Recreating McClellan's Grand Campaign

A First Look at ON TO RICHMOND!

by Ed Beach

It was the largest military operation ever seen on the north American continent. Over 400 watercraft, from Hudson River excursion boats to the ironclad Monitor, accompanied General George McClellan's Army of the Potomac to Fort Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. From there, McClellan launched his offensive towards the Confederate capital. He sent 55,000 men up the Peninsula in early April with another 35,000 following later in the month. Supplied entirely by sea, McClellan's campaign was creatively designed, grand in scope, and yet flawed in execution. The Army of the Potomac made it to within 6 miles of Richmond - close enough to hear the church bells of the capital and closer than they would be for the next two years. But this near miss was not nearly enough to claim victory. By early July, the Army of the Potomac lay huddled in an enclave on the James River in a state of demoralization. Now, with the release of ON TO RICHMOND, Volume 6 in the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW) series, you have the opportunity to succeed where McClellan stumbled.

To look at this newest member of the GCACW family, let us review the history of the campaign. Lasting over 12 weeks, the campaign is logically divided into three periods. In the sections below, we will review the events of each of these periods and examine how they can come alive again in ON TO RICHMOND, both in the Basic Game scenarios and the Advanced Game campaign.


The game starts on April 5, as the lead elements of McClellan's invasion force come in contact with General John Bankhead Magruder's Confederate defensive line on the banks of the flooded Warwick River. Historically, McClellan trusted the judgement of General Erasmus Keyes that the Warwick position was unassailable and settled in for a month-long siege. Union players can take a much bolder approach in the game's first scenario, a hypothetical attack over the Warwick given an assumption of less rain than occurred in that spring of 1862.

The siege of the Yorktown - Warwick River line lasted a full month. Historical lulls of this sort are modeled in the Advanced Game with the introduction of the Union Command Posture rules. This system ensures that the Union player can only take an active offensive for about half of the weeks of the campaign. Combined with the new rules for strategic movement and random end to turns, the 112-turn Advanced Game, much longer in length than any previous GCACW campaign, is playable in a long weekend.

Finally on the evening of May 3, Confederate General Joseph Johnson pulls out of the Warwick Line, anticipating that McClellan's devastating assortment of siege artillery is finally ready to cut loose against his army. The next four days are hectic, as Johnston tries to withdraw his army and supply train up the narrow Peninsula with the threatening presence of Union gunboats patrolling the rivers on either side. This retreat by Johnston is the topic of Scenario 2, which serves to introduce players to the gunboat and amphibious movement rules.

In the Advanced Game, the historical advance to Richmond described above can be replaced with any number of alternate Union routes to the Confederate capital. One such alternative, a Union amphibious assault on Gloucester Point, was discussed by McClellan. These types of strategic decisions are thrust on the Union player from the start of the game. In fact, the Advanced Game is opened when the Union selects from the four allowed invasion sites: Tappahannock, Urbana, Mobjack Bay, or the Peninsula (the historical choice). The Union strategic possibilities in the Advanced Game are actually so varied that they will need to be covered in a separate, upcoming General article. Suffice it to say that there were at least seven different paths to Richmond uncovered during the playtesting of the Advanced game.


With the loss of the Peninsula, the Confederate position at Norfolk was put in grave danger. The 10,000 men there were withdrawn to Richmond and the ironclad Virginia scuttled. Advanced Game Confederate players can try and hold out as long as possible in Norfolk, thereby denying the Union player navigation and supply capabilities on the James River. However, the absence of these 10,000 troops for the campaign in front of Richmond make this one of the many tough strategic decisions the players must face.

By the third week of May, Johnston's army has pulled back behind the Chickahominy River and formed a defensive line six miles from the Capital. McClellan wants to wait his attack on Richmond until McDowell's I Corps, 38,000 men strong, joins him overland from Fredericksburg. Scenario 3 is a hypothetical scenario in which the Union player does receive McDowell's troops for the assault on Richmond. Historically, McDowell was told to wait for Shield's division to return from the Shenandoah Valley. However, before Shields returned, Stonewall Jackson created a major diversion in the Valley and Lincoln canceled McDowell's orders. This interaction between Jackson's activity in the Valley and McDowell's release is captured in detail in the Advanced Game. Although Jackson's troops start the campaign in an off-map box, they can still undertake Valley offensives. Each successful Valley offensive may cost them some troops but serves to reduce the chance that Lincoln will authorize McDowell's release. And when the situation in front of Richmond becomes critical, Jackson's troops can be immediately recalled to guard the capital.

