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.
This week we will encounter Robert E. Lee in a couple of his antebellum roles.
Communications during the Civil War
It’s difficult to keep track, for this series, of all the maneuvering and fighting that was going on from the Atlantic to New Mexico in 1862. How on Earth did presidents Lincoln and Davis do it? It wasn’t like they could just log onto their secure Intranets; they didn’t even have telephone service. Ground mail was slow and expensive. They did have the telegraph, though.
The Post Office had operated the first public telegraph lines in the US, starting with Washington and Baltimore, and eventually extending to New York, Boston, Buffalo, and Philadelphia. These were privatized in 1847, and by the start of the war, a few large telegraph companies and several smaller ones were in operation throughout the country. The growth of railroads and telegraphy went hand in hand.
In 1856, Major Albert Myer, an Army surgeon in Texas, invented “wig-wag signaling,” a version of the optical telegraph that only used one flag. He contacted the War Department about it, but Secretary of War Jefferson Davis wasn’t impressed. Nonetheless, it was investigated in 1859 by a military board headed by Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee that eventually recommended further investigation. From this grew the US Army Signal Corps, but during the Civil War their civilian counterparts seemed to have carried the most weight.
President Lincoln, in particular, turned the telegraph office in the nearby War Department building into a kind of refuge that would come in handy later in the year, when he needed a confidential, quiet place in order to work on a very special and controversial document.
That’s all I can say here, because the topic of communications during the Civil War is vast and complicated, even without mention of homing pigeons (still faster than the Internet in some places today) and balloons (yes, they did take telegraphs up with them, so commanders could get aerial surveillance information from even distant locations). Here is also a little more detailed information on the US Post Office and the CS Post Office.
Other: Shiloh aftermath. In the weeks immediately after the battle, both sides claim victory. Northern newspapers at first condemn General Grant for the setbacks on April 6th. Grant’s political supporter comes to his defense with a speech in Congress, and when detractors go to the White House about Grant, Lincoln says, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.” General Sherman, meanwhile, in letters to his brother, blames the negative press coverage on “people who ran away and had to blame their cowardice by charging bad management on the part of leaders” (4, 15)
Military events: Shiloh aftermath: General Halleck orders General Pope, fresh from his victory at New Madrid/Island No. 10, to Pittsburg Landing. Halleck himself leaves St. Louis for Pittsburg Landing to assume personal command of the combined Federal armies of the Tennessee and the Ohio. Meanwhile, recognizing the strategic importance of Corinth, CS General Beauregard is calling in more men from as far away as eastern Tennessee and the South Atlantic coast, while General Van Dorn arrives with 15,000 men from Arkansas. While more than half of the Confederate army in Corinth is wounded or sick, making the town one vast hospital center, the eastern and northern approaches are fortified. (4, 8, 11)
Jacksonville, Florida, evacuated by Union forces. (13)
Head of Passes, Mississippi River Delta: US Flag Officer Farragut has assembled a 24-vessel invasion fleet plus a mortar squadron at the mouth of the river. (14)
Peninsula Campaign, Virginia: President Lincoln writes to General McClellan, saying “You must act.” (6)
Battles: Fort Pulaski, Georgia: His batteries in place on Tybee Island and all plans completed, US General Gilmore sends a message to the commander of Fort Pulaski, CS Colonel Olmstead, demanding the unconditional surrender of the fort, which would close the port of Savannah to blockade running. Colonel Olmstead replies “in a very gentlemanly and witty note” that he was put in command of Fort Pulaski to defend it, not surrender it. (Incidentally, most of the construction of Fort Pulaski had been supervised by a 22-year-old US Army lieutenant by the name of Robert E. Lee .)
