The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – January 29-February 4, 1862

Here are some of the events of the Civil War that were happening 150 years ago today. Sources are numbered according to the list at the bottom of this post.

Also see the articles about what happened in January 1862 and February 1862. There is also much day-by-day information in journals from people on both sides of the war at Daily Observations From The Civil War and some news stories of the day at Civil War Daily Gazette.

Here is an additional, and brief, overview of the historical background of the Civil War, from the National Archives by way of

January 29

Politics: In Richmond: “What we want is a military man capable of directing operations in the field everywhere. I think Lee is such a man. But can he, a modest man and a Christian, aspire to such a position? Would not Mr. Benjamin throw his influence against such a suggestion? I trust the President will see through the mist generated around him.” (9) At this point, General Lee was involved with coastal defenses in South Carolina, living down his nicknames of “Granny Lee” and “Evacuating Lee” that Richmond newspapers had given him the previous fall after his disastrous Kanawha campaign in western Virginia. (4) I wonder who this unnamed war clerk was, and in light of events later on in the year, if Lee was also politicking in Richmond in January 1862.

Western Kentucky: General Grant to General Halleck: “In view of the large force now concentrating in this district and the present feasibility of the plan I would respectfully suggest the propriety of subduing Fort Henry near the Kentucky and Tennessee line, and holding the position. From Fort Henry it will be easy to operate either on the Cumberland, only 12 miles distant, Memphis, or Columbus.” On the same day, General Halleck hears from General McClellan that 15 CSA regiments under General Beauregard have been ordered into Kentucky. (1)

January 30

John Ericsson, 1862.

John Ericsson, designer of the "USS Monitor," 1862. (Source: )

Military events: The USS Monitor is launched. (8) “There was no time for test runs to determine whether she fulfilled the terms of the contract; the Monitor’s test would be trial by combat.” (4)

Western Kentucky: General Halleck to General Grant: “Make your preparations to take and hold Fort Henry.” From “The Union Invasion of Tennessee,” where more details are also found.

January 31

Military events: General McClellan submits his objections to Mr. Lincoln’s war plan, including this (per’s “What happened in January 1862”): “”My plan, if successful, gives us the Confederate Capital, the communications, the supplies of the rebels; Norfolk would fall; all the waters of the Chesapeake would be ours; all Virginia would be in our power; and the enemy forced to abandon Tennessee and North Carolina. We can gain a decisive victory which will probably end the war. It will be far cheaper than to gain a battle tomorrow that produces no final results and may require years of warfare and expenditure to follow up. I will stake my life, my reputation on the result, more than that, I will stake upon it the success of our cause.”

February 2

Military events: The USS Hartford, under Captain David Farragut, leaves Hampton Roads, one of the world’s largest natural harbors, to assume command of military operations on the southern Mississippi. (8)

Western Kentucky: General Grant starts the two-day operation of ferrying his 17,000-man force up the Tennessee River (which is rising due to heavy rains upriver). (10)

February 3

Military events: President Lincoln responds to General McClellan’s plan with the following (per’s “What Happened In January 1862” as well as the Lincoln Log timeline):

My Dear Sir, You and I have distinct plans for a movement of the army of the Potomac. If you will give me satisfactory answers to the following questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours.

1. Does your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine? (Probably not)

2. Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine? (If Lincoln were to fully support McClellan, McClellan’s plan might result in the Confederate Government’s backing out of Virginia in less time and with less loss than would Lincoln’s.)

3. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine? (This is an easy one: by Lincoln’s plan all that is achieved is the pushing of Johnston’s army behind the Rappahannock; by Mac’s, the fall of Richmond knocks Virginia out of the war, at least all of Virginia north of James River. A huge difference to be sure.)

4. In fact would your plan be less valuable in this; that it would break no great line of the enemy’s communications, while mine would? (“would break no great line of the enemy’s communications?” What was in Lincoln’s mind, here, is unfathomable.)

5. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be more difficult by your plan than mine? (Possibly; at the time Mac did not know the Union gunboats would be in control of the James River by the time he reached the front of Richmond.)

Confederate reenactors at Fort Henry, 2010.

"Forever Fodder": Confederate reenactors at Fort Henry, 2010. (Source: Egan Snow, CC-A, at )

Western Kentucky: With Union troops landed safely 9 miles below Fort Henry, General Grant goes out on the ironclad USS Essex to test the range of the fort’s guns by drawing its fire. As he later recalled, “One shot passed very near where Captain Porter and I were standing, struck the deck near the stern, penetrated and passed through the cabin and so out into the river.” The ironclad withdraws and Fort Henry’s commander, General Tilghman, wires General Sidney Johnston that he has turned back a Union attack, and with reinforcement, could achieve a great victory. Unfortunately for him, no reinforcements are available, and Grant’s attack has not yet begun. In addition, the river is starting to flood the fort. (10)

February 4

Military events: Western Kentucky: CSA forces withdraw from Fort Heiman to Fort Henry, across the Tennessee River. (8)

The Burnside Expedition: The entire fleet has now entered Pamlico Sound, and orders are given for the advance on Roanoke Island, with detailed instructions given for the landing of troops and the mode of attack. (7)

Cape Hatteras and Roanoke Islands in 2008.

Cape Hatteras and Roanoke Islands in 2008. (Source: DanRhett, CC-A, at )


(1) timeline

(2)  Library of Congress timeline

(3)  Smithsonian Civil War Timeline

(4)  “Battle Cry of Freedom” by James McPherson

(5) University of North Carolina “Civil War Day by Day”

(6) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(7) The Burnside Expedition, by General Burnside.

(8) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(9) Civil War Daily Gazette timeline.

(10) “Thoughts, Essays & Musings on the Civil War”, Fort Henry/Fort Donelson page (excellent contemporary images here, too)

Categories: American Civil War

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