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 AmericanCivilWar.com article about what happened during March 1862 in the west (to the Mississippi River)and the east (along the coast). 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.
Stormy Times for Leading Generals
The North may have been jubilant in the early spring of 1862, but in the South, newspapers were clamoring for the resignation of General Sidney Johnston because of heavy losses. President Davis did suspend generals Floyd and Pillow, who had abandoned their post at Fort Donelson. They never received another field commission. However, Davis held firm on General Sidney Johnston. “If Sidney Johnston is not a general,” he said, according to McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom, “we had better give up the war, for we have no general.”
Sidney Johnston himself didn’t say anything in public, but per McPherson, he wrote privately, “The test of merit in my profession is . . . success. It is a hard rule, but I think it right. . . . What the people want is a battle and victory.”
As events unfolded in the field (see below), General Beauregard helped Johnston concentrate 42,000 men at Corinth, Mississippi – 15,000 of them brought up from New Orleans and Mobile, which left the Gulf Coast vulnerable to an amphibious attack. However, Corinth was the junction of the Confederacy’s main east-west and north-south railroads, well worth defending, and it would also make a good stepping-off point in an offensive to retake Tennessee.
In the east, President Lincoln and General in Chief McClellan were arguing. A major point of difference, per McPherson, is that McClellan was focused on maneuvering to take places while Lincoln wanted to attack armies. McClellan also wanted to attack Richmond from the sea, while Lincoln favored an overland route. Eventually Lincoln did agree to McClellan’s plan, provided enough troops were left to defend Washington (apparently they weren’t, but there is a controversy about exact numbers even today, per McPherson).
CS General Joseph Johnston had fallen back from Manassas last week, enraging President Davis, but this move also got US General McClellan into trouble, as it was discovered that Johnston’s army was neither as big nor as strong as McClellan, who had hesitated to engage Johnston, had claimed.
Meanwhile, on the Tennessee River, General Grant was having problems of his own.
Military events: On the basis of General Grant’s visiting Nashville without permission, General Halleck accuses Grant of disobeying orders and failing to report regularly and orders him to remain at Fort Henry and to put General Smith in charge of the Tennessee River advance. (10)
Battles: New Madrid/Island No. 10: US General Pope and his 12,000-man Army of the Mississippi arrive at New Madrid. Pope doesn’t attack just yet, uncertain of the size of the New Madrid garrison, and with five Confederate gunboats under command of Commodore George N. Hollins, well positioned – thanks to the flooding Mississippi River – to sweep the countryside ahead of the Yankees for several thousand yards. (It’s difficult to easily find online general information on Confederate gunboats; here is information about the Confederacy’s ships, including gunboats). The Missouri Confederate Legislature, which had been scheduled to meet in New Madrid today, flees south. (11)
Battles: New Madrid/Island No. 10: General Pope orders a reconnaissance in force on Confederate positions near New Madrid but is still uncertain of the garrison’s size. (11)
Military events: General Beauregard assumes command of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi. (10)
Other: President receives and deposits his February salary warrant for $2,083.34. (6) For comparison, here is an overview of US and CS soldiers’ pay. Factory workers in the 1820s were making $1.25 an hour, per a chapter in Trends in the American Economy in the Nineteenth Century (1960) (PDF file)
Military events: The USS Monitor departs for Hampton Roads from New York. (8)
Battles: New Madrid/Island No. 10: General Pope again orders a reconnaissance in force on Confederate positions near New Madrid and forces their pickets in, but is still uncertain of the garrison’s size and holds off an attack. In the meantime, he sends General J. B. Plummer’s division five miles downriver to Point Pleasant, Missouri, to interdict supply of the town and Island No. 10. The Union forces dig on along the Missouri side of the river despite being fired on by the gunboats, and even manage to achieve some direct hits on the gunboats with their field pieces. With the help of contrabands, work begins on a cut-off canal that can carry several transports. (4, 11)
Arkansas: Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern: CS General Earl Van Dorn splits his 16,000-man force, which consists of the two divisions under Price and McCulloch that had won at Wilson Creek last August plus three regiments, mostly Cherokee, from the Five Civilized Nations in Indian Territory, to flank an 11,000-man Union force just south of Pea Ridge, cutting their supply lines and attacking them from the rear. Northern scouts, including Wild Bill Hickock, detect the move and US General Curtis turns his force around. (1, 4)
Other: President Lincoln recommends to Congress gradual, compensated emancipation. (6)
Military events: General Grant asks General Halleck to be relieved from further duty in his department. (10)
