mcdowell, the unfortunate commander of union forces at first bull run. but mcdowell's first corps incidentally amounted to 40,000 men was up around fredericksburg. and what mcclellan had planned for mcdowell to do is march from fredericksburg almost due south and come in on the left or the northern flank of confederate forces defending the peninsula. imagine his shock when he got an order from washington telling him, no, you can't have mcdowell, you took too many troops out of washington. we're unsafe here. you can't have mcdowell because this fellow jackson that we read about, he's already attacked the
union force near kearnstown and no telling what he'll do next. he may sweep down the potomac and attack washington, we've got to keep him here. what this meant for mcclellan was not that they weren't going to attack to siege richmond, but they weren't going to be able to do it through strategical point maneuver, they'd have to rely more on a pounding, slow process starting at yorktown and he thought to bring along a siege artillery, so in early april his forces arrived near yorktown. the whole revolutionary war entrenchments now much improved by the confederates but lightly manned and began actual siege operations near yorktown that would last throughout the month of april. and while this was going on, mcclellan, being a thoroughly modern major general decided that he was going to use all the enhancements that technology could bring to him first off, he
hired professor thaddeus lowe to bring the balloon corps down to the area around fortress monroe and lowe's balloons began to rise on tethers with people on board looking to see what the confederates looked like around yorktown. and, by the way, they had a t e teleographer in the basket on the balloon sending word down on a copper line stretched down to the ground. and because of his experience on illinois central where you had hobos and people trying to get on the trains without paying, they had to use some pretty stout railroad detectives. one agency in chicago that he especially liked run by a fellow allen pinkerton, the pinkerton detective service, so he contracted with pinkerton to send some of his agents down to virginia and they were going to infiltrate confederate positions and bars and find out how many
troops the confederates really had defending richmond. well, while this is all going on, you got the balloons going up, you got pinkertons detectives with their bowler hat and their suits moving into richmond or dressing up as they said like rustics to infiltrate richmond's farmers markets, picking up info wherever they could, during this whole period in april, mcclellan's never out of touch with washington, because he's got the telegraph linking him through ft. monroe to field telegraphs and ft. monroe back up to washington. so, there's a steady stream of message traffic back and forth. sometimes that proved not to be a blessing for mcclellan. because even as he was able to send messages up saying i really need more troops, i really need more shells, i really need more horses, i really would like to have more mules, he's also
getting orders back like this one in mid-april from the president himself. you now have over 100,000 troops. i think you'd better break the enemy's line from yorktown to the river at once. the general in the field was a little miffed at this. he would write ellen that night saying, my dear, i was very attempted to tell the president that he should just come down here and do it himself. those of you that know about the active president lincoln know that he did come down to fortress monroe and did closely observe the recapture of norfolk just a month later. but even as the army of the potomac under mcclellan was preparing to make their final ground assault on about the 3rd of may at yorktown, general joe johnston who had now slipped from the area around fredericksburg, joe johnston knew and was advised by his generals and subordinates, we
can't hold this, we don't come close to have enough men to hold the peninsula, i think we better withdraw and take strong positions along defensible ground closer to richmond. so, joe johnston began to do what he became famous for doing, he began to retreat, in an orderly fashion. union troops moved in on the 4th of may and except for sick confederates and a few that, well, let's say they were not quite as enthusiastic about secession they'd had been earlier in the year. the kisses had been delivered. they already started getting letters from home, dear john, hope all is well with you in camp. just thought i should tell you, i met the very nicest fellow who is a clerk here in the war office. please don't write anymore. a few of those were leftover at yorktown but basically it was empty. mcclellan sends a message, i have seized yorktown and gets a
response from congress. unexpected but quite welcome. a res susion commending him for securing yorktown with but little sacrifice. so just for a moment, he had good relations once again with the largely republican congress. mcclellan then from yorktown sent general franklin with forces up the york river toward west point to seize an advanced logistical base and then he sent other forces out towards williamsburg on the 5th of may those forces collided with confederate rear guard, people like longstreet, hill. and all of the union army held the field at williamsburg at the end of the day as the sun was going down and mcclellan could send another dispatch to washington in which he says among all of my generals, hancock was superb. winfield scott hancock was
superb. giving hancock, of course, that hancock was superb that would last the rest of the war, all the generals north and south came out of that experience understanding that leading a troop of cavalry in texas in 1858 was a lot different than commanding a division of 6,000 soldiers all of whom are looking to you for guidance, inspiration, and development on the field at williamsburg. they all had a lot to learn. as the union forces followed up on that success at williamsburg and followed joe johnston's forces retreating up the peninsula, they encountered one of the rainiest months of may on record. and they struggled with maps, u.s. army topographic service maps that bore little if any relation to reality.
mcclellan received a note from colonel george stoneman whose cavalry found him at new kent courthouse on the 10th of may. solomon says, the map is wrong with regard that this road and every road! mcclellan then sent a telegram up to edwin stanton at the war department saying that he has absolutely no information in detail of the country to our front and we are trying to simply grope our way. please send ten topographical engineers to my headquarters right away. and my nominee as man of the year has been criticized for not moving faster up the peninsula. i want you to take just a second. take a look at this. he wasn't getting much help from the local population. union officers were already writing home about the confederate soldiers are not too much of a problem.
