Tag Archives: John A. Dix

Prelude to the 1864 Federal Elections

November 7, 1864 – By November, most pundits believed that President Abraham Lincoln and his Republican party would win the upcoming elections. However, the Republicans were not taking any chances.

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

In the presidential election, Lincoln ran for reelection on a “National Union” party ticket that included both Republicans and some War Democrats in a united front. Lincoln’s running mate was Andrew Johnson, the Democratic war governor of Tennessee who had been the only southern U.S. senator not to leave Congress when his state seceded.

Lincoln’s opponent was George B. McClellan, the popular former general-in-chief whom Lincoln had fired. McClellan had alienated political allies by repudiating his own party’s platform that called for peace at any cost, including southern independence and continuation of slavery.

The Republican-dominated National Unionists played up the recent military victories as reasons to reelect Lincoln. At a Cincinnati theater, prominent actor James E. Murdoch recited T. Buchanan Read’s latest poem celebrating Major General Philip Sheridan’s victory at Cedar Creek. Titled “Sheridan’s Ride,” it caused a sensation, and Republicans quickly used the poem to fuel their campaigns:

“Up from the South, at break of day

“Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay…

“But there is a road from Winchester town

“A good, broad highway leading down…

“Still sprang from these swift hoofs, thundering south

“The dust like smoke from the cannon’s mouth

“Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster

“Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster…”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton urged Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant not to provoke a major battle at Richmond or Petersburg out of fear that a military defeat could cost Lincoln the election. Similarly, it was suggested that Major General William T. Sherman wait until after the election to begin his march from Atlanta to the sea.

Every effort was made to furlough soldiers so they could go home and vote. For states allowing absentee voting, election officials were sent to the armies to collect the soldiers’ ballots. Lincoln was confident that the troops would vote for him, even though most who had served under McClellan still revered him.

Two days before the election, Major General John A. Dix, commanding the military department that included New York, announced that Confederate agents from Canada planned to burn New York City on Election Day. That same day, the U.S. State Department issued a communiqué:

“Information has been received from the British provinces to the effect that there is a conspiracy on foot to set fire to the principal cities in the Northern States on the day of the Presidential election.”

New York Gov Horatio Seymour | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

New York Governor Horatio Seymour, an administration opponent, tried calming fears by stating, “There is no reason to doubt that the coming election will be conducted with the usual quiet and order.” Nevertheless, administration officials dispatched Major General Benjamin F. Butler and 7,000 Federal troops to New York City and the harbor forts to supervise the election process. The military presence may have served as a not-so-subtle persuasion for undecided voters to back the National Unionists.

Even without potential panic in New York, Lincoln’s reelection seemed assured before Election Day. On the 7th, James Russell Lowell published “The Next General Election” in the influential North American Review. He supported Lincoln and denounced Democrat attempts to reconcile with southerners. He called Lincoln “a long-headed and long-purposed man” who had “shown from the first the considerate wisdom of a practical statesman.”

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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. 507-08; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 183-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 543; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19810-26; 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. 483; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11582, 11603-25; 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 12044-54, 13096-137, 15248-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592, 594; 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. 780; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333-34, 353; 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), Loc 56359-62

The Gold Hoax

May 18, 1864 – A forged presidential proclamation was sent to the press in an effort to drive up the price of gold. This caused an uproar throughout the North.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

At 4 a.m., the seven daily newspapers of New York City received an Associated Press dispatch supposedly from President Abraham Lincoln. It stated that May 26 would be set aside “as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer,” and it announced that “with a heavy heart, but an undiminished confidence in our cause,” another 400,000 men would be drafted into the army due to “the situation in Virginia, the disaster at Red River, the delay at Charleston, and the general state of the country.”

Five dailies hesitated publishing the declaration out of suspicion that it could be a forgery. But two dailies–the New York World and the Journal of Commerce–published it, and it caused an immediate panic on Wall Street. The price of gold shot up 10 percent before traders began realizing that the proclamation might be bogus. Bulletins soon appeared denying the announcement’s validity, and the panic quickly subsided.

When news of this story and its impact reached Washington, it “angered Lincoln more than almost any other occurrence of the war period.” He directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to “take possession by military force” the offices of the two newspapers and the Independent Telegraph Company (which had allegedly wired the dispatch). Major General John A. Dix, commanding the Department of the East, was ordered to imprison all suspects in the scheme. Although he believed that many of the suspects were innocent, Dix reluctantly complied.

