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

Lee’s Fateful Message to Jackson

May 16, 1862 – As Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson moved back east, he received a message from General Robert E. Lee giving him free rein to operate against the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley, and even threaten Washington.

Gens R.E. Lee and T.J. Jackson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gens R.E. Lee and T.J. Jackson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Following Jackson’s victory at McDowell, his cavalry under Colonel Turner Ashby briefly continued pursuing the Federals under Brigadier Generals Robert C. Schenck and Robert H. Milroy before moving further north down the Shenandoah Valley toward Harrisonburg.

Jackson’s infantry pursued Schenck and Milroy for 10 miles as the Federals fell back toward Franklin. However, the Federals’ rear guard defense and bad roads thwarted the Confederates. Jackson continued pursuing the next day, blocking Schenck and Milroy from linking with the rest of Major General John C. Fremont’s army from the Mountain Department.

Meanwhile, Jackson’s topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, led a cavalry detachment in felling trees and rolling rocks to obstruct the roads between Franklin and Harrisonburg that could link Fremont with the other Federal army in the Valley under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.

Ashby’s troopers rode to Swift Run Gap, where Major General Richard Ewell’s Confederate division was camped. Ashby informed Ewell of the victory at McDowell and delivered a message from Jackson:

“I desire to follow the enemy as far as practicable to-day. My troops are in advance. Should circumstances justify it, I will try, through God’s blessing, to get in Banks’ rear; and if I succeed in this I desire you to press him as far as may be consistent with your own safety should he fall back.”

This message confused Ewell since Jackson was still near Franklin, 60 miles west. More information came from a Federal deserter, who told Ewell that one of Banks’s two divisions under Brigadier General James Shields was heading east out of the Valley while the other was advancing on Strasburg. Ewell, who had been idle at Swift Run Gap since April 30, was growing increasingly frustrated with Jackson’s refusal to divulge his plans or offer any details on strategy.

Back west, heavy rain continued slowing Jackson’s pursuit of Schenck and Milroy until he finally called it off on the 12th. By that time, the Federals had taken up defensive positions outside Franklin, and Jackson, having no desire to attack them, pulled back. Also, Jackson received word that Banks’s army was poised to leave the Valley and reinforce the Federals on the Virginia Peninsula.

Jackson directed his adjutant general to issue an order “to render thanks to Almighty God for having crowned our arms with success and to implore His continued favor.” The adjutant general, a Presbyterian minister, expanded the order to an entire day of spiritual reflection. Jackson approved and participated with his troops.

Meanwhile, Ewell wanted to stop Shields’s Federals from leaving the Valley but received no authorization from Jackson to do so. Ewell vented his fury on anyone near him, asking one colonel, “did it ever occur to you that General Jackson is crazy?” He dispatched cavalry to impede Shields’s progress and yelled that Jackson “is as crazy as a March Hare!” To another officer, Ewell hollered, “Why, I could crush Shields before night if I could move from here!… This man Jackson is certainly a crazy fool, an idiot!”

Ewell was unaware that Jackson planned to return to the Valley. The next day, Ewell received orders from Jackson to advance north toward Strasburg to confront Banks. Jackson, having held Fremont in check, would have Ashby’s troopers screen his infantrymen as they turned back east to join Ewell. Jackson issued strict orders to the troops for the return march:

  • Fall in at attention, then march on and off cadence at intervals of up to 300 yards.
  • Do not leave the march without an officer’s permission.
  • Take 10 minutes of every hour to rest in a prone position.

As Ewell prepared to move out, he told one of his brigade commanders, “General Jackson’s views may change at any moment. I won’t go too far under present instructions, as I may be wanted elsewhere.” Ewell was right. On May 16, Jackson asked him how long it would take him to get to Harrisonburg to the west and not Strasburg to the north. Jackson also asked Ewell to bring along the two additional brigades at Gordonsville that General Robert E. Lee had sent him, even though Lee had ordered them to stay east of the Valley.

As Jackson’s men observed a “fast day,” Lee learned from Ewell that Shields’s division was moving northward down the Valley toward the Manassas Gap Railroad, which would be a good position to reinforce either Fredericksburg or the Peninsula as needed. Fearing that Banks may soon withdraw his other division from the Valley, Lee wrote to Jackson:

“Whatever may be Banks’ intention, it is very desirable to prevent him from going either to Fredericksburg or the Peninsula… A successful blow struck at him would delay, if it does not prevent, his moving to either place. But you will not, in any demonstration you may make in that direction, lose sight of the fact that it may become necessary for you to come to the support of General Johnston, and hold yourself in readiness to do so if required. Whatever movement you make against Banks do it speedily, and if successful drive him back toward the Potomac, and create the impression, as far as practicable, that you design threatening that line.”

