The Peninsula Peninsula questions

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Hi everyone,
Couple of very basic questions on the Peninsula campaign.
1) Why didn't the US navy just steam all the way up the James until its guns could siege Richmond? Is the river too shallow or narrow? If the concern is river fortifications, why couldn't the army's sole focus have been to tightly march along the river and clear out installations along the way?
2) McClellan's right flank was under heavy pressure. Why not send cavalry on the left or recon in force to see if you could smash through to Richmond? Was this because he truly believed he was outnumbered 2:1 and Lee's line was impenetrable at every point? Were any of his lieutenants petitioning to do this?
3) When it was clear that Jackson was coming to reinforce Lee, why didn't Halleck order the Valley commands to march onto Richmond overland and either take it, or force Lee to divert forces and relieve Mac?

Mike
 

redbob

Major
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Feb 18, 2013
Location
Hoover, Alabama
The answer to question # 1 is Drewry's Bluff and the powerful fortifications there. Anytime the Union vessels attempted to pass they got a bloody nose as their guns couldn't be elevated enough to reach the fortifications. The Confederates held this part of the James all the way to Richmond until Richmond was evacuated. Photos LoC
drewrybesttop (3).jpg
Drewry's_Bluff.gif
 
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MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
The answer to question # 1 is Drewry's Bluff and the powerful fortifications there. Anytime the Union vessels attempted to pass they got a bloody nose as their guns couldn't be elevated enough to reach the fortifications. The Confederates held this part of the James all the way to Richmond until Richmond was evacuated. Photos LoCView attachment 308475View attachment 308476

Not practical to use the army to clear this out and move the navy up? Would seem like a great solution that wouldn't risk Mac's soldiers in a long drawn out battle if you could clear the way for the navy.
 

Andy Cardinal

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 27, 2017
Location
Ohio
Hi everyone,
Couple of very basic questions on the Peninsula campaign.
1) Why didn't the US navy just steam all the way up the James until its guns could siege Richmond? Is the river too shallow or narrow? If the concern is river fortifications, why couldn't the army's sole focus have been to tightly march along the river and clear out installations along the way?
2) McClellan's right flank was under heavy pressure. Why not send cavalry on the left or recon in force to see if you could smash through to Richmond? Was this because he truly believed he was outnumbered 2:1 and Lee's line was impenetrable at every point? Were any of his lieutenants petitioning to do this?
3) When it was clear that Jackson was coming to reinforce Lee, why didn't Halleck order the Valley commands to march onto Richmond overland and either take it, or force Lee to divert forces and relieve Mac?

Mike
1) Drury's Bluff
2) Poorly organized cavalry (also not sure McClellan understood how to use cavalry. To be fair, not sure any Union commander understood at this point).
3) To protect Washington (which hampered all commanders including Grant -- but Grant was the only one able to overcome that, which is why he won)
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
2) McClellan's right flank was under heavy pressure. Why not send cavalry on the left or recon in force to see if you could smash through to Richmond? Was this because he truly believed he was outnumbered 2:1 and Lee's line was impenetrable at every point? Were any of his lieutenants petitioning to do this?
While I know that this is an old thread, I think I can speak to this topic.

The first thing to outline is to outline what was in fact south of the river - that is, the real situation. South of the river there were:

Magruder
94 companies of all arms (88 infantry companies and 6 batteries)
McLaws
Approx. 103 companies of all arms (102 confirmed companies and the Alexandria artillery, which I assume to be one battery)
DR Jones
95 companies of all arms
Huger
approx. 265 companies of all arms (239 confirmed plus two regiments and one battalion where I do not have the precise strength)
Holmes
approx. 60 companies of all arms (5 infantry regiments for which I do not have the precise strength, plus six batteries, and one Heavy Artillery organization for which I do not have the precise strength)
The Reserve Artillery
16 companies of all arms
Some cavalry (a couple of thousand men)

And the Richmond Defences/ Department of Henrico (about 150 companies of all arms).

This adds up to around 800 companies of all arms, or about 80 regiments. For a sense of scale, the average Union corps at this time consisted of about 30-35 regiments, so the defending force south of the river was in a rough sense "a bit more than two Union corps".


