to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
In any war, the
enemy's capital city is an important target. To capture the enemy's capital
usually means victory.
In the American
Civil War, the North hoped for a quick victory by capturing the southern
capital at Richmond, Virginia. Northern forces were strong enough. There were
about one hundred fifty thousand Union soldiers in and around Washington.
McClellan led this Army of the Potomac. It was the biggest, best-trained and
best-equipped of the Union armies.
This week in our
series, Larry West and Tony Riggs report on McClellan's move against Richmond.
For the first year
of the Civil War, the Army of the Potomac did not fight. General McClellan kept
making excuses for his failure to act. He had a plan, he said. And he would not
move until he was sure his men were ready.
was to put his army on boats in the Potomac River. They would sail down the
river to where it emptied into the Chesapeake Bay. Then he would land the boats
on the coast of Virginia, east of Richmond.
Lincoln wanted to capture the Confederate capital. But he did not like the idea
of moving all of McClellan's men. That would leave the city of Washington
McClellan tried to calm
Lincoln's fears. He said that as soon as he marched toward Richmond, any
Confederate soldiers near Washington would withdraw. They would be needed to
defend their own capital.
The Army of the
Potomac began to move on March seventeenth, eighteen sixty-two. Within two
weeks, more than fifty thousand had reached Fort Monroe, southeast of Richmond.
They were equipped with one hundred big guns and tons of supplies. Day by day,
the Union force at Fort Monroe grew larger.
planned to move quickly to Yorktown, then push on to Richmond. He would move
along the finger of land between the York River and the James River.
He soon learned,
however, that he could not move as quickly as planned. Heavy spring rains had
turned the dirt roads into rivers of mud. McClellan's men could push through.
But there was no way they could bring their big guns. McClellan decided to
wait. He did not want to attack Yorktown without artillery.
was not pleased. He sent a message to McClellan. "You must strike a
blow," Lincoln said. "You must act." But still McClellan
By the time his
artillery had arrived and was in place, Confederate troops had withdrawn. They
moved to the woods outside Williamsburg. McClellan chased them. For the first
time, his army went into battle.
The fighting was
strange. The woods were so thick that the two sides could not often see each
other. Soldiers fired at the flash of gunpowder, at noises, anything that
moved. Their aim was good enough. About four thousand soldiers were killed.
In his reports to
Washington, McClellan claimed great victories at Yorktown and Williamsburg. Yet
he was worried. He believed the Confederate force around Richmond was much
larger than his. He demanded more men.
force was, in fact, much smaller than the Union force. But it was deployed in a
way to make it seem much larger.
The trick fooled
McClellan. By the middle of May, eighteen sixty-two, his army was only fifteen
kilometers from Richmond. Still, he did not attack. He continued to wait for
more men and equipment.
President Jefferson Davis was worried. He knew the Confederate army was smaller
than the Union army. Davis' military adviser, General Robert E. Lee, offered a
Lee proposed that
General Stonewall Jackson lead his army up Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. The North
would see the move as a threat to Washington. Union troops would be kept near
Washington, instead of being sent to Richmond. President Davis agreed. Orders
were sent to Jackson.
was one of the South's best generals. He was a forceful leader. And he could
make his men march until they dropped.
He got the name
"Stonewall" at the Battle of Bull Run in the summer of eighteen
sixty-one. Southern soldiers were withdrawing. A Confederate officer tried to
stop them. He urged them to follow Jackson's example, to stand and fight. He
shouted, "There stands Jackson -- like a stone wall."
faced three large Union forces in and around the Shenandoah Valley. Yet he
struck hard and fast, and soon had control of the valley's main towns.
His campaign is
still studied at military schools around the world. It is considered an
excellent example of how to move troops quickly to where they are most needed.
produced the exact effect Robert E. Lee had wanted.
Washington feared an immediate attack on the city. Soldiers were hurried to the
capital from Baltimore and other nearby cities. And President Lincoln sent
thousands of troops to chase Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, instead of
helping McClellan at Richmond.
The Union army
outside Richmond was deployed on either side of the Chickahominy River. The
Chickahominy was not a big river. It could be crossed easily at several places.
waited to attack the Confederate capital, heavy rains began to fall. The little
river began to rise. The commander of Confederate forces in Richmond saw this
as a chance to smash a large part of McClellan's army.
The flooding river
would soon cut the Union force completely in two. When that happened, the
Confederates would attack. They expected to destroy at least half of
The plan seemed
good. And after the first few hours of battle, the Confederates were close to
victory. But one bridge remained over the Chickahominy River. Union soldiers
were able to cross it. The Confederates were forced to withdraw to their
No ground was
gained. And more than eleven thousand men were killed or wounded. Among the
wounded was the commander of all Confederate forces, General Joe Johnston.
General Robert E. Lee would take his place.
Lee wasted no time.
He wanted to push the Union army far away from Richmond. First, however, he
wanted more information about his enemy. He sent a young officer -- Jeb Stuart
-- to get it.
Stuart set off with
more than a thousand men on horseback. Theirs was a wild ride around the edge
of the Union army. When they reported back three days later, General Lee knew
exactly where he would attack.
It would be the
first in a series of battles known as the Seven Days Campaign.
Lee took a big
chance. He moved most of his men into position to attack what he now knew was
the weak, right side of the Union line. He left only a few thousand men to
He hoped the Union
commander, McClellan, would be fooled by this plan. For if McClellan discovered
how few men were left behind, he could smash through easily and capture the
With the help of
Stonewall Jackson's army, Lee's plan worked. McClellan was fooled. And after a
day of fierce fighting, he was forced to withdraw from the area.
McClellan for a while. They clashed at such places as Mechanicsville, White Oak
Swamp, and finally Malvern Hill. The South won the Seven Days Campaign. The
threat to Richmond was ended. The Confederacy was saved.
But victory came at
a terrible price. Twenty thousand Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded.
As both the North and South were learning quickly, the Civil War was becoming
more costly than anyone had imagined.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Larry West
and Tony Riggs. Our series can be found online with transcripts, podcasts and historical
images at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also follow our weekly programs on
Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A
NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.
This is program #102 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION