The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – July 9-15, 1862/The Western Theater
Here are some of the events of the Civil War that were happening 150 years ago this week. Sources are numbered according to the list at the bottom of this post.
But first, let’s take a brief look at where things stood in early July 1862.
A time of transition
At about this point in the war, 150 years ago today, the realization was sinking in among political and military leaders that this struggle couldn’t be settled by a single battle (such as Shiloh) or major campaign (McClellan’s attempt to take Richmond). Per McPherson, General McClellan’s failure to take Richmond also marked the end of support for the sort of limited war that he and others had wanted to wage; as well, it helped to move President Lincoln in a more radical direction (see McPherson’s Chapter 16, “We Must Free The Slaves or Be Ourselves Subdued”).
In the east, Lincoln had brought in General Pope, whose more aggressive and hard-line approach caused General Robert E. Lee to call him a “miscreant” who ought to be “suppressed” – harsh words from that Southern gentleman.
Lee now also faced the possibility that Pope’s Army of Virginia (formed out of smaller forces once commanded by Generals Fremont, Banks and McDowell) might combine with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac (which was still on the peninsula and protected by US navy vessels). It was a very serious threat.
In the west, the new Confederate commander, General Braxton Bragg, a friend of President Davis, was (per McPherson) getting mixed reviews from other officers who felt he was a good captain but not fit for high command.
Nonetheless, Bragg developed a plan to deal with the Union troops massed at several points along and even within the Confederacy’s borders, as well to assist General E. K. Smith in retaking the border states of Kentucky and Tennessee.
This week, in addition to the timeline (below), there is an overview of the situation in the Western Theater. Next week, we will take a look at developments in the Eastern Theater, the start of Lee’s Northern Virginia Campaign, and President Lincoln’s decision on issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Western Theater
There was a good reason why US General Halleck didn’t advance further south after occupying Corinth, Mississippi: He and some of his top commanders were ill, as were some 37,000 troops, and the summer, an unusually hot and dry one, was only just beginning.
Corinth was a small town, first established in 1855, according to a contemporary guide book. By July 1862, it was in very bad shape, having first hosted the Confederate army after Shiloh, and after mid-June, the Union army, all the while lacking sufficient clean water and other resources to handle the huge overload.
Diarrhea/dysentery (ruefully called “the evacuation of Corinth” by some of the US generals who contracted it), typhoid and malaria were the main killers. Union soldiers, unused to Southern summers, were especially vulnerable.
Nonetheless, General Halleck still had plenty to do, according to McPherson: Push on after retreating Confederates and try to take Vicksburg by land from the rear; send a force to liberate East Tennessee (which Lincoln told Halleck he cared about as much as he did taking Richmond); repair and defend the railroads that were increasingly the only supply lines available as the rivers sank lower and lower in a summer drought; and organize a policing and administrative force in occupied territory.
He didn’t have the resources to do all of these tasks, but he had General William Rosecrans to take command of the army as Grant’s subordinate in Corinth. General Grant, Halleck’s second in command, was in Memphis now with the Army of the Tennessee, which Halleck divided into smaller occupation and railroad forces.
In addition, Halleck sent the 40,000-man Army of the Ohio under General Buell to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in spite of urging from both Grant and Secretary of War Stanton to move against Vicksburg. It was a controversial decision, still debated today, but it certainly must have pleased President Lincoln.
On the other side, General Bragg and part of the CS Army of the West, moved first to Tupelo, Mississippi, and then to Chattanooga, where Bragg planned to launch the Confederate Heartland Campaign with CS General E. K. Smith, who was in Knoxville.
Besides Bragg’s army and Smith’s Army of East Tennessee, the two generals had the aid of guerrillas and other local partisans, who constantly harassed and slowed the advance of US General Buell and his Army of the Ohio. As well, Confederate cavalry units under Generals John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest now conducted several daring and successful raids and skirmishes against the Federal troops.
