The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – February 19-25, 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.

This week was a difficult one for President Lincoln personally, but joyful for the North when the first Confederate capital fell, at the end of the week, in the aftermath of Union victories at forts Henry and Donelson.

It was a bleak time for the Confederacy, 150 years ago, as this letter from General Lee to his wife (from the What Happened in February 1862 link above) shows:

Mary Custis Lee in 1914

Mary Custis Lee in 1914. (Source: Library of Congress)

Savannah, February 23, 1862

To my dear wife:

The news from Tennessee and North Carolina is not cheering and disasters seem to be thickening around us. It calls for renewed energies and redoubled strength on our part, and, I hope, we will produce it.

I fear our soldiers have not realized the necessity for the endurance and labor they are called upon to undergo, and that it is better to sacrifice themselves than our cause.

Here the enemy is progressing slowly. His gunboats are pushing up all the creeks and marshes of the Savannah. I am engaged in constructing a line of defense which, if time permits and guns can be obtained, I hope will keep them out. They can bring such overwhelming force in all their movements that it has the effect to demoralize our new troops.

Your husband, R.E. Lee

CSA President Davis inauguration

The inauguration of CSA President Davis (Source: Library of Congress)

On the 22nd, Jefferson Davis invoked the Virginian George Washington in his second inaugural address (of note, Mary Custis Lee was a direct descendant of Martha Washington), and the CSA president also noted:

We too have had our trials and difficulties. That we are to escape them in the future is not to be hoped. It was to be expected when we entered upon this war that it would expose our people to sacrifices and cost them much, both of money and blood. But we knew the value of the object for which we struggle, and understood the nature of the war in which we were engaged. Nothing could be so bad as failure, and any sacrifice would be cheap as the price of success in such a contest.

But the picture has its lights as well as its shadows. This great strife has awakened in the people the highest emotions and qualities of the human soul. It is cultivating feelings of patriotism, virtue, and courage. Instances of self-sacrifice and of generous devotion to the noble cause for which we are contending are rife throughout the land. Never has a people evinced a more determined spirit than that now animating men, women, and children in every part of our country. Upon the first call the men flew to arms, and wives and mothers sent their husbands and sons to battle without a murmur of regret.

It was, perhaps, in the ordination of Providence that we were to be taught the value of our liberties by the price which we pay for them.


February 19

Military events: Western Kentucky: US General Halleck wires General Grant’s replacement in Cairo, Willliam Tecumseh Sherman (recently restored to command after an earlier failure and disgrace) not to send any more troops north into Kentucky but to keep them in Paducah and Cairo to guard against a Confederate counterstrike. General Grant, meanwhile, tells Halleck and Sherman that Clarksville, Tennessee, has been abandoned. Grant intends to occupy it within a couple of days and then move on Nashville. (9)

CSA General Henry H. Sibley

CSA General Henry H. Sibley during the war. (Source: Library of Congress)

New Mexico: CSA General Sibley’s brigade-size move out to side-step Union-held Fort Craig, on the Rio Grande, on their way to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The fort’s commander, Colonel Edward Canby, suspects the Confederates are heading for a bluff across the river that overlooks the fort, and he sends out two regiments under Colonel Miguel Pino and Colonel Kit Carson. (9)

Military events: Clarksville, Tennessee, surrenders to two US gunboats. (10)

Other: US President Lincoln issues a proclamation recommending that people celebrate the upcoming commemoration of George Washington’s birthday by reading his farewell address.

February 20

Battles: Valverde, New Mexico, from February 20th to the 21st. CSA victory, though with heavy losses. CS General Henry H. Sibley and Col. Thomas Green/US Col. Edward Canby.

Other: Washington, D.C.: At 5 p.m., young Willie Lincoln dies from what probably was typhoid fever. Lincoln sends a carriage for Illinois Senator Browning and his wife, and they spend the night at the White House. The president stops at his secretary’s desk and says, “”Well, Nicolay, my boy is gone – he is actually gone,” bursts into tears and then goes into his own office. (6)

February 21

Military events: Lincoln confers with General Benjamin Butler about an upcoming New Orleans expedition.(6)

Other: The US Congress meets and adjourns after reading its “Journal” because of the death in the Lincoln family, and the Cabinet asks that the illumination of public buildings in Washington on the 22nd be canceled out of respect for the family. Tad Lincoln is still sick, but will recover. (6)

February 22

Political: Having served as provisional president of the Confederacy since February 1861, and having won the November 1861 election, President Jefferson Davis is inaugurated in Richmond. (Wikipedia)

February 23

Military events: General Butler interrupts a meeting between Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton with instructions from General McClellan to go ahead with the New Orleans expedition. Lincoln apparently is not in favor of it. (6)

February 25

Military events: The fall of Nashville to US forces. General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men provide a rear guard for the CSA Army of Kentucky as it withdraws to Alabama.(8)

General Butler visits Lincoln before leaving Washington for Mississippi and New Orleans. The President tells Butler to get into New Orleans and break the back of the rebellion. (6)

The Legal Tender Polka

The Legal Tender Polka, ca. 1863 (Source: Library of Congress)

Other: President Lincoln approves the “legal tender” bill that creates a national currency and alters the country’s monetary policy. It also provides the US Treasury with a means to pay the country’s war bills, thus avoiding the disaster that President Davis had predicted in his second inaugural address a few days earlier, when he had said “The period is near at hand when our foes must sink under the immense load of debt which they have incurred, a debt which in their effort to subjugate us has already attained such fearful dimensions as will subject them to burdens which must continue to oppress them for generations to come.” The massive inflation political that had been feared by foes of the “greenback” in the North never comes to pass and the “gold premium” (for instance, 100 gold dollars buying 106 paper dollars) never rises drastically, except in times of Union reverses on the battlefield.

See McPherson’s Battle Cry, Chapter 14, “The Sinews of War,” part II, for a thorough and easily understandable discussion of this. (4, 6) Here is more on the “Legal Tender Polka” from the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing.


(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) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.

(11) Daily Observations From the Civil War

Categories: American Civil War

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