Very Informative Article on How McClellan Outsmarted Lee at Antietam

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Scott1967

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Then show me an opportunity he missed. Show me somewhere he had a chance and did not take it, somewhere a good field commander would have done something else.
Bonus points if you can show me one where the information was actually available at the time, but it's not required.
That's the problem you wont find any because he didn't try , Cant you see that's George McClellan to a tee and that's why he's such a poor field commander even Bragg , Hood , Burnside all considered poor Army commanders risked all to achieve a result and that's what War is about the element of Risk has to be there in order to gain something out of a huge loss of life.

Lee , Grant , Are considered the best commanders of the war because they took huge RISK'S even Forrest took risks in attacking overwhelming numbers to achieve an outcome.

George McClellan on the other hand did not take RISK'S and that is why you will not find any instance of George McClellan having that chance you talk about.

Like I said before Oak Grove and the small actions before that were all small scale operations , Old George was 4 miles away from the attack at Oak grove , He stopped the attack then ordered the troops back to their starting position and restarted the attack again suppose that makes sense?.

Risk and George McClellan are like chalk and cheese.
 

Scott1967

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McClellan was "sat" outside Richmond - I assume you refer to the period between Seven Pines and the Seven Days - for two reasons.

Firstly, he was waiting for the reinforcements Lincoln had promised him - McDowell's 1st Corps.
Secondly, the weather was awful and it was not possible to mount offensive operations. McClellan's break-in operations to Richmond begin when the ground hardens after this period of bad weather, and Lee's attack begins on the same day because the ground hardens for him too.
That wasn't the question I was asking why he was at Richmond in the first place after all it was his master plan to do what at Richmond?.
 

Saphroneth

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That's the problem you wont find any because he didn't try
That's not how combat works. If a general has nowhere he missed an opportunity it means he did well. As for "didn't try", um, Antietam for a start? America's bloodiest day? (Heck, South Mountain?)
McClellan didn't tend to send troops into entrenched enemy positions without supporting artillery fire. That's not the same as "didn't try".

George McClellan on the other hand did not take RISK'S and that is why you will not find any instance of George McClellan having that chance you talk about.
McClellan did take a risk, in fact he took a risk which went sour on him - attacking Richmond in July 25-27 in bite-and-hold operations. This required troops which could have instead been used to defend Tolopatamoy Creek.

Like I said before Oak Grove and the small actions before that were all small scale operations , Old George was 4 miles away from the attack at Oak grove , He stopped the attack then ordered the troops back to their starting position and restarted the attack again suppose that makes sense?.
It's not an ideal way of doing things, no, but the ground was taken - no small thing when attacking a city defended at the time by about 40,000 PFD. He was then closer to the action for the Garnetts Hill and Goldings Farm actions, which both went well.

That wasn't the question I was asking why he was at Richmond in the first place after all it was his master plan to do what at Richmond?.
Well, his initial plan was Urbanna, but Lincoln killed that one. His initial plan on the Peninsula had been unseated by the loss of 1st Corps. As of when he reached the Chickahominy McClellan's plan was to shift to the James, work in concert with the Navy to knock out Fort Darling, and attack Richmond up the James.
Lincoln and Stanton's orders meant he couldn't do this, so he switched to planning on using his siege guns to blast through the Richmond fortified lines (basically he would take high ground like Oak Grove, set up his siege guns there, use them to suppress the defending troops in the entrenchments and then take the next bit of high ground).

What this means is that McClellan was adapting to lost options and lost resources as they happened. Tracking what he planned is thus a bit difficult because he kept adjusting his plans based on information, rather than sticking with a single plan and trying to hammer it into working.
 
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Saphroneth

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So, to restate my question, @Scott1967 - can you name any place where McClellan should have done something else? Anywhere where he could have done a specific thing that would have worked, or stood a good chance of working?

The reason I ask is because people so rarely suggest alternatives... and when they do suggest alternatives, those alternatives generally tend not to be workable.
 

