Tag Archives: Army of the West

Sherman’s March to the Sea Begins

November 15, 1864 – Leading elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies began moving out of Atlanta, headed southeast toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Sherman’s March to the Sea | Image Credit: Wikispaces

By the 15th, Federal troops were continuing to burn Atlanta’s business and industrial sections, as well as anything else that Confederates could use for military purposes. Churches and homes were swept up in the destruction as well. New York Herald correspondent David Conyngham noted, “The heart was burning out of beautiful Atlanta.” The devastation spread over 200 acres, and Captain Orlando Poe, the chief Federal engineer, estimated that 37 percent of Atlanta lay in ruins.

Meanwhile, Sherman was ready to start his precarious march to the sea. He reorganized his army into four corps totaling some 62,000 men in 218 regiments. The vanguard headed out in two wings:

  • Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia (formerly Army of the Cumberland), consisting of XIV and XX corps, comprised the left wing.
  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, consisting of XV and XVII corps, comprised the right wing.

Slocum would follow the Georgia Railroad east toward Augusta, while Howard would follow the Macon & Western Railroad southeast toward Macon. The cavalry, led by recently arrived Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, would screen Howard’s right. Sherman’s armies would move along diverging paths to avoid crowding on one road and keep the Confederates guessing as to their final destination. As Sherman later explained, “My first object was, of course, to place my army in the very heart of Georgia.”

Sherman would be violating a key military axiom by detaching himself from all lines of communication and supply deep in enemy territory. He would not be able to contact any of his Federal comrades outside his armies–superior or subordinate–and with supply wagons severely restricted, his men would not be regularly fed. Sherman therefore ordered them to live off the land, allowing them to cut a path of destruction 60 miles wide through the state.

As regimental bands played patriotic songs, the leading Federals marched out of Atlanta in high morale. The fires continued raging behind them, leading an officer to later write, “All the pictures and verbal descriptions of hell I have ever seen never gave me half so vivid an idea of it as did this flame-wrapped city tonight.”

Confederate opposition consisted only of a few thousand militia under Major General Howell Cobb and 3,500 cavalry troopers under Major General Joseph Wheeler. Kilpatrick later recalled, “We left Atlanta on the morning of November 15, crossed the Flint River and occupied Jonesboro. A portion of General Wheeler’s cavalry, and the Georgia militia under General Cobb, was reported to be at Lovejoy’s Station.”

Wheeler reported, “Enemy have burned many houses in Rome, Marietta, and Atlanta; also destroyed railroad and burned bridge over Chattahoochee.” Wheeler tried slowing the Federal advance by ordering that “all mills near the enemy’s lines of march will be rendered useless to the enemy by breaking the machinery, and, when practicable, by drawing off the water.” However, “no mill building, corn-crib, or any other private property will be burned or destroyed by this command.” Wheeler authorized his men to seize farm animals to prevent them from Federal capture, but he urged the troopers to account for them so their owners could be reimbursed.

The rest of Sherman’s forces left Atlanta on the 16th. This included Sherman himself, who later recalled:

“About 7 a.m. of November 16th we rode out of Atlanta by the Decatur road, filled by the marching troops and wagons of the Fourteenth Corps; and reaching the hill, just outside of the old rebel works, we naturally paused to look back upon the scenes of our past battles… Behind us lay Atlanta, smoldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city.

“Away off in the distance, on the McDonough road, was the rear of Howard’s column, the gun-barrels glistening in the sun, the white-topped wagons stretching away to the south; and right before us the Fourteenth Corps, marching steadily and rapidly, with a cheery look and swinging pace, that made light of the thousand miles that lay between us and Richmond. Some band, by accident, struck up the anthem of ‘John Brown’s soul goes marching on;’ the men caught up the strain, and never before or since have I heard the chorus of ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah!’ done with more spirit, or in better harmony of time and place.

“Then we turned our horses’ heads to the east; Atlanta was soon lost behind the screen of trees, and became a thing of the past. Around it clings many a thought of desperate battle, of hope and fear, that now seem like the memory of a dream; and I have never seen the place since. The day was extremely beautiful, clear sunlight, with bracing air, and an unusual feeling of exhilaration seemed to pervade all minds–a feeling of something to come, vague and undefined, still full of venture and intense interest.”

