Background for the Urbanna
and Yorktown Campaigns
The great 20th Century British strategist
Sir Basil Liddell-Hart severely censured Lincoln's behaviour during
the Peninsula campaign. The great 19th Century Prussian strategist
H. von Moltke told McClellan that Lincoln lost Richmond in 1862.
The interference with McClellan's plans and prerogatives as well
as the routine denial of his requests for support may be without
parallel in modern military operations.
- 01/31/62 - McClellan submits
to Secretary of War Stanton a plan for the invasion of Virginia
by means of a sea landing at Urbanna.
- 02/25 - Congress's Committee
on the Conduct of the War requests Lincoln divide the Army of
the Potomac into corps.
- 02/27 - Steamers for McClellan's
movement are ordered by the Administration. McClellan is given
no role in the procurement of vessels.
- 02/28 - Congress's Committee
on the Conduct of the War interrogates McClellan on the Urbanna
- 03/08 - Lincoln confronts McClellan
with charges of "traitorous intent" in exposing Washington
to attack. Angry, McClellan convinces Lincoln to disassociate
himself from this charge.
- 03/08 - Lincoln and Stanton
poll 12 of McClellan's generals on the Urbanna plan: 8 are pro,
- 03/08 - Lincoln issues Gen.
War Order #2 ordering McClellan's command be formed into corps.
It is done without consulting McClellan. Three senior generals
who voted against McClellan's plan are given corps commands.
All four corps commanders are Republicans.
- 03/08 - Lincoln issues Gen.
War Order #3 ordering McClellan's command to begin its advance
no later than 03/18 without reference to available shipping.
He allows McClellan control over two corps only, reserving "express
permission" to release the rest of the army.
- 03/08-03/09 - CSA forces begin
to retreat from positions near Washington.
- 03/09 - The CSA ironclad Virginia
destroys Union warships at Hampton Roads. Stanton tells the Cabinet
McClellan's campaign must be scrapped. The Navy tells McClellan
that the James will be closed to the Navy: there can be no attack
on Petersburg and no link up with Burnside.
- 03/11 - McClellan decides he
will implement the invasion through Urbanna and he orders transports
- 03/11 - Politician Edward Bates
urges Lincoln to remove McClellan from the general-in-chief position
and assume it himself. Stanton denounces McClellan to the Cabinet
for "great ignorance, negligence, and lack of order and
subordination - and reckless extravagance."
- 03/11 - Lincoln issues Special
War Order #3 demoting McClellan to army commander. All military
seniors are ordered to report to Stanton for orders henceforward.
A "Mountain Department" is created in Virginia for
Republican Gen. Fremont.
- 03/12 - McClellan learns he
has been demoted through a newspaper article. He writes a goodwill
letter to Lincoln to show a continuing positive attitude.
- 03/12 - Stanton insists McClellan
form his army into four corps immediately. He demands another
council of war. McClellan orders forces that have embarked to
remain at dock.
- 03/13 - McClellan protests the
appointment of a New York Republican politician, Wadsworth (a
new general with no military experience), to command the Washington
- 03/13 - McClellan submits a
new plan to the corps commanders: invasion via the Peninsula
between the York and James rivers. He wins unanimous approval.
Corps commander Keyes obtains a (false) promise by the Navy to
shell Rebels out of their Yorktown defences.
- 03/13 - Stanton includes Ft.
Monroe in McClellan's command. It is to be his base and its 10,000
men are to augment his operations.
- 03/14 - Navy Secretary Welles
rejects McClellan's request for support by part of the Port Royal
warship squadron, needed to cripple Yorktown and Gloucester defences.
The Navy will stay out of the York and out of the James above
- 03/15 - Stanton asks Ethan Allen
Hitchcock, retired since 1855, to take command of McClellan's
Army of the Potomac. Shocked, he refuses. Lincoln, in meeting
Hitchcock, refers offhandedly to "the traitor, McClellan."
- 03/17 - A Congressional vote
on a resolution calling for McClellan's dismissal is sidetracked.
- 03/19 - McClellan outlines to
Stanton a Peninsula campaign based on the York River only, since
the Navy will not enter the James.
- 03/19 ? Gen. Barnard, McClellan's
chief engineer (and Navy liaison) secretly joins with Adm. Goldsborough
and Gen. Wool in a project to divert the main effort of the invasion
toward the capture of Norfolk and to siphon resources from the
Army of the Potomac for this effort.