The second thing is to outline what McClellan was doing on the 25th to 27th of June south of the Chickahominy. On the 25th, at Oak Grove (the day before the first Confederate attack at Mechanicsville), he advanced his lines closer to Richmond in order to gain good positions for his siege artillery. McClellan had been planning on doing this for days at least, quite likely weeks, and this was the first day the ground was dry enough.
On the 26th and 27th, further advancing of lines takes place and Magruder launches a counterattack (Garnetts' Hill, and Goldings' Farm). These gain high ground which is used on the afternoon of the 27th to fire across the Chickahominy and support Porter's defence.
McClellan also strips his lines to reinforce Porter north of the Chickahominy. He asks each commander what they can spare after holding a defensive, and usually takes either what they say they can spare or in at least one case a bit more.


The third thing is to say that what McClellan's cavalry was mostly doing at the time was acting on the defensive north of the Chickahominy. As McClellan's open flank that was where they mostly were during the middle of the month - at the start of Stuart's Ride about 70% of McClellan's total cavalry assets were either forming the screen north of the Chickahominy or the centralized cavalry reserve, also north of the Chickahominy - and it's as a consequence of the screening work that the incoming Jackson is detected in time to pull back from Mechanicsville to Gaines Mill. During Gaines Mill most of the army's cavalry is protecting Porter's right flank.



So the answer to this question is:

- McClellan's cavalry was busy elsewhere.
- There was no vulnerability they could have discovered.
- McClellan had been attacking on the 25th to 27th anyway.
 

AA484

Private
Joined
Jan 17, 2020
Not practical to use the army to clear this out and move the navy up? Would seem like a great solution that wouldn't risk Mac's soldiers in a long drawn out battle if you could clear the way for the navy.
Fort Darling was on the opposite side of the James. McClellan would have had to cross the James while being opposed by Johnston/Lee. Alternatively, he could have had to have landed at Bermuda Hundred and then marched up to Richmond from the south but Bermuda Hundred was not logistically capable of accommodating an army the size of the Army of the Potomac. Fort Monroe and that entire area already was.
 

AA484

Private
Joined
Jan 17, 2020
I'm not 100% confident on this but I also believe Lincoln, Stanton, McClellan, etc. were less reluctant to send an expedition further up the James and disembark with the Virginia still afloat. The USN didn't form their own expedition against Fort Darling until after that vessel was scuttled but two months after the army landed at Fort Monroe.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Fort Darling was on the opposite side of the James. McClellan would have had to cross the James while being opposed by Johnston/Lee. Alternatively, he could have had to have landed at Bermuda Hundred and then marched up to Richmond from the south but Bermuda Hundred was not logistically capable of accommodating an army the size of the Army of the Potomac. Fort Monroe and that entire area already was.
As it happens, McClellan was considering crossing the James or at least shifting south to the James (which would imply cooperating with the Navy to open the James up), but before Drewry's Bluff the Navy was trying to do things without army co-operation and after that point McClellan's base was fixed to White House Landing (and so he couldn't move south to the James until that order was countermanded... by one R. E. Lee.)

Gun batteries were set up at City Point before/during the Seven Days, which made supply ships going up past Harrisons Landing pretty much impractical.


I'm not 100% confident on this but I also believe Lincoln, Stanton, McClellan, etc. were less reluctant to send an expedition further up the James and disembark with the Virginia still afloat. The USN didn't form their own expedition against Fort Darling until after that vessel was scuttled but two months after the army landed at Fort Monroe.
Going up the James while Virginia was still afloat would be actively suicidal, so I can understand that reluctance; by the time the Virginia was scuttled McClellan was pretty much committed to moving up to the Richmond and York, at least in terms of his initial approach to Richmond. You've got to cross the Chickahominy somewhere and along the line of the Richmond and York Railroad has the best supply there.
 

AA484

Private
Joined
Jan 17, 2020
As it happens, McClellan was considering crossing the James or at least shifting south to the James (which would imply cooperating with the Navy to open the James up), but before Drewry's Bluff the Navy was trying to do things without army co-operation and after that point McClellan's base was fixed to White House Landing (and so he couldn't move south to the James until that order was countermanded... by one R. E. Lee.)

Gun batteries were set up at City Point before/during the Seven Days, which made supply ships going up past Harrisons Landing pretty much impractical.



