McClellan's Urbanna Plan

        The stalemate in northern Virginia after First Bull Run, July 1861, lengthened through the summer and fall into winter.  Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate army maintained it's position around Manassas Junction and Centreville.  To the east, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan continued his extensive reorganization and drilling of the Army of the Potomac.  The Union administration had been urging on the youthful commander some offensive operations against Johnston before the advent of winter, but McClellan balked.
        In mid-December McClellan evolved a campaign plan for an offensive thrust beyond Johnston's flank with the assistance of the navy.  He decided to load his army on transports, steam down the Potomac River into the Chesapeake Bay, then follow its coast to the mouth of the Rappahannock River and up that stream to Urbanna.  At this landing on the Rappahannock's southern bank, McClellan would disembark, 50 miles from Richmond and in the rear of the Confederates along the Manassas line.
        The Union commander soon found that implementing such a complex operation would require time, so he delayed until spring.  President Abraham Lincoln, unaware of McClellan's plan, lost patience with the general's inactivity.  On January 27, 1862, on his own initiative, Lincoln peremptorily ordered an advance of all Union armies to begin February 22.  According to Lincoln's instructions, McClellan's army would move against Johnston toward a point southwest of Manassas.
        Lincoln's order stunned McClellan, who immediately went to see the commander in chief.  After the president was briefed, he objected to the plan because it would endanger Washington.  McClellan requested permission to submit written objections to Lincoln's orders and reasons supporting his own proposal.  After an exchange of questions and answers, Lincoln reluctantly agreed to the Urbanna Plan.
        McClellan did not move February 22, and Lincoln's  doubts increased.  On March 8, at Lincoln's request, McClellan submitted the plan to his 12 division commanders, who listened and voted 8-4 in favor of the Urbanna route.  Lincoln acceded, but only after specifying in an order that the capital must be sufficiently defended.  On March 9, however, Johnston abandoned the Manassas line, moving toward the Rappahannock River.  McClellan's Urbanna Plan was now useless.
Source: "Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War" edited by Patricia L. Faust

This page last updated 04/25/05

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