Northerners would not hear from Sherman or his army for nearly a month. During that time, nobody in the North knew for sure whether Sherman was triumphant or vanquished deep in enemy territory.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 184-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21069; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 487-88; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13434-44, 13464-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 520-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 597; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474-75; 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. 808-09; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-35, 45-46; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 304; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 340-44

The Atlanta Evacuation

September 7, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal armies now occupying Atlanta, made the controversial decision to force all residents out of their city.

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, was on the Macon & Western Railroad, about 20 miles south of Atlanta and 15 miles south of Rough and Ready, when he received a message from Sherman:

“I have deemed it to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove, those who prefer it to go South and the rest North. For the latter I can provide food and transportation to point of their election in Tennessee, Kentucky, or farther north. For the former I can provide transportation by cars as far as Rough and Ready, and also wagons; but that their removal may be made with as little discomfort as possible it will be necessary for you to help the families from Rough and Ready to the cars at Lovejoy’s.”

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Federal forces had occupied several cities in the Confederacy during the war, but this marked the first time that a Federal commander ordered all civilians out, including even those loyal to the U.S. In his memoirs, Sherman explained, “I was resolved to make Atlanta a pure military garrison or depot, with no civil population to influence military measures.”

Sherman offered to help residents (regardless of their sympathies) move their “clothing, trunks, reasonable furniture, bedding, &c., with their servants, white and black, with the proviso that no force shall be used toward the blacks one way or the other.” Unlike most other Federal occupation commanders, Sherman gave the slaves a choice: “If they want to go with their masters or mistresses they may do so, otherwise they will be set away, unless they be men, when they may be employed by our quartermaster.”

Evacuating Atlanta’s civilians would involve displacing 446 families totaling about 1,600 people, most of whom were elderly, infirmed, women or children. Most able-bodied men in these families were off either serving in the Confederate army, languishing in Federal prison camps, or killed. Forcing these people out violated Sherman’s pledge to city officials on the 2nd to respect the lives and property of noncombatants.

The next day, Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 67, declaring that “the city of Atlanta, being exclusively required for warlike purposes, will at once be evacuated by all except the armies of the United States.” Atlanta Mayor James M. Calhoun wrote Sherman explaining that turning out the sick and aged just before winter would be “appalling and heartrending.”

Sherman responded to the mayor and city council, “I give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned by it, and yet shall not revoke my order, because my orders are not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggle.” He went on:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out… You might as well appeal against the thunder storm as against these terrible hardships of war… They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war… Now you must go, and take with you your old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes at Atlanta.”

Sherman then issued a congratulatory order to his soldiers, praising them for capturing Atlanta and completing “the grand task which has been assigned us by our Government.” However, this order failed to note that the real grand task assigned–destroying Hood’s army–had not been achieved, as that Confederate force remained a threat in the area.

On the 9th, Hood replied to Sherman’s message: “I do not consider that I have any alternative in this matter. I therefore accept your proposition to declare a truce for two days, or such time as may be necessary to accomplish the purpose mentioned, and shall render all assistance in my power to expedite the transportation of citizens in this direction.” But then Hood vented his rage over Sherman’s punitive order:

“And now, sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war. In the name of God and humanity, I protest, believing that you will find that you are expelling from their homes and firesides the wives and children of a brave people.”

Sherman replied that Joseph E. Johnston, Hood’s predecessor, had “very wisely and properly, removed the families all the way from Dalton down, and I see no reason why Atlanta should be excepted.” Sherman also alleged that Hood had “burned dwellings along your parapet, and I have seen today 50 houses that you have rendered uninhabitable because they stood in the way of your forts and men. You defended Atlanta on a line so close to town that every cannon shot and many musket shots from our line of investment that overshot their mark went into the habitations of women and children.” Hood angrily answered:

“I feel no other emotion than pain in reading that portion of your letter which attempts to justify your shelling of Atlanta without notice… You came into our country, with your army avowedly for the purpose of subjugating free white men, women and children, and not only intend to rule over them, but you make negroes your allies and desire to place over us an inferior race, which we have raised from barbarism to its present position, which is the highest ever attained by that race in any country in all time.

