The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – May 28-June 3, 1862

Here are some of the events of the Civil War that were happening 150 years ago this week. Sources are numbered according to the list at the bottom of this post.

Of note, Memorial Day isn’t quite 150 years old yet.

Grapevine Bridge over the Chickahominy River, May 1862

The Grapevine Bridge over the Chickahominy River (David B. Woodbury, 1862, via )

May 28

Military Events: Shenandoah Valley: In order to protect the vitally important supplies, ammunition and horses he has captured from US General Banks, General Jackson decides to withdraw beyond the point where advancing Union forces can unite to cut him off. He heads for Strasburg. (9)

Peninsula Campaign: New Hampshire men under US Colonel Edward E. Cross complete the Grapevine Bridge over what General McClellan calls “the confounded Chickahominy River.” It is one of four bridges built by Federal engineers and is considered “passable for artillery.” Three of McClellan’s five corps are on the north bank of the Chickahominy and two – the Third and Fourth Corps – are on its south bank. (11)

Corinth, Mississippi: “It looks somewhat like the times at Madrid and Point Pleasant, but will probably be a little more interesting before we finally finish it.” (14) However, General Sherman has a different view: “”By 9 A.M. of the 29th our works were substantially done, and our artillery in position, and at 4 p.m. the siege-train was brought forward. … So near was the enemy that we could hear the sound of his drums and sometimes of voices in command ; and the railroad-cars arriving and departing at Corinth were easily distinguished.” (9) The railroad traffic is part of the “Ruse of the Whistles,” in which CS General Beauregard evacuates out of Corinth first the wounded and then his active troops by having the incoming trains met by soldiers who appear to be greeting reinforcements. “The retreat was continued to Tupelo,” Jefferson Davis said, “without any serious conflict with the enemy; but during the retreat seven locomotives were reported to be lost by the burning of a bridge, and a number of cars, most of which were loaded with stores, were ordered to be burned.” (9)

Coaling Farragut's fleet at Baton Rouge, 1862

Coaling Farragut’s fleet at Baton Rouge, 1862 (Library of Congress)

Battles: Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Confederate guerrillas fire on Union vessels as they come in to occupy the city. The vessels shell the city briefly and then take over. (12)

Other: In New Orleans, US General Butler has former US Senator Pierre Soulé arrested. (14)

In Washington, President and Mrs. Lincoln attend a concert in the newly renovated Ford’s Theater. (5)

In North Carolina, Edward Stanly, the federally appointed military governor, clashes with Vincent Colyer, General Burnside’s Superintendent of the Poor, over the opening of schools for recently freed slaves. (4)

May 29

Military events: The telegraph lines are busy between Washington and the various headquarters of Lincoln’s generals. (5)

May 30

Military Events: Peninsula Campaign: CS General Joe Johnson decides to attack the two Union corps on the south bank of the Chickahominy. That night a severe thunderstorm hits the area, and the Chickahominy floods, while nearby land and roads turn into boggy, almost impassable mud. (9, 11)

Corinth:  The "Guarded" Track

Corinth: The “Guarded” Track, May 1862. (Library of Congress)

Corinth, Mississippi: General Sherman occupies the city and finds Confederate forces have gone: “For some days and nights cars have been arriving and departing very frequently, especially in the night; but last night (the 29th) more so than usual, and my suspicions were aroused. Before daybreak I instructed the brigade commanders and the field-officer of the day to feel forward as far as possible; but all reported the enemy’s pickets still in force in the dense woods to our front. But about 6 a.m a curious explosion, sounding like a volley of large siege-pieces, followed by others, singly, and in twos and threes, arrested our attention, and soon after a large smoke arose from the direction of Corinth, when I telegraphed to General Halleck to ascertain the cause. He answered that he could not explain it, but ordered me to advance my division and feel the enemy, if still in my front. I immediately put in motion two regiments of each brigade, by different roads, and soon after followed with the whole division — infantry, artillery, and cavalry. General M. L. Smith’s brigade moved rapidly down the main road, entering the first redoubt of the enemy at 7 a. m. It was completely evacuated, and by 8 a.m. all my division was at Corinth and beyond.” (9)

New Orleans: Upon his arrival, US Flag Officer Farragut is met with messages from Washington rebuking him for not remaining near Vicksburg and stating that Northern strategy requires that he immediately return upstream, clearing the Mississippi as he goes until he meets the Union’s Western Flotilla. At the suggestion of General Butler and with the promise of additional troops, Farragut calls 10 of his mortar schooners back to the Mississippi to support an attack on Vicksburg. (12)

From Washington, US President Lincoln maintains telegraph contact with his generals. (5)

May 31

Military Events: CS General Jackson reaches Strasburg with his “foot cavalry” (note: this link is to a commercial site – I have no idea who this person is and don’t endorse him one way or the other: the link is useful because the thumbnail painting is evocative, and oddly enough, this site is the only one I’ve seen that gives the specific reason why Jackson’s infantry brigade was compared to cavalry). After learning that Fremont’s forces are in the area, Jackson sends out General Ewell to gain time for the rest of his army to arrive. (9)

President Lincoln spends the afternoon in the War Department’s telegraph office, waiting for news. At 11 p.m., the first dispatch from the battle at Richmond reaches him. (5)

View in the Chickahominy Swamp

View in the Chickahominy Swamp, 1862. (Library of Congress)

Battles: Peninsula Campaign: Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks. The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac finally meet. It might have been a Confederate victory, had the Grapevine Bridge – over which men had to wade and push their artillery pieces through flood water up to their knees and higher – washed out before the US Second Corps could cross it to reinforce the otherwise trapped Third and Fourth Corps. The bridge held just long enough.

