Here (a day late, because of the heat again – sorry!) 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.
Talk, talk, talk
Back in 1862, soldiers were maneuvering – getting ready for the next major round of fighting in the Eastern Theater (which will start next week). Since there was a break in the military action, I have focused more here on the struggle, conducted via telegraph, between Generals Halleck and McClellan, and Lincoln’s dilemma.
Halleck was committed to fight Lincoln’s way, which had moved more toward the total war point of view after Shiloh and the Seven Days’ Battle, while McClellan was still very much in favor of preserving the South and bringing it back into the Union as little changed as possible.
General McClellan could not be fired. His men loved him; he shared the views of many Democrats; had the ear of many influential New York financiers, editors and other power brokers; and was considered a likely presidential candidate in 1864. No one else could have given his boss the guff McClellan handed Halleck this week (see below), and I suspect for no one else would President Lincoln have covered as well as he did for McClellan during an impromptu address to Union supporters (stirred up by rumors started by McClellan, perhaps?) at the Capitol on August 6th (of note, regardless of what Lincoln said here, it sounds from McPherson as though Stanton and McClellan got along as well as dogs and cats).
Lincoln also needed to draft more troops during a Congressional election year without losing Congress for the Republicans, and so he had to speak carefully.
The man must have been a joy to listen to. I think his August 6th remarks illuminate just what an excellent national politician this former frontier lawyer had become.
I will have more to say on Jefferson Davis in the future, too, after watching that TV documentary (Netflix has it, though not streaming) and after gritting my teeth and reading his chapter on slavery in Volume II The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.
Military events: Chattanooga Campaign: To protect his newly opened rail supply lines, US General Buell orders Colonel J. F. Miller in Nashville to build stockades “at every bridge or other important point occupied by troops on the road north of Nashville.” The stockades are to be held by a company of 20-40 men, with two companies at the crucial twin tunnels on the Louisville & Nashville line at Gallatin. (2)
Peninsula/Northern Virginia Campaign: US General Burnside is ordered to leave Newport News and proceed with his troops to Aquia Landing on the James River. General McClellan is ordered to send his sick and wounded to Aquia Landing. US General Pope receives word that Confederates may be evacuating Richmond and tells General McClellan about it. General Lee orders Jeb Stuart to “give what protection you can to the families of our citizens [in Fredericksburg, where Federal troops have been arresting all men] and every facility in your power to get within our lines.” (11, 15)
Other: The Cincinnati Gazette is the first to use the term “copperhead” to describe “peace at any price” Democrats and those who don’t admit they are Southern sympathizers. As the year progresses, it will include the conservative wing of the northern Democrat party and others who oppose emancipation, the militia draft of 1862 and the financial legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and who do not want to see the war turned into a war to destroy the Old South rather than to restore the Union as it was. (3, 6) Of interest in this context is a letter President Lincoln wrote to a prominent New York financier on July 31st: “Broken eggs cannot be mended . . . This government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy the government, and if they fail still come back into the Union unhurt.” The financier was seemingly less impressed by this response than is McPherson.
Battles: Virginia: During the night, CS Generals French and Pendleton place 43 artillery pieces within range of US General McClellan’s camp and the James River and open fire, killing 10 US soldiers and wounding 15, at the loss of 1 Confederate killed and 2 wounded by the return fire from McClellan’s batteries and US gunboats on the river. General D. H. Hill reports: “The Yankees have landed in force at Coggins Point. Our pickets have been driven back more than a mile. A force is out to check advance of the Yankees. If they come nearer we will be constrained to thrash them.” (2, 15)
Military events: CS Generals Braxton Bragg and E. Kirby Smith meet in Chattanooga and plan their campaign to regain the Confederate heartland. (6) They agree that Bragg’s army will remain in Chattanooga while Smith drives the Union forces out of the Cumberland Gap to the north. Then both armies will converge on Nashville. President Davis approves the plan.
Peninsula/Northern Virginia Campaign: General Pope again hears news about the evacuation of Richmond, and while Halleck thinks it may be a trick, saying “Take care, and do not be caught in the trap,” Pope orders General McClellan to look into it. McClellan orders General Hooker’s division and General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry to retake Malvern Hill while gunboats cover them from the river. There are delays and the order isn’t carried out immediately.
General Halleck also sends a telegram to General McClellan:
It is determined to withdraw your army from the Peninsula to Acquia Creek. You will take immediate action to this effect….
