The Peninsula Lee's decision before Seven Days

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
From Freeman's biography of R. E. Lee:
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The next step was to work out the precise details of the offensive. Lee lost no time in doing this. A few hours after he had written Jackson, he left his headquarters with Colonel Long and rode out to the north of the Chickahominy. As far as the outposts of the enemy, he made a careful examination of the countryside that swept in a plateau eastward along the northern bank of the protecting stream. "Now, Colonel Long," he said, "how are we to get at those people?"

Long was discreet enough to know that Lee was speaking more to himself than to him, and he had no suggestions to make. There was, of course, no question as to the general wisdom of attacking McClellan's exposed right flank. It seemed providentially extended for a turning-movement. Davis and Lee had agreed, soon after Johnston had been about to commence such an advance when he had deferred his offensive on receipt of the news that McDowell had started back to Fredericksburg. Johnston, however, had intended to attack south of the Chickahominy at the same time that he assaulted north of the river. The question now to be decided was whether Lee should launch his drive on both sides of the stream or should maintain a strict defensive on the south side of the Chickahominy and transfer the greater part of the Confederate army north of the river to co-operate with Jackson.

Lee said nothing of this to Long, but when he returned to headquarters, Longstreet called and, by odd coincidence, proposed that Jackson be brought down from the valley and be hurled against the Federal right. Lee had no hesitation in confiding to Longstreet that this had already been ordered and he sketched a plain for an attack north and south of the river. From his own painful experience at Seven Pines, Longstreet knew something of the difficulties of bringing the whole Army of Northern Virginia simultaneously into action, and he raised the practical question of what would happen if, for any reason, the frontal attack south of the Chickahominy were delayed when Jackson advanced. Might not the enemy concentrate overwhelmingly against Jackson and drive him back against the Pamunkey, the fords and bridges of which it was reasonable to assume a vigilant enemy had destroyed? Lee weighed this objection and, on the strength of it, at length decided to move the greater part of his troops north of the river while a small force defended the works on the south side against a possible Federal attack.
When Lee next met Davis, he laid this plan before him. The President was quick to ask if Lee thought McClellan would quietly permit him to take the initiative north of the Chickahominy and not deliver a counter-attack south of the river against Lee's weakened centre and left? The line south of the river, he said, was much too weak to sustain long assaults. If McClellan was the man he had taken him to be when he had been Secretary of War and had appointed him a member of the military commission to observe the war in the Crimea, McClellan would march into Richmond. If, on the other hand, said Davis, the Federal commander acted like an engineer officer and considered it his first duty to protect his line of communication, then he would not attack, and Lee's plan would work out successfully. Lee fired a bit at the suggestion that engineer officers were likely to make such mistakes and for the moment was in the humorous position of defending his opponent, a fellow-engineer of the old army, but he had a better answer: "If," said he, "you will hold as long as you can at the intrenchment, and then fall back on the detached works around the city, I will be on the enemy's heels before he gets there." This was not bravado, but a well-reasoned conclusion. It was based in part on Lee's knowledge of McClellan. In larger degree, it was founded on the belief that if he could once drive McClellan eastward on the north side of the Chickahominy, till he passed New Bridge, he had nothing to fear on the south side. For New Bridge, which was about three and a half miles below the crossing of the Mechanicsville Turnpike, was not far from the Confederate lines on the south side of the river. Once in control of that bridge, Lee felt that he could easily reinforce that part of his command south of the river or get in the rear of McClellan's forces there if they attempted an advance on Richmond. The outcome fully justified Lee in this.
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Tim
 

OpnDownfall

Cadet
Joined
Aug 28, 2006
Characteristically, Lee's bold plan became even more bold, as he recognized the objections to his original plan.
The timing was a little off, but everyone did as Lee planned, including, most importantly, McClellan.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Characteristically, Lee's bold plan became even more bold, as he recognized the objections to his original plan.
The timing was a little off, but everyone did as Lee planned, including, most importantly, McClellan.

Personally, I like Davis' analysis of McClellan best <g>

I think that Lee's boldness works largely because of McClellans caution and inactivity. The best reaction to a movement like this is usually a counter-punch. With Porter whacking Lee's attack so stoutly, and Jackson performing slowly, a solid thrust at Richmond probably would have worked.

Maybe not, of course. If the thrust at Richmond is knocked flat and McClellan's right is overwhelmed, McClellan might be surrounded. But the truth is McClellan never put in his whole strength and still held Lee off.

A Grant would have counterpunched like that. A Lee or a Jackson certainly would. A Meade might have done something similar to what McClellan did, but I can't imagine Meade being off on the Galena for the battle of Malvern Hill, or continuing the retreat after it was fought.

Tim
 

OpnDownfall

Cadet
Joined
Aug 28, 2006
Very true, one has only to read just the series of dispatches sent to Washington, by McClellan the twenty-four hrs. up to Hill's attack. Little Mac was a beaten man long before Lee's attack.
 
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