The Peninsula Peninsula questions

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
"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...
Well, Kearny there is arguing that it would be "incompetence or treason" to not attack a strongly fortified city with two corps' worth of defenders while having no valid supply route.

In war, logistics matters, and so do fortifications. With supplies and good artillery support then getting into Richmond in a couple of weeks is quite possible; without supplies and trying to do it in a couple of days is just going to exhaust the half of the Army of the Potomac that hasn't just broken at Gaines Mill, leading to the loss of the entire Union army.
If fortifications manned by 40,000+ men could be overcome so easily by troops with rough numerical parity then we'd have seen it happen at other times in the Civil War. (The closest there is is Franklin, which sees heavy casualties on the part of the attackers, and that was forts that had mostly been thrown up in a few days; the Richmond fortifications had been going up for months.)



Of course, at Williamsburg McClellan was originally not on the field because he was coordinating both halves of his army (the half marching up the Peninsula by land and the half moving up by water). First Hooker and then Kearny launched their troops into entrenchments at Williamsburg and got repulsed, and the decisive movement of the engagement was by Hancock (who captured empty enemy defences and turned the position), though when McClellan arrived on the field he had Hancock reinforced. McClellan says that Hooker did not do well, Hooker says McClellan did not do well, and Kearny says that neither of them did well; I think that to argue McClellan was wrong to say that the two did poorly you'd need to point to what they actually achieved beyond lots of casualties (chiefly their own, after all).

I should point that out - when Williamsburg kicked off McClellan was shipping half his army to Eltham's Landing to turn the Williamsburg line, speeding the advance up the Peninsula and preventing the Confederates from blocking them. That's a genuine operational move to accelerate the advance and avoid enemy blocking positions; one could call the movement up from Yorktown to Bottom's Bridge (13 days) slow, and perhaps it was, but we then need to set expectations for a large force in heavy rain advancing to contact.

I do sort of wonder how fast the Confederate units from Williamsburg moved. I'd expect them to move faster than the Union as they're moving into friendly space rather than advancing into enemy space, but it'd be interesting to know the timescale.
 

neyankee61

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Oct 30, 2018
McClellan was not on the field but came up later. Perhaps it would have better if he was on hand to organize a pursuit of a retreating enemy. and delegated some other officer to oversee the movement up the York. If not at least name someone in command of the pursuit. Sumner, Keyes, and Heintzelman were all present but not in overall command. You might argue that all three were not the sharpest but someone was needed.

Hooker was in pursuit and though being aggressive, he attempted to engaged with the Confederate rear guard and bring it to a halt. This he did. He put all his men in and called for assistance which the only one who came up was Kearny. Heintzelman was busy organizing the bands to play stirring music. "Play! Play! **** it. It is all you are good for. Play **** it, play some marching tune! Play Yankee Doodle or any doodle you can think of, only play something!" It was the only time many remembered that they heard music during a battle.

The 2nd NJ Brigade and the Excelsior Brigade did not attack an entrenched enemy at Williamsburg. It was pretty much a stand-up battle on their front. It was fought along the "Bloody ravine" and the fields and wooden area near it
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
McClellan was not on the field but came up later. Perhaps it would have better if he was on hand to organize a pursuit of a retreating enemy. and delegated some other officer to oversee the movement up the York. If not at least name someone in command of the pursuit. Sumner, Keyes, and Heintzelman were all present but not in overall command. You might argue that all three were not the sharpest but someone was needed.
But McClellan did put someone in command of the pursuit. Sumner. This was done orally, but also by a written order which reached the Adams house on the morning of the 6th and which was opened by Heintzelman; that Sumner didn't actually command properly is a separate problem, but McClellan did place Sumner in command (though Sumner should have been assumed to be in command anyway as the senior officer present - that's how seniority works).

And McClellan is an army commander whose army is divided into two parts. Where he goes is a judgement call, and when he heard that there was an action going on he went promptly to the front; until then, there is no commander he has who Franklin (for example) is directly subordinate to, but Franklin is the amphibious division and so must be first up the York. On top of that, the amphibious column is the main effort (the units moving up towards Williamsburg were less than half the army and I understand they were not meant to bring on a major battle) but as soon as it became clear a major battle was happening McClellan suspended the amphibious movement and raced to the field.



As it happens, McClellan was disappointed by all his corps commanders in this period and asked for permission to get rid of any he considered incompetent. Lincoln forbade him.

