The Fall of Hatteras Inlet

August 29, 1861 – The first joint Federal army-navy expedition of the war resulted in the capture of Hatteras Inlet, one of North Carolina’s busiest ports for blockade running.

The Federal Blockade Strategy Board had declared that Hatteras Inlet was the most important of North Carolina’s four inlets deep enough for blockade runners to deliver supplies to the Confederacy. The inlet was a gap in the sandbar providing the main entrance to Pamlico Sound, a large body of water between the beach and the mainland, about 18 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks.

Two makeshift forts built of sand and logs guarded the inlet: Fort Hatteras, an eighth of a mile west of the inlet covering the sea channel, and the smaller Fort Clark, east of Fort Hatteras. Just 350 Confederates of the 7th North Carolina and 12 smoothbore cannon garrisoned the forts.

Capturing Hatteras Inlet would be a navy operation, led by Flag Officer Silas H. Stringham, commanding the Federal Atlantic Blockading Squadron. But capturing the forts would require army support. Major General Benjamin F. Butler, who had recently been removed as commander of the Department of Virginia at Fort Monroe, was selected by the new department commander, Major General John E. Wool, to raise a force to accompany the warships.

Butler led 860 infantrymen of the 9th Massachusetts and the 20th New York on transports protected by the warships U.S.S. Cumberland, Minnesota, Monticello, Pawnee, Susquehanna, Wabash, the revenue cutter Harriet Lane, and the tug Fanny. The naval force included 143 rifled cannon and Stringham’s valuable knowledge of modern fort destruction tactics, having served with the Mediterranean fleet during the Crimean War.

The fleet anchored about three miles offshore on the night of the 27th, then began their attack the next morning. Part of the fleet began bombarding Fort Clark and a battery north of the fort, using the successful Crimean War tactic of moving while firing and not anchoring, thus depriving the Confederate artillerymen in the fort of having a stationary target. Confederates soon abandoned the battery north of Clark and retreated into the fort.

Meanwhile, other warships escorted the army transports to their landing site, about three miles east of Fort Clark. Butler observed the infantry landing from Harriet Lane and aborted the mission after just 315 troops made it ashore due to high winds and rough seas. The ground forces closed in on Clark’s defenders, even though their gunpowder was wet and useless. But the Confederates soon ran out of ammunition as well, and they abandoned the fort. Federals entered without opposition and raised the U.S. flag by 2 p.m.

Federal troops landing at Hatteras Inlet | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal troops landing at Hatteras Inlet | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals turned their attention to Fort Hatteras, which was reinforced after dark by Confederates from other nearby posts led by Flag Officer Samuel Barron. U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward had tried enlisting Barron to keep Virginia in the Union, but now Barron commanded all Confederate coastal defenses in both Virginia and North Carolina.

The Federal bombardment resumed around 10 a.m. The clearing weather enabled the Federals to pour a steady fire into the fort, beyond the range of Confederate cannon. Midshipman Roswell H. Lamson aboard U.S.S. Wabash wrote that evening: “It was terrible to watch the large shells as they came down in the fort bursting almost as soon as they struck, scatter sand and tents, dismounting guns and tearing everything but the bombproof covers to pieces. For a long time we fired a shell every three minutes from the forward gun, and it was nothing but a continual bursting of shells around, over, and among them.”

Although casualties in the fort were light, Barron agreed to surrender after a council of war. They raised the white flag at 11:10 a.m. Barron refused to surrender to Butler, whose troops had a minimal impact on the outcome; he said he would only “surrender to the man who had whipped him” and gave his sword to Stringham.

The Federals escorted 615 Confederate prisoners onto the transports as Butler’s troops raised the U.S. flag over Fort Hatteras. The Federals also captured 1,000 small arms and 15 cannon. This Federal victory panicked coastal southerners who feared that enemy forces would soon invade their communities. However, the Federals did not yet have the resources needed to expand on this success.

The fall of Hatteras Inlet closed an important port to blockade runners. It also served the Federal blockading fleet as a coal and supply station. And it greatly boosted northern morale after the defeats at Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek. Butler regained his esteem among the Federal command, despite his minimal participation in the operation. President Lincoln allowed him leave to reunite with his family and recruit more volunteers in New England. Stringham grew resentful over receiving little recognition for the innovative tactics he used to pound the forts into submission.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 189; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16, 18-19; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13306-14; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 68, 70-71; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 115-16; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 59-60; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 98-99; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 111-12; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 350-51; 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. 369-70; 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), p. 33-34; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 217; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 29-31

The Western Virginia Military Situation: August 1861

August 26, 1861 – Confederates won a minor clash in southwestern Virginia, while General Robert E. Lee continued struggling to coordinate the movements of several stubborn commanders in the region.

