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Battle of Antietam Sections
Skirmish in the East Woods
The Battle of Antietam
Battle of Antietam
The Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula
by Kevin S. Lacey

It took the navy some three weeks to transfer the Army of the Potomac to Fort Monroe. During that time, Lincoln discovered a significant discrepancy between the numbers of troops actually available to defend Washington and the number McClellan had promised would be there.[41]  To increase the number of troops available to protect Washington, he immediately countermanded the embarkation order for McDowell's First Corps, depriving McClellan of some 35,000-40,000 men. McClellan was furious and he begged Lincoln to rescind the order that, in his "deliberate judgment", "imperiled" the success of the campaign.[42]  Privately, he "raised an awful row", but apart from venting his rage to a few select friends and his wife, there was nothing he could do.[43]

The Confederate reaction to all this was not swift, for although Davis and Johnston were aware of the Army of the Potomac's embarkation almost as soon as it began, there was some doubt as to the army's ultimate destination.[44]  By the time Johnston began his retreat south toward Richmond and the Peninsula, McClellan already had achieved overwhelming numerical superiority on the Peninsula. Heavily outnumbered, the Confederates did little to impeded McClellan's advance, apart from a few theatrical demonstrations, but McClellan was in no hurry to move until the army was fully concentrated.[45]

General Joseph Johnston had little difficulty in moving his army south to interdict McClellan, and he had many opportunities to make a stand on the Peninsula, but refused ostensibly because of McClellan's control of the York and James Rivers and because this would only delay McClellan's advance: Johnston would make his stand before Richmond.[46]  Davis refused to accept Johnston's strategy and ordered him to defend the Peninsula; but it is likely that Johnston never intended to obey his orders, and he knew that it would not be long before he would begin his retreat back toward Richmond.[47]

Johnston slowly advanced down the Peninsula to meet McClellan who was still doing very little.[48]  Johnston positioned his army between Yorktown and the James River, where it remained until the end of the month when McClellan finally began to stir. Johnston, fearful of the dominance of Federal artillery, advised Davis on April 27th that Yorktown would have to be abandoned.[49]  Technically, Johnston was probably correct, for McClellan had placed his siege guns and was ready to pound Yorktown, and Johnston, into dust.[50]  Nevertheless, Davis expressed surprise and asked Johnston to remain a few days longer in order to salvage as much equipment and supplies from Norfolk as possible.[51]  Johnston complied, and began his retreat on May 3rd.[52]  When McClellan awoke the next morning and was advised the Confederates had retreated from their trenches, he refused to credit the report and went back to sleep.[53]

The question on everyone's mind in Richmond was, now that he had begun his retreat, where would Johnston halt? Communications between Davis and his taciturn commander had always been a problem, but now they reached a crisis. Davis simply could not get Johnston to advise him of his plans.[54]  Johnston continued to withdraw, and Davis continued to prod him – bother personally and through Lee – for definitive information, but none was forthcoming. Finally, on May 18th Davis rode out to meet with his commander who he expected to find on the Chickahominy where he had been the day before. Upon reaching the suburbs of Richmond, however, Davis was shocked to see the tents of Johnston's army encamped before him, and at first he refused to believe that this was, in fact, Johnston's army.[55]  Davis met with Johnston and threatened to relieve him with someone willing to fight. He would countenance no further retreats.[56]

To help alleviate the growing stress between them, and in the hope that perhaps Johnston would be more forthcoming to an old friend, Davis instructed Lee to communicate with Johnston to ascertain his plans. Lee tried, but had no better luck than Davis.[57]  Johnston remained enigmatic.

Finally, in late May, after misreading the movements of Union forces, Johnston decided to attack.[58]  On May 31, 1862, Johnston attacked McClellan at Seven Pines, and was repulsed adding yet another name to the lengthening lists of Confederate defeats suffered in 1862.[59]  Among the Confederate casualties was Johnston himself who was severely wounded. The wound was sufficiently serious to warrant his removal from command, and the following day Davis appointed Robert E. Lee as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.[60]

At the beginning of the war, Lee had, like his counterpart George McClellan, seemed marked for greatness. He came from a long, distinguished family that traced its roots in Virginia to 1641.[61]  Lee was the son of Light Horse Harry Lee, a Major General during the American Revolution and a close friend of George Washington. Failing health caused Light Horse Harry to leave his family shortly after Lee was born in 1809 and he died before his return.[62]
 
At West Point Lee finished second in the class of 1829, and in his four years at the academy he received only one demerit.[63]  Like McClellan, he graduated and served with the Engineers. But, unlike McClellan, he had an excellent combat record during the Mexican-American War, serving General Scott as his pseudo "Chief of Staff.[64]

In the early 1850s, Lee served briefly as the Superintendent at West Point and, in 1855 (the same year he took a liking to young George McClellan and sent him off to Europe) Secretary of War Jefferson Davis appointed Lee Lt. Colonel in the newly created 2nd U.S. Cavalry; a unit commanded by Davis' old friend, Albert Sydney Johnston.[65]

Following Lincoln's election, Lee was concerned about how the South would react. The answer was not long in coming, for in December 1860 South Carolina withdrew from the Union, and was followed in January 1861 by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. Amidst this wave of secession, Lee wrote to his cousin that only "God alone" could save the South from such "folly, selfishness, and shortsightedness."[66]  God, however, refused to intervene and on April 12, 1861, the Confederate batteries in Charleston Harbor fired on Fort Sumter. Events then moved swiftly for Lee.