Military events: Northern Virginia Campaign: US General Burnside arrives at Aquia Creek and then takes command at Fredericksburg. As his men arrive, they are sent forward, under General Jesse Reno, to cover the left flank of Pope’s Army of Virginia and put Burnside on CS General Jackson’s flank and in a good position to reinforce US General Banks. Halleck tells Pope to watch the Shenandoah Valley and fight hard if attacked from there.
Meanwhile, General McClellan tells General Halleck,
Your telegram has caused me the greatest pain I ever experienced, for I am convinced that the order to withdraw this army to Acquia Creek will prove disastrous to our cause. I fear it will be a fatal blow. . . . This army is now in excellent discipline and condition. . . . With the assistance of our gunboats I consider our communication as now secure. . . . Here, directly in front of this army, is the heart of the rebellion. It is here that all our resources should be collected to strike the blow which will determine the fate of the nation. All points of secondary importance ought to be abandoned, and every available man brought here; a decided victory here and the military strength of the rebellion is crushed. It matters not what partial reverses we may meet elsewhere. Here is the true defense of Washington. It is here on the banks of the James that the fate of the Union should be decided. . . . I entreat that this order be rescinded.
The order of the withdrawal will not be rescinded. You will be expected to execute it with all possible promptness.
(6, 11, 14, 16)
Battles: Western theater: Battle of Baton Rouge. Without the CSS Arkansas, whose engines keep failing, Confederate forces fail to recapture the Louisiana state capital and to consolidate their hold on the middle Mississippi River. (1, 12)
Military events President Lincoln and the War Department order a draft of 300,000 men to serve for nine months. This is in addition to the 300,000 volunteers called for in July. States with deficiencies in their volunteer quota must make up the difference in nine-month draftees. If the states don’t mobilize sufficient men, the War Department will step in and do it for them. (3, 5)
Eastern theater: US General Hooker drives off Confederate outposts and reoccupies Malvern Hill with two divisions. While Hooker’s orders from General Pope, through General McClellan, are to ascertain truth the rumors of an evacuation of Richmond, McClellan telegraphs Halleck:
This is a very advantageous position to cover an advance on Richmond, and only fourteen and three-quarter miles distant, and I feel confident that with reinforcements I could march this army there in five days.
General Lee also sees the move as a renewed threat to the city and prepares a response (Lee also receives word at this time of Burnside’s move to Fredericksburg).
Halleck’s response to McClellan:
I have no reinforcements to send you.
Starting at page 162 in Henry Halleck’s War, the full text of further communication between the two men, from August 6-10, is given and analyzed – while not something that fits a timeline format, it’s well worth reading. (11, 14, 16)
Meanwhile, the following two telegrams are also sent this date:
Near Sperryville, Va., August 5, 1862
Maj. Gen. H.W. Halleck,
General-in-Chief U.S. Army:
General: I commence the forward movement from my present position to-morrow.
McDowell, with one division of his army corps (the other is King’s, at Fredericksburg), moves from Warrenton direct to Culpeper. General Banks moves due south to the pike from Sperryville to Culpeper, and pursues the pike to the crossing of Hazel River.
As soon as these forces are at the points specified the whole of the army will move forward to the line of Robertson’s River. The First Corps, now at Sperryville, to occupy the north side of the river, a little northeast of Madison Court-House; the Second Corps, a point half way between the First and the railroad crossing of Rapidan River (mouth of Crooked River); the Third at the railroad crossing.
The position along Robertson’s River is strong and easily defensible, in case the enemy assembles a superior force before he can be dealt with. The purpose is to make a considerable demonstration from Stanardsville upon the enemy’s rear at Charlottesville, so as to make Gordonsville untenable and force him to fall back.
I am, general, respectfully, your obedient servant,
Via Hanover Court-House, Va.,
August 5, 1862.
Struck the enemy’s line of march at this place, Massaponax Church, and Lee’s brigade is charging his baggage train in both directions, capturing wagons and prisoners, who are thronging already my presence.
Two brigades (Hatch and Gibbon), 6,000 men, twelve pieces of artillery, have gone toward Richmond on Telegraph Road. Prisoners say Burnside is at Fredericksburg, with 16,000 men. Yankees say Hanover Court-House is their destination.
I will watch the enemy.
(3) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor
(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.
(7) Henry Halleck’s War: A Fresh Look at Lincoln’s Controversial General-In-Chief, by Curt Anders
(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 Eastern Theater: 2nd Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.”
(11) The Army of Northern Virginia in 1862, by William Allan (1892)
(12) Conquest of the Lower Mississippi. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(15) A Year of Glory, July 1862.
(16) The Strategy of Robert E. Lee, by J. J. Bowen (1914).
Categories: American Civil War