The Peninsula McClellan's Peninsula Plan (earlyFebruary)

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
ISTM that if the Union is making a major effort like this, there is no threat down along the Peninsula and the Confederates will not be detaching troops to Magruder and Huger.

They were detaching them against an expected inland move by Burnside.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
I agree.

Johnston moved back to the Rappahanock/Rapidan line and had eight divisions available to defend it.

Fredericksburg was under Holmes' command and then Longstreet's when Holmes was reassigned, They had the following around Fredericksburg:

Whiting's division of 3 bdes (Whiting, Hood and Hampton)
Holmes' division of 4 bdes (French, Walker*, Field and SR Anderson)

and were fortifying the heights behind Fredericksburg that cost Burnside so dear.

The other major corps was occupying the area around the O&ARR bridge across the Rapidan (having burned it and the one over the Rappahannock ISTR) and covering the fords with:

GW Smith's division (GT Anderson, Wilcox* and Toombs)
Longstreet's division of 3 bdes (AP Hill, DR Jones and Pickett, with DR Jones being senior and commanding the division in lieu of Longstreet's assuming a "corps")
Ewell's division (Elzey, Trimble and Taylor)
Early's division of 3 bdes (Early, Rodes and Kershaw)
DH Hill's new division assembled from two slack brigades (Griffith and GB Anderson)
Stuart's cavalry

On the flank is Jackson with his division.

Historically Jeff Davis was going nuts over Burnside and was pulling brigades from other stations to form an army to oppose him. He asked Joe Johnston for Longstreet and his division, but Johnston objected to losing his best division commander. Davis then had Walker and Wilcox pulled from Johnston, Cobb from Magruder and Gregg from SC to add to the NC forces.

Very quickly when McClellan started moving in April Cobb and Wilcox were ordered to Magruder and Gregg, Branch and JR Anderson from the NC force were sent to Northern Virginia where they formed "The Army of the North" with Field's brigade at Fredericksburg and nominally with Ewell's division.

If McClellan inclines to an attack on the Rappahannock/Rapidan line one suspects, Wilcox and Walker would be recalled, and Cobb, Gregg, Branch and JR Anderson's brigades would rapidly be sent north, along with Colston's and Pryor's from Norfolk. This would give Johnston 10 divisions to defend a secure river line.

Urbanna was nixed not by Lincoln etc. directly, but by the Corps Commanders. They thought landing at Urbanna was too dangerous and exposed with Johnston behind the Rappahannock. It was them who insisted on Fort Monroe and the Peninsula, which McClellan considered the weakest option. Indeed back in January he'd asked James Shields about Yorktown, and Shields had said it would take six weeks to reduce it and move on.

Because of this I don't see there being any support for a landing on the lower Rappahannock, and it's a grind down the railroads.
ISTM that if the Union is making a major effort like this, there is no threat down along the Peninsula and the Confederates will not be detaching troops to Magruder and Huger.
They were detaching them against an expected inland move by Burnside.

Actually, these troops were being gathered as a reserve because the Confederates had detected the movement of large forces by water to the area of Fort Monroe. Davis was unsure where they were headed, but the obvious choices were up the Peninsula and down into North Carolina. By the time they started moving, it was more obvious that the Peninsula was the likely target and that is why some troops were sent to Magruder and some troops were actually sent up to reinforce Johnston.

My post was in regard to these detachments to Magruder you were bringing up. This thread has been discussing a major move by McClellan from the north. In that case, Davis and Johnston would not have been discussing a major movement of troops down the Potomac and the detachments would never have been made.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
15th May? It's unlikely McClellan could even supply a large force at Culpeper. The Railroad needs three months work.

Then Johnston is holding a strong river line and has had time to entrench the fords. McClellan meanwhile has to detach a significant force to protect his right, because one rebel cavalryman with a match can sever the armies lifeline. He also has to picket the entire river line for the same reason.

The Rapidan (because they did not historically make the line of defense there at the Rappahannock) at the rail brigade is a defenders paradise. Nature has created a perfect kill zone for the rebels to occupy, with a natural crossfire, and the bluffs south of the river dominating the north:

View attachment 157819

Frankly, one division with artillery and enough ammunition could probably repel the whole Federal army. This is exactly what Johnston wanted. ; he entrenched 5 divisions there waiting for McClellan to hopefully put his men in the slaughter pit.

There are really 4 options for crossing the Rapidan/Rappahannock line:

1. Get there first. In November '62 McClellan managed this and held a debouch across the Rapidan with 9th Corps. Longstreet a few days after McClellan was relieved set out to try and push the Federals back across the river, but arrived to find they'd pulled back - Burnside had abandoned the O&A route.