Until the attack on Sumter and Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion, it was not at all clear whether Virginia would follow the Deep South.[67]  On April 17th (subject to a May 25th referendum) Virginia revisited the issue of secession and voted to secede. The next day, Lee was offered command of what was intended to be the main Union Army.[68]  He refused, and on April 20th submitted his resignation. Two days later, he accepted a commission as a Major General from the Governor John Letcher of Virginia, and was offered the command of Virginia's "military and naval forces" – such as they were.[69]  Within days of Virginia's secession ordinance, Jefferson Davis contacted Letcher to ascertain Lee's whereabouts, and then he unsuccessfully tried to convince Lee to come to Montgomery Alabama to confer with him.[70]  Although there "was never a question in Davis' mind that he wanted Lee with him", the real question was what did Davis intend for Lee?[71]

In early June 1861, Virginia voted to ratify the Confederate Constitution. That same day, Lee issued orders transferring command of Virginia's forces to the Confederacy. He was now a general without an army.[72]  Initially, it does not appear that Davis considered a field command for Lee. Johnston had been in command in Northern Virginia since May 1861, and Beauregard would soon join him. Sidney Johnston was firmly established in the West. It is probable that Davis initially considered Lee more of an asset as a close military advisor.[73]  Yet before Davis could make much use of Lee, he was dispatched to deal with events in West Virginia where Union sentiment, always strong, was manifesting itself into armed resistance.

Lee's campaign to "liberate" west Virginia was not successful. He confessed to Governor Letcher that the inability to drive the Federals of West Virginia out was "a grievous disappointment".[74]  Arriving back in Richmond in late October 1861, Lee was sent almost immediately to the Atlantic Coast where he supervised the defenses.[75]  He returned to Richmond in March of 1862.

Davis appointed Lee his main advisor and he was "under the direction of the President, charged with the conduct of military operations in the armies of the Confederacy", a title that indicated little more than his increased influence with Davis.[76]  Lee's appointment was met with a decidedly mixed reception.[77]

Lee's first task was to reinforce Johnston who was reluctantly advancing down the Peninsula to face McClellan. Simultaneously, Lee sought to prevent McDowell and other Federal forces in the Shenandoah Valley from marching south to join McClellan. Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson ably accomplished this task with his brilliant campaign in the Valley.[78]  Jackson, by a series of brilliant marches had totally befuddled three independent commands in the Valley and had eluded Federal attempts to trap his force in the Valley.[79]

The injury to Johnston at Seven Pines changed everything. Now, Lee was no longer advising, he was in command.[80]  Lee's first move was to inform Davis of his plans, something his predecessor had repeatedly failed to do.[81]  His initial communication with Davis was more a general outline of strategic possibilities than it was a precise plan of operations.[82]  But, within a few days, however, Lee was forming more concrete plans.

What resulted was a series of battles known as the Seven Days where Lee first attacked Porter's Fifth Corps north of the Chickahominy River and then pursued the Army of the Potomac as it retreated across the Peninsula to its new base on the James River. Within a week McClellan's army had been driven thirty odd miles from Richmond. But the cost had been high, and Lee was keenly disappointed that the Federal Army had not been destroyed.83 In his report, Lee refused to criticize any of his subordinates, and attributed the Federals' escape to McClellan's "skillful" retreat across the peninsula and to "the want of correct and timely information".[84]  In fact, however, the causes underlying Lee's failure to destroy McClellan were more complex.[85]

Despite McClellan's escape most rejoiced at Lee's triumph and the delivery of Richmond, and many consider the Seven Days Lee's "greatest achievement" as a commander.[86]  Still others remained unconvinced and, after so many setbacks, were reluctant to join in what could be a very premature celebration.[87]

While the Seven Days may have given the Confederacy a desperately needed victory after so many months of defeat, and while it provided a significant boost to morale, strategically it did little to change the situation in the East. The Seven Days had removed, but not eliminated, the threat to the safety of Richmond, and McClellan was still dangerously close to the Confederate Capital. From his new base on the James River, he could begin another advance on Richmond or, like Grant in 1864, strike towards Petersburg. Furthermore, in any second attempt at Richmond, McClellan could rely on additional assistance from the newly created Army of Virginia currently operating in northern Virginia. Indeed, the situation facing Lee was, in some respects, more perilous than before the Seven Days, for now there were two large armies within striking distance of Richmond that presented Lincoln with the rare "prospect of exploiting the North's superior resources to close on Lee a vise so powerful that all Lee's skill might not have sufficed to resist it …"[88]  Furthermore, Lee had, temporarily at least, been compelled to surrender the initiative and was a captive of events beyond his control: He could move against either Pope or McClellan for fear that the other army would maneuver in his rear and possibly capture Richmond. The first move in the next campaign would clearly belong to the North.

Footnotes

[41] Just after McClellan sailed for the Peninsula, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton looked at a map, did a few calculations himself, and discovered that McClellan had apparently duped them. Instead of 50-73,000 men in Washington, fewer than 27,000 men, the majority of which were new recruits, defended the Capital. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 34.

