Army of the Potomac

views updated May 11 2018


ARMY OF THE POTOMAC. In 1861 the U.S. Congress created the Army of the Potomac to protect Washington, D.C., from advancing Confederate forces. The demoralization of the Union army after its defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run on 21 July left Washington undefended and might have proved disastrous had the Confederacy been able to take advantage of its opportunity to strike a fatal blow against the Union. To protect Washington, Congress authorized the Division of the Potomac on 25 July 1861 and placed General George B. McClellan in command two days later. The division's immediate purpose was to guard the approaches to the Potomac River and thus to protect the capital city from attack. McClellan fell heir to "a collection of undisciplined, ill officered, and uninstructed men," already demoralized by defeat. On 1 August there were only about 37,000 infantry in the ranks, and the terms of many regiments were expiring. Four months later, there were some 77,000 effectives available for active operations, aside from regiments on garrison and other duty. For the next year, Mc-Clellan would mold the ragtag division into a modern army.

McClellan's first job was to whip this heterogeneous mass of raw recruits into an effective fighting unit. The trainees came from all walks of life and every part of the country. Some were volunteers from foreign nations, and many could not speak English. McClellan was hampered by ineffectual generals appointed for political purposes, the officious meddling and machinations of government leaders, and his own temperament. Nevertheless, in a few months he built one of the most imposing armies in the nation's history and inspired it with a newfound spirit of loyalty.

Although McClellan was an effective military manager, his caution as field commander of the Army of the Potomac crippled the Union military effort early in the war. In April 1862 McClellan's army slowly marched into Virginia to try to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital. Yet, in the Seven Days' Battles of late June and early July, Confederate General Robert E. Lee drove Mc-Clellan's vast army into Maryland. On 17 September Lee's army fought McClellan's superior forces to a bloody stand still at the Battle of Antietam. Finally, on 5 November, President Abraham Lincoln, frustrated by McClellan's caution, relieved him of command and replaced him with General John Pope. For the next two years, Union forces were unable to subdue Lee's army in Virginia. Under the command of General George Meade, however, the Army of the Potomac defeated Lee's Confederate force at Gettysburg in July 1863 and helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Union.


Paludan, Phillip S. A People's Contest: The Union and Civil War, 1861–1865. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.

Rowland, Thomas J. George B. McClellan and Civil War History: In the Shadow of Grant and Sherman. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1998.

Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Eric J.Morser

Fred A.Shannon

See alsoBull Run, First Battle of ; Bull Run, Second Battle of ; Peninsular Campaign .

Cumberland, Army of the

views updated May 18 2018


CUMBERLAND, ARMY OF THE, originally the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Gen. D. C. Buell, but renamed when Gen. W. S. Rosecrans took command on 30 October 1862. Gen. George H. Thomas succeeded Rosecrans on 16 October 1863. Operating mainly in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia, the Army of the Cumberland played an important part in the battles of Mill Springs, Shiloh, Perryville, Stone's River, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge, as well as in Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's Atlanta campaign—in the latter numbering 60,773 men. It comprised regiments chiefly from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.


McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989.

W. N. C. S.Carlton/c. w.

See alsoAtlanta Campaign ; Chickamauga, Battle of ; Civil War ; Lookout Mountain, Battle of ; Shiloh, Battle of .

Army of the James

views updated May 29 2018


ARMY OF THE JAMES, in existence from April to December 1864, consisted of the Tenth and the Eighteenth Corps, commanded by Union general B. F. Butler. It constituted the left wing of General Ulysses S. Grant's army. Butler received instructions to occupy City Point, threaten Richmond, and await Grant's arrival in the James River region of Virginia, but Confederate troops checked his army at Drewry's Bluff and bottled it up at Bermuda Hundred. Most of his command later transferred to the Army of the Potomac and served, usually under General E. O. C. Ord, until the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.


McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Volume 6, Oxford History of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Thomas RobsonHay/c. w.

See alsoAppomattox ; Army of the Potomac ; Civil War .

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United States Union Army