Tag Archives: Lew Wallace

Battle Looms in South Texas

May 11, 1865 – In distant Texas, a Federal expedition threatened to break an informal truce before news arrived that the war was over.

The recent capture of President Jefferson Davis and the dissolution of the Confederate government effectively ended the war. But the news had not yet reached opposing forces near Brownsville, on the southernmost tip of Texas. Earlier this year, the two sides had agreed to an unofficial armistice since there was no reason to continue fighting there.

Gen. Lew Wallace | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

When Major General Lew Wallace took command of the Federal district overseeing Brownsville in early March, he tried to negotiate a formal ceasefire with the Confederates. He met with Brigadier General James E. Slaughter and Colonel John S. “Rest in Peace” Ford at Port Isabel in hopes that their meeting “may result in something more than words.”

The officers discussed possible peace terms, but Slaughter and Ford warned that General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, may be plotting with Emperor Maximilian of Mexico to either fall back into Mexican territory or join forces with the Mexican army. Maximilian had been installed as Mexican ruler by Emperor Napoleon III of France, which the U.S. had protested violated the Monroe Doctrine. The emperor’s regime was known to be friendly with the Confederates.

For Wallace, the discussions went so well that he reported, “What I am at now is nothing less than bringing Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana voluntarily back into the Union. The business is well begun, and at this moment looks promising.” Slaughter and Ford were “not only willing, but anxious to find some ground upon which they could honorably get from under what they admitted to be a falling Confederacy.”

The Confederate officers sent their ideas to Major General John Walker, commanding the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Under the proposal, Confederate troops could either swear allegiance to the Union or leave the country. Slavery would be subject to congressional legislation, and Texas would eventually return to the Union. Walker rejected this plan, and he wrote to Wallace on April 6 explaining why:

“It would be folly in me to pretend that we are not tired of a war that has sown sorrow and desolation over our land; but we will accept no other than an honorable peace. With three hundred thousand men yet in the field, we would be the most abject of mankind if we should now basely yield all that we have been contending for during the last four years–namely, nationality and the rights of self-government. With the blessing of God, we will yet achieve these, and extort from your government all that we ask. Whenever you are willing to yield these, and to treat as equal with equal, an officer of your high rank and character, clothed with the proper authority from your government, will not be reduced to the necessity of seeking an obscure corner of the Confederacy to inaugurate negotiations.”

Wallace considered Walker’s letter “both childish and discourteous.” He responded, “Slavery as between the sections was the only separating social and political interest, you know that. Where is slavery now? We armed it over a year ago, and now you are doing the same thing. Apropos, once a soldier, never more a slave.”

Wallace wrote to Slaughter and Ford, “I regret this conclusion. Could we have succeeded, then consequence would have been more honorable to us all than battles fought. The people of Texas, at least, would have been grateful to us.” Wallace then reported to Washington on April 18: “Of one thing I am sure. Texas rebels are without heart or confidence, and divided among themselves.” These troops, and even those under E.K. Smith, were ready to lay down their arms, as long as Smith was “not too far committed to Maximilian.”

Despite Walker’s rejection, the opposing sides agreed not to fire on each other without written notification. This changed when Colonel Theodore Barrett took command of the 1,900-man Federal brigade stationed on blockade duty at Los Brazos de Santiago. The brigade consisted of the 34th Indiana (veterans from other disbanded regiments), and the 62nd and 87th U.S. Colored Infantry regiments.

When Barrett learned the Confederates were about to abandon Brownsville, he decided to break the ceasefire by ordering his men forward to seize enemy outposts on the road to that vital town. Some claimed that Barrett did this to obtain mounts for his cavalry, while others thought that he just wanted “a little battlefield glory before the war ended altogether.”

Col. John S. “R.I.P.” Ford | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The expedition consisted of 250 men from the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry and 50 men from the 2nd Texas (U.S.) Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel David Branson. Branson planned to capture White’s Ranch and Palmito Ranch near Fort Brown, which was garrisoned by Ford’s Confederates defending Brownsville.

