The Union Forever
Union fortunes were looking up in the early months on 1862. After a largely lackluster performance for most of 1861, Federal troops scored a series of impressive victories against the South. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant captured the Confederate Forts Donnellson and Henry on February 6 and 16, opening up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Nashville, then the capital of Tennessee, fell by the end of the Month. The Union even managed a costly victory at the Battle of Shiloh on April 7. On the Mississippi River, Brigadier General John Pope captured Island Number 10 and over 7,000 prisoners on April 8. These successes earned Grant and Pope promotions to Major General. Further south New Orleans, the largest port in the Confederacy, fell to Admiral Farragut and General Butler on May 1 crippling the Confederate’s use of the Mississippi. Union forces were also making impressive headway by capturing points along the Confederate coastline.
Confederate reverses had severely dampened Confederate spirits. When Jefferson Davis was formally installed as the President of the Confederate States of America, previously he had just been provisional president, on a rainy day in Richmond an onlooker asked one of Davis’s footmen why he and President Davis were dressed in black suites. The footman responded with “Well Ma’am this is how we always have done in Richmond for funerals and such.” And with the large Army of the Potomac hovering north of the city many in the Confederacy were wondering whether their secessionist experiment might soon unravel.
The Beginning of the Peninsula Campaign and McClellan’s Accident
With these successes in the west, Lincoln naturally pressed for similar results in the east. Unfortunately President Lincoln and his eastern generals differed as to the preferred method. Lincoln desired the obvious choice of an overland campaign from Washington to destroy Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Northern Virginia and capture the Confederate capital. The President however eventually bowed to General McClellan’s plan to land the Army of the Potomac on the Virginia coast and then move onto Richmond.
The Union had been making steady but painfully slow progress up the Peninsular between the James and York Rivers since March capturing Yorktown, the former colonial capital of Williamsburg, and the vital naval base of Norfolk. At Norfolk, the Confederates destroyed the ironclad CSS Merrimack to prevent her from falling into Union hands.
On May 12, Major General McClellan must have been feeling very pleased with himself after the recent capture of Norfolk against what he consistently believed to be “vastly superior rebel numbers.” Whether this sense of overconfidence helped McClellan not see the shard of metal in the road on that spring morning however is lost to history. Around 8:00 AM after a light breakfast with some of his lieutenants, McClellan mounted his horse Baldy to inspect the camp and make his rounds amongst the troops. Sadly for McClellan, while trotting at a good pace along a fence line near Headquarters, Baldy picked up 6 inch sliver of metal that was protruding from the road. Whether this piece of metal was placed there intentionally has never been proven. Because of the speed at which Baldy was traveling the shard went through the forward right hoof. McClellan, despite being a confident horseman, was thrown when Baldy came to an abrupt and jerking stop. McClellan would in all probability have been fine if it was not for the fence that ran alongside the road. As McClellan fell the fence caught him in the lower back breaking his spine. Captain Jeremiah O’Connor, one of McClellan’s aids was the first to reach McClellan. McClellan’s first words to O’Connor after realizing that he could not move his legs were “Who will save the Union now?”
Major General George McClellan
Army of the Potomac
Commander: July 26, 1861-May 13, 1862
 McPherson, Crossroads of Freedom