“To this my reply is, for myself, and, I believe, for all the true men, ay, and women and children in my country, we will fight you to the death. Better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you or your Government and your negro allies.”

Sherman, who shared much of Hood’s opinion on the inferiority of blacks, argued that “not a single negro soldier left Chattanooga with this army or is with it now.” He ended his last letter, “This is the conclusion of our correspondence, which I did not begin, and terminate with satisfaction.”

The truce began on the 11th and lasted 10 days. During that time, all of Atlanta’s civilian population was exiled. The Federals prohibited wagons, so the people could only take with them what they could carry. Many were robbed of those few possessions before they reached Confederate lines. Occupation forces seized the valuables left behind.

Sherman wrote, “If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war and not popularity-seeking.” Sherman’s policy of “total war,” which included targeting civilians and destroying cities, made him the most hated man in the South.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20956; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 456; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12619-50; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494-95; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 567-69; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q364

 

The Battle of Pea Ridge: Day Two

March 8, 1862 – Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis regrouped his Federal Army of the Southwest and prepared to counterattack Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederates at Pea Ridge and Elkhorn Tavern.

Brig Gen S.R. Curtis | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brig Gen S.R. Curtis | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As Curtis concentrated his Federal line on the Telegraph road facing Elkhorn Tavern, Van Dorn intended to renew his assault from the previous day. A chance to capture the Federals’ supplies motivated the starving Confederates. Van Dorn began with a minor artillery bombardment, opting to use just three of his 15 guns.

When the firing stopped, Curtis correctly guessed that the Confederates were low on ammunition and ordered a general advance to start at 10 a.m. Curtis preceded the advance with an artillery barrage of his own, using all six of his guns to silence the Confederates’ cannon. The Federal artillery then turned on the enemy infantry, firing a shot every other second for two hours and inflicting many casualties.

Following the barrage, about 7,000 Federal infantrymen surged forward, led by Brigadier General Franz Sigel’s German immigrants from Missouri and Illinois. Sigel announced to his men before advancing that their only two options were to destroy the Confederates or surrender.

The charging Federals drove Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards away from Elkhorn Tavern to the east, while two divisions led by Sigel and Colonel Eugene A. Carr drove the Confederates off to the west. The demoralized Confederates quickly wavered all along the line, and Van Dorn ordered a retreat.

Day 2 fighting | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Day 2 fighting | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Van Dorn could not retreat in the same direction from which he came (the west) because Curtis could cut him off and destroy his army. Van Dorn therefore directed a withdrawal to the east, and then south, to his original encampment near Fayetteville in the Boston Mountains. To Van Dorn’s benefit, the bulk of the Federal attack came against the western portion of his line, enabling the eastern portion to slip away and pushing the rest in the direction that Van Dorn needed to go.

However, what Van Dorn hoped would be a fighting retreat soon became a confused rout, as the Confederates fell back in multiple directions. This resembled the panicked retreat at Bull Run, except this time it was the Confederates who fled.

The bulk of Van Dorn’s army rejoined the supply train around 2 p.m., and by nightfall, most of the Confederates had reached Van Winkle’s Mill, some 20 miles from the battlefield. Sigel’s Federals conducted a half hearted pursuit and camped about 10 miles north, while the rest of Curtis’s army remained at Pea Ridge.

As a consequence of this battle, Missouri remained firmly in Federal hands. Curtis sustained 1,384 casualties (203 killed, 980 wounded, and 201 missing or captured). Colonel Carr later received the Medal of Honor for his performance in the first day of fighting. Curtis wrote his brother after the battle:

“The enemy is again far away in the Boston Mountains. The scene is silent and sad–the vulture and the wolf now have the dominion and the dead friends and foes sleep in the same lonely graves.”

The Confederates had fought well considering their exhaustion and hunger; many had gone into the fight with shotguns or obsolete flintlock muskets to take on state-of-the-art Federal weaponry. Van Dorn suffered about 1,300 casualties (1,000 killed or wounded and 300 missing or captured). His worn out men straggled back toward the Arkansas River and ultimately Van Buren, but it took them two weeks to fully regroup.

