Part XII

The Successful Defense Of Richmond.

       Thus far the Federal advances are seen to have been made with great vigor in the West and on the coast, but on the eastern side of the widely spread battlefield, where the Confederacy was fighting for life, the Federal operations were not so rapid nor so successful. The Confederates were permitted to occupy and use the navy yard at Norfolk, and not only raise the Merrimac, which the Federals sank when they abandoned Norfolk in April, 1861, but to change it into a dangerous ironclad. On the morning of March 8, 1862, this novel vessel, rebuilt by Southern ingenuity upon a novel plan and named the Virginia, steamed away to attack the Federal war vessels lying in Hampton Roads. In the fight which followed between the Virginia and the United States vessels the entire Federal fleet was scattered except the Cumberland, which was sunk, the Congress burned, and the Minnesota run aground. During the night after this battle the Monitor, a new Federal ironclad, also just completed, came into the roads, and taking position between the Minnesota and the Virginia, received next day the blows of the Confederate vessels without being harmed, and returned dangerous shots from its revolving iron turrets. This duel of the ironclads, although nearly harmless to either, aroused the attention of both nations to the value of this class of boats, and the opportune arrival of the Monitor probably protected the ships of the enemy from destruction.
       General McClellan gave the Confederate government time during the fall and winter after the battle of Manassas to enlarge the army and navy and increase the strength of the fortifications around Richmond. His antagonist, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, with an army very much inferior in numbers, covered Washington for months, awaiting the renewal of the invasion. On the 10th of March, McClellan's armies began to move toward Richmond, and the Confederates were withdrawn from the advanced position near Washington to the Rappahannock. On the 9th the Confederate army was entirely gone from its former position at Manassas, and on the next day McClellan moved toward the deserted intrenchments. A few days later his army changed direction and was massed near Alexandria. From this place it was transferred entire, except McDowell's corps, to Fortress Monroe, to begin the Peninsula campaign.
       McClellan's plans were not satisfactory to the Washington management of the war, because it began to appear from the movements of Stonewall Jackson in the Valley that the city had been left without sufficient protection Moved by this fear, McDowell, with 30,000 men, was temporarily retained on the Potomac, but McClellan's command still consisted of nearly 100,000 total, before which the Confederate force at Yorktown, after delaying the Federals awhile, retired, and Norfolk was necessarily abandoned.
       The first of the series of battles between the two armies after Johnston had fallen back, was fought at Williamsburg on the 5th of May, and the next at Seven Pines or Fair Oaks. In this latter battle, of May 31st and June 1st, the Confederates shattered the left wing of the Federal line, capturing 6,000 muskets, ten guns and a large number of prisoners. General Johnston was severely wounded and Gen. Robert E. Lee was assigned to the command of the army. This victory of the Confederates under General Johnston refreshed the spirit of his army and the appointment of Lee at this critical moment increased the Southern confidence. McClellan was checked for the time by the defeat at Seven Pines, which proved to be the prelude of his many reverses.

This Page last updated 06/01/02