The Federals were supposed to cross Point Isabel on the morning of the 11th, but the steamer they were to use had mechanical problems and a storm was approaching. They instead crossed at Boca Chica in heavy rain around 9:30 that night. According to Branson, “At 2 a.m. of the 12th, after making a long circuitous march, we surrounded White’s Ranch, where we expected to capture a rebel outpost of sixty-five men, horses, and cattle, but they had been gone a day or two.”

Branson’s Federals would advance at daylight.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 591; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-63; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 196-97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688; Wikipedia: Battle of Palmito Ranch

The Battle of the Monocacy

July 9, 1864 – A makeshift Federal force hurried to block Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley as it marched toward Washington.

Early’s forces continued advancing through Maryland toward the Federal capital. While passing through Frederick around 8 a.m., the Confederates demanded $200,000 as reparations for Federal destruction in the Shenandoah Valley. City leaders pleaded for time to raise the cash and were given a few hours; they paid the ransom later that day.

Maj Gen Lew Wallace | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Southeast of Frederick, Major General Lew Wallace commanded about 6,000 hastily assembled Federals holding Monocacy Junction, which guarded the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the roads leading to both Baltimore and Washington. Wallace did not expect to stop the 10,000 Confederates heading his way, but he hoped to stall their advance long enough for Federal reinforcements to arrive.

Wallace’s improvised force of raw recruits and militia held the right (northeast) flank, while Brigadier General James B. Ricketts’s division of VI Corps held the center and left (southwest). The right was anchored on the Baltimore Pike, the center held the railroad bridge over the Monocacy River, and the left was anchored on the Georgetown Pike leading to Washington.

Early sent cavalry eastward to cut telegraph lines and destroy railroad bridges leading to Baltimore. However, the Confederates reported that Federals were behind defenses along the Monocacy. Early led his troops forward, and they came upon the Federals around 12 p.m.

Map of the Battle of the Monocacy | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fighting erupted when Confederates of Major General Stephen D. Ramseur’s division clashed with skirmishers in front of the Federal center. The Confederates pushed the Federals back and positioned their batteries on high ground. Major General Robert Rodes’s Confederates encountered Federals on Wallace’s right soon after.

Early assessed the situation and, as he later wrote, “The enemy’s position was too strong, and the difficulties of crossing the Monocacy under fire too great, to attack in front without greater loss than I was willing to incur.” Early directed Brigadier General John McCausland’s cavalry brigade to flank the Federal left.

Wallace observed the movement to the left and notified Ricketts, “A line of skirmishers is advancing from the south beyond the cornfield at your left. I suggest you change front in that direction, and advance to the cornfield fence, concealing your men behind it. They will be enfiladed, but that can’t be helped.” Ricketts shifted four regiments from facing northwest to southwest.

McCausland’s Confederates got into position, but they did not see the Federals hidden behind a wall and in the nearby wheat and cornfields. When the Confederates got into range, the Federals rose and fired. Wallace later wrote, “I saw the gleaming of the burnished gun-barrels as they were laid upon the upper rails. The aim taken was with deadliest intent–never more coolly.”

The single volley decimated McCausland’s front line and caused a panic. McCausland eventually regrouped his men and sent them forward, but they could not break the Federal line and fell back. Early next deployed Major General John B. Gordon’s division to turn the Federal left. Ricketts turned his entire division to face the threat, while Wallace directed his men to burn the bridge over the Monocacy to prevent Confederates from crossing and landing in Ricketts’s rear.

When Gordon attacked, Wallace recalled, “The firing became an unbroken roll. I could hear no sound else. Both sides were working under a repression too intense for cheering, and repression in which there could be but one intent–load, load, and fire, meaning kill, the more the better. Battle has no other philosophy.”

The Federals repelled the charge, but Wallace and Ricketts could see the Confederates regrouping for another assault. When Wallace suggested retreat, Ricketts replied, “A while longer, and Early can’t move before morning; and, if what I am told is true, that the ford is very rocky, it will be noon before he can get his artillery across the river.”

