History & Records

Williamsburg, Yorktown and the Peninsula Campaign of 1862

Having failed the year previously in its early attempt at Manassas (Bull Run) for a decisive end to the rebellion, in April 1862, massive Union forces under the leadership of General George McClellan vowed to take Richmond, the Capital of the Confederacy, by marching up the Virginia Peninsula, thus assuring an early end to the rebellion.  Land forces flanked by supply ships freely traversing the James and York Rivers would roll over weak defensive positions and small numbers, marching triumphantly into the Capital by summer's end.

However, a few untimely delays were encountered along the way. 

The Confederate's second and third defensive lines built across the Virginia Peninsula at Yorktown and nearby Williamsburg, while not halting the Union onslaught, held fast long enough for  Rebel defensives on the outskirts of Richmond to be completed and manned. 

The story of these two armies, and of the townspeople who for four long years witnessed this savage period, unfolds as you visit Williamsburg and the surrounding area.

From 1861 through the "fall of Richmond," major battles and events unfolded around Williamsburg.  These sites can all be easily reached from the central location in Williamsburg. 

Below is a basic timeline of events for the Peninsula Campaign. 

Date Occurrence
March 8th & 9th 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads; CSS VIRGINIA (Merrimack) revealed on 8th; USS MONITOR revealed on 9th
March 11th McClellan removed as general-in-chief of armies
Spring 1862 Union forces land at Fort Monroe
April 5th to May 4th, 1862 Battle of Yorktown - McClellan overestimated the Confederate army, leading him to the decision that he should send in a reconnaissance team. This allowed time for Gen. Magruder to receive more soldiers. In the end, McClellan took too much time and the Confederate soldiers retreated to Williamsburg.
May 5th Battle of Williamsburg - The Battle of Williamsburg was a stopping point where the armies fought, but Longstreet's rear guard kept the Union soldiers at bay, allowing the Confederate soldiers to retreat to Richmond.
May 7th Battle of Eltham's Landing (West Point) - This is little more than a heavy skirmish, with forces fighting in thick woods. A brief fight and the Union soldiers backed into the woods again.
May 15th Battle of Norfolk (Drewry's Bluff) - Another loss for the Federals. An amphibious battle, with The Monitor and two other ironclads attacking Norfolk. However, the ships couldn't fully help, and therefore had to retreat. The US reported 14 casualties. The CSA had 7.
May 27th Battle of Hanover Court House (Slash Church) - Not a lot happened here, with confederate forces breaking under the weight of thousands of new troops from the north, therefore retreating.
May 31st & June 1st Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) - Nothing big happened here, with both sides claiming victory, both sides having almost equal numbers of casualties, and Gen. Longstreet being wounded twice. The Confederate army retreated to Richmond, where the final battle of the campaign took place.
June 25th to July 1st, 1862 Seven Days Battle -  A series of battles that lasted a week. Robert E. Lee launched fierce counterstrikes that weren't significant victories. "Stonewall" Jackson joined the fight here, which gave the Union army a run for its money. This all culminated in a victory for the CSA.