Sunday, December 2, 2012

McClellan, Intelligence and the Peninsular Campaign


McClellan's Peninsular Campaign was characterized by faulty intelligence that fatally slowed down his advance from Ft. Monroe to Richmond.  Urged forward by Lincoln, McClellan's plan was to land an army at Fort Monroe, and move up the Virginia peninsula toward Richmond. Shortly after deploying at Fort Monroe, McClellan’s force began their movement up the Peninsula, approaching Yorktown. The Army of the Potomac found its path to Richmond slowed at first by heavy rains and then blocked by Confederate Major General John Magruder who commanded a significantly smaller force. Since his June 1861 victory at Big Bethel, Magruder had constructed three defensive lines across the Peninsula.

The most formidable of these lines was the second, a line that stretched from Yorktown, along the Warwick River, to the James River. As McClellan carefully surveyed the extensive Confederate fortifications, Magruder paraded his troops along the earthworks, and lined the trenches with “Quaker guns” duping the Union commander into believing he was outnumbered. Magruder, a student of drama and master of deception, completely fooled McClellan, who instead of defeating the numerically inferior Confederates immediately, spent a month in a siege of Yorktown. Magruder eventually abandoned Yorktown but the time gained had been invaluable.

Believing he was outnumbered became a common theme with George B. McClellan, partly because of the intelligence he received based on Allan Pinkerton’s “unique arithmetic”. This obsession with being outnumbered and with protecting his magnificent army from damage gave McClellan a case of “the slows”. This allowed the Confederates to solidify their defenses of Richmond as they retreated West. This combined with the wounding of Confederate General Joe Johnston—which caused the passing the torch to Robert E. Lee, would be the downfall of the Union effort during the Peninsula Campaign.