Tag Archives: Gustavus V. Fox

Federals Regroup on Morris Island

July 31, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln approved reinforcing the Department of the South to bolster the Federals on Morris Island who were trying to capture not only the island but the city of Charleston, South Carolina.

Federal forces remained on the southern part of Morris Island after sustaining another defeat at Battery Wagner on the 18th. With his force reduced to 6,000 men due to combat and illness, Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the department, wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck requesting reinforcements. Gillmore asked for 8,000 veterans that he assumed would be freed up after the victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Tullahoma.

While waiting for Halleck’s response, Gillmore worked with Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, on a new plan of attack. The two commanders agreed that reinforcements were needed before any offensive operations could be resumed, but Dahlgren had none to offer.

Rear Adm J.A.B. Dahlgren – Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Dahlgren contacted Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and suggested that 20,000 reinforcements could take Morris Island and put the Federals in position to attack Charleston. When Welles received Dahlgren’s message, he sent Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox to discuss the matter with Halleck. Halleck claimed that he had received no request for reinforcements from Gillmore; that message would not reach him until the 28th. When Halleck read it, he immediately replied:

“You were distinctly informed that you could not have any additional troops, and it was only on the understanding that none would be required that I consented to your undertaking operations on Morris Island. Had it been supposed that you would require more troops, the operations would not have been attempted with my consent or that of the Secretary of War.”

Halleck explained that “every man that we could possibly rake and scrape together is in the field in face of the enemy… And now, at this critical junction, comes your urgent but unexpected application for 8,000 additional troops for Morris Island. It is, to say the least, seriously embarrassing.” Halleck ultimately dispatched 2,000 black troops from North Carolina, but they were untested and too few for Gillmore to proceed.

Lincoln and Welles then met with Halleck and agreed that since Major General George G. Meade would not be launching another offensive in northern Virginia any time soon, troops could be pulled from the Army of the Potomac to reinforce Gillmore. Lincoln directed the War Department to send 5,000 additional troops from XI Corps to Morris Island.

By month’s end, Gillmore had begun preparing to besiege Batteries Wagner and Gregg on Morris Island, as well as Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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References

Official Naval Records (Series 1, Vol. 14), p. 380-82, 401; Official Records (Series 1, Vol. 28, Part 2), p. 23-24, 26, 29, 30, 39; Official Records (Series 1, Vol 53), p. 293-94; Welles, Gideon, Diary (Vol. 1); Wise, Stephen R., Gate of Hell

Vicksburg: Porter Runs the Batteries

April 16, 1863 – Rear Admiral David D. Porter successfully passed the Confederate batteries guarding Vicksburg. This marked a successful start to Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to capture Vicksburg from below.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Porter prepared eight gunboats (seven ironclads and one timber-clad), and three transports to pass the Vicksburg batteries on the dark, moonless night of the 16th (and into the 17th). Their mission was to transport supplies to the Federal troops at New Carthage, below Vicksburg, and bring those troops to the east bank of the Mississippi. This was a daring gamble that threatened to ruin Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron if it failed.

Federals placed heavy logs, wet cotton bales and haystacks on the ship decks to absorb Confederate cannon fire. Coal barges were lashed to the ships, with each barge carrying 10,000 bushels of coal to refuel the ships once they got below Vicksburg. All lights were extinguished, portholes were closed, and engine noises were muffled.

The fleet began moving from the mouth of the Yazoo River around 9:30 p.m., with Porter’s flagship, the U.S.S. Benton, in the lead. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana observed the movement and wrote:

“It was a strange scene. First a mass of black things detached itself from the shore, and we saw it float out toward the middle of the stream. There was nothing to see but this big mass, which dropped slowly down the river. Soon another black mass detached itself, and another, then another. It was Admiral Porter’s fleet of ironclad turtles, steamboats, and barges. They floated down the Mississippi darkly and silently, showing neither steam nor light, save occasionally a signal astern, where the enemy could not see it.”

The ships rounded the toe of De Soto Point near 11 p.m. Confederate pickets immediately spotted the fleet and lit bonfires to expose the ships to the artillerists. Some Confederates ignited barrels of pitch, and others on the west bank set fire to a frame house. The four-mile line of Confederate batteries opened fire.