- 03/22 - McClellan tells his
chief of artillery that he cannot count on the Navy to reduce
Yorktown by bombardment.
- 03/24 - Asst. Navy Sec. Fox
allows Adm. Goldsborough full discretion in the extent of his
cooperation with McClellan around the Peninsula.
- 03/27 - McClellan's begins his
advance through deep mud and foul weather without waiting for
the bulk of his forces to land.
- 03/27 - Gen. Hitchcock, now
senior military advisor to the Administration, suggests forces
be taken away from Fremont's Mountain Department and added to
McClellan's invasion. Stanton, on the contrary, urges Lincoln
to take two divisions away from McClellan's invasion and add
them to Fremont's force.
- 03/28 - McClellan's naval liaison,
Gen. Barnard, tells of promises made to the Army by Adm. Goldsborough,
none of which materializes.
- 03/30 ? Lincoln personally tells
McClellan he will resist all pressure to send invasion forces
- 03/31 - Lincoln takes a division
from McClellan to send to Fremont. He assures McClellan no more
forces will be taken.
- 04/01 - McClellan embarks for
- 04/02 - Wadsworth pays back
McClellan by complaining to Lincoln and Stanton that the defence
forces left behind for Washington are inadequate.
- 04/03 - Lincoln and Stanton
remove Ft. Monroe from McClellan's command: he loses his base.
Ft. Monroe's Gen. Wool is made a department commander equal to
McClellan. The very ground the Army of the Potomac is fighting
on is assigned to Wool.
- 04/04 - Lincoln and Stanton
order McDowell off the invasion roster. McDowell protests. He
has the largest corps in McClellan's army (about 40,000 men).
Most of McClellan's cavalry (not yet embarked) is also withheld.
- 04/04 - McDowell is put directly
under Lincoln and Stanton as a department commander, an equal
to McClellan. McClellan has now lost control of Gen. Banks in
the Valley; of the forces in Fremont's new department; of Washington's
garrison; of Northern Virginia forces under McDowell; of Ft.
Monroe and its garrison and facilities; and of Gen. Burnside's
North Carolina expedition. He cannot coordinate them or call
on them for reinforcement.
- 04/05 - The army advances through
horrible weather. Cavalry are sent back to base to avoid starvation.
Soldiers eat rarely and poorly. McClellan discovers that Ft.
Monroe mappers completely botched the location of the Warwick
River: it actually runs across the Peninsula as an additional
barrier in front of fortifications, not lengthwise as believed.
- 04/05 - A tiny 4-ship York River
flotilla, representing the Navy's commitment to the campaign,
is placed under the command of a Capt. Misroon, who tells McClellan
his vessels will not risk approaching Yorktown. He refuses to
conduct reconnaissance. He refuses to meet with McClellan.
- 04/05 - McClellan orders his
siege trains to Yorktown.
- 04/10 - Lincoln says he is "impatient"
and "dissatisfied" with McClellan's progress.
- 04/12, 04/14 - Capt. Misroon
reports that the Navy cannot help McClellan take his objective
of Gloucester (and thereby Yorktown) as planned: new plans are
- 04/13 - McClellan asks the Navy
to shell pickets below Gloucester. Misroon refuses for fear of
- 04/15 - Cmdr. Wyman, a naval
visitor from the Potomac flotilla, is enraged to find Misroon
has ordered his James River vessels not to fire at night for
fear of land batteries.
- 04/15, 04/24 - CSA Gen. D.H.
Hill, commanding Yorktown and Gloucester, calls for a massive
concentration from all points in order to crush McClellan in
front of Yorktown.
- 04/23 - Misroon requests relief
from his assignment.
- 04/28 - The CSA considers evacuating
- 04/30 - Misroon is relieved.
- 5/1 - The new York River flotilla
commander immediately bombards CSA transports at Yorktown wharf.
McClellan schedules a land attack on Yorktown for May 2.
- 5/2 - Yorktown is found evacuated.
Compiled from W. Hassler,
General George B. McClellan: Shield of the Union and from
R. Reed, Combined Operations in the Civil War with additional
material from D.H. Donald, Lincoln, and J.G. Randall, Lincoln
(c) 1998 The McClellan