2. Bull across the Rapidan bridge area. No general even tried it was so patently foolish.

3. Bull through Fredericksburg and over Marye's Heights. Burnside tried in Dec '62 and was slaughtered.

4. Cross at Germanna Mills and try and bull through the Wilderness before the rebels crush you like bookends. Hooker tried and failed. Grant tried and had to retreat east to connect with the Federal held Fredericksburg.

None of these is a good option in summer '62. Unlike November '62 Johnston is well entrenched on the Rapidan. The Rapidan Bridge and Marye's Height are horrific killing areas. The best option is like Germanna Ford and doing the Wilderness, and that's a terrible idea unless you have Fredericksburg to siddle over too.

I am not sure why you are going this way or what you are objecting to.

My post is an analysis of what the threat to a Confederate force from a Union thrust down the Orange & Alexander RR would be. It is all true and accurate in what it discusses and it is a very normal part of military analysis. You seem to want to jump ahead a few months and declare 'it's impossible!" without discussing the actual move and the aspects of it.

This is no different than discussing the threats caused by a move to Urbanna or Fort Monroe (or, for example, North Carolina -- which was the fourth possibility people like Lee/Johnston/Davis were evaluating). Any commander needs to know and understand these things as he makes his evaluations of enemy possibilities and intent.

I think Johnston did (although he is rarely clear and explicit in his writings on such things). I know that Lee recognized the strength of the Rappahannock position and the importance of holding it because I have seen his writing about it. I haven't said much or anything at all about how a fight for the river lines might develop other than to note that:
An aggressive commander would have either come out and opposed McClellan along the crossings at the North Fork of the Rappahannock/the Rapidan or pushed on the north side of the Rappahannock (to strike at the Union LOC). A very passive or defensive commander would fall back to the North Anna.
So why, exactly, are you being so dismissive here?
 
Last edited:

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Actually, these troops were being gathered as a reserve because the Confederates

Which is why they were sent to Goldsboro?

ADJT. AND INSP. GENERAL’S OFFICE, Richmond, March 24, 1862.

...

XXVI. Maj. Gen. Theophilus H. Holmes is assigned to the command of the Department of North Carolina, and will proceed to Goldsborough and relieve Brig. Gen. Joseph R. Anderson.

XXVII. The following troops will proceed at once to Goldsborough, N. C., and report for duty to the commanding general of the Department of North Carolina:

First Regiment North Carolina Volunteers, Colonel M. S. Stokes.
Second Regiment North Carolina Volunteers, Colonel C. C. Tew.
Third Regiment North Carolina Volunteers, Colonel G. Meares.
Third Regiment Arkansas Volunteers, Colonel V. H. Manning.
Thirtieth Regiment Virginia Volunteers, Colonel R. M. Cary.
Captain Cooke’s battery.

XXVIII. The troops composing General Wilcox’s brigade will be forwarded immediately on their arrival in this city to Goldsborough, N. C., and will report for duty to Major-General Holmes, commanding Department of North Carolina.

...

XXX. Brig. Gen. J. G. Walker will proceed with his brigade, and the battery attached, to Goldsborough, N. C., and report for duty to Maj. Gen. Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding Department of North Carolina.

By command of the Secretary of War:

JNO. WITHERS, Assistant Adjutant-General

A mere 200 miles away from Fort Monroe:

Goldsboro.png


But, surprisingly handy if you are expecting Burnside at New Berne to make an inland push.

Gathering at Goldsborough as a Corps under Holmes and en route were:

Ransom's Bde (NC)
Branch's Bde (NC)
JR Anderson's Bde (gathered from Norfolk and a few slack regts)
Cobb's Bde (from Suffolk, but previously Yorktown)
Walker's Bde (from Fredericksburg)
Wilcox's Bde (diverted to the Peninsula from City Point OTL)

Lee was expecting Burnside to be the main effort. McClellan's diversion was working....
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Actually, these troops were being gathered as a reserve because the Confederates had detected the movement of large forces by water to the area of Fort Monroe. Davis was unsure where they were headed, but the obvious choices were up the Peninsula and down into North Carolina. By the time they started moving, it was more obvious that the Peninsula was the likely target and that is why some troops were sent to Magruder and some troops were actually sent up to reinforce Johnston.

My post was in regard to these detachments to Magruder you were bringing up. This thread has been discussing a major move by McClellan from the north. In that case, Davis and Johnston would not have been discussing a major movement of troops down the Potomac and the detachments would never have been made.
Which is why they were sent to Goldsboro?