The Federals repelled the Confederates’ second assault, but Gordon’s massive assault at 4 p.m. finally broke Ricketts’s line. Wallace could not reinforce Ricketts due to continued attacks by Ramseur and Rodes on the Federal center and right, and Confederate artillery firing from across the river. Wallace ordered a retreat eastward down the Baltimore Pike. The troops withdrew in an orderly fashion. Early did not pursue because the path to Washington was now open.

This was the Confederacy’s northernmost victory of the war. The Federals sustained 1,880 casualties (98 killed, 594 wounded, and 1,188 missing or captured), while Early lost about 700 men. But the outnumbered Federals had withstood several ferocious attacks. More importantly, they delayed Early a full day in getting to Washington. During that time, Federal troops from VI and XIX corps began pouring into the capital to man the fortifications ringing the city.

Early issued orders for the Confederates to be ready to resume the advance at “early dawn.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 176; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 434; 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 9356-402, 9434-55; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 467; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 640-44; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 74, 80, 83-84; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 535-36; 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. 756; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 233-34, 279, 504

The Washington Raid: Confederates Seize Hagerstown

July 6, 1864 – Confederates from Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley captured Hagerstown, Maryland, as Federals scrambled to stop their drive on Washington.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By this time, Early’s force had marched north “down” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. Early planned to threaten Washington in hopes that Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant would divert Federal forces from laying siege to Petersburg, south of Richmond.

The Confederates received fresh supplies, including new shoes, from Richmond and resumed their eastward advance through Maryland on the 6th. A cavalry brigade under Brigadier General John McCausland entered Hagerstown and demanded $20,000 from the residents as reparations for Federal destruction in the Shenandoah Valley. Residents quickly paid the ransom. The main Confederate force advanced through the South Mountain gaps.

Meanwhile, Grant realized that Early’s Confederates were no longer in front of Petersburg as he began receiving panicked messages of a Confederate force approaching Washington. Confident that such a force could not seriously threaten the capital, Grant reluctantly detached Brigadier General James B. Ricketts’s division from VI Corps and some dismounted cavalry to bolster defenses there.

Major General Franz Sigel, commanding the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry, informed Washington, “My troops are preparing for action.” However, Sigel still expected the Confederates to attack him and did not know that Early had bypassed him and gone into Maryland. Sigel would not leave Harpers Ferry undefended to pursue the Confederates.

This left Major General Lew Wallace, commanding the Federal Middle Department, to defend Baltimore and Washington from Early’s army. Wallace hastily gathered 2,300 troops, mostly raw recruits and militia, and moved them west from Baltimore to Monocacy Junction, just southeast of Frederick. This position enabled Wallace to defend the roads leading to both Baltimore and Washington.

On the 7th, Wallace’s force was augmented by 230 troopers of the 8th Illinois cavalry and a six-gun battery. Until Ricketts’s division could arrive, these were all the troops that Wallace could muster. The Federal troopers, led by Lieutenant Colonel David R. Clendenin, rode west and located Early’s force, which was heading for the Catoctin Pass.

The Federals brought up two guns and, according to Clendenin, proceeded “to shell the enemy skirmish line with effect.” However, the main Confederate force eventually came up, and Clendenin reported, “After five hours’ skirmishing, the enemy being heavily re-enforced and flanking me, I was compelled to fall back on Frederick.”

Clendenin’s force joined with another Federal force outside Frederick. He wrote, “Placing the guns rapidly in position, I cleared the road of cavalry and opened on the head of the approaching column, which fell back and deployed on our left bringing up artillery, which was posted south of the Hagerstown pike in a commanding position.” More Federal reinforcements arrived, which repelled a Confederate attack and pushed the enemy back to the Catoctin Pass.

By this time, panic was spreading through Washington. Wallace’s force was too small to hold off Early, Sigel could not be counted upon to help, and Major General David Hunter’s Federal army, which was supposed to have kept Early in the Valley, was way off in West Virginia. A Federal division was on its way, but it would not be enough. Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck wired Grant:

“Until more forces arrive we have nothing to meet that number in the field, and the militia is not reliable even to hold the fortifications of Washington and Baltimore. It is the impression that one-third of Lee’s entire force is with Early and (John C.) Breckinridge, and that (Robert) Ransom has some 3,000 or 4,000 cavalry. If you propose to cut off this raid and not merely to secure our depots, we must have more forces here. Indeed, if the enemy’s strength is as great as represented, it is doubtful if the militia can hold all of our defenses. I do not think we can expect much from Hunter. He is too far off and moves too slowly. I think, therefore, that very considerable re-enforcements should be sent directly to this place.”

