Category Archives: Military

The Battle of Front Royal

May 23, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates scored a major victory and threatened to position themselves between the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley and Washington.

Jackson planned to attack the Federal outpost at Front Royal, east of Massanutten Mountain in the Luray (eastern Shenandoah) Valley. The Federals there had been detached from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Shenandoah, stationed at Strasburg. Using the mountain to screen his movement, Jackson split his 16,000-man command by sending Major General Richard Ewell’s division on a more easterly route to block a potential Federal retreat toward Manassas Junction.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s cavalry blocked the Federals from the west and seized the railroad line to Strasburg, where Banks’s main force was located. Jackson planned to drive the Federals north toward Winchester while keeping them from burning the two important bridges spanning the North and South forks of the Shenandoah River. He was not aware of how many Federals awaited him at Front Royal.

Ewell began his eastern detour around 2 p.m., with skirmishing breaking out at various points along the way. Prominent Confederate spy Belle Boyd rode through the fighting, nearly getting killed by bullets passing through her skirt, to deliver a message to one of Jackson’s officers. It stated that “the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all.”

Jackson’s Confederates conducted a grueling march up a road that gradually ascended 400 feet before reaching a point that overlooked Front Royal. Having received Belle Boyd’s message and intelligence from other scouts, Jackson learned that just one Federal regiment, the 1st Maryland (U.S.), was stationed there. He deployed his own 1st Maryland (C.S.) to attack; the men had been on the verge of mutiny because their enlistments had expired, but now they jumped at the chance to take on their fellow Marylanders. They charged ferociously on the unsuspecting enemy.

Colonel John Kenly, in command at Front Royal, thought that Jackson was 50 miles south and expected no attack. As the Confederates surged forward around 2 p.m., Kenly hurriedly fell back to Richardson’s Hill, north of town. Federal artillery briefly kept the Confederates at bay, but they soon rushed forward again, this time with Ashby’s cavalry closing in on Kenly’s rear.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kenly ordered a retreat, slowly falling back across the South Fork to Guard Hill. Some Federals stayed back and tried burning the North Fork bridge, but the Confederates put the flames out in time to cross. The 6th Virginia Cavalry raced forward and confronted the Federals at Cedarville. The Federals fired a volley before the enemy surrounded them. Kenly had no choice but to surrender his command.

The Federals lost 904 men, 750 of which were taken prisoner. The Confederates lost 35 killed, wounded, or missing. Banks was shocked upon learning of this defeat because he thought Jackson was at Harrisonburg, 50 miles south. He reported to Washington that the Front Royal garrison was attacked by 5,000 Confederates who “had been gathering in the mountains, it is said, since Wednesday. Reinforcements should be sent us if possible.” This loss put the Lincoln administration on the verge of panic.

The Front Royal engagement resulted in Jackson taking positions on Banks’s left flank. This meant that Banks had to abandon the strong defensive works he had built at Strasburg. He had three options: 1) fall back toward Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal army at Franklin to the west; 2) confront Jackson at Front Royal; or 3) fall back toward Winchester to the north to keep his army between Jackson and Washington. Banks chose the third.

Jackson, guessing that Banks would pick the second or third option, sent Ewell toward Winchester while keeping Brigadier General Charles Winder’s division at Front Royal. The Confederate victory gave Jackson a prime opportunity to cut off Banks’s entire force, which soon began heading north on the Valley turnpike, northwest of Front Royal. The race to keep Banks from reaching Winchester was on.

Meanwhile, Jackson wrote a letter of thanks to Belle Boyd for the information she provided: “I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country to-day.”

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (23 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122, 125-28; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13765-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 431; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 156; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 834; Klein, Frederic S, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 215; 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. 455-56; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

Jackson Targets Front Royal

May 22, 1862 – Major Generals Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Richard Ewell joined forces in the Shenandoah Valley and moved to attack Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s isolated Federal outpost at Front Royal.

Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Jackson’s Confederates resumed their northward march down the Shenandoah Valley at dawn on May 21. Ewell, commanding the other Confederate force in the Valley, received intelligence that Federals troops comprising Banks’s left flank were stationed at Front Royal, east of Strasburg.

Advancing down the Valley turnpike, Jackson then turned east through the Luray Gap in the Massanutten Ridge to cross the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and enter the Luray Valley. Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s Confederate cavalry kept Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Shenandoah, unaware of the movement.

Ewell’s Confederates joined Jackson’s that night; the combined force now totaled 16,000 men and 48 cannon. Jackson planned to attack Banks’s flank at Front Royal. The flank consisted of a small fort and just 1,000 men under Colonel John R. Kenly. Jackson hoped that destroying this force would trap Banks in the Valley and render him unable to reinforce the Federals at either Fredericksburg or the Peninsula.

The Confederates rose at 6 a.m. on the 22nd and resumed their march, with Ewell’s troops in the lead. Jackson would not divulge where they were headed, but he issued orders prohibiting no more than two men per battalion to leave a fight to tend to the wounded at a time. This strongly indicated that a battle was imminent. The men halted for the night within 10 miles of Front Royal, as Ashby’s cavalry fell back from Strasburg to join the main Confederate army.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks remained with his main force at New Market, 25 miles south. Unaware that Jackson and Ewell had joined forces and moved north, he believed that Ewell was still at Swift Run Gap and he had no idea where Jackson was. Banks wrote his superiors fearing that Jackson might try attacking New Market, and Ewell might try reinforcing him there.

Ironically, Banks asked Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to send him reinforcements on the same day that Major General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Federals near Fredericksburg, reported to the War Department, “Major General (James) Shields’ command (detached from Banks’s army) has arrived here” to reinforce him.

Banks, who had previously been certain that Jackson had left the Shenandoah Valley to join the Confederates on the Peninsula, now suddenly warned:

“To these important considerations ought to be added the persistent adherence of Jackson to the defense of the valley and his well-known purpose to expel the Government troops from this country if in his power. This may be assumed as certain. There is probably no one more fixed and determined purpose in the whole circle of the enemy’s plans.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 120-23; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 173; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 430; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 155; Klein, Frederic S, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 214

Federals Slowly Approach Corinth

May 21, 1862 – Major General Henry W. Halleck’s “Grand Army” inched its way toward Confederates under General P.G.T. Beauregard at Corinth, forcing Beauregard to decide whether to fight or flee.

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this time, Halleck’s army of over 120,000 men had taken nearly three weeks to advance less than 25 miles from Pittsburg Landing in southwestern Tennessee to the vital railroad town of Corinth in northern Mississippi. Halleck was being very careful to avoid another near-disaster like Shiloh. Every time the Federals halted their advance for the day, they were required to build entrenchments and earthworks in case of a Confederate attack. Bad weather and heavily wooded country also slowed the advance.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who had been “promoted” to Halleck’s second in command, officially headed Halleck’s right wing and reserve. But Halleck maintained his headquarters with the right wing, so he had direct control over its movements and did not consult Grant on military matters. Brigadier General William T. Sherman, Grant’s close friend, wrote after the war:

“General Grant was substantially left out, and was named ‘second-in-command’ according to some French notion, with no clear, well-defined command or authority… he felt deeply the indignity, if not insult, heaped upon him.”

Halleck’s advance, if not already slow enough, was slowed even more by northern politicians worried about the dangerous Confederate army awaiting the Federals. Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton inspected troops from his state and then wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:

“The enemy are in great force at Corinth, and have recently received reinforcements. They evidently intend to make a desperate struggle at that point, and from all I can learn their leaders have utmost confidence in the result… It is fearful to contemplate the consequences of a defeat at Corinth.”

Halleck responded by dispatching even more scouting parties to reconnoiter the areas around nearby Iuka and Burnsville.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Meanwhile, Beauregard notified his superiors in Richmond that he intended to hold Corinth as long as possible. But if retreat became necessary, he would fall back to the southeast, closer to Richmond and farther from vital points on the Mississippi River such as Memphis and Vicksburg. Beauregard wrote that it was “essential to hold Corinth to the last extremity, if the odds are not too great against us, even at the risk of a defeat.”