Scott1967

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That's not how combat works. If a general has nowhere he missed an opportunity it means he did well. As for "didn't try", um, Antietam for a start? America's bloodiest day?
McClellan didn't tend to send troops into entrenched enemy positions without supporting artillery fire. That's not the same as "didn't try".
McClellan didn't get a choice in that Lee forced his hand and pressure from the various sources as well as an outraged and worried northern populace sort of made the decision for him.

Well, his initial plan was Urbanna, but Lincoln killed that one. His initial plan on the Peninsula had been unseated by the loss of 1st Corps. As of when he reached the Chickahominy McClellan's plan was to shift to the James, work in concert with the Navy to knock out Fort Darling, and attack Richmond up the James.
Lincoln and Stanton's orders meant he couldn't do this, so he switched to planning on using his siege guns to blast through the Richmond fortified lines (basically he would take high ground like Oak Grove, set up his siege guns there, use them to suppress the defending troops in the entrenchments and then take the next bit of high ground).

What this means is that McClellan was adapting to lost options and lost resources as they happened.
A good army commander adapts , While I agree McClellan was promised more reinforcements and was hindered to an extent by situations not in his control there can be no excuse for being passive regardless of the small offensive actions even J E Johnstone decided to attack him another over cautious commander and LEE certainly would not pass up the opportunity to attack a passive opponent.

McClellan was begging to be attacked but luckily for him the attacks were all poorly coordinated by a rusty Lee who still managed to drive him away from Richmond , Should McClellan have counter attacked? We will never know as he didn't even attempt to try and counter Lee or test him.
 

Saphroneth

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McClellan didn't get a choice in that Lee forced his hand and pressure from the various sources as well as an outraged and worried northern populace sort of made the decision for him.
Wait, Lee forced McClellan's hand at Antietam? How? By retreating across the Potomac too slowly?

there can be no excuse for being passive
What, like it being impossible to move artillery anywhere except on the roads? That's the conditions in front of Richmond in mid-June 1862. McClellan's operations begin as soon as the weather permits.

even J E Johnstone decided to attack him another over cautious commander
Well, since JE Johnston had a very similar number of troops to McClellan at that time, and McClellan was spread across a river...

LEE certainly would not pass up the opportunity to attack a passive opponent.
By your argument Lee passed up that opportunity in July 1862.

Should McClellan have counter attacked? We will never know
That's not how the verb "should" works.

I note you're shying away from actually saying what McClellan should have done, probably because you fear that if you give a specific prescription for what McClellan should have done it will turn out that he didn't actually have any better options - and thus made the best choice in the situation.


I, however, will say that there is no situation during the Seven Days when McClellan can counterattack without seriously risking the loss of his army.

Counterattack on the 26th after Beaver Dam Creek: Jackson outflanks his position and he loses his supply line, along with the forces north of the Chickahominy.
Counterattack on the 27th after Gaines Mill: Impossible, McClellan's force broke and retreated across the river.
Counterattack on the 28th after Gaines Mill: McClellan has lost his supply route and is attempting an opposed river crossing against superior numbers with troops who broke yesterday. It is not going to work.
Counterattack towards Richmond: still garrisoned with ca. 40,000 troops in multiple defensive lines.
Counterattack after Peach Orcharg/Savage's Station: McClellan does not reestablish a supply line, is surrounded.
Counterattack after Glendale: Franklin's corps has quit position without orders, McClellan has a hanging flank and ends up outflanked and surrounded.
Counterattack after Malvern: Lee gives up ground with his right wing, encircles Malvern with his left, McClellan's army cannot get supplies and starves.
 
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Scott1967

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So, to restate my question, @Scott1967 - can you name any place where McClellan should have done something else? Anywhere where he could have done a specific thing that would have worked, or stood a good chance of working?

The reason I ask is because people so rarely suggest alternatives... and when they do suggest alternatives, those alternatives generally tend not to be workable.
You see that's the problem with McClellan while I can give good examples in other campaigns for alternate scenario's like Gettysburg , Overland , Etc I find it incredibly hard to do so with McClellan in the seven days battles , The fact that Lee completely unnerved McClellan and took all the initiative away from him seems to prove my point really.