[42] O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, p. 71. Sandburg, Carl, Abraham Lincoln The War Years (Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1939), vol. 1, pp. 472-473

[43] Sears, Stephen W., Ed. The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, Selected Correspondence 1860-1865 (Ticknor & Fields, 1989), p. 234. McClellan claimed that the loss of McDowell's troops compromised his entire campaign, and even a year later, when he wrote his official report, McClellan was still "incensed" over the matter. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 40. O.R. Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 1, pp. 5-105. To his wife, McClellan wrote with typical hyperbole that this "was the most infamous thing history has recorded." Sears, Stephen W., Ed. The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, Selected Correspondence 1860-1865 (Ticknor & Fields, 1989), p. 233.

[44] Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990), p. 111.

[45] Major General John Magruder commanded 10-11,000 men on the Peninsula when the bulk of McClellan's Army arrived at Fort Monroe. An old army officer with a flair for amateur theatrics, Magruder put on a magnificent performance, having his troops march and countermarch until he convinced the gullible McClellan that his army faced far more than a handful of Confederate infantry. Casdorph, Paul D. Prince John Magruder (Wiley, 1996), pp. 143-145. Alexander, Edward P. Fighting for the Confederacy, the Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander (Chapel Hill, 1989), p. 74. Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990), p. 111.

[46] Although impressed with Magruder's theatrics, Johnston was less impressed with his defensive line. In Johnston's opinion it would be foolish to try and defend the Peninsula for two main reasons: First, Union control of the York and James Rivers left the flanks of the Confederate Army exposed to an easy turning movement; second, fighting on the Peninsula would only serve to delay McClellan's advance because they could not hope to destroy his army there. On April 14th in a lengthy conference that included Davis, Lee, G.W. Smith (Johnston's second in command) and James Longstreet, Johnston argued that the Peninsula should be abandoned and that all troops in the Eastern Theatre should be brought to Richmond to face McClellan with an army "as numerous" as his own. There, Johnston would win his decisive victory and destroy McClellan. Joseph E, A Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990) pp. 111-116. Davis mostly listened and Longstreet said little. Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox (Blue & Grey Press, 1984), p. 66. The plan was not well received, and in the end Davis adopted Lee's suggestion that the Confederates take advantage of the defensive terrain in the Peninsula. Joseph E, A Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990) pp. 111-116. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (Harper Collins, 1991) pp. 415. Davis probably made the correct decision. Even assuming that the South could strips available troops in the Atlantic Coast and transport them to Richmond by rail, McClellan still would have enjoyed a significant numerical advantage, even without McDowell.

[47] Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990), p. 116. Dowdy, Clifford The Seven Days, The Emergence of Robert E. Lee (Fairfax Press, 1954), p. 55.

[48] Johnston speculated that McClellan's long delay in attempting to assault Yorktown was to mask a plan to capture Richmond by a coup de main, using his ironclads on the James River that could reach Richmond before Johnston's army. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, part. 3, p. 473. Otherwise, he speculated, "I cannot account … for the long delay here." Ibid. Johnston simply could not believe that McClellan, with his overwhelming superiority, was simply too cautious to move. In fact, McClellan had again deluded himself that he was heavily outnumbered, with Alan Pinkerton reporting to him that the Confederates had at least 100,000 to 120,000 men and probably more in the trenches at Yorktown. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 67. Ironically, only a few days before, McClellan himself estimated the Confederate strength to be around 80,000 men –an excessive, but nevertheless a much more accurate estimate that Pinkerton's. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, part 3, pp. 114-115.

[49] Johnston reported to Lee, much as he had advised the President at the April 14th meeting,; "as I stated in Richmond, the fight for Yorktown … must be one of artillery, in which we can't win." O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, part. 3, p. 473. As justification for disobeying Davis' orders to defend the Peninsula, he complained that the Federal artillery would allow it to shell the Confederate positions without fear of exposure. Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990), p. 118. Two days later, Johnston revisited a plan previously rejected by Davis and proposed that the South "collect all the troops we have in the east and cross the Potomac with them, while Beauregard, with all the troops we have in the West, invades Ohio." No mention was made of securing Richmond. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, part. 3, p. 473. Considering that this plan came upon the heels of Shiloh, and that Beauregard was at that very moment expressing his doubts about even holding Corinth with the as yet un-reinforced Army of the Mississippi, Johnston's letter must have struck Lee and Davis as almost surreal. Lee responded by reminding Johnston that his plan to cross the Potomac "has been the subject of consideration" – a polite and indirect way of telling Johnston that his plan already been discussed and rejected. Lee ended the communication with what can only be described as classic understatement in advising Johnston that an invasion of Ohio by Beauregard, "however desirable," was "at this time impracticable". O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, part. 3, p. 485.

[50] Dowdy, Clifford The Seven Days, The Emergence of Robert E. Lee (Fairfax Press, 1954), p. 55. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 67. Of course, this was a problem that would not disappear once Johnston retreated from Yorktown. The range of the Federal siege guns and heavy artillery would not decrease as the armies approached Richmond. Given sufficient time, McClellan would have moved forward most of the guns that had rendered the Yorktown line untenable, forcing the evacuation of Richmond. By retreating, Johnston was simply delaying the ultimate confrontation, not eliminating it.

[51] O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, part. 3, p. 485.