This important message empowered Jackson to advance his Confederates all the way to the Potomac.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 114; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 168-69, 171; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 416, 421-22; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 150-53; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 208-09, 211; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 460, 677

The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

May 15, 1862 – Confederate batteries repulsed the advance of a Federal naval fleet on the James River, which helped ease some of the panic spreading throughout the Confederate capital of Richmond.

The day after crewmen of the C.S.S. Virginia destroyed their vessel, they assembled under their commander, Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones, at Drewry’s Bluff. Once owned by a man named Drewry, this was a 100-foot-high eminence on the north bank of a sharp bend in the James, about seven miles from Richmond. It was officially known as Fort Darling, and it was the last stronghold preventing Federal naval forces from reaching Richmond via the James River.

Confederate gun overlooking Drewry's Bluff | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate gun overlooking Drewry’s Bluff | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The crewmen were assigned to help man the eight heavy cannon on the bluff. The overall fort commander, General George W.C. Lee (oldest son of Robert E. Lee), had directed the guns’ placements, as well as the placement of obstructions (including the C.S.S. Jamestown) in a narrow point of the river. The C.S.S. Patrick Henry, a civilian steamer with heavy guns, was stationed in front of Drewry’s Bluff.

The fortification of Fort Darling was a joint effort by the Confederate army, navy, and marines, led by both Commander Ebenezer Ferrand of the navy and General William Mahone of the army. After working tirelessly in the rain for two days, the Confederates commanded all potential river approaches.

The Federal James River Flotilla, led by Commander John Rodgers, began moving up the James toward the Confederate capital on the 14th. The flotilla consisted of the ironclads U.S.S. Monitor and Galena (a new corvette), and the wooden ships U.S.S. Aroostook, Naugatuck, and Port Royal. The crews had orders from Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough to “get up to Richmond, all with the least possible delay, and shell the city to a surrender.” The navy hoped to capture Richmond as it had captured New Orleans the previous month.

Panic swept Richmond as residents realized that they were now under threat from Federal army forces on the Peninsula and naval forces on the James. Alarm bells rang in the capital as the ships continued upriver on May 15, with Confederate sharpshooters firing on them from rifle pits on shore. In a public meeting outside City Hall, Virginia Governor John Letcher declared:

“Some one said to me the other day, that the duty of surrendering the city would devolve either upon the president, the mayor, or myself. I said to him if the demand is made upon me, with the alternative to surrender or be shelled, I shall reply, bombard and be damned!”

Richmond Mayor Joseph C. Mayo told his constituents:

“I say now, and will abide by it, when the citizens of Richmond demand on me to surrender the capital of Virginia and of the Confederacy to the enemy they must find some other man to fill my place. I will resign the mayoralty. And when that other man elected in my stead shall deliver up the city, I hope I have physical courage and strength enough left to shoulder a musket and go into the ranks.”

A committee met with President Jefferson Davis to get his assurance that the Confederate government would help local officials defend the city to the end. The meeting was interrupted by a message stating that Federal warships were coming up the James River. Davis told the committee members, “This manifestly concludes the matter.”

The vessels came in sight around 7:35 a.m., with the Galena and Monitor emerging from the fog in the lead. As the Confederate gunners opened fire, the Galena dropped anchor about 600 yards from Fort Darling and began firing back. The gun noise rattled windows in Richmond.

Action at Drewry's Bluff | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Action at Drewry’s Bluff | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

With the three wooden ships staying out of range, the Monitor steamed past the Galena to draw fire but could not elevate the guns in her revolving turret high enough to hit the Confederates on the bluff. The Monitor moved back downriver, near the wooden ships, to find her range. But from that distance, her smoothbore Dahlgren guns were less effective. The Monitor also drew too much water to become fully engaged. This allowed the Confederates to focus primarily on the Galena.

