The District Emancipation Act

April 16, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia.

The seat of the Federal government, located between the two slaveholding states of Maryland and Virginia, had permitted slavery since its creation over half a century before. For a time, slaves had even been held in stockades and auctioned off near the U.S. Capitol. The 1850 ban on slave trading in the District ended that practice, but slavery remained legal there nonetheless.

Unlike the states, the District was under Federal jurisdiction, meaning that Congress could regulate its domestic affairs. Measures to free slaves in the District had been repeatedly introduced in Congress over the past generation; Lincoln himself had drafted an emancipation bill as a U.S. representative from Illinois in 1848. All these bills had been rejected, largely due to southern opposition to the Federal government infringing on property rights. But since the war began, most slaveholders had left the District, and the Republican-controlled Congress introduced the measure once again.

Sponsored by Republican Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, the original measure would appropriate $1 million to compensate slaveholders for their loss of labor if they could prove loyalty to the U.S. The 1860 census had counted 3,185 slaves in the District worth an estimated $2 million, but since many slaveholders had gone south and others may not be able to prove loyalty, the $1 million was a more reasonable figure to pay.

Most congressmen from the loyal slave states (i.e., Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) opposed this measure because the payoff amount equated to just $300 per slave, far less than current market value. Washington city aldermen also resisted the idea out of fear that letting blacks live free in the city could spark racial violence. They lobbied Congress to add a provision expanding the capital’s police force. Congress responded with a provision earmarking $100,000 to deport freed slaves to other countries if they agreed to go.

The Senate approved the bill on April 3 by a vote of 29 to 14. The House of Representatives followed eight days later by a vote of 93 to 39. With both chambers approving the measure by over two-thirds, Lincoln signed it into law and submitted a message of approval to Congress:

“I have never doubted the constitutional authority of Congress to abolish slavery in the District, and I have ever desired to see the national capital freed from the institution in some satisfactory way. Hence there never has been in my mind any questions upon the subject, except those of expediency, arising in view of all the circumstances.”

Celebrating abolition in D.C. | Image Credit: aaihs.org

Celebrating abolition in D.C. | Image Credit: aaihs.org

A commission was created to attach value to each slave, with no slave worth more than $300. Slaveholders had 90 days to submit a list of their slaves’ names, ages, and descriptions for the commissioners to review and compensate accordingly. About 1,000 slaveholders submitted claims to the commission and received compensation. A small number were rejected, usually due to questionable ownership rights or suspected Confederate sympathies.

Freed slaves in the District received full civil rights except the right to vote or serve on juries. In neighboring Maryland and Virginia, slaveholders began selling their slaves to points farther south out of fear that they would try escaping to freedom in the nearby District. However, these slaves were still subject to be returned to their masters under the Fugitive Slave Act.

The District Emancipation Act was a partial victory for Lincoln, who had sought to impose a compensated emancipation program throughout the country. But freeing slaves in the District where the Federal government had jurisdiction was far different than trying to free them in states that had legal control over their own domestic institutions. This also marked the first step toward Lincoln’s supplemental plan of deporting freed slaves; Lincoln considered colonization to be the best way to address the issue of freed slaves competing with resentful whites for jobs.

Abolitionists hailed this measure as a first step toward full emancipation. Slaveholders in both North and South condemned the law for the same reason.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 82; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 Apr 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14796-805; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 148, 160; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7352; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 221; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 536-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 130, 136, 139; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 431-32; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 192, 198-200; 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 Siege of Yorktown: Confederate Response

April 14, 1862 – The Confederate high command met at Richmond to consider abandoning the Virginia Peninsula to the numerically superior Federal Army of the Potomac.

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

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

By this time, Confederate forces were holding the port city of Yorktown against a Federal force three times their size. Major General George B. McClellan, the Federal commander, began directing placement of his heavy siege artillery, opting to lay siege to Yorktown rather than risk a head-on assault. Despite his overwhelming numbers, McClellan believed the Confederate army was much larger than it truly was.