The people of Vicksburg were unaware of the fleet’s approach. The Confederate department commander, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, had told his superiors that Grant gave up trying to take the city and returned to Memphis. The Vicksburg Whig stated the Federal gunboats “are all more or less damaged, the men dissatisfied and demoralized… There is no immediate danger here.” Officers and citizens held a festive ball in the city that night, which turned into “confusion and alarm” when the guests heard the gunfire opening on the river.

Many of the Confederate guns were slow to respond because the artillery officers had left their posts to attend the ball. The Confederates ultimately fired 525 rounds but scored only 68 hits. A master’s mate wrote that “we ran the Vicksburg shore so close that they overshot us most of the time.”

Running the Vicksburg batteries | Image Credit: figures.boundless.com

The run took two and a half hours, during which time nearly every Federal vessel was hit at least once. Each ship endured about 30 minutes of fire while passing the batteries, and a few minutes more while passing Warrenton. The transport Henry Clay sank, but Federals rescued the crew. Another tried turning back, but the U.S.S. Tuscumbia brought up the rear to stop her. Two coal barges had to be cut loose, but the rest made it through. The Federals sustained 14 wounded and none killed.

The 10 remaining ships continued downriver to Hard Times, their mission successfully completed. Porter minimized the damage he sustained in his official report, explaining privately to Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox that “as it will not do to let the enemy know how often they hit us, and show how vulnerable we are. Their heavy shot walked right through us, as if we were made of putty.”

With the naval part of the plan completed, it was now up to Grant to lead the troops across the river and exploit the back door to Vicksburg. Grant heard the firing from Milliken’s Bend, but when it stopped he did not know whether the ships made it through. Before dawn, he rode 17 miles through the swamps and bayous to New Carthage, where he saw that the fleet had arrived mostly intact. This was just the first of many gambles Grant would take in this campaign. The next step would be to ferry the troops to the east bank of the Mississippi, which would cut them off from their supply base in enemy territory.

Pemberton had speculated that Grant was returning to Memphis and returned 8,000 troops on loan from the Army of Tennessee. He quickly asked General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Department, to send them back, wiring that Grant’s “movement up the river was a ruse. Certainly no more troops should leave this department.” Pemberton also reported that 64 steamers had left Memphis, “loaded with troops and negroes, apparently with intention of making an assault on Vicksburg.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 351-52; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 66-68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18340; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 275; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 329, 345; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 282; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 84-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 338-39; 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. 626-27; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 165; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

Federals Invade Charleston Harbor

April 7, 1863 – Federal ironclads launched a doomed attack on the Confederate forts guarding Charleston Harbor.

Adm S.F. Du Pont | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Lincoln administration had pressured Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, to capture the forts in Charleston Harbor, which would lead to the fall of Charleston itself. Charleston, site of Fort Sumter, was more of a symbolic than a strategic objective for the Federal high command.

Du Pont had been reluctant to attack the forts ringing the harbor because he doubted the new ironclads had the power to reduce such strong fortifications. He also could not rely on army support, as Major General David Hunter (commanding the Federal Department of the South) had no intention of attacking such a strong position.

Unable to put it off any longer, Du Pont dispatched the ironclads U.S.S. Keokuk, Montauk, Passaic, and Patapsco to the North Edisto River and positioned other gunboats in preparation for the impending assault on the 1st. Du Pont arrived at Edisto Island the next night and issued orders to his ship commanders on the 4th:

“… The Squadron will pass up the main channel without returning the fire of the batteries on Morris Island, unless signal should be made to commence action. The ships will open fire on Fort Sumter when within easy range, and will take up position to the northward and westward of that fortification, engaging its left or northeast face at a distance of from 600 to 800 yards firing low and aiming at the center embrasure… After the reduction of Fort Sumter it is probable that the next point of attack will be the batteries on Morris Island. The order of battle will be line ahead…”

Du Pont assembled his ironclad fleet on the afternoon of April 5. Federals had placed buoys in the channel off the Stono bar to mark the safe passage, with the gunboats U.S.S. Catskill and Patapsco guarding the buoys. Du Pont assigned steamers to tow off any vessels that might be disabled in the impending assault.

