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 ten 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.
It is again our fortune to meet for devising measures necessary to the public welfare whilst our country is involved in desolating war. The sufferings endured by some portions of the people excite the deep solicitude of the government, and the sympathy thus evoked has been heightened by the patriotic devotion with which these sufferings have been borne. The gallantry and good conduct of our troops, always claiming the gratitude of the country, have been further illustrated on hard fought fields, marked by exhibitions of individual prowess which can find but few parallels in ancient or modern history. Our Army has not faltered in any of the various trials to which it has been subjected, and the great body of the people has continued to manifest a zeal and unanimity which not only cheer the battle-stained soldier, but give assurance to the friends of Constitutional liberty of our final triumph in the pending struggle against despotic usurpation.
The vast army which threatened the Capital of the Confederacy has been defeated and driven from the lines of investment, and the enemy, repeatedly foiled in his efforts for its capture, is now seeking to raise new armies on a scale such as modern history does not record, to effect the subjugation of the South so often proclaimed as on the eve of accomplishment.
The perfidy which disregarded rights secured by compact, the madness which trampled on obligations made sacred by every consideration of honor, have been intensified by the malignity engendered by defeat.
These passions have changed the character of hostilities waged by our enemies, who are becoming less regardful of the usages of civilized war and the dictates of humanity. Rapine and wanton destruction of private property, war upon non-combatants, murder of captives, bloody threats to avenge the death of an invading soldiery by slaughter of unarmed citizens, orders of banishment against peaceful farmers engaged in the cultivation of the soil are some of the methods used by our ruthless invaders to enforce the submission of a free people to foreign sway. Confiscation bills of a character so atrocious as to ensure, if executed, the utter ruin of the entire population of these States, are passed by their Congress and approved by their Executive. The moneyed obligations of the Confederate Government are forged by citizens of the United States and publicly advertised for sale in their cities, with a notoriety that sufficiently attests the knowledge of their government; and its complicity in the crime is further evinced by the fact that the soldiers of the invading armies are found supplied with large quantities of these forged notes, as a means of despoiling the Country people by fraud of such portions of their property as armed violence may fail to reach. Two, at the least, of the Generals of the United States are engaged, unchecked by their government, in exciting servile insurrection and in arming and training slaves for warfare against their masters, citizens of the Confederacy. Another has been found, of instincts so brutal as to invite the violence of his soldiery against the women of a captured city [New Orleans]. Yet the rebuke of civilised man has failed to evoke from the authorities of the United States one mark of disapprobation of his acts; nor is there any reason to suppose that the conduct of Benjamin F. Butler has failed to secure from his government the sanction and applause with which it is known to have been greeted by the public meetings and portions of the press of the United States....
The acts passed at your last session intended to secure the public defence by general enrollment [by a military draft], and to render uniform the rules governing troops in the service, have led to some unexpected criticism that is much to be regretted. The efficacy of the law has thus been somewhat impaired; though it is not believed that in any of the States the popular mind has withheld its sanction from either the necessity or propriety of your legislation....
I am happy to inform you that in spite both of blandishments and threats used in profusion by the agents of the Government of the United States, the Indian Nations within the Confederacy have remained firm in their loyalty and steadfast in the observance of their treaty engagements with this government.
Nor has their fidelity been shaken by the fact that, owing to the vacancies in some of the offices of agents and superintendents, delay has occurred in the payments of the annuities and allowances to which they are entitled....
We have never-ceasing cause to be grateful for the favor with which God has protected our infant Confederacy.