Washington War Weekly

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Washington War Weekly

Major General George B. McClellan's plans to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital, this spring seem to have been set back.Intending to move up the peninsula between the York and James rivers his forces began landing in mid March. With over 120,00 men, the Union army was facing a Confederate force led by Major General John B. Magruder. The problem McClellan faced was that he did not know how many Confederate soldiers his army had actually brought to battle. McClellan found Magruder near Yorktown and believed that the Confederate fortifications were only locatad there. But Magruder had already constructed a defensive line along the Warwick River. On April 4, the Union forces skirmished with the Confederates and pushed them back to the Warwick line by the next day. But they did not press the attack because they were unsure of the number of Confederate troops. On April 6, Brigadier General Winfield Scott Hancock led some troops North of Lee's Mill at Dam Number One to investigate the enemy's numbers and defenses. He found the area had few troops and even took prisoners. McClellan however, had other information that Magruder had over 40,000 men, so instead of taking action, he entrenched and prepared to lay siege to Yorktown.For this past week, McClellan's Army of the Potomac has begun constructing a network of 15 batteries for his 70 guns, including two 200 pounder Parrott Rifles and over 40 mortars. He also enlisted the help of Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe's Union Army Balloon Corps to fly over the lines using the Intrepid and Constitution hot air balloons. He hopes the Balloon Corps can provide a better sense of the Confederate troop numbers and fortifications.Meanwhile, it is reported that the Confederate leader knew he was badly outnumbered so he has worked to convince the Union leaders that his command is larger than it really is. He did this by marching his troops past the same exposed location several times, shifting his artillery often and firing heavily when he saw Union Troops. He also ordered three regiments brought forward with six others nearby. On April 16, after the Balloon Corps reconnaisance missions indicated that the Confederates had about 13000 troops but that they were improving their numbers and lines daily, ordered his troops to hamper the enemy's work but not bring on an engagement until the Union batteries were completed.

PERILOUS JOURNEY OVER ENEMY LINESPROFESSOR'S HARROWING ACCOUNT OF ESPIONAGEUnion Aeronautic Corps director Prof. Thaddeus S.C. Lowe chronicled the following account of observation at the front in his personal diary, which is reprinted here:Risking life and limb, Brigadier General Fitz John Porter and I on April 11, 1862 journeyed over the heat of battle in our airborne machine the "Intrepid" and were nearly shot down like a duck. Being a dare-devil, I volunteered to take on the challenge of gathering conclusive intelligence to resolve a considerable dispute between the Generals regarding the actual troop levels and fortifications of the Confederate army near Yorktown. Many men thought me reckless, but being fearless as I am, I bolted into the balloon and in a matter of minutes we were flying high in the sky. The General had never been in a hot air balloon before.The fears of our comrades were soon justified when our mooring line, hastily tied by a fresh fish, came loose in a sudden gust of wind which carried us over the enemy line. I tried my best to turn the balloon around, but could do nothing to halt the wind from blowing us toward certain death.As I glanced over the side, I saw the grey backs point their cannon at the sky. I noticed them light the fuse and my heart dropped, fearing the end of our lives was near. We crouched down to avoid making any better of a target of ourselves. Suddenly by the grace of the Almighty we were whisked in the other direction by another great wind back behind the Union line. In relief I finally took a full breath knowing we wouldn’t die yet.

The Intrepid was the sister hot air balloon to another balloon called the Constitution.

This is a map of the battle of Yorktown

April 21, 1862

Washington D.C

Siege at Yorktown continues; Gens. McClellan and Porter float new tactic


George Brinton McClellan

John Fitz Porter

Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe


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