Hooker was in pursuit and though being aggressive, he attempted to engaged with the Confederate rear guard and bring it to a halt. This he did. He put all his men in and called for assistance which the only one who came up was Kearny.
Well, strictly speaking he attacked the Confederate rear guard who were holding fortified positions (not on the move at that point) on his own initiative, without first verifying that he had units ready to support him or that it was the commander's intent, and did badly enough that the Confederates were able to leave their fortifications and nearly overwhelm him. Kearny's arrival stabilized the situation, but the overall casualty count on that front was something like 2,000+ Union and ~800 Confederate (since Hancock's fight saw ~800 Confederate and ~100 Union). It was a costly bit of aggression which shows that aggression is not an unambiguous positive.
 

neyankee61

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Oct 30, 2018
Not sure what were Hooker's options. He was in pursuit of a retreating enemy which showed signs of confusion with cannon with wheel spokes cut and abandoned wagons. Stoneman's cavalry had made contact and Smith was moving to his support. He pushed on until 11PM when the rain made the roads impassable. He roused his men at 4AM. Upon reaching the front, he deployed his 1st Brigade to the right hoping to make contact with Smith. Little did he know that Sumner had ordered Smith not to advance and had actually withdrawn. Hooker sent the 5th NJ to the right to support the guns there and deployed the 6th and 7th NJ to the left. There they sent out skirmishers to their front.
Not sure what he could have done differently. Sit and wait?
If McClellan was so concerned with his Corps commanders, why didn't he move with them since they were most likely to make contact with the enemy? Instead he remained behind supervising a movement that could have been under someone else. I thought he felt Franklin was capable of being a Corps commander therefore trustworthy?
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Not sure what were Hooker's options. He was in pursuit of a retreating enemy which showed signs of confusion with cannon with wheel spokes cut and abandoned wagons. Stoneman's cavalry had made contact and Smith was moving to his support. He pushed on until 11PM when the rain made the roads impassable. He roused his men at 4AM. Upon reaching the front, he deployed his 1st Brigade to the right hoping to make contact with Smith. Little did he know that Sumner had ordered Smith not to advance and had actually withdrawn. Hooker sent the 5th NJ to the right to support the guns there and deployed the 6th and 7th NJ to the left. There they sent out skirmishers to their front.
Not sure what he could have done differently. Sit and wait?

Yes, sit and wait, though more precsiely send back to Heintzelman (his 1-up) or Sumner (wing commander) as to whether he is to bring on an engagement. Report and seek instructions rather than just assuming - there is the time to do so. If Sumner is not intending to bring on a general engagement then that is the situation that Hooker has to work within.

If McClellan was so concerned with his Corps commanders, why didn't he move with them since they were most likely to make contact with the enemy? Instead he remained behind supervising a movement that could have been under someone else. I thought he felt Franklin was capable of being a Corps commander therefore trustworthy?
Because it was Williamsburg that demonstrated that none of them were any good, in his estimation - as he put it, Notwithstanding my positive orders I was informed of nothing that had occurred, and I went to the field of battle myself upon unofficial information that my presence was needed to avoid defeat.
So his experience is that his corps commanders won't even report what is happening, even when he tells them to.
After Williamsburg McClellan asked permission to relieve them for lack of ability, and Lincoln refused, but he did allow McClellan to make temporary modifications (which is where 5th and 6th Corps come from, they are originally provisional). After this McClellan often keeps his commanders under tighter rein but sometimes it is not possible to be everywhere at once; it's kind of a pattern for the whole of his tenure in fact that problems usually arise wherever McClellan currently isn't.
 

neyankee61

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Oct 30, 2018
There were 3 Army Corps within striking distance and support for Hooker. The entire campaign up to this point was sit and wait. Hancock had to sit and wait. Smith was ordered to sit and wait. There seemed to be an opportunity here to come to grips with the enemy and possibly inflict real damage. Or just let the enemy slip away. One thing the Confederate command did well here was to feed their numbers into the battle while the AoP held their numbers back.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
There were 3 Army Corps within striking distance and support for Hooker. The entire campaign up to this point was sit and wait. Hancock had to sit and wait. Smith was ordered to sit and wait.
Well, the entire campaign up to this point had been trying to overcome a fortified position (Yorktown), and I don't think anyone would argue that charging troops into a heavily fortified position just to be doing something was a good idea.

(actually, no, apparently people do argue that, and they include Phillip Kearny).

