Sunday, April 1

This Week in The Civil War: Sunday, April 1, 1862

Beginnings of the Virginia Peninsula Campaign

Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan has sent out first forces of his vast army from Fort Monroe on the Virginia coast as he ramps up his long-awaited Virginia peninsula campaign. Soon, those Union troops encounter a small Confederate army at Yorktown, dug in behind the Warwick River. Confederate Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder uses theatrics — including frequent marching back and forth of troops and loudly shouted orders — to suggest to his Union foes that he has a much greater force than he actually has. The Union forces are swayed by the Confederate show, believing a strong opposition awaits. McClellan suspends moves toward Richmond and orders siege fortifications built. Heavy guns are brought up by Union forces and on April 16, Union forces testing the Confederate line trigger a battle that leads to more than 300 casualties. McClellan hesitates to follow up, delaying two more weeks and Magruder's forces will ultimately slip away to fight another day. But a major ground campaign long promised by McClellan is on. The Associated Press reports in a dispatch April 2, 1862, that Confederates greeted the arrival of McClellan's enormous war machine with shots fired from a distance. "The Rebels fired several shots from Sewell's Point last night on the transports in the harbor, some of the shells falling within fifty feet of a vessel loaded with horses." Elsewhere, a federal ironclad gunboat runs past stiffly held Confederate batteries on the Mississippi River at so-called Island No. 10 as tensions continue on the inland river.

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