The Peninsula Campaign

Lincoln finally forced McClellan into action. In January 1862, the president released General War Order No. 1, which called for a Union offensive into Virginia to begin by February 22. When the Army of the Potomac remained in Washington past that date, Lincoln punished McClellan for his inaction by stripping him of his title as general-in-chief over all Union forces. McClellan, who remained in charge of the Army of the Potomac, finally began his ambitious Peninsula Campaign in mid-March. Rather than marching through northern Virginia, he transported about one hundred thousand troops by boat to the Virginia coast. His army then marched inland up the peninsula toward the Confederate capital of Richmond.

At first, it appeared that McClellan's plan would be successful. The Union forces met with little resistance and

Allan Pinkerton—

The Detective Who Convinced McClellan He Was Outnumbered

One of the main reasons Union general George B. McClellan was so reluctant to move against the Confederate Army was that he always believed he was outnumbered. For example, McClellan delayed the start of his Peninsula Campaign for six months because he thought there were 250,000 Confederate troops waiting for him in Virginia. But the real number of enemy forces was more like sixty thousand. The man who provided McClellan with these inflated estimates of Confederate troop strength was Allen Pinkerton, one of the best-known detectives of his day.

Pinkerton was born in 1819 in Glasgow, Scotland. He grew up in the city's slums and eventually became involved in protests against conditions there. After a clash with police in 1841, Pinkerton smuggled himself aboard a boat heading across the Atlantic Ocean to Nova Scotia, Canada. He eventually moved to the United States and settled in Chicago, Illinois.

During his early years in Chicago, Pinkerton worked as a barrel maker. One time, his work led him directly to a band of counterfeiters (people who illegally produce and use fake money). He gave the police information about the band that led to their arrest. Soon afterward, Chicago mer chants began hiring Pinkerton to help them track down other criminals.

In 1850, Pinkerton founded the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. It eventually became the nation's largest private investigation firm. During the early years, his agency specialized in providing security for the rapidly growing railroad industry. In the late 1850s, he worked closely with McClellan, who was the vice president of an Illinois railroad company at that time.

In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the new president of the United States. He was scheduled to travel from Illinois to Washington, D.C., to be inaugurated (sworn in) in early 1861. Pinkerton's detectives learned of a plan to assassinate Lincoln as he made his way to Washington. Pinkerton spoiled the plan by changing the president's transportation plans at the last minute.

When the Civil War began a short time later, McClellan took command of volunteer forces in western Virginia. He asked Pinkerton to join his staff and provide military intelligence (information about the enemy) to assist in his war efforts. Before long, some of Pinkerton's best detectives were moving behind Confederate lines in the South and collecting secrets to help the

Allan Pinkerton. (Reproduced by permission of Archive Photos, Inc.)

Union. Pinkerton also spent a great deal of time interviewing prisoners, refugees, and fugitive slaves who crossed into Union territory to find out what they knew about the enemy. He regularly produced long, detailed reports about conditions in the Confederate Army.

Pinkerton remained with McClellan as the young officer took command of the Army of the Potomac and then of all the Union forces. By this time, the famous detective's most important job involved estimating the number of Confederate troops

McClellan could expect to encounter in any given area. Pinkerton came up with a formula to help him determine enemy troop strength. Unfortunately, his assumptions were so far off that his estimates consistently turned out to be wrong. In fact, Pinkerton provided wildly inflated numbers that were often double or triple the actual figures. "Each step in Pinkerton's collection of this military intelligence was marked by error, adding up finally to colossal [gigantic] error," Stephen W. Sears explained in George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon.

Nevertheless, McClellan believed Pinkerton's estimates without question. "McClellan accepted these reports with no more critical analysis than went into their making," Sears noted. "They were, after all, exactly what he expected: confirmation of his own conclusions." Due in part to Pinkerton, McClellan was extremely hesitant to move his army against the Confederates. His slowness prevented the Union from claiming major victories on two occasions, and forced Lincoln to remove McClellan from command in November 1862. Pinkerton quit working for the military at this time as well. He continued his detective agency after the war and died in 1884.

In early fall of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln visited George McClellan and his troops at Antietam. Here, Lincoln speaks with McClellan's intelligence expert, Allan Pinkerton (left) and Major General John A. McClernand. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

claimed victory in several minor battles as they moved toward Richmond. But then McClellan was tricked into thinking that the Confederates had established a major defensive position in Yorktown. He spent a month setting up a siege (a blockade intended to prevent delivery of food and supplies) of the town, only to have the small enemy force leave before he attacked. The delay enabled Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston (1807-1891; see entry) to prepare his troops for the defense of Richmond.

McClellan pushed past York-town in early May, but his army continued to move slowly. The long-awaited clash between McClellan's and Johnston's armies finally took place on May 31 at Fair Oaks, only six miles from Richmond. Although the fighting ended in a virtual draw, it resulted in a change in Confederate leadership. Johnston suffered a serious wound in the battle, and Robert E. Lee took his place. Lee soon proved that he was more cunning and aggressive than Johnston. On June 25, he led a force of seventy thousand Confederate troops against McClellan. The two sides engaged in a series of fierce battles across the Virginia peninsula over the next week. These clashes, which came to be known as the Seven Days' Battles, convinced McClellan to abandon his offensive. Some historians claim that McClellan could have captured Richmond and ended the Civil War three years earlier if he had acted more quickly and decisively.

For his part, McClellan blamed Lincoln and the war department for his defeat. He claimed that they did not provide him with the reinforcements and supplies that he needed to win. "The president is an idiot!" he declared. "I only wish to save my country and find the incapables around me will not permit it." By August 1862, Lincoln decided that he had endured enough of McClellan's indecision and disrespect. He placed the Army of the Potomac under the com mand of Major General John Pope (1822-1892), who had already commanded the Federal Army of Virginia, and ordered them to return to Washington. But before McClellan's troops could get back from the Virginia peninsula, Confederate forces attacked Pope's army in northern Virginia. This contest, known as the Second Battle of Bull Run, resulted in another costly defeat for the Union.

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