That “last extremity” came on May 25 when Beauregard called his top commanders (Generals Braxton Bragg, Earl Van Dorn, Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, John C. Breckinridge, and Sterling Price) to a council of war. Beauregard explained that Halleck would not attack frontally, which the Confederates could repel, but would rather put Corinth under siege, thus trapping and starving the army into surrender. The number of effective soldiers was rapidly dropping due to illness and a lack of drinking water. The only viable options were either to preëmptively attack or abandon the town.

When Beauregard asked for advice, Hardee opined that attacking the huge Federal army “would probably inflict on us and the Confederacy a fatal blow.” The officers agreed that it was best to evacuate Corinth, fall back along the Memphis & Ohio Railroad, and live to fight another day.

Beauregard directed his commanders to begin preparations but keep the plan secret so he could fool Halleck into thinking that the Confederates intended to fight. The next day, Beauregard issued orders for evacuating Corinth. He began by sending supplies and the sick troops to Baldwin and Tupelo.

A few miles away, Halleck continued assembling his heavy guns to place Corinth under siege. The end of the Federal right wing was within four miles of the Confederate defenses outside the town. By the morning of the 28th, Halleck’s three wings under Generals George H. Thomas, Don Carlos Buell, and John Pope (right to left) were all finally within gun range of Confederate defenses outside Corinth. Halleck initiated an artillery bombardment from dawn to dusk, pausing intermittently for the infantry to probe for weaknesses in the defenses.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13227, 13251; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 375-77, 383; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 155, 157; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 196-97; 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. 416; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157

Conflicting Orders in the Shenandoah Valley

May 20, 1862 – Confederate Major Generals Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Richard Ewell struggled with conflicting orders while trying to join forces to attack Federals under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

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

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

By this time, Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Shenandoah, had sent one of his divisions under Brigadier General James Shields eastward out of the Valley. Shields’s Federals were near Warrenton, on their way to reinforce Major General Irvin McDowell’s Army of the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg. With Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal army at Franklin to the west, Banks was all alone at Strasburg with just 9,000 men against a larger Confederate force heading his way.

The Confederate force actually consisted of two commands separated by 30 miles, with Jackson’s men at Mount Solon and Ewell’s at Swift Run Gap. They were in the process of joining forces to move north and threaten Banks. They also hoped to threaten Washington, which would prompt Shields to return to the Valley and force McDowell to suspend his movement to the Virginia Peninsula.

On the 17th, Ewell received a message from General Joseph E. Johnston (dated May 13) stating that if Banks moved east, Ewell and Jackson must come reinforce the Confederate army on the Peninsula. This posed a dilemma because only part of Banks’s army had moved east. Johnston’s directive also conflicted with orders from General Robert E. Lee, dated May 16, authorizing Jackson and Ewell to move north toward the Potomac River.

Ewell forwarded the message to Jackson at Mount Solon. Jackson asked Johnston to rescind the order, explaining, “I have been moving down the valley for the purpose of attacking Banks, but the withdrawal of General Ewell’s command will prevent my purpose being executed.”

While Jackson’s message was in transit, he directed Ewell to “suspend the execution of the order for returning to the east until I receive an answer to my telegram.” Since neither Jackson nor Ewell knew whether to follow the orders of Johnston or Lee, Ewell obeyed Jackson, his immediate superior. He kept his troops at Swift Run Gap and then rode to Mount Solon to discuss the situation with Jackson personally.

Ewell and Jackson met on the 18th and agreed that whatever they would do needed to be done immediately. Ewell suggested that since his troops were in the Valley, they were actually under Jackson’s command, not Johnston’s, meaning that Jackson’s authority over Ewell superseded Johnston’s. Jackson asked Ewell to put the problem of obeying conflicting orders in writing, and Jackson would respond in a way that would clear Ewell of any blame for disobeying Johnston. Jackson wrote:

“Your letter of this date, in which you have received letters from Generals Lee, Johnston and myself requiring somewhat different movements, and desiring my views respecting your position, has been received. In reply I would state that as you are in the Valley District you constitute part of my command. Should you receive orders different from those sent from these headquarters, please advise me of the same as early a period as practicable. You will please move your command as to encamp between New Market and Mount Jackson on next Wednesday night, unless you receive orders from a superior officer and that of a date subsequent to the 16th instant.”

