The American Civil War 1861-1865
Yinger Family Member Participation
When the American Civil War began in April, 1861 with the shelling of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, both the North and the South scrambled to build their military forces as quickly as possible. Leadership was selected based on several factors. In both the Union and Confederate armies, West Point Military Academy graduates were the most logical candidates for leadership roles.
Professional, “regular” military officers were joined by militia and political leaders appointed to military leadership by Governors from each state. Each state maintained militia units that were the source of companies and regiments when the Northern states responded to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 “volunteers” for a period of service of 90 days in April 1861.
The company was the most basic unit of organization in both the Union and Confederate military. At full strength a company was comprised of about 100 soldiers. The next unit of organization was the regiment which was made up of 10 companies lettered A through K (the letter J was not used to avoid confusion with the letter A or I). Therefore, a regiment at full strength consisted of about 1,000 soldiers.
Four to five regiments were combined to form a brigade which numbered 4,000 to 5,000 men. Three brigades were joined together to form a division numbering 12,000 to 15,000 soldiers. Three divisions were put together to form a corps consisting from about 36,000 to 45,000 soldiers.
Finally the highest unit of organization in size and function was an army. An Army was variable in terms of how many corps it comprised based on geographical location and perceived needs and goals of the senior military leadership including the President, Abraham Lincoln who was Commander-in-Chief of all military forces and his Secretary of War.
The professional military officers knew it would take a lot of time to organize, train, arm and equip a mostly civilian, “volunteer” military force to successfully fight the war. In the North, the political pressures were too great to withstand the pressure to get about the business of fighting and crushing the “rebel” Confederates as soon as possible. The often heard cry in northern newspapers and political and society circles was “On to Richmond.”
First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run:
General Irvin McDowell, a West Point graduate, was in charge of the Union forces near the capital, Washington. He succumbed to the pressure for a quick strike and presumed certain victory against Confederate forces forming nearby in Manassas, Virginia. General P.G.T. Beauregard, also a West Point graduate, commanded the Confederate forces.
On July 21, 1861 McDowell led his forces of about 35,000 soldiers against the numerically inferior forces under Beauregard in what became known as the “First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run”. The Northern military leadership throughout the war tended to name Civil War battles after the nearest river or stream while the Confederate leadership named battles based on the nearest town.
Both sides were woefully unprepared and under-trained for the battle. Though they possessed a numerical superiority, the Union forces under McDowell were not deployed effectively in capitalizing on their advantage in numbers. Furthermore, the Union forces were attempting to be the offensive aggressor. Coordination of movements and troop deployments in an offensive action is more complicated and prone to error from miscommunication and misunderstanding in the din of battle, especially for green troops.
The battle ebbed back and forth but finally the Union advance was resisted and turned back by the likes of “Stonewall” Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. Initially the retreat toward Washington was orderly by the Northern army. However, at one of the principal bridges across the river a Union wagon was hit by a southern cannon shot knocking it over on the bridge. Panic ensued with many Union troops casting off their weapons in a full-out rout toward Washington.
In the pandemonium and confusion, civilian picnickers from Washington who had come out to watch an expected easy Northern victory got caught in the middle of the retreating soldiers. It was an unmitigated disaster for McDowell’s forces. The fear was deep that the Confederate army would capitalize on the situation and thrust forward into the capital and end the war in victory at this, the first major battle.
However, the Confederate forces were just as confused and unprepared as the Union forces even in victory. They could not muster the organization necessary to press the advantage they had just won on the battlefield of Manassas.
The first battle of Manassas or Bull Run served as a wake up call in a number of important ways.
1. Both sides realized how brutal and bloody the war would be
2. Northerners lost their notion of a quick and easy victory
3. Lincoln signed a bill providing for 500,000 troops for a period of three years service instead of 90 days
4. After the initial shock, Northern volunteers turned out in increasing numbers with a stiffer resolve and commitment to the task at hand.
After the disaster at Manassas, heads rolled with the bulk of the blame placed on General Irvin McDowell’s shoulders. He was replaced by General George B. McClellan. This would be just the first of many such leadership changes in the succeeding months as Lincoln desperately sought Union Generals who could match up to the capabilities of the opposing Confederate Generals like Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson.
No Yinger family ancestors served in any of the companies or regiments which fought at Bull Run. However, later in the war each of the eight Yinger Civil War soldiers who descended from the Palatine Germanic immigrant forefather, Johann Paul Jünger, served under either McClellan’s command or the command of his successors who led the “Army of the Potomac.” This was the principal Union army that fought time and again against Robert E. Lee’s Confederate “Army of Northern Virginia” in the eastern theater of the Civil War.