Lee had come to western Virginia as a military advisor to President Jefferson Davis. Although he had no authority to issue orders to the Confederate commanders, he hoped to persuade them to work together against the Federals rather than operating independently. By this month, there were three different commands:

  • The Army of the Northwest under General Henry R. Jackson, soon to be replaced by General William W. Loring. This force was divided between Monterey and Huntersville.
  • The Army of the Kanawha under General John B. Floyd near Sweet Springs.
  • Brigadier General Henry A. Wise’s “Legion” near Lewisburg, which was actually a portion of the Army of the Kanawha.
L to R: Robert E. Lee, William W. Loring, John B. Floyd, Henry A. Wise | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

L to R: Robert E. Lee, William W. Loring, John B. Floyd, Henry A. Wise | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lee urged Floyd and Wise to join forces and take back the Kanawha River Valley after relinquishing it to the Federals in July. Wise resisted because he did not get along with Floyd. Lee urged Loring to consolidate his army and advance northward to Cheat Mountain. Loring resisted because he had outranked Lee in the U.S. army and did not appreciate his advice. Adding to this was the unrelenting rains and unforgiving terrain of western Virginia.

Floyd proposed linking with Wise and raising another 10,000 recruits, informing President Davis that he had “never witnessed a better spirit than seems to be almost universal” in the area. The force would then move northward and attack Cheat Mountain, or even possibly invade Ohio. However, Wise reported that the Kanawha Valley was overrun by Unionists, and his men needed rest before they could join Floyd.

On August 6, the first council of war between Floyd and Wise took place at White Sulphur Springs. Wise delivered a two-hour speech tying American history into his current situation, describing his “retrograde movement” (i.e., retreat) from Charleston to the Gauley Bridge. Wise then asked Floyd where he wanted to go. Floyd said, “Down the road.” Wise asked what then, and Floyd replied, “Fight.” The commanders made no strategy decisions.

To the north, the Confederates remained stationary as Loring disagreed with Lee’s plan to confront the Federals at Cheat Mountain. On the Federal side, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, anticipating Lee’s plan, directed Major General William S. Rosecrans, who had replaced Major General George B. McClellan in command of western Virginia, to “push forward rapidly the fortifications ordered by General McClellan” in July.

Rosecrans responded by beginning to consolidate his forces at various points. He also sent reinforcements to the force under Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox at Gauley Bridge, which threatened the Confederates of Floyd and Wise. When McClellan at Washington ordered Rosecrans to hold Gauley Bridge with Cox’s men, Rosecrans decided to reinforce Cheat Mountain while having Cox take up defensive positions.

The Confederate threat in western Virginia was made to look worse than it truly was when Unionist politician John S. Carlisle wrote to Secretary of War Simon Cameron: “For God’s sake, send us more troops and a general to command, or else we are whipped in less than ten days.” Carlisle estimated enemy strength at 20,000 men, with 8,000 at Monterey and 8,000 west of Huntersville, as well as an army of “considerable size” under Floyd and Wise advancing on Wheeling.

Although the Confederates truly did outnumber the Federals, they only had 12,000 men east of the Federal positions at Cheat Mountain. And Floyd and Wise were nowhere near Wheeling, and if they ever joined forces, they would still have only 3,800 effectives to confront Cox’s Federals, who would soon be reinforced. And most importantly, torrential rains had slowed active operations almost to a halt.

During this lull, Rosecrans sought to ease Unionist fears by issuing a proclamation to “The Loyal Citizens of Western Virginia” from his Clarksburg headquarters. He urged the people to obey the law and oppose secessionists: “Their tools and dupes told you you must vote for secession as the only means to insure peace, that unless you did so, hordes of abolitionists would overrun you, plunder your property, steal your slaves, abuse your wives and daughters, seize upon your lands, and hang all those who opposed them… (secessionists) have set neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend; they have introduced a warfare only known among savages.

“Citizens of Western Virginia,” Rosecrans concluded, “your fate is mainly in your own hands. If you allow yourselves to be trampled under foot by hordes of disturbers, plunderers, and murderers, your land will become a desolation. If you stand firm for law and order and maintain your rights, you may dwell together peacefully and happily as in former days.”