The attack fleet consisted of nine ironclads: the U.S.S. Weehawken, Passaic, Montauk, Patapsco, New Ironsides (Du Pont’s flagship), Catskill, Nantucket, Nahant, and Keokuk. The ships had 32 15-inch guns to face 76 guns in the harbor forts. The ships crossed the Charleston bar and prepared to attack, but hazy weather rendered pilots unable to judge the ranges, so it was postponed for a day. The ships anchored just outside the harbor that night.

The tides delayed the attack on the 7th until around noon. The fleet began advancing toward the main channel leading into the harbor single-file, with the Weehawken under Captain John Rodgers leading the way. But the raft that the Weehawken was pushing to offset Confederate torpedoes got tangled with the main ship, causing another delay. The advance finally got under way in earnest around 3 p.m.

This was the largest naval attack of the war. The Confederates knew the attack was coming, and Charleston residents lined the shore to watch the action. As the fleet headed for Fort Sumter, the Confederate garrison there raised their flag and fired a salute to the Confederacy while a band played “Dixie.”

Federal attack on Charleston | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federal ships struggled to get past the obstructions and over the sandbars. Confederates had also placed markers in the water to guide the range of their guns. Federal captains had trouble navigating the strong flood tide sweeping into the harbor as they came under fire.

Intense fire opened from Fort Sumter and nearby Sullivan’s and Morris islands. The Federals returned fire, but the ironclads’ slow guns could not match the enemy’s cannonade. A witness called the Confederate cannonade, “Sublime, infernal, it seemed as if the fires of hell were turned upon the Union fleet.” A naval officer said, “Such a fire I never saw. Nothing could be heard but the whistling of shot.”

The Federal ships fired 154 rounds, hitting Fort Sumter 55 times. But the Confederates fired 2,209 rounds and scored over 400 direct hits that destroyed decks, riddled smokestacks, penetrated armor, and disabled guns. The Weehawken took 53 hits and struck a torpedo. The Passaic took 35 hits and had her main gun turret disabled. The Montauk under Captain John L. Worden took 47 hits, as did the Patapsco. The New Ironsides was disabled and sat helpless above a 2,000-pound torpedo. Confederates tried detonating the torpedo, but a faulty wire saved the ship and crew, including Du Pont.

The Catskill was next in line, sustaining 20 hits and taking in water. The Nantucket took 51 hits that disabled her turret. The Nahant was crippled by 36 hits. The Keokuk got within 600 yards of Fort Sumter but sustained 90 hits, 18 of which penetrated the iron near the waterline. “Riddled like a colander,” the ship fell back toward Morris Island and sank later that night. Confederates later recovered the Keokuk’s signal books and learned all the Federals’ naval codes.

In addition, two Confederate spar-torpedo boats (oar-driven vessels with mines attached to a spar to ram enemy ships) went to confront the Federal ships still inside the Stono bar, but the Federals withdrew before they arrived.

The Federals sustained 23 casualties (one killed and 22 wounded), and the Confederates lost 14 (four killed and 10 wounded). Du Pont’s flagship signaled a withdrawal around 5 p.m., as the sun began setting. The harbor proved to be “a circle of fire not to be passed.” A Charleston resident wrote of the Federal ships, “It was a most signal defeat for them. We did not use half of our guns and had no recourse to rams, torpedoes, etc.” His “only regret is that the fleet did not make more of a fight so as to be more badly damaged.”

Du Pont planned to renew the assault the next morning until he received the damage reports from his commanders. Five ships were heavily damaged. Du Pont held a council of war and announced, “We have met with a sad repulse. I shall not turn it into a great disaster.” Du Pont reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “I determined not to renew the attack, for, in my judgment, it would have converted a failure into a disaster.” Every captain agreed, confident that naval force alone could not take the harbor.

Du Pont wrote to Hunter the next day that his suspicions about the ironclads’ abilities had been confirmed: “I attempted to take the bull by the horns. but he was too much for us. These monitors are miserable failures where forts are concerned.” Du Pont urged Welles to publicly acknowledge that the failed assault was due to the ironclads being unfit for the purpose, but Welles refused.

Lincoln was greatly disappointed by the defeat, and he ordered Du Pont, “Hold your position inside the bar near Charleston, or, if you shall have left it, return to it, and hold it till further orders.” Lincoln hoped the Federal presence would keep the Confederates anxious and prevent them from building more defenses.