Before he left Mississippi, Bragg divided the remaining Confederate forces into separate commands to defend the region while he was gone. General Earl Van Dorn was ordered to lead Confederate forces in the District of the Mississippi, centered around Vicksburg. General Sterling Price was given the District of the Tennessee, which included parts of Mississippi and Alabama. The portion of the Army of the West that didn’t accompany Bragg to Chattanooga became Price’s field army, and Price was ordered to use it to hold the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and prevent Grant and Rosecrans from reinforcing the Union army in Kentucky. Van Dorn’s forces were to support Price as needed.
Confederate generals could be quite independent minded, and General Van Dorn refused to support General Price at first, preferring to try to liberate Baton Rouge. When that failed, he accepted his assigned role.
Another freewheeling Southern general, John Hunt Morgan, had been attached to General Kirby in East Tennessee but then chose to operate as a separate cavalry command. He is the main reason why we are going to hear a lot about Confederate cavalry this week.
Morgan and his raiders left Knoxville on July 4th and headed to Sparta in White County, Tennessee. This was a troubled area on the border between pro-Union East Tennessee and pro-Confederacy West Tennessee, home to partisans of both sides. Two days later, on July 6, General Nathan B. Forrest and a thousand cavalry left Chattanooga, also heading for White County but with their own plans for confronting Union troops. (Sources for this whole section include links given plus 2, 3, 4)
Battles: Morgan’s First Kentucky Raid: Tompkinsville.
Battles: Morgan’s First Kentucky Raid: The important railroad depot at Glasgow, Kentucky, captured; fight at Green River Bridge. Union commissary stores and medical supplies burned, enough weapons seized to arm 200 of Morgan’s men. One of the Raiders, Canadian-born Private George A. Ellsworth, has the ability to mimic any telegraph operator’s style; Morgan has him “hack” the telegraph lines to learn how close the Union pursuit is. Ellsworth does so in a thunderstorm, the telegraph key on his knee, with water creeping up to his shins, and earns the nickname “Lightning.” There is no news, and Morgan has him send a bogus message about the whereabouts of Morgan’s Raiders and General Forrest and his cavalry. (2)
Battles: Morgan’s First Kentucky Raid: Fight at Rolling Fork Bridge and capture of Lebanon, Kentucky. Ellsworth learns that no Union troops are anywhere close and Morgan has time to thoroughly ransack and destroy Union supplies. On the way to their next target, Ellsworth sends another bogus message, directing the Union troops away from Morgan’s route. (2) Somewhere around this time, Morgan also sends General Jeremiah Boyle, the US commander of Kentucky, a taunting message: “Good morning, Jerry. This telegraph is a great institution. You should destroy it as it keeps me posted too well. My friend Ellsworth has all your dispatches since July 10 on file. Do you want copies?”
Military events: President Lincoln makes General Halleck general-in-chief of all US land forces, a position that has been vacant since March (Halleck will assume this command when he gets to Washington). He also telegraphs Halleck that Military Governor Andrew Johnson in Nashville is “in trouble and great anxiety about a raid into Kentucky,” and asks Halleck to look into it before he comes to Washington. (5, 14) General Halleck orders General Grant to report to Corinth. (8)
General Forrest’s cavalry picks up 300 more men at a point about 10 miles northeast of Sparta, Tennessee. (4)
Battles: Morgan’s First Kentucky Raid: Capture of Springfield and Mackville, Kentucky. (2)
Virginia: General John Pope and the US Army of Virginia occupies Culpeper, Virginia, in the morning. General Lee hears about it that evening. (14)
Military events: At McMinnville, Kentucky, late in the afternoon, scouts tell General Forrest that everything is quiet along the stretch of railroad leading from Bridgeport through Murfreesboro to Nashville and that Union forces seem unaware of the cavalry’s presence. Forrest issues orders for his men to stay “well closed up” and sets off again, reaching Woodbury at around 11 p.m. There, he learns that almost all the men in town have been arrested and taken to Murfreesboro, an important Union supply center on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. After a couple of hours of rest, Forrest moves toward Murfreesboro, some 18 miles away. (1, 4)
Emancipation: President Lincoln calls border-state congressmen to the White House to urge their support for his plan of compensated emancipation. Two-thirds of them sign a manifesto, which he receives on the 13th, rejecting the proposal because of its “radical change in our social system,” as well its perceived interference in state matters, its cost and because they believe it would prolong the conflict. Lincoln therefore decides to give up trying to placate the border states; it is time for some radical moves. (3)
Battles: Murfreesboro. Another account. After ransacking and destroying Union supplies, Forrest’s cavalry leaves town around 6 p.m., sending the captured supplies to their base in McMinnville, while they spend the night at Reedysville, about 9 miles east of Murfreesboro, after having sent out a battalion to destroy bridges as far south as Christiana. (4)
Morgan’s First Kentucky Raid: Capture of Harrodsburg, Lawrenceburg and Versailles, Kentucky. Reportedly, the citizens of Harrodsburg welcome and feed General Morgan and his men. Skirmish near Mackville.(2) In the meanwhile, General Boyle’s appeals have reached Washington, and President Lincoln telegraphs General Halleck: “They are having a stampede in Kentucky. Please look to it.” Halleck telegraphs General Buell, “Do all in your power to put down the Morgan raid even if the Chattanooga expedition should be delayed.” Buell sends two cavalry regiments to Kentucky.