Also during this time, Lee sent a message to Brigadier General John J. Reynolds, commanding Federals at Cheat Mountain: “With a view of alleviating individual distress I have the honor to propose an exchange of prisoners. If you will cause to be forwarded a list of those in your hands including those placed on parole an equal number of U. S. troops, man for man or similar grade, will be sent to the point most convenient to their present abode. An exchange in this manner can be conveniently effected. Very respectfully, R. E LEE, General, Commanding.”

Reynolds responded the next day: “SIR: Your proposition inviting an exchange of prisoners is cheerfully acceded to. A list of prisoners in our possession including those paroled will be delivered at the house in Tygarts Valley where this note is written on the 9th instant. Very respectfully, J.J. REYNOLDS, Brigadier-General, Commanding.”

However, Reynolds did not get permission from Rosecrans first, instead requesting retroactive approval: “Now, first, is this action on my part approved, and secondly, can it be effected here?” Rosecrans did not approve. Since most Confederate prisoners were from western Virginia, Rosecrans worried that they would not only reinforce Lee’s army, but they would know the Federals’ positions. Conversely, most Federal prisoners had been taken in the Battle of Bull Run, so they would most likely return to northern Virginia and not help Rosecrans. While the plan was held up for soldiers, both sides agreed to exchange two non-combatants each.

Meanwhile, the bickering between Floyd and Wise continued, with Wise asking Lee to keep their forces separated and Floyd wanting them to unite and take the offensive. Lee urged Wise to work with Floyd, or else it could “destroy the prospect of the success of the campaign in the Kanawha District.” Floyd went over Lee’s head to Davis, alleging “great disorganization amongst the men under General Wise’s command,” and hoping to “remedy the evil.” Floyd then announced that since he outranked Wise, he would assume overall command of both his and Wise’s men.

Wise initially resisted Floyd’s orders to join his force, arguing that his men were plagued with typhoid and measles; a regimental officer told Wise that the “troops are now decimated by disease and casualties occurred by weeks of exposure” to rain and cold. Wise then instructed his men to disregard any orders coming from Floyd unless approved by Wise first. Floyd countered by ordering Wise’s cavalry to join him, adding, “Any orders whatever in any way conflicting with this I hereby revoke.” Floyd then told Davis that Wise’s “unwillingness to co-operate… is so great that it amounts practically almost to open opposition.”

When Wise finally advanced his man on a 17-mile march to Carnifex Ferry as ordered, Floyd decided to advance his force there as well without telling him. Since Cox’s Federals had abandoned the place, both Confederates forces were not needed there, so Floyd ordered Wise to countermarch back to his original position. This enraged Wise, who complied nonetheless.

On August 23, Floyd reported to Secretary of War LeRoy Walker that his force had captured Carnifex Ferry and cut communications between Cox and Rosecrans. This enabled him to, “when sufficiently strong, either to attack General Cox in his flank or rear, on the Kanawha River, or to advance against the flank of General Rosecrans, should General Lee so direct.” Floyd then requested “three good regiments… to replace the Legion of General Wise, which can be used to better advantage by General Lee.” Since Wise’s legion consisted of three regiments, Floyd’s request essentially meant that he did not want to advance any further unless the Confederate government replaced Wise’s entire command.

Meanwhile, Cox fell back to Gauley Bridge after advancing to Carnifex Ferry and Cross Lanes. The 7th Ohio, a regiment in Cox’s command under Colonel Erasmus Tyler returning to the main force, inadvertently camped within a half-mile of Floyd’s Confederates on the night of the 25th. Floyd consulted with one of his officers, Colonel Henry Heth, who advised, “There is but one thing for you to do, attack them at daylight tomorrow morning.”

The next day, Floyd’s 2,000 Confederates routed Tyler’s green 7th Ohio at Cross Lanes. The inexperienced Tyler had failed to post pickets to warn of Floyd’s advance. The Federals began wavering upon the sight of the enemy troops and then panicked when the Confederates fired into them. Quickly outflanked, the Federals fled in a rout, suffering 15 killed, 50 wounded, and up to 100 taken prisoner. Survivors straggled back to Cox’s main force at Gauley Bridge. This engagement emboldened Floyd and increased his animosity toward Wise.

