Rising Tension Between McClellan and Scott

September 28, 1861 – The growing tension between Major General George B. McClellan and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott resulted in a harsh exchange after a conference on military strategy.

George B. McClellan and Winfield Scott | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

George B. McClellan and Winfield Scott | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In Washington, General McClellan continued organizing and building up the new Army of the Potomac. By this month, the army was larger than any ever before assembled in North America. Northerners nicknamed McClellan “Little Napoleon,” and some hailed him as the savior of the Union. McClellan enjoyed this immense popularity.

However, some began grumbling about McClellan’s supposed reluctance to test his new army in combat. The “Quaker gun” incident atop Munson’s Hill outside Washington slightly blemished McClellan’s stellar reputation. Others noted that McClellan, a young, rising military star, and Winfield Scott, the aging, ailing commander of all Federal armies, were not exactly seeing eye to eye when it came to military matters.

These tensions became clear during a meeting in Scott’s office with President Abraham Lincoln, the cabinet, the two commanders, and their rival staffs. Scott became angry when it was revealed that Secretary of State William H. Seward knew the troop count in and around Washington, even though McClellan had not shared these figures with either Secretary of War Simon Cameron or Scott, his immediate superiors.

After the meeting ended, McClellan extended his hand and said, “Good morning, General Scott.” Scott shook McClellan’s hand and replied, “You were called here (from western Virginia) by my advice. The times require vigilance and activity. I am not active and never shall be again. When I proposed that you should come here to aid, not supersede, me, you had my friendship and confidence. You still have my confidence.”

McClellan wrote to his wife that evening: “As he threw down the glove, I picked it up. I presume war is declared—so be it. I do not fear him. I have one strong point; that I do not care one iota for my present position.”

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References

Beatie, Russel H., Army of the Potomac, Volume 2: McClellan Takes Command, September 1861-February 1862 (Da Capo Press, Inc., 2002); CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 122

Dubious Victory at Munson’s Hill

September 28, 1861 – Federals advanced on Munson’s Hill, a few miles southwest of Washington, and discovered that it was not as heavily defended as presumed.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since the Battle of Bull Run, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had combined the Armies of the Potomac and the Shenandoah into one force consisting of two corps. The former army had become the First Corps of about 24,000 men under General P.G.T. Beauregard. The latter had become the Second Corps of about 16,000 men under General Gustavus W. Smith.

The Confederates mainly held positions in the Centreville area of northern Virginia, with Beauregard’s corps at Fairfax Court House and advance elements within 10 miles of Washington at Munson’s Hill. These elements overlooked Arlington Heights and threatened to disrupt Federal traffic on the Potomac River. By late September, Johnston feared that the forward positions had become vulnerable to attack by the ever-growing Federal Army of the Potomac.

Johnston had reason to fear an attack. Federals had recently conducted a reconnaissance in force around Munson’s Hill and nearby Upton’s Hill, south of Falls Church. Major General George B. McClellan, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, sought to clear these points and use them for his planned ring of forts and defensive works around the capital. The two sides engaged in a heavy skirmish, after which the Federals reported that Confederates had constructed strong defenses on Munson’s Hill that included rifle pits and artillery.

The Federals were unaware that these “strong” defenses were mostly a bluff on Johnston’s part. On September 26, he wrote to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin and President Jefferson Davis asking that one of them inspect the army’s positions and help “to decide definitely whether we are to advance or fall back to a more defensible line.” Then, without waiting for either to respond, Johnston ordered the withdrawal from Munson’s Hill and other forward points.

By dawn on the 28th, Beauregard had evacuated both Munson’s and Upton’s hills, falling back to Fairfax Court House and Centreville. McClellan, who had been reluctant to attack such “strong” positions, resolved to seize the hills upon learning that the Confederates had retreated. Heeding false warnings from local residents that Confederates were waiting in ambush, the Federals advanced toward the hills with extreme caution.

A Confederate "quaker gun" | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

A Confederate “quaker gun” | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Federals climbed the slopes and discovered that the rifle pits had been abandoned. And to their dismay (and their commanders’ embarrassment), they found that the mighty cannon pointed in their direction for nearly two months consisted only of logs and stovepipes painted black. A correspondent who had hoped to witness a battle resentfully called these “Quaker guns.”