There is nothing actually stopping a Union attack from being launched against just about any conceivable Confederate position. The problem is whether that position can be attacked to advantage given the situation at the time, which is why at Yorktown McClellan attempts to assemble an assault concentration to attack at Garrow Ridge (i.e. focusing on the one place where an attack can potentially be made at advantage) then when this falls apart and he cannot source naval bombardment he instead sets up siege artillery. This siege artillery once emplaced changes the calculus on whether positions can be attacked to advantage, and this is why Johnston promptly abandons Yorktown - it is no longer worth it to him to hold the position.



If there is a prospect of success commensurate to the risk for a multi-division coordinated attack at Williamsburg? Great - then a multi-division coordinated attack at Williamsburg should be launched, and the man who should be coordinating it is either Heintzelman (a corps commander in command of multiple divisions, those of Hooker and Kearny specifically in this situation) or Sumner (a man who is in command of the whole wing at Williamsburg, if action by divisions other than those two would be needed). Not launching it would in that case be an issue of failure on the part of those higher up commanders.

If there is a prospect of success commensurate to the risk for a single division attack at Williamsburg? Then Hooker could launch it on his own initiative to exploit the vulnerability in question... but there wasn't, or if there was Hooker's single-division attack failed to gain success. Instead he lost hundreds of men for little actual gain.

If there is not a prospect of success commensurate to the risk, then no attack should have taken place (by definition). In that case then instead the way by which the defences at Williamsburg would be overcome is by the flanking move up to Eltham's Landing, which would certainly either force the Confederates out of position (making them abandon Williamsburg) or else see the loss of the entire Confederate army.


McClellan does not need to attack at Williamsburg, because it is not necessary to attack to get past it and attacking would not accelerate the movement; fighting at Williamsburg is only worthwhile if it does more damage to the Confederates than it does to the Union (which is not the case in the battle as fought, and in fact on Hooker's side of the battle the exchange rate was terrible). Perhaps there was an opportunity to do that, but identifying it is the responsibility of a commander with enough assets to exploit that opportunity (Heintzelman or Sumner).
 

neyankee61

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Oct 30, 2018
While Hooker stirred up a hornet's nest at Williamsburg his initial steps were ones that made sense. Stoneman had skirmished with the rear guard the day before with Smith moving to his support. Next morning Hooker deploys his 1st Brigade to the right to link up with Smith. He sends forward some guns which unlimber to the right of the road and engage with some of the redoubts. The 5th NJ supports the guns. To guard his left he sends the 2nd NJ Brigade (6th and 7th NJ, 8th held in reserve) into the field. There the 2 regiments deploy skirmishers and move forward, feeling out the enemy. It is the response of the opposition that raises the ante.
Hooker may have felt his actions would bring on a major action but with the numbers nearby for support he may have felt it was worth it. Smith was less than a mile away on the right and could clearly hear the fighting grow. There was approx. 40,000 Union soldiers on the field yet Hooker's lone division took on about six different Conf. brigades.
Meanwhile as the Confederates concentrated against Hooker, Hancock had a golden opportunity to roll up the Confederate line on the left. Sit and wait.
If Heintzelman and Sumner were held in such low esteem by McClellan then shouldn't he kept them on a tighter leash? Either be up front with them or more direct orders.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Hooker may have felt his actions would bring on a major action but with the numbers nearby for support he may have felt it was worth it. Smith was less than a mile away on the right and could clearly hear the fighting grow. There was approx. 40,000 Union soldiers on the field yet Hooker's lone division took on about six different Conf. brigades.
Meanwhile as the Confederates concentrated against Hooker, Hancock had a golden opportunity to roll up the Confederate line on the left. Sit and wait.
In the first place, that is why I am saying Hooker should have coordinated; if the commanding officers do not want to bring on a battle and thus will not bring on support, that is them at fault (assuming the battle that would be brought on is a good idea) but it does not change that the chain of command means Hooker should not attack. An army is meant to fight to a coordinated plan, emanating down from the commanding officers, not have every single division commander going off on one because they don't like the plan.

In the second place, yes, Hancock got a good opportunity, but I don't think that was any part of Hooker's actual plan. If it had been then it'd need to have been coordinated beforehand (which would entail going through Sumner as their lowest common commander under these circumstances). Hancock of course then exploits the opportunity which does not place his brigade in imminent danger, and gets a good exchange ratio during the resulting fighting.

I am not saying that a commander should sit and wait if there is a good opportunity to exploit; I am arguing that a commander exercising initiative to be aggressive and subsequently suffering heavy casualties as a result is a commander who has in some sense erred (or rather that either he or someone higher up in the chain of command has erred, but since he is the one exercising his initiative it will probably have been him).
Of course, if no fighting had happened at Williamsburg beyond skirmshing then the Union would have been better off relative to the Confederates; undoing the casualties would give more men back to the Union than to the Confederacy.



