Shades of Blue and Gray: An Introductory Military History of the Civil War

By Herman Hattaway | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Peninsula Campaign

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan succeeded quite well in the task of bringing his forces to combat readiness. His army became a far more formidable one than any ever before mustered by the United States: ninety infantry regiments, twenty artillery batteries with one hundred pieces of field artillery, and nine cavalry regiments—all adding up to approximately one hundred thousand men. Too, by shortly before the end of 1861, the Federals completed construction of a thirty-seven-mile belt of powerful fortifications around Washington (linked together and further strengthened by a brigade of Regular Army cavalry under Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke).

But McClellan resisted forming any organization larger than a division. Not opposed to creating corps, he wanted the army to get some experience in actual campaigning first and for himself to have the opportunity to judge his generals’ performances at division level. But political considerations and military judgment commingled in precipitating Lincoln’s and Stanton’s decision to force McClellan to accept a corps structure.

It began to seem to impatient civilians, however, that McClellan might never be ready for the army to take the field. Earlier, Lincoln had issued a general order that the Army of the Potomac must move forth on or before Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1862. That date came and went, and nothing happened. As the weeks and months slipped by and spring arrived, the victorious Confederate army under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, headquartered at Manassas (only thirty miles from the Federal capital), was not only an embarrassment to the United States but it was increasing in readiness as well.

Urged by Stanton and by the Committee on Conduct, Lincoln issued a second general order on March 7, 1862. McClellan’s army was restructured into four corps, and Lincoln promoted a coterie of good Republicans to take their command: Maj. Gens. Irvin McDowell, Edwin V. Sumner, Samuel P.

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