The next day, Grant sent the rest of VI Corps under Major General Horatio G. Wright to Maryland. He also sent XIX Corps, which had just arrived at Fort Monroe after returning from the Red River campaign. Grant then wrote Halleck, “If the President thinks it advisable that I should go to Washington in person, I can start in an hour after receiving notice, leaving everything here on the defensive.”

In Maryland, Ricketts’s division arrived at Monocacy Junction via railroad to reinforce Wallace, who pulled all the Federals out of Frederick. Wallace now had nearly 6,000 troops on the Monocacy River to face Early’s 10,000 approaching Confederates.

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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 20411-20; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433-34; 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 9345-55, 9356-72, 9393-434; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465-66; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7787; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 69-73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 534-35; 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. 756-57; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 233-34, 504

The Washington Raid: Early Reaches Winchester

July 2, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley arrived at Winchester as it moved north “down” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley toward Maryland.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Early’s mission was to clear the Valley of Federal forces and then cross the Potomac River to take the fight to the North. It was hoped that this would draw Federals away from Petersburg, where the Armies of the Potomac and the James were besieging General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

After Major General David Hunter withdrew his Federal army into West Virginia, Early had a clear path down the Valley from Lynchburg. Upon reaching Winchester, Early received orders from Lee to operate in the lower (northern) Valley “until everything was in readiness to cross the Potomac and destroy the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal as far as possible.”

Early dispatched cavalry to burn bridges on the B & O, and he sent one infantry corps under Major General John C. Breckinridge through Martinsburg. Early led the other corps to Harpers Ferry, where the rest of his army would rejoin him. About 5,000 Federals under Major General Franz Sigel were at Martinsburg, and a Federal force about half Sigel’s size under Brigadier General Max Weber was at Harpers Ferry.

As the Confederate cavalry met unexpected resistance near Leetown, Breckinridge entered Martinsburg behind Sigel’s retreating Federals. Early wrote, “It was too late, and these divisions were too much exhausted to go after the enemy.” The Confederates began stripping Martinsburg of anything useful to their army, but this soon degenerated into wholesale looting.

Meanwhile, B & O Railroad President John W. Garrett notified Major General Lew Wallace, commanding the Federal Middle Department which included the lower Shenandoah, that his railroad agents reported large numbers of Confederates approaching Harpers Ferry. Fearing another Confederate invasion, Wallace began gathering Baltimore militia to meet the threat.

Garrett sent boxcars to Martinsburg to help with the Federal evacuation, but they were intercepted by John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans. Garrett then telegraphed Federal Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “Cannot General Hunter be ordered from the west to such points east of Cumberland as may be most judicious? Appearances at present indicate a general abandonment of the (rail)road.”

After confirming that the Confederates threatening the lower Valley were Early’s, Halleck tried contacting Hunter but received no response. He then wired Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, headquartered with the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg. He warned Grant that Sigel was no match for Early, and added, “You can therefore judge what probability there is of a good defense if the enemy should attack the line in force.”

Sigel transferred troops to strengthen the garrison at Harpers Ferry on the 3rd. Federal troops and guns commanded Bolivar Heights and Maryland Heights, overlooking the town. Early wrote Breckinridge, “I will move everything in that direction in the morning.” Panic spread among the citizenry north of the river, including Washington, as it was unclear whether another Confederate invasion would take place.

The next day, Halleck instructed Weber that “everything should be prepared for a defense of your works and the first man who proposes a surrender or retreat should be hung.” The Federals manned their defenses as Early’s Confederates approached. After scouting the defenses, Early decided that “it was not possible to occupy the town of Harpers Ferry, except with skirmishers, as it was thoroughly commanded by the guns on Maryland Heights.”

