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. McClellan, 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. Johnston 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 McDowell, 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 Merrimack), 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) Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley caused the diversion of McDowell'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 Longstreet, 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. Lee, who withdrew the Army of Northern Virginia to Richmond. Lee's subsequent counteroffensive in the Seven Days battles 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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PENINSULAR CAMPAIGN (1862), an advance against Richmond, began on 4 April 1862, when Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan departed from Fortress Monroe with his Union army of approximately 100,000 to attack the Confederate capital by way of the peninsula formed by the York and James Rivers. McClellan had counted on a larger force and aid from the navy on the James River. The administration withheld 45,000 troops to protect Washington, D.C., and the navy was unable to help because of the menace of the Merrimack and Confederate shore batteries.

The campaign unfolded in three phases. The early Union advance was marked by Confederate resistance behind entrenchments across the peninsula from Yorktown. On 5 April McClellan besieged Yorktown, which was evacuated on 3 May. He then pushed slowly forward, fighting at Williamsburg on 5 May, reaching and straddling the Chickahominy River on 20 May and facing a strengthened Confederate force under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.

Help expected from Union Gen. Irvin McDowell's 40,000 men was lost to McClellan in May when Confederate Gen. T. J. ("Stonewall") Jackson's Shenandoah Valley campaign scattered or immobilized the Union armies before Washington. The first phase of the campaign ended with the indecisive two-day Battle of Fair Oaks (or Battle of Seven Pines), 31 May and 1 June. Johnston was wounded on 1 June and Robert E. Lee succeeded to his command.

After Fair Oaks came the second phase, three weeks without fighting, marked by Confederate Gen. J. E. B. Stuart's spectacular cavalry raid around the Union army, from 11 to 13 June.

McClellan, reinforced, intended to retake the offensive, but Lee forestalled him and opened the third phase of the campaign by attacking the Union right at Mechanicsville on 26 June. This began the Seven Days' Battles, during which McClellan changed his base to the James River, fending off waves of Confederate attacks as the Union Army retreated to its base at Harrison's Landing. With the appointment on 11 July of Gen. Henry W. Halleck to command all land forces of the United States, the Army of the Potomac began its withdrawal from the peninsula.

Union casualties in the campaign were approximately 15,000, with 1,700 killed; Confederate losses were about 20,000, with 3,400 killed. The Union forces greatly outnumbered the Confederate at the start of the campaign; toward its close the opposing forces were nearly equal.


Catton, Bruce. The Army of the Potomac. Volume 1: Mr. Lincoln's Army. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday 1951.

Martin, David G. The Peninsula Campaign, March–July 1862. Conshohocken, Pa.: Combined Books, 1992.

Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1992.

Webb, Alexander Stewart. The Peninsula: McClellan's Campaign of 1862. New York: Scribners 1881.

Edwin H.Blanchard/a. r.

See alsoCivil War ; Seven Days' Battles .

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Peninsular Campaign (April–July 1862) Series of battles in the American Civil War resulting from the attempt by Union forces under George McClellan to take Richmond, Virginia, by advancing up the peninsula between the York and James rivers. The Confederates, under Joseph Johnston and later Robert E. Lee, checked the advance and after the Battle of Malvern Hill, McClellan was ordered to withdraw.

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Peninsular Campaign. See Seven Days' Battle (1862).

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