The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – February 5-11, 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 article about what happened in 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.

Fort Henry after its capture.

Newspaper drawing of Fort Henry after its capture (Source: Library of Congress)

There is quite an interesting review of the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in Macpherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, Chapter 13, “The River War in 1862.”  There is a good discussion of it in “What happened in February 1862” (above), too.

As you contemplate the surrendering troops, here is an overview of Civil War POWs.

I also found Chapter 1, “Courage at the Core,” in Gerald Linderman’s Embattled Courage interesting its description of how prisoners were treated in the early part of the war, when it was still considered a “gentleman’s war” and later on, as things degenerated in the seemingly unending “total war.”

From the civilian point of view, one might also ponder war veteran Ambrose Bierce’s short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Besides being a good, though shocking, tale in its own right (you have to wonder if Bierce witnessed something like that), it perhaps gives us moderns a sense of how it felt – both the lag between civilian and military perceptions of the war, as well as the whole impact the war had on a society who lived through that transformation.

Here is this week’s timeline.

February 5

Battles: Burnside Expedition: Roanoke Island: “At an early hour on the morning of the 5th the start was made. The naval vessels, under Commodore Goldsborough, were in advance and on the flanks. The sailing vessels containing troops were taken in tow by the steamers. There were in all sixty-five vessels. The fleet presented an imposing appearance as it started up the sound. The day was most beautiful, and the sail was enjoyed beyond measure by the soldiers, who had long been so penned up in the desolate inlet. At sundown, signal was given to come to anchor within ten miles of Roanoke Island.” (7)

Other: Mrs. Lincoln gives a White House Ball, a “feature heretofore untried in social customs of First Lady.” It is a fairly big success. (6)

February 6

Battles: Burnside Expedition: Roanoke Island: At 8 o’clock, the order is given to weigh anchor, but a gale makes movement impossible and the fleet stays where it is. No lights are shown during the night. (7)

Kentucky and Tennessee: The battle of Fort Henry. Results: Union victory. General Grant/Cmdr A. H. Foote, USA/Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, CSA. (1) General Grant to General Halleck: “Fort Henry is ours. I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the 8th.” However, bad weather and the need to repair Foote’s gunboats delay his plans. (4)

Burnside Expedition at Roanoke

The Burnside Expedition Lands at Roanoke. (Source: Library of Congress)

February 7

Battles: Burnside Expedition: Roanoke Island: Union gunboats start moving in, followed by the naval fleet and transports. At 10:30 a.m., a signal flare from the fort shows that they have been spotted. A Union ship fires at 11:30. The fort responds, and Burnside’s force opens fire. Some time after 1 p.m., CSA gunboats retreat from the fort, and USA troops begin landing at around 3 p.m. They meet no resistance, and almost the entire force is onshore by midnight. (7)

Military Events: After the messy Jackson-Loring incident that nullifies the success of the Romney Campaign, General Jackson withdraws from Romney and returns to Winchester. (8)

February 8

Battles: Burnside Expedition: Roanoke Island: After the last regiment lands, Burnside’s men advance and capture the entire garrison of some 2600 men with a loss to themselves of only 264 troops. The naval fleet pursues CSA gunboats, and one of these is destroyed to prevent their capture, while the rest head for Elizabeth City. (4, 7)

Blockade of Charleston

Newspaper drawing of the Blockade of Charleston. (Source: Library of Congress)

Meanwhile, per “What Happened in February 1862,” General Lee’s defenses are keeping Union gunboats from penetrating far enough up the Coosawhatchie River to seize the railroad between Savannah and Charleston, but the general himself, in Savannah, realizes how difficult it will be to win this war:

Savannah, February 8, 1862
To my dear wife:

I have been here ever since I left Coosawhatchie, endeavoring to push forward the work for the defense of the city, which has lagged terribly and which ought to have been finished. But it is difficult to arouse ourselves from ease and comfort to labor and self-denial. Guns are scarce, as well as ammunition and I shall have to break up batteries on the coast to provide, I fear, for this city. It is very hard to get anything done, and while all wish well and mean well, it is so difficult to get them to act energetically and promptly. The news from Kentucky and Tennessee is not favorable, but we must make up our minds to meet reverses and overcome them. The contest must be long and severe, and the whole country has to go through much suffering. It is necessary we should be humbled and taught to be less boastful, less selfish, and more devoted to right and justice to all the world.

Always yours, R.E. Lee

Other: The usual Saturday White House reception isn’t held because the Lincoln’s son Willie has typhoid fever. (6)

February 10

Battles: North Carolina: Elizabeth City: In the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Roanoke Island, USA ships destroying the remaining CSA gunboats and temporarily occupy Elizabeth City.

Other: US Navy Secretary Gideon Welles from a group to look into inventions and technical developments. From it will descend the National Academy of Sciences. (8)

February 11

Military events: Kentucky/Tennessee: Gen. Grant holds a council (his last for the entire war) and all but one of his generals support an attack on Fort Donelson. (Wikipedia – the date was difficult to pin down, as many sources cite the beginning of the battle on the 11th, although Grant’s men didn’t set out, apparently, until the 12th). Grant’s men can only move out slowly on muddy roads and cross-country to invest Fort Donelson; they are also slowed by harassment tactics from CSA Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men. Believing that the South is always warm, they discard heavy winter gear when unexpectedly hot weather appears during their march.

Other: The usual Tuesday reception at the White House is not held because of the illness of the Lincoln’s young son, Willie. (6) While this article on “Health and Hygiene in the 19th Century” looks at conditions in Britain, it’s reasonable to assume that they were close to the same in Washington, D.C., which actually has a warmer, marshy climate. This was the state of things in the leading world cities of the day; troops in the field faced much more primitive and dangerous conditions.

Willie and younger brother Tad Lincoln, with their cousin, in 1861.

Willie and younger brother Tad Lincoln, with their cousin, in 1861. Matthew Brady, photographer. (Source: Library of Congress, Flickr stream)


(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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