Wise continued asking to be permanently separated from Floyd, prompting Lee to respond that Floyd’s “Army of Kanawha is too small for active and successful operation to be divided at present. I beg, therefore, for the sake of the cause you have so much at heart, you will permit no division of sentiment or action to disturb its harmony or arrest its efficiency.”

By the end of August, Cox’s Federals held Gauley Bridge, with Wise’s Legion to the east at Dogwood Gap and Floyd’s Confederates to the northeast at Carnifex Ferry. Floyd expected Cox to retreat back into the Kanawha Valley, but he received intelligence on the 31st that Cox was advancing to confront his force. Floyd responded by ordering Wise to reinforce him. When Wise discovered that this intelligence was false, he ignored Floyd’s order. The hostility between Floyd and Wise continued until finally boiling over in September.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 62-63; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 53, 56, 58, 60; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2733, 2826-37; Guelzo, Allen C, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 113-14; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 103-04, 108; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407

The New State of Kanawha

August 20, 1861 – Delegates to the second session of the Second Wheeling Convention approved a measure seceding from Virginia and bundling the state’s northwestern counties into the new state of Kanawha.

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The delegates reconvened their legally questionable convention at Wheeling, 10 miles west of the Pennsylvania border, after adjourning in June. While the members had previously considered declaring the Virginia government null and void because it had seceded from the Union, the members in this session instead proposed an Ordinance of Separation from Virginia. Delegates set up a Committee on the Division of the State that included one member from each of the 35 northwestern counties being represented.

The committee submitted its Division of the State Ordinance on August 13, which shifted the focus of debate from whether to secede from Virginia to how many counties would secede. The ordinance absorbed all Virginia counties in the Shenandoah Valley and along the Potomac River into the new state of New Virginia (later renamed Allegheny).

Most delegates supported forming the new state, but some urged postponement for now. Postponement was rejected a week later when the majority approved an “ordinance of dismemberment.” Delegates also reached a compromise on the number of counties to secede; they would begin with 39 counties of northwestern Virginia and add any other adjacent county if its residents voted to join.

Extensive debate took place over what the new state’s name should be, as many delegates did not like the names “New Virginia” or “Allegheny” proposed the previous week. A suggestion of “West Virginia” was also rejected. Finally, the name “Kanawha” was approved by a vote of 48 to 27.

The secession of “Kahawha” from the rest of Virginia violated Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution (“no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State… without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress”). But the delegates approved the move nonetheless and resolved to submit the ordinance to the people in a popular election scheduled for October 24.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 110; 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. 298; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 816-17; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

Federals Threaten Kentucky’s Neutrality

August 19, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln received a letter from Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin urging the removal of Federal troops from the state to in an effort to maintain neutrality in the conflict.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federal military presence in Kentucky continued to threaten that state’s tenuous neutrality. It also helped Unionists get elected to the Kentucky legislature, as Unionists won majorities in the August 5 elections of 76-24 in the House of Representatives and 27-11 in the Senate. This was a greater Unionist victory than the June 20 election. Prior to this contest, Lincoln had resisted banning trade with the Confederacy through Kentucky in fear of forcing that state to go Confederate. But this election emboldened Lincoln to issue a proclamation banning trade with all “rebellious” states.

Meanwhile, Unionists established Camp “Dick Robinson” near Lexington. The camp attracted recruits from Ohio, as well as mountaineers from eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. Although they declared that they were simply “Home Guards” organizing only for defense, secessionists and neutralists argued that the camp blatantly violated Kentucky’s neutrality.

Soon afterward Brigadier General Robert Anderson, the Federal commander at Fort Sumter who had been in command of Federals in Kentucky, was given command of the Department of the Cumberland. This encompassed not only Kentucky but also Tennessee, except for the part of Kentucky bordering Cincinnati belonging to the Department of the Ohio and a part of western Tennessee along the Mississippi River belonging to the Department of the West.

As a native Kentuckian, Anderson set up headquarters in Cincinnati to avoid embarrassing his “neutral” home state. The growing tensions between the Unionists and the neutralists and secessionists ultimately afflicted Anderson, already in frail health, with nervous exhaustion.

