The Peninsula Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis

The Peninsula Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis

The Peninsula Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis

The Peninsula Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis


The largest offensive of the Civil War, involving army, navy, and marine forces, the Peninsula Campaign has inspired many history books. No previous work, however, analyzes Union general George B. McClellan's massive assault toward Richmond in the context of current and enduring military doctrine. The Peninsula Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis fills this void. Background history is provided for continuity, but the heart of this book is military analysis and the astonishing extent to which the personality traits of generals often overwhelm even the best efforts of their armies.

The Peninsula Campaign lends itself to such a study. Lessons for those studying the art of war are many. On water, the first ironclads forever changed naval warfare. At the strategic level, McClellan's inability to grasp Lincoln's grand objective becomes evident. At the operational level, Robert E. Lee's difficulty in synchronizing his attacks deepens the mystique of how he achieved so much with so little. At the tactical level, the Confederate use of terrain to trade space for time allows for a classic study in tactics.

Moreover, the campaign is full of lessons about the personal dimension of war. McClellan's overcaution, Lee's audacity, and Jackson's personal exhaustion all provide valuable insights for today's commanders and for Civil War enthusiasts still debating this tremendous struggle. Historic photos and detailed battle maps make this study an invaluable resource for those touring the many battlegrounds from Young's Mill and Yorktown through Fair Oaks to the final throes of the Seven Days' Battles.

Kevin Dougherty, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is professor of military science at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is the author of The Coastal War in North and South Carolina. J. Michael Moore, Yorktown, Virginia, is the registrar of Lee Hall Mansion.


On March 17, 1862, Major General George McClellan launched an amphibious movement from Alexandria to Fort Monroe, Virginia. His intention was to turn the Confederate defenses and to advance on Richmond. Upon landing, the Federals enjoyed a four-toone numerical superiority over the Confederates. In spite of this initial advantage, McClellan quickly ceased offensive operations and instead endeavored to reduce Yorktown by siege.

While McClellan brought up his siege train, General Robert E. Lee, in his role as military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, set in motion a reconcentration of forces that would allow the Confederates to block McClellan's approach to Richmond. However, Lee's plan required time. The Confederate forces on the Peninsula would have to fight a delaying action to gain this time.

General Joseph Johnston was in command of the Confederate field forces in Virginia, and Major General John Magruder commanded the Army of the Peninsula. On May 3, 1862, Johnston abandoned Yorktown and fought a delaying action back toward Richmond. Major General James Longstreet covered the withdrawal with a sharp rearguard action fought at Williamsburg on May 5.

As Johnston withdrew up the Peninsula, Norfolk was isolated, and the Confederate forces evacuated it on May 9. This left the CSS Virginia without a home port and forced the crew to scuttle the ironclad. With the Virginia out of the picture, the Federal navy was free to threaten Richmond via the James River. The Federal gunboats got as far as Drewry's Bluff, within eight miles of Richmond, before being repulsed on May 15.

While Major General Stonewall Jackson was keeping Federal forces tied down in the Shenandoah Valley and keeping President Abraham Lincoln worried about the safety of Washington, Confederates and Federals clashed at Seven Pines on May 31 and June 1. The battle highlighted the . . .

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