The Battle of Kernstown

March 23, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s 3,500-man Confederate army attacked 9,000 Federals south of Winchester in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. This marked an inauspicious start to what became a legendary campaign.

Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Jackson’s Confederates, after marching 25 miles on the 22nd, covered another 15 miles the next day. Their mission was to assault the Federal force south of Winchester, which was part of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s corps stationed in the Valley. Jackson hoped to keep Banks’s men occupied so they could not send reinforcements to the main Federal offensive on the Virginia Peninsula to the east.

However, Jackson did not know that an entire Federal division was stationed outside Winchester. According to Colonel Turner Ashby, Jackson’s cavalry commander, there were only four regiments (or roughly 4,000 Federals) in the area.

Brigadier General James Shields, commanding the Federal division, was so confident that Jackson would not attack that he had shifted one brigade north, away from the Confederate advance. The rest of Shields’s force (now under Colonel Nathan Kimball after Shields had been wounded in the previous day’s skirmish) was just north of Kernstown, a village on the Valley Turnpike about three miles south of Winchester. Not only did the Federals outnumber the Confederates nearly three-to-one, but they commanded the high ground.

Col Nathan Kimball | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Col Nathan Kimball | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Before Jackson’s infantry arrived, Ashby took up positions atop Pritchard’s Hill, where he placed artillery and deployed skirmishers on either side of the turnpike leading to Winchester. Kimball responded by deploying skirmishers of his own and training 10 guns on a potential enemy advance.

The fighting surged back and forth until Kimball committed more men around 11 a.m. Ashby’s troopers then began giving ground. Kimball also recalled the brigade that Shields had sent north to reinforce the other two on the pike. Jackson’s three infantry brigades began arriving on the Valley Turnpike around 1 p.m.

The 23rd was a Sunday, so Jackson planned to rest his men, especially after two days of hard marching. About a quarter of his force had fallen behind during the march, so stopping for a day would give the stragglers time to catch up. Ordering no reconnaissance, Jackson moved his men west and began planning to attack the Federals the next day.

However, Ashby assured Jackson that just a small force opposed them, most likely the Federal rear guard. Jackson scouted enemy positions and, taking Ashby’s word, resolved to attack immediately. Jackson planned to feint against the Federals on level ground near the turnpike while his main force moved westward and attacked the Federal right flank and rear on the high ground at Sandy Ridge. From there they would rout the enemy and retake Winchester.

Without briefing any of his subordinates on his strategy or enemy strength, Jackson deployed Brigadier General Richard Garnett’s Stonewall Brigade and two regiments from Colonel Samuel V. Fulkerson’s brigade to the Federal right around 4 p.m. They arrived at a stone wall and knocked the Federals back with a volley. Fighting surged back and forth for the next 90 minutes. Meanwhile, Ashby’s troopers joined the feint against the Federal left.

Kimball quickly saw that his right flank lay vulnerable and began transferring troops from Colonel Erastus B. Tyler’s brigade from the left to the north end of the Sandy Ridge. Garnett countered by shifting more Confederates from the Confederate right to the left, where the fighting was heaviest.

The Federals’ unexpected strength confused the Confederates, and when a scout reported that there were three times more enemy troops than originally estimated, Jackson concluded that “we are in for it.” Adding to the confusion was Jackson’s refusal to issue orders or divulge any details of his plan.

Disaster loomed for Jackson when Garnett’s brigade began running out of ammunition. As Jackson called up his reserve brigade to join the action, Garnett lost hope of breaking the Federal line and ordered a withdrawal. This created a gap in the line that the Federals rushed through, forcing the regiments of Fulkerson’s brigade to follow Garnett.

Jackson, unaware of this withdrawal, hurried the reinforcements forward with the 5th Virginia in the lead, waving his hat and shouting, “Cheer the reinforcements!” He ordered the 5th to “reinforce the infantry engaged.” But by this time, the infantry had disengaged and were falling back in the opposite direction of the 5th. The reserves could not arrive fast enough to make a difference.

