The Last Stand of the Rebels in Virginia

Published:May 5, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

As reported earlier, today is the anniversary of the Battle of Williamsburg, fought in 1862 as part of Union general George B. McClellan‘s Peninsula Campaign. In the Rock Island Argus (one of my hometown newspapers) of May 13, McClellan is quoted as telling his wife, the former Mary Ellen Marcy, “The more we know the more complete our victory proves to be. All goes well.” And the Chicago Tribune on May 10 also seems flush with victory, as the headlines above indicate: “The Last Stand of the Rebels in Virginia.”

Meanwhile, always the smart politician, McClellan had placed his father-in-law on his staff and left it to the old man to trumpet this new, great success. From the Tribune:

New York, May 9.—Gen. Marcy telegraphs the following:

“Williamsburg, May 8.—Gen. McClellan on the 6th had a most decisive victory. Only about 30,000 of our troops were engaged against 50,000 of the best rebel troops.* Our men fought them valiantly, and used the bayonet freely, which the rebels could not stand. The fought well until they felt the cold steel, when they took to their heels and ran like hounds, leaving their dead, wounded and sick upon our hands. Joe Johnston led them in person. They have lost several of their best officers.”

As it turns out, though, our entry is slightly less giddy: “Neither side gained a clear advantage,” it reports, and although he won nearly every battle, McClellan still managed to lose the campaign. It was not the rebels’ last stand, after all.

* The troop strengths, by the way, were, in reality, the reverse of these numbers.