Virginia at War: Part II

Confederates Ascendant
Roche Cannons Landscape
T.C. Roche made this haunting and well-composed panorama of captured Confederate guns at the wharf in Richmond.

Moving an Army

Moving an army into enemy territory is harder than moving chess pieces around a board.  The Union army that invaded Virginia required 700 tons of food per day for the soldiers and animals.  The men also required ammunition, uniforms, shoes and wagons to distribute all these supplies.  Every time the Union army moved, it was equivalent to transporting the tenth largest city in the United States.  How was it done?

Rural, dirt roads turned into muddy quagmires each winter. Movement of an army was restricted to good weather and dry roads. In Petersburg, a Union wagon train stretches to the horizon. Lines of thousands of wagons stretched like tentacles behind an advancing army.


Feeding the armies required entire herds of cattle. Slaughtering, butchering and distributing beef was a massive operation. The horns of hundreds of cattle were piled at army slaughterhouses, like this one at Cedar Level.


An army in the field couldn't wait for supplies to arrive. Stockpiles, like these wagon wheels at City Point, waited at key locations.


Transporting and distributing supplies required depots at various ports. These Union troops gathered near a massive artillery park at Yorktown. Note the ships at the dock in the background.

On To Richmond!

In the spring of 1862, after much prodding, General McClellan embarked on an ambitious plan.  He would send his army from Northern Virginia down the Chesapeake Bay on boats, land them at Fort Monroe with orders to quickly drive up the Virginia Peninsula, and capture Richmond before the Confederate army could react.  McClellan's campaign ended in defeat, however, with Confederates still in control of Richmond, and with a new, victorious, general in command.

After successfully landing his forces, McClellan became convinced of a sizeable Confederate force at Yorktown. He stopped for nearly a month, preparing for a siege. Ultimately, Confederates evacuated before McClellan could assault, leaving these mortars pointed across the great battlefield that never was.


The Confederates retreated and dug in outside Richmond. McClellan, unlike the Navy which was trying to capture Richmond by water, had "the slows." During the lull, staff officers (including young George A. Custer, lower right) took the opportunity to picnic.


On May 31, 1862, Confederates attacked at Seven Pines. With 11,165 casualties, it was the largest battle in the east to date, but caused no strategic change. McClellan's army remained stationary at places like Casey's Redoubt, where a public library stands today.


The day after Seven Pines, Gen. Robert E. Lee was given command of the Confederate army and launched a weeklong series of attacks known as the Seven days' Battles -- one of which raged here, at Savage's Station. Most of the wounded men in this image were captured the next day.

Confederates Ascendant

Three major consequences emerged from the Seven Days' Battles.  First, Robert E. Lee, the newest Southern hero, took command of the Confederacy's largest army, a position he would hold until its surrender.  Next, McClellan's star faded completely, leading Lincoln to transfer his command to Maj. Gen. John Pope's new Army of Virginia, rather than publicly fire the still-popular general.  Finally, Lincoln began to embrace the concept of emancipation and a hard-war strategy, rather than the limited war espoused by McClellan.  Lee did not intend to wait while Northern political and military squabbles worked themselves out.  He went on the offensive.

Stonewall Jackson moved north, the rest of the Confederate army close behind. This campaign resulted in two decisive Confederate victories -- Cedar Mountain and Second Manassas. Here, Union camps sit in the shadow of Cedar Mountain.


Lee's army was turned back at the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862, but more than returned the favor in December, repelling the disastrous Union assault at Fredericksburg. The powerful Confederate position in the distance helped Confederates inflict 13,000 casualties on the Union army.


After Fredericksburg, the new commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker began to rebuild the army. His planned offensive in May, 1863 was blunted by Lee's greatest victory -- Chancellorsville. During the battle, a Union assault overran this Confederate position at Fredericksburg, leading to the first photograph of dead soldiers on a Virginia battlefield.


Lee won a great victory at Chancellorsville, but paid a heavy price in casualties, including his chief lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson, who died a week later. This early 20th century image shows the monument erected near the spot of Jackson's wounding.

Navies on the River

The Civil War in Virginia was not just a war between the two large armies -- a massive naval effort took place in her waters.  Ironclads, gunboats and traditional masted vessels plied Virginia's many rivers.  The CSS Virginia and USS Monitor met at Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, marking the first clash of ironclad vessels.  The battle was a draw, but naval warfare had changed forever.  Confederates eventually abandoned the Atlantic coast, leaving Richmond the primary Southern shipyard in Virginia.  By the end of the war, thousands of vessels had served in Virginia waters.

No photographs were made of the CSS Virginia before she was scuttled and only a few were made aboard the USS Monitor before she too was lost. This image of the Monitor clearly shows the damage her turret took in combat.


In March 1862, a naval flotilla, headed by two ironclads, the USS Monitor and USS Galena, steamed up the James River with orders to shell Richmond into submission. The Confederates on these heights at Drewry's Bluff opened fire and repelled the flotilla. The Union navy never again tried to take Richmond.


The USS Galena took the brunt of the fire at Drewry's Bluff and was struck 46 times. Among the first Navy Medals of Honor, including the first to a US Marine, were issued to men of the Galena for their valor during the Battle of Drewry's Bluff.


Confederates turned Richmond's Rocketts Landing into their primary shipyard. This detail of an 1865 photograph shows the former shipyard area and two unfinished vessels -- one of them an ironclad (at middle right) as well as the many varied Union vessels now crowding the channel.

Return to Virginia

Following his victory at Chancellorsville, Hooker was replaced by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade and Lee invaded the North once again.  The colossal Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863, represented the end of Confederate offensive operations.  Confederates fell back to Virginia, and the Union Army followed.  However, no major follow-up offensive operation ensued and both sides waited out the winter of 1863 in Northern Virginia.  Nearly ten months passed without a major battle in the east.

With shined boots and sabers, Meade (center) and his staff posed at Culpeper in September 1863. For the Union army, the fall and winter of 1863 were filled with drill and reorganization, a lull upon which photographers capitalized.


With the coming frost, soldiers settled in and built elaborate winter quarters, like these of the 50th New York Engineers near Brandy Station. These men had built the pontoon bridges at Fredericksburg while under enemy fire. At left, their pontoon boats stand ready for the next advance.


The Philadelphians of the 114th Pennsylvania, in their Zouave uniforms, were among the most colorfully attired soldiers in the Union army. After being bloodied at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, they settled in to quarters near Brandy Station. In the spring of 1864, the band at left played for the assembled troops.


In February 1864, Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick and Col. Ulric Dahlgren led a cavalry force to sack Richmond and free Union prisoners. Dahlgren was killed in the raid but Kilpatrick's command escaped intact. Shortly before the raid, Kilpatrick (standing, center), his staff, and several unknown ladies posed with the division flag.

Learn More About Virgina at War: Before the War | In the Trenches | Panoramas of War