Enraged by the Stonewall Brigade’s withdrawal, Jackson confronted Garnett: “Why have you not rallied your men? Halt and rally.” Jackson then shouted to the retreating Confederates to “go back and give them they bayonet!” But the men would not rally, and Garnett instead directed the 5th Virginia to cover the army’s retreat. The 5th held the Federals off as Jackson’s men conducted an orderly withdrawal.

The outnumbered Confederates had fought hard before pulling back five miles south to Newton for the night. They collected their wounded as they left, along with some artillery and wagons. Shields reported that “such was their gallantry and high state of discipline, that at no time during the battle or pursuit did they give way to panic.” The Confederates sustained 718 casualties (80 killed, 375 wounded, and 263 missing), or 21 percent of their force. The Federals lost 590 (118 killed, 450 wounded, and 22 missing), or less than 7 percent.

The Federals won a tactical victory, but Jackson succeeded in his mission to prevent Banks from sending reinforcements to the Virginia Peninsula. Upon learning of this battle, Banks recalled General Alpheus Williams’s division headed for Centreville as Shields called for more men of his own. Meanwhile, Jackson began gaining many local recruits to his small but growing army.

Jackson directed his men to fall back to the Mount Jackson area the next day. The Federals did not pursue, giving him time to develop a long-term strategy to keep them occupied in the Valley. Jackson appointed mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss to captain on his staff with instructions:

“I want you to make me a map of the Valley, from Harpers Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offense and defense. Mr. Pendleton (Jackson’s aide-de-camp) will give you orders for whatever outfit you want.”

Hotchkiss would be invaluable in supplying Jackson with detailed maps of the Valley for his upcoming campaign.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 150; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (23 Mar 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 66, 71, 82; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 46; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 145; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 270-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 126; Klein, Frederic S., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 415; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 187-88; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 425; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 290-91; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

Birth of the C.S.S. Florida

March 22, 1862 – The steamship Oreto left England, destined to become the menacing Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Florida.

The C.S.S. Florida | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The C.S.S. Florida | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Oreto, a twin-bladed screw steamer, had been under construction at Liverpool. U.S. officials expressed suspicions that the ship was being built for the Confederate navy. Those suspicions were supplemented by the fact that Liverpool was largely a pro-Confederate city that a U.S. diplomat claimed had been “made by the slave trade, and the sons of those who acquired fortunes in the traffic, now instinctively side with the rebelling slave-drivers.”

Building or arming warships for belligerent powers such as the Confederacy violated Great Britain’s Foreign Enlistment Act. The U.S. consul at Liverpool, Thomas H. Dudley, had discovered the ship’s true purpose as a commerce raider before she left port, but Confederate naval agent James D. Bulloch produced forged papers claiming that a Palermo merchant, not the Confederate government, owned the Oreto. The U.S. minister to Britain, Charles Francis Adams, presented Dudley’s evidence that the ship violated British law to the Foreign Office, but it was not acted upon before the Oreto was taken out of port, ostensibly just for a trial run.

Bulloch hosted a group of guests aboard the steamer on March 22. The new ship was commanded by a British captain, bore the British flag, and carried no armaments. After a short cruise in the harbor, all the guests but one were removed to smaller boats and the vessel left Liverpool. The lone remaining guest was John Low of the Confederate navy, and the ship headed for Nassau in the Bahamas to be fitted with four seven-inch guns.

She was later rechristened the C.S.S. Florida, a powerful Confederate commerce raider under Commander John N. Maffitt.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 260; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 520-21; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 145; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 126; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 264; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 187; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 546; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 112; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 121

“Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley Campaign Begins

March 22, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson began a campaign intended to keep Federals busy so they could not move east and join the Federal drive on Richmond.

Maj Gen "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

Maj Gen “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

As March began, Jackson’s Confederates remained stationed at Winchester, guarding Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley against a Federal invasion from the north. The force consisted of just 3,600 infantry, 600 cavalry, and 27 cannon in six batteries.