As I said, these are troops being gathered as a reserve. The Confederates are unsure where the massive buildup in and around Fort Monroe was headed and were trying to position forces to react quickly to many possibilities. The obvious choices were up the Peninsula (or Norfolk) and down into North Carolina (where they also saw the possibility of a thrust from NC towards Norfolk). At the same time, they are also worried that the whole move to Fort Monroe is either a feint or part of a master plan that included a thrust at the Rappahannock line. There are clear references to all these places in the correspondence and you appear to want to skip the ones that don't fit your desire.

As to being sent to Goldsboro, that would leave them directly on a RR that can connect them to:
  1. Richmond and Fredericksburg or Gordonsville if they need to go to Johnston
  2. Richmond by RR and then downriver to Magruder or Huger
  3. Petersburg and Norfolk by RR to Huger
  4. Wilmington by RR to oppose Burnside
This places them in a very central location that allows for flexibility in a bunch of situations.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Assuming that McClellan was seriously interested in an advance down the O&A RR and was seriously considering it in early February, here's a scenario for how things might have unfolded.

Historically, the decision to move to Urbanna had been confirmed on March 8, 1862. Let's assume that McClellan has fully decided on moving in northern Virginia along the O&A RR route and that is what Lincoln/the council of war are getting behind instead. That same day, the CSS Merrimack/Virginia sortied into Hampton Roads and sank the USS Congress and Cumberland. USS Monitor steamed in that evening.

While the Merrimack/Virginia was fighting the Monitor down in Hampton Roads on the 9th, Joe Johnston was starting to abandon from Manassas and Centreville. This is total coincidence: no one had informed Johnston of the sortie. Johnston had discussed withdrawal with Davis in Richmond February 19/20; now feeling that McClellan was about to move against him because of some Union troop movements, Johnston made the decision to retreat right away.

Amid the furor of the day, reports began to come in about the Confederate withdrawing. McClellan went to see for himself and that evening telegraphed that the enemy was indeed gone. McClellan then moved his force forward, promising to push the enemy retreat. On the 12th, in real-life, he has another council-of-war at Fairfax C.H. that decides to go to Fort Monroe.

Here is where our scenario really begins. McClellan has been leaning towards and preparing for this move for a month; now he decides to follow through on it immediately since Johnston has already retreated. He begins rebuilding the RR and moving forward. His troops lurch forward to a line roughly from Warrenton to Dumfries as the RR to Manasas, Catlett's Station and Warrenton Junction is repaired. In the first half of April, his line moves forward a bit more (maybe to Aquia Creek at the eastern end, maybe to Hedgeman's River at the western end) while the new USMRR pushed the RR repair forward and the engineers work on the roads.

In the Shenandoah, things go as they did in real life up to about the 20th of April. Banks (2 divisions) has taken Strasburg, New Market and Harrisonburg; Banks has grabbed the bridges over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in the Luray Valley. Jackson has retreated to Swift Run Gap on the Blue Ridge (West of Orange C.H.) To the West of the Shenandoah Valley, Fremont is beginning to march on Staunton (south of Harrisonburg and west of Charlottesville) threatening to cut the Virginia Central RR. There is a small force under Allegheny Johnson trying to cover Staunton (the Valley Campaign Battle of McDowell is down that-a-way on May 8th in real-life).

Joe Johnston is somewhere behind the Rappahannock/Rapidan rivers, reinforced a bit. The Confederates have probably pulled 1-or-2 brigades from Huger/Magruder and dredged up some reinforcements elsewhere. There is no massive buildup at Fort Monroe, so the Confederates will be less worried about Burnside's advance in NC or Huger and Magruder around Fort Monroe

McClellan pushes toward the north bank of the Rappahannock in late April. He is attempting to threaten a crossing at several places to hide his intent. He has all four Corps (Sumner, Heintzelman, Keyes, McDowell). Blenker is most likely still with McClellan here, but Fremont's political pull may have gotten him anyway. Shields is still in the Shenandoah.

Stuart (about a cavalry brigade) has hopefully been pushed across the Rappahannock if McClellan can manage that.

McClellan gets better support and cooperation from this, so while Lincoln has relieved him as commander-in-chief, McClellan is in effect a Theater commander here and has absolute control of everything Army between the Potomac and the Blue Ridge, plus Banks forces in the Shenandoah and everything above them. He may or may not have control of Fremont, I suppose. Possibly he only controls Fremont if their forces join up.

This is about where the fight for the Rappahannock/Rapidan would begin.
 
Last edited:
Top