As part of the siege, McClellan relied on the Federal navy to neutralize the two forts on either side of the York River at Yorktown and Gloucester. But this would not be easy. Even though the Federals had a decided advantage in technology with rifled artillery versus smoothbore, the Confederates had 33 guns commanding the entire width of the 1,200-yard river. These gunners did not have to rely on accuracy like the Federal gunboats did. And the Federals would have great difficulty elevating their guns high enough to hit the forts, which were on bluffs above the river. Moreover, the best Federal ships remained in Chesapeake Bay guarding against the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Virginia. So if the Federals would attack these forts at all, they would be doing it at less than full strength.

McClellan urged Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, to send his ships past the forts under cover of darkness to land troops behind them, but Goldsborough declined. This prompted McClellan to try finding other ways to penetrate the Yorktown defenses. He soon learned from scouts that there could be a weakness in the Confederate line near Lee’s Mill. McClellan directed IV Corps under Major General Erasmus D. Keyes to exploit it.

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

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

Meanwhile, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston returned to Richmond after inspecting the Yorktown defenses and reported to President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee, Davis’s top advisor, that they were unsatisfactory. Davis called a council of war that included Lee, Johnston, Secretary of War George W. Randolph, and Johnston’s two top subordinates, Major Generals James Longstreet and Gustavus W. Smith.

The conference began at 11 a.m. on the 14th and lasted until 1 a.m. the next morning. Johnston continued arguing that defending Yorktown was a waste of resources. The forts at Yorktown and Gloucester had old smoothbore cannon to face the Federals’ state-of-the-art rifled cannon. There were not enough troops to man the eight-mile-long defensive line, and it was only a matter of time before McClellan’s massive army overran the works.

Johnston strongly urged abandoning the Yorktown-Warwick River line, which meant losing not only Yorktown but the vital Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk as well. Johnston proposed falling back and concentrating all Confederate troops from Virginia and the coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia around Richmond. They would then attack McClellan as he approached Richmond, being nearly 100 miles from his supply base at Fort Monroe. Johnston also offered an alternative plan in which Major General John B. Magruder’s Confederates would fall back to defend Richmond while the rest of the Confederates invaded the North.

Randolph, a former naval officer, objected to both proposals because they meant abandoning the navy yard at Norfolk, and if the yard fell, they would lose the powerful ironclad C.S.S. Virginia stationed there. Losing Norfolk would also leave the Confederacy without a prime naval base from which to develop vessels to break the Federal blockade.

Lee also opposed abandoning the Yorktown-Warwick River line. He asserted that pulling troops from the coastal defenses would leave Charleston and Savannah open for easy capture. Johnston countered that those losses could be regained once McClellan was defeated. Neither Longstreet nor Smith offered an opinion.

The meeting adjourned for dinner and then resumed at Davis’s home at 7 p.m. As the discussion went on, Davis held back judgment but slowly began siding with Lee. After midnight, Davis finally broke the stalemate by voicing support for defending the Yorktown-Warwick River line. Johnston was to continue moving the bulk of his army to that line and absorb Magruder’s Army of the Peninsula into his. Johnston complied with the decision, but he also began preparing to withdraw to Richmond and implement his plan later.

On the Federal side, Keyes directed his 2nd Division under Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith to probe for potential weaknesses at Dam No. 1 to the right of Yorktown, near the center of the Confederate line. McClellan had ordered that the Federals were not to bring on a general battle, but merely stop the Confederates from working on the battery and earthworks there.

After an artillery bombardment on the 16th, Smith launched a reconnaissance in force that easily took the Confederate rifle pits and seized Burnt Chimneys. The Federals were poised to push even farther into the Confederate interior; a general assault might have even destroyed the Confederates’ center and opened the path to Richmond.

However, the Confederates counterattacked, and when the Federals’ call for reinforcements went unanswered, they fell back. Smith tried retaking the position later that evening, but by that time Confederate strength was too great. The Federals sustained 165 casualties in successfully stopping the Confederates from working on the defenses. But they could have accomplished much more had they been reinforced.

In response to President Abraham Lincoln’s request for a progress report, McClellan stated that he was still arranging to besiege Yorktown and needed reinforcements. Meanwhile, Confederate resistance at Burnt Chimneys and other points near Lee’s Mill gave Johnston time to hurry more Confederates to the Peninsula.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 102; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13498; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 160; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 401-02; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 138; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3264-87; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 570

Confederates Retreat in New Mexico

April 13, 1862 – Colonel Edward R.S. Canby sought to unite all Federal forces in New Mexico, while Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico began a long withdrawal due to lack of supplies.