Making matters worse for the Federals, on the night of the 28th, troops of the 69th and 71st Pennsylvania accidentally fired into each other while clearing the woods around Munson’s Hill, resulting in several killed and wounded. This tragic mishap, combined with the ruse on the hills, diminished the Federals’ successful occupation of the supposedly threatening positions.

On the Confederate side, Secretary of War Benjamin responded to Johnston’s invitation to inspect the army a day after the Confederates abandoned their forward positions. Benjamin stated that Davis should visit the army and then admonished Johnston for not submitting “a single return from your army of the quantity of ammunition, artillery, means of transportation, or sick in camp or in hospitals, to enable us to form a judgment of what your necessities may be… (it should be) obvious to you that the Department cannot be administered without a thorough reform in this respect.”

This demonstrated the growing tension between Johnston and his superiors, which would continue into October, after President Davis arrived to inspect the army.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 39; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 79-80; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 103-04; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 122; 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. 361-62; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 76-80

Turmoil in Kentucky

September 24, 1861 – Federal Brigadier-General Robert Anderson, hero of Fort Sumter, tried calming tensions in Kentucky, but the state was quickly being torn apart by both sides.

Brig-Gen Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Brig-Gen Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Kentucky’s neutrality had been compromised by Federals for several months before Confederates officially broke it by occupying Hickman and Columbus. To make matters worse, the state government was divided between a Unionist legislature and a governor with Confederate sympathies. The legislators applauded a visit from General Anderson on September 7, the same day that the Kentucky Senate approved a resolution:

“Resolved… That the special committee of the Senate, raised for the purpose of considering the reported occupation of Hickman and other points in Kentucky by Confederate troops, take into consideration the occupation of Paducah and other places in Kentucky by the Federal authorities, and report thereon when the true state of the case shall have been ascertained. That the Speaker appoint three members of the Senate to visit southern Kentucky, who are directed to obtain all the facts they can in reference to the recent occupation of Kentucky soil by Confederate and Federal forces, and report in writing at as early a day as practicable.”

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Leonidas Polk, commanding the Confederates occupying the Columbus area complied with orders to explain his actions to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin by informing the governor that he had entered the state based on “information upon which I could rely that the Federal forces intended and were preparing to seize Columbus.” Polk also pledged “to withdraw if the Federal troops would leave the State and promise not to occupy any part of it in the future.”

Of course, the Federals would not leave Kentucky, as they had worked for months to keep the state in the Union by running guns and recruiting volunteers there. An article in the Kentucky Yeoman described the situation: “Who did not know that the establishment of (military) camps in our State, by one of the belligerent powers, would necessarily lead to the seizure of strategic points by the other?… If Kentucky suffers one of the belligerents to occupy our soil, she cannot expect the other to keep off.”

Some Confederate officials urged Polk to follow the letter of the law and leave Kentucky. But President Jefferson Davis ordered him to stay put. This did not satisfy the legislature. State Senator J.M. Johnson, chairman of the committee appointed to investigate the invasions, wrote to Polk on September 9:

“The people of Kentucky, having with great unanimity determined upon a position of neutrality in the unhappy war now being waged, and which they had tried in vain to prevent, had hoped that one place at least in this great nation might remain uninvaded by passion, and through whose good office something might be done to end the war, or at least to mitigate its horrors, or, if this were not possible, that she might be left to choose her destiny without disturbance from any quarter. In obedience to the thrice-repeated will of the people, as expressed at the polls, and in their name, I ask you to withdraw your forces from the soil of Kentucky.”

Polk quickly responded:

“The first and only instance in which the neutrality of Kentucky has been disregarded is that in which the troops under my command, and by my direction, took possession of the place I now hold, and so much of the territory between it and the Tennessee line as was necessary for me to pass over in order to reach it. This act finds abundant justification in the history of the concessions granted to the Federal Government by Kentucky ever since the war began, notwithstanding the position of neutrality which she had assumed, and the firmness with which she proclaimed her intention to maintain it… We are here… not by choice, but of necessity, and as I have had the honor to say, in a communication addressed to his Excellency Governor Magoffin, a copy of which is herewith inclosed and submitted as a part of my reply, so I now repeat in answer to your request, that I am prepared to agree to withdraw the Confederate troops from Kentucky, provided she will agree that the troops of the Federal Government be withdrawn simultaneously, with a guarantee (which I will give reciprocally for the Confederate Government) that the Federal troops shall not be allowed to enter nor occupy any part of Kentucky for the future.”