Going up the James while Virginia was still afloat would be actively suicidal, so I can understand that reluctance; by the time the Virginia was scuttled McClellan was pretty much committed to moving up to the Richmond and York, at least in terms of his initial approach to Richmond. You've got to cross the Chickahominy somewhere and along the line of the Richmond and York Railroad has the best supply there.
Yeah, certainly agree with you here. Definitely wasn't intended as a knock on McClellan, either.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Yeah, certainly agree with you here. Definitely wasn't intended as a knock on McClellan, either.
It didn't seem like one, but I felt it was worth going into detail anyway because the timings are interesting. If one followed a naval based narrative then they could entirely miss a key detail in the course of events, which is the order to fix the base.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Is there a general consensus from historians around which approach (Peninsula vs overland) was the more strategically sound approach?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Is there a general consensus from historians around which approach (Peninsula vs overland) was the more strategically sound approach?
I don't think there's a general consensus, but I would argue that the Peninsula approach was more strategically sound simply because of where the Overland approach ended up.


You need to get an army near Richmond either way - the enemy can retreat into it and if you can't sustain an army near Richmond then you've not actually achieved anything. That army needs to be supported by either the York river and tributaries, or by the James river.

The Peninsular campaign started with the mouths of those rivers not under Union control, with the first troops landing around 21 March. By around 21 May there was a large Union army which had overcome every barrier between it and Richmond proper except for the Richmond defences, at the cost of a few thousand casualties; the total cost of the Peninsular campaign by the time the Union army reached the James was about 33,000 to the Confederates (in levering McClellan away from Richmond) and a bit less to the Union.

The Overland campaign started with the mouths of those rivers already under Union control. It got a large army near Richmond somewhat sooner, and caused about as many casualties to the Confederates by the time the Union army reached the James, but it cost over 55,000 Union casualties (and would not have been able to effectively secure control of the rivers had they not started under Union control).

In addition, the Overland had more men committed to it (about 60,000 more men PFD) and faced fewer total Confederate resources (between 10,000 and 30,000 fewer Confederates).

To me this makes the Peninsular approach the better one, at least compared to the Overland as-fought. To have a "manoeuvre Overland" where you get to Richmond without as many big battles is possible, but requires the Siege of Yorktown to have already been successfully prosecuted (as it relies on the York being open) - and if you start counting from when Yorktown was abandoned, the historical Peninsula was if anything slightly faster at getting to Richmond than the historical Overland.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
I don't think there's a general consensus, but I would argue that the Peninsula approach was more strategically sound simply because of where the Overland approach ended up.


You need to get an army near Richmond either way - the enemy can retreat into it and if you can't sustain an army near Richmond then you've not actually achieved anything. That army needs to be supported by either the York river and tributaries, or by the James river.

The Peninsular campaign started with the mouths of those rivers not under Union control, with the first troops landing around 21 March. By around 21 May there was a large Union army which had overcome every barrier between it and Richmond proper except for the Richmond defences, at the cost of a few thousand casualties; the total cost of the Peninsular campaign by the time the Union army reached the James was about 33,000 to the Confederates (in levering McClellan away from Richmond) and a bit less to the Union.

The Overland campaign started with the mouths of those rivers already under Union control. It got a large army near Richmond somewhat sooner, and caused about as many casualties to the Confederates by the time the Union army reached the James, but it cost over 55,000 Union casualties (and would not have been able to effectively secure control of the rivers had they not started under Union control).

In addition, the Overland had more men committed to it (about 60,000 more men PFD) and faced fewer total Confederate resources (between 10,000 and 30,000 fewer Confederates).

To me this makes the Peninsular approach the better one, at least compared to the Overland as-fought. To have a "manoeuvre Overland" where you get to Richmond without as many big battles is possible, but requires the Siege of Yorktown to have already been successfully prosecuted (as it relies on the York being open) - and if you start counting from when Yorktown was abandoned, the historical Peninsula was if anything slightly faster at getting to Richmond than the historical Overland.

What was supply situation like for the overland approaches? I just assumed they had a decent railroad system from Washington that was just as efficient as naval resupply, but it sounds like that is not the case.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
What was supply situation like for the overland approaches? I just assumed they had a decent railroad system from Washington that was just as efficient as naval resupply, but it sounds like that is not the case.