On March 3, Federal Major General Nathaniel P. Banks invaded the Valley as his 38,000-man army corps crossed the Potomac River at various points. The Federals quickly occupied such places as Harpers Ferry, Bolivar Heights, Charlestown, and Martinsburg, among others. Soon the Federals were just 20 miles up the Valley Turnpike from Jackson’s small force.

Jackson contacted his superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of the Potomac at Centreville, Virginia. Jackson hoped to keep Banks’s Federals in his front and prevent them from moving east of the Blue Ridge to reinforce their comrades preparing to confront Johnston. Johnston, in the process of withdrawing his army southward in the face of superior numbers, directed Jackson to act in concert by doing the same.

Unaware that he was outnumbered eight-to-one, Jackson initially planned to make a stand at Winchester. He asked Johnston to send him General A.P. Hill’s brigade from Leesburg so that “a kind Providence may enable us to inflict a terrible wound.” Johnston did not respond, leaving his orders to fall back still in force. Johnston’s withdrawal from Centreville left Jackson even more vulnerable.

As Banks prepared to advance on Winchester with a detachment of 18,000 men, Jackson planned to surprise him with a rare night attack. He held a council of war to discuss the assault, where he learned that his army’s supply wagons had already been withdrawn eight miles south of Winchester. This made the attack impossible. Frustrated, Jackson ended the meeting and told an aide, “That is the last council of war I will ever hold.”

The Confederates pulled out of Winchester on the morning of the 12th, saddened about relinquishing the town they had called home for several months. The troops withdrew on the Valley Turnpike to Strasburg, 18 miles south, with Colonel Turner Ashby’s cavalry forming the rear guard. Jackson gathered new supplies and recruits at Strasburg.

Meanwhile, the Federals entered Winchester, where few residents greeted them. Banks, hoping to catch Jackson, quickly learned that he had retreated. Some men grumbled about missing the chance to destroy Jackson’s army, but Colonel George H. Gordon of the 2nd Massachusetts assured them that “this chieftain (Jackson) would be apt, before the war closed, to give us an entertainment up to the utmost of our aspirations.”

At Strasburg, Jackson received word that Banks had sent a division of 9,500 Federals under Brigadier General James Shields southward to confront him. Unwilling to engage the Federals just yet, Jackson resumed his withdrawal on the 15th, passing scores of weeping civilians and arriving at Mount Jackson the next day. This placed Jackson’s men near a mountain pass so they could move east and reinforce Johnston if needed, or prevent Banks from going east himself.

When Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac began moving down the Virginia coast for its Peninsula campaign, Banks received orders to detach a portion of his corps to defend Washington. This prompted Banks to halt Shields’s advance toward Strasburg. Jackson responded to this halt by sending Colonel Turner Ashby’s 700 troopers to harass the Shields’s Federals now between Strasburg and Winchester.

Skirmishing occurred at multiple points, highlighted by an engagement on the 19th in which Ashby’s men fought a force 10 times their size with such ferocity that the Federals thought they were facing “Jackson’s whole force.” The troopers seemed to appear out of nowhere, attacking from various angles with support from just two or three cannon. Ashby soon gained a reputation as “the terror and the wizard of the Shenandoah.”

The next day, Ashby reported that Shields’s division was falling back to Winchester, while another of Banks’s divisions was moving east to protect Washington. Jackson, acting on orders from Johnston to prevent the Federals from reinforcing McClellan, organized his new recruits (including noted engineer and cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss) and planned to pursue Shields northward.

But first Jackson had to address a problem in which men who had been drafted into his ranks were refusing to fight. These were mainly area pacifists such as Quakers and Mennonites who objected to war of any kind. To attain “the highest degree of efficiency” and encourage “loyal feelings and co-operation,” Jackson employed these men in non-combatant roles such as teamsters and cooks. This would “not only enable many volunteers to return to the ranks, but will also save many valuable horses and other public property in addition to arms.”