Journalist Adams S. Hill was apprehended on suspicions that he masterminded the “gold hoax” to discredit the Associated Press. Hill worked for the AP’s competitor, the Independent News Room, which used the Independent Telegraph Company for service because the AP monopolized the superior American Telegraph Company. Charges against Hill were dropped when the real perpetrator was revealed on the 20th.

Joseph Howard, Jr., city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, had concocted the plot after boasting that he would soon reap enormous profits in the stock market as a result. Howard immediately named one of his reporters, Francis A. Mallison, as a co-conspirator who wrote the declaration in Lincoln’s name and style. Howard also explained that the two newspapers and the Independent Telegraph Company had nothing to do with the scheme.

In reality, Lincoln had planned to issue a draft call as reported, but the outrage caused by the hoax forced him to delay the call for two months. The newspaper editors endured three days of jail, while Howard and Mallison were imprisoned at Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor.

The Lincoln administration was excoriated once again for suppressing free speech and the press. New York Governor Horatio Seymour, who had battled Lincoln on civil liberties the previous year, directed the district attorney to file suit against General Dix and the Federal government for unlawfully arresting and imprisoning citizens. Seymour declared:

“In the month of July last, when New York was a scene of violence, I gave warning that ‘the laws of the State must be enforced, its peace and order maintained, and the property of its citizens protected at every hazard.’ The laws were enforced at a fearful cost of blood and life. The declaration I then made was not intended merely for that occasion, or against any class of men. It is one of an enduring character, to be asserted at all times, and against all conditions of citizens without favor or distinction. Unless all are made to bow to the law, it will be respected by none. Unless all are made secure in their rights of person and property, none can be protected.

The court case was finally resolved in July, when a grand jury declined to press charges against Dix or his officers. The Federal government provided no compensation for the loss of business sustained by the suspension of the two newspapers, seizure of the telegraph offices, or the imprisonment of innocent people. Howard and Mallison were finally released from confinement after Reverend Henry Ward Beecher appealed to Lincoln for mercy.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19792-805; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10669-81; 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 7879-99; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 504; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 360; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 313-14, 372-73; 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), Q264

Federal Conscription: Lincoln Insists the Draft Continue

August 7, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln rejected New York Governor Horatio Seymour’s request to suspend the military draft in his state.

The Enrollment Act, passed in March, required all able-bodied men between the ages of 20 and 45 to register for a military draft. This law was deeply resented by people who opposed the war on various grounds (religious principles, refusal to fight to free slaves, refusal to fight to preserve the Union, supporting the Confederacy, etc.). In July, the drawing of draftee names sparked riots through the North, including the worst draft and race riot in American history in New York City.

New York Gov Horatio Seymour | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As the violence simmered down in early August, Seymour, one of the most prominent critics of the Lincoln administration, wrote the president urging him to suspend the draft. He argued that conscription was unconstitutional (and thus required judicial review before enforcement), that the quota assigned to New York was “glaringly unjust,” and that drafting men would encourage more rioting. Seymour, who many Republicans accused of emboldening the rioters, provided more detailed objections to conscription in subsequent letters.

While he awaited Lincoln’s response, Seymour also exchanged correspondence with Major General John A. Dix, commanding the military department that encompassed New York, which included overseeing the draft’s enforcement. Seymour wrote Dix on the 1st:

“I have this day sent to the President of the United States a communication in relation to the draft in this State. I believe his answer will relieve you and me from the painful questions growing out of an armed enforcement of the conscription law in this patriotic State, which has contributed so largely and freely to the support of the national cause during the existing war.”

Dix responded:

“It is my duty, as commanding officer of the troops in the service of the United States in this department, if called on by the enrolling officers, to aid them in resisting forcible opposition to the execution of the law; and it is from an earnest desire to avoid the necessity of employing for the purpose any of my forces, which have been placed here to garrison the forts and protect the public property, that I wished to see the draft enforced by the military power of the State, in case of armed or organized resistance to it… I designed, if your cooperation could not be relied on, to ask the General Government for a force which should be adequate to insure the execution of the law and to meet any emergency growing out of it.”

Seymour wrote:

“As you state in your letter that it is your duty to enforce the act of Congress, and, as you apprehend its provisions may excite popular resistance, it is proposed you should know the position which will be held by the State authorities. Of course, under no circumstances, can they perform duties expressly confided to others, nor can they undertake to relieve others from their proper responsibilities. But there can be no violations of good order, or riotous proceedings, no disturbances of the public peace, which are not infractions of the laws of the State; and those laws will be enforced under all circumstances. I shall take care that all the executive officers of this State perform their duties vigorously and thoroughly, and, if need be, the military power will be called into requisition. As you are an officer of the General Government, and not of the State, it does not become me to make suggestions to you with regard to your action under a law of Congress. You will, of course, be governed by your instructions and your own views of duty.”