Not only was Polk staying, but more Confederates would soon enter Kentucky. Brigadier-General Felix Zollicoffer, commanding 7,000 Confederates at Knoxville, received orders from Richmond: “The neutrality of Kentucky has been broken by the occupation of Paducah by the Federal forces. Take the arms.” Zollicoffer notified Governor Magoffin:

“The safety of Tennessee requiring, I occupy the mountain passes at Cumberland, and the three long mountains in Kentucky. For weeks, I have known that the Federal commander at Hoskins’ Cross Roads was threatening the invasion of East Tennessee, and ruthlessly urging our people to destroy our own road and bridges… Tennessee feels, and has ever felt, towards Kentucky as a twin-sister… If the Federal force will now withdraw from their menacing position, the force under my command shall immediately be withdrawn.”

A portion of Zollicoffer’s force advanced from eastern Tennessee and scattered 300 Unionist home guards from Camp Andrew Johnson at Barboursville, Kentucky. The Confederates burned anything that the Federals could use so they would not return.

Prominent Kentuckian Simon B. Buckner, who had declined offers from President Lincoln to become a Federal general, accepted a commission as a Confederate brigadier-general. He urged his fellow Kentuckians to “defend their homes against the invasion of the North.” General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding Confederate Department No. 2 (i.e., the Western Theater) directed him to take 5,000 troops by train from Nashville to Bowling Green.

Buckner’s Confederates took Bowling Green on the 18th, as Buckner proclaimed the region the Central Division of Kentucky. Bowling Green was the strongest point from which the Confederates could protect the vital transportation and manufacturing resources of Nashville, with the Green and Barren rivers hindering a Federal advance from the north.

Buckner issued a proclamation “To the People of Kentucky,” in which he urged his fellow Kentuckians to defy their state officials who “have been faithless to the will of the people.” Legislators had used the “guise of neutrality” to allow “the armed forces of the United States” to “prepare to subjugate alike the people of Kentucky and the Southern States.”

Buckner declared that his force, “made up entirely of Kentuckians,” would only use Bowling Green “as a defensive position.” Moreover, all Confederate forces in the state “will be used to aid the government of Kentucky in carrying out the strict neutrality desired by its people whenever they undertake to enforce it against the two belligerents alike.”

Thus, Johnston created a skeletal line across Kentucky hinged on Columbus in the west under Polk, Bowling Green in the center under Buckner, and Cumberland Gap in the east under Zollicoffer. This line was intended to defend against any Federal attempts to invade Tennessee and the Deep South. However, the Confederates were outnumbered two-to-one, with two Federal departments operating in Kentucky: a detachment of the Department of the West under Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant at Paducah, and General Anderson’s Department of the Cumberland based at Louisville.

Meanwhile, the Unionist legislature approved a resolution urging Federals to drive the Confederates out of Kentucky. The legislators overrode Governor Magoffin’s veto to make it law. It declared that since the state had been “invaded by the forces of the so-called Confederate States… the invaders must be expelled.”

By a three-to-one margin, the legislators voted for General Anderson to raise a volunteer militia force and Magoffin to mobilize existing militia units to expel the Confederate forces. Magoffin vetoed the measures, arguing that the legislature was illegally trying to usurp his authority as militia commander in chief. The legislature approved another resolution assuring Confederate sympathizers that their rights and views would be respected.

Anderson received orders on the 20th to move his headquarters from Cincinnati to Louisville and begin recruiting Federal forces in Kentucky. Anderson was to organize volunteers and oversee their armament and training despite Magoffin’s veto. Federal forces advanced and compelled Confederates to abandon Mayfield. He issued his proclamation on the 23rd, seeking to assure loyal Kentuckians their rights would be protected. However, the warning to arrest anyone helping the opposition led to a surge in arrests.

Federal authorities arrested several prominent Kentuckians for aiding “secessionists,” including James Clay (son of Henry Clay), Reuben Durrett, and former Governor Charles Morehead. Durrett and Morehead were imprisoned at Fort Lafayette, New York. Leading politicians were arrested in Harrison County, and employees of the Louisville Courier were also seized and the newspaper closed for alleged anti-Unionist sentiments.