Commander Rodgers reported that “balls came through, and many men were killed with fragments of her own iron.” The Galena sustained large holes in her deck from the plunging fire of shot and shell. The Patrick Henry connected with an 8-inch solid shot through the Galena’s bow port, and the ship was also running low on ammunition. At 11:05, Rodgers ordered her to withdraw, after a shot sparked a fire.

Meanwhile, the Port Royal took a hit on the forward wheel and another below the waterline, forcing her to fall back. The Naugatuck took heavy punishment and was rendered useless when her 100-pound Parrott gun exploded upon firing. The Aroostook stayed out of range.

The rest of the flotilla followed the Galena when she withdrew downriver, and the Confederates hollered three cheers for their victory. Richmond residents also celebrated, but only briefly because Major General George B. McClellan’s army still threatened them from the Peninsula.

The Federals lost 13 killed and 11 wounded aboard the Galena, along with three others wounded on the wooden ships. Some Federals had been killed or wounded by sharpshooters on the riverbanks. Paymaster William Keeler of the Monitor, which was hit three times but sustained no casualties, went aboard the Galena and later wrote his wife:

“Here was a body with the head, one arm & part of the breast torn off by a bursting shell, another with the top of his head taken off the brains still steaming on the deck, partly across him lay one with both legs taken off at the hips & at a little distance another completely disemboweled.”

The Galena sustained 50 hits, with 18 piercing the four-inch plating and reaching the wooden hull. The Monitor captain reported that “the action was most gallantly fought against great odds, and with the usual effect against earthworks. It was impossible to reduce such works, except with the aid of a land force.”

Corporal John B. Mackie of the Galena’s Marine Guard later became the first U.S. marine awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, for bravery under fire in this battle. Navy Department General Order No. 17, dated July 10, 1863, allowed U.S. marines to be eligible for the award.

The Confederates lost seven killed and eight wounded. After the victory, President Davis wrote his wife Varina:

“The panic here has subsided and with increasing confidence there has arisen a desire to see the city destroyed rather than surrendered. The great temporal object is to secure our independence and they who engage in strife for personal or party aggrandisement, deserve contemptuous forgetfulness.”

The Federal repulse was sudden and surprising to many who expected the ships to easily bypass the obstructions and batteries. But the Federals did benefit somewhat from the incursion: they had forced the Confederates to obstruct the river, which prevented them from going down just as it kept the Federals from coming up. It also revealed an ideal spot for a Federal army landing, just 10 miles from Richmond, if McClellan opted to move his supply base from the York to the James. Few knew at the time how important Harrison’s Landing would become.

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 128-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13705-14; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 401-02; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 170-71; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 416; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 151, 153; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3418-30; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 296; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211-13; 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. 427; 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. 109; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 330-31, 383-85; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 640-41; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 504; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 227, 571

Butler’s Notorious Woman Order

May 15, 1862 – Commanding the Federal occupation forces in New Orleans, Major General Benjamin F. Butler issued an order that solidified his infamous reputation among southerners.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In the two weeks since Butler’s Federals had entered New Orleans, they faced intense scorn from the residents for their unwanted occupation. Much of this enmity came from women, who insulted the soldiers, sang Confederate songs such as “The Bonnie Blue Flag” in their presence, or avoided them altogether. One woman dumped a chamber pot on Admiral David G. Farragut’s head from an upstairs window. Some of the women hoped to provoke the Federals into attacking them, thus giving the men a cause to rise up against their oppressors.

In response to this behavior, Butler preemptively issued General Orders No. 28:

“As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subjected to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous noninterference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”

The published order | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The published order | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

This shocking order allowing Federal soldiers to treat the women of New Orleans like prostitutes was met by outrage throughout the South as an unforgivable insult to womanhood. Butler was nicknamed the “Beast,” a biblical reference. President Jefferson Davis later accused Butler of committing war crimes and authorized Confederates to execute him if captured. (Ironically, Butler had backed Davis for U.S. president at the first Democratic National Convention of 1860.)

When news of this order reached England, Prime Minister Lord Palmerston declared to Parliament, “It is a proclamation to which I do not scruple to attach the epithet infamous! Any Englishman must blush to think that such an act has been committed by one belonging to the Anglo-Saxon race.” British Foreign Minister Lord John Russell demanded that the Lincoln administration revoke the order. The administration would not.

Butler argued that the order was necessary because his men had been generally respectful toward the city residents and expected the same treatment in return. Butler also noted that the troops had shown remarkable restraint in not retaliating against the women’s repeated derision.