Despite being driven off in confusion, Van Dorn reported: “I was not defeated, but only foiled in my intentions.” He acknowledged that no victory could have replaced the cost, which included the loss of Generals Ben McCulloch and James McIntosh on the battle’s first day. However, Van Dorn had high praise for Price’s Missourians:

“During the whole of this engagement, I was with the Missourians under Price, and I have never seen better fighters than these Missouri troops, or more gallant leaders than Gen Price and his officers… Gen Price received a severe wound in the action, but would neither retire from the field nor cease to expose his life to danger.”

The Confederates did not accomplish their goals of regaining Missouri or diverting Federal attention from the Confederate military buildup in northern Mississippi. However, they inflicted enough damage on Curtis to compel him to end his Arkansas invasion and return to Missouri.

Van Dorn ultimately led his Army of the West across the Mississippi River to join Confederates confronting Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s army in Tennessee. This caused great resentment among Brigadier General Albert Pike and his Native American Confederates, who had participated in the first day’s fighting at Pea Ridge, because it broke a Confederate pledge to protect the Indian Territory from Federal invasion.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 120; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (8 Mar 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 138; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 282-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 119; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 688; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 141-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 180-81; 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. 404-05; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 283-85; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 566-67, 707

The Battle of Pea Ridge: Day One

March 7, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederates attacked Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis’s Federals in northwestern Arkansas, as part of Van Dorn’s mission to reclaim Missouri.

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By March 6, Van Dorn’s men had marched through snow and sleet to get within striking distance of Curtis’s Army of the Southwest entrenched on Pea Ridge, near Fayetteville. During the night, the Confederates left their campfires burning while they moved around the Federals’ right and into their rear. Van Dorn had the numerical advantage (16,000 to 10,500), but his men were exhausted and hungry, having marched 55 miles in three days.

Van Dorn, directing operations from an ambulance due to illness, further compromised his superior manpower by dividing the army in the hopes of executing a “double envelopment”: Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards marched down the Telegraph road to confront the Federals’ eastern (left) sector near Elkhorn Tavern, while Brigadier General Ben McCulloch’s force attacked the Federals’ western (right) sector near Leetown. Van Dorn expected the two wings to reunite as they pushed the Federals back.

Curtis had anticipated an attack on his right flank, but not such an aggressive drive so deep behind his lines. Near dawn on the cold, dreary morning of the 7th, Curtis realized the extent of the Confederate maneuver and hurriedly ordered an “about face” to meet the threats to his flank and rear.

Skirmishing opened between 6 and 7 a.m. Delays in positioning the Confederate troops gave Curtis more time to brace his army for the impending attack. Price’s surprise attack on Curtis’s left was also slow to generate, and it was not until 10:30 that the first sortie began.

Battle of Pea Ridge | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Battle of Pea Ridge | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fighting surged back and forth all day. Three Federal divisions held off attacks from McCulloch, Brigadier General Albert Pike, and a portion of Price’s Missourians in the western sector, which became the Federal left after the troops about-faced. Meanwhile, Colonel Eugene A. Carr’s Federal division, supported by artillery, repelled Price’s main force near the important intersection at Elkhorn Tavern.

In the western sector, Pike’s Cherokee regiments, led by Colonel Stand Watie, withstood an artillery barrage from Colonel Peter J. Osterhaus’s Federal division. The Natives then charged the battery in full warrior dress, armed with rifles, bows and arrows, and tomahawks. They sent the Federals running, with many later accusing the Natives of scalping their victims.

The Cherokees became disorganized when they stopped to celebrate their victory. This gave another Federal division time to step up and counterattack. Pike could not regroup his command, and the Federals sent the Natives in retreat. Many of them left Van Dorn’s army completely, heading back to the Indian Territory by nightfall. This was the first and last major battle of the war that featured Native American combatants.