Quote:

General McClellan was encouraged by the telegrams Porter sent back to his headquarters a few miles to the rear. He replied, "If the enemy are retiring and you are a chasseur, pitch in." He also told Franklin to cross the river over the Duane bridge and attack the enemy's flank if he saw a chance, but he was dismayed to hear that the VI Corps commander had destroyed the bridge for fear of a possible enemy attack. At the same time, Brig. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner of the II Corps reported enemy activity in his front. McClellan's optimism was dashed and he ordered that his headquarters equipment be packed up in preparation for the retreat.

Maybe this was the only time McClellan had a gimmer of hope of counter attacking LEE even so it didn't take a lot for him to pack his bags and retreat again.
 

Saphroneth

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You see that's the problem with McClellan while I can give good examples in other campaigns for alternate scenario's like Gettysburg , Overland , Etc I find it incredibly hard to do so with McClellan in the seven days battles , The fact that Lee completely unnerved McClellan and took all the initiative away from him seems to prove my point really.
No, it doesn't - that's ridiculous. You're saying the fact you found it hard to identify a place McClellan could have done better means he must have been worse?

General McClellan was encouraged by the telegrams Porter sent back to his headquarters a few miles to the rear. He replied, "If the enemy are retiring and you are a chasseur, pitch in." He also told Franklin to cross the river over the Duane bridge and attack the enemy's flank if he saw a chance, but he was dismayed to hear that the VI Corps commander had destroyed the bridge for fear of a possible enemy attack. At the same time, Brig. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner of the II Corps reported enemy activity in his front. McClellan's optimism was dashed and he ordered that his headquarters equipment be packed up in preparation for the retreat.
Oh, okay, so this is on the 27th I assume.

McClellan making preparations to retreat on the 27th is entirely rational, because at that point his supply line is in big trouble - he's going to need to be ready to shift supply to the James River whatever happens. His plan was to absorb Lee's pressure at the fortifications at Gaines Mill, counterattacking if possible (though Lee's force turned out to be too large to make this possible) and then shift supplies south to the James.

Up_to_Gaines_Mill.jpg



Early's force is the big problem. Porter has had to pull back to Gaines Mill, and this has uncovered the Richmond and York - McClellan's supply line.

The numbers, by the way, are PFD before Beaver Dam Creek.
 

Scott1967

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Oh, okay, so this is on the 27th I assume.

McClellan making preparations to retreat on the 27th is entirely rational, because at that point his supply line is in big trouble - he's going to need to be ready to shift supply to the James River whatever happens. His plan was to absorb Lee's pressure at the fortifications at Gaines Mill, counterattacking if possible (though Lee's force turned out to be too large to make this possible) and then shift supplies south to the James.
I agree , Jackson was poor if he had attacked when he should have we would not be having this debate.

McClellan was lucky in a way he came up against a rusty Lee and some very poorly coordinated attacks their is every chance he could have lost Porter or the vast majority of Porters command but again what ifs.

Nice speaking to you Saphroneth I have to get some work done now or my wife will shout at me:bye:

To be continued sir at your pleasure.
 
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Saphroneth

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I agree , Jackson was poor if he had attacked when he should have we would not be having this debate.
Well, to some extent, but Jackson by showing up at all unhinged the line. My suspicion is that if Jackson had shown up a day earlier then Porter would have fallen back from Beaver Dam Creek a day earlier - thus no battle of Beaver Dam Creek - but Gaines Mill would have happened on the 26th instead of the 27th. Not much change there unfortunately.

(My reason to believe this is that Porter fell back because he got news Jackson was coming. If Jackson had come up earlier, Porter would have retired earlier.)

McClellan was lucky in a way he came up against a rusty Lee and some very poorly coordinated attacks their is every chance he could have lost Porter or the vast majority of Porters command but again what ifs.
I'm not really sure you can tar them with the "poorly coordinated" brush. In the end it was a fluke cavaly error which broke the line at Gaines Mill, but Lee was attacking an inferior force in a strong position and didn't have the manpower to break through in an attack along the line given equal quality troops. Essentially Lee's attacks were (from a mathematical point of view) looking for somewhere that Porter or his troops made a mistake and the line was not as strong, or trying to panic them; what happened was that a mistake indeed took place and Lee took advantage.