[52] Prior to May 3rd there had been some serious skirmishing, but no major clashes between the armies. Magruder, physically exhausted, was confined to his bed, but the theatrical general could not fail to make one last dramatic gesture. An aide reported that, as the Confederate Army began its retreat, Magruder raised himself slowly in his bunk, and with tears streaming down his face, pointed to his little army and muttered "Sic transit gloria peninsula". Casdorph, Paul D. Prince John McGruder (Wiley, 1996), pp. 153.

[53] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 67.

[54] The anxiety Johnston's movements caused Davis was heightened by his inability or refusal to communicate his intentions to the President. Confining himself instead to pleas for reinforcements and suggesting grandiose and impractical plans, Davis, as late as May 17th and some two weeks after Johnston had begun his trek back from Yorktown, still had no idea what his general intended to do. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, part. 3, pp. 523-524. Johnston, rather feebly, later tried to excuse his lack of communication by claiming that he could not "consult with [Davis] without adopting the course he might advise." Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), p. 26. This is an amazing admission for an army commander. Furthermore, it was baseless. Johnston's own actions before, and during, the campaign illustrate that Davis allowed him great latitude. During the retreat, Davis wrote to Johnston stating "As on all further occasions, my design is to suggest, not to direct, recognizing the impossibility of any one to decide in advance; and reposing confidently as well as on your ability as your zeal, it is my wish to leave you with the fullest powers to exercise your judgment." O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pat 3, p. 524. Davis may have expressed public confidence in Johnston's zeal and ability, but privately he had his doubts: On May 8th he sent his family from Richmond to live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (Harper Collins, 1991) p. 415. In all likelihood Johnston did not reveal his plans probably because he knew that Davis would reject them. Indeed, from his movements it is fairly clear that Johnston intended to fight his battle, if at all, before Richmond in the manner he had presented – and the had President rejected – at the April 14th meeting in Richmond. Johnston recorded that events would compel the Government "to adopt my method of opposing the Federal army." (Emphasis added.) And his method had always been to fight before Richmond. Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990), p. 116. Dowdy, Clifford The Seven Days, The Emergence of Robert E. Lee (Fairfax Press, 1954), p. 55. His movements toward the city confirmed that this was, indeed, his plan. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (Harper Collins, 1991), p. 423.

[55] Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (Harper Collins, 1991) pp. 421-422.

[56] Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), p. 27. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (Harper Collins, 1991) pp. 421-422.

[57] Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), pp. 223-224.

[58] The decision to fight resulted from Johnston's misreading of the movements of McDowell's First Corps and Porter's Fifth Corps. Johnston had mistakenly placed a Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Lawrence Branch, a former Congressman, in a rather exposed position at Hanover Court House. On May 27th Branch was attacked by Porter's entire corps. Outnumbered about three-to-one, Branch remained on the field a bit too long and took a drubbing. At the same time, Johnston received news that McDowell was marching south (he was, in fact, merely exercising his troops), and Johnston not unnaturally linked these two events: To Johnston, McDowell's movement and Porter's attack meant that the former was moving south to link up with the latter. In fact, noting of the kind was planned. Nevertheless, the fear of McClellan's already overwhelming numbers being augmented by more than 30,000 men finally prompted Johnston to plan an attack before McDowell could arrive. Dowdy, Clifford The Seven Days, The Emergence of Robert E. Lee (Fairfax Press, 1954), pp. 81-82. . Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 113-117.

[59] The Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks was, at best, a haphazard affair. Although Johnston took the time to discuss his plans with Longstreet, he did not bother to do so with his two other principal subordinates, Huger and Smith.. Dowdy, Clifford The Seven Days, The Emergence of Robert E. Lee (Fairfax Press, 1954), pp. 89-91. Johnston did, however, issue written orders to Huger and Smith, but they were vague, and Johnston probably only added to the ensuing confusion by issuing them. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox (Blue & Grey Press, 1984), pp. 88-90. Neither order explained why Huger and Smith were to be subordinate to Longstreet who they both outranked. Neither order explained Johnston's real intentions; indeed, Huger's orders did not even mention the fact that Johnston intended to fight a battle. Ibid. Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990), pp. 132-133. Johnston's well known "aversion to detail" was never more apparent than in the lack of planning and organization that marked this battle. Alexander, Edward P. Military Memoirs of a Confederate (De Capo, 1993), p. 93. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 120. Wert, Jeffrey D. General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier (Simon & Schuster, 1993), p. 113. Not surprisingly, the plan miscarried from the start, with the various divisions caught in a gigantic road-jam that took hours to untangle, and only a fraction of the troops involved in Johnston's plans actually engaged the enemy. Id. at 114-115. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 138. The next day G. W. Smith, briefly renewed the attack but by the early afternoon when Lee had arrived to take command Smith was suffering something akin to a nervous breakdown. By the end of the second day, the Confederates had suffered over 6,000 casualties and McClellan about 5,000. Wert, Jeffrey D. General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier (Simon & Schuster, 1993), p. 123. Afterward, and despite the universal opinion that the battle was a mishandled, Johnston showed himself capable of self-delusion when he wrote later that "darkness only" terminated the battle and implied that, had he not been wounded, a great success would have ensued the following day. Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990), pp. 139-142. Dowdy, Clifford The Seven Days, The Emergence of Robert E. Lee (Fairfax Press, 1954), pp. 89-91.124-125. Johnston, in fact, claimed this debacle as a victory. Johnston, Joseph E. "Manassas to Seven Pines" in B&L, vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 217. Although Johnston is generally considered to have bungled the operation, for a different view see Newton, Steve H. Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond (Modern War Studies, 1998).