News of this defeat brought tremendous criticism upon Du Pont. Charles C. Fulton, who had witnessed the battle, wrote a damning article in the Baltimore American titled, “A Disgraceful Result.” Fulton claimed the ships could have taken Fort Sumter if they were given more time before withdrawing. Fulton wrote, “Oh, that we had a (Admiral David) Farragut here to take command at once, and do what has been so weakly attempted by Admiral Du Pont.”

Du Pont blamed Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox for allowing such an article to be published because Fox had assigned Fulton to witness the battle. Welles concluded that the captains who agreed with Du Pont’s decision to withdraw would not have done so had they not been part of Du Pont’s inner circle.

Welles refused to publish any reports about the ironclads’ weaknesses because “there was no necessity for us to proclaim that weakness to our enemies… Du Pont is morbidly sensitive, and to vindicate himself wants to publish every defect and weakness of the ironclads and to disparage them, regardless of its effect in inspiring the Rebels to resist them, and impairing the confidence of our own men.” Welles and the Federal high command began seeing Du Pont as the main impediment to capturing Charleston.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 191; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 115-18; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 230; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 270-74; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9225; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 224, 226-30, 232; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 278, 280; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 335-38; 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. 645-46; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 146-48; Melton, Maurice, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 640-41; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 703

Federals Shift Their Focus to Charleston

February 18, 1863 – General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate defenses in South Carolina and Georgia, issued a proclamation warning citizens that a Federal attack on either Charleston or Savannah was imminent.

Following the destruction of the U.S.S. Monitor in late December, the Federal Navy Department shifted its focus from attacking Wilmington, North Carolina, to Charleston, South Carolina. In January, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles informed Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont, heading the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, that five new ironclads would be coming for him “to enter the harbor of Charleston and demand the surrender of all the defenses or suffer the consequences of the refusal.”

Adm S.F. Du Pont | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Du Pont was not as sold on the effectiveness of ironclads as others in the Federal navy, especially when trying to reduce strong fortifications such as those in Charleston Harbor. When Du Pont voiced his concerns, Welles left it up to him whether to attack, but he called Charleston’s capture “imperative.” Welles also pledged that the Navy Department would “share the responsibility imposed upon the commanders who make the attempt.” Du Pont opted not to attack, instead requesting two more ironclads that would not be ready for another six months.

In the meantime, Du Pont worked with Major General David Hunter to adopt the Army Signal Codes for ironclads. Using navy signals relied on running banners up and down the masts, which was a problem for ironclads because they had no masts. Using the Army Signal Codes not only solved the problem, but it facilitated better communication between the army and navy during joint operations.

Du Pont also reported on chronic supply shortages:

“Our requisitions for general stores, I have reason to believe, are immediately attended to by the bureaus in the Department… but there seem to be unaccountable obstacles to our receiving them… We have been out of oil for machinery. Coal is not more essential… My commanding officers complain their wants are not supplied…”

Maintaining the blockade was also troublesome for Du Pont:

“No vessel has ever attempted to run the blockade except by stealth at night–which fully established internationally the effectiveness of the blockade–but it is not sufficient for our purpose, to keep out arms and keep in cotton–unfortunately our people have considered a total exclusion possible and the government at one time seemed to think so… If I had not induced the Department to establish a floating machine shop, which I had seen the French have in China, the blockade would have been a total failure…”

However, Du Pont refused to stray from the rules of civilized warfare. He condemned Confederate use of torpedoes in Charleston Harbor, adding, “Nothing could induce me to allow a single one in the squadron for the destruction of human life. I think that Indian scalping, or any other barbarism, is no worse.”

A meeting took place on the morning of Sunday the 15th between President Abraham Lincoln, Welles, Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, and General John G. Foster, commanding Federal forces on the North Carolina coast. They all agreed that Charleston must be captured, but they could not agree on a plan.

When Foster suggested landing troops with naval support, Fox called it “so insignificant and characteristic of the army.” Fox urged sending in all the vessels to seize the harbor, which would isolate the forts and force their surrender. Ultimately, Fox directed Du Pont to “go in and demand a surrender of the forts or the alternative of destruction to their city.”