Certainly Lee coordinated the wings of his army. He had Magruder demonstrating against McClellan's lines south of the Chickahominy, intending to try and prevent McClellan from stripping too many troops from them, but he also told Magruder to convert them into a genuine attack if McClellan stripped his line too much anyway.
Essentially here Lee is conducting a manoeuvre sur les derrieres.

Incidentally, here is a place McClellan could have done something different - he could have transferred more troops over the Chickahominy to fight with Porter (sooner). However this would require actively disregarding Porter's confident tone and also the worries of his corps commanders about how many troops they could safely give up.
 
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No, it doesn't - that's ridiculous. You're saying the fact you found it hard to identify a place McClellan could have done better means he must have been worse?



Oh, okay, so this is on the 27th I assume.

McClellan making preparations to retreat on the 27th is entirely rational, because at that point his supply line is in big trouble - he's going to need to be ready to shift supply to the James River whatever happens. His plan was to absorb Lee's pressure at the fortifications at Gaines Mill, counterattacking if possible (though Lee's force turned out to be too large to make this possible) and then shift supplies south to the James.

View attachment 200586


Early's force is the big problem. Porter has had to pull back to Gaines Mill, and this has uncovered the Richmond and York - McClellan's supply line.

The numbers, by the way, are PFD before Beaver Dam Creek.
Your comments on the lines of communication remind me of the old adage, "amateurs talk tactics; professionals talk logistics."

The attempt on Richmond via the Peninsula was daring and brilliant, but going directly to the enemy's capital, a rail hub, up an isthmus deep in enemy territory with limited range for foraging required constant logistical support. It would have been difficult in the best of times, but then there was the rain.

LeDuc's Recollections of a Civil War Quartermaster describes the shocking speed of the Chickahominy's rise -- even if they'd had adequate maps the charts would have been nearly useless once that stream became a much larger swamp with a river running through it.

Newton Timothy Hartshorn, a company clerk in the engineers, recorded in his journal the end of the march to Harrison's Landing: "July 4, 1862: When we woke up the pitiless rain was beating in our faces – drenched to the skin and stiff, hungry, and sick, we came down here where the water until just now has been a foot deep under the wheat straw which thank Heaven was stacked up here by the hundreds of tons and which we have piled up as I said so we do not actually sleep in water. Our company papers had to be made out immediately and I went to work yesterday morning on the rolls sitting on my rubber blanket and writing on a book on my knees. My pants were so wet and thick with mud I could not put them on, and the only dry things I had was a shirt and a pair of drawers and my overcoat and I sat and wrote all day with those on and today have got all through except my clothing rolls and Quarterly returns which can be put off until tomorrow or a little while at any rate.”

R. B. Irwin began his chapter on the Peninsula in Seeking the Bubble with pages of complaints about the rain, beginning with the simple statement, "The rain dripped down the back of our necks. When I have said that, I have described the most disagreeable of the little miseries that render life intolerable."

The practical impact of all this fell not just on the roads but on the condition of the men and horses, especially the former. The opening of Letterman's Medical Recollections deals at length with the disease raging through the army as a result of fighting in the swamps and rains -- fever, colds, and other ills incapacitating whole swaths of the army.

The rain fell on the rebels, too, but they were on their own ground and had only to hold it. When they tried to do much more, as Lee attempted at Malvern Hill, one would be hard put to see any of the genius or magic that McClellan is so harshly criticized for not having...
 

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Harpers Ferry was fairly defensible, at least if the heights were occupied. The problem is that they gave up possession of the heights.


That article claims only 40,000 Confederate troops and 200 guns with McClellan's army "more than twice that size, with 300 guns". It's based off false assumptions (specifically, it's comparing McClellan's campaign strength with Lee's Effectives).
It also claims only 15,000 men at Sharpsburg on the 15th and early 16th; the true number is 25,000, at least if you're giving McClellan's full strength in campaign PFD.

Since it seems like the main thing it's claiming as a missed opportunity is an attack on the 15th or 16th, then that alternative can be dismissed (I've already looked at the true force ratio).
I was simply pointing out the article as with others have different interpretations over how McClellan performed in Antietam.
 