Sigel’s Federals began arriving and entrenching on Maryland Heights that night, after Early had decided to bypass Harpers Ferry. The Federals fired on the Confederates as they looted some of the warehouses in the town. A Confederate officer wrote, “A universal pillaging of United States Government property, especially commissary stores, was carried on all night.” Skirmishing occurred at Patterson’s Creek Bridge and South Branch Bridge, where Early planned to cross the Potomac the next day.

On the 5th, a Confederate detachment demonstrated in Harpers Ferry and feasted off the captured stores as the rest of Early’s army crossed the river at Shepherdstown to the northwest. Upon entering Maryland, the Confederates moved east and occupied Sharpsburg that night. The Confederate detachment withdrew as well, leaving the Federals confused as to where they would go next.

Federal officials at Washington became increasingly concerned as Early moved closer to the capital. However, conflicting reports slowed their response to the situation. The governors of New York and Pennsylvania were called upon to send 24,000 militia to defend Maryland.

At Baltimore, Wallace received an incorrect report that Confederate cavalry was moving through southern Pennsylvania. He stated, “In this situation, I felt it my duty to concentrate that portion of my scanty command available for field operations at some point on the Monocacy River, the western limit of the Middle Department.”

To best protect both Baltimore and Washington, Wallace selected the point on the Monocacy where the B & O crossed. Roads from this point led east to Baltimore and southeast to Washington. Although Wallace had acted on incorrect information, he placed his troops in a perfect position to block Early. However, Wallace had just 3,000 men to face 10,000 seasoned Confederate veterans.

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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. 432-33; 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 9345-55; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 464-65; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 640-44; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 69, 71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 531-34; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 233-34, 504

The Battle of Wood Lake

September 23, 1862 – Federal forces effectively suppressed the Sioux uprising of 1862 over mistreatment on reservations and drove much of the tribe out of Minnesota.

Battle of Birch Coulee | Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Dakota Sioux Indian uprising that had begun the previous month continued into September. At dawn on the 2nd, a band of Santee Sioux led by Wambdi Tanka (Big Eagle) attacked Federal militia and a burial detail about 16 miles from Fort Ridgely, across the river from the burned Lower Agency reservation. The Federals had strangely camped at Birch Coulee, a wooded ravine that allowed the Indians to approach them unseen.

The Indians killed all 87 of the Federal horses, which the troops used as breastworks to fend off the attack. Colonel Henry H. Sibley arrived with reinforcements during the night, and they drove the Indians off with artillery the next morning. The Federals had been under siege for 31 hours, living off a cracker and an ounce of cabbage. They lost 19 killed and many more wounded.

Meanwhile, two Indian bands led by Chiefs Little Crow and Walker Among Sacred Stones surrounded a Federal detachment trying to protect settlers near Acton. Federal troops under Captain Richard Strout broke through with a bayonet charge, but 20 of the 55 men were killed or wounded. The remaining 35 troops and 20 refugees fled to the fortified town of Hutchison. Fighting continued into the next day.

Also on the 3rd, Company D of the 5th Minnesota withstood an attack by 400 Indians on Fort Abercrombie, about 25 miles south of present-day Fargo, North Dakota. They repelled a second attack three days later, and Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey telegraphed Washington for help. He called the Sioux “assassins” and “ravishers of… wives and sisters and daughters.” He stated that white settlers “will not tolerate their presence… in any number or in any condition.” Ramsey declared, “This is not our war. It is a National War.”

Under General Order No. 128, President Abraham Lincoln created the Military Department of the Northwest, combining the Federal forces in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Nebraska and Dakota territories. Major General John Pope, recently removed as commander of the Army of Virginia after his ignominious defeat at Second Bull Run, received instructions from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “You will receive herewith an order of this Department constituting you commander of the Department of the Northwest,” with headquarters at St. Paul.

Pope was directed to “take such prompt and vigorous measures as shall quell the hostilities and afford peace, security, and protection to the people against Indian hostilities.” Lincoln chose Pope to head this new department despite the general’s recent comments that the president had been “feeble, cowardly, and shameful” for failing to defend him against critics. Pope considered this assignment tantamount to being exiled.