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

At Charleston, Beauregard had previously announced that the blockade had been broken, but by the 13th he reported that eight Federal vessels had returned. He informed his superiors, “Everything indicates an early attack on Charleston or Savannah, probably former. Enemy is accumulating a large force at Port Royal (South Carolina) several iron-clads are there.”

On the 18th, Beauregard issued a proclamation to Charlestonians:

“It has become my solemn duty to inform the authorities and citizens of Charleston and Savannah that the movements of the enemy’s fleet indicate an early land and naval attack on one or both of these cities, and to urge that all persons unable to take an active part in the struggle shall retire.

“It is hoped that this temporary separation of some of you from your homes will be made without alarm or undue haste, thus showing that the only feeling that animates you in this hour of supreme trial is the regret of being unable to participate in the defense of your homes, your altars, and the graves of your kindred.

“Carolinians and Georgians! the hour is at hand to prove your devotion to your country’s cause. Let all able-bodied men, from the seaboard to the mountains, rush to arms. Be not exacting in the choice of weapons; pikes and scythes will do for exterminating your enemies, spades and shovels for protecting your friends.

“To arms, fellow citizens! Come to share with us our dangers, our brilliant success, or our glorious death.”

Beauregard also asked local slave owners to donate their slaves for building more defenses in the harbor. His fears proved unfounded, however, as the Federal high command still had not agreed on a plan of attack.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 260-61; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 224; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 180

Legislation of the Thirty-Seventh U.S. Congress

July 16, 1862 – The lack of southern opposition made the Thirty-seventh U.S. Congress one of the most productive in history, as the Republican majority worked to enact nearly every plank of their party platform.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Regarding the war effort, Congress approved a measure authorizing the distribution of the Medal of Honor to Federal army personnel. The Medal had been established last year only for officers and men of the Federal Navy or Marine Corps. This later became known as the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only individual decoration for valor during the war besides a congressional vote of thanks.

The Federal Navy

President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law establishing that “… every officer, seaman, or marine, disabled in the line of duty, shall be entitled to receive for life, or during his disability, a pension from the United States, according to the nature and degree of his disability, not exceeding in any case his monthly pay.” This was intended to help wounded naval personnel, as well the widows and children of those killed in service. Another law appropriated money for the families of Federal sailors killed in action against the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Virginia at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March.

Congress approved a measure stating that “… the spirit ration in the Navy of the United States shall forever cease, and… no distilled spirituous liquors shall be admitted on board vessels of war, except as medical stores… there shall be allowed and paid to each person in the Navy now entitled to the ration, five cents per day in commutation and lieu thereof, which shall be in addition to their present pay.” This law was sponsored by Republican Senator James Grimes of Iowa, at the request of Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox.

The Militia Act of 1862

Lincoln approved a bill that defined militias as consisting of all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45, eligible to be called into Federal service for up to nine months. The president was to “make all necessary rules and regulations… to provide for enrolling the militia and otherwise putting this act into execution.”

This allowed for unprecedented Federal power over state militias, and it was the first step toward a military draft. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton authorized Federal officials to suppress any criticism of the Federal militia policy, including imprisoning anti-war protestors.

The law also authorized the president “to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion, and for this purpose he may organize and use them in such manner as he may judge best for the public welfare.” This included “any military or naval service for which they may be found competent.”

This was the first time in American legislative history that blacks were allowed (albeit implicitly) to serve as military combatants. Blacks would receive less pay than whites, and they would initially be used only for manual labor, but abolitionists saw this as a good first step toward racial equality. A moderate Republican senator acknowledged that “the time has arrived when… military authorities should be compelled to use all the physical force of this country to put down the rebellion.”

These wartime measures marked a turning point in the Federal war policy. The war would take a much harsher turn in future months, as the Federals sought to fight on “different principles” and toss aside the “white kid-glove warfare” that had produced stalemate.

The Ironclad Oath

Lincoln approved a measure requiring all Federal officials or employees, elected or appointed, to take an “ironclad oath” declaring that they had never done anything to aid the Confederacy. Those who could not take this oath or refused to take it would lose their jobs.

This had generated intense debate in Congress, but Lincoln’s moderate approach to readmitting Confederate states to the Union meant that this was rarely enforced at first. However, the oath requirement was later extended to cover Federal contractors, attorneys, and jurors, along with residents of Confederate states under Federal military occupation.