Early Union successes in the Western Theater contrasted with Union army failures in the Eastern Theater:
In the west, the border state of Kentucky was transformed from neutrality to the Union side through early successful military operations by Northern forces. Federal armies under General Ulysses S. Grant also prevailed at Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in February, 1862 opening the way for an uncontested capture and occupation of Nashville and surrounding areas of Middle Tennessee.
The Battle of Shiloh in southwest Tennessee on the Tennessee River was another Union victory in April, 1862. The Mississippi River port city of New Orleans fell to the Union Navy in May 1862 opening up the lower river to Union control from the Gulf of Mexico to Vicksburg, Mississippi. These and other successes of Union armies in the western theater were reported and celebrated in northern newspapers and helped to bolster public support and resolve among the population of the northern states.
Even though the Union army victories in the western theater pumped up morale in the northern populace, the disappointments and defeats of Union forces in the eastern theater tended to overshadow the western successes. Several factors contributed to this hard reality. First, the eastern theater of Virginia, Western Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania was much closer to the significant population centers in America. Also the major newspapers reporting on the war were based in the east had much larger circulations than western newspapers.
Furthermore, the Union Capitol of Washington and the Southern Capital of Richmond, Virginia were both in the eastern theater and many of the battles were fought in the hotly contested land located within the 100 miles or so of territory between them. If either side prevailed in capturing the other capital, the war would have been won by that side regardless of what transpired in the western theater.
George B. McClellan’s command:
When General McClellan took command of the Union armies in the eastern theater in July, 1861 he had a monumental task on his hands. On paper he seemed to Lincoln to be up to the task. McClellan had finished near the top of his class at West Point Military Academy when he graduated in 1846. After graduation from West Point he had served with distinction as a military engineer in the Mexican-American War. He also served in various military assignments in the 1850s in Arkansas, Texas and the Pacific Northwest.
In the late 1850’s McClellan resigned his military commission and used his engineering training to serve in senior management roles of several railroads with success. In the early days of the Civil War he was highly recruited for his military and railroad administration experience by several Northern State Governors. He ended up with a commission as a General over the volunteers from Ohio militia units.
In June and July, 1861 Union forces under his command had won two minor engagements in western Virginia (soon after to become the State of West Virginia). These were among the first Union victories of the Civil War and the northern press acclaimed him in heroic terms as a result. On the heels of these successes, Lincoln summoned McClellan to Washington to help bring order to the chaos after the Union defeat at Manassas.
Upon his arrival in Washington in late July, 1861, McClellan set about to establish an organized and disciplined military force to defend the capital. Within a month several military units in the area had been consolidated into the “Army of the Potomac.” McClellan assumed command of this army he had created with Lincoln’s approval.
During the succeeding months, McClellan used his considerable organizational and administrative abilities to create order and discipline in the military forces around the capital. His leadership also achieved a significant improvement in the military defenses surrounding the capital of Washington.
The army grew significantly through the fall of 1861 from about 50,000 at McClellan’s arrival to over 150,000 by November. His efforts and visits with the troops raised the morale of the soldiers in the army. They believed he sincerely sought their welfare.
Unfortunately for McClellan, certain weaknesses in his character gradually became painfully apparent. He consistently significantly overestimated the size of the Confederate forces he faced. As a result he was very resistant about using the army he had built to actually go out and fight. In his exasperation Lincoln once sarcastically remarked “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”
Furthermore, McClellan was disrespectful and insubordinate to his superiors including General Winfield Scott who was general-in-chief of all Union forces. He openly disagreed with Scott’s vision for Union victory which placed emphasis on the blockade of the southern shores to keep the Confederacy from exporting cotton and importing war materials from European sources.
This plan came to be known as the “Anaconda Plan” and McClellan disparaged it in favor of his grand vision of a single large land campaign which, with overwhelming numbers, would crush the southern forces and win the war in one bold massive offensive. The disagreement and tension finally prompted the old war horse, Scott, to resign. Scott had served his country with great distinction and honor over a span exceeding 50 years in the military. In 1861 at the time of his resignation he was 75 years old with many physical infirmities.
Exasperation with McClellan’s inactivity with the Army of the Potomac and his resistance to launching a campaign against the Confederate forces in the area grew throughout the winter of 1861-62. Continued demands from his superiors for action or at least a plan of impending action were met with no concrete response by McClellan for a military campaign against the Confederate forces.
McClellan received an outraged response from his superiors, Congress and the press when it was discovered that the Confederate armies which had remained near Manassas since the battle in July, 1861 actually slipped away southward toward Richmond undetected. In reality the Army of the Potomac had at least a 2 to 1 advantage if not greater the whole time the Confederate army was nearby just waiting for McClellan to muster the courage to deploy his superior forces against them.