To stop any further Federal encroachment on Kentucky neutrality, two commissioners delivered a letter from Governor Magoffin to President Lincoln on the 19th. Magoffin wrote:

“From the commencement of the unhappy hostilities now pending in this country, the people of Kentucky have indicated an earnest desire and purpose, as far as lay in their power, while maintaining their original political status, to do nothing by which to involve themselves in the war. Up to this time they have succeeded in securing to themselves and to the State peace and tranquillity as the fruits of the policy they adopted. My single object now is to promote the continuance of these blessings to this State…

“Now, therefore, as Governor of the State of Kentucky, and in the name of the people I have the honor to represent, and with the single and earnest desire to avert from their peaceful homes the horrors of war, I urge the removal from the limits of Kentucky of the military force now organized and in camp within the State. If such action as is here urged be promptly taken, I firmly believe the peace of the people of Kentucky will be preserved, and the horrors of a bloody war will be averted from a people now peaceful and tranquil.”

Lincoln responded five days later:

“I may not possess full and precisely accurate knowledge upon this subject; but I believe it is true that there is a military force in camp within Kentucky, acting by authority of the United States, which force is not very large, and is not now being augmented… In all I have done in the premises, I have acted upon the urgent solicitation of many Kentuckians, and in accordance with what I believed, and still believe, to be the wish of a majority of all the Union-loving people of Kentucky…”

Lincoln asserted that “While I have conversed on this subject with many eminent men of Kentucky, including a large majority of her Members of Congress, I do not remember that any one of them, or any other person, except your Excellency and the bearers of your Excellency’s letter, has urged me to remove the military force from Kentucky, or to disband it.” Lincoln went on:

“Taking all the means within my reach to form a judgment, I do not believe it is the popular wish of Kentucky that this force shall be removed beyond her limits; and, with this impression, I must respectfully decline to so remove it. I most cordially sympathize with your Excellency in the wish to preserve the peace of my own native State, Kentucky. It is with regret I search for, and can not find, in your not very short letter, any declaration or intimation that you entertain any desire for the preservation of the Federal Union.”

That same day, George W. Johnson delivered a letter from Magoffin to President Jefferson Davis:

“Recently a military force has been enlisted and quartered by the United States authorities within this State… Although I have no reason to presume that the Government of the Confederate States contemplate or have ever proposed any violation of the neutral attitude thus assumed by Kentucky, there seems to be some uneasiness felt among the people of some portion of the State, occasioned by the collection of bodies of troops along their southern frontier. In order to quiet this apprehension, and to secure to the people their cherished object of peace, this communication is to present these facts and elicit an authoritative assurance that the Government of the Confederate States will continue to respect and observe the position indicated as assumed by Kentucky.”

Davis responded to Magoffin on the 28th:

“In reply to this request, I lose no time in assuring you that the Government of the Confederate States neither desires nor intends to disturb the neutrality of Kentucky… The Government of the Confederate States has not only respected most scrupulously the neutrality of Kentucky, but has continued to maintain the friendly relations of trade and intercourse which it has suspended with the United States generally.

“In view of the history of the past, it can scarcely be necessary to assure your Excellency that the Government of the Confederate States will continue to respect the neutrality of Kentucky so long as her people will maintain it themselves. But neutrality, to be entitled to respect, must be strictly maintained between both parties; or, if the door be opened on the one side for the aggressions of one of the belligerent parties upon the other, it ought not to be shut to the assailed when they seek to enter it for purposes of self-defense. I do not, however, for a moment believe that your gallant State will suffer its soil to be used for the purpose of giving an advantage to those who violate its neutrality and disregard its rights, over others who respect both.”

It would be only a matter of time before the two warring factions brought their conflict onto Kentucky soil. A prelude to that clash came on August 22, when U.S.S. Lexington, a Federal side-wheeled steamboat-turned-timberclad gunboat, captured the Confederate steamer W.B. Terry at Paducah. Confederates fled aboard the steamer Samuel Orr up the Tennessee River.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6790-873; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 64, 67-68, 70; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 397-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 54, 56, 58; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 105-06, 109, 111; 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. 294-95; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 70-71; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 199; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 196; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

Scrutiny of Northern Anti-War Sentiment is Heightened

August 17, 1861 – In the North, both the government and the public stepped up scrutiny of anti-war sentiment this month, as wartime demands threatened constitutional guarantees.

On August 12, the New York Daily News published a list of 154 newspapers throughout the northern states that opposed President Lincoln’s war policies. Other newspapers quickly picked up the list and printed it themselves. Four days later, a grand jury indicted the Daily News along with the Day Book, Freeman’s Journal, Journal of Commerce, and Brooklyn Eagle on charges of disloyalty.