Dakota Chief Little Crow | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Before Pope arrived, Little Crow offered to negotiate a settlement with Sibley, telling the colonel that his tribe held many white prisoners. Sibley also received an offer to end the uprising from Chiefs Wabasha and Taopi, who opposed the Indian attacks. Without disclosing this to Little Crow, Sibley communicated with the two chiefs to arrange the prisoners’ return.

Pope arrived in Minnesota by train and assumed command on September 16. He quickly declared that there was “panic everywhere in Wisconsin and Minnesota… (there will be) a general Indian war all along the frontier, unless immediate steps are taken to put a stop to it… It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so… They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts.” White settlers strongly supported Pope’s declaration and hoped that driving the Sioux out of Minnesota might lead to expelling the peaceful Chippewa tribes as well.

Stanton directed General Lew Wallace to gather up Federal prisoners recently paroled by Confederate forces to join the fight against the Sioux. Stanton ignored Confederate protests that putting paroled prisoners of war back into combat–even if against Indians and not Confederates–violated their prisoner exchange cartel.

On the 18th, Sibley’s Federals moved up the Minnesota River Valley with 1,619 volunteers to meet the two anti-Little Crow Indian chiefs. But as the Federals camped on the shore of a lake below the Upper Agency, Little Crow persuaded about 700 Mdewkanton Santee (Sioux) warriors to attack them. The warriors moved south on the night of the 22nd and positioned themselves to ambush the soldiers the next day.

Federals accidentally discovered the hiding Indians around 7 a.m., and a fierce battle began near Yellow Medicine. Some Federals retreated, but others held their ground atop a plateau. Another Federal unit repelled Indian attacks near Wood Lake, and a Federal charge finally drove the Indians off.

Decisively defeated, Little Crow withdrew to the Dakota Territory. The Federals sustained 41 casualties (seven killed and 34 wounded), while the Indians lost over 25 killed (including Chief Mankato) and many others wounded. Some Federals scalped the dead Indians in retaliation for the uprising.

Sibley did not have a cavalry force to pursue the remaining Indians, many of whom quit fighting and dispersed throughout the countryside. Federals eventually rounded up about 2,000 Indians over the next few months. Sibley proceeded as planned to negotiate with the two friendly Indian chiefs, who released 91 white and 150 mixed-race prisoners at Red Iron’s camp near the mouth of the Chippewa River. This region became known as Camp Release.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cullen, Joseph P., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 690-91; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8311, 8333; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538-39; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 203-04, 214-15; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83-87, 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 260-62, 270-71; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 686; 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 Battle of Shiloh: Day One

April 6, 1862 – The most terrible battle of the war to date began as the Confederate Army of Mississippi swarmed upon unsuspecting Federals in southwestern Tennessee.

The Confederates, exhausted and hungry after days of marching in cold rain and mud, were finally poised to make their long-awaited attack on the Federal Army of the Tennessee. The Federal supply base was at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, with the Federal camps strung out across several miles to the west between Owl and Lick creeks. The camps farthest from the landing were near a log cabin called Shiloh Church. No defensive works protected the camps.

General A.S. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General A.S. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Confederate army, announced to his staff before dawn, “Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee River.” Johnston rode to the front to direct combat operations while his second in command, General P.G.T. Beauregard, stayed behind the lines to direct men and armaments as needed.

Johnston’s plan was to peel the Federal left, or east, flank away from the Tennessee River and pin the army into the cul-de-sac formed by the Owl and Lick creeks, cutting them off from their supply base and forcing them to surrender. However, like nearly everything else that occurred on April 6, this would not go according to plan.

Federal pickets encountered the advance elements of the Confederate army around 5:30 a.m. and quickly fell back to their main units. Most Federal commanders, including Brigadier General William T. Sherman at Shiloh, remained unaware that a major attack was coming. When panicked officers reported that Confederates were massing in their front, Sherman rode out to see for himself. Sherman saw nothing ahead, but then an officer yelled, “General, look to your right!” A wall of Confederates emerged from the woods and fired a deadly volley. Sherman hollered, “My God! We are attacked!”