New Orleans newspapers initially refused to publish such an order, prompting the Federals to print it out on sheets of paper and post it on major street corners. Butler responded to the newspapers’ refusal by ordering the suspension of the New Orleans Bee and the occupation of the New Orleans True Delta offices.

The True Delta submitted to force and published the order, and other newspapers reluctantly followed suit. Several enraged ladies canceled their subscriptions, and Butler refused to explain his order to Mayor John T. Monroe. When Monroe objected to Butler’s actions, Butler ordered him, the police chief, and several others to be imprisoned at Fort Jackson.

The “Woman Order” was not regularly enforced, but after its publication, women generally stopped insulting the troops, so the order served its purpose anyway. Some who continued harassing soldiers were imprisoned at Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico. Women kept up a protest of sorts by painting the image of Butler at the bottom of their chamber pots.

Butler also earned the scorn of government officials by pitting laborers against planters. Butler initially offered to pay planters for their crops “for the benefit of the poor of this city.” He also helped alleviate some of the yellow fever that often struck New Orleans by reforming sanitation services. When the mayor objected to his efforts, Butler accused him of having no “regard to the starving poor, the working man, his wife and child.” Butler then appealed directly to the people, proclaiming, “how long will you uphold these flagrant wrongs and by inaction suffer yourselves to be made the serfs of these leaders?”

Louisiana Governor Thomas Moore issued a counter-proclamation, accusing Butler of trying to incite class warfare after coming “from a section of the country (New England) that has done more than any other to degrade and cheapen labor and reduce the laboring man to the condition of the slave.” Moore reminded Butler that “Southerners are a high-toned, chivalrous people.”

Moore’s message was printed in the New Orleans newspapers. This angered Butler so much that he ordered four of them closed.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 171; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 840; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 152-53; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 55-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211-12; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 369; 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

The Confederate New Mexico Campaign Ends

May 14, 1862 – Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s dream of making the New Mexico Territory part of the Confederacy ended as the remnants of his broken army finally made it back to El Paso and his detachment abandoned Tucson.

Brig Gen H.H. Sibley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brig Gen H.H. Sibley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Confederate detachment of Sibley’s army under Captain Sherod Hunter had held Tucson and operated in western New Mexico (present-day Arizona) since February. During that time, Federal forces had been mobilized from various forts in California and concentrated at Fort Yuma to drive Hunter out. In early May, Hunter, having less than 100 men, evacuated Tucson upon learning that Colonel James H. Carleton’s “California column” of about 1,800 troops were approaching.

A couple weeks later, a Federal detachment under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph West entered Tucson and found that both the Confederates and their secessionist allies were gone. The Federals quickly prepared to continue pushing east, reopening the overland mail route all the way to Mesilla and controlling the territory once more.

Meanwhile, the survivors of Sibley’s Army of New Mexico straggled into El Paso. Since their victory at Glorieta, the Confederates had endured terrible hardships due to lack of food and water, having retreated hundreds of miles through the unforgiving desert while being pursued by Brigadier General Edward R.S. Canby’s Federals. Sibley reported:

“Except for its geographical position, the Territory of New Mexico is not worth a quarter of the blood and treasure expended in its conquest. As a field for military operations it possesses not a single element, except in the multiplicity of its defensible positions. The indispensible element, food, cannot be relied on. I cannot speak encouragingly for the future, my troops having manifested a dogged, irreconcilable detestation of the country and the people.”

Sibley’s remaining troops assembled on the parade ground at Fort Bliss, Texas, on May 14. Of the 3,700 men who had begun the New Mexico campaign, less than 2,000 remained. Sibley thanked the troops for their sacrifice during “this more than difficult campaign,” then continued his withdrawal to San Antonio. This ended Confederate aspirations to create a Territory of Arizona and effectively ended the war in the Southwest.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (20 May 1862); Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 529; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 304-05; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 146-47, 155; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 207, 214; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 687

Surrendering the C.S.S. Planter

May 13, 1862 – A slave handed over a Confederate vessel to the Federal blockade fleet off South Carolina, along with key information about Confederate positions around Charleston.