Thus, Jackson and Ewell would move according to Lee’s orders, not Johnston’s. Ewell hurried back to Swift Run Gap to put his men in motion. Jackson had his men up at 2 a.m. on the 19th, and they were on the march within an hour. They moved northwest down the Valley toward New Market, using wagons to bridge the North River. Jackson dispatched cavalry under Brigadier General Turner Ashby to obstruct any roads that Fremont could use to join forces with Banks.

Jackson’s Confederates marched through Harrisonburg on the morning of May 20. They crossed the Massanutten Mountain and entered the Luray, or eastern Shenandoah, Valley. The Confederates then resumed their northward advance along the South Fork of the Shenandoah Valley.

As Ewell’s Confederates also moved northward, Ewell received a message from Johnston dated May 17 reiterating his orders to come to the Peninsula. Johnston wrote, “If Banks is fortifying near Strasburg, the attack would be too hazardous.” Jackson was to “observe him” while Ewell’s men left the Valley.

Ewell rode up to confer with Jackson between Harrisonburg and New Market. Jackson rushed a messenger to Staunton to telegraph Lee: “I am of opinion that an attempt should be made to defeat Banks, but under instructions just received from General Johnston I do not feel at liberty to make an attack. Please answer by telegraph at once.”

That night, Johnston responded to Jackson’s May 18 orders keeping Ewell in the Valley: “The whole question is, whether or not General Jackson & yourself are too late to attack Banks. If so the march eastward should be made. If not (supposing your strength be sufficient) then attack.” Late that night, Lee overrode Johnston’s orders and permitted Jackson to go ahead against Banks as planned.

Once united, Jackson and Ewell would have 16,000 men and 48 guns to confront Banks’s 9,000 Federals at Strasburg.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 114-20; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 172-73; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 428-29; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 154; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 213-14; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

Lincoln Revokes Slave Emancipation

May 19, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln revoked Major General David Hunter’s order freeing all slaves in his military department. Lincoln also announced for the first time that he had the wartime power to free slaves if necessary.

Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Hunter, commanding the Federal Department of the South (i.e., South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida), occupied a section of the Atlantic coast between Charleston and Savannah. About 12,000 fugitive slaves had gathered in that area for Federal protection. Fearing that the Confederates were planning a massive effort to take the region back, Hunter declared martial law on April 25 and then set about recruiting the fugitives into the army.

Hunter informed a Treasury agent handling the fugitive slaves that he planned “to organize in squads and companies, and perhaps into a regiment, a portion of the negroes that have escaped bondage and have come into our lines… (and) to have them paid, fed, and clothed, as well as drilled, in the same manner with our other troops.” Hunter assured the agent that the War Department had granted him permission to do this.

When slaves still in bondage learned of Hunter’s plan, their masters told them that the Federals planned to ship them to Cuba. Consequently, few slaves risked escaping their plantations to volunteer for the army. In response, Hunter modified his plan by making army service for slaves mandatory. He notified General Isaac Stevens, commanding the Federals at Port Royal, South Carolina:

“I am authorized by the War Department to form the negroes into ‘squads, companies, or otherwise,’ as I may deem most beneficial to the public service. I have concluded to enlist two regiments to be officered from the most intelligent and energetic of our non-commissioned officers; men who will go into it with all their hearts.”

Hunter asserted that he was acting in accordance with President Lincoln’s order to General Thomas W. Sherman, Hunter’s predecessor, authorizing the department command to organize freed slaves into “squads, companies, or otherwise.” But Hunter ignored the condition Lincoln had placed on the order: “This, however, not to mean a general arming of them for military service.”