Gilmore starts the bombardment upon receipt of the note. The fort returns the fire, but Confederate artillery is not rifled and therefore inaccurate as well as incapable of covering the long distance to where Gilmore’s rifled cannon – capable of firing more accurately and at longer range – are set up. During the afternoon Fort Pulaski’s walls are breached, an event later described by General Gilmore as “an experience altogether new in the annals of sieges” because unrifled cannon, besides needing to be closer, would have been expected to take four to seven days to have such success. Federal fire continues through the night, just enough to keep the fort’s defenders from repairing the breaches. (Wikipedia, 13)
Skirmish near Fernandina Island, Florida. (13)
Military events: General Halleck assumes command at Pittsburg Landing. Besides manpower, he has at his disposal what McPherson terms “the greatest concentration of military talent in the war, including four future generals in chief of the army: Halleck, Grant, Sherman and Philip Sheridan (then a captain); and five other present or future commanders of whole armies: Buell, Pope, Rosencrans, George H. Thomas and James B. McPherson.” (4, 10)
Of note, the author of Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson (McPherson) is reportedly not related, as far as he knows, to the Union General James B. McPherson (General McPherson), though he did have ancestors in the war, per this New York Times report, which quotes him as saying, “One remained a private and the other took an examination when he was 19 and became a lieutenant in the 22d U.S. Colored Troops. He ended up a captain. That’s how a lot of young soldiers were commissioned – as white officers of black regiments.”
New Orleans: CS General Mansfield Lovell, in command of the defense of New Orleans, writes the CS Secretary of War to protest the Louisiana being taken up river. Lovell reports the presence of “forty vessels in the lower river,” saying “[w]e have not now as many guns of heavy caliber as at Mobile.” (13) The Mississippi River is in flood, and any ships on it will be elevated above the city, able to direct devastating fire there pretty much anywhere they want.
Battles: Fort Pulaski, Georgia: The fort surrenders in the afternoon. (10, 13)
Further inland, in northern Georgia, the Great Locomotive Chase begins. This is the Civil War event on which Buster Keaton would base his silent film masterpiece, The General (1926). While Keaton took great liberties with the actual events, apart from the actual theft of the locomotive by the Unionist Andrews Raiders (led by a character named Anderson in the movie), The General is famous for its depiction of the town of Marietta, Georgia (rebuilt by Keaton in the Pacific Northwest for this movie), as well as the precision of its many train scenes.
Meanwhile, Huntsville and Stevenson, Alabama, fall to Union forces under General Mitchel, who take the towns by surprise after “a forced march of incredible difficulty,” capturing 15 locomotives and many cars, as well as 200 Confederate prisoners. Besides having cut the Memphis & Charleston Railroad – the Confederacy’s main East-West line – General Mitchel tells General Buell that they “are ready to strike the enemy, if so directed, upon his right flank and rear at Corinth.” He has the idea taking Chattanooga, Tennessee once Andrews Raiders have disrupted the Western & Atlantic Rail Road in North Georgia. That plan fails to materialize, as the Raiders are stopped before they can reach Huntsville, and Confederate forces in Chattanooga are warned about the impending attack. (8)
Of note, four of the soldiers who were Raiders will become the first to receive posthumously the new Army Medal of Honor.
Military events: President Davis combines the Army of the Potomac with General John Magruder’s Army of the Peninsula and a large garrison at Norfolk to create the Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Joseph Johnston. (8)
Other: Delegates with Freedmen’s Associations meet with President Lincoln to urge him to provide for Negroes on abandoned plantations at Port Royal, South Carolina. Also, the president spends part of the evening at the War Department. (6)
Battles: An expedition under General Sherman is sent out by General Grant and destroys a rail bridge at Bear Creek in Alabama. General Sherman describes it in a letter to his brother as “a valuable piece of service.” (10, 15)
Military events: “I said our real troubles commenced when we began to fall back….” From a letter written by a Confederate soldier, who was also a doctor. Of note, the “blue mass” medication he mentions was made, in one recipe anyway, of 33% mercury, 5% licorice, 25% Althaea (possibly hollyhock or marshmallow), 3% glycerol, and 34% rose honey, per Wikipedia. A typical dose of 2-3 pills would have given that young man over 100 times the EPA’s limit of mercury ingestion today. All that on top of Shiloh, a horrible march and what sounds to have been a very inadequate diet!
Battles: Flag Officer Farragut’s fleet sails up the Mississippi toward Fort Jackson. (8)
(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.
(11)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.
(12) “The Siege of Yorktown.”
(13) The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I. (US War Department, 1882) Note: This is an excellent resource; I have only briefly delved into it, so check it out for more details.
(14) Conquest of the Lower Mississippi. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(15) The Sherman letters.
Categories: American Civil War