The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – May 14-20, 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.

Tending wounded Union soldiers during Peninsula Campaign

Tending wounded Union soldiers during Peninsula Campaign (Library of Congress)

May 14

Other:General Order No. 1 is issued in Atlanta.

Peninsula Campaign: “I can’t keep the record of events day by day, but last Friday we came down again from West Point to Yorktown, and G. and I went to Fortress Monroe on two hospital ships, G. on the “Knickerbocker” with the sick of Franklin’s Division, and Miss Whetten and I on the “Daniel Webster No. 2″, with two hundred of the Williamsburg wounded. Since the day of the battle they had lain in the wet woods with undressed wounds. Some one had huddled them on to a boat without beds or subsistence, and then notified the Sanitary Commission to take care of them; and we were detailed to attend to them on the way to Fortress Monroe, with basins, soap, towels, bandages, etc. We washed and fed them all, Moritz going round with buckets of tea and bread. The poor fellows were very grateful, but we had a terribly hard experience.”Eliza Woolsey.

Officers on deck of the "Monitor" in 1862

Officers on deck of the “Monitor” in July 1862 (Library of Congress)

May 15

Battles: Peninsula Campaign: Drewry’s Bluff. With the CSS Virginia gone, Union ships, including the Monitor and its sister ironclad, the Galena, are free to sail up the James River toward Richmond. On this date, they encounter submerged obstacles and heavy, accurate fire from Confederate batteries at Drewry’s Bluff, and withdraw, with the Galena sustaining heavy damage.. CS Cmdr. E. Farrant, General William Mahone, Captain S. S. Lee and Lt. John Taylor Wood/US Cmdr. John Rodgers. (1) Of note, Captain S. S. Lee was General Robert E. Lee’s brother.

On land, US General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac is between New Kent Courthouse and Cumberland, along the Pamunky River, having traveled some 30 miles since seizing Yorktown on the 4th. Retreating Confederate forces have mined the road in places, causing Union forces to advance cautiously. CS General Joseph Johnston and the Army of Northern Virginia are are in a good defensive position at Baltimore Crossroads.

General McClellan asks for more troops, telling President Lincoln that Johnston may have 160,000 men (he has nowhere near that many). Lincoln replies: Have done, and shall do, all I could and can to sustain you—hoped that the opening of James River, and putting Wool and Burnside in communication, with an open road to Richmond, or to you, had effected something in that direction. I am still unwilling to take all our force off the direct line between Richmond and here.

Bank of the Chickahominy River during the war

Bank of the Chickahominy River during the war (Library of Congress)

On the other side, President Davis and General Lee visit General Johnston. According to Davis (who was not fond of General Joseph Johnson), “General Johnston took position on the north side of the Chickahominy ; accompanied by General Lee, I rode out to his headquarters in the field, in order that by conversation with him we might better understand his plans and expectations. He came in after we arrived, saying that he had been riding around his lines to see how his position could be improved. A long conversation followed, which was so inconclusive that it lasted until late in the night, so late that we remained until the next morning. As we rode back to Richmond, reference was naturally made to the conversation of the previous evening and night, when General Lee confessed himself, as I was, unable to draw from it anymore definite purpose than that the policy was to improve his position as far as practicable, and wait for the enemy to leave his gunboats, so that an opportunity might be offered to meet him on the land.” (7, 9)

Shenandoah Valley Campaign: Princeton Courthouse/Wolf Creek, West Virginia. CS General Humphrey Marshall and his Army of East Kentucky attack US General Jacob Cox’s two brigades in Mercer County, centered around Princeton Courthouse. (1) This apparently culminates a month-long series of fights as General Cox tries to destroy the Virginia & Tennessee Railway.