Major General William J. Hardee’s Confederate corps made up the first attack wave. The unprepared Federals either hurried to try putting up some sort of defense or fled the field in terror. Considering that four of every five soldiers on both sides had never seen combat before, some Confederates fled as well. A soldier of the 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry wrote:

“… The camp was alarmed Sunday morning just as the streaks of red began to tinge the eastern sky, by the rapid firing of the pickets, who soon came in with the report that the enemy was marching on us in overwhelming numbers and were even now in sight, as a shower of bullets which fell around too plainly indicated. There was no time to give orders then. It was life or death. The enemy was in camp before it had to arouse and form a line. Some were shot in their sleep, never knowing what hurt them. Terrible and complete was the surprise…”

The three westernmost Federal divisions under Sherman, John A. McClernand, and Benjamin M. Prentiss were hit first. The commanders tried rallying the men, with some running away and some throwing up makeshift defenses. As Hardee’s Confederates surged forward, they continuously penetrated the defenses and pushed the Federals northeast, or toward the Tennessee. This undermined Johnston’s plan of pushing them northwest, or away from the river.

General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Federal army commander, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, was at his Savannah, Tennessee, headquarters, nine miles downriver from Pittsburg Landing. He had waited for Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio to join with his. Grant knew that one of Buell’s divisions under Brigadier General William “Bull” Nelson had already arrived at Savannah, but he did not yet know that Buell had arrived as well. When Grant heard the firing, he quickly directed Nelson to load his men on transports for Pittsburg to join the fight. He also wrote to Buell asking him to hurry the rest of his army to the front.

Grant rushed to Crump’s Landing, midway between Savannah and Pittsburg, where one of his divisions under Brigadier General Lew Wallace was stationed. Grant ordered Wallace to bring his division to the fight as well. Grant then steamed upriver to Pittsburg, where hundreds of terrified Federals had sought refuge under the bluffs along the riverbank after fleeing the field. Grant guessed by the ferocity of the Confederate attacks that they numbered at least 100,000 men.

The Confederates swept through the abandoned Federal camps, stopping to loot tents and knapsacks. They discarded thousands of dollars in “worthless” greenbacks. As Hardee’s assault began losing momentum around 8 a.m., the second Confederate wave under Major General Braxton Bragg arrived on the scene. The lack of combat experience on both sides and the dense undergrowth turned the battle into several isolated fights at various points and in all directions.

Johnston, at the front with Confederates about to assault the Federal left, sent a message to Beauregard in the rear, “We are sweeping the field, and I think we shall press them to the river.” Johnston seemingly abandoned his own plan to tear the enemy away from the river. Beauregard, apparently also disregarding Johnston’s initial plan, directed troops to go where the firing was heaviest, which was initially on the Federal right. This effectively drove the Federals toward the river, where Buell’s reinforcements would soon arrive.

Around 9 a.m., Prentiss’s Federals repelled a furious attack by 500 Confederates under Colonel John S. Marmaduke along what became known as the Sunken Road. Heavy fighting also occurred near a pond that was later called Bloody Pond. Soon after, the Federal divisions under Brigadier Generals W.H.L. Wallace (no relation to Lew Wallace) and Stephen A. Hurlbut arrived on either side of Prentiss. This helped stabilize the Federal line.

By 10:30, Prentiss, Wallace, and Hurlbut had established a strong defensive position in an area of dense brush. The Confederates rolled up the Federal right, commanded by Sherman and McClernand, but they could not penetrate this defense comprising the Federal center and left. The ferocity of combat in this sector of the battlefield prompted soldiers to call it the “Hornet’s Nest.” Grant, directing operations on horseback, recognized the importance of the Hornet’s Nest and ordered Prentiss to hold the position at all costs.

The Hornet's Nest | Image Credit: Wikispaces .org

The Hornet’s Nest | Image Credit: Wikispaces .org

Meanwhile, Johnston directed attacks in a peach orchard in the front and left of the “Hornet’s Nest.” When Confederates from Major General John C. Breckinridge’s corps hesitated to attack, he joined with Johnston and Tennessee Governor Isham Harris to personally rally the men. The men, star-struck at seeing a former U.S. vice president, the army commander, and the state governor together, soon answered the call and charged.