While Kentucky was being pulled in both directions, a “peace convention” was organized in the hope of finding some middle ground. The delegates, mostly exiled States’ Rights Party members, demanded that Federals close their military camps and that Confederates withdraw from the state so Kentucky could remain neutral. They also denounced the Lincoln administration for provoking war and condemned Major General John C. Fremont’s emancipation proclamation in Missouri.

The battle for Kentucky was far from over.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6885-907, 6918-65; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 74-77; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 63-69; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 123; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117-21; 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. 296; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-54; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 200-02; 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

The Confused Missouri Situation

September 23, 1861 – Despite the recent loss of Lexington and the scattering of his forces, Major General John C. Fremont notified his superiors that his troops were somehow “gathering around the enemy” in Missouri.

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fremont’s Department of the West consisted of nearly 40,000 Federal officers and men in Missouri. However, they were scattered among various posts, and as President Lincoln predicted, Fremont’s declaration of martial law and emancipation proclamation had incited Missouri State Guards and partisans into stepping up their attacks on the Federals.

Fremont commanded several major Federal forces in northern and western Missouri, as well as a force under Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant that operated in the southeastern Missouri-southern Illinois-western Kentucky sector. Grant learned from “a negro man (who) tells a very straight story” that partisans were gathering at New Madrid, Missouri, and prepared to confront them. However, Fremont pulled two regiments from his command in response to an urgent call from Washington to send reinforcements east. This temporarily halted Grant’s offensive.

In western Missouri, Unionist Kansans led by James H. Lane operated along the Kansas-Missouri border. Lane’s Jayhawkers burned the Missouri town of Osceola and committed other depredations that gained no military advantage. They only continued the brutal combat that had taken place along the border before the war began, when Missourians and southerners fought to make Kansas a slave state and northern abolitionists fought to make it free.

In northern Missouri, Federals under Colonel Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president) clashed with Missourians in the Boonville area, while a force under Brigadier-General Samuel D. Sturgis pulled back from Rolla to St. Charles. Fremont sent Brigadier-General John Pope, commanding another Federal force in the region, to Iowa to recruit more volunteers.

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

General John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Fremont’s failure to effectively coordinate the movements of Davis, Sturgis, and Pope allowed a large Missouri partisan force under Martin Green to operate around Florida and then escape pursuit. It also helped lead to the fall of Lexington. Pope learned of the dire situation at Lexington while en route to Iowa and informed Fremont that he would send reinforcements there, “presuming from General Sturgis’ dispatches that there is imminent want of troops in Lexington.” However, Fremont instructed Pope to continue recruiting efforts in Iowa, and none of the other nearby Federal forces could reach the town in time.

Despite all this, Fremont sent a favorable message to Washington on September 23, to which Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott replied: “The President is glad that you are hastening to the scene of action. His words are, ‘He expects you to repair the disaster at Lexington without loss of time.’”

Fremont set about reorganizing his army into five divisions, with Pope commanding the right wing. Major General David Hunter would command the left, but his forces were dispersed throughout various points. Fremont initially planned to have Hunter concentrate at Jefferson City, but that would leave the region west of Rolla open for Missouri State Guards to operate with impunity. Repositioning all the elements of the Army of the West caused many logistical problems for Fremont.

Meanwhile, General Sterling Price, whose State Guards had captured Lexington, received word that Confederates under Generals Gideon Pillow and William Hardee had withdrawn from southeastern Missouri, and General Ben McCulloch’s Confederates had fallen back into Arkansas. This left Price alone while a force led by Fremont himself advanced from St. Louis to take back Lexington. Price resolved to abandon the town.

General Albert Sidney Johnston, the new commander of Confederate Department No. 2 (i.e., the Western Theater), had his sights set on Missouri as part of a bigger picture that also included Arkansas and Kentucky. Johnston ordered McCulloch “to muster into service as many armed regiments of Arkansas and Missouri troops” as possible. Johnston also ordered M. Jeff Thompson to lead his Missouri State Guards to the “vicinity of Farmington, on the route to Saint Louis” to “relieve the pressure of the Federal forces on General Price… and if possible to embarrass their movements by cutting their Ironton Railroad.” Thompson quickly dispatched troops to destroy railroad bridges around Charleston and Birds Point by month’s end.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6873; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 72-74, 78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 61-64, 67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 113, 120-21; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 156-57

The Fremont Controversy Continues

September 22, 1861 – As Major General John C. Fremont continued garnering ill favor with fellow officers and politicians, President Abraham Lincoln wrote to a colleague explaining why he could not support Fremont’s controversial emancipation proclamation.

