The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – November 26 to December 2, 1862

Here is a look at events in the Civil War this week in November and early December 1862. But first, something amazing.

“We Have Met The Enemy and . . . “

At Fredericksburg, around this time 150 years ago, men of Burnside’s Army of the Potomac and Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had been camped on either side of the Rappahannock River while Burnside waited for the pontoon bridges that would allow him to bring his army across the river into contact with the Confederates (they arrived on the 25th of November). While generals debated strategy, ordinary pickets and other soldiers on each side were pretty much stuck just staring across the river at the enemy, most of whom were men of about the same age who looked a lot like them but were just wearing different clothes.

Union view of Confederates on the bridge at Fredericksburg, by A. R. Waud (Library of Congress).

Pickets on either side of the river informally agreed not to shoot at each other unless somebody tried to cross.

When the wind was right, some Johnny Reb would send a toy boat laden with tobacco over to his counterpart, and Billy Yank would return the boat after pocketing the gift and adding a fresh load of coffee for the return voyage.

I think the most interesting story is the one about these two pictures. The photograph shows the Confederates posing on the bridge. Apparently A. R. Waud was there, too, for that’s his sketch of what was going on at the same time on the Union side of the ruined bridge.

Allegedly the photograph was taken during a burial truce on December 17th, but Waud’s drawing is dated at the Library of Congress site as November-December, 1862, and apparently was published in Harper’s Weekly on December 13, 1862.

I’m no expert, but it’s difficult to believe men would pose like that for the enemy immediate after a battle, and especially not during a burial detail. Each and every one of those fighting men is saying with his pose, “We’re gonna whup you Yanks.” The fighting hadn’t yet happened, surely.

And then there’s the dates for Waud’s sketch.

It’s possible that the photo may date to just before the battle, during that odd, pleasant lull when young men in gray and young men in blue with too much time on their hands (PDF) came into contact with each other briefly across a great river and discovered that, for a moment, they could all be regular human beings.

November 26

Battles/Military events: Skirmish (PDF file) around Lavergne, Tennessee. Note that CS General Joseph Wheeler is now in command of the cavalry units General Forrest raised at Lavergne. The dates are unclear, but at some point, General Bragg (now in the Murfreesboro area) had assigned General Wheeler there and ordered General Forrest to report to him directly. Forrest was given command of a brigade consisting of three Tennessee regiments and Russell’s Fourth Alabama, with Freeman’s Battery – about 1800 men – and ordered to go to Columbia and await orders for an expedition across the Tennessee River into western Tennessee. (4)

Military events: Fredericksburg: General Burnside now has the pontoon bridges, but he is facing Lee’s army. According to the National Park Service (15):

Burnside’s strategy depended upon an unopposed crossing of the Rappahannock. Consequently, his plan had failed before a gun had been fired. Nevertheless, the country demanded action. Winter weather would soon render Virginia’s highways impassable and end serious campaigning until spring. The Union commander had no choice but to search for a new way to outwit Lee and satisfy the public’s desire for victory. This would not be an easy task.

Pontoon bridges were often used when bridges had been destroyed during the war. Here is one replacing a bridge across the Potomac in Maryland. Burnside’s men would have to build two of these at Fredericksburg, while under enemy fire. (Library of Congress)

November 27

Military events: President Lincoln and General Burnside meet on board the steamer “Baltimore.” Lincoln proposes an attack in which three forces move simultaneously on Fredericksburg, one from Port Royal directly up the south side of the Rappahannock and another from the north side of the Pamunkey River, while Burnside attempts to cross at Fredericksburg. Generals Halleck and Burnside reject this plan. (5) Meanwhile, CS General Jackson and his forces reach Orange Court House and are ordered to Fredericksburg. (11)

November 28

Battles: What some call the Prairie Grove campaign in Arkansas begins with the battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas. (6)

Military events: First Vicksburg Campaign: US General Grant leaves La Grange, Tennessee, and heads for Oxford Holly Springs, Mississippi, where he establishes his new headquarters. (8) (Of note, this campaign isn’t listed in the official campaigns [see source 14 below, it’s Wikipedia, but I also checked the original military website]. I try to avoid naming campaigns here that aren’t on the list, but “Grant’s First Vicksburg Campaign” is in pretty wide usage in most sources I checked, so I went with that one.)

November 29

Military events: CS General John Magruder assumes command of the District of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

December 1

Military events: First Vicksburg Campaign: Grant’s cavalry crosses the Tallahatchie River while Grant’s other forces occupy Abbeville, Mississippi. (8)

Emancipation: In his State of the Union speech, President Lincoln recommends that Congress propose three new amendments to the Constitution: All slaves will be gradually emancipated until 1900; slaves freed during the war will remain free; the United States will pay for consensual colonization. (5, 6)

December 2

Battles:The affair on Padre Island.” (16)

Military events: First Vicksburg Campaign: Grant’s cavalry reaches Oxford, Mississippi. (8)

A little over a hundred years later, mounted US troops would once again roll through parts of Oxford, as freshman James Meredith arrived at Ole Miss to begin the school year. (Library of Congress)

Sources:

(1)  The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

(2)  Morgan’s Raiders and The L&N Railroad in the Civil War, by Dan Lee (2011).

(3)  Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).

(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).

(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(6) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(7) Henry Halleck’s War: A Fresh Look at Lincoln’s Controversial General-In-Chief, by Curt Anders (1999).

(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.

(13) The Strategy of Robert E. Lee, by J. J. Bowen (1914).

(14) Campaigns of the Civil War.

(15) Battle of Fredericksburg, National Park Service.

(16) Civil War Interactive.

(17) Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, edited by J. Gregory Acken (1998).

(18) Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865, by Thomas Lawrence Connelly (1971)

(19) Those Damn Horse Soldiers, by George Walsh (2006).



Categories: American Civil War

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