Johnston personally led several charges that helped drive the Federals out of the orchard. Riding back to the main line around 2:30 p.m., Johnston reeled in the saddle and aides helped him to the ground. He had been shot, but nobody could find the wound until after he bled to death; a bullet had nicked an artery in the back of Johnston’s leg. A tourniquet could have saved him. Johnston became the highest ranking officer in either army to be killed in combat in the war. His aides tried hiding his death to avoid demoralizing the troops.

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

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

Beauregard took command from faraway Shiloh Church. He turned his attention to the Hornet’s Nest, where the Federals had withstood 11 Confederate charges. Beauregard directed Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles to train 62 cannon on the position.

By this time, the Federals to the left and right of the Hornet’s Nest had fallen back toward Pittsburg Landing, leaving the defenders isolated. W.H.L. Wallace had also been mortally wounded by a shell fragment to the head. Virtually surrounded and with no hope of reinforcement, Prentiss finally surrendered at 5:30. He had held for nearly seven hours, giving Grant precious time to form a strong, compact defensive perimeter around the landing.

Many Confederates stopped fighting after capturing Hornet’s Nest, believing the battle was won. The commanders knew better and directed them to renew their advance in the hopes of destroying Grant’s army before Buell could arrive. But after days of hard marching and a day of horrifying combat, the troops were breaking down from exhaustion.

Grant continued strengthening his defenses with the addition of Nelson’s division and many deserters who came out from under the bluffs to rejoin their comrades. Lew Wallace’s men had also finally arrived from Crump’s Landing, seven miles away. Wallace’s “lost division” had taken a wrong road and arrived too late to take part in the day’s fighting. In addition, heavy Federal siege guns were posted, and the gunboats U.S.S. Lexington and Tyler lobbed shells over the bluffs from the river.

Bragg directed a Confederate assault that was easily repulsed. Finally, Beauregard ordered a suspension of hostilities until morning. He telegraphed President Jefferson Davis that night: “After a severe battle of 10 hours, thanks be to the Almighty, (we) gained a complete victory, driving the enemy from every position.”

This was true. In addition, the Confederates had taken about 3,000 prisoners and 30 battle flags, along with many Federal encampments and supplies. Beauregard expressed confidence that a renewed attack the next morning would finish Grant off before retiring that night in Sherman’s bed.

Beauregard did not expect Buell to reinforce Grant because he had received an erroneous report from Colonel Benjamin H. Helm in northern Alabama that Buell’s army was advancing toward Helm and would not be joining with Grant at Pittsburg. Although Beauregard later asserted that Helm’s message had no influence on his strategy, he went to bed that night apparently unconcerned that Buell might be on his way.

That night, Prentiss was a guest of the Confederate high command as a prisoner of war. Prentiss acknowledged, “You have whipped our best troops today.” But when Bragg predicted that the Confederates would wrap up the victory the next day, Prentiss said, “You gentlemen have had your way today, but it will be very different tomorrow. You’ll see. Buell will effect a junction with Grant tonight and we’ll turn the tables on you in the morning.”

Heavy storms raged through the night. Troops on both sides tried sleeping through them and the sporadic cannon fire from the Federals trying to keep the exhausted Confederates awake. Neither side had developed a system for tending to the dead or wounded, so they lay in the field overnight. Hogs feasted on some of the corpses.

The Federal gunboats played a key role in demoralizing the Confederates that evening. Grant reported that “much is due to the presence of the gunboats Tyler and Lexington.” Beauregard wrote that as a result of the naval bombardment, “on the following morning the troops under my command were not in condition to cope with an equal force… (aided) by such an auxiliary as the enemy’s gunboats.”

Some Federal officers advised Grant to retreat after taking such a horrible pounding from the Confederates all day. Grant said, “Retreat? No. I propose to attack at daylight and whip them.” That night, Sherman found his friend Grant huddled under a tree in the rain and said, “Well Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant said, “Yes, yes. Lick ‘em tomorrow.”

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References

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