The arrival of these men gives Union forces on the south bank a numerical advantage of some 16,000 men over the attacking Confederates. “The diaries and memoirs of the men who fought in it,” says G. William Glidden, “cannot be put together to make a picture of anything but a series of savage combats in wood and swamp, where the wounded Federals burned when powder flashes set fire to dead leaves and underbrush insufficiently dampened by the rain; and wounded Confederates drowned in stagnant pools. The Confederates, who did best near a crossroads called Seven Pines, chose to remember that name while Union soldiers called it Fair Oaks, after the scene of their most successful fighting. Two giants had met in their first great combat. With about 42,000 men engaged on each side, the Confederates suffered 6000 casualties and the Federals 5000 in total.” General McClellan, who was one of the few and perhaps the only one of the top Union leadership to realize that General Jackson’s movements in the Shenandoah Valley were just a diversion, becomes demoralized at the sight of “mangled corpses” on the battlefield. CS General Joe Johnson is wounded during the fight. (9, 11)

June 1

Battles: Shenandoah Valley: US General Fremont’s forces skirmish with a blocking force under CS General Ewell. US General McDowell doesn’t move at all. (2) The fighting against Fremont’s men goes so well that Confederates consider pursuing but decide not to, since US General James Shields is nearby “with troops of a different character from those of Fremont’s army.” (9)

Peninsula Campaign: Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks. The two armies clash again but neither side can claim a decisive victory and the action is broken off. It has been the bloodiest fight in the eastern theater. The huge and well-managed Army of the Potomac has failed to reach the Confederate capital and end the war. The romantic idea of some Southerners, that with the capital of their new country threatened, Confederate troops would rise up and overwhelm the Yankee invaders, has been confounded by real-world challenges and setbacks. (11)

Military events: CS President Davis replaces the wounded General Joe Johnston with General Robert E. Lee. (11)

In the Shenandoah Valley, General Jackson and his long line of captured supplies leaves Strasburg in the evening and continues to head up the Shenandoah Valley (that is, south), pursued by Fremont. US General Shields is also moving up the valley, via the Luray, in the hopes of cutting Jackson off at New Market. (2, 9)

President Lincoln telegraphs General McClellan, and in the evening, meets with generals and senators in the War Department to discuss the latest news. (5)

June 2

Military events: Peninsula Campaign: General Robert E. Lee takes command of the Army of Northern Virginia. He immediately gets to work refitting the army and preparing it for battle and also orders earthworks set up around Richmond, although at the moment ongoing heavy rains prevent Federal troops from moving artillery up to the city. To prevent “Little Mack” from bringing up artillery by railroad, the Confederates deploy their own 32-pounder on a railroad car; it is the first railroad gun in history. McClellan’s men start fortifying their positions on the Chickahominy and their supply line to the depot on the York River. Confederate troops start work on a “light intrenchment for infantry cover, with some works for field guns” on the south bank of the Chickahominy. (9, 10, 11)

Other: James Andrews escapes Swims Jail, Chattanooga, but is recaptured. (6)

June 3

Military events: CS President Davis and General Lee confer. Perceiving their danger because of numerical inferiority and lack of engineering troops, as well as “our deficiency in tools,” they decide to bring General Jackson in from the Shenandoah under cover of General William H. C. Whiting‘s forces, who will head into the Shenandoah openly as apparent reinforcements for Jackson. While they deceive General McClellan and engage Union forces in the Valley, Jackson will secretly bring his men to join Lee’s forces at Richmond.

During this meeting or at some unspecified point around this time, General Lee tells his president, “If you will hold him as long as you can at the intrenchment, and then fall back on the detached works around the city, I will be upon the enemy’s heels before he gets there.” It is the start of an offensive-defensive strategy that, in Davis’s words, “turned from the capital of the Confederacy a danger so momentous that, looking at it retrospectively, it is not seen how a policy less daring or less firmly pursued could have saved the capital from capture.” (9) General Lee has noted McClellan’s dependency on the railroad as a supply line and believes that the Union general has not deployed his troops properly to protect that railroad – a large Confederate force could be maneuvered around the exposed northern flank. Despite his words to President Davis, though, General Lee needs more information before he can act on this plan. (9, 11)

New Orleans: In response to Flag Officer Farragut’s request, Cmdr. Porter brings, not 10, but the entire flotilla of mortar boats for the attack on Vicksburg. (12)

Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress)



(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 Battles for Richmond, 1862.” National Park Service.

(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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