In early 1862 the railway line down from Washington towards Orange was wrecked by the Confederates, and it could not sustain the Union army even as far south as Culpeper without months of work. Repair work eventually allowed the Union army to set off from the Culpeper area (in 1864), though the railway line in question was no good for sustaining an advance towards Richmond.

The other significant supply basis for an Overland advance was to set off from around Fredericksburg or use the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac. This requires gaining control of Fredericksburg and repairing any destroyed bridge there, but it's also not necessarily adequate to the needs of a large army (it is single track); my understanding is that Grant drew supply from Port Royal (on the Rappahannock) in this period as his primary supply source, though rail supply from Aquia via Fredericksburg helped out as he moved to make contact with Port Royal. (Note that the supply via Fredericksburg is itself partly waterborne, and is coming down the Potomac from Alexandria to Aquia).

Once Grant moved south, he eventually reached a point where he began drawing supply from White House Landing on the York tributaries (which is what he did after crossing the North Anna). Everything past the North Anna requires the York and James river systems to be open.
 

neyankee61

Private
Joined
Oct 30, 2018
Generals Kearny and Hooker believed there was nothing to their front when Lee attacked Porter's V Corps at the beginning of the Seven Days. They both confronted McClellan with Kearny ending the interview with..."If you (McClellan) were a better part of a man...)
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Generals Kearny and Hooker believed there was nothing to their front when Lee attacked Porter's V Corps at the beginning of the Seven Days. They both confronted McClellan with Kearny ending the interview with..."If you (McClellan) were a better part of a man...)
Is there a citation for this?
More to the point, is there any indication they were correct? On the 27th Heintzelman said he could hold his position with four brigades and thus had two that were disposable, and McClellan duly did pull out both disposable brigades before putting them in to help defend Garnetts Hill.

The June 25 map indicates that (if positions had not changed) in front of the June 27 3rd Corps sector there should be Ransom, Mahone, Wright and Armistead in fortifications.
 

neyankee61

Private
Joined
Oct 30, 2018
I believe the citation can be found in General Philip Kearny Battle Soldier of 5 Wars by Thomas Kearny. Also alluded to in Major General Hiram Berry by Edward K Gould for an extended description of the incident by Major H L Thayer.
Kearny is also supposed to have said upon learning of the retreat. "We ought instead of retreating to follow up the enemy and take Richmond. And in full view of all the responsibility of such a declaration, I say to you all, such an order can only be prompted by cowardice or treason."
Kearny proposed an attack by his division supported by Hooker's. He felt if he couldn't hold Richmond, he could free the 14,000 POWs in the city, disrupt Lee's strategic plans, and make it safely back.
When refused by McClellan Kearny denounced McClellan "in language so strong that all who heard it expected he would be placed under arrest until a general court martial could be held, or at least he would be relieved of his command" as witnessed by a staff officer.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Kearny is also supposed to have said upon learning of the retreat. "We ought instead of retreating to follow up the enemy and take Richmond. And in full view of all the responsibility of such a declaration, I say to you all, such an order can only be prompted by cowardice or treason."
Which shows that Kearny was a military incompetent. He is suggesting an assault on a fortified city (defended by the equivalent of two Union corps in a fortification belt which is several miles deep) while the Union army has no supply line.
 

neyankee61

Private
Joined
Oct 30, 2018
"Which shows that Kearny was a military incompetent."
Pretty strong statement. I think it shows he was frustrated over the snail like advance up the Peninsula in general. He was still angry over the supposed sleight he and Hooker were given after Williamsburg. Kearny led from the front, unlike McClellan, and was a hard nosed aggressive officer who believed in fighting. Perhaps if a little of that had rubbed off on McClellan...
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
"Which shows that Kearny was a military incompetent."
Pretty strong statement. I think it shows he was frustrated over the snail like advance up the Peninsula in general. He was still angry over the supposed sleight he and Hooker were given after Williamsburg. Kearny led from the front, unlike McClellan, and was a hard nosed aggressive officer who believed in fighting. Perhaps if a little of that had rubbed off on McClellan...
You'll find that when it comes to anything McClellan "strong statements" along the lines of "military incompetent" seem to apply to those on one side of the divide.
 
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