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.
AmericanCivilWar.com has articles about highlights during April 1862 in the west (to the Mississippi) and east. 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 the Civil War Home page on the Battle of Shiloh/Pittsburg Landing, including among the first-person accounts “a tale [by veteran Ambrose Bierce] as may be told by a soldier who is no writer to a reader who is no soldier.”
Casualties and Medicine
There isn’t a single definite figure for Civil War casualties because of incomplete records, uncertainty about the fate of soldiers (for example, this obituary from a Cohoes, New York, newspaper in 1861: “Aug. 30, Leonard G. Fletcher, aged about 22. This young man was a member of Capt. J. L. Yates Co., 22d Reg t, N. Y. Vols. He was engaged in the battle before Sharpsburg, Md., and from the fact that no tidings were subsequently heard of his fate, it is probable that he there lost his life”), and other factors.
To show the range of most commonly accepted figures for casualties during the entire war, here is a table from Darroch Greer’s “Counting Civil War Casualties…” (link is to a PDF file):
Greer consulted not only page 854 of McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom (see side bar), but also Shelby Foote’s 1974 The Civil War, A Narrative – Red River to Appomattox, page 1040; “Digital History“; Civil War Home’s “Casualties” page; Louisiana State University’s collection (the link he gave no longer works but here is a Civil War Home page based on the same document quoted by Greer, “Principal Wars in which the US Participated: US Military Personnel Serving and Casualties” prepared by Washington Headquarters Services, Directorate for Information Operations and Reports. US Department of Defense Records); the Surgeon General, in “The Evolution of Preventive Medicine in the United States Army, 1607-1939,” updated URL here (Greer noted that this figure didn’t include 200,000 desertions); and The Civil War Battlefield Guide, Second Edition, The Conservation Fund, Frances H. Kennedy, Editor and Principal Contributor, Appendix 4 “War Statistics” by Robert W. Meinhard, page 463.
It’s a little harrowing to go looking for the “correct” Civil War casualty numbers online, since many resources also include images of dead soldiers in their reports. I know death is a part of war, but since the Civil War was our first war captured by photography, I would prefer to see some of these people – many of them, like Flag Officer Farragut last week, for the first time – while they are still alive (not a spoiler: Farragut survived the war).
As for the horrors, I can get an adequate picture without having the shock still my thought processes, for example, when McPherson says, “The 20,000 killed and wounded at Shiloh (about equally distributed between the two sides) were nearly double the … battle casualties at Manassas, Wilson’s Creek, Fort Donelson and Pea Ridge combined [his emphasis]. Gone was the romantic innocence of Rebs and Yanks who had marched off to war in 1861.”
Shiloh did that, 150 years ago this week. It was the first experience anyone had of the “total war” experience that would become the norm over the next three years and culminate in the devastation of the South.
While Shiloh doesn’t top the list of high-casualty Civil War battles in retrospect (that would be Gettysburg, in 1863, with over 50,000 casualties), it was the first such battle and therefore the worst in my mind.
Here is an Ohio State University website about Civil War battlefield medicine (they subscribe to the Civil War Battlefield Guide casualty figures) that includes much interesting information, including not only a medical report from Shiloh but also, for those who saw Gods and Generals, an essay on Dr. Hunter McGuire (turns out his hair was black, not red, but Sean Pratt’s portrayal of him otherwise sounds spot on).
Other: Union surgeon Dr. Alfred Castleman wants to “lay aside this silk glove war.” Meanwhile, Rutherford Hayes, in Raleigh, Virginia, tells his mother that his regiment has sent home a total of $35,000. “Many families will be made glad by it.”
Military events: General McClellan arrives at Hampton Roads, Virginia. Waiting for him are 60,000 soldiers, 44 artillery batteries and the tons of materiel, wagons and animals required to support and move them. (1)
Battles: Siege of Fort Macon: US General Parke is still establishing his batteries, including four 8-inch mortars, four 10-inch mortars, three 30-pounder rifled Parrotts, and a 12-pounder boat howitzer. Patrols sent out by the fort to harass the Federals are driven off. Commander S. C. Rowan, Commander of US Naval Forces in the North Carolina Sound, asks his superiors to send in the Miami to deal with Confederate gunboats that may enter the sound and notes that “in case my little squadron should be destroyed, the army must necessarily share the same fate, unless Fort Macon is taken in the meanwhile.” (5)
Island No. 10: Flag Officer Foote decides to improve the USS Carondelet‘s chances in a run past Island No. 10 by disabling the CSA floating battery New Orleans, a converted dry dock whose artillery has Union mortar boats on the Missouri side of the river within range. The weather is too clear for the Carondelet to make its try. (13)
Military events: Elements of US General Buell’s Army of the Ohio approach Savannah, Tennessee. (10)
Battles: Island No. 10: US mortars, and the USS Benton, Cincinnati and Pittsburg fire on the CSS New Orleans. The New Orleans sustains damage and loses her cable, which makes her float two miles downstream. The weather is still too clear for the Carondelet to try to slip past the guns of Island No. 10. (13)
Military events: In Georgia, CS Colonel Charles Olmstead, commander of Fort Pulaski, which is the the key to keeping the port of Savannah open to blockade runners, receives word of the capture within the past week of a reconnaissance patrol from the 46th New York by men of the 13th Georgia. The New Yorkers describe batteries and armament in place to bombard Fort Pulaski, and Southerners know it is only a matter of time before the bombardment starts. The fort, however, is considered almost impregnable, as it sits out of range of any possible artillery positions.