If Heintzelman and Sumner were held in such low esteem by McClellan then shouldn't he kept them on a tighter leash? Either be up front with them or more direct orders.
As I've already noted, it was Williamsburg that demonstrated the problem. Until then for example McClellan considers Sumner to be a commander capable of independent action, using him as the commander to confirm that Johnston really has withdrawn from Centreville for example, and then places Sumner in charge of the landward wing.
McClellan is focused on his main effort, which at the time is the river column. He may actually have been planning to move to Eltham's Landing personally once there were some number of divisions there, but of course events meant he had to rush to Williamsburg instead so we don't know.
 

neyankee61

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Oct 30, 2018
I do think Hooker had no plan but to bring on a general engagement. I think he assumed that once he engaged the others would support him.
My biggest problem is I feel McClellan should have been at Williamsburg instead of overseeing the movement up the York River. All three of his Corps were on the move, following the retreating rebs and he stays behind with Franklin's division.
It seems that he already had plans to create two new Corps anyway for Porter and Franklin. Wasn't Porter a division commander in the III Corps replacing Hamilton?
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
My biggest problem is I feel McClellan should have been at Williamsburg instead of overseeing the movement up the York River. All three of his Corps were on the move, following the retreating rebs and he stays behind with Franklin's division.
But only about half his army was "on the move" in that way. Historically Franklin, Sykes, Porter and Sedgwick went to Eltham's Landing (10 brigades) with Richardson (3) also slated to go and I believe Kearny originally as well (3). This means that en route to Eltham's included the whole of 2nd Corps, among other things, and between 13 and 16 out of his 28 infantry brigades. It is half the army, not just one division; only one division moves at first because that is the limitation of the available shipping.


McClellan cannot be in two places at once. He has the choice between accompanying the landward column or the water column, both of which are half his army, but whichever one he does not plan on accompanying ideally needs a commander; he places Sumner in charge of the landward column (while incidentally ensuring that Sumner does not also have to manage his own corps present at the field and letting him focus on wing command, which may be deliberate), and if Sumner had been capable of managing an independent command - which everyone including McClellan thought to be the case at the time - then that would have been fine. Meanwhile the water column is ideally going to cut Johnston off, and if it doesn't and Johnston retreats past that point then that's the supply base the rest of the army will be marching up to.


I'll point out here that you originally said:

If not at least name someone in command of the pursuit. Sumner, Keyes, and Heintzelman were all present but not in overall command. You might argue that all three were not the sharpest but someone was needed.
Which McClellan did.


It seems that he already had plans to create two new Corps anyway for Porter and Franklin. Wasn't Porter a division commander in the III Corps replacing Hamilton?
No, Kearny replaced Hamilton (and incidentally McClellan had to fight hard to get rid of Hamilton at all). Porter and Franklin had been two of the people on McClellan's corps commander shortlist before Lincoln created corps commanders (McClellan didn't want Keyes as a CC and I believe Banks as well) and were already division commanders over the winter of 1861-2.

What McClellan actually wanted to do in terms of the army organization however was to not actually form corps yet. He was quite able to set up situations where multiple division commanders reported to one as an "ad hoc corps commander", which would allow people to be tested in their ability to handle this sort of thing before being made corps commanders.


The course of events is basically
- McClellan has a division structure
- Division commanders vote on Urbana (eight in favour four against)
- Lincoln creates corps commanders, picking the most senior men
- Corps commanders vote on the Peninsula (in favour)
- Movement to the Peninsula and siege of Yorktown (various events in this period see reasons for McClellan to be somewhat disappointed in Keyes and Heintzelman, but not Sumner yet)
- Williamsburg (all three CCs do poorly to some extent)
- McClellan writes to the President asking to be able to dissolve the corps organization, or relieve corps commanders who are incompetent.
- Lincoln refuses both of these, but does allow the temporary modification of the structure
- To get at least some units under commanders he feels are basically okay, McClellan creates 5th and 6th Corps. He assigns the two DCs he'd had shortlisted as corps commanders who he doesn't already have as CCs (Porter and Franklin) and reorgs so that each one has two divisions (though 5th under Porter is the smallest as Sykes' division is small)
 