The grand jury, headed by Charles Gould, had been called to decide how to suppress pro-Confederate newspapers because they were “encouraging the rebels now in arms against the Federal Government by expressing sympathy and agreement with them, the duty of acceding to their demands, and dissatisfaction with the employment of force to overcome them.”

The U.S. Constitution | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The U.S. Constitution | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Jury members acknowledged that “free governments allow liberty of speech and of the press to their utmost limit,” but they contended that these newspapers exceeded that limit. The members stated, “If the utterance of such language in the streets or through the press is not a crime, then there is a great defect in our laws, or they were not made for such an emergency… the conduct of these disloyal presses is, of course, condemned and abhorred by all loyal men,” but the grand jury sought “to learn from the Court that it is also subject to indictment and condign punishment.”

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair issued orders declaring that “none of the newspapers published in New York city which were lately presented by the grand jury as dangerous, from their disloyalty, shall be forwarded in the mails.” Federal marshals at Philadelphia awaited the arrival of the New York train and seized all copies of the New York Daily News bound not only for Philadelphia but also for Washington, Alexandria, Annapolis, Baltimore, and Louisville.

Other newspapers suppressed by government decree included the Christian Observer for publishing an article calling the conflict an “unholy war.” Several newspapers in Canton, Ohio were also closed down for alleged disloyalty. Democratic newspapers became prime targets for government scrutiny.

Northerners seemed to support this suppression, as many people took action when government officials did not. Around 12:45 p.m. on August 12, an angry mob broke into the offices of the Bangor (Maine) Democrat, destroyed the printing presses, and burned the remaining office equipment in the street. The Democrat did not resume publication until 1863.

In Pennsylvania, Unionists invaded the offices of the Democratic Jeffersonian in West Chester and destroyed the printing presses, office equipment, and business records. Nobody was arrested or charged with the crime. A mob also attacked the Sentinel’s offices in Easton for allegedly expressing Confederate sympathies. The crowd threw the printing presses and other office equipment into the street and destroyed it.

In Massachusetts, a mob dragged the editor of the Essex County Democrat out of his Haverhill home. When he refused to cooperate with his kidnappers, “he was covered with a coat of tar and feathers, and ridden on a rail through the town.” He was forced to swear that he would “never again write or publish articles against the North and in favor of secession.”

On August 24, Unionists led by showman P.T. Barnum disrupted a “peace meeting” in Stepney, Connecticut. Both sides brandished pistols until Barnum invited any “secessionist” to speak out and be “given a fair hearing, provided they say nothing treasonable.” Since the term “treasonable” was left open for varying interpretations, no secessionists or Democrats accepted Barnum’s offer.

After the meeting, some 1,500 people stormed the offices of the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Advertiser & Farmer, which had printed editorials calling Lincoln a “despot” and accusing him of exceeding his constitutional authority, much like Republican newspapers had done when President James Buchanan was in office. No arrests were made for destroying the printing presses and business records; the newspaper went out of business.

People became targets along with newspapers. Secretary of War Simon Cameron ordered the arrest of Pierce Butler in Philadelphia for allegedly corresponding with Confederates. Federal marshals seized Butler and illegally searched his trunks, drawers, and papers. Butler was immediately sent without due process to confinement at Fort Lafayette, New York under armed guard. No formal charges were filed against him until he was eventually freed five weeks later.

Federal authorities also arrested several people in Washington for supposedly consorting with the enemy, including Mrs. Philip Phillips and Mrs. Rose O’Neal Greenhow. Prominent Detective Allan Pinkerton apprehended Mrs. Greenhow. Meanwhile, Unionists broke up a meeting of alleged secessionists in Saybrook, Connecticut, and peace meetings at Middletown, New Jersey and Newton, Long Island, New York, were cancelled.

Unionist articles published in various newspapers helped to incite the masses against any opposition to the war. An example was an issue of Harper’s Weekly that contained a sketch of Confederate troops bayoneting wounded Federals on the Bull Run battlefield. This was the war’s first atrocity article, which alleged that “the savages who fought under the Confederate Flag systematically butchered the wounded, and this not only in obedience to their own fiendish instincts, but by order of their officers.”

The passions on both sides, along with enhanced government and public scrutiny of those who opposed the war, would continue to intensify in the coming months.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 498; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19648; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 110-12; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 23-30

Wilson’s Creek: The Aftermath

August 11, 1861 – Demoralized Federal troops began a long retreat in Missouri following yesterday’s defeat, and the victors did not pursue.