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln responded four days later. He wrote that if Seymour could prove his claim that New York’s draft quota was “glaringly unjust,” Lincoln would modify the allotment “so far as consistent, with practical convenience.” But he rejected Seymour’s request to suspend the draft until the courts ruled on its constitutionality: “I can not consent to suspend the draft in New-York, as you request because, among other reasons, time is too important.” Lincoln agreed to allow the Supreme Court to review the law in due time; “In fact, I should be willing to facilitate the obtaining of” such a judicial review. But for now:

“We are contending with an enemy who, as I understand, drives every able-bodied man he can reach into his ranks, very much as a butcher drives bullocks into a slaughter pen. No time is wasted, no argument is used. This produces an army which will soon turn upon our now victorious soldiers already in the field, if they shall not be sustained by recruits, as they should be.”

According to Lincoln, the Confederate Conscription Act:

“… produces an army with a rapidity not to be matched on our side, if we first waste time to re-experiment with the volunteer system, already deemed by congress, and palpably, in fact, so far exhausted, as to be inadequate; and then more time, to obtain a court decision, as to whether a law is constitutional, which requires a part of those not now in the service, to go to the aid of those who are already in it; and still more time, to determine with absolute certainty, that we get those, who are to go, in the precisely legal proportion, to those who are not to go.”

Lincoln concluded with a familiar appeal to solidarity in the fight against the Confederacy: “My purpose is to be, in my action, just and constitutional; and yet practical, in performing the important duty, with which I am charged, of maintaining the unity, and the free principles of our common country.”

On the 18th, the day before the draft was set to resume in New York, Dix notified Seymour, “I applied to the Secretary of War on the 14th inst. for a force adequate to the object. The call was promptly responded to, and I shall be ready to meet all opposition to the draft.”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had dispatched 42 Federal regiments and two batteries to enforce conscription in New York City, which unconstitutionally overrode Seymour’s authority over his state. But the draft would proceed, no matter what.

Lincoln offered a concession to New York by reducing its draft quota. But he also wrote an order forcing the New York militia into Federal service to help impose the draft if Seymour tried to stop it. About 20,000 troops patrolled Manhattan with three artillery batteries to ensure that no further violence broke out. Seymour did not try stopping the draft, and no unrest occurred.

Federal officials drew 292,441 names for the draft this month. Of these, 52,000 paid the $300 commutation fee to avoid service. The New York City Council appropriated money to pay commutation fees for many poor draftees. Those who could not afford to pay such a fee resented the commutation process, and the draft tended to net poor citizens and immigrants not necessarily loyal to the cause.

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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 19762-87; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 317; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9528-39; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 155-56; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 637; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 337, 341; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 394-95, 397-99; 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. 610; 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), Q363

Northern Virginia: Hooker’s Alternate Plan

April 19, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck met with Major General Joseph Hooker to discuss a new plan of attack against General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Federal Major General Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Sonofthesouth.net

Hooker had relied on Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry to initiate his grand plan of attack. When Stoneman’s excursion failed, Lincoln felt compelled to visit Hooker in person to discuss future strategy. On the night of the 18th, Stanton wrote Hooker, “The President will leave here for Aquia to see you to-morrow morning at 7 o’clock, expecting to reach there about 10 a. m. Can you meet him there?”

Lincoln left as planned, joined by Stanton and Halleck. Lincoln did not tell anyone where he was going; all his secretary John Hay knew was, as he wrote to fellow secretary John Nicolay (currently in North Carolina), that the “President and the Secretary of War went off on a reconnaissance yesterday, I suppose to Aquia Creek, but returned in the evening. What they did or saw has not transpired.”

At the meeting, Hooker explained that Stoneman was still in a good position to disrupt Confederate communication and supply lines, so all was not lost. Lincoln noted that Lee had detached part of one corps under Lieutenant General James Longstreet to take Suffolk, leaving his army with 15,000 fewer men. Lincoln wanted Hooker to attack before those men returned.

Stanton offered to give Hooker authority over Major General John A. Dix, commanding the department over Suffolk, so Hooker and Dix could coordinate their movements. Hooker declined. When Halleck asked where Dix’s troops should be placed to best help Hooker, Hooker said they should remain at Suffolk to prevent Longstreet from returning to Lee.

Hooker then modified his original plan by transferring the task of moving around Lee’s flank from Stoneman’s cavalry to the infantry. The Federals would begin moving as soon as the rains stopped and the river level lowered. Lincoln and his advisors returned to Washington that night.

