The Army of Northeastern Virginia was the unofficial name of the Union's primary fighting force in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War prior to the formation of the Army of the Potomac.
At 4:30 a.m., April 12, 1861, Confederate forces began shelling the federal garrison at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, plunging the United States into the American Civil War. Three days later, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand volunteers to suppress the Southern rebellion. On April 25, the first of what would eventually amount to thousands of raw recruits began streaming into Washington, DC. The rapid buildup of local regiments required the United States War Department to quickly create structure out of chaos. By late April, the War Department began organizing the volunteer army into military districts.
On May 27, 1861, the War Department issued General Orders No. 20, stating that "All that part of Virginia, east of the Alleghany mountains and north of James river, except Fort Monroe and sixty miles around the same, will, for the present, constitute a new Military Geographical Department, under the command of Brigadier Gen. Irvin McDowell, U. S. A., whose headquarters will be movable." The "new Military Geographical Department" was subsequently referred to as the Department of Northeastern Virginia.
McDowell had under his command approximately thirty thousand to thirty-five thousand raw recruits, many of whom had enlisted for just three months. His force was divided into five divisions led by Brigadier-General Daniel Tyler, Colonel David Hunter, Colonel Samuel Heintzelman, Brigadier-General Theodore Runyon, and Colonel D. S. Miles. Numerous historical sources refer to McDowell's force as the Army of Northeastern Virginia, but there is scant evidence that it was ever officially ascribed that name.
After taking command on May 28, 1861, McDowell focused his efforts over the next few weeks on organizing and training his green troops. President Lincoln and other government officials, however, were less concerned about the army's lack of seasoning. Eager for a quick end to the rebellion, they pressured McDowell for action, sooner rather than later. Despite his misgivings, McDowell acquiesced to political pressure and marched his soldiers out of Washington, toward Manassas, Virginia, on July 16, 1861. On July 21 the Confederate Army of the Potomac, reinforced by the Army of the Shenandoah, routed the Army of Northeastern Virginia at the Battle of Bull Run I, sending them scurrying back to the Union defenses near Washington in a disorganized retreat.
One week after the embarrassing defeat, the federal government began reorganizing its forces near the nation's capital. On July 25, 1861, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 47, merging the Department of Northeastern Virginia with the Department of Washington to create the Division of the Potomac commanded by Major General George B. McClellan. Three weeks later, on August 17, Lieutenant General Winfield Scott issued General Orders, No.15 (Headquarters of the Army) announcing a further consolidation and the creation of the Department of the Potomac, again commanded by. McClellan. On August 20, McClellan issued General Orders No. 1 (Army of the Potomac), assuming "command of the Army of the Potomac, comprising the troops serving in the former departments of Washington and Northeastern Virginia, in the Valley of the Shenandoah, and in the States of Maryland and Delaware." The troops who served under McDowell formed the nucleus of the Army of the Potomac.
Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiments that served with the Army of Northeastern Virginia:
1st Regiment Ohio Volunteer
Infantry (3 months)
2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry (3 months)
Cite this Entry
"Army of Northeastern Virginia," Ohio Civil War Central, 2022, Ohio Civil War Central. 26 Jun 2022 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1318>
"Army of Northeastern Virginia." (2022) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved June 26, 2022, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1318
- Abraham Lincoln
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Army of the Shenandoah (USA) (1864)
- Battle of Bull Run I
- David Hunter
- General Orders, No. 1 (Army of the Potomac)
- General Orders, No. 1 (Division of the Potomac)
- General Orders, No. 15 (Headquarters of the Army)
- George B. McClellan
- Irvin McDowell
- Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- Samuel P. Heintzelman
- Winfield Scott