the confederate women are hard. they're difficult to deal with. they threw stones at us as we marched through williamsburg. think about this. no adequate roads. poor maps. awful weather. how could he have moved much faster? and yet despite all these challenges, by the end of may, they're just outside richmond. you've all heard the anecdote about being so close when the wind is coming from the west they could hear the church bells chiming the time in richmond. not altogether certain that's right. but they were pretty close. richmond airport, seven pines along the richmond york river railroad, the station there, fair oaks station, that was in union hands.
today we call it sandston. mechanicsville. the meadow bridges, they were all in union hands. by the end of may. and so joe johnston with his back to the wall so to speak said, look, i can't retreat any further. i'm at the last defensible terrain, i guess if i can't retreat, i'll just attack. so, on the 31st of may, he does just that. he attacks those federal forces that were in positions south of the river. assuming that those north of the river wouldn't be able to come to the assistance of that portion of the union army to the south. it was not a bad plan, but it was a complex plan and dealing with on-the-job training generals like pete longstreet who managed to get lost with a good segment of the attack force on the 31st of may, it really didn't go long for joe johnston, it took an even nastier turn
when he got blown off his horse badly injured. nevertheless the less the 1st of june the confederates continue to make assault but by this time the union force has been reinforced, bull sumner, edwin "bow" sumner comes down the grapevine bridge north of the river and reinforces the federals to the south and you have a pitched battle at what we call seven pines. probably the biggest single effect of this fight was one a lot more confederate soldiers and union soldiers learned about the difficulty of fighting in virginia. it didn't look anything like the paintings they had seen of the area. no. it's messy in virginia. and they learned how difficult it could be. and second and most important,
robert edward lee was appointed as commander of the confederate forces defending richmond, and it would be this general lee that would make some critical decisions. first he's going to improve the enforcement -- the entrenchments around richmond. second he's going to bring stonewall jackson's very effective but still rather small force from the shenandoah valley to reinforce the defenses of richmond, that he would send his young cavalry chief jeb stewart on a reconnaissance that two inform him as to the extent and location of the mcclellan's union forces and having done all that he initiated the series of pounding, direct, and very, very bloody assaults aimed at pushing the union forces away. on the 26th of june, beaver dam creek near mechanicsville, 27th of june gaines million.
29th of june, savages station. 30th of june, glendale. and finally, on the 1st of july, the terrible battle at malverne hill. in the course of one week the battle of the seven days, robert e. lee would lose 20,000 casualties. a fourth of his army. in doing so, he was somewhat disappointed that he didn't get the resounding victory that he'd planned for. he wrote his wife our success has not been as great or as complete as i could have desired, and in his official report to the confederate war department he stated under ordinary circumstances the federal army should have been destroyed. this is a word you see in lee's communications throughout the war, destroyed. oddly enough, it's that word that so frequently emanated from abraham lincoln, i want the
rebel army destroyed. not discouraged. destroyed! but the army of the potomac was not destroyed. in fact, it continued to be quite a potent force. and although they had suffered themselves nearly as many casualties as the confederates, 15,000, a distinguished historian that we just heard from in his marvelous book entitled "battle cry freedom" said that although mcclellan's men had fought with admirable courage during this week of battles, mcclellan was a whipped man mentally. following the extremely bloody battle at glendale on the 30th which confederate staff officer alexander said this was our
opportunity to destroy the army. but as bob crick reminded us, it was not really a good dayall jat to play and decided not to. the union general, mcclellan, after glendale, sent this message to the war department. notice the tone. i shall do my best to save the army. but we know that well before the battles of glendale and malverne hill, george mcclellan's conception of how victory could be won was badly shaken. in this larger context our noted historian once again provides his insights into the character of this general who was actually just too closely wedded to his
preconceived notions of how war should be fought. in a chapter with a marvelous title the historian writes, the failure of mcclellan's peninsula campaign was not alone a military failure. it represented also the downfall of the limited war for limited ends that mcclellan favored. from now on the north would fight not to preserve the old union but to destroy it and build a new one on its ashes. a concept so dear to men like mcclellan when eventually reconciliation some sort of gentleman's agreement was being washed away by increasing tides of blood, tens of thousands of casualties and millions of broken hearts. and, of course, it was some of mcclellan's old comrades from the old army who had presented mack and abraham lincoln with so many problems during those battles and oft repeated
anecdote had lincoln speaking with the tired now general winfield scott during a visit to the military academy at west point in the late spring of 1862. and lincoln is said to have asked this question -- general scott, why is it that you were once able to take the city of mexico in three months with just 5,000 men and we've been unable to take richmond with 100,000 men? i will tell you, relied general scott. the men who took us into mexico city are the same men who are keeping us out of richmond. as mcclellan withdrew down the james and occupied berkeley and