ANGUS KONSTAM was formerly the Curator of Weapons in the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London, and he now combines a freelance museum consultancy business with a career as a historian and writer. He is the author of over 20 books for this series.
Fair Oaks 1862: McClellan's Peninsula Campaignby Angus Konstam
Following the humiliating Northern defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, General George B. McClellan took command of the Union Army of the Potomac. In the spring of 1862, having rebuilt his forces, the Little Napoleon devised a plan to end the war in a single campaign. Transporting his army by sea to the Virginia Peninsula, he would outflank Confederate forces
Following the humiliating Northern defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, General George B. McClellan took command of the Union Army of the Potomac. In the spring of 1862, having rebuilt his forces, the Little Napoleon devised a plan to end the war in a single campaign. Transporting his army by sea to the Virginia Peninsula, he would outflank Confederate forces and march unopposed on Richmond, the Southern capital. Excessive caution squandered the opportunity, however, and the Union lost its main chance to achieve an early end to the war.
By the spring of 1862 most Americans had realised that the Civil War would not be brought to a conclusion without a major effort and a substantial financial and human cost. However, General George B. McClellan, the new commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, aimed to avoid a long war by capturing Richmond, the Confederate capital, in a single campaign. What followed was an operation which caught the Confederates off-guard and poised to capture the Confederate capital in a matter of weeks. This did not take account of General McClellan's excessive caution, however. Having executed the first part of his masterstroke and successfully transported the Army of the Potomac to the Virginia Peninsula, McClellan threw away his advantage - it took him almost two months to advance within sight of Richmond. The result was the bloody one-day battle of Fair Oaks, fought on 31 May 1862. The result was tactically indecisive, but the vicious Confederate attacks again unnerved McClellan and he called off any further advance on Richmond, despite the protests of Generals Hooker and Kearny who insisted the city was still vulnerable. The Union Army of the Potomac, and in particular its commander, lost confidence in their abilities as the campaign progressed. An unstoppable military force simply ran out of steam, surrendering the initiative to the enemy and squandering the chance to end the war.
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