neyankee61

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Oct 30, 2018
Great explanation. I understand McClellan can't be in two places at once but I feel he should have been with the group moving on Williamsburg. It was here that action would most likely occurred and decisions were going to be needed. Place Sumner in charge of the Eltham Landing wing since as you wrote the whole II Corps was involved.
Williamsburg is just an example of, along with Mechanicsville, Gaines Mills, Glendale, Malvern Hill and to some extent Fair Oaks where McClellan fails to show any grasp of control and direction of the fighting, letting his Corps commanders make battlefield decisions. 3 of which he has no confidence in.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Great explanation. I understand McClellan can't be in two places at once but I feel he should have been with the group moving on Williamsburg. It was here that action would most likely occurred and decisions were going to be needed. Place Sumner in charge of the Eltham Landing wing since as you wrote the whole II Corps was involved.
Well, if that had happened then here's what I think is a possible outcome:

- McClellan does not launch an assault against fortifications at Williamsburg, because there is no need to do so and no vulnerability to gainfully exploit. He does make threatening movements to prevent Johnston leaving the forts, possibly causing a delay in Johnston's movement.
- Sumner is in command of the Eltham's Landing movement, and screws up (or even just performs adequately).
- People blame McClellan for not moving with his main effort and argue he wasted the chance to trap Johnston's army.


I'm not saying that this is the certain outcome, or even the most likely one, but we need to keep in mind that the fighting at Williamsburg was unnecessary and costly and would not have automatically happened if the army had been under proper control.
Even in the best case scenario it has no prospect to do more than inflict some casualties; the Eltham's movement in the best case scenario could cut Johnston off, though that actually happening is not necessarily likely.


Williamsburg is just an example of, along with Mechanicsville, Gaines Mills, Glendale, Malvern Hill and to some extent Fair Oaks where McClellan fails to show any grasp of control and direction of the fighting, letting his Corps commanders make battlefield decisions. 3 of which he has no confidence in.
But in the battles you list McClellan does generally have battlefield control. In order:

Fair Oaks/Seven Pines: McClellan hears firing from Keyes' front on May 31 and contacts Heintzelman for information; Heintzelman is not answering the telegraph. He orders Sumner's corps to stand by (at the bridges) and moves to a high position to attempt to confirm whether there is fighting going on, and when he sees artillery smoke he orders Sumner over and returns to GHQ.
At 1430 Heintzelman sends to GHQ that there is no attack. At 1500 Heintzelman sends that Casey has been overrun.

McClellan goes to join Sumner (who has marched to the field by now) over the course of the evening, and plans a general counterattack for June 1. He orders Franklin over the Chickahominy (but 6th Corps never gets over because the bridge collapses) and commands in person on June 1.

Oak Grove (which you didn't mention) - McClellan orders the attack in from a distance (he's organizing the attack which is to happen the next day, which is the main effort for which Oak Grove is a covering movement) then comes to the front when difficulties are reported. He commands in person from 1PM to 5PM.

Mechanicsville: McClellan was at Porter's HQ watching over the defence of the creek. This goes well enough.

Gaines Mill: McClellan was south of the Chickahominy at GHQ (there are actions both sides of the river, Magruder launches attacks on the 27th). He initially believes Porter that 5th Corps doesn't need reinforcements, but then when Porter changes his mind McClellan is involved with pulling together reinforcements to go to Porter and juggling the needs there with the needs of the defensive line; he is in touch with Porter by electric telegraph.

Glendale: McClellan lays out some of the defensive positions in the north and tours the front (having started the day just south of the White Oak at Britton House), and then his HQ is established at the southern end of the line, at Malvern Hill. He goes to the Galena at one point for a discussion with the naval commander, but is still in command while on board (he sends orders from the ship) and returns to shore during the action.

Malvern Hill: McClellan is on the field during the fighting (on an inspection tour when the first attack happens), and again this is a defensive battle which goes well enough.

It certainly seems like McClellan is in command. All of his corps commanders screw up at some point except arguably Keyes (who McClellan considered the weakest anyway and so didn't give him risky tasks, but even then Keyes' evaluation of the risk to his command during the fighting on the 27th is excessive), but McClellan cannot ride around like a lunatic doing the jobs of every single corps commander for them - there would need to be at least three of him.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
I should note here that for any given corps commander, McClellan has only a few options for how to handle them.

He could give them missions to fulfil which are specific and achievable with the resources they have (e.g. ordering Heintzelman to occupy his old entrenchments at Savage Station and ordering Sumner to form right of this position) and trust them to do it without him personally standing over them all the time.

Or he could trust them in outright semi independent command, being expected to react to the evolving situation in the right way or at least not the wrong way.