Near Corinth, Mississippi, General Sidney Johnston’s deadline for assembly of his Army of the Mississippi comes and goes, with troops bogged down by rain, errors and bad roads. However, at this time at least some parts of General Johnston’s army may be advancing from Corinth to attack Grant at Pittsburg Landing, since there are reports of pickets skirmishing at the landing. (4, 10, 12)
Battles: Island No. 10: The weather is still clear, but Captain Walke decides to take the Carondelet down the river after the moon sets “whatever the chances.” Fortunately, the sky does cloud up and the gunboat sets off in the middle of a bad thunderstorm that has the defenders of Island No. 10, who are now commanded by CS Captain Andrew Jackson, Jr., the former president’s stepson, hunkered down. The Carondelet is spotted when its chimney flues catch fire accidentally, but after a three-hour wild ride, buffeted by the storm as well as by Confederate artillery and rifle fire (the ship’s gun ports are sealed, so no return fire can give away her position), the “turtle” makes it safely past the island. The New Orleans scores a few hits after that, but does no damage. (13)
Peninsula Campaign: General McClellan sets off with two divisions marching toward Yorktown from Newport News on the main road and two more divisions moving in via a branch road on the James River side of the Peninsula, while US Navy gunboats steam up the York River. Based on a map that incorrectly shows the path of the Warwick River, McClellan reasons that the Confederates will fortify Yorktown just as the British did during the American Revolution, allowing McClellan to bypass and isolate their forces there. Actually, CS General John Magruder, although with only 12,000 men at his disposal, has used the Warwick to build a defensive line right across the peninsula. Yorktown is the northern end of the line, and is the most heavily defended. He also has built a series of five dams, each protected by artillery and earthworks, to raise the level of the sluggish Warwick and make it an effective barrier to McClellan’s army. “Prince John” Magruder expects an immediate attack and orders his men to sleep in the trenches, but McClellan stops.
That same day, McClellan receives word that President Lincoln has effectively taken General McDowell’s corps away from him. Lincoln has done this after discovering discrepancies in the number of troops McClellan left to guard Washington during his campaign on the Peninsula. This, plus Lincoln’s keeping General Banks in the Shenandoah Valley (reasoning that CS General Jackson wouldn’t have attacked General Shields at Kernstown without a sizable force – which is exactly what Jackson had done, not realizing how many men Shields had), takes 50,000 men away from McClellan’s move down the peninsula. (1, 3, 4, 14)
Military events: General Sidney Johnston’s army is now in position to attack US forces at Pittsburg Landing, but General Beauregard wants to call off the attack. General Buell has undoubtedly joined General Grant now, he believes, and all the skirmishing has alerted Yankee troops to their presence. General Johnston overrules him, saying “I would fight them if they were a million…Gentlemen, we shall attack at daylight tomorrow.” Grant, meanwhile, is still in Savannah, nine miles away, awaiting the arrival of General Buell. He writes to General Halleck that he has “scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made on us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place.”