[60] O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, part. 3, pp. 568-569.

[61] Dowdy, Clifford Lee (Bonanza, 1955), pp. 8-9.

[62] Although distinguished during the American Revolution, Light Horse Harry's name would be all but unknown outside a small circle of scholars and military history enthusiasts except for the facts that he sired Robert E. Lee, and that he composed the eulogy for George Washington which contained the now famous phrase "first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen." Shortly after the beginning of the War of 1812, Lee was badly injured in a riot and left the country to regain his health. He died in 1818 on his return voyage. Dowdy, Clifford Lee (Bonanza, 1955), p. 38. Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), pp. 30-33.

[63] Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), p. 35. Lee was classmates with the man he would replace following Seven Pines, Joe Johnston, and while there he met a young Jefferson Davis, who was one year ahead of Lee. Ibid. p. 34. Dowdy, Clifford Lee (Bonanza, 1955), p. 46. For his exemplary personal behavior, his classmates called him the "Marble Model". Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), p. 55.

[64] Perret, Geoffrey A Country Made By War (Random House 1989), p. 164. Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), p. 25. Lee had met and impressed Scott in 1844 when Lee was selected to attend the final examinations at West Pont. Dowdy, Clifford Lee (Bonanza, 1955), p. 77. Lee was, in fact, a jack-of-all-trades for Scott performing a variety of different and dangerous functions. After the Battle of Cerro Gordo, Scott wrote of Lee in glowing terms: "This officer, greatly distinguished at the siege of Vera Cruz, was again indefatigable, during these operations, in reconnaissances as daring as laborious, and of the greatest value. Nor was he less conspicuous in planting batteries, and in conducting columns to their stations under the heavy fire of the enemy." Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), p. 127.

[65] Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), p. 152 and 163-164.

[66] Craven, Avery Ed. To Markie: The Letters of Robert E. Lee to Martha Custis Lee (Harvard University Press, 1933), p. 58.

[67] In his memoirs, General Johnston estimated that roughly two-thirds of those elected to the Virginia convention were Union men opposed to secession, but that Lincoln's call for troops to "coerce" the seceded states galvanized the pro-secessionist into action. Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990), p. 9. Indeed, the effect of Lincoln's actions led to such a shift in sentiment that after mid-April many of the Unionist Delegates were afraid to speak openly. Osborne, Charles C. Jubal, The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Early, CSA (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1992), pp. 47-48. Ironically, Early, who was later to personify the "Lost Cause" was a staunch Unionist Delegate, who opposed secession even after the attack of Sumter. (Ibid.)

[68] Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), pp. 187-188.

[69] Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), pp. 187-189. Nolan, A. Lee Considered (Chapel Hill, 1991) p. 41. Traditional historians have accepted Lee's comments and conduct at face value, never really doubting his personal agony over the decisions that faced him. Nolan, however, has presented an alternative view of events that, if true, would rank Lee as an unsurpassed disciple of Machiavelli. Id., pp. 30-58.

[70] Since Virginia was briefly independent of either the United States of the Confederate States, Lee's first and foremost goal was to organize the State's defenses. Thus, he wrote Davis on May 7, 1861, that he could not take time and travel to Montgomery to consult with him. O.R., Series I, Vol. 51, p. 69. When he took command, the Virginia militia number less than 20,000 men. Although desperately short of equipment, Lee nevertheless managed to mobilize 40,000 troops, 115 field artillery pieces, and 15 coastal defense batteries. His success in expanding Virginia's "naval forces" was far more modest: He managed to add one ship. Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), pp. 194.

[71] Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), p. 25. When, in May 1861 the Confederate Congress created the rank of General, Davis made Lee one of the first five full Generals of the Confederacy. Only the aged Cooper and Davis' close friend, Albert S. Johnston, outranked Lee.

[72] Dowdy, Clifford and Manarin, Eds. The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee (Bramhall House, 1961), pp. 44-46. #52 and #53.

[73] Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), p. 36. Initially, Davis seemed to use Lee as "sort of a household staff officer." Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), p. 198. Lee, like Davis, thought very little of Beauregard's initial schemes and it may well be that Davis recognized in Lee a kindred spirit. Ibid.

[74] Dowdy, Clifford and Manarin, Eds. The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee (Bramhall House, 1961), pp. 75-76. #78. Dowdy, Clifford Lee (Bonanza, 1955), p. 174. Pollard, E.A. The Lost Cause (E.B. Treat, 1867), pp. 173-174. Lee seemed unsure whether he was sent to Virginia to command or advise, and the authorities in Richmond did little to clarify the situation. Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), p. 204. In any event, Lee did not command, and his advice was ignored.