On March 22, Jackson’s Confederates embarked on what became a legendary campaign, leaving Mount Jackson and marching 26 miles to Strasburg by evening. The speed in which they moved to Strasburg helped earn the men their nickname of the “Foot Cavalry.” Meanwhile, Ashby’s troopers clashed with Federals outside Kernstown, a few miles south of Winchester. The Confederates held off an entire brigade, wounding Shields in the process, before finally falling back to Strasburg.

That night, Ashby erroneously reported that most of Shields’s division had fallen back to Harpers Ferry, leaving just 4,000 in the Winchester area (Shields actually had closer to 8,000 men, or nearly double Jackson’s number). Jackson, determined to give battle before the Federals could leave the Valley, planned to attack the next day. Banks, who returned to Washington with his other division, refused to believe that Jackson would try it.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-66; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 136, 139-40, 144-45; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 270; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 117, 121-22, 124-25; Klein, Frederic S., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 415; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 178-79, 183-84, 186-87

The Peninsula Campaign Finally Begins

March 17, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan finally mobilized the Army of the Potomac to begin his grand offensive to destroy the Confederacy.

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

The Confederate withdrawal from northern Virginia blocked McClellan’s proposed army landing at Urbanna. However, with the U.S.S. Monitor now controlling the Hampton Roads area, McClellan planned to move his army further south down Virginia’s coast to land at Fort Monroe, on the Peninsula between the York and James rivers. As news of this planned landing reached Richmond, panic spread among the residents. General John H. Winder, the city’s provost marshal, relocated the passport office to accommodate the rush of people trying to leave town.

On March 13, McClellan met with his four new corps commanders at Fairfax Court House and shared his plan for landing the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula. Fort Monroe, three miles across Hampton Roads from Confederate-held Norfolk, would be the Federals’ supply base. McClellan asserted that not only would a march from Fort Monroe to Richmond be 10 miles shorter than one from Manassas Junction to the same place, but the Peninsula roads were usable any time of year. Even better, the navy could support the advance from the York River.

The corps commanders, along with President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, agreed to McClellan’s plan on four conditions:

  • The ironclad C.S.S. Virginia must be kept from interfering
  • There must be enough transports to take the massive army down the coast
  • The Federal navy must neutralize the Confederate guns on the York River
  • A portion of the army must be left at Washington to provide “an entire feeling of security for its safety from menace.” (The generals could not agree on how many men should be left, but the average was around 40,000.)

McClellan dispatched Major General Irvin McDowell to Washington with the signatures of the four corps commanders endorsing the plan. Lincoln and Stanton added a statement to the form urging action: “Move the remainder of the force down the Potomac, choosing a new base at Fortress Monroe, or anywhere between here and there, or, at all events, move such remainder of the army at once in pursuit of the enemy by some route.”

McClellan spent the next day planning to withdraw his army to Alexandria and divide it into corps in accordance with Lincoln’s order to create a corps structure. The five new army corps were to be commanded by Major Generals McDowell, Edwin V. Sumner, Samuel P. Heintzelman, Erasmus D. Keyes, and Nathaniel P. Banks (currently stationed in the Shenandoah Valley). Lincoln had selected these corps commanders to better enable McClellan to lead overall army operations.

By the 17th, McClellan was finally ready to “give the death-blow to the rebellion that has distracted our once happy country.” It had taken over seven months, but he had forged an army “magnificent in material, admirable in discipline and instruction, excellently equipped and armed.” The men marched through Alexandria and boarded transports that would take them down the Potomac River, into Chesapeake Bay, and on to Fort Monroe. This would outflank the Confederates on the Rappahannock River and put the army on a lightly defended path leading northwest to Richmond.

The largest army ever assembled in North America embarked on the largest amphibious operation ever attempted in the Western Hemisphere. In an incredible display of logistical prowess, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs assembled 113 steamers, 188 schooners, and 88 barges to transport 121,500 officers and men, 44 artillery batteries bearing 300 guns, 14,592 animals, 1,150 wagons, 74 ambulances, pontoon bridges, telegraph wire, and enormous quantities of supplies and equipment. This effort was supported by a state-of-the-art navy.