On May 9, Hunter issued General Orders No. 11:

“Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible. The persons in these States — Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina — heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.”

To force slaves off the plantations and into the army, Hunter ordered his six district commanders “to send immediately to these headquarters, under a guard, all the able-bodied negroes capable of bearing arms within the limits of their several commands.”

Thus, Hunter became the first military commander of the war to not only free slaves and but to draft men into the army as well. Federal troops quickly set about seizing slaves from nearby plantations and forcing them into Federal service. Many slaves fled from the troops, prompting Hunter to relent and allow slaves not wanting to join the army to stay on their plantations.

Meanwhile, news of Hunter’s order made its way to Washington, where Hunter’s superiors had not authorized him to issue such a directive. Treasury agent Edward L. Pierce in Hunter’s department wrote to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase informing him of Hunter’s decree. Chase notified Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who tacitly approved Hunter’s order by ignoring it.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln learned about the order from the newspapers. This was the third time that a subordinate had tried issuing an emancipation edict without first consulting him (Major General John C. Fremont and former Secretary of War Simon Cameron had done so in 1861). Lincoln objected because Hunter had not asked for approval beforehand. And even though Hunter enjoyed political support from the influential Radical Republicans in Congress, they would not back his order because he had not sought their permission beforehand either.

Stanton and Chase remained on Hunter’s side. Chase wrote Lincoln on the 16th that it was “of the highest importance… that this Order not be revoked. It has been made as a military measure, to meet a military exigency…” Stanton worried that with major military campaigns looming, black recruitment may become a necessity. When he asked Massachusetts Governor John Andrew for four new regiments, Andrew replied that he could not persuade men to volunteer who had not already done so. He added:

“But, if the President will sustain General Hunter, recognize all men, even black men, as legally capable of that loyalty the blacks are waiting to manifest, and let them fight, with God and human nature on their side, the roads will swarm if need be with multitudes whom New England would pour out to obey your call.”

Despite the political pressure, Lincoln responded to Chase, “No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me.” Lincoln feared that northern sentiment would quickly turn against the war if its cause changed from preserving the Union to freeing slaves. However, he reserved the right as commander in chief to liberate slaves as a war measure.

On the 19th, Lincoln publicly ordered Hunter to rescind his proclamation, calling it “altogether void.” Lincoln stated that he had no prior “knowledge, information, or belief of an intention on the part of General Hunter to issue such a proclamation,” and no military officer could “make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free.” He explained:

“I further make known that, whether it be competent for me as commander-in-chief of the army and navy to declare the slaves of any State or States free, and whether at any time or in any case it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the Government to examine such supposed power, are questions which under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I can not feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field.”

This marked a significant change from Lincoln’s first year in office, in which he consistently maintained that he had no authority as president to free slaves. Now Lincoln asserted that he may have the power if it would “become a necessity indispensable.” Lincoln told Hunter that the general “would employ all colored men as laborers, but would not promise to make soldiers of them.”

As Lincoln voided Hunter’s edict, he issued another call for the border states to voluntarily free their slaves. This included an even stronger warning that the time may come when Lincoln would free their slaves whether they liked it or not:

“I do not argue–I beseech you to make arguments for yourselves. You cannot, if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partisan politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as in the providence of God it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.”

Border state politicians continued ignoring Lincoln’s pleas to voluntarily accept gradual, compensated emancipation. Some argued that the Federal government had no constitutional authority to invoke such a program. Others gambled on George B. McClellan capturing Richmond and ending the war before freeing the slaves became a military necessity.

Still, Hunter believed that Lincoln had privately supported the proclamation, even if he had to publicly repudiate it. Hunter later wrote, “I believe he rejoined in my action.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14942; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 168; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7657-69, 9117; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 703; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 535-56; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 150, 154; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 435; Keefer, Kimberly A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 209, 213-14; 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. 499; 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), Q262

Farragut Moves up the Mississippi

May 18, 1862 – The Federal naval squadron led by Flag Officer David G. Farragut tried following up its capture of New Orleans by pushing further up the Mississippi River. However, they met unexpected resistance.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As May began, Farragut sought to move upriver and ultimately join forces with the Federal Western Flotilla stationed above Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Farragut’s greatest obstacle would be Vicksburg, Mississippi, which was protected by batteries atop steep bluffs along the river. If the Federals captured Vicksburg, they would essentially cut the Confederacy off from the Trans-Mississippi and split it in two.