Meanwhile, Major General John J. Peck, commanding the Federal garrison at Suffolk (within Dix’s department), urged Hooker to do something to force Longstreet to lift his siege of the city. But Hooker wanted Longstreet to stay put so he could not reinforce Lee. When Peck asked Hooker to hurry along with his plan, Hooker replied, “You must be patient with me. I must play with these devils before I can spring. Remember that my army is at the bottom of a well, and the enemy holds the top.”

Two days passed, and still neither Stoneman nor the infantry could cross the flooded Rappahannock River. Hooker wrote Lincoln about Stoneman’s unsuccessful excursion:

“His failure to accomplish speedily the objects of his expedition is a source of deep regret to me, but I can find nothing in his conduct of it requiring my animadversion or censure. We cannot control the elements. I do not regard him out of position. We have no reason to suppose that the enemy have any knowledge of the design of General Stoneman’s movement.”

Hooker added, “The weather appears to continue averse to the execution of my plans as first formed. I feel that I must modify them to conform to the condition of things as they are.” Hooker had been “attached to the movement as first projected, as it promised unusual success.” An alternate plan would also “secure us success, but not to so great an extent…”

Hooker wrote, “As I can only cross the river by stratagem, it may be a few days before I make it.” He planned to advance from several different points “and be in readiness to spring when a suitable opportunity presents itself.” His clear initial plan had now become a vague alternate plan.

On the Confederate side, Lee reported to Secretary of War James A. Seddon that his men were surviving on just a quarter-pound of meat and a pound of flour per day, and a tenth of a pound of rice two or three times per week. Scurvy and typhoid were afflicting the men as a result. Lee himself was ailing physically; he contracted a severe throat infection, and sharp pains in his arm, chest, and back may have led to a heart attack.

Seddon had asked Lee to send Longstreet to reinforce the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma. This would enable General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, to better defend against the advancing Federals. It could also divert Federal attention from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederates at Charleston Harbor. Lee proposed a different idea:

“Should Hooker’s army assume the defensive, the readiest method of relieving the pressure upon General Johnston and General Beauregard would be for the army (of Northern Virginia) to cross into Maryland. This cannot be done, however, in the present condition of the roads, nor unless I can obtain a certain amount of provisions and transportation. But this is what I would recommend, if practicable.”

Confederate scouts reported Hooker’s movements, but Lee could not guess his true intentions. The Federals had sent out a fake message that Stoneman was headed for the Shenandoah Valley, and while Lee believed it, Major General Jeb Stuart (commanding the Confederate cavalry) thought it was just a diversion from a main attack elsewhere. Lee correctly guessed that Hooker was trying to get the Confederates out of their entrenchments and expose Fredericksburg.

Responding to rumors that Hooker might try moving up the Virginia Peninsula as George B. McClellan had done last year, Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis, “I do not think General Hooker will venture to uncover Washington City, by transferring his army to James River.” However, “Owing to the condition of our horses and the scarcity of forage and provisions,” the Army of Northern Virginia could not take the offensive.

Even so, Lee stated it was “all-important that we should assume the aggressive by the 1st of May, when we may expect General Hooker’s army to be weakened by the expiration of the term of service of many of his regiments, and before new recruits can be received.” Davis granted Lee permission to pull cavalry from western Virginia and North Carolina to counter Stoneman’s threat to his flank on the Rappahannock.

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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. 274, 277; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 249, 256-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 279-81, 283, 287; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5290-302; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 337; 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. 638-39; 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. 197; Power, J. Tracy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 721; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 127-29, 534

The Siege of Suffolk

April 11, 1863 – Confederate forces under Lieutenant General James Longstreet attacked the Federal garrison at Suffolk, Virginia, south of the James River.

Confederate Major General James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Longstreet had been assigned to command a new department consisting of part of his First Corps pulled from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Longstreet’s mission was to guard the region south of Richmond into North Carolina, gather foodstuffs for Lee’s army since war-torn northern Virginia lacked sufficient forage, and eliminate the Federal threat at Suffolk.

Longstreet’s force included 20,000 men in two divisions led by Major Generals George Pickett and John Bell Hood. Since the main objective was to supply Lee, Longstreet merely planned to demonstrate against Suffolk to distract the Federals from his main purpose. A division of IX Corps consisting of about 25,000 Federals under Major General John J. Peck garrisoned Suffolk, which was part of Major General John A. Dix’s Federal military department. Suffolk was heavily fortified.