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fremont, commanding the Department of the West out of St. Louis, had been in trouble with the Lincoln administration ever since he issued his controversial decree declaring martial law in Missouri and authorizing the liberation of slaves belonging to disloyal Missourians. Also, many of his former supporters were now turning against him because of what they saw as poor leadership and corrupt management.

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs had inspected Fremont’s department and recommended his removal. Blair’s brother, Colonel Frank P. Blair, Jr., served under Fremont and urged his removal as well. Fremont responded by arresting Frank for “insubordination in communicating… with the authorities at Washington; making complaints against and using disrespectful language towards Gen. Fremont, with a view of effecting his removal.”

Lincoln, who had not yet received the report from the Montgomeries, continued discussing the matter with his cabinet. Meanwhile, Fremont informed his superiors that he had ordered Frank’s arrest due to his “insidious and dishonorable efforts to bring my authority into contempt with the Government.” This perceived insult of the influential Blair family increased the uproar within the Lincoln administration against Fremont.

Francis P. Blair, Jr. | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Francis P. Blair, Jr. | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Upon returning to Washington and learning of his brother’s arrest, Montgomery wrote to Fremont offering to show him the letter that Frank had written urging Fremont’s removal. Montgomery wrote, “I will send (Frank Blair’s) letter. It is not unfriendly. Release him. There is no time for strife except with the enemies of the (Federal government).”

But Frank remained in a St. Louis jail for the time being. He accused Fremont of manipulating the press based on the fact that every Unionist newspaper in St. Louis except one supported Fremont, and the provost marshal (on Fremont’s orders) soon closed the lone newspaper supporting Blair. Frank wrote from jail, “All the talk about this quarrel being detrimental to the public service is bosh. If Fremont is not removed, the public service will go to the devil.”

During this time, Lincoln quarreled with fellow Republicans who backed Fremont over him. These Republicans included Senator Orville Browning, a longtime friend from Illinois, who had helped draft the Confiscation Act. Browning admonished Lincoln for failing to support Fremont’s proclamation, arguing that the Federal government could only be preserved by freeing the slaves.

In a lengthy response, Lincoln stated that he was “astonished’ to learn that Browning would discourage the president from “adhering to a law, which you had assisted in making.” Lincoln explained that Fremont’s “proclamation, as to confiscation of property, and the liberation of slaves, is purely political, and not within the range of military law, or necessity.” Lincoln asserted that if a general needed slaves for army purposes, “he can seize them, and use them; but when the need is past, it is not for him to fix their permanent future condition. That must be settled according to laws made by law-makers, and not by military proclamations.”

To Lincoln, conforming to military proclamations would be “itself the surrender of the government.” How could it be “pretended that it is any longer the government of the U.S… wherein a General, or a President, may make permanent rules of property by proclamation?” Lincoln acknowledged that he would support Fremont’s policy if it was endorsed by Congress, but a general or even a president could not “seize and exercise the permanent legislative functions of the government.”

Back at St. Louis, Fremont ordered the arrest of the St. Louis Evening News editor and the closure of his newspaper; the editor had accused Fremont of failing to relieve the Lexington siege. News of Lexington’s fall, combined with the disaster at Wilson’s Creek last month, placed more pressure on Fremont to produce a victory in Missouri. Fremont strongly defended himself, while Lincoln continued discussing his performance with his cabinet and Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott.

To take some heat off himself, Fremont quietly released Frank Blair from jail. However, Frank remained indignant and threatened to have Fremont court-martialed for imprisoning him under false pretenses. The controversy within Fremont’s department continued into October.

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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. 76; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 118-21; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33; 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

The Fall of Lexington

September 20, 1861 – The pro-secessionist Missouri State Guards captured a Federal force and a strategically important town in northwestern Missouri.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

After the secessionists won the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in August, General Ben McCulloch led his contingent back to Arkansas. This left the Missouri State Guards under General (and former Missouri governor) Sterling “Pap” Price, which camped near Springfield in southwestern Missouri. On September 10, Price decided to move north and attack Federals seeking to enforce Major General John C. Fremont’s slave emancipation decree in Johnson County.