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

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

Sibley reunited his Confederate army in early April, after the Battle of Glorieta. The Confederates had driven the Federals back to Fort Union, but they lost nearly all their supplies in the process, leaving them in a barren territory with little to eat and no means of resupply. Even raiding the territorial treasury did little to solve the growing shortage, and dissension soon spread among the ranks.

To make matters worse, Canby, the overall Federal commander in the territory, hurried his Federals out of Fort Craig to confront the Confederates at Albuquerque and ultimately join forces with Colonel John P. Slough’s men at Fort Union. When Canby learned that the Confederates had withdrawn from Glorieta, he planned a campaign to expel them from Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and the territory altogether.

At Fort Union, Slough turned his command over to Colonel Gabriel Paul, a much more experienced officer, and tendered his resignation from the army. Paul reorganized the force and led it out of the fort to Bernal Springs, 45 miles southwest, to meet up with Canby.

Canby’s men reached the outskirts of Albuquerque on the afternoon of the 8th, having marched 120 miles in a week. By that time, Sibley’s Confederates were withdrawing from both Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The small Confederate rear guard exchanged artillery fire with the Federals, but neither side inflicted damage.

Edward R.S. Canby | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Edward R.S. Canby | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The next day, Sibley began hurrying his men back to Albuquerque to take on Canby’s Federals before they could link with Paul. Both sides resumed trading artillery fire, again without damage. During the night, Canby directed his men to light campfires and the drummer boys and buglers to play music. He then led his troops on a sidestep to the east to bypass Sibley and move closer to Paul.

When Sibley’s Confederates began returning to Albuquerque around 10 p.m., they expected a fight the next day based on the sight of the Federal campfires and the sound of their music south of town. But Sibley quickly learned that he had arrived too late to prevent the Federals from joining forces. With his ammunition and supplies nearly gone in the face of a superior enemy, Sibley began evacuating Albuquerque on the 12th. This was the first leg of a long southward withdrawal to Mesilla and Fort Fillmore for resupply.

The Confederates burned anything they could not carry, but they took three howitzers plus two other cannon captured at Valverde in February. Sibley split the army in two columns, with each heading southward along either side of the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, Paul pushed his men on a 40-mile march to Tijeras, about 15 miles east of Albuquerque, to join forces with Canby. Once joined, Canby planned to destroy Sibley’s army before it could get away.

On the 15th, a Federal detachment captured the last seven Confederate wagons as they brought up the rear of Sibley’s retreat. That same day, the bulk of Canby’s force closed in on Colonel Tom Green’s 550-man portion of Sibley’s army at Peralta, about 20 miles southeast of Albuquerque. Canby hoped to seize the nearby ford on the Rio Grande and isolate each of Sibley’s columns on either side of the river.

The Federals tried maneuvering into position, but Confederate artillery held them in check. The Federals also had difficulty negotiating the irrigation canals and adobe walls throughout the town, which the Confederates used as a natural defense. Green hurriedly called for Sibley to bring the rest of his army across the ford before the Federals could take it.

Sibley’s men crossed to reinforce Green, and Canby halted to regroup and feed his hungry men. He planned to renew the assault later that day, but heavy dust winds prevented any action. That night, the Confederates forded the Rio Grande and reassembled at Los Lunas. Sibley quickly resumed his retreat along the river, with Canby pursuing along the opposite bank.

The dwindling Confederate army, now numbering just 1,800 men, came under threat not only from Canby to the north but a Federal detachment of 800 men under Christopher “Kit” Carson 100 miles south at Fort Craig. Sibley held a council of war and decided to bypass Fort Craig by marching away from the vital Rio Grande and into the Magdalena Mountains. The Confederates left all unnecessary supplies behind, along with their wagons carrying the sick and wounded.