McClellan watched the first group leave the wharf and later issued a proclamation to his men:

“I will bring you now face to face with the rebels, and only pray that God may defend the right… ever bear in mind that my fate is linked with yours… I am to watch over you as a parent over his children; and you know that your General loves you from the depths of his heart. It shall be my care… to gain success with the least possible loss.”

The 200-mile transfer to Fort Monroe began one day ahead of Lincoln’s deadline and was scheduled to take three weeks. McClellan moved the troops by division, which some saw as a disregard for Lincoln’s corps structure. In a last minute change, McClellan moved the divisions of McDowell’s corps from first to last in the order of embarkation. This decision later proved fateful.

As the troops headed down the Potomac, McClellan wrote to Stanton, “The worst is over. Rely upon it that I will carry this thing through handsomely.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 74-76; Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-93; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 140, 143; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 268-69; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 122, 124; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 428-31; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 198-200; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 184, 186; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 424; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 570; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 92-94, 110

The Fall of New Bern

March 14, 1862 – Federals occupying points on the North Carolina coast advanced to the mainland in hopes of capturing one of the state’s largest cities.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Since the Federal capture of Roanoke Island the previous month, Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside and Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough had expanded their control of the North Carolina sounds and connecting waterways. They now set their sights on the state’s mainland, primarily New Bern, North Carolina’s colonial capital, on the Neuse River. New Bern was the state’s second largest city and an important railroad center.

About 11,000 Federal troops of Burnside’s Coastal Division boarded army transports at Roanoke Island to link with 13 gunboats near Hatteras Inlet. The gunboat fleet was led by Commander Stephen C. Rowan, who took over when Goldsborough was recalled to Hampton Roads after the attack by the C.S.S. Virginia. Burnside told his men that they would be part of a major offensive designed to support Major General George B. McClellan’s upcoming Peninsula campaign.

About 4,000 Confederates defended New Bern under Brigadier General Lawrence O. Branch, a lawyer and politician whose only military experience was in the Seminole Wars. Branch’s men were posted at the several earthworks below New Bern, including Fort Thompson, the strongest work, six miles south. A lack of slave labor in the area prevented Branch from bolstering the defenses.

On the 13th, the Federal gunboats covered Burnside’s three brigades as they debarked without resistance at Slocomb’s Creek, on the west bank of the Neuse, about 16 miles south of New Bern. As the troops advanced on land, the gunboats advanced on the river, shelling the five Confederate forts in the woods as they went. Rowan later reported:

“I commenced throwing 5, 10, 15 second shells inshore, and notwithstanding the risk, I determined to continue till the general sent me word. I know the persuasive power of a 9-inch (shell), and thought it better to kill a Union man or two than to lose the effect of my moral suasion.”

Learning of the Federal advance, Branch pulled his troops out of their first line of defenses and concentrated them in a front about six miles southeast of New Bern, near Fort Thompson. This inadequate force guarded the road that Branch suspected the Federals would take.

The Federal troops advanced to where it was believed Branch’s lines were, but the Confederates had already fallen back. The Federals continued advancing amid some skirmishing; driving rain and muddy roads not only made the march difficult, but they made it impossible for the Federals to bring up artillery. Nevertheless, Burnside planned to launch an assault the next day.

At dawn, Burnside ordered his brigades to advance up the muddy west bank of the Neuse with Brigadier Generals Jesse Reno, John G. Parke, and John G. Foster on the left, center, and right respectively. Branch’s defensive line extended from Fort Thompson on the Neuse to his left, a road leading west to his right, and the main road to New Bern in his center. Like at Roanoke Island, the Federals would have to cross a swamp to get to the Confederates.

As the Federals surged forward, the gunboats on the Neuse began bombarding Fort Thompson. The Confederates, outflanked and low on ammunition, held firm until a militia unit in the center of the line suddenly broke. The Federals exploited the gap and sent the enemy fleeing around 10:30 a.m.