Before Farragut could take on the stronghold, he had to repair the ships that had been damaged in the operation against Forts Jackson and St. Philip. This gave the Confederates more time to strengthen their defenses. Farragut would be further handicapped by having a naval fleet more suited for the sea than a river. Nevertheless, he resolved to push as far upriver as he could.

The U.S.S. Iroquois, one of Farragut’s leading vessels headed by Commander James S. Palmer, steamed up the Mississippi and captured the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge on the 8th. Baton Rouge was defenseless against the Iroquois’s firepower, which would soon be backed by the rest of Farragut’s fleet. Federals also seized the local arsenal after a tense exchange with the city mayor.

Four days later, the Federal squadron captured Natchez, Mississippi, 280 river miles from New Orleans. The Iroquois along with the U.S.S. Oneida under Commander Samuel P. Lee remained at Natchez while Farragut led the rest of the fleet 80 miles upriver to Vicksburg. (Confederates later regained control of Natchez and nearly executed the man who had offered to deliver the mayor’s surrender. Only General P.G.T. Beauregard’s personal intervention saved the man’s life.)

The Federal vessels reconnoitered the Mississippi between Natchez and Vicksburg over the next week. The crew of the U.S.S. Calhoun captured the Confederate gunboat Corypheus at Bayou Bonfuca, Louisiana, and the Oneida bombarded Confederates stationed at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, before the fleet continued upriver.

The Federals approached Vicksburg around 11 a.m. on May 18. The stronghold was protected by artillery atop 200-foot-high bluffs, 8,000 Confederate troops, and a gunboat fleet. Commander Lee of the Oneida, acting on Farragut’s behalf for the navy and Major General Benjamin F. Butler for the army, dropped anchor at a bend in the river and dispatched a small boat under a flag of truce.

A Confederate boat met the Federals and received their message, which demanded “the surrender of Vicksburg and its defenses to the lawful authority of the United States, under which, private property and personal rights will be respected.” A Confederate gunner fired a cannonball across the bow of the ship that had delivered the surrender demand.

A messenger returned with military and civilian responses about five hours later. Brigadier General Martin L. Smith, commanding the Vicksburg garrison, wrote, “Regarding the surrender of the defenses, I have to reply that having been ordered here to hold these defenses, it is my intention to do so as long as in my power.” Vicksburg’s mayor explained that even though the military, and not city officials, had built the defenses, “neither the municipal authorities nor the citizens will ever consent to a surrender of the city.”

Colonel James L. Autrey, Vicksburg’s military governor, offered an even stronger response: “I have to state that Mississippians don’t know, and refuse to learn, how to surrender to any enemy. If Commodore Farragut or Brigadier-General Butler can teach them, let them come and try.” (Autrey added further inadvertent insult because Farragut was a captain and Butler was a major general.)

These answers, along with the extensive armament ringing the bluffs, prompted Lee to wait for Farragut’s arrival. When Farragut arrived, he was surprised to learn of such strong Confederate defiance, and he knew that he could not destroy their defenses by himself. He opted to return to New Orleans, leaving behind some ships to watch the city for the time being. The Federals would threaten Vicksburg again soon.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (18 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 167, 169-72; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 371, 380; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 149, 151-54; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17-18; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211, 213; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 67

McClellan Conditionally Receives Reinforcements

May 17, 1862 – As the Federal Army of the Potomac continued inching toward Richmond, President Abraham Lincoln conditionally approved Major General George B. McClellan’s request for reinforcements.