Financial Legislation

Republicans approved more measures raising the already high protective tariffs on sugar, tobacco, and liquor. This made up for land sale revenue lost by the Homestead Act and helped garner party support from bankers and industrialists who lobbied for the high rates.

Congress approved the Second Legal Tender Act, which authorized printing another $150 million in paper currency, or greenbacks. Greenbacks were worth only 91 cents in gold by the end of July, but many people supported them, especially westerners who had limited access to specie. Confederates under Federal military occupation also used greenbacks because they were still worth more than the nearly worthless Confederate currency.

There were now $300 million in greenbacks in circulation, which inflated the cost of living in the northern states. However, this was somewhat offset by the new Federal income tax enacted this month, as well as the strengthening northern industry to bolster the economy.

Another bill addressed the problem of dwindling amounts of metal currency by authorizing the use of postage stamps as money.

Other Legislation

Lincoln signed a bill into law approving a treaty to work with Great Britain in suppressing the illicit African slave trade. The U.S. Senate approved a measure endorsing the secession of western Virginia from the rest of the state and admitting “West Virginia” into the Union as a new state. West Virginia had been created by a legally questionable legislature on May 23 on the condition that blacks would not be permitted there, slave or free.

Lincoln also signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act into law, which banned polygamy in U.S. territories. This was part of the Republican Party’s campaign pledge of 1860 to end polygamy within the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Utah Territory. Mormons argued that such a law violated their First Amendment right to freely practice their religion.

Conclusion

Members of this 37th U.S. Congress overhauled the nation’s financial system, distributed land to states and homesteaders, laid the groundwork for a transcontinental railroad, and took steps to abolish slavery. All these measures permanently changed the direction of America’s social and economic development. They also gave the Federal government unprecedented control over the states and the people, which was exactly what southerners had argued against (and were now fighting against) since the nation’s founding.

Before Congress adjourned, one last controversial measure would be enacted.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 176, 193-94; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 323, 385; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 178, 180-81; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 236, 238-41; 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. 303, 446, 450, 491-92, 499-50; Robertson, Jr., James I., Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32-33; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 213-14; Sylvia, Stephen W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 484; 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), Q362

The Fall of Yorktown

May 4, 1862 – The Federal Army of the Potomac entered the abandoned enemy works at Yorktown. Some celebrated this as a great victory, while others noted that the Confederate army had escaped intact.

Major General George B. McClellan, poised to begin one of the largest artillery bombardments in history, wrote to his wife on the morning of the 4th about “the perfect quietness which reigns now.” He was unaware that General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates had abandoned their defenses through the night.

After dawn, Federal Lieutenant George A. Custer and others ascended in an observation balloon and saw that the enemy works along the Yorktown-Warwick River line were empty. They notified McClellan, who deployed a Federal division under General William F. “Baldy” Smith to confirm the news. Meanwhile, rumors of the Confederate retreat quickly spread through the Federal army. These rumors were confirmed when the troops entered the works without resistance.

Siege guns at Yorktown | Image Credit: Hendricksonrevwar.wikispaces.com

Siege guns at Yorktown | Image Credit: Hendricksonrevwar.wikispaces.com

McClellan telegraphed Washington, “Yorktown is in our possession… Our success is brilliant, and you may rest assured that its effects will be of the greatest importance. There shall be no delay in following up with the rebels.” President Abraham Lincoln and others within his administration were not completely satisfied, mainly because it had taken McClellan nearly a month to capture the town, and Johnston’s army had escaped unscathed.

The Confederates left behind 56 naval guns because they were too heavy to take. To the Federals, these smoothbore cannon were of no use compared to their new rifled guns. The Confederates also left primitive land mines (i.e., buried artillery shells attached to fuse wires that exploded on contact). McClellan condemned these devices as “murderous and barbarous,” and Federal troops entering the works forced Confederate prisoners of war ahead of them to dig them up or set them off.

Meanwhile, Federal gunboats advanced up the York River, with the crew of the U.S.S. Wachusett seizing Gloucester Point opposite Yorktown. Federals also captured two Confederate schooners. In April, Federal Commander John S. Missroon had deemed the Confederate batteries on the York too strong to neutralize. Now that they were in Federal hands, Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox disagreed:

“If Missroon had pushed by (at night) with a couple of gunboats, the Navy would have had the credit of driving the army of the rebels out, besides immortality to himself… The water batteries on both sides were insignificant, and, according to all our naval conflicts thus far, could have been passed with impunity.”