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Saphroneth

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I was simply pointing out the article as with others have different interpretations over how McClellan performed in Antietam.
I'm sure, and I did look through the article to see if there was an example of a genuine missed opportunity, but unfortunately it has the same "person count error" as often happens at Antietam and assumed an opportunity that did not exist.

The rain fell on the rebels, too, but they were on their own ground and had only to hold it. When they tried to do much more, as Lee attempted at Malvern Hill, one would be hard put to see any of the genius or magic that McClellan is so harshly criticized for not having...
Malvern is a special case, Lee didn't intend to actually fight that one - the entire attack was an accident, Lee was trying to conduct a turning movement instead.

The Seven Days take place (or start, at least) during actual good campaign weather, as it happens. But both April and June 1862, and to a lesser extent May, are part of one of the most unsettled periods of weather in modern history because of a volcanic eruption in eastern Africa. It's also why the storms that hit Burnside's expedition were so terrible, or why the majority of California flooded.


The attempt on Richmond via the Peninsula was daring and brilliant, but going directly to the enemy's capital, a rail hub, up an isthmus deep in enemy territory with limited range for foraging required constant logistical support. It would have been difficult in the best of times, but then there was the rain.
It's also worth considering that some of McClellan's plans included options to deal with this, but they didn't meet much favour in Washington - probably because a force on the James was considered much less able to defend the Capital.
 

67th Tigers

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Like I said before Oak Grove and the small actions before that were all small scale operations , Old George was 4 miles away from the attack at Oak grove , He stopped the attack then ordered the troops back to their starting position and restarted the attack again suppose that makes sense?.
This is largely incorrect.

Oak Grove was a movement to cover another movement, that against Old Tavern, on the 26th (the following day). Old Tavern was the "vital terrain". Possession of that position would mean that Richmond was within range of the Federal guns, and hence it must fall.

Along the 3rd Corps front the lines were essentially where they were on 2nd June. The rainstorms had meant it was impossible to move forward, but they'd abated a few days before and the ground had dried. To cover his planned attack at Old Tavern McClellan would advance his left into contact with the main rebel position. This would mean the rebels could not strip their lines along the frontage of Huger's Corps (he commanded two divisions) and would pin down large numbers of rebels in their defences. To achieve this McClellan tapped 4 divisions; Hooker's division would be in the centre, and Kearny's division would conform on Hooker's left, and Richardson on Hooker's right, whilst Couch's division was in reserve.

The attack was scheduled for dawn but was late. Hooker had been briefed on the afternoon of the 24th, along with the other division commanders, by McClellan personally. Hooker had not extracted the orders to his brigadiers, who received the orders over breakfast after they were supposed to have attacked. Apparently he'd awaited the formal written order before taking any action, which was only issued by Heintzelman's HQ at 2030 (being an extract of McClellan's 1830 written order to Heintzelman), and took some time to arrive.

Hooker stepped off at 0800 in a 2 up, 1 back formation. To his right advanced Sickles' bde (Sedgwick) and on his left Berry's (Kearny). Huger immediately reacted by sending a whole division to attack Hooker. Under the furious counterattack Hooker lost his nerve and started sending back a stream of messages to Heintzelman that he was outnumbered 3:1 and was on the verge of being overrun. Heintzelman telegraphed McClellan's HQ with a request to be allowed to withdraw, which Marcy agreed to. Almost immediately thereafter this was countermanded and a message came to hold firm and await McClellan. This was at 1100, and McClellan arrived before 1300.

McClellan had been overseeing the preparations for the attack towards Old Tavern the next day, that being his main effort. On riding down to Heintzelman's HQ he picked up Heintzelman and rode to Casey's Redoubt. There he climbed the tree to the signals station and observed Hooker. Climbing down he announced there was no reason to stop and the attack should be renewed. At that moment an artillery bombardment came in on the redoubt and everyone but McClellan ducked for cover, leaving McClellan standing alone on the ramparts, cigar in one hand and binos in the other watching the enemy. It was now 1300. He ordered Heintzelman to bring up all his artillery, send it to the front and blast the rebels with canister. This was done and sent the rebels back into their entrenchments.

