Welcome the Hour of Conflict: William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama

By John C. Carter | Go to book overview

5
The Road to the Peninsula
January 8–March 24, 1862

We whip them every time we meet.

—WCM

At the beginning of 1862, William and the 9th Alabama remained encamped in the Centreville area. Hopes for a quick invasion of Washington, D.C., and an early end to the war had faded. With increased Union activity in Washington, Confederate leaders were trying to figure out the Union army’s next move now that it was under the command of Gen. George Brinton McClellan. By January 1862 there were 98,050 men in the Department of Northern Virginia,1 and Confederate forces, in their winter quarters at Centreville, continued their work constructing fortifications and building a military railroad between Centreville and Manassas. Joseph Johnston’s army defended a line from the Potomac River below Mount Vernon north to the Potomac River near Leesburg, Virginia. All of the approaches to Richmond were thus covered, except for a possible flanking movement far around their right flank via the Potomac River.

Gen. Joseph E. Johnston moved the Confederate army from Centreville toward the Virginia Peninsula on March 8, in anticipation of General McClellan’s movement to attack Richmond. McClellan wanted to avoid a frontal assault on the fortified positions at Centreville while marching on Richmond, and he moved around them by attacking up the Virginia Peninsula. He planned to reach West Point on the York River and to use the Richmond and York Railroad to support his drive on Richmond, while cutting off and capturing the Confederate defenders on the peninsula by advancing from the Rappahannock River to the York River. With Johnston getting the jump on him, McClellan modified his plans of attacking Richmond by landing at Fort Monroe on the very end of the Virginia Peninsula.

As they evacuated Manassas, the Confederates left behind 3,240,000 pounds of subsistence stores and 2,000,000 pounds of bacon and salted meat at their meat-cutting plant, located at Chapman’s Mill in Thoroughfare Gap at the Prince William County and Fauquier County line.2 The retreating Confederate forces burned all the stores and supplies they could not carry

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