President Lincoln consults with General McClellan about the upcoming peninsula campaign against Richmond. (6)
Battles: New Madrid/Island No. 10: General Pope tests Confederate works with a demonstration against Fort Thompson and Fort Bankhead. However, Union forces are forced to withdraw without attacking, having been caught in a cross-fire between the gunboats and CS General McCown’s heavy guns in the forts. Pope and his commanders decide on a siege, and the general wires General Halleck for siege guns as his forces hold their positions out of range of the town. (11)
Arkansas: Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern: CS General Van Dorn discovers the Union forces are ready for him. Artillery fire scatters Van Dorn’s native regiments while Union riflemen kill CS General Benjamin McCulloch and his second in command and capture the third-ranking Confederate officer on that part of the field. Three miles to the east, though, Confederate forces have driven back US infantry and control Elkhorn Tavern and Telegraph Road, a vital junction. (1, 4)
Military events: According to General McClellan, the president summons him to the White House at 7:30 A.M. to report rumors that McClellan intends to turn Washington and the government over to the enemy. McClellan protests and Lincoln disclaims intent to accuse him. The President, this day, does demonstrate a distancing from McClellan, asking Assistant Secretary Fox to go to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, to report on the situation there; meeting with division commanders at the White House after they vote 8-4 in favor of McClellan’s plan for the peninsular campaign; appointing Edwin Vose Sumner, Samuel Heintzelman, Erasmus Keyes and Irvin McDowell as corps commanders for the general, who has none; and making his position as Commander in Chief clear by issuing War Orders 2 and 3. (6, 8)
Other: Lincoln appointments 11 cadets to West Point, including Civil War veteran and future Wisconsin governor William Upham. (6)
Battles: Arkansas: Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern: “Van Dorn discovered that when you get in the enemy’s rear, he is also in your’s. Confederate troops had run short of ammunition but the Union army now stood between them and their ammunition wagons.” (McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom) US General Curtis, having regrouped and consolidated his army, attacks near Elkhorn Tavern with artillery, and the Confederates, short of ammo, abandon the field. US victory: in McPherson’s words “the most one-sided victory won by an outnumbered Union army during the war.” General Samuel R. Curtis (US)/General Earl Van Dorn (CS) (1, 4)
Hampton Roads, Virginia: “[T]he United States Navy had at anchor in Hampton Roads five warships of the line – [steam frigates] Minnesota, Roanoke, [and sailing ships] St. Lawrence, Congress, and Cumberland – plus many support vessels, steamers, tugs, and barges; all of these ships were supporting the Union troops that were operating against Confederate defenses on the Carolina coast, at Port Republic and Roanoke Island.” (1, 4)
They have a total of 219 guns to defend the harbor. Meanwhile, the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia (still called the Merrimack in the North after the old frigate the served as a basis for the ironclad’s structure) leaves its berth in Norfolk for what the crew assumes will be a test run. It is, however, going to be the real thing. (4)
It was the worst day in the history of US Navy to that point. The Federals lost at least 240 men as well as the Congress and Cumberland. The Minnesota, which had captured Hatteras Inlet last August, was run aground, and the Virginia‘s captain decided to save it for tomorrow and withdrew.
During the night, the USS Monitor, the North’s ironclad (each side had only one in 1862, though the Confederacy would eventually build 21, and the Union 58), arrived alongside the Minnesota, its crew exhausted from battling a gale that almost sunk them on the way down from Brooklyn.
Military events: General Grant again asks to be relieved. (10)
Battles: Hampton Roads, Virginia. “You can see surprise in a ship just as you can see it in a man, and there was surprise all over the ‘Merrimac’,” according to a Monitor crew member quoted by McPherson. The Virginia/Merrimack has a deeper draught than its Yankee counterpart and is sluggish in the water. The Monitor begins circling the Virginia, firing. For about two hours, the ironclads slug it out, each scoring significant hits but unable to land a finishing blow. Results: Both sides claim victory, but it is a draw. However, the Union fleet at Hampton Roads is saved, and despite panic in government circles in Washington, the Virginia will not head north to come at them up the Potomac.
For the next two months, according to McPherson, “the Monitor and the Virginia eyed each other warily but did not fight. With no ironclads in reserve, neither side could risk its indispensable weapon.” In Britain, it is announced that “Whereas we had available for immediate purposes one hundred and forty-nine first-class warships, we now have two…” (their two experimental ironclads). (4, 6)
Military events: General Halleck tells General Grant that Grant may take general direction of the Tennessee River expedition. (10)
(1) AmericanCivilWar.com 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.
(12) Daily Observations from the Civil War.
Categories: American Civil War