Robert Smalls | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Robert Smalls | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The C.S.S. Planter was a transport and dispatch steamer that operated in Charleston Harbor. The ship’s pilot was Robert Smalls, a 23-year-old slave. When the Planter docked for the night of May 12 and the white crewmen went ashore (against orders to stay aboard), Smalls and eight black crewmen smuggled several other slaves aboard, including the families of Smalls and his brother. In the predawn darkness, Smalls steered the ship out of the harbor, carrying four heavy cannon along with the human cargo.

As the Planter steamed past the harbor fortifications, her familiarity among the Confederate defenders enabled her to pass without notice. Needing permission from the Fort Sumter garrison to pass, Smalls dipped his colors and sounded the regular signal with a captain’s hat on and his back turned so the Confederates could not identify him.

The fort signaled its permission, and the Planter left the harbor. Smalls quickly raised a white flag and went full speed toward the Federal blockading ships. Lieutenant J.F. Nickels of the U.S.S. Onward reported the Planter approaching his vessel at sunrise:

“I immediately beat to quarters and sprung the ship around so as to enable me to bring her broadsides to bear, and had so far succeeded as to bring the port guns to bear, when I discovered that the steamer, now rapidly approaching, had a white flag set at the fore.”

Approaching the Onward, Smalls saluted and hollered to the watch officer, “Good morning, sir! I’ve brought you some of the old United States guns, sir!” Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont, commanding the Federal South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, later reported:

“At 4 in the morning she (the Planter) left her wharf close to the Government office and headquarters, with palmetto and Confederate flag flying, passed the successive forts, saluting as usual by blowing her steam whistle. After getting beyond the range of the last gun she quickly hauled down the rebel flags and hoisted a white one…The steamer is quite a valuable acquisition…”

A Federal officer later reported that Smalls had stolen the Planter because of “the cruel treatment his wife received” as a slave. Of the slaves aboard the Planter, the officer remarked, “They all express their firm determination not to be taken alive after leaving the wharf, and if fired into to sink rather than stop the vessel well knowing what their fate would be if taken.”

Smalls met with Du Pont and shared his knowledge of Charleston Harbor. Du Pont called him “superior to any (slave) who has yet come into the lines, intelligent as many of them have been.” Regarding Smalls’s familiarity with the harbor, “His information is thorough and complete as to the whole defenses of Charleston.” Du Pont resolved to “continue to employ Robert as a pilot on board the Planter for the inland waters, with which he appears to be very familiar.”

The other black crewmen also became pilots in the Federal navy. According to Du Pont, they demonstrated “the utmost nautical skill in piloting the gunboats and this under fire too–generally smiling and showing their white teeth when a shell exploded over their heads, while many (white pilots) brought up to the business didn’t show their white teeth.”

The information that Smalls provided to the Federals included the fact that Confederates had abandoned the fort at the mouth of the Stono River. This opened a back door to Charleston. The Federal navy exploited this by moving up the Stono and attacking Confederates on Cole’s Island. The gunboats U.S.S. Unadilla, Pembina, and Ottawa bombarded the island and forced its evacuation, with the Federals establishing a base of their own there soon after.

Federal gunboats continued up the Stono, forcing planters to abandon their lands on James and John islands. The planters tried hurrying their slaves to the mainland, with Commander John Marchand of the U.S.S. James Adger reporting:

“About 4 o’clock in the afternoon we heard the most terrific screams ashore, the lookouts at the masthead having previously reported a stampede of slaves on the cotton and corn fields to the south of the river. A company of cavalry was then seen to emerge from the pines… charging at full speed among the flying slaves… (firing) their pistols on all sides amongst the Negroes… (S)o I directed the gunboats to open fire on the mounted men and a half dozen shells… (sent them) scampering in every direction.”

The Federals rescued 71 fugitive slaves and conveyed them to Port Royal to join the thousands of other contrabands who had escaped slavery since the Federal fleet’s arrival on the South Carolina coast last November.

At Du Pont’s recommendation, the Federal government rewarded Smalls and his crew by declaring the Planter a prize whose seizure qualified them for compensation. The ship was appraised at $9,168 (a value that some considered very low), of which Smalls received $1,500 and the crewmen $400 each. Another $484 was distributed among the remaining slaves taken aboard. Smalls eventually became captain of the Planter.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (13 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 169-70, 173; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 152, 154; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211; 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. 563; 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. 138-39

The Peninsula Campaign: Closing in on Richmond

May 12, 1862 – Panic began spreading throughout the Confederate capital of Richmond as Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac was now just 22 miles away and still advancing up the Virginia Peninsula.