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

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

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton persuaded Lincoln to allow Major General Irvin McDowell’s Army of the Rappahannock (formerly I Corps in McClellan’s army) to reinforce McClellan on the Virginia Peninsula. McDowell received orders to “move upon Richmond by the general route of the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, cooperating with the forces under General McClellan…” McDowell was to stay “in such position as to cover the capital of the nation against a sudden dash of any large body of the rebel forces.”

Lincoln notified McClellan:

“At your earnest call for re-enforcements he (McDowell) is sent forward to co-operate in the reduction of Richmond, but charged, in attempting this, not to uncover the city of Washington; and you will give no order, either before or after your junction, which can put him out of position to cover this city.”

Stanton supplemented Lincoln’s message with one of his own:

“He (McDowell) is ordered–keeping himself always in position to save the capital from all possible attack–so to operate as to place his left wing in communication with your right wing, and you are instructed to cooperate, so as to establish this communication as soon as possible, by extending your right wing to the north of Richmond.”

Thus, McClellan would finally receive the reinforcements he had pleaded for, but under several conditions:

  • McDowell would move overland to link with McClellan’s right instead of moving by water as McClellan had urged.
  • McDowell would “retain the command of the Department of the Rappahannock and of the forces with which he moves forward,” making him McClellan’s equal and no longer his subordinate.
  • McClellan was expected to extend his army’s right over the Pamunkey River while McDowell extended his left until they linked. This meant that McClellan no longer had the option of moving across the Peninsula to try attacking from a James River point (which might have been a better option considering the recent Battle of Drewry’s Bluff).
  • McDowell was not to leave his base on the Rappahannock River until reinforced by Brigadier General James Shields’s 9,000-man division, transferred from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s army in the Shenandoah Valley.

McClellan objected to these conditions, arguing that it was vital to his plans to have McDowell’s Federals join his army by water rather than land. McClellan also insisted that according to the 62nd Article of War, McDowell had to obey McClellan as the ranking officer and could not act independently. McClellan wrote:

“Indications that the enemy intend fighting at Richmond. Policy seems to be to concentrate everything there. They hold central position, and will seek to meet us while divided. I think we are committing a great military error in having so many independent columns. The great battle should be fought by our troops in mass; then divide if necessary.”

To that end, McClellan reorganized his army to create a V and VI corps. V Corps, formerly the 1st Division of III Corps and the Regular Reserve Division, was given to his friend Fitz John Porter. VI Corps, formerly the 1st Division of I Corps and the 2nd Division of IV Corps, was given to another friend, William B. Franklin.

On the Confederate side, General Joseph E. Johnston continued withdrawing his army to more defensible positions closer to Richmond. Johnston’s left flank was just outside northeastern Richmond at Fairfield Race Course. His right was near Drewry’s Bluff, on the banks of the James River.

President Jefferson Davis wrote his wife Varina, who he had sent out of Richmond for her safety: “We are uncertain of everything except that a battle must be near at hand.” Capital residents discussed whether the Confederate troops could stop McClellan’s drive on the capital. Davis tried boosting morale by proclaiming that the city would be defended, in accordance with a congressional resolution.

Meanwhile, McClellan divided his army along both banks of the Chickahominy River and awaited the arrival of McDowell’s troops from northern Virginia. By May 21, the Federals were within eight miles of Richmond, with General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps operating at Bottom’s Bridge spanning the Chickahominy. As McClellan continued maneuvering his men, Lincoln responded to his objections regarding the use of McDowell’s Federals:

“You will have just such control of Gen. McDowell and his force as you therein indicate. McDowell can reach you by land sooner than he could get aboard of boats if the boats were ready at Frederick’sburg,–unless his march shall be resisted, in which case, the force resisting him, will certainly not be confronting you at Richmond.”

Although McClellan was within striking distance of Richmond, he continued fretting that his force was not strong enough to confront the Confederate defenders. He wrote his friend, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, stationed on the North Carolina coast, “The Government have deliberately placed me in this position. If I win, the greater the glory. If I lose, they will be damned forever, both by God and men.”

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (17 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 172-73; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7441; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 417-18, 441-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 153, 154-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 213-14; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 175-76