Some Confederates on the right did not get the order to retreat and were captured. Those who got away crossed the Trent River into New Bern and burned the bridge behind them. But by this time, the Federal gunboats commanded the town. The Confederates set fire to New Bern without orders and continued fleeing. Branch arranged to withdraw his force by rail to Kinston, 35 miles west, but it took him nearly a week to reassemble all his remaining men.

Meanwhile, the Federals entered New Bern that afternoon and received a similar reception to the one at Winton: only blacks and poor whites celebrated their arrival. Panic spread among the other local residents, as people fled on trains to Goldsborough and other towns. Only 100 of the 1,200 New Bern residents remained when the Federals arrived.

The Federals sustained 471 casualties (90 killed and 381 wounded or missing). The Confederates lost 578 (64 killed, 101 wounded, and 413 captured or missing). In addition to capturing New Bern, the Federals also gained control of all the outlying forts along the river, including Fort Thompson. A landing party from Rowan’s fleet also seized two steamers, large quantities of cotton, and an artillery battery.

The fall of New Bern created another port and useful supply base for Federal inland expeditions. It also gave the Federals easy access to the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. The Confederate government, realizing the importance of North Carolina too late, sent reinforcements that should have been sent months earlier.

With a foothold on the mainland, Burnside soon looked back to points on the Atlantic, particularly Fort Macon near Cape Lookout.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (14 Mar 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 141; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 121-23; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 524; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 184-85; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 51-53; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 294-95

The Fall of New Madrid

March 13, 1862 – Confederate defenders abandoned a position on the Mississippi River under artillery bombardment from Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi.

By early March, General P.G.T. Beauregard had arrived in Tennessee after his transfer from Virginia to take command of Major General Leonidas Polk’s Confederates at Columbus, Kentucky, on the Mississippi. The fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, along with Nashville, had left Polk isolated and, despite his assertion that Columbus was the “Gibraltar of the West,” Beauregard directed him to abandon the place and fall back southward, down the Mississippi.

A new defensive line was established from Corinth and Iuka in Mississippi on the right (east) to Island No. 10 and New Madrid in Missouri on the left (west). Beauregard notified General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Western Theater, of this move. Johnston, reorganizing Confederates in Middle Tennessee, responded: “You must now act as seems best to you. The separation of our armies is for the present complete.”

About 7,000 Confederate troops, supported by gunboats and 140 guns, held Beauregard’s western flank. They were stationed at Island No. 10 in the Mississippi, and at New Madrid Bend, a peninsula created by an “S” bend in the river. The Confederates defended against western enemy advances, and they blocked the passage of Federal shipping.

The Confederate commander in the New Madrid sector, Brigadier General John P. McCown, warned his superiors that the region would not last six hours if attacked. His artillery chief, James Trudeau, inspected nearby Island No. 10 and reported that it was “in no measure fortified.” It was quickly reinforced with 10 artillery companies.

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Meanwhile, Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri at St. Louis, feared that Polk’s Confederates might move north and attack the Federal supply base at Cairo, Illinois. To counter, Halleck assigned John Pope to reinforce Cairo while leading a force down the Mississippi to attack the Confederates at New Madrid and Island No. 10.

Pope raised a new 12,500-man “Army of the Mississippi” at Commerce, Missouri, about 50 miles from New Madrid. The force mobilized quickly but was soon slowed by steady rain and mud. Pope’s ultimate objective was Island No. 10, which was highly fortified and most responsible for blocking Federal river traffic. But first Pope had to take New Madrid.

Pope’s advance units clashed with General M. Jeff Thompson’s Missouri partisans, which were hopelessly outnumbered and forced to run 16 miles from Sikeston to New Madrid. The partisans left behind some of their new, experimental cannon, which Pope inspected and reported to Halleck:

“The pieces of artillery are of small caliber, breechloading, beautifully rifled, and handsomely mounted on four wheels, drawn by two horses each. They have an ingenious repeating apparatus at the breech, and were undoubtedly made for service in this swampy, low region.”