The Missourians arrived at Warrensburg the next day, but the Federals had already left town. On the 12th, Price advanced on Lexington, Missouri’s largest commercial town between St. Louis and Kansas City, on the Missouri River. About 3,600 Federals under Colonel James A. Mulligan were stationed around the Masonic College, north of town. The troops kept the Missouri state seal and nearly $1 million from town banks buried under Mulligan’s tent.

Price’s numerically superior Missourians drove back the Federal pickets and pursued them to within two and a half miles of Lexington before Price ordered a halt for the night. The next day, Price’s men pushed the Federals back to the college, where Mulligan ordered his troops to hold “at all hazards.” The Federals withdrew to their garrison, a 12-foot-by-12-foot earthwork defended by seven cannon.

Although outnumbered about two-to-one, Mulligan counted on Fremont, commanding all Federals in Missouri, to send reinforcements from one of three forces stationed nearby. Although he received no indication that Fremont would help him, Mulligan held out hope that his commander would come through.

Meanwhile, as Price paused to wait for his artillery train to arrive from Springfield, the rest of his Guards as well as local volunteers joined him, raising his total force to about 10,000 men. The Missourians fired their cannons at the Federal works while preparing to launch a full-scale attack once the main artillery train arrived.

Fremont quickly learned of Mulligan’s predicament from both his subordinates and Hamilton Gamble, Missouri’s provisional Unionist governor. Gamble wrote Fremont that losing Lexington “would be a great disaster, giving control to the enemy of the upper country.” He proposed transporting nearby Federals under Brigadier-Generals John Pope and Samuel D. Sturgis by train to Hamilton, and then march them the remaining 40 miles to Lexington. Gamble wrote, “It may be too late now, but it is worth the effort.”

Missourians rushing to reinforce Price, led by General D.R. Atchison (former president of the U.S. Senate) clashed with James H. Lane’s Jayhawkers on the northern bank of the Missouri at Blue Mills, about 35 miles above Lexington, on the 17th. The Kansans ultimately withdrew, losing 150 killed and 200 wounded; the Missourians lost five killed and 20 wounded. This ensured that Mulligan would receive no help from the Kansas Federals.

Price’s ammunition arrived on the 18th, and the Missourians attacked Mulligan’s defensive perimeter that morning. They destroyed homes and buildings in the line of fire and relocated several residents, including Mulligan’s wife. They also took up positions along the Missouri River west of town and captured the only steamboat that the Federals could use to escape.

An artillery exchange opened the engagement, followed by the Missourians charging and seizing the Anderson house, a two-story brick building about 125 yards from the Federals ramparts. The house had strategic significance because it sat atop a hill and served as a hospital. Federals has planted land mines to protect the building, but the Missourians seized it nonetheless.

The Federals took back Anderson house in a counterattack, bayoneting captured Missourians for violating the rules of war by attacking a hospital (though the bayoneting violated the rules as well). When thirsty Federals in the building began fighting over water, the Missourians surged forward again and regained Anderson house for good. Fugitive slaves found hiding in the basement were returned to their masters.

The fight ended at nightfall, with the Federals retaining their defense works but the Missourians holding Anderson house, which gave them high ground from which to fire into the Federal camps. The Missourians also controlled the water supply, as the two wells still within the Federal lines had gone dry. Mulligan would have to surrender if he did not receive reinforcements to break out of town immediately. Price awaited more ordnance while preparing for a final, decisive assault.

The Missourians resumed their artillery bombardment on the 19th, having evacuated the 1,000 or so residents from Lexington. The cannonade combined with the hot weather and lack of water to take its toll on the besieged Federals. Sturgis arrived across the Missouri River with 1,000 Federals to reinforce Mulligan, but the Missourians had seized all ferryboats, making it impossible for Sturgis to cross.

Price sent a detachment of 3,000 men to drive Sturgis’s Federals off. After a brief skirmish from across the river, Sturgis withdrew toward Kansas City. Neither Lane nor Pope received Fremont’s orders to help Mulligan. Unaware that Sturgis had been turned back, Mulligan held out until the next day.

By that time, Price had nearly 18,000 men surrounding the Federal garrison. They advanced around 8 a.m., pushing dampened hemp bales in front of them to protect against enemy fire. The Federals, demoralized by thirst and overwhelming numbers, only offered a token resistance.