Hunger and thirst ravaged the men and destroyed any semblance of army organization or morale. By the 21st, the army was spread out over 50 miles, with deserters surrendering to Canby just to survive. Canby stopped his pursuit at Fort Craig, confident that Sibley’s decimated force no longer posed a threat. Sibley’s dream of securing the land from Texas to the Pacific for the Confederacy ended in failure.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 302-03; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 135, 138-39; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 196-97, 199

The Great Locomotive Chase

April 12, 1862 – A daring effort to sabotage Confederate supply lines made sensational headlines in newspapers but had little impact on the war.

Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel’s Federal division had been detached from the Army of the Ohio to operate in central and southeastern Tennessee, as well as northern parts of Alabama and Georgia. While camped at Shelbyville, Tennessee, Mitchel met with Kentuckian James J. Andrews, a contraband trader and top army spy.

Andrews proposed leading men on a secret mission to sneak behind Confederate lines in Georgia and steal a locomotive. They would then burn bridges, destroy railroad tunnels, and sabotage the important Western & Atlantic Railroad line between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Mitchel approved and helped sort out the details.

Andrews recruited one civilian and 22 soldiers from Brigadier General Joshua W. Sill’s Ohio brigade. They formed small teams that traveled separately to Marietta, Georgia, 200 miles south of Shelbyville. The men covered the first 90 miles on foot and, dressed in civilian clothes, used thick southern accents to tell anybody who questioned them that they were headed to join the nearest Confederate army. Two men were seized by Confederate pickets and sent to man the Chattanooga defenses, leaving Andrews with 21 men.

The raid was to start with Mitchel creating a diversion by capturing Huntsville, Alabama, and threatening Chattanooga on April 11. But since it rained that day, Andrews figured that Mitchel would postpone the diversion until the 12th. Andrews figured wrong; Mitchel’s Federals captured Huntsville as planned. They seized the telegraph office, post office, 15 locomotives, all supplies stored in the warehouses, and took several hundred Confederate prisoners. They then awaited Andrews’s arrival on the stolen train.

Andrews and his men spent the night of the 11th in a Marietta hotel owned by a New Yorker and fellow spy. The locomotive General was scheduled to stop at Marietta as part of its normal Atlanta-to-Chattanooga run the next morning. The General was a 25-ton eight-wheel, wood-burning locomotive capable of moving up to 60 miles per hour. It pulled two passenger cars, a mail car, and three boxcars. The raiders planned to seize the General at Big Shanty, the first stop after leaving Marietta.

On the morning of the 12th, Andrews told his men before they went to the Marietta depot, “Now, I will succeed or leave my bones in Dixie.” He and his volunteers bought tickets and boarded the train as passengers in civilian dress. The conductor, William A. Fuller, took their tickets and paid them no mind.

When the General stopped at Big Shanty, the passengers and crew detrained to eat breakfast at the hotel. William Knight, one of Andrews’s raiders and a former railroad engineer, decoupled the passenger and mail cars before climbing into the General. The rest of the men jumped into the three boxcars, and on Andrews’s signal, the locomotive began moving out. The train’s foreman watched it pass out the window and hollered to Fuller, “Someone is running off with your train!” Fuller and other crewmen began chasing on foot, but it was no use.

The General | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The General | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The raiders steamed north, with Andrews directing Knight to keep the train at its normal 16 miles per hour to avoid attracting attention. They made occasional stops to cut telegraph wires along the way. They also stopped long enough to pry up a section of rail and take it with them. The raiders refueled at Cassville as they explained to the station agent that they were on a mission to deliver ammunition to General P.G.T. Beauregard.

Meanwhile, news of Huntsville’s capture the previous day caused a surge in southbound railroad traffic. Consequently, the General had to wait over 90 minutes on a siding while southbound trains passed. Fuller and other crewmen began catching up to the stolen locomotive after hopping onto a handcar, but they were knocked off near Etowah when they hit the missing rail.

At Etowah Station, the pursuers commandeered the locomotive Yonah to resume the chase. But they were also detained by the southbound traffic at Kingston, 14 miles north of Etowah. They abandoned the Yonah and took the William R. Smith to continue on.

By this time, the General had reached Adairsville station, 69 miles from Chattanooga, where Andrews told Knight to “see how fast she can go.” Reaching full speed, the raiders ignored the stops and nearly collided with a southbound train at Calhoun. Andrews believed that the speed burst gave them enough space and time to stop the General and begin their main mission–destroying bridges and tunnels.