Just as the Confederates from Columbus began manning the garrisons on the Mississippi, Pope’s Federals arrived outside New Madrid. Pope had a decisive advantage in troop strength, but he wanted to wait for support from Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet before attacking. Pope’s main concern was nearby Confederate gunboats, which could stop an infantry attack. Pope also awaited his own artillery–three 24-pounders and an eight-inch howitzer.

Pope seized Point Pleasant on the 5th, which cut New Madrid off from the south. However, Foote would not be coming up any time soon, as he explained:

“The gunboats have been so much cut up in the late engagements at Forts Henry and Donelson in the pilot houses, hulls, and disabled machinery, that I could not induce the pilots to go in them again in a fight until they are repaired. I regret this, as we ought to move in the quickest possible time, but I have declined doing it, being utterly unprepared, although General Halleck says go, and not wait for repairs; but that can not be done without creating a stampede amongst the pilots and most of the newly made officers, to say nothing of the disasters which must follow if the rebels fight as they have done of late.”

During that time, Beauregard formally took command of the Confederates in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, as well as those at New Madrid and Island No. 10. He called them the “Army of the Mississippi” (the “the” was dropped later) and proclaimed that so far in the war, their losses were “about the same as those of the enemy.” Despite recent setbacks, “those reverses, far from disheartening, must nerve us to new deeps of valor and patriotism, and should inspire us with unconquerable determination to drive back our invaders.”

As Pope continued waiting for support, Foote provided an update to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles:

“The Benton is underway and barely stems the strong current of the Ohio, which is 5 knots in this rise of water, but hope, by putting her between two ironclad steamers to-morrow, she will stem the current and work comparatively well… I hope on Wednesday (March 12) to take down seven ironclad gunboats and 10 mortar boats to attack Island No. 10 and New Madrid… We are doing our best, but our difficulties and trials are legion.”

On March 12, nine days after reaching New Madrid, Pope’s heavy siege artillery arrived. The Federals spent the night deploying the guns to begin laying siege to the two forts defending New Madrid, Thompson and Bankhead, as well as the 20 Confederate guns.

With his troops in position, the Federal siege guns opened with a sudden and massive bombardment through the foggy dawn of the 13th. The barrage caught the Confederate gunboats by surprise; they had not even gotten started when the firing began. Soon the Confederate artillery responded, taking out one 24-pounder and some field pieces.

Pope planned to focus on capturing Fort Bankhead on the Confederates’ right, but their gunboats arrived and forced Pope to change his strategy. The Confederate artillery was strong enough to prevent a frontal assault, but General McCown, with just 3,500 men against Pope’s 12,500, received word that Brigadier General Franz Sigel was on the way with 40 Federal regiments to reinforce Pope. McCown knew it was just a matter of time before he would have to evacuate or surrender.

That night, Captain George N. Hollins withdrew his Confederate gunboat squadron (the C.S.S. Livingston, Polk, and Pontchartrain) and used steamers to evacuate McCown’s defenders. During a violent storm, they pulled back to more fortified positions at Island No. 10, about 10 miles upriver on the Mississippi’s east bank. The Confederates spiked their guns to render them useless to the enemy, but they left behind many other valuable supplies in their disorganized retreat.

The next day, Pope’s men discovered that McCown had abandoned his positions. The Federals entered New Madrid and the forts without opposition, recovering the supplies and artillery the Confederates had left. Pope began planning to attack his main target, Island No. 10, and fortifications along the Tennessee bank of the river.

Meanwhile, Foote’s naval fleet finally left Cairo to support Pope; it consisted of seven ironclad gunboats, one wooden gunboat, 10 mortar boats, a coal barge, two ordnance steamers, and two army transports. Confederate cavalry stationed at Hickman, Kentucky, fled as the fleet approached.

