McClellan begins his advance on Richmond

McClellan retained his command over the Army of the Potomac, however, and in mid-March he finally moved forward. Instead of moving from Washington, D.C., through northern Virginia, however, McClel-lan intended to transport his army down the Chesapeake Bay via boat to the eastern tip of a Virginia peninsula situated between the York and James rivers. From there, he planned to advance up the peninsula to the Confederate capital of Richmond, sixty-five miles to the northwest.

The Union's desire to capture Richmond reflected the belief—held by both the North and the South— that Virginia was the most strategically important region in the entire conflict. After all, the Confederate capital of Richmond was located within its bor ders. In addition, the state sat next to Washington, the Federal capital. Each side knew that it would be almost impossible for it to win the war if its capital was captured by the other side. At the same time, both the North and the South recognized that they might be able to win the war quickly if they could somehow take control of the other side's capital. Given these factors, both sides deployed (spread out according to a plan) a large number of their troops in Virginia. Citizens across the divided nation followed developments in the region with great interest.

McClellan's plan was designed to capture Richmond and deal the Confederacy a crushing blow. Nonetheless, Lincoln and his advisors worried that the general's strategy would leave Washington vulnerable to an attack from Confederate forces in northern Virginia. Lincoln gave his approval only after making sure that forty thousand soldiers of the Army of the Potomac would remain behind to protect the capital. This reorganization of troops left Mc-Clellan with approximately ninety-five thousand men, far fewer than he had wanted to take with him.

McClellan successfully transported his troops to the coastline of the Virginia peninsula in late March. Once McClellan began his advance up the peninsula, however, his plan quickly unraveled. Confederate Major General John B. Magruder (1810-1871) fooled McClellan into believing that a major rebel force was entrenched at York-town, a short distance up the peninsula. The Union force could have over

John Pope became commander of the Federal Army of Virginia in June 1862.

(Photograph by Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

John Pope became commander of the Federal Army of Virginia in June 1862.

(Photograph by Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

whelmed Magruder with one big push, but McClellan proceeded cautiously. Magruder's actions kept the Union Army stalled for a month. McClellan's hesitation gave Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston (1807-1891) plenty of time to prepare his Army of Northern Virginia for the defense of Richmond.

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