Finally in mid-March, 1862 McClellan began to advance his massive Army of the Potomac numbering in excess of 120,000 down the Potomac River toward the Chesapeake Bay. Their goal was to land near Hampton, Virginia at the tip of the peninsula formed by the York and James River. Then his intention was to march overland northwesterly toward the Confederate capital of Richmond which was about 75 miles from Hampton, Virginia.
McClellan’s leadership of the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign was true to form. He consistently over-estimated the size of the Confederate forces opposing him. This led to excessive caution and a tendency to withhold in reserve significant portions of his army to avoid a disastrous destruction by what he believed to be numerically superior forces.
Initially McClellan’s Army of the Potomac faced the Confederate forces under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston’s forces engaged McClellan’s army at various points on the peninsula as the Union army approached Richmond intending to besiege it until it surrendered. In early May, 1862 the two armies clashed at Williamsburg, Virginia.
Johnston’s forces were defeated at Williamsburg. However they managed to execute an orderly retreat toward Richmond where the majority of his army reinforced the Confederate capital’s defenses. By the end of May, 1862 McClellan’s Army of the Potomac had advanced to the outskirts of the Confederate capital, Richmond. On May 31, 1862 Johnston counterattacked McClellan’s forces at the battle of Seven Pines also called the battle of Fair Oaks.
The Confederate offensive at Seven Pines was successfully fended off by the Union army. However, McClellan was too cautious to counter attack which his superiors in Washington believed was a golden opportunity he missed to capture Richmond. During the battle Johnston was seriously wounded. Shortly afterward, Robert E. Lee assumed command of the Confederate Army which became known as the "Army of Northern Virginia."
Lee was more aggressive and bolder than Johnston. While McClellan reorganized his army and sought reinforcements, Lee continued to plan further attacks against McClellan's forces and further strengthened the defenses around Richmond. The culmination of Lee’s aggression was during the period from June 25 to July 1, 1862. A series of battles known as the "Seven Days Battles" during this period chased McClellan back down the peninsula away from Richmond.
The “Seven Days Battles” during which Lee threw his forces against McClellan’s army again and again marked the end of the Peninsula campaign. The Army of the Potomac succeeded in withdrawing to a strong defensive position on the James River with Union Naval support. In August, 1862 Lincoln ordered the Army to return to the area closer to Washington when it became clear that further attempts to capture Richmond were not likely to be successful.
Both sides experienced stunning casualties during the Peninsula campaign. Union casualties totaled about 16,000 and Confederate casualties were even greater at 20,000. Northern morale was deeply damaged by McClellan’s failure to achieve the capture of Richmond after such a terrible price was paid in killed, wounded and captured.
With the Federal forces in retreat, emboldened by the rewards of his aggressive approach, Robert E. Lee began to plan to take the war and his army into the North rather than wait for another Union offensive. The second battle of Manassas or Bull Run was the next major clash in the eastern theater of the Civil War following the Peninsula Campaign. It was a direct result of Lee’s offensive character which had been enhanced by the outcome of the failed Union Peninsula Campaign.
The Second Battle of Manassas or Bull Run:
While McClellan was planning and, after considerable delay, executing a withdrawal ordered by his superiors in Washington from the unsuccessful Peninsula campaign, a second eastern theater Union army was established from Union troops in the vicinity of Washington. The new army was designated by Lincoln and his central military staff as the Union “Army of Virginia.”
Leadership of this army was assigned to Maj. General John Pope. Pope, like McClellan, had achieved some measure of success in the western theater of the war. Lincoln believed he had a more aggressive nature than that which McClellan had exhibited while commanding the “Army of the Potomac.”
Lincoln sought a Union General that could match the boldness and assertiveness of Southern Generals like Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in future battles with the Confederate “Army of Northern Virginia.” While Pope may have been a more aggressive General than McClellan, he lacked the support of his soldiers because of his arrogant and sarcastic personality.
McClellan had a special relationship with the men under him who sincerely believed he sought their best interests and exercised appropriate caution and deliberation before committing troops to battle. Pope, on the other hand, was often harsh with his troops and critical of their abilities and will to fight. He often compared them unfavorably against the forces he had commanded in the western theater of the war.
McClellan and Pope were not fond of each other. There was a measure of rivalry between the two Generals. During McClellan’s Peninsula campaign he often demanded reinforcements be sent to him from the troops remaining in the area near Washington. He was resentful and on one occasion passionately critical of the Union leaders in Washington including Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton for not providing the troops he deemed necessary to capture Richmond.