McCulloch, on Pike’s left, had hoped to capitalize on Pike’s initial success with gains of his own. However, the disorganized retreat left his men unsupported in the western sector. Consequently, the exhausted Confederates could not close the gap between themselves and Price as Van Dorn had hoped. As they slowly advanced, McCulloch rode out front to reconnoiter the Federal lines around 10:30 a.m. Wearing a black velvet uniform, he was easily visible among his butternut-clad men, and a Federal sharpshooter shot him dead.

McCulloch had been the second-ranking Confederate brigadier general, and his death demoralized the troops. Brigadier General James McIntosh, McCulloch’s cavalry commander, replaced him but was killed just minutes later while leading a charge against the divisions of Osterhaus and Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president). This, along with the capture of the Confederates’ third-ranking officer, further damaged troop morale.

Meanwhile, brutal fighting occurred in the eastern sector. Carr’s Federals repelled two charges by Price’s Missourians, despite being outnumbered two-to-one. A furious third charge knocked the Federals back beyond Elkhorn Tavern, but they counterattacked and regained the lost ground as Carr repeatedly called for reinforcements. A fourth assault just before nightfall drove the Federals about 800 yards west, as more Federals finally arrived to stabilize Carr’s lines.

Fighting ended by nightfall. The Confederates had gained some ground and inflicted substantial damage on Curtis’s army. However, the two wings could not coordinate their efforts to destroy the Federals as Van Dorn had hoped. And the failure to regroup the Cherokees, along with the deaths of McCulloch and McIntosh, caused considerable disarray among the Confederate ranks.

Van Dorn reported that McIntosh had been alert, daring, and devoted to duty, and his death was significant due to his popularity among his troops. Both McIntosh and McCulloch became the two greatest heroes of this battle. Van Dorn, apparently resentful of Pike’s inability to regroup his Natives, omitted their contribution in his official report. As both sides settled down for the night, the Confederates found themselves separated from their supply train. Van Dorn had not directed it to follow his army, thus depriving the troops of food and ammunition.

At Federal headquarters, Curtis held a council of war. Federal prospects seemed bleak considering that the Confederates had taken Pea Ridge and Elkhorn Tavern, and they cut his supply line to the north. However, Curtis knew that McCulloch had been killed, and that other top officers had also been killed or captured. He also knew that the Natives had left the fight. Guessing that Confederate morale was low, Curtis resolved to concentrate his forces and fight his way through to the north the next morning.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 120; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (7 Mar 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12910; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 138; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9562; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 381, 461-62; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 282-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 118-19; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 143; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179-80; 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. 404; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 458, 585; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 566-67

Battle Looms in Northwestern Arkansas

March 2, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn led a unified Confederate army northward to confront Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis’s outnumbered Federals in northwestern Arkansas.

Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi District, arrived at the Boston Mountains in Arkansas to create the new 16,000-man Army of the West from:

  • Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards
  • Brigadier General Ben McCulloch’s Texans, Louisianans, Arkansans, and Missourians
  • Brigadier General Albert Pike’s 800 Native Americans
General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Van Dorn’s objective was to reverse the recent Confederate withdrawal by reentering Missouri, capturing St. Louis, and possibly even invading Illinois. In so doing, Van Dorn would divert Federal attention and resources from General Albert Sidney Johnston’s efforts to unite Confederate forces scattered among various points in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Curtis opposed Van Dorn by leading the 10,500-man Federal Army of the Southwest into northwestern Arkansas. Van Dorn knew that Curtis had committed a classic military error by dividing his force in the face of a larger enemy–one wing was along the Telegraph road, and another was farther west at Bentonville. Van Dorn planned to move his Confederates between the Federal wings and defeat them both in detail. However, there was intense animosity between Price and McCulloch, as well as their troops, dating back to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek the previous August. This threatened to undermine the cooperation that Van Dorn needed to execute his plan.

Before moving out, Van Dorn issued orders for the men to bring just three days’ rations, one blanket, and 40 rounds of ammunition. No tents, cooking equipment, or extra clothing was allowed. This put the troops at risk of freezing on the Ozark Plateau, starving if they could not defeat the Federals and take their supplies, or both. The Confederates began moving out on the 4th.