[75] Lee did not particularly like his new assignment, and he wrote his daughter that it was "Another forlorn hope expedition. Worse than west Virginia." Dowdy, Clifford and Manarin, Eds. The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee (Bramhall House, 1961), p. 86. #87. This rather depressing note was typical of Lee during this period of the war. In fact, Lee's attitude struck a negative chord in many that met or spoke with him. Governor Pickens thought Lee was not at heart a revolutionary. Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), p. 39. Before Davis arrived in Richmond, his envoy, D. G. Duncan, wrote: "Have conversed with … Lee. He wishes to suppress the enthusiasm of our people. His troops not ready …" O.R, Series 1, vol. 51, p. 39. Duncan was critical of Lee's intention not to "provoke an attack" that, Duncan believed, would encourage the secessionist movements in the boarder states. O.R, Series 1, vol. 51, p. 54. But what Pickens, Duncan and others perceived as either the absence of nerve or a lack of revolutionary enthusiasm was simply Lee's natural reticence combined with a veteran soldier's realistic assessment of the South's depressing military situation. "When Lee made remarks about the prospects of the Confederacy in the impending war, he told people what they did not want to hear." Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), p. 197. And Lee's depression only increased as the war progressed. By March of 1862, Lee wrote his wife, "Our enemies are pressing us everywhere & our army is in the fermentation of reorganization. I … am endeavoring by every means in our power to bring out the troops & hasten them to their destination." Dowdy, Clifford and Manarin, Eds. The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee (Bramhall House, 1961), p. 133-134. #130.

[76] O.R., Series I, vol. 5, p. 1099. Lee's appointment as commander-in-chief has been the subject of much discussion. The general view is that it was merely an ornamental and "largely meaningless" title, and that it was done to preempt congress from creating such a position that would be a direct threat to Davis' control of the Confederate war effort. Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), p. 38. Dowdy, Clifford Lee (Bonanza, 1955), pp. 180-181. Lee was called for "fruitless consultations" and his task was made difficult by a "lack of defined purpose". Dowdy, Clifford Lee (Bonanza, 1955), p. 182. The fact remains, however, that Davis had, from the time of Virginia's secession, been interested in obtaining Lee's services, and, despite Davis' penchant for personal control, it stretches the bounds of credulity to think that Lee's influence on Davis was non-existent. While Lee wrote that he did "not see either advantage or pleasure in [his] duties", this does not mean that he was without influence or that he considered himself simply a figurehead. Dowdy, Clifford and Manarin, Eds. The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee (Bramhall House, 1961), pp. 127-128. #124. Such a statement is very understandable for a soldier desirous of a field command, and for whom the prospect of spending the remainder of the war behind a desk in the capital dealing with politicians on a day-to-day basis holds no charms. It is, however, a far cry from an admission that he has no control over, or influence with, the President. Furthermore, Davis increasingly used him as an emissary to the enigmatic Johnston and that, at a minimum, revealed his own growing trust in Lee. Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), p. 38. And even if his influence with Davis was not yet well developed, Lee did serve the Confederacy in a very significant way at this time by urging and lobbying for conscription and an expanded draft. Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), p. 218-219. Finally, if nothing else, these next few months with Davis would educate Lee as to how he should work with the President when he ultimately took command. Indeed, as a result of his close working relationship with Davis, Lee was "ideally suited to be Davis' commanding general" when the opportunity arose. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (Harper Collins, 1991) p. 427.

[77] When he learned of Lee's appointment McClellan inaccurately pegged Lee in words which, ironically, were far more applicable to himself: "I prefer Lee to Johnston -- the former is too cautious & weak under grave responsibility … he is wanting in moral firmness when pressed by heavy responsibility & is likely to be timid and irresolute in action." Sears, Stephen W., Ed. The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, Selected Correspondence 1860-1865 (Ticknor & Fields, 1989), pp. 244-245. Emphasis in original. Others saw a gradual change come over the army as Lee began to take control. An officer on Magruder's staff noted that there was "a new impulse from Lee's headquarters" that had a positive effect throughout the army. Dowdy, Clifford Lee (Bonanza, 1955), pp. 219-220. Casdorph, Paul D. Prince John Magruder (Wiley, 1996), pp. 164-166.

[78] Johnston later claimed that he was privy to, and endorsed, Jackson's Valley Campaign, but the fact is that he was eager only to have his army reinforced, and both he and Lee issued conflicting orders to Jackson. Lee stressed that his authority over Jackson was merely "complimentary" to Johnston's authority. Johnston, Joseph E. Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (De Capo, 1990), p. 106-107. Tanner, Robert G. Stonewall in the Valley (Doubleday, 1976), pp. 196-198. In other words, Lee realized that he was technically exceeding his authority in issuing directed to Jackson, and that his "suggestions" did not necessarily harmonize with Johnston's orders. Fortunately for the Confederacy, Jackson followed Lee's complimentary suggestions and not Johnston's orders. The military impact of Jackson's campaigns has been the source of much debate, but the fact remains that his small victories comprised the only good news the Confederate pubic had received for months.

[79] These ‘traps' had been laid by Stanton and Lincoln who attempted unsuccessfully to coordinate the movements of Shields, Fremont and Banks in the Valley. Tanner, Robert G. Stonewall in the Valley (Doubleday, 1976), pp. 238-246. But Jackson eluded the traps and defeated Lincoln's generals in detail. By the end of May, it was clear that they had failed, and Lincoln wisely decided to unite the independent commands into another army. On June 26, 1862, Lincoln created the Army of Virginia by uniting the commands of Major Generals Fremont, Banks, and McDowell O.R., Series 1, vol. 12, pt. 1, p. 169.

