McClellan’s First Good Day is Also His Last

April 4, 1862 (Friday)

Though the Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley and south of Washington had fallen back, Lincoln was still apprehensive over covering the capital. The Rebels had fallen back to Fredericksburg, Orange Court House and Mount Jackson (in the Valley), but Washington wasn’t fully aware of how many were where. So worried and so in the dark were Lincoln and most of his Cabinet that he ordered the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac to remain in Washington, while the rest of the Army (sans Fifth Corps in the Valley) marched out from Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula.

The order was specific and condemning. “The President, deeming the force to be left in front of Washington insufficient to insure its safety,” wrote Adjutant-General Thomas to McClellan, “has directed that McDowell’s army corps should be detached from the forces operating under your immediate direction.”

While not an outright claim that McClellan had disobeyed the President’s order to ensure Washington’s security, it made it clear that he wasn’t happy with McClellan and that McDowell’s Corps was no longer under his (McClellan’s) “immediate direction.”

But perhaps “immediate direction” wasn’t sufficient. If McDowell wasn’t under McClellan’s immediate direction, did it then mean that McDowell would soon be released to once again fall under McClellan’s direction?

To answer this question, Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton took it a step farther by carving out two new departments, focusing McClellan’s command to the Virginia Peninsula. First, the Department of the Shenandoah, comprised of the Shenandoah Valley, would be commanded by General Nathaniel Banks, retaining the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac as an independent command. While McClellan wasn’t expecting to have Banks with him on the Peninsula, neither was he expecting to to lose him entirely.

Second, and most importantly, the Department of the Rappahannock was to be commanded by General Irvin McDowell. Not only was McDowell and his First Corps plucked away from McClellan, the Army of the Potomac and the Peninsula Campaign, it was now also an independent command covering the capital and the ground south.1

Manassas in ruins, now covered by McDowell.

Meanwhile, General McClellan was busy readying his men to strike out towards Yorktown. Just thirty-six hours after he personally arrived at Fortress Monroe, his Army of the Potomac, now 66,700-strong, was on the move.

Opposing this Federal horde was the small Confederate Army of the Peninsula, under General “Prince” John Bankhead Magruder. Magruder was charged with stalling the largest army ever assembled on the continent with only 13,000 men.

On this day, everything seemed to be working well for General McClellan. He had not yet received the news that General McDowell would not be joining him and on the Peninsula, Magruder’s advance troops were giving up ground that he (McClellan) thought they would hotly contest. Confederate prisoners had related that Magruder had but 8,000 troops. McClellan’s own intelligence, usually bizarrely inaccurate, was as close as it would ever be to reality, giving the enemy figure at 15,000. Either way, McClellan was certain that he could do as he pleased in front of Yorktown.2

Map of the approximate troop movements on this day. Click to expand.

All of this great fortunate had bloomed from what seemed like a rocky start. When McClellan arrived at Fortress Monroe, his original plan was to have the Navy support his advance along the James and York Rivers, and finally help in the bombardment of Yorktown and the Rebel fort at Gloucester, across the river.

The Navy, however, was worried about the CSS Virginia, still at large, so could not commit to the joint Army-Navy plan that McClellan originally had in mind. But no matter, the focus of the plan was Yorktown. If the fort at Gloucester could be taken out, Yorktown would undoubtedly fall.3

Blissfully ignorant of the goings on in Washington, McClellan wired General McDowell and the division commanders of the First Corps of his plans to sack Gloucester. He fully expected to see McDowell himself either this evening or the next morning. As for the First Corps, McClellan wanted it to land up the York River from Gloucester cutting the town off from its line of supply.4

On the first day of campaigning, all seemed to be going very well for General McClellan.


Bad Roads, Bad Weather and Bad Marching Plague the Rebels Before Shiloh

Union-held Pittsburg Landing along the Tennessee River.

Such good fortune did not extend to the Confederates trying to march upon General Grant at Pittsburg Landing, along the Tennessee River. Generals Johnston and Beauregard, commanding the Army of Mississippi, had wished to march on the 3rd and attack on the 4th. As early as the previous evening, it was clear that such a plan was unrealistic. Marching would have to continue on this date (the 4th) and an attack could be made on the 5th.

The problems of the previous day continued. General Bragg, commanding a corps, found the roads that he was to use to be impassible and so used the roads that General Hardee and his corps were to occupy. Hardee agreed to wait for Bragg, but somehow General Polk’s Corps got ahead of Bragg, which had to stop to let Bragg’s Corps march by.5

Somehow or another, the entire Confederate Army of Mississippi was where it was supposed to be by midnight. The various corps and divisions, being but eight miles from the Union position, were poised to attack the next morning.

Methodist Shiloh Meeting House, surrounded by Sherman's tents.

The soldiers, who would probably be back on the march before dawn, did what they could to rest as the dark heavens rained down upon them in torrents. They had few blankets, fewer tents and scant rations. They were muddy, soaked, freezing and hungry. If they could sleep at all, they’d have to get up and do it all over again the next day.6

Union General Grant, at his headquarters in Savannah, ten miles north of Pittsburg Landing, seemed to suspect little. True, there was word of a Confederate advance possibly trying to get around the position at Pittsburg Landing to attack the relatively light troops across the river from Savannah, but Grant paid it little mind. Just to be safe, he ordered additional troops to that location. In a message to General Sherman, commanding at Pittsburg Landing, Grant revealed that he “looked for nothing of the kind” when it came to a Confederate attack. Still, he cautioned Sherman to be on the look out.

In fact, Grant had no idea that Johnston and Beauregard had left their base at Corinth, twenty-five miles to the south.7

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p66; 67-68. []
  2. To the Gates of Richmond by Stephen W. Sears, Mariner Books, 1992. []
  3. The Peninsula Campaign of 1862; A Military Analysis by Kevin Dougherty, University Press of Missouri, 2005. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p68. []
  5. Army of the Heartland; The Army of Tennessee 1861-1862 by Thomas Lawrence Connelly, Louisiana State University, 1967. []
  6. Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 by O Edward Cunningham, Savas Beatie, 2007. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, p91; 93. []
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McClellan’s First Good Day is Also His Last by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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2 thoughts on “McClellan’s First Good Day is Also His Last

  1. It’s amazing the amount of hen-clucking and consternation that Major General Stonewall Jackson caused by his attack at Winchester (1st Kernstown). If it had not been for that … there would have only been about two small divisions left in all of northern Virginia. General Lee demonstrated proper maneuver warfare repeatedly when he left but a small force around Richmond and hammered into the North twice in two years. And … with all the consternation and hen-clucking about protecting the District of Columbia … General Lee will swoop up and hammer (Sharspburg) ANYWAY! Boy … the Confederates had the Yanks looking like the Keystone Kops in all of 1862. Meanwhile, the Tennessee River Campaign with the fake “Army of the Tennessee” and their plan to end the war by summer of 1862 is ALSO another train whose wheels are about to come off. At Shiloh they will lose most of the battle, more killed and casualties, their entire strategic objective will come to a complete end … yet … the Neo-Yanks hail this as a “victory”. LOL!

    1. I read a book written by a fellow who rode with Mosby. It was a fun read (like most of the Mosby books are). In it, he gave some rather “compelling” arguments explaining how the Confederacy actually won the Battle of Gettysburg.

      David, I’m betting you would love this book.

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