Monday, March 31, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Tuesday, April 1, 1862


It is huge…a military campaign larger than anything the nation has ever seen. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s brainchild, the Peninsula Campaign, is getting underway. Instead of a straight-forward push southward from the Washington area via Manassas, to the Confederate capital of Richmond, McClellan has come up with the idea of circling around by water, then driving northwest to attack Richmond on its flank.

Right away, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston got things off to a bad start for McClellan. Johnston simply took his army out of Manassas and repositioned it to block McClellan’s approach from the southwest. So much for the flanking move.

But enormous projects acquire a momentum of their own, and the Peninsula Campaign was going to go forward, no matter what. President Lincoln had misgivings about it, but finally swallowed his objections. He shouldn’t have. Lincoln the amateur military strategist was wiser than McClellan the professional soldier.

McClellan’s Army of the Potomac has more than 100,000 men, 25,000 horses and mules, and 300 cannon. To move it down the Potomac Rive r and Chesapeake to Fort Monroe at the tip of the peninsula formed by the James and York rivers. Montgomery Meigs has rounded up 400 ships and barges to transport this enormous force.

Slowly, ponderously, this gigantic force is in motion today. In the Confederate capital, there is anxiety over an enemy force that looks well-nigh unstoppable.

We shall see.

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: In the Shenandoah Valley, Stonewall Jackson retreats southward, pressed by a newly reinforced Federal force under Nathaniel Banks. On the Tennessee River, Federal gunboats advance up the river, pass Eastport, Mississippi, and go as far as Chickasaw, Alabama. Everywhere there is bad news for the Confederacy.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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