[80] Lee's appointment was not met with widespread approval. Although his prewar reputation had been high, his record during the war left much to be desired. Alexander, Edward P. Fighting for the Confederacy, the Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander (Chapel Hill, 1989), p. 90. Indeed, so devoted a follower as Jubal Early remarked in an address at Washington and Lee College that "it is not to be denied that an impression prevailed [when Lee took command] among those who did not know him well, that General Lee was not suited to be a commander in an active campaign." Jubal A. Early, "The Campaigns of General Robert E. Lee" in Lee The Soldier, Gallagher, Gary, Ed. (Nebraska, 1996), p. 39. Indeed, many of the Southern newspapers "pitched into him with extraordinary virulence". Alexander, Edward P. Fighting for the Confederacy, the Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander (Chapel Hill, 1989), p. 90.

[81] Lee had seen, firsthand, how a lack of communication between Davis and Johnston had poisoned their relationship, and he understood Davis' personal idiosyncrasies and knew how to deal with them. Lee kept Davis regularly informed of events and often sought his advice. Davis, William C. The Lost Cause Myths and Realities of the Confederacy (Univ. of Kansas, 1996), pp. 37-38. Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee (Norton, 1994), p. 197.

[82] Actually, this first communication resembled more a stream of various, and sometimes conflicting, plans and ideas. First he wrote of reinforcing Jackson to "change the character of the war" as it would allow him to advance into Maryland and Pennsylvania. This, Lee thought, would cause the immediate evacuation of the enemy entrenched along the Atlantic coast who would be pulled back to defend against Jackson's invasion. Lee then switches his attention from what might be to what is: He reviews McClellan's position and concludes that a reinforced army of 100,000 to oppose McClellan could only delay the inevitable. Finally, spends more than a few sentences (more, in fact, than he devoted to Jackson's possible invasion of the North) on the general resistance -- "all ridicule and resist it" – to manual labor. He then closed his first letter in words that he knew Davis, after dealing with the Johnston, would appreciate: "Our position requires that you should know everything & you must excuse my troubling you." Dowdy, Clifford and Manarin, Eds. The Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee (Bramhall House, 1961), pp. 183-184. #188. Dowdy, Clifford Lee (Bonanza, 1955), pp. 180-181. Ironically, while Lee was musing over the possibility of a strike by Jackson into Maryland and Pennsylvania, McClellan was assuring Stanton that the Confederates would not attempt it: "Lee will never venture upon a bold movement on a large scale." Sears, Stephen W., Ed. The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, Selected Correspondence 1860-1865 (Ticknor & Fields, 1989), p. 248.

[83] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War (Indiana University Press, 2000), pp. 133-134. In the Seven Days, Lee had lost some 20,204 men, about 22 percent of his army, while McClellan lost 15,855. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 343-345. Lee did note that his campaign had succeeded in relieving the siege of Richmond, but he also confessed in frustration "Under ordinary circumstances the federal Army should have been destroyed." O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 2, p. 497. But battles are often more than casualties, and McClellan lost a massive amount of material including forty pieces of artillery and over 31,000 small arms. "The Army of Northern Virginia re-equipped itself at … McClellan's expense." Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 343-345. Officially, McClellan tried to place a positive spin on events, advising Lincoln that he "succeeded" in his movement to the James River and that the morale of the army was good, although the men were tired. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, part 3, pp. 287-288. Simultaneously, he confessed to his wife "We have had a terrible time". Sears, Stephen W., Ed. The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, Selected Correspondence 1860-1865 (Ticknor & Fields, 1989), p. 330. McClellan fooled no one except possibly himself. After the retreat across the Peninsula, Elsiha H. Rhodes celebrated a "queer" Fourth of July at Harrison's Landing and wondered what McClellan's next move would be adding, " I hope it will be more successful than our last." Rhodes, Robert H. All for the Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes (Orion Books, 1991), pp. 73-74.

[84] O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 2, p. 497. Davis' wife Varinia was not too far from the mark when she quipped in a letter to her husband that McClellan resembled the recently wounded Johnston - "great in retreat." Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (Harper Collins, 1991) p. 433.

[85] Lee's inability to realize the destruction of McClellan had to do with much more than McClellan's skill and poor intelligence. First and foremost was the mystery of Stonewall Jackson. Lee had planned for Jackson to play a pivotal role in the battles, but Jackson repeatedly failed in his assignments; when he moved at all it was with an uncharacteristic lethargy, completely out of character. Historians continue to speculate on what caused this behavior. Some believe he was tired and fatigued as a result of his recent superhuman exertions in the Valley and his march south to join Lee. Robertson, James I. Jr. Stonewall Jackson (MacMillian, 1997), pp. 503-505. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 343-344. Others speculate that he was a religious zealot who loathed fighting or traveling on a Sunday, and believed that if he diligently honored the Sabbath God would ultimately give him victory. Alexander, Edward P. Fighting for the Confederacy, the Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander (Chapel Hill, 1989), pp. 96-97. His brother-in-law, D. H. Hill, who was with Jackson during part of the Seven Days, opined that Jackson's "genius" was stunted or suppressed when he served in a "subordinate" position; Hill also believed that Jackson thought that troops other than his Valley Army, which had accomplished so much already, should shoulder the burden of attack in the battles around Richmond. Hill, D. H. "McClellan's Change of Base and the Battle of Malvern Hill" in B&L vol. II, pt. 2, pp. 389-390. Longstreet simply considered him overrated, and charged, "when pitted against the best of the Federal commanders [Jackson] did not appear so well." Longstreet, James A. "The Seven Days, Including Frayser's Farm" in B&L vol. II, pt. 2, pp. 405. See, generally, Freeman, D.S. Lee's Lieutenants (Scribners, 1942) vol. 1, pp. 655-659. Perhaps Longstreet was a bit harsh, but no one would disagree with Alexander's opinion that, whatever the cause, Jackson "nowhere, even distantly, approached his record as a soldier won in his ever other battle, either before or afterward. As one reads of his weak and dilatory performance … one feels that during these Seven Days he was really not Jackson." Alexander, Edward P. Military Memoirs of a Confederate (De Capo, 1993), p. 116. Several officers other than Jackson – notably Huger, G. W. Smith and Magruder – also revealed a lack of initiative and an inability to command under pressure. Freeman, D.S. Lee's Lieutenants (Scribners, 1942) vol. 1, pp. 605-609. Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), p. 343-344. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox (Blue & Grey Press, 1984), pp. 151-152. Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill (Random House, 1987), pp. 92-94. Casdorph, Paul D. Prince John Magruder (Wiley, 1996), pp. 163-189.