At Adairsville, the Confederate pursuers were stopped by another break in the rails. They abandoned the William R. Smith and hurried aboard the Texas. Running it backward, the Confederates began gaining on the stopped raiders. The Texas halted briefly at Calhoun to take on 11 Confederate soldiers for support.

A mile and a half north of Calhoun, Andrews stopped again to wreck more track. As his men worked, the whistle of the approaching Texas could be heard. The raiders stopped working, decoupled two boxcars, and hurried on toward Resaca. When the Confederates came upon the boxcars, they simply coupled them to their backward-running locomotive and continued on.

The General had to stop at Tilton for more wood and water, but the raiders cut the stop short when they heard the Texas coming on. By the time they reached Tunnel Hill, they were nearly out of steam. Andrews directed his men to decouple and set fire to the last boxcar, but heavy rain prevented it from igniting. The raiders jumped back into the General and resumed their flight. They had no time to accomplish their main mission of burning bridges; rainy weather also contributed to their inability to destroy tunnels as planned.

The General finally ran out of fuel about two miles north of Ringgold, near the Tennessee line. It had covered 87 miles. Andrews hollered to his crew, “Jump and scatter! Every man for himself!” As they jumped out, the Texas closed to within 200 yards.

The Federals fled into the woods, but the Confederate troops jumped off the Texas and captured three or four almost immediately. Over the next week, a posse rounded up the rest of the raiders. Andrews and Knight were taken a few days later, less than 12 miles from Federal lines near New England, Georgia. The prisoners were sent to Chattanooga to await trial.

Of the 22 Federal raiders, Andrews and seven others were found guilty of espionage, having engaged in war against the Confederacy while in civilian clothes. They were hanged on June 7. Six of the raiders were paroled, and the other eight escaped captivity and made it back to the Federal lines.

In March 1863, Andrews and his crew were the first men to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor (albeit posthumously) for bravery “above and beyond the call of duty.” William A. Fuller and his fellow Confederate pursuers received a vote of thanks from the Georgia legislature. Although Andrews’s sensational effort accomplished little in deciding the war, it soon became known as the “Great Locomotive Chase.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 160; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 377-78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 134, 137; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 199; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 8-10, 11-12; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111-12

The Fall of Fort Pulaski

April 11, 1862 – Federal forces on the Atlantic coast targeted a key fort guarding the entrance to Savannah Harbor, near the South Carolina-Georgia border.

Following their victory at Port Royal last November, Federal forces had expanded their occupation zone southward down the coast. That zone stopped at Savannah, which remained a Confederate stronghold guarded by Fort Pulaski, a five-sided brick fortress 14 miles down the Savannah River on Cockspur Island. The fort commanded both channels leading to Savannah, and its 11-foot-thick walls were believed to be impervious to artillery bombardment. It also included 48 cannon and a garrison of 385 men under Colonel Charles H. Olmstead.

When General Robert E. Lee took command of the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida last November, he figured that any Federal attack on the fort would have to come from Tybee Island, across the southern channel of the Savannah, which the Federals had occupied. Lee assured Olmstead, “Colonel, they will make it pretty warm for you here with shells, but they cannot breach your walls at that distance.”

Gen Q.A. Gillmore | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gen Q.A. Gillmore | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lee was initially correct. The Federal guns on Tybee Island were a mile away, which was too far to be effective. Also, Federal gunboats could not take the fort because they could not withstand the fort’s 48 guns. And Federal troops could not be landed on Cockspur Island because the ground was mainly marsh. However, the Federal commander in the region, Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore, believed that the fort could be taken using the new and more powerful rifled artillery.

A former engineer, Gillmore directed the placement of 11 batteries on the northern end of Tybee Island throughout the winter of 1861-62. These batteries included 36 siege guns and mortars, and new James and Parrott rifles. The gun distance from the fort ranged from 1,650 to 3,400 yards.

All the guns were in place by early April, ready to bombard Fort Pulaski. Gillmore issued specific orders to each battery on when to attack and what types of fuses and ammunition to use. At the request of Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, crewmen from the U.S.S. Wabash were permitted to man one of the rifled artillery batteries.