Confederate officials at Richmond learned of Johnston’s evacuation from Yorktown when news arrived that Federal gunboats had moved up the York River as far as West Point. General Robert E. Lee, top advisor to President Jefferson Davis, asked Johnston if he could use field artillery to stop the gunboats’ advance. Johnston did not respond. Davis expressed alarm that Johnston had given up such an important position as Yorktown, and by default Norfolk, so quickly.

As Federals continued entering the abandoned Confederate works, McClellan assigned cavalry under General George Stoneman and about 50,000 infantrymen in five divisions under General Edwin V. Sumner to pursue Johnston’s Confederates. McClellan knew that Johnston was falling back toward Williamsburg on the only two roads leading there, and that those roads converged a couple miles outside the town. McClellan hoped to wipe out Johnston’s rear guard as it merged onto that one road.

Advance units of Federal cavalry and horse artillery caught up to Johnston’s rear guard in heavy rain and mud around 2 p.m., sending the Confederates into Williamsburg. As they ran down the streets, a woman demanded to know why they were not defending Williamsburg like their ancestors did in the War for Independence. Then she yelled, “If your captain won’t lead you, I will be your captain!”

Before she could take charge, orders came for the Confederates to about-face and take up positions in earthworks about two miles east of Williamsburg. Major General John B. Magruder had built these defenses in case Yorktown had to be abandoned. The works stretched four miles across the Peninsula neck and included 13 redoubts to repel any flank attack. The largest redoubt, in the center, was called Fort Magruder. Johnston ordered Major General James Longstreet to hold Fort Magruder long enough for the retreating Confederates to regroup.

The Confederates assembled behind the works and repelled an advance of about 9,000 Federals. As the Federals withdrew for the day, Longstreet spent that night strengthening Fort Magruder and other redoubts.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 76; Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 107-09; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 117; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (4 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 166; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 410-11; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 146; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3382-94; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 199; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 207; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 427; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 108; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 571, 829; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 133

The Stone Fleet

December 20, 1861 – Federal Flag Officer Samuel H. Du Pont directed Captain Charles H. Davis to sink vessels filled with stones to obstruct Confederate blockade runners from entering Charleston Harbor’s main ship channel.

Capt S.F. Du Pont | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Capt S.F. Du Pont | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Du Pont, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, had initially resisted an idea from Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox to sink “stone fleets” in Confederate ports. Du Pont wrote that he had “a special disgust for this business… the maggot, however, had got into Fox’s brain.” Thus, Du Pont complied with orders, targeting Charleston and Savannah.

Federals sunk seven “stone fleet” vessels, consisting of old wooden sailing ships, at the entrance to Savannah Harbor on the 17th. Three days later, on the anniversary of South Carolina’s secession from the Union, Davis sunk 16 whaling vessels in Charleston Harbor.

The sinking of the “stone fleet” outraged Confederates because the vessels could have permanently halted shipping from those ports, thus severely crippling the southern economy even after the war. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate defenses along the coast, wrote to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, “This achievement, so unworthy of any nation, is the abortive expression of the malice & revenge of a people which they wish to perpetuate by rendering more memorable a day hateful in their calendar (the South Carolina secession).”

However, the Confederates had sunk hulks in their own harbors to obstruct them before the war. Du Pont noted this when he wrote:

“I should probably not have recommended such a measure had I been consulted, but that we had not the right is simply absurd. So it is all right for the rebels to obstruct, but it is dreadful for us. Then the idea of pretending to believe that these are permanent obstructions shows great ignorance of the nature of outside bars forced by the sea action.”

Du Pont wrote that if the obstructions remained effective until spring, “it will be worth all the trouble.”

Ultimately, the sea water eroded the vessels and reopened the ports for shipping much sooner than anticipated. Moreover, the “stone fleet” only closed one of Charleston’s three channels, and it revealed that the Federals had no plan to attack the city; they merely sought to close the city’s access to trade. Nevertheless, Lee continued building defenses just in case.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 268; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 720; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 102-03; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 91-92; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3056; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 149-150; 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. 48