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The Eastern Theater Previous Next
Digital History ID 3069


In the eastern theater, Union General George McClellan's plan was to land northern forces on a peninsula between the York and James Rivers southeast of Richmond and then march on the southern capital. In March 1862, McClelland landed over 100,000 men on the peninsula, only to find his path along the James River blocked by an iron-clad Confederate warship, the Virginia. Nevertheless by May, McClellan's forces were within six miles of Richmond.

The Confederacy was in desperate straits. The Confederate government had packed up its official records and was prepared to evacuate its capital. It had already lost most of Tennessee, much of the Mississippi Valley, and New Orleans, its largest city and most important port. Between March and June, Confederate forces suffered serious military defeats in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

In June, however, Robert E. Lee assumed command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. As a diversionary move to prevent Union forces from concentrating on Richmond, Lee relied on General Thomas J. ("Stonewall") Jackson to launch lightning-like raids from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Then in a series of encounters between June 26 and July 2, 1862, known as the Seven Days' Battles, Lee and Jackson forced McClellan, who mistakenly believed he was hopelessly outnumbered, to withdraw back to the James River.

Union forces still hoped to capture Richmond and bring the war to a quick end. But 10 days after President Davis offered the following assessment of the conflict, Lee again repulsed a northern advance. At the Second Battle of Bull Run, Union General John Pope found his army almost surrounded and retreated, giving the Confederacy almost total control of Virginia.

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