Gillmore’s superior, Major General David Hunter, sent a message to Colonel Olmstead demanding “the immediate surrender and restoration of Fort Pulaski to the authority and possession of the United States. The number, caliber, and completeness of the batteries surrounding you leave no doubt as to what must result in case of your refusal, and as the defense, however obstinate, must eventually succumb to the assailing force at my disposal, it is hoped you may see fit to avert the useless waste of life.”

Olmstead was given 30 minutes to answer. He quickly shot back, “In reply I can only say that I am here to defend the Fort, not to surrender it.” After receiving Olmstead’s refusal, the bombardment began at 8:15 on the morning of April 10.

Each gun opened on the fort in succession, with all of them firing within a half-hour. The recoil on three Federal Columbiads blew the guns off their carriages, permanently disabling one of them. In addition, Gillmore was informed that the mortar shells could not reach the fort’s interior as hoped.

Reduction of Fort Pulaski | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Reduction of Fort Pulaski | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

But observing through a telescope, Gillmore could see that the rifled guns were blasting holes two feet deep into Fort Pulaski’s masonry, just as he thought they would. The James rifle proved particularly effective, hurling 84-pound solid shot. Even with the mortars rendered ineffective, the fort was slowly being reduced.

In 10 hours, the Federals hurled 3,000 rounds totaling 110,643 pounds of shot and shell. The fort’s southeastern corner was penetrated by nightfall, with the casemates blasted open. Sporadic return fire did no damage. Three Federal mortars and a Parrott rifle continued firing through the night to prevent the Confederates from repairing the breach, and the Federals hoped to capitalize on their gains the next morning.

Heavy firing resumed from both sides at dawn on the 11th. The Confederates’ aim improved, but the Federals maintained the edge in accuracy. Their guns continued pounding the southeastern breach, expanding it and opening new holes elsewhere. The entire southeastern wall eventually collapsed, along with an adjoining wall. This enabled the Federal gunners to fire directly into the fort. They soon blew open the fort’s magazine, exposing the 400 kegs of gunpowder inside that could destroy the fort if detonated.

The Federals prepared boats and scaling ladders for an infantry charge into the southeastern hole, but Gillmore had planned to bombard the fort another two days before deploying troops. This became a moot point when a white flag appeared over Fort Pulaski’s parapet at 2 p.m. Gillmore was taken by boat to accept the fort’s unconditional surrender.

Under the surrender terms, the Confederate officers would go north as prisoners of war, keeping their personal effects except for side arms. The 360 soldiers were paroled and sent home with orders not to take up arms again until properly exchanged for Federal parolees. The Federals took the fort’s 47 remaining guns, along with 40,000 barrels of gunpowder and large quantities of other supplies.

Four Confederates were wounded in the bombardment, and one was killed. One Federal soldier was also killed. The Federals had fired 5,275 rounds into Fort Pulaski. The structure, which Confederates thought to be invulnerable, was taken in only 30 hours. The rifled battery manned by the naval crew played a key role in reducing the fort.

Many on both sides expressed surprise that the fort had fallen so quickly. This marked the first time that long-range rifled artillery was used to reduce a fortification, thus beginning a new era of warfare. In his report, Gillmore stated that “the eight weeks of laborious preparation for its reduction could have been curtailed to one week, as heavy mortars and columbiads would have been omitted from the armament of the batteries as unsuitable for breaching at long ranges.”

Federals quickly occupied Fort Pulaski and closed Savannah Harbor to Confederate business for the rest of the war. This enabled gunboats to block both the main channel and the back channels of Wassaw and Ossabaw sounds. Controlling the entrance to Savannah helped strengthen the Federals’ coastal blockade. However, no immediate attempts were made to go 14 miles upriver and capture Savannah.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 46-47-49; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 148, 159; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 131, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 197-99; 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. 371; 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. 43; Melton, Maurice, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 278; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 295

Lincoln Approves Compensated Emancipation

April 10, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint congressional resolution pledging Federal compensation to states that implemented programs to free slaves.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Lincoln had asked Congress to endorse his plan by which the loyal slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, as well as western Virginia) would receive “pecuniary aid” if they voluntarily agreed to plans for gradual emancipation. The states would then use the funds however they saw fit, including to pay for freed slaves’ job training, education, welfare, or deportation; or to compensate slaveholders for their loss of labor and property.