Virginia: General Lee sends out two divisions of the CS Army of Northern Virginia to “suppress” General Pope in Culpeper and to occupy Gordonsville, on the rail line between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. (14)
Emancipation: President Lincoln brings up the idea of an emancipation proclamation privately to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and Secretary of State William H. Seward as they travel to attend the funeral of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton‘s young boy James. (3, 5)
Military events: General Forrest sends observers toward Lebanon, Nashville, Shelbyville and Winchester to learn what Union forces are doing after his raid on Murfreesboro. He and his men march to McMinnville, where they rest for a couple of days. (4)
In Virginia, General Pope gives a troop address that many interpret as criticism of General McClellan (who is practically worshiped by most Union soldiers for his formation of the Army of the Potomac) and as disparagement of them, compared to troops in Pope’s former command in the western theater. The address demoralizes the Army of Virginia and earns Pope the enmity of General McClellan. (14)
Battles: Morgan’s First Kentucky Raid: Capture of Georgetown, Kentucky. Again the raiders are enthusiastically welcomed by local citizens, and Morgan decides to rest for a couple of days. (2)
Mississippi River: A task force of Union vessels is sent up the Yazoo River to investigate rumors that a Confederate ram ship is near completion at the Yazoo City dockyards. They meet the ram, the CSS Arkansas, steaming toward them. The Arkansas fires on one of the lightly armed US ships, which flees. The USS Carondelet is part of the task force but runs aground (the water levels have dropped dramatically in all local rivers). Partly to avoid the same fate, the Arkansas chases one of the Union vessels out of the Yazoo and into the Mississippi River, where it encounters the combined Union fleet. At the sight of “a forest of masts and smokestacks,” the Confederate captain orders his vessel to steam directly into the line and stay as close as possible to Union ships to avoid being fired upon. Somehow, the Confederate ram makes it through the entire Union fleet and reaches Vicksburg and protective artillery fire, although the Southern batteries can’t prevent the US fleet from linking up below Vicksburg. Flag Officer Farragut is infuriated and orders the US fleet downriver – they are to destroy the Arkansas en route. The Confederate ram is heavily damaged during their run, but survives and maintains use of its cannon, helping to severely damage two of Farragut’s ships. (12)
Other: President Lincoln asks Congress to postpone adjournment for at least one more day. He is considering “an act to suppress insurrection, and to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate property of rebels, and for other purposes.” (5)
Military events: Flag Officer Farragut is promoted to Admiral, the first to hold that rank in the American Navy. The US Congress also establishes the naval ranks of Commodore and Lieutenant Commander. (12)
General Grant arrives in Corinth, and one of General Halleck’s first orders for him is the assignment of troops in Memphis to General Samuel Curtis in Arkansas. A more important order will come for Grant the next day. (8)
(3) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor
(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.
(6) Blue and Gray Timeline.
(7) Civil War Daily Gazette timeline.
(8) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(9)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.
(10) Civil War Home’s “The Eastern Theater: 2nd Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.“
(11) “The Battles for Richmond, 1862.” National Park Service.
(12) Conquest of the Lower Mississippi. BrownWaterNavy.org.