Five of Grant’s six divisions are camped west of Pittsburg Landing and the sixth, under General Lew Wallace, is five miles to the north, guarding a depot at another landing. Meanwhile, General Sidney Johnston’s four corps under Polk Bragg, Hardee and Breckingridge are developing their lines of battle. (4, 10, 12)
Battles: Island No. 10: No sooner does the Carondelet arrive at New Madrid than General Pope puts its guns to use, taking out Confederate batteries opposite New Madrid and Point Pleasant, so Pope’s troops can cross. The CSA gunboats General Polk, Maurapas and Pontchartrain all volunteer to go after the Carondelet, but CS Commodore Hollins declines, saying that his wooden fleet is no match for the ironclad. (11, 13)
Peninsula Campaign: Union Forces under General Erasmus Keyes make contact with Confederate forces at the Lee’s Mill dam and fortifications on the Warwick River. An artillery duel begins, but as the Federals investigate the entire Warwick-Yorktown line over the next weeks, Magruder will put on a show for McClellan, marching Confederate infantry in endless circles and moving his artillery noisily from place to place. Despite outnumbering Magruder, McClellan decides that Yorktown can only be taken by siege and he establishes siege lines there. While all this is going on, CS General Joseph Johnston is deploying 55,000 men to oppose McClellan’s advance on Richmond. General Jackson is held down by bad weather in the Shenandoah Valley, but in between Johnston and Jackson is General Ewell’s division. (1, 3, 10, 14)
Other: President Lincoln tells Secretary Stanton and Comdr. Dahlgren (who, at this moment, I imagine as the Howard Stark of the war; this is probably not correct) of the telegram he sent General McClellan at 8 p.m. saying “I think you better break the enemies’ line from York-town to Warwick River, at once.” (6)
Shiloh: The Confederates attack well before 7 a.m. It isn’t a total surprise, but the two “green” divisions led by Prentiss and Sherman are hit hard. Only when his orderly is shot dead at his side does General Sherman, Grant’s second in command (in effect, anyway), fully realize they are under attack. Sherman keeps his men going and General Prentiss‘s men initially stand fast, too. Downriver, Grant hears the shooting and catches a steamer to the battlefield. By the time he arrives, the fighting has reached a level, per McPherson, “unprecedented in the war.” The front stretches some six miles long, and all divisions except Wallace’s are committed. Grant sends for Wallace, who takes the wrong road and has to countermarch, delaying his arrival at the battlefield until around 7 p.m. Thousands of new troops, North and South, panic upon seeing their first taste of battle, and both commanding generals have their hands full keeping their forces organized and up to strength. During the afternoon, while doing so, General Johnston is killed and General Beauregard takes over command. General Grant makes it through the day unharmed, while Sherman is wounded twice and has three horses shot out from under him.
That night, Confederate forces control all Grant’s camps but one.
As General Buell’s troops arrive after General Wallace, and as Federal gunboats fire into the captured Federal camps, General Sherman happens across General Grant, who is seated on a log, smoking a cigar and trying to stay out of the rain that is bringing a “hush” and a night of misery to the living on Shiloh battlefield (General Beauregard, in the meantime, is sleeping in Sherman’s captured tent near Shiloh Church).
Feeling “some wise and sudden instinct not to mention retreat,” Sherman says, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” After a puff on the cigar, his commanding officer replies, “Yes. Lick ’em tomorrow, though.” (4, 10, 12, 14)
Jefferson Davis later will say of that one encampment still in Federal hands:
… [It] was that “one” encampment that furnished a foothold for all the subsequent reinforcements sent by Buell, and gave occasion for the final withdrawal of our forces; whereas, if that had been captured, and the “waters of the Tennessee” reached, as General Johnston intended, it was not too much to expect that Grant’s army would have surrendered; that Buell’s forces would not have crossed the Tennessee.
Island No. 10: General Pope sends a message to Flag Officer Foote informing him of the Carondelet’s safe arrival and requesting a second “turtle” be sent down at once. (13)
Battles: Shiloh: General Beauregard, unaware of the arrival of Union reinforcements overnight, expects just a mopping up operation today. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s scouts have been watching General Buell’s troops ferried across the Tennessee River all night, but Forrest cannot find Beauregard, and no other general will believe him. Disgusted, he says, “We’ll be whipped like Hell.”
The day opens with another surprise attack, this time from the Yankees. After much heavy fighting, by the middle of the afternoon Union forces have driven the Confederates back to their starting points of the previous day. General Beauregard orders a retreat. Rather than pursue their foes, Union soldiers collapse in exhaustion at the sites of their former camps. (4)
Island No. 10: The USS Pittsburg, under Lt. Egbert Thompson goes down the river after dark and arrives safely at New Madrid the next morning, in time cover the crossing of Pope’s 25,000-man army into Tennessee. CS General MacKall and his men fall back with a few brief rearguard actions, stopping at Tiptonville in the evening. Federal forces occupy the northern and southern ends of town, and with his back to Reelfoot Lake, MacKall is forced to surrender at 2 a.m. on the 8th. Earlier on the 7th, CS Captain Jackson had gotten word of the crossing of Union soldiers and had ordered his forces to attempt (unsuccessfully) to block the river by sinking eight steamers in the channel. Many Confederate artillery batteries set off across Reelfoot Lake by any means possible, along with some infantry, and Island No. 10 is formally surrendered to Flag Officer Foote at 3:45 a.m. (11, 13)
Battles: Shiloh (aftermath): General Sherman takes two brigades four miles down the Corinth Road, but returns after a brief skirmish with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry acting as rearguard. “Both the blue and the gray had had enough fighting for a while,” notes McPherson. (4)
(Note: I’m not associated with anybody who made this film, but found the first part – the ‘historical movie’ – well worth sharing here. You take your own chances with the commercial part; however, if I’d been in the area then, I definitely would have gone to the battlefield this year. That will have to wait until some other April, I guess.)
(2) Wikipedia: “Siege of Fort Macon”
(3) Encyclopedia Virginia: “The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862”
(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) “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.
(13) “The USS Carondelet: A Civil War Gunboat in Western waters,” Myron Smith and W. Douglas Bell.
(14) “The Siege of Yorktown.“
Categories: American Civil War