While I was drafting Richmond Shall Not Be Given Up (my book on the Seven Days), I knew I would also have to cover the 1862 campaign on the Virginia Peninsula. It can be argued that the Peninsula and Seven Days are really one campaign, and a Federal soldier would certainly think so. In any case, in order to really understand the Seven Days, the reader needs to know what led up to it.
Working on the events that preceded the campaign was of great interest. My opinion of Joe Johnston was not positive when I began, but my appreciation for him grew, at least up until Seven Pines. Several times he correctly guessed what McClellan might do and acted to prepare for it, despite President Davis’s and General Lee’s opinions.
George McClellan was another story entirely. While I grew to appreciate his strengths as an administrator, his letters to his wife revealed some serious character issues, and his failure to take advantage of opportunities such as capturing Drewry’s Bluff confounded me.
As I considered events on the lower Peninsula, I thought it might be wise to take advantage of the talents and knowledge of Williamsburg resident Drew Gruber. Drew (and a limited number of others, such as J. Michael Moore) are experts on that part of the campaign, and Drew has also worked to help preserve lands in the area. In case you don’t know Drew, he’s the guy who travels over many states to set up and maintain the very helpful system of Civil War Trails signs. He also is an excellent speaker and researcher. I approached Drew and, fortunately for me, he agreed. Drew is a great writer, and he added tremendously to the book.
I covered the story up until McClellan’s arrival on the Peninsula and picked it back up after the May 7, 1862, battle of Eltham’s Landing. That’s where I really got excited. The story of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks had always confused me, and when I dug into it, I was astounded at how badly the Confederate high command mishandled it. Additionally, the false allegations that followed surprised me and changed my opinions of several prominent characters. Johnston’s command of the battle was less than satisfactory (which is being kind), and his wounding and the subsequent assignment of Lee to command the army changed the course of the war.
While the appointment of Lee seems an obvious masterstroke, it was not so clear at the time. In fact, the president had few other options. His other full generals were Sidney Cooper, who was too old to take the field; Albert Sidney Johnston, who had been killed at Shiloh; and Pierre G. T. Beauregard, whom Davis did not like at all. That left Lee, who had never commanded a large field army and who had experienced grief in the early part of the war in western Virginia (at McClellan’s hands, no less)
To Hell or Richmond was long in being published. One of the main reasons was the COVID plague, which shut down operations for a time and then created serious supply issues. The result for our fine publisher was a backlog of books to print. However, there was a benefit to this. I had the good fortune to meet Vic Vignola, who has a Savas book coming out on Seven Pines/Fair Oaks. If you have ever been to the battlefield, you know that it has been developed and is difficult to follow. There is a small piece of land that is still in historic condition (private property, but Vic had permission), and that is where the Federals had set up artillery and made a stand at the Fair Oaks portion of the field. Vic walked the land with me several times, with reports in hand. It totally changed the way I saw the battle and caused me to think differently than the previous scholarship on the subject. (Thanks Vic—we look forward to your book!)
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my appreciation for our editor, Chris Mackowski. Chris worked tirelessly to improve our work, right up to the deadline. I don’t know how Chris does so many things, but I’m certainly glad he does. Again, thanks to Drew, Vic, and Chris for their contributions!
To Hell or Richmond: The 1862 Peninsula Campaign (Savas Beatie, 2023)
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To listen to an episode about the book on the Emerging Civil War Podcast, click here.