The Federal retreat from Springfield that had been scheduled to begin at 2 a.m. on the 11th started two hours late because Brigadier General Franz Sigel, now commanding the Army of the West, was asleep. The town was not evacuated until after 6 a.m., with the Federals marching in disarray toward Rolla, 110 miles away.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Gustavus Elgin and Colonel R.H. Mercer, staffers under Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, who had been killed in yesterday’s battle, gave instructions for preparing Lyon’s body for burial. Lyon was temporarily interred in Springfield.

Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch dispatched the 3rd Texas Cavalry to reconnoiter Federal positions and learned that they had abandoned Springfield. He arranged to regroup his army and tend to the wounded on both sides in the town, and Springfield soon became a vast military hospital. McCulloch released the Federal prisoners captured in battle because he would “rather fight them than feed them.”

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals marched 32 miles, trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and McCulloch. Sigel, a former German revolutionist, had his German immigrants leading the march, prompting other Federals to charge favoritism. They called for Major Samuel D. Sturgis, who had taken temporary army command following Lyon’s death, to be reinstated. The troops were on the verge of mutiny by the time they stopped at Niangua for the night.

Back at Springfield, McCulloch issued a proclamation to Missourians, stating, “I do not come among you to make war upon any of your people, whether Union or otherwise.” He pledged to protect the rights and property of all people, regardless of their loyalties, but asserted that Missouri “must be allowed to choose her own destiny.” McCulloch promised to require “no oaths binding your consciences,” but “Missouri must now take her position, be it North or South.”

McCulloch then issued orders to his men, stating that while he was proud that their “first battle had been glorious,” he had “hopes that the laurels you have gained will not be tarnished by a single outrage. The private property of citizens of either party must be respected. Soldiers who fought as well as you did the day before yesterday cannot rob or plunder.” However, the undisciplined Confederates looted Springfield, making the already predominantly Unionist residents there even more so.

Meanwhile, Major General Sterling “Pap” Price, commanding the Missouri State Guard portion of McCulloch’s force, urged McCulloch to advance toward Lexington. McCulloch refused, citing an ammunition shortage. Developments in southeastern Missouri may have also played a role in McCulloch’s decision to stay put: Confederate General Gideon Pillow received orders to return his force to Arkansas after being stuck in New Madrid.

East of Springfield, Sigel’s Federal army, near the crossing of the Niangua River, covered just three miles on the 12th, as troops continued railing against Sigel’s perceived favoritism toward the Germans and demanding his removal. When the march was delayed for three hours while the Germans ate their breakfast on the morning of the 13th, officers demanded that Sturgis confront Sigel.

Sturgis reluctantly complied and informed Sigel that he (Sturgis) technically ranked him since he was a major in the Regular Army and Sigel was a brigadier-general of volunteers. Outraged, Sigel demanded the move be put to a vote. Sturgis refused, stating that officers who voted against him “might refuse to obey my orders, and I should be under the necessity of shooting you.” This mollified Sigel, and the Federal march resumed. But the troops did not reach Rolla until the 17th.

When Major General John C. Fremont, commanding the Federal Department of the West from St. Louis, learned of the defeat at Wilson’s Creek, he absolved himself of any responsibility for it. But he did send an Iowa brigade to Rolla to discourage any Confederate pursuit of Sturgis’s force. Fremont then desperately called on the Lincoln administration to send more men to Missouri.

Secretary of War Simon Cameron responded by ordering volunteers in Ohio and Illinois to head west. Despite Fremont’s denials, the defeat called the administration’s attention to what seemed to be a growing lack of effective Federal military leadership in Missouri.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 108; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 146

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

August 10, 1861 – Federals not only suffered a second major defeat within a month, but they lost an army commander as well.

In early morning darkness, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s Federal Army of the West moved to within striking distance of the combined force of Confederates and Missouri secessionists under Generals Ben McCulloch and Sterling “Pap” Price near Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. The Federals, hoping to deceive the enemy by avoiding the road from Springfield, approached the Confederates from the northwest. The Confederates had not posted pickets and thus did not know they were about to be attacked, with Lyon’s main force approaching their front and Brigadier General Franz Sigel’s detachment approaching their southern (right) flank and rear.

Though outnumbered 2-to-1, both Lyon and Sigel attacked around 5 a.m. amid the rolling hills and thick brush about 12 miles southwest of Springfield. To the north, Lyon led Federals that drove off enemy cavalry and seized Oak Hill, a key strategic position west of Wilson’s Creek. From there the entire Confederate camp could be seen below; it later became known as “Bloody Hill.”