Meanwhile, General Joseph Johnson has written to Generals Jackson and Ewell in the Shenandoah Valley, ordering Jackson to unite his forces with those of Ewell in the center of the Valley and go after US General Banks, near Strasburg. Jackson figures Banks will either head north to Winchester or possible may move south to make a junction with General Fremont’s command somewhere near Staunton. He orders Ewell to follow Banks, if the Union general heads north. Ewell prepares to do so, but with reservations. Banks, in the meantime, asks permission to withdraw from Strasburg, but is refused. (2, 7)

Other: New Orleans: US General Benjamin Butler issues his General Order No. 28 and instantly becomes known as a “Beast” and other pejoratives. See the link; while the resentment and hatred are understandable, Butler did some good things while there.

The Bluebeard of New Orleans

The Bluebeard of New Orleans (Library of Congress)

May 16

Military events: General Lee learns that US General Irvin McDowell and some 40,000 troops will be leaving their position at Fredericksburg and moving on Richmond. With General Joseph Johnston’s troops facing General McClellan, Lee has no other option but ordering General Thomas Jackson to make an aggressive show in the Shenandoah Valley that will appear to threaten Washington, causing President Lincoln to redirect McDowell’s movement away from Richmond. Jackson, with Lee’s advice, decides to conduct a rapid assault on Banks, pushing him out of Winchester and making a demonstration toward the Potomac. (2, 10)

More guerrilla outrages.”

May 17

Battles: Princeton Courthouse/Wolf Creek/Pigeon Roost: Confederate troops ambush Union men who are marching on Princeton. That evening, General Cox withdraws his forces without having damaged the railroad.

Skirmish at Little Red River, Arkansas. Confederate victory.

Military events: President Lincoln orders General McDowell to obey McClellan’s orders, although he is to retain command of his own force and also is “not to allow your force to be disposed otherwise than so as to give the greatest protection to this capital which may be possible from that distance.” (5)

May 18

Battles: Mississippi River: After exchanging fire with Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, Union ships reach Vicksburg and demand the city’s surrender. The response: “Mississippians don’t know–and refuse to learn–how to surrender to an enemy. If Commodore Farragut or Brigadier General Butler can teach them, let them come and try.” The Federal fleet starts a bombardment of the city that will last intermittently until July. (12)

Other: “Today is the turning point of my life. This morning I was woken by a man shouting, “Who will come up and sign the roll?” The man was recruiting men for the Union army….” (Soldier’s Diary)

May 19

Emancipation: President Lincoln revokes General Hunter’s emancipation order within the Department of the South, reserving that authority to the presidency, and calls for gradual emancipation. (5, 6)

May 20

Other: President Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which “Approves act securing homesteads to actual settlers on public domain, act providing primary schools for public instruction in District of Columbia outside Washington and Georgetown, and act prescribing qualification (oath of allegiance) for electors in cities of Washington and Georgetown, DC.” (5)

Military events: General Halleck and his huge army are advancing slowly on Corinth, very slowly, entrenching the entire army every single night. There are skirmishes with Confederate outposts daily. Meanwhile, in Corinth, while many of those wounded at Shiloh are slowly healing, thousands of others are coming down with dysentery and typhoid – the town’s water supply is incapable of handling the presence of an entire army. As many southern soldiers will die there of disease as fell at Shiloh. Faced with this nightmare as well as the possibility of a siege once Union forces finally arrive, CS General Beauregard is rethinking the goal of holding Corinth at all costs. (3, 9)

US General Terry reports from Fort Pulaski.

Contrabands on Mr. Foller's farm, Cumberland

Contrabands on Mr. Foller’s farm, Cumberland in May 1862 (Library of Congress; click to enlarge)



(2)  Encyclopedia Virginia: “The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862

(3)  “Battle Cry of Freedom” by James McPherson

(4) University of North Carolina “Civil War Day by Day”

(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(6) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(7) Civil War Daily Gazette timeline.

(8) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.

(9)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.

(10) Civil War Home’s “The Peninsula Campaign.”

(11)  The Rebellion Record. Frank Moore, Edward Everett (1867)

(12)  Conquest of the Lower Mississippi.

(13) Waddell’s Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, from 1726 to 1871.

(14) Daily Observations From the Civil War

Categories: American Civil War

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