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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