Accordingly, when McClellan was recalled away from Richmond he was slow in bringing his “Army of the Potomac” back to Washington to combine with Pope’s forces in the newly created Union “Army of Virginia.” In a letter to his wife McClellan astonishingly said the following: “Pope will be badly thrashed within two days and… they will be very glad to turn over the redemption of their affairs to me. I won’t undertake it unless I have full and entire control.”
While McClellan delayed his retreat toward Washington, Robert E. Lee perceived that his army had an opportunity to attack the forces under General John Pope before McClellan’s army could unite with Pope’s army and achieve numerical superiority. He intended to take advantage of the separation between the two Union armies by first defeating Pope’s “Army of Northern Virginia” and then to turn his attention toward McClellan’s “Army of the Potomac.”
Accordingly Lee dispatched “Stonewall” Jackson’s wing of the Confederate “Army of Northern Virginia” against Pope. Jackson moved to destroy the huge Union supply depot at Manassas Junction on August 27, 1862. Jackson then sent his troops north to the first Manassas (Bull Run) battlefield and assumed a strong defensive position from which he expected to invite attack from Pope’s federal army.
The other wing of Lee’s Confederate “Army of Northern Virginia” was commanded by General James Longstreet. His divisions numbered about 25,000 men and they moved to join Jackson’s similar sized wing in order to gain numerical superiority over Pope’s Union “Army of Virginia.” The ensuing battle raged from August 28-30, 1862 on substantially the same ground where the first battle of Manassas was contested.
Pope’s leadership of his Union army and its subordinate commanders during the battle was characterized by confusing orders, incorrect assumptions, and gross mismanagement of the human and material resources at his command. He wrongly believed he had Jackson trapped and discounted reports of the imminent arrival and reinforcement by Longstreet’s wing of the Confederate army.
Compared to the first battle of Manassas, the second battle of Manassas (Bull Run) was a far more extensive and costly engagement for both the Union and Confederate armies. Union casualties were about 10,000 in killed and wounded compared to Confederate losses of about 7,500 in killed and wounded.
However, instead of a complete rout of the Northern army, Pope managed to affect an orderly, if tenuous, retreat while continuing to position his forces between Lee’s “Army of Northern Virginia” and Washington. Lee, however, would not be deterred by this strategic maneuver. His boldness and encouragement gained from another hard fought victory compelled him to set his sights across the Potomac River to Maryland.
One of Pope’s subordinate officers, Brig. General Alpheus Williams, offered the following summation of the second battle of Manassas and Pope’s management thereof:
“A splendid army almost demoralized, millions of public property given up or destroyed, thousands of lives of our best men sacrificed for no purpose. I dare not trust myself to speak of this commander (Pope) as I feel and believe. Suffice to say…that more insolence, superciliousness, ignorance, and pretentiousness were never combined in one man. It can in truth be said of him that he had not a friend in his command from the smallest drummer boy to the highest general officer.”
While Pope bore the brunt of criticism for the thrashing his army received at the hands of Lee, Jackson and Longstreet, one of his subordinates was singled out for shared blame. Fitz John Porter was the main scapegoat. Porter was court-martialed for disobedience and misconduct and dismissed from the army. Many years later, he was exonerated by a military commission which concluded that his reluctance to attack Longstreet on August 29, 1862 probably saved Pope’s “Army of Virginia” from an even more disastrous defeat.
To this point in the Civil War, no descendants of Johann Paul Jünger had served in the Union army in the eastern theater of the war. However, when Robert E. Lee deployed his “Army of Northern Virginia” into Maryland, Yinger family member participation began in the service of the “Army of the Potomac” under George B. McClellan at the battle of Antietam.
Yinger Family Civil War Battle Participation:
The major Civil War battles which Yinger descendants of Johann Paul Jünger fought in are summarized in accompanying pages of this section of the web site and can be reached by following the links provided below. The major battle summaries are intended to offer a big picture overview of these battles from a bird’s eye view vantage point.
Transcripts of Samuel Bates' regimental histories and muster rolls are given in another area of this web site and offer a more specific account of the activities of the individual regiments Yinger ancestors fought with in a given battle. The major battles which one or more Yinger ancestors participated in while associated with Pennsylvania regiments include:
Antietam (Sharpsburg), September 17, 1862 Antietam
Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862 Fredericksburg
Chancellorsville, May 1 - 5, 1863 Chancellorsville
Cold Harbor, June 1 - 3, 1864 Cold Harbor
Fort Stedman, March 25, 1865 Fort Stedman
Petersburg, April 2, 1865 Petersburg
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