[86] Alexander, Edward P. Fighting for the Confederacy, the Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander (Chapel Hill, 1989), p. 96. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (Harper Collins, 1991) p. 432. James Chesnut wrote his wife that "General Lee is vindicating the high opinion I have ever expressed of him, and his plans and execution of the last great fight will place him in the role of the really great commanders." Chesnut, Mary, Mary Chesnut's Civil War, C. Vann Woodward ed. (Yale University Press, 1981), p. 403. Fuller, J.F.C. Grant & Lee (Indiana University Press, 1957). P. 157. Fuller, no admirer of Lee, nevertheless remarked, "Lee deserved well of his countrymen, for it was he and he alone who had saved Richmond." Ibid. Longstreet, who would become one of Lee's more vocal critics after the war, had no criticism of Lee's plans during the Seven Days. "General Lee's plans … were excellent, but were poorly executed … Lee's orders were always well considered and well chosen." Longstreet, James A. "'The Seven Days,' Including Frayser's Farm" in B&L vol. II, pt. 2, pp. 404-405. Similarly, D.H. Hill, himself no slavish admirer of Lee, simply recalled only "Lee's plans were perfect." Hill, D. H. "McClellan's Change of Base and the Battle of Malvern Hill" in B&L vol. II, pt. 2, pp. 395.

[87] Reardon, Carole "From ‘King of Spades' to ‘First Captain of the Confederacy': R.E. Lee's First Six Weeks with the Army of Northern Virginia" in Lee The Soldier, Gallagher, Gary, Ed. (Nebraska, 1996), pp. 313-316. For a more critical view of Lee's generalship during the Seven Days, see McKenzie, John D. Uncertain Glory (Hippocrene Books 1997), pp. 75-81.

[88] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War (Indiana University Press, 2000), p. 136. Hennessy, John J. Return to Bull Run (Simon & Schuster, 1993), p. 22. Following the Seven Days, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton remained optimistic about the capture of Richmond, noting McClellan's "position is favorable, and looks like taking Richmond than any time before". O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, p. 277. But, to McClellan his position was not as "favorable" as Stanton imagined it to be. McClellan's correspondence immediately following the Seven Days is a model of inconsistency: On the one hand, McClellan claimed he had not been defeated and that his army, if reinforced, would again assume the offensive; yet he simultaneously expressed fear that, if attacked again with fresh troops, his lines would not hold; he prayed for time and claimed that he "failed to win only because overpowered by superior numbers". O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, p. 282. Believing himself outnumbered, McClellan requested reinforcements of 50,000 men, and some troops were, in fact, recalled from the West by the panicky authorities in Washington – although the order was later rescinded and then modified when cooler heads prevailed. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, pp. 279-281, 285-286. Lincoln, however, sent a brusque, pedantic, almost sarcastic communiqué to McClellan explaining that he did not have anything close to 50,000 men available to send him. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, p. 286. McClellan responded a few days as if he had not even read the President's message: now he wanted 100,000 men. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, pp. 291-292. Lincoln then tried a different tack. Using McClellan's own figures, the President pointed out that he had more than 45,000 men unaccounted for – perhaps if McClellan could locate these men he might advance on Richmond after all. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, pp. 318-319. McClellan replied a few days later with his own figures. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, 321-322. McClellan hoped to allow the army to rest, reorganize and to be in a solid position to resist further assaults, but it was clear that McClellan had no intention of moving anywhere unless properly supported and reinforced. O.R., Series 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, p. 291-292, 298-299. And there was the rub: Lincoln and Stanton simply did not have men in sufficient numbers to "reinforce" McClellan in the manner he demanded. Perhaps because McClellan was sending mixed signals, Lincoln decided to visit Harrison's Landing and make his own determination. On July 8th and 9th he met with McClellan and his corps commanders and opted to allow the army – which he referred to on this trip as McClellan's "personal bodyguard" -- to remain on the Peninsula for the time being. Oates, Stephen B. With Malice Toward None, A Life of Abraham Lincoln (Harper Perennial, 1994), p. 306. Donald, David H. Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 386-388.

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Copyright © 2002 Kevin S. Lacey

Written by Kevin S. Lacey.
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