Or he could go the other way and decide he cannot even trust this commander to do a specific and fairly simple mission without McClellan standing over them and supervising them.


The problem is, that last option is simply not tenable as general policy. The only way that could possibly work for all the commanders (or even 3/5 of them) is if the whole of that section of the army were kept together as a single massive blob that McClellan accompanies at all times, but this is very unwieldy and usually not possible - especially not when the battlefield situation can develop over time.


What McClellan thus does is a kind of combined compromise. He often remains available nearby when the task is in any way complicated, establishes a policy where commanders must report every half hour while in action (so that no problem should go unremarked for long) and does inspection tours to verify things; he is generally quite specific about the positions that corps commanders should occupy when on the defensive.

This still produces problems because the CCs are sometimes just... not good. When Sumner is ordered to form right of Heintzelman at Savage Station and outright doesn't do it (not pulling back), then reacts to a repeat order by pulling back way too far, the only possible solution would have been McClellan standing over Sumner and making sure he does his job, but as noted that is not sustainable for multiple commanders.
 

neyankee61

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Oct 30, 2018
You do a noble job in defending McClellan and his actions on the Peninsula. I don't quite see it that way and believe he showed a weakness as a battlefield commander.
I didn't forget Oak Grove but I always felt that action was one step forward, one step back.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
I didn't forget Oak Grove but I always felt that action was one step forward, one step back.
Well, it was one step forward (no actual retreat took place, there was an order but it was immediately countermanded). Garnetts Hill was another step forward, and between the two of them in those actions the Union was establishing batteries in the Old Tavern area.

This translates to being set up to bombard the Confederate defences of Richmond (and thus neutralize them as effective defences); had it not been for Jackson turning up when he did, McClellan would have been able to fight regular approaches into Richmond itself.



What do you think is the single largest instance of McClellan failing as a battlefield commander?
 

MikeyB

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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.

May I ask - given your view that the Peninsula was more strategically sound, why do you think the AoP never tried the Peninsula approaches a second time? Was it because Lincoln hated the idea? Did Grant ever consider it?
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
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Nov 10, 2006
"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...
I suggest you read Kearny's letters. Kearny was a fantasist who believed he was the only good general in the whole Federal army (apart from, post-arrest, Stone). He was hyper-critical of everyone else.

Kearny was indeed a "lead from the front" type, which shows his immaturity as a leader. He never tried to command his division in action. He would run around playing captain, leading individual companies, whilst there was no-one at the helm.

The sleight in question was McClellan praising Hancock for turning the enemy position and winning the battle. Kearny pointed out that he managed to get more of his own troops killed, proving he was "hard fighting".

On 27th June, the defences of Richmond had not been weakened one iota.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
May I ask - given your view that the Peninsula was more strategically sound, why do you think the AoP never tried the Peninsula approaches a second time? Was it because Lincoln hated the idea? Did Grant ever consider it?
I think it's because Lincoln disliked the idea and so did Halleck. There is a kind of intuitive logic in Lincoln's dislike (why not have just one army doing both the "protect Washington" and "attack Richmond" jobs) but in practice the two roles involve different enough positioning that even if you approach Richmond overland you need to hook around to the east and thus can't fully protect Washington.

Indeed the final abandonment of the Peninsula by McClellan's army in 1862 seems to have been prompted partly by the idea that it would take too long (a few months) to gain decisive results by waiting for the "new levies" and then reinforcing McClellan at Harrisons Landing.

In effect the Overland Campaign of 1864 did include a Peninsula-lite component (the Bermuda Hundred campaign) but it is not the main effort and is primarily diversionary in nature (which it succeeded at).
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
My memory of Seven Pines is that McClellan saddles up when he hears firing and rides onto the New Bridge Heights. Before heading there he tells Sumner to move his corps to the bridges ready to cross. On seeing the smoke of artillery firing, he sends to Sumner to cross immediately and returned to his HQ. There he does get telegraphic communication with Heintzelman, who denies there is an attack on him. Heintzelman was not near the front and had not detected the attack. About half-an-hour after McClellan telling Heintzelman his command was under attack and Sumner is en route, Heintzelman gets notification from the front that an attack is occurring.

At McClellan's HQ, there is an argument between McClellan, who wants a bridge thrown across the river immediately and 6th Corps to cross it, and the engineers, Franklin etc. who don't think this is possible. McClellan forces them to try, and once news reached him that Sumner is across, follows Sumner's corps and heads to the front.
 
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