Battle of Wilson's Creek | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle of Wilson’s Creek | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

To the south, Sigel’s Federals attacked the opposite end of the Confederate camp, catching the men by surprise with an artillery battery. Soon the Confederates found themselves caught between Sigel and Lyon, with Sigel pushing them toward Lyon.

McCulloch and Price focused mainly on Bloody Hill. The Pulaski Arkansas Artillery opened an enfilading fire on the Federals as Price rushed his troops to the southern base of the hill around 6:30 a.m. This, along with Lyon waiting to hear from Sigel, halted the Federal advance and gave the Confederates time to organize.

Brigadier General James McIntosh’s Confederates stopped a Federal attempt to silence the Pulaski battery. McIntosh’s troops tried pursuing the Federals, but they were stopped by Federal artillery. Brigadier General James H. McBride led a Confederate attack on the Federal right at 7:30 a.m., but that was stopped as well. The Confederates fell back to regroup.

Meanwhile, Sigel led his men northward on the Telegraph road running along Wilson’s Creek. He lost contact with Lyon, leaving his men isolated on the Confederate right and rear. McCulloch personally led Louisiana troops in an attack on Sigel’s vulnerable left flank south of Skegg’s Branch. The Federals hesitated to fire because the Louisianans wore the same gray uniforms as the familiar 1st Iowa. This enabled the Confederates to unleash a deadly volley that crumpled Sigel’s flank and sent his men running from the field. The Confederates captured all five of Sigel’s cannon before turning their full attention to Lyon on Bloody Hill.

Lyon brought up reinforcements that withstood a second Confederate advance and then counterattacked around 9 a.m. Price’s Confederates lay in wait within the brush as Lyon advanced. The farther down Bloody Hill the Federals marched, the heavier the gunfire became until both sides stopped and traded deafening shots. The Federals slowly fell back, regrouped, and then regained the lost ground.

From atop his horse, Lyon was encouraging his men to stand firm when a nearby shell exploded, killing his horse and wounding him in the leg and head. Lyon waved his sword to urge the troops to press on, then stepped behind the lines to contemplate his next move. Officers urged Lyon to order another attack. Lyon directed Major Samuel D. Sturgis, the second ranking Federal, to rally the men, then mounted another horse and returned to the front. Fighting now raged all along the line.

Lyon led an Iowa regiment over the hill’s crest. As he waved his hat to inspire the 2nd Kansas, Lyon was shot in the chest. His orderly, Private Albert Lehman, helped him off the horse, where he said, “Lehman, I am killed,” shortly before dying. Lyon became the first Federal general killed in combat. His death shattered Federal morale.

Command passed to Major Sturgis, whose first priority was to determine Sigel’s location because the Federals could not maintain their position without his support. Meanwhile, Confederate cavalry briefly stopped the Federal advance, giving Price time to regroup once more. Reinforced by the troops that had routed Sigel, Price charged a third time but was again repulsed after about an hour of fighting.

Sturgis received word of Sigel’s failure as the Confederates withdrew around 11 a.m. Noting that his men were exhausted and their ammunition was running low, Sturgis ordered them to fall back toward Springfield. The Confederates learned of the Federal withdrawal while preparing for a fourth charge. McCulloch and Price rode to the crest of Bloody Hill to see the enemy troops retiring in good order. Both men agreed that their forces were too disorganized to pursue.

Nevertheless, like Bull Run a month earlier, the second major battle of the war ended in Confederate victory. The Federals suffered 1,317 casualties (258 killed, 873 wounded, and 186 missing), an alarming 24 percent casualty rate. The Confederates lost 1,230 (277 killed and 945 wounded), or about 12 percent of those engaged.

The Federals returned to Springfield around 5 p.m., where Sturgis transferred army command to Sigel. The officers held a meeting and resolved that since the ranks had been so heavily battered and their commander killed, they would retreat to Rolla, 110 miles northeast. This would concede a major part of Missouri to the secessionists. The retreat was slated to begin at 2 a.m.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 49; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 88; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 66; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 92, 94; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 55-56; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 454; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-37; Linedecker, Clifford L., (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 168, 271; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 107; 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. 351; Mullins, Michael A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 833-34; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 29; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 142-46; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 458; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 74; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814-15; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361; Wikipedia: Battle of Wilson’s Creek

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