The next day, Curtis received word that the enemy was approaching. Having just four infantry divisions along with some cavalry and artillery, Curtis awaited reinforcements as he began pulling back to stronger defensive positions. He also ordered Brigadier General Franz Sigel, commanding two of Curtis’s four divisions at Bentonville, to fall back and join the rest of the army about 10 miles northeast.

By March 6, Curtis’s Federals had begun setting up defenses along Pea Ridge, a high eminence along the northern bank of Little Sugar Creek that got its name from peas growing on vines. They also entrenched themselves near Elkhorn Tavern, north of Fayetteville. Facing south from these positions, the Federals could watch the important Telegraph road running from Fayetteville to Springfield, Missouri. West of the Telegraph road, Sigel’s Federals, mostly German immigrants from St. Louis, could watch the Elm Springs road for a potential Confederate advance.

Meanwhile, Van Dorn’s army continued marching northward from Fayetteville and Elm Springs, with Pike’s command, consisting mainly of three Cherokee regiments, leading the way. The Confederates advanced with hardly any protection from the heavy sleet and snow.

By the afternoon of the 6th, Price’s Missourians had reached the southern end of Pea Ridge. To the west, Brigadier General James McIntosh, McCulloch’s cavalry commander, attacked Sigel’s Federals near Bentonville and tried surrounding them. However, the Federals narrowly escaped and fended McIntosh off with artillery before joining Curtis’s men at Pea Ridge. Curtis prepared to defend against a frontal assault.

The Confederates camped along the Telegraph road that night as Van Dorn met with Price, McCulloch, and McIntosh. Van Dorn’s original plan to divide and conquer Curtis’s two wings was no longer tenable, and the commanders agreed that Curtis’s new positions were too strong to attack frontally. Therefore, a new strategy was needed.

McCulloch proposed taking the Bentonville Detour road at dawn and moving around the Federal right flank, which would threaten Curtis’s supply line and force him to fall back into Missouri. Van Dorn took this idea further–the Confederates would move that night around the Federal right and continue until they reached the Telegraph road behind the Federals, which would cut Curtis’s supply line and force him to surrender. Price’s Missourians would create a diversion by attacking the Federal left near Elkhorn Tavern.

Curtis anticipated some sort of flanking maneuver, but he did not expect Van Dorn to thrust so far into the interior of his lines. Such a move could have easily destroyed the Federal army had the Confederates not been so exhausted, cold, and hungry. Further hampering the plan was Van Dorn himself, who was so ill that he had to direct operations from an ambulance. This kept him from ensuring that Price and McCulloch worked in full cooperation.

The Confederates moved out that evening, leaving their campfires burning to hide their intentions. However, Federal scouts, including “Wild Bill” Hickok, kept a close eye on their movements.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12891-910; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 137; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 116-18; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179; 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. 404; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 281-82; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 566-67

Fremont Finally Removed

November 2, 1861 – Major General John C. Fremont finally received the order removing him from command of the Federal Army of the West and replacing him with Major General David Hunter.

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

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

Fremont had incurred the ire of the Lincoln administration ever since he issued his unauthorized proclamation declaring martial law in Missouri and freeing all slaves belonging to disloyal masters. Since then, various investigations had uncovered vast amounts of corruption and fraud in Fremont’s department, which bore either Fremont’s complicity or his ignorance. Either way, President Abraham Lincoln decided in late October that Fremont had to go.

When Fremont learned that Lincoln had made the order removing him from command official, he worked to prevent messengers from delivering it by posting guards and issuing orders not to allow anyone into his Springfield, Missouri, headquarters without his authorization.

Leonard Swett and Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, the men entrusted with delivering the order, had anticipated Fremont’s move. They enlisted a Captain McKinney to disguise himself as a farmer and enter Fremont’s headquarters on the premise that he had information about the secessionist Missouri State Guards.

McKinney arrived just outside Fremont’s lines at 5 a.m. after traveling 200 miles from St. Louis. Noting the stipulation that he was not to deliver the order if the army was about to go into battle, McKinney scouted the forces for five hours before determining that a battle was not imminent. One of Fremont’s aides halted McKinney as he approached, and after hearing the nature of the “farmer’s” visit and consulting with Fremont, the aide allowed McKinney to enter.

