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.
Also, there is a new resource in the side bar, The Rebellion Record, with links to these free Google books; so far, I am including just 1861 and 1862 and will go chronologically (it was a 12-volume series).
Taxes in 1862
We can blame both the draft and the income tax on the Civil War.
While this week, 150 years ago, would see the South enact the first conscription laws in American history, the North had already put the first US income tax into effect with the Revenue Act of 1861. It was a 3% tax on income over $800 (exempting most wage earners), and McPherson notes that it came about because of the need to convince financial institutions that there would be revenue available to pay interest on US bonds.
This need to reassure markets doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to those of us who know how the Civil War turned out, but at the time, with two presidents, two governments, and an ongoing war that was draining as well as disrupting the economy, investors were understandably nervous.
Two weeks after the US passed the Revenue Act, the Confederacy enacted a 0.5% war tax, described by Jefferson Davis not as an income tax but levied on “real estate of all kinds; slaves; merchandise; bank-stocks; railroad and other corporation stocks; money at interest, or invested by individuals in the purchase of bills, notes, and other securities for money, except the bonds of the Confederate States, and cash on hand, or on deposit; cattle, horses, and mules; gold watches, gold and silver plate, pianos, and pleasure-carriages. There were some exemptions, such as the property of educational, charitable, and religious institutions, and of a head of a family having property worth less than five hundred dollars.”
No tax revenue from these measures would come in, North or South, until 1862, so both governments had to fill the gap with other measures. (War financing is a complex subject; I am just going superficially by McPherson’s chapter “The Sinews of War,” Jefferson Davis’s chapter on taxation in his first volume, and Wikipedia articles [accessed April 15, 2012] on Confederate war finances and The Revenue Act of 1861.)
The North managed eventually to bring in about 21% of its funding through taxes, but the Confederacy only got about 8% this way. Southerners were extremely averse to paying any tax and Confederate state governments were unwilling to collect taxes. Most states made up their war-tax quotas by just issuing more paper, which is why Davis wrote after the war, “The public debt of the country was thus actually increased instead of being diminished by the taxation imposed by Congress.”
A big problem with government bonds and notes at this point in the Civil War was not only that their value rose and fell according to events on the battlefields, but also that they had to be based on coin (specie) bank deposits.
Today we take greenbacks for granted, but it was a radical move when the US made its state treasury notes legal tender in 1862. Doing this eliminated the specie requirement, pumped money into the economy (an inflationary effect that would be curbed later in the year by the Internal Revenue Act of 1862), and made bond issuance easier, per McPherson.
It didn’t turn out that way in the Confederacy. Believing that mandating legal tender would make the public lose confidence in treasury notes, the CS instead took financial paths that resulted in high inflation and other problems.
Other: President Lincoln signs “An act for the release of certain persons held to service, or labor in the District of Columbia” and for appointment of board of commissioners to appraise slaves of loyal citizens and allow payment not exceeding an average of $300. (6)
Military events: The CS Congress passes a conscription law, making all able-bodied white males between the ages of 18 and 35 liable for three years of service; those already signed up for one year of service must remain another two years. (4, 8) There was the predictable outcry, and the law’s built-in loopholes were abused, but McPherson notes that the main purpose of the law – to stimulate volunteering – was successful as it did bring in over 100,000 new men.
Battles: Peninsular Campaign: “The bombardment proper of Yorktown will not begin probably till 5 or 6 days from now, although there are scrimmages taking place every day, either between our gunboats and the rebel batteries or between our artillery and their batteries. To-day we have had both kinds, our artillery in Hamilton’s division having fired continually from early this morning, and being as warmly replied to by the rebels.” (16) Also, at Lee’s Mills, the first serious fighting of the campaign takes place at Dam No. 1. (8) There is concern throughout the Confederacy about the Federal army uncomfortably close to the Confederate capital at Richmond. CS generals Joseph Johnson and Robert E. Lee disagree on whether to withdraw from the Yorktown line. When US General McClellan is observed watching the battle at Dam No. 1, CS General Magruder is sure a major assault is coming. McClellan, however, will decide instead on a formal siege. (12)
New Orleans: Flag Officer Farragut’s fleet moves up the Mississippi River to a position just below forts Jackson and St. Philip. Cmdr. Porter takes his mortar squadron a little way further upstream for some test firing; rounds fired from the Southern forts all fall short, but three of his five shells explode within Fort Jackson. (14)
Military events: Shenandoah Valley: The arrival of better weather conditions allows US General Banks to start moving toward Harrisonburg. CS General Jackson, in the southern Shenandoah Valley, is “willing to concede the Valley as far south as North River” in order to stay in contact with General Ewell, whose division is between the forces of General Jackson and General Joseph Johnston (redeployed on the Peninsula to face McClellan’s army). (3)
Fort Macon, North Carolina: General Burnside tells the US War Department “I hope to reduce the fort within ten days.” (2)
Battles: New Orleans: The Union bombardment of Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip begins. For over 10 hours, Cmdr. Porter hits the forts with over 1100 shells. After dark, reconnaissance patrols discover that while the forts have been set on fire in a few places, little substantial damage has been done to them. It is going to take a siege to reduce them. (14)
Battles: New Orleans: Cmdr. Porter loses a mortar schooner to fire from Fort Jackson. Porter also orders a reduction in fire rate to two shells per hour to conserve ammunition. (14)
Battles: New Orleans: Flag Officer Farragut calls a council and it is determined that the forts must be attacked before the fleet runs out of mortar ammunition. Fleet Captain Henry H. Bell takes two ships up under cover of darkness and with great difficulty manages to cut the chain barrier across the river and create an opening on the east side wide enough for Farragut’s fleet to sail through. (14)
Battles: New Orleans: The current of the Mississippi in flood is too strong for Farragut to move, and he has to wait for “a change of wind, which brings a slacker tide.” (14)
Military events: Peninsular Campaign: President Lincoln informs General McClellan that Fredericksburg has been evacuated, bridges over the river there destroyed, and General McDowell occupies “this side of the Rappahannock opposite the town. He purposes moving his whole force to that point.” (6) A quick Google search did not bring up anything about this; all hits were overshadowed by the battle that would happen there in December 1862.
Military events: Peninsular campaign: CS General Johnston is again overruled by General Lee when he proposes withdrawing from the Yorktown line, saying it is so weak that “only McClellan could have hesitated to attack.” (12)
(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.
(16) Daily Observations From the Civil War
Categories: American Civil War