McClellan remained with Heintzelman until 1700, keeping a firm grip on him. He left with 3rd Corps digging in a new line a mile closer to the main enemy line, and only separated by ca. 600 yds of open ground. McClellan returned to his HQ, dealt with his O-gp for the next days action and wrote his despatches to Washington.

On the same day (26th), Smith division attacked at Garnett's Hill.
 
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67th Tigers

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Huh, would you look at that, confusion between "office of X" and "X personally".
Yep. McClellan was "out of office" on the 6th Corps front.

Though the first message was almost immediately countermanded, and no troops actually withdrew, you'll often find snide little "fighting back over the ground they'd already gained" comments in those that use Sears as a source.

Of course, McClellan's orders to Heintzleman regarding the next days fighting was basically to withdraw half the troops back into the entrenchments, leaving the other half as a heavy skirmish line with orders to fall back on the entrenchments if pushed. That was the situation the next day (i.e. during Beaver Dam Creek) when McClellan sent round a circular asking who could spare what? Heintzelman answered:

HEADQUARTERS THIRD CORPS, June 26—4 p. m.

I think I can hold the intrenchments with four brigades for twenty-four hours. That would leave two brigades disposable for service on the other side of the river, but the men are so tired and worn-out that I fear they would not be in a condition to fight after making a march of any distance. * *

S. P. HEINTZELMAN,
Brigadier- General.
 
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Saphroneth

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Though the first message was almost immediately countermanded, and no troops actually withdrew, you'll often find snide little "fighting back over the ground they'd already gained" comments in those that use Sears as a source.
That is actually quite surprising - I wonder where that reading of the events came from.

Of course, McClellan's 2245 to Heintzleman regarding the next days fighting was basically to withdraw half the troops back into the entrenchments, leaving the other half as a heavy skirmish line with orders to fall back on the entrenchments if pushed.
One assumes the idea was to have the heavy skirmish line fortify to become the new main resistance line, unles that is the old position was greatly superior in defensibility.
 

67th Tigers

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McClellan was begging to be attacked but luckily for him the attacks were all poorly coordinated by a rusty Lee who still managed to drive him away from Richmond , Should McClellan have counter attacked? We will never know as he didn't even attempt to try and counter Lee or test him.
Welcome to US doctrine as taught at the USMA mid-19th century.

US doctrine was to entrench and get the enemy to attack you. Entrenchments are a combat multiplier, and enable manoeuvre. You can hold the enemy with a small part of your force and maneouvre the other to strike when the enemy is through bashing their heads against entrenchments.

Ca. two entrenched divisions behind Beaver Dam Creek completely humbugged Lee, who was moving against them with 17 brigades. It was a slaughter with > 5:1 exchange ratio. Lee's only option was to turn the position and Jackson came down behind it and did exactly that..

As to should McClellan of counterattacked? Well that gives up the massive combat multiplier of the entrenchments, and gives (assuming you're talking towards Richmond) the same multiplier to the enemy. Lee had left 11 brigades of infantry entrenched in his Richmond works numbering about 40,000. That's basically the size of the force that held Grant off for ten months 2-3 years later. The idea of a sudden lunge overwhelming Richmond is literally laughable. Should it have been tried? No, because if he'd have done it McClellan would have dashed his army against entrenchments using up all the resources they had for basically no chance of success.
 
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67th Tigers

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One assumes the idea was to have the heavy skirmish line fortify to become the new main resistance line, unles that is the old position was greatly superior in defensibility.
Yep. He's ordered them to cut down the trees (which would bring the supporting artillery at the entrenchments into play) and buildup breastworks on the rifle pits they'd already dug. However, the old line had almost a month of work and was physically much stronger.
 

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Indeed, the only way to get through entrenchments in the American context without either great numerical advantage and the attentant casualties or just going around them ("turning the position") is to blast one's way through. This entails making use of artillery firepower to effectively neutralize the position, by:

- unseating enemy artillery
- breaking up the abatis and parapet
- threatening or causing heavy shelling casualties (heavy enough artillery could put shell right through the parapet)

It's how the positions magnifiques of the French in the Franco-Prussian War were taken - basically they were just blasted out of the position.
 
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