McKinney presented the order to Fremont, who frowned upon reading it. He pounded the table and exclaimed, “Sir, how did you get admission into my lines?” Fremont dismissed McKinney, who was arrested by aides to prevent him from notifying Hunter of the change. But McKinney explained that a second messenger had been dispatched, and Hunter had most likely already been informed already. Later that evening, McKinney escaped the aides’ custody.

Fremont called a meeting of all his division commanders (except Hunter) and announced that he would keep command by immediately confronting General Sterling Price’s Missouri Guards. However, the Guards had fallen back 60 miles, well beyond Fremont’s immediate reach. Brigadier General John Pope, one of Fremont’s critics, said, “It might be best, before deciding upon a plan of battle, to know whether there was any enemy to fight.” Hunter then arrived and announced his intention to carry out the order replacing Fremont. This ended both the meeting and Fremont’s reign as Western Department commander.

The news of Fremont’s removal soon spread through the army, causing resentment and outrage among his loyal followers, especially the German immigrants. General Franz Sigel, one of his division commanders, threatened to resign in protest, and some troops suggested staging a mutiny. But cooler heads ultimately prevailed as Fremont issued a farewell address that began, “Soldiers! I regret to leave you,” and asking them to be faithful to Hunter. He then left Springfield and returned to his wife at St. Louis.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (November 2); Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 6; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21320; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 91-92; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6641; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 98-99, 149; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 77-78; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 391; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 133-35; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814-15

The Missouri Secession

October 28, 1861 – Remnants of the popularly elected Missouri legislature gathered at Neosho to consider leaving the Union, even though a new Unionist government claimed to be the legitimate governing body over Missouri.

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

A group of ousted legislators met in the Masonic Hall at Neosho, 70 miles southwest of Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal Army of the West at Springfield. One of the few Unionist legislators in attendance claimed that only 10 senators and 39 representatives were present, short of the required 17 senators and 67 representatives for a quorum under Missouri law. Nevertheless, exiled pro-secession Governor Claiborne F. Jackson addressed the body:

“It is in vain to hope for a restoration of amicable relations between Missouri and the other United States of America under the same government, and it is not desirable if it could be accomplished… Men, women and children, in open day and in the public thoroughfares, were shot down and murdered by a brutal soldiery with the connivance of Government officers. Our citizen soldiers were arrested and imprisoned, State property was seized and confiscated without warrant of law, private citizens were insecure in their persons and property; the writ of Habeas Corpus had been nullified and the brave Judges who had attempted to protect by it, the liberties of the citizens had been insulted and threatened and a tyrant president revealing in unencumbered powers had crowned all these acts of unconstitutional aggression by declaring war against a number of the States comprising the former Union.”

Both houses approved an “Act Declaring the Political Ties Heretofore Existing Between the State of Missouri and the United States of America Dissolved.” Jackson signed the Ordinance of Secession into law three days later, officially taking Missouri out of the Union.

Since the legislators had been popularly elected, the Confederacy joined the U.S. in claiming that Missouri was one of its states. Anticipating admission into the Confederacy, the exiled legislature approved a motion appointing two senators and seven representatives to the Confederate Congress.

However, a second state government also operated in Missouri, having been created by Unionist delegates to the Missouri constitutional convention in July. The convention reassembled this month to approve further measures to ensure that the provisional government remained loyal to the U.S.

Delegates approved a measure suspending the upcoming popular elections until the following August. This gave provisional Governor Hamilton R. Gamble time to replace elected officials suspected of favoring secession with Unionists. Another measure permitted administering “test oaths” to disqualify anti-Unionist voters or elected officials.

The delegates also approved organizing a provisional state militia, with men between the ages of 18 and 45 who passed the “test oath” eligible for duty; the Federal government would fund this new militia. In addition, delegates adopted measures to raise revenue by issuing bonds, and they voted to cut the salaries of state employees by 20 percent.

For the time being, Missouri would operate with two governing bodies, with the U.S. recognizing the provisional government at Jefferson City and the Confederacy recognizing the elected government at Neosho.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 77; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 133; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 501-02; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461