Without the arrival of McDowell, the momentum in the campaign began to swing towards the Confederates. In late May, Johnston planned an attack on the divided Union army, which lay astride the Chickahominy river. The ensuing Battle of Seven Pines is the topic of Scenario 4. Although well conceived, Johnston's offensive failed, and the general himself was wounded in the second day of fighting. President Jefferson Davis turned the reins of the Army of the Northern Virginia over to Robert E. Lee, setting the stage for the final period of the campaign.


With Lee in command, the campaign adopted a new sense of urgency. To determine the best course of action, Lee needed to know the exact dispositions of McClellan's army. For the first time, but certainly not the last, Lee turned to JEB Stuart's cavalry to serve as the eyes and ears of his army. Stuart's first bold raid of the war, his famous and daring "Ride Around McClellan, is the topic of Scenario 5.

Stuart's reconnaissance revealed that the right wing of the Union army was "in the air" north of the Chickahominy. Lee next recalled Jackson from the Valley to serve as the catalyst for his offensive against McClellan's exposed flank. Thus starts the series of engagements known as The Seven Days, the subject of the final two Basic Game scenarios. Unfortunately for Lee, Jackson's performance in the campaign was dismal when compared to his heroics in other battles and the opportunities presented were squandered. Nonetheless, Lee's relentless attacks unnerved McClellan, who switched his base to the James River. McClellan's withdrawal to a defensive position along that river effectively ended the Peninsula campaign.

Fortunately for the Union player, the Advanced Game need not end as such a failure. The capture of the Confederate capital was McClellan's goal for the campaign, and the Victory Conditions are structured to reflect that tenet. If the Union is able to capture either Richmond, Petersburg, or the naval battery at Drewry's Bluff that commanded the approach to Richmond, a Union victory is likely. However, the Union player must move decisively toward these objectives to achieve victory. With Confederate troops being rushed to Richmond from other states, the later the Union player makes the final assault on Richmond, the worse the chance of success. Successful Union strategy will usually combine a sound strategy to march his troops and supplies to the outskirts of Richmond and the successful use of siege artillery to pound through the redoubts guarding the city.


The following provides capsule reviews of each scenario in ON TO RICHMOND.

Scenario 1: The Warwick Line

Description: Hypothetical attack by McClellan when he first encounters Magruder's defense line near Yorktown

Length: about 1 hour

Capsule Review: Introductory scenario for new players, early rounds of tournaments. Introduces swamps, dams and redoubts.

Scenario 2: Johnston's Retreat

Description: Johnston's withdrawal up the Peninsula after he abandons the Warwick line.

Length: 2 to 3 hours

Capsule Review: Rebels must avoid prolonged conflicts with the pursuing Union army and dodge being trapped by amphibious flanking maneuvers. Introduces wagon trains, amphibious movement and gunboats.

Scenario 3: The Gates of Richmond

Description: Hypothetical scenario in which Lincoln releases McDowell's corps to assist McClellan's push into Richmond.

Length: 6 to 8 hours

Capsule Review: Desperate struggle for control of the Rebel capital.

Scenario 4: Seven Pines

Description: Johnston tries to cripple the isolated Union troops caught south of the swollen Chickahominy.

Length: about 1 hour

Capsule Review: Short, see-saw battle especially suitable for tournament play. Special rules for the collapse of the pontoon bridges over the Chickahominy.

Scenario 5: Stuart's Ride

Description: Relive Stuart's "Ride Around McClellan"; are you daring enough to pull it off?

Length: about 20 minutes

Capsule Review: Especially suitable for solitaire play.

Scenario 6: The Seven Days

Description: Seven turn mini-campaign reliving all the drama of Lee's first offensive.

Length: 6 to 8 hours

Capsule Review: Wide range of strategic options for both sides. Features rules for the Union change of base, Union wagon trains, and alternative victory sets. Uses gunboats and amphibious movement as well.

Scenario 7: Retreat to the James

Description: Final three days of the Seven Days after McClellan's decision to change base.

Length: 2 to 3 hours

Capsule Review: Usually comes down to a last turn struggle for possession of Malvern Hill. Knock-down, drag-out fight ideal for tournament play.

Advanced Game: Peninsula Campaign

Description: The full campaign from initial invasion on into July (up to 112 turns). All strategic options and factors are portrayed.

Length: Several days

Capsule Review: Uses strategic movement, active and passive postures to speed play. The richest set of strategic options found anywhere within the series. For the monster game fans!

Online Support for ON TO RICHMOND is available on the Internet!

Please send email with questions to:

You can also check out the On To Richmond Support Center web page at:

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Great Campaigns of the American Civil War, Stonewall Jackson's Way, Here Come the Rebels, Roads to Gettysburg, Stonewall in the Valley, Stonewall's Last Battle and On to Richmond are trademarks of Avalon Hill Games, Inc. used with permission. Avalon Hill Games, Inc., a Hasbro affiliate. All rights reserved.

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