Since the Federal government had no right to regulate slavery within the states, this measure sought to encourage the slave states with money to decide on a process to end the institution themselves. Lincoln had implicitly warned the political leaders of these states that if they did not accept this Federal offer, wartime exigencies could someday force him to free slaves involuntarily and without compensation.

The Republican press in the northern states overwhelmingly supported this resolution. An article in the New York Tribune declared, “This message constitutes of itself an epoch in the history of our country. It is the day-star of a new National dawn.” However, the more moderate New York Times questioned the large costs of such a program.

Some Radical Republicans in Congress argued that this plan was too lenient toward slaveholders. Abolitionists contended that bribing states to end slavery was immoral. Constitutionalists asserted that paying slave states to end slavery upset the Federal requirement to deal with all states equally, as the slave states would receive special treatment at the expense of the free states.

In the end, the resolution was approved by a vote of 88 to 31 in the House of Representatives, and 32 to 10 in the Senate. It was rejected by 85 percent of the Democrats and slave-state Unionists in Congress. This discouraged Lincoln because it demonstrated no change in their stance against it since he had met with the slave state congressmen in March. Moreover, this resolution was never enforced because none of the slave states would voluntarily end slavery.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 81-82; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 158; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7352; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 536; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 136; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 192, 197-98; 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; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 270; 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 Siege of Yorktown Begins

April 9, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln questioned not only Major General George B. McClellan’s strategy and tactics, but also his math after McClellan opted to lay siege to Yorktown and not attack.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By April 6, the rest of McClellan’s Army of the Potomac (less Major General Irvin McDowell’s I Corps) had arrived on the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James rivers. Lincoln expected to receive word that Yorktown had fallen, and when this did not happen, he telegraphed McClellan:

“You now have over one hundred thousand troops with you, independent of General Wool’s command (at Fort Monroe). I think you better break the enemies’ line from York-town to Warwick River, at once. They will probably use time, as advantageously as you can.”

McClellan, still seething over being denied McDowell’s services, wrote his wife that Lincoln “thought I had better break the enemy’s lines at once! I was much tempted to reply that he had better come & do it himself.”

Ignoring Lincoln’s advice to attack immediately, McClellan instead began “the more tedious, but sure operations of siege.” His reluctance to attack partly stemmed from the performance by Confederate Major General John B. Magruder’s Army of the Peninsula. Known as “Prince John” for his enjoyment of theatrics, Magruder had his artillerists sporadically fire on enemy troops, his bands play loudly into the night, and his infantry march in and out of clearings to look like endless lines of troops. At the same time, General Joseph E. Johnston hurried the transfer of Confederate troops from his Rappahannock-Fredericksburg-Rapidan line to Magruder’s.

The next day, McClellan relayed reports of the difficulties the Federals would have in crossing the Warwick River. He informed Washington, “The Warwick River grows worse the more you look at it.” McClellan asserted that a third of his army still had not yet arrived from Alexandria, and based on testimony from Confederates captured outside Yorktown:

“It seems clear that I shall have the whole force of the enemy on my hands, probably not less than 100,000 men, and possibly more… When my present command all joins (from Alexandria), I shall have about 85,000 men for duty, from which a large force must be taken for guards, escort, etc.”

McClellan reminded Lincoln that he (Lincoln) had made Major General John Wool’s command at Fort Monroe unavailable to the Army of the Potomac, thus implying that more troops were needed. Meanwhile, the Federals continued digging trenches to lay siege to Yorktown.

The Federal army remained stationary for four days, during which time Magruder’s force gradually increased with the arriving reinforcements. But Magruder’s force was nowhere near the 100,000-man army that McClellan feared it to be; in fact, it was still no match for McClellan’s superior numbers. But McClellan continued preparing to besiege the enemy defenses rather than attack them head-on.

At Washington, Lincoln met with his cabinet to discuss the progress on the Peninsula so far and the “discrepancy” in McClellan’s April 7 message between the number of troops he claimed to have and the enemy numbers he claimed to be facing. After the meeting, Lincoln wrote a long letter to McClellan. In it, he explained further why McDowell’s corps had been kept back on the Rappahannock line: “My explicit order that Washington should, by the judgment of all the commanders of Army corps, be left entirely secure, had been neglected.”