Firing stopped when one of Mulligan’s officers raised a white flag. Price sent a party to ask why the firing had stopped. Mulligan, who had not been consulted before his subordinate offered to surrender, replied, “General, I hardly know, unless you have surrendered.” Price ordered the attack to resume, and as the Missourians and their hemp bales drew closer, Federal troops began waving white flags of their own.

Mulligan called a meeting of his officers. The Federals were not only out of water, but their food and ammunition supply was running dangerously low. Convinced that Fremont would not help them, the subordinates voted to surrender. Mulligan finally agreed.

The Federal commander dispatched a messenger at 2 p.m. asking Price for capitulation terms. Price answered that surrender would be unconditional; the men would be paroled and sent home, and the officers would be held as prisoners of war. He gave Mulligan 10 minutes to respond, during which time the Federals marched out of their defenses and laid down their arms.

Mulligan and his officers offered their swords to Price, who said, “You gentlemen have fought so bravely that it would be wrong to deprive you of your swords. Keep them.” A band played “Dixie” as the Federal troops marched past the Missourians.

Exiled pro-secession Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson, who was with Price’s State Guards, delivered a speech to the prisoners admonishing them for invading Missouri and, noting that many of them were from Illinois, he said that “when Missouri needed troops from Illinois, she would ask for them.” Jackson then announced that they were free to go home. Only Mulligan and his wife stayed with Price as prisoners, where they were treated as respected guests.

The Missourians captured 3,441 Federals, 750 horses, 100 wagons, 3,000 muskets, and all seven artillery pieces. They seized $100,000 worth of commissary stores, and other property desperately needed by the growing number of Missourians volunteering to expel the Federals from their state. They also recovered the state seal and about $900,000 of the stolen money from the town banks. Federals sustained 159 casualties while the Confederates lost 97 (25 killed, 72 wounded). Price reported:

“This victory has demonstrated the fitness of our citizen soldiery for the tedious operations of a siege, as well as for a dashing charge. They lay for 52 hours in the open air, without tents or covering, regardless of the sun and rain, and in the very presence of a watchful and desperate foe, manfully repelling every assault and patiently awaiting my orders to storm the fortifications. No general ever commanded a braver or better army. It is composed of the best blood and bravest men of Missouri.”

The capture of Lexington worsened the plummeting morale of Unionist Missourians. It also added to the growing Fremont controversy, as many questioned his competence for failing to rescue the garrison with his 38,000 troops stationed throughout Missouri before Mulligan was compelled to surrender. However, Price’s victory did not help the secessionist cause in Missouri in the long-term, as many of the disorganized State Guards believed that their duty had been done and returned to their homes. Meanwhile, the Federal presence in the state steadily increased.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7552; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 76-78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 64-67; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 389; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117-20; 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; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 150, 153-55; Schultz, Fred L, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 435-36

The Fall of Ship Island

September 16, 1861 – Federal forces seized an important base for future operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ship Island lighthouse built in 1853 | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Ship Island lighthouse built in 1853 | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Located near the mouth of the Mississippi River, Ship Island, Mississippi was deemed “indispensable” by the Federal Blockade Strategy Board. The failure of Captain William Mervine to capture Ship Island was partly responsible for his removal as commander of the Federal Gulf Blockading Squadron. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles had told Mervine that he found it “difficult to understand the reasons for the apparent inactivity and indifference that have governed in this matter. You have large ships, heavy batteries, and young and willing officers, with men sufficient to dispossess the insurgents from Ship Island.”

A week after Mervine’s removal, the U.S.S. Massachusetts under Commander Melancton Smith bombarded the partially completed fortifications on Ship Island and drove the Confederates off. A Federal landing party came ashore and took possession, marking the second successful Federal army-navy operation of the war (capturing Hatteras Inlet the previous month being the first).

Although the capture was not considered a major accomplishment at the time, Ship Island became an important staging and refueling site that enabled the Federals to patrol the entrances to the Mississippi and Mobile Bay, as well as the eastern delta outlets and passes down from Lake Pontchartrain. It also provided a base for a future attack on the Confederacy’s largest city: New Orleans.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 77; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 116; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 66; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 119; 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. 370; 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), p. 36; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 31