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

McClellan divided his army by sending one part toward Richmond from West Point and leading another to White House Landing, 15 miles up the Pamunkey River. This enabled the Federals to seize control of the Richmond & York River Railroad. It also gave them possession of White House, a 4,000-acre plantation where George Washington had courted Martha Custis. It was now owned by Martha’s granddaughter, Mary Custis Lee, wife of General Robert E. Lee. Mrs. Lee pinned a note on the house door:

“Northern soldiers who profess to reverence Washington forebear to desecrate the home of his first married life, the property of his wife, now owned by her descendants. A grand-daughter of Mrs. Washington.”

Reaching White House put the Federals just 22 miles from Richmond. Capital residents hurried to leave, with traders trying to sell their goods to foreign consuls before moving out. Davis sent his wife Varina out of town, writing to her:

“If the withdrawal from the Peninsula and Norfolk had been done with due preparation and a desirable deliberation, I should be more sanguine of a successful defense of this city… I know not what to expect when so many failures are to be remembered, yet will try to make a successful resistance…”

Mrs. Davis joined many other residents in fleeing to western Virginia or North Carolina, as panic increased in the capital.

By May 14, McClellan’s troops had advanced about 30 miles since taking Yorktown 10 days before. McClellan informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, traveling with him on the Peninsula, that he intended to try another flanking maneuver to cut off the Confederate retreat at White House. But to be successful, McClellan argued that he needed Major General Irvin McDowell’s 40,000-man army on the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg in northern Virginia.

McClellan stated, “No time will be lost in bringing about a decisive battle.” In a letter to President Abraham Lincoln, McClellan explained, “All my information from every source accessible to me establishes the fixed purpose of the rebels to defend Richmond against this army by offering us battle with all the troops they can collect from east, west, and south.”

At this time, McClellan asserted that he could not “bring into actual battle against the enemy more than 80,000 men at the utmost,” and these men would be fighting not just the Confederates that had fled Yorktown, but a “much larger force, perhaps double my numbers.” Thus, McClellan’s estimate of 120,000 Confederates at Yorktown had grown over the last 10 days to 160,000.

McClellan said that there might be a chance that the Confederates would abandon Richmond without a fight, but, “it would be unwise, and even insane, for me to calculate upon anything but a stubborn and desperate resistance.” McClellan “respectfully and earnestly” asked Lincoln to reinforce the army “without delay by all the disposable troops of the Government.”

In reality, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had less than 60,000 effectives on the Peninsula, and they were pulling back toward Richmond. Johnston’s left flank withdrew away from the Federal gunboats on the Pamunkey as his men took up strong defensive positions at the Baltimore Crossroads.

Davis and his top advisor, General Robert E. Lee, rode out to meet with Johnston and “better understand his plans and expectations.” Davis later stated that “a long conversation followed which was so inconclusive that it lasted until late in the night, so late that we remained until next morning.” To the concern of Davis and Lee, Johnston seemed to have no plan other than to build defenses and await a Federal attack.

Returning to Richmond, Davis met with Lee and the cabinet to discuss options in case they had to abandon the capital. The men suggested establishing new defensive lines south of the James, with Lee recommending falling back to the Staunton River, some 100 miles southwest. Then he added, “But Richmond must not be given up. It shall not be given up!” Meanwhile, Virginia state legislators approved a resolution:

“That the General Assembly hereby express its desire that the capital of the State be defended to the last extremity, if such defence is in accordance with the views of the President of the Confederate States; and that the President be assured that whatever destruction or loss of property of the State or individuals shall thereby result, will be cheerfully submitted to.”

Johnston continued his withdrawal on the 15th, moving his forces across the Chickahominy River, the last waterway separating the Federals from Richmond. Johnston pulled back from the river’s middle and lower stretches, moving some units to within three miles of the capital.

McClellan arrived at White House and set up headquarters in a tent on the mansion’s front lawn. He prohibited his men from desecrating the home or property, and White House became the main Federal supply base on the Peninsula. McClellan then visited nearby St. Peter’s Church, where George Washington married Martha Custis. That night, he wrote his wife, “As I happened to be there alone for a few minutes, I could not help kneeling at the chancel and praying.”

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 127, 129-30; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (14 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 169, 171; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 416-18; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 151-53; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211-12; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 330; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 133-34; 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