McClellan had originally planned for Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s V Corps to protect Washington, but that corps had been sent to the Shenandoah Valley. Regarding this Lincoln wrote, “And allow me to ask, do you really think I should permit the line from Richmond via Manassas Junction to this city to be entirely open except what resistance could be presented by less than 20,000 unorganized troops?”

Lincoln then stated that McClellan’s April 7 message contained “a curious mystery”: McClellan’s original troop report had listed 108,000 men, but as of the 7th that figure had dropped to 85,000. Lincoln asked, “How can the discrepancy of 23,000 be accounted for?”

Explaining that McClellan should have his entire army on the Peninsula by now, Lincoln advised:

“Once more let me tell you that it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow. I am powerless to help this. You will do me the justice to remember I always insisted that going down the bay in search of a field, instead of fighting at or near Manassas, was only shifting and not surmounting a difficulty; that we would find the same enemy and the same or equal intrenchments in either place. The country will not fail to note–is now noting–that the present hesitation to move upon an intrenched enemy is but the story of Manassas repeated. I beg to assure you that I have never written you or spoken to you in greater kindness of feeling than now, nor with a fuller purpose to sustain you, so far as, in my most anxious judgment, I consistently can. But you must act.”

McClellan “acted” by proceeding with a siege against an enemy that could have been easily overrun if attacked with overwhelming force and speed. He also continued insisting that the absence of McDowell’s corps left him in hostile territory against an army with superior numbers.

At Richmond, General Robert E. Lee, top advisor to President Jefferson Davis, received a message from a minister in Alexandria stating that thousands of Federals, including McClellan himself, had boarded steamers and gone to the Virginia Peninsula. This coincided with Magruder’s reports stating that McClellan’s main army was facing him at Yorktown. This finally confirmed that the main Federal attack would be on the Peninsula.

Davis responded by summoning J.E. Johnston and his two best divisions–under Major Generals James Longstreet and Gustavus W. Smith–to Richmond for reassignment to the Peninsula. Confederate forces south of the James River were pulled to reinforce Magruder as well. Major General Richard Ewell’s 7,500-man Confederate division remained on the Rappahannock line, ready to cooperate with Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s 5,000 men in the Shenandoah Valley if needed.

One of G.W. Smith’s brigades was left to defend Fredericksburg against McDowell’s corps. On the 10th, Lincoln relented and allowed McDowell’s lead division under General William B. Franklin, one of McClellan’s favorite commanders, to go to the Peninsula by water. McClellan had pleaded for McDowell’s entire corps to join him, but he was glad to get at least one division for now.

Two days later, J.E. Johnston arrived at Richmond with Longstreet and Smith and was given command of the Confederate Departments of Norfolk and the Peninsula. Johnston had asserted that he could not stop McClellan’s army from moving up the Peninsula because, even with Confederate reinforcements, he was still outnumbered nearly three-to-one. But Lee persuaded Johnston to make a stand.

When Johnston arrived at Yorktown on the 13th, there were nearly 34,000 troops manning the defenses in what soon became known as the Army of Northern Virginia. Johnston inspected the lines at Yorktown and Williamsburg and determined that they could not withstand a frontal assault. He also expressed concern that defending a peninsula would allow McClellan to move troops up either river and land in his rear. Johnston returned to Richmond that evening to report his findings.

Opposing the Confederates were nearly 100,000 Federals of the II, III, and IV corps of Generals Edwin V. Sumner, Samuel P. Heintzelman, and Erasmus D. Keyes respectively. Franklin’s division of McDowell’s corps was held in reserve. With Franklin’s men arriving, McClellan wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “I am confident as to results now. We shall soon be at them, and I am sure of the result.”

Federal optimism increased when the rains finally stopped and the skies cleared. With the roads improving, Federal scouts reconnoitered the enemy right flank near Lee’s Mill and the Warwick River and found potential weaknesses.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 97-102, 105; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13427-46, 13453, 13682; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 154, 157-58, 160; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 401, 407-09; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 132, 135-37; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3264; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 431-32; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 194-95, 197, 199; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 110