Confederates and Federals traded shots from across the Nansemond River, as Longstreet extended his right flank southward to Dismal Swamp. Fighting intensified over the next few days as Acting Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commanding the Federal North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, dispatched a fleet of gunboats under Lieutenant William B. Cushing to support Peck. Lee informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “If Suffolk falls, Norfolk follows.”

The gunboats U.S.S. Mount Washington, Stepping Stones, and Commodore Barney came up the crooked, narrow Nansemond and traded fire with the Confederate guns near the Norfleet house, at the confluence of a western branch of the Nansemond and the main river. The vessels were converted ferryboats and tugs, and were not meant for such heavy combat. The Confederates inflicted heavy losses as a result, including grounding the Mount Washington until the Stepping Stones rescued her.

However, the gunboats responded with accurate fire of their own, joined by Federal land batteries and troops behind their fortifications. The artillery duel continued the next day, when the Federal gunboats and artillerists silenced several Confederate batteries at the Norfleet house and along the Nansemond. The duel ended and a standoff began, as Longstreet initiated a siege of Suffolk.

Silencing the Confederate batteries opened a path up the Nansemond to the Confederate garrison at Fort Huger on Hill’s Point. Longstreet directed Major General Samuel G. French to station five cannon and three infantry companies in the empty fort to oppose the approaching Federal gunboats.

On the morning of the 19th, the Stepping Stones suddenly appeared about 400 yards from the fort, commanded by Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson. The ship’s guns sent the defenders running for cover, and then 270 soldiers of the 8th Connecticut and the 89th New York landed, along with four boat howitzers. The Federals charged into the fort before the Confederates could react, capturing 137 men and all five guns, some of which had been taken from Harpers Ferry last September.

The Federals initially strengthened the fort but then evacuated two days later, allowing the Confederates to take it back. However, the fort no longer posed a threat to the Federal ships on the Nansemond. Longstreet called the defeat at Fort Huger “a serious disaster. The enemy succeeded in making a complete surprise.”

Two aides under Colonel Evander M. Law accused men of the 55th North Carolina, assigned to defend the fort, of cowardice. Colonel John K. Connally, the regiment’s commander, furiously denied the charge, and a double duel took place to clear the men’s name. Shots were fired, but nobody was hurt.

These minor operations kept the Federals occupied while Longstreet achieved two of his main objectives–protecting Richmond and foraging for the Army of Northern Virginia. Peck also achieved his main goal, which was to prevent the Confederates from capturing Suffolk. Longstreet continued his tentative siege on the town while his men continued foraging in the surrounding countryside.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 274; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 256-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 279-82; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 337; 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. 638-39; 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. 197; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 275, 534

The Prisoner Exchange Cartel

July 22, 1862 – With the number of prisoners of war quickly growing, Federals and Confederates agreed to a tentative system of prisoner exchange.

By this month, the major battles of 1862 had resulted in the capture of tens of thousands of prisoners on both sides. The Confederate government tried working with the Federals on a prisoner exchange agreement, but the Lincoln administration was reluctant to negotiate such a deal with a government they did not consider legitimate. Talks had taken place between the two sides in February, but they broke down in early March.

Finally, both sides came together to discuss the growing problem on July 18, when Federal Major General John A. Dix and Confederate Major General D.H. Hill met at Haxall’s Landing on the James River. The men signed a cartel agreement regarding a prisoner exchange system based on the agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain during the War of 1812. It was approved by both governments four days later.

Generals D.H. Hill and John A. Dix

Officers and men of equal rank would be exchanged one-for-one. A scale was developed to exchange men of unequal rank, such as 30 enlisted men equaled a major general, six equaled a captain, two equaled a sergeant, and so on. Prisoners who could not be immediately exchanged would be paroled (i.e., sent home on the promise that they would not take up arms again until an equal number of men were paroled on the other side). The cartel had no provisions for civilians seized by Federal forces in southern areas under occupation.

The Lincoln administration demanded that no mention of the “Confederate States of America” be written into the official document, and only military officers would administer the program. President Jefferson Davis appointed Robert Ould to be the Confederate prisoner exchange agent. President Abraham Lincoln appointed General Lorenzo Thomas for the Federals.

The cartel eventually became very difficult to manage due to the mounting bureaucracy involved. Its heavy reliance on promises and “gentlemen’s agreements” also hindered the cartel’s effectiveness. And when Federals began recruiting slaves into the army, this added a complication because the Confederacy would not consider slaves eligible for exchange. All these factors assured that the system would eventually break down.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 500; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21346; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 184; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 353; Robertson, Jr., James I., Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111; 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