The fall of New Madrid left the Confederates at Island No. 10 isolated from communications and supplies. It also trapped them in the swamps east of New Madrid, where Pope would confront them next month.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13281, 13290; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 135-38, 141; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 307; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 116-17, 122-23; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 177-78, 184-85; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 258; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386

From David Ash, 37th Illinois Volunteers

Letter from David Ash, Company B, 37th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, three days after the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Sugar Creek, Arkansas

March 11, 1862

Illinois State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

DEAREST ELIZA:

I seat myself down to let you know that I still am alive and enjoying good health. Well, Eliza, I received a letter from you a few days ago that had been on the way a long time. But I was glad to hear from you at any time.

I must try to tell you what we have been doing. Price and McCullough attacked General Sigel on the 6th. He retreated back to our camp, but kept firing into them all the way on the morning of the 7th. Our division was called on to rally and be on hand at any time. We kept moving from one point to another until two o’clock P.M., and we found where they were in the brush around.

Our brigade, the 37th and 39th Illinois regiments, formed a line of battle and marched into the butternuts. We marched up in front of them within about a hundred yards, and firing commenced on both sides. We all dropped down in the brush and fired and loaded. Jim Lee dropped dead at my feet by a shot from one of Company A, which was on our right. I saw the ball strike him on the back part of the head. He never moved a muscle.

The balls flew thick and fast. They cut the brush all around my head, but fortunately none hit me. We all fell back a few rods and loaded and went up on to them again. We fired into them again and they returned the fire. There were four regiments of them engaged at that time and only two of us. They had a good many Indians, one Brag, Louisiana regiment, and I don’t know where the rest are from…

There was a buckshot hit me in the shoulder, just merely going through my clothes, and made a little red spot. The ball had no force at all. It might have hit something before it hit me. I fired eight shots into them the first day, but it was not all over yet.

The morning of the 8th, we were rallied out before sun-up and went about a mile and formed a line of battle along a fence. Three of our company were positioned a few yards to the right along a fence, and our battery began to play upon them. There is two batteries firing at them but they have the best position and we moved back a short distance and formed again. They put balls around us with their battery until we moved, cutting trees off all around us. A ball hit one of our horses on the hind leg and cut it off but out men planted their battery again and began to fire into them, and in a short time they had silenced their battery entirely. They fired over us every time after we moved and did not hurt a man.

Five regiments then formed a line and commenced to advance on to them. We came on to them in about a mile (and) found them in the brush again. We opened on to them again and they ran like whiteheads. But we stopped some of them in the brush for good, they were thick laying dead as they fell. There was a flag taken. It was a beautiful one. Our Lafayette flag waved triumphantly that day. The Illinois 59th had no flag and Colonel White asked Captain Dick for it and he let him have it. It looked grand floating after the enemy, they brought it back honorable.

After we chased them clear out of the brush, we made a halt to rest and wait for orders. As we were very tired, I went all through the brush to see what had been done. I found any amount of dead secesh (secessionists, i.e., Confederate soldiers) and none of our men at all. I guess our division lost two or three men on the 8th and two or three wounded. They wound a great many more in proportion to what they kill than we do, for their guns are not so good–they have a great many shotguns and small rifles. Their surgeons don’t have many of our balls to pick out, for they generally go through.

It is the hardest sight a person could behold to see the dead lying round after they bring (them) in. They lay them in a pile until they get time to bury them. There was twenty-one killed out of our regiment (and) one hundred and nineteen wounded. Albert Hilliard was laying alongside of me when he was shot, says he, “Oh Dave, I am shot.” It was the hardest thing I have done for some time to call the roll the first time after the battle, so many of our boys wounded and one killed. But Eliza, I don’t know whether it is over yet or not, they’ve gone back a piece. It may be they are getting a good ready to come at us again. But I guess we can do the same thing for them every time.

I must close, for my paper has almost run out. If I am spared, I will write to you the first chance I have to send a letter. Dear faithful girl, I bid you goodbye for present. May the richest of heaven’s blessings be yours. Be a good girl and remember me.

D.L. ASH

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Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books Edition, 1998), p. 40-42