This Week in the Civil War: Oct 8-14, 1862

Wednesday, October 8.  In Kentucky, the Battle of Perryville occurred as parts of General Don Carlos Buell’s Federals fought a portion of General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army. Buell was unaware that a battle was taking place until afternoon due to an atmospheric phenomenon that prevented him from hearing the fighting. Part of Bragg’s force was still in Frankfort. The Federals fought off hard Confederate attacks until Bragg withdrew to the southeast. This was the largest battle fought in Kentucky, and it stopped the Confederate invasion of the state, just as Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland had also been stopped.

Thursday, October 9.  General Jeb Stuart led Confederate cavalry in a reconnaissance and raid into Maryland en route to Pennsylvania. Federal cavalry unsuccessfully tried stopping this ride around General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. The Confederate Congress established military courts with defined powers.

Friday, October 10.  Braxton Bragg’s Confederates began their withdrawal from Kentucky. Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry crossed the Potomac River into Maryland on the reconnaissance and raid of the Federal Army of the Potomac. Stuart reached Chambersburg, Pennsylvania by evening. In the Dakota Territory, Dakota Sioux Indians battled miners on the upper Missouri River below Fort Berthold. In Indiana, home guards drove off a band of Confederate guerrillas at Hawesville. President Jefferson Davis asked Virginia to provide 4,500 slaves to complete fortifications around Richmond. Confederate General John B. Magruder was assigned to command the Department of Texas.

Saturday, October 11.  In Pennsylvania, Jeb Stuart’s Confederates drove residents and officials out of Chambersburg and cut telegraph wires, destroyed railroad depots and equipment, seized horses, and burned any supplies they could not take. Stuart then moved southeast toward Emmitsburg, Maryland. The Confederate commerce raider Alabama destroyed the grain ship Manchester. Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law adding more exemptions to the Confederate draft. The most controversial provision exempted an owner or overseer of over 20 slaves. Richmond newspapers began discussing a possible end of the war due to recent Confederate victories.

Sunday, October 12.  Jeb Stuart’s Confederates crossed the Potomac back to Virginia after skirmishing at the mouth of the Monocacy River. General Earl Van Dorn assumed command of all Confederate troops in Mississippi. President Abraham Lincoln asked General Don Carlos Buell for updates in Kentucky; Lincoln was concerned that Buell was not pursuing the withdrawing Confederates fast enough.

Monday, October 13.  The second session of the First Confederate Congress adjourned after approving a bill suspending habeas corpus (with some exceptions) until February 12, 1863. President Lincoln wrote a letter to George McClellan urging him to renew the offensive against Robert E. Lee in Virginia: “Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing?” Federal General Jacob D. Cox assumed command of the District of Western Virginia. In Kentucky, Braxton Bragg’s Confederates began moving through Cumberland Gap back to Tennessee.

Tuesday, October 14.  In elections for congressional seats in Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Democrats gained seats in every state except Iowa. Many cited the Lincoln administration’s war policies and the Emancipation Proclamation as reasons why voters turned against Lincoln’s Republicans. Confederate General John C. Pemberton assumed command of the Department of Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana.

A Soldier’s Letter: John Burnham

Letter from Lieutenant Burnham, 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, to his family following the Battle of Antietam dated October 4, 1862.

My Dear Mother and Family,

I received a short note from Lottie enclosing extracts from newspapers about the fight of the 17th or the “Battle of Antietam.” One thing is certain, it was a “big fight,” as the sixteenth found to their severe cost, and although we got the best of it, on the whole I am unable to key myself up to a very high pitch of exultation over the day’s work. We had the best of the fight because we had advanced our position during the day, but it was at heavy cost and the ground gained was contested inch by inch.

There has been no fighting since, and if our army was not pretty badly handled and about used up, I can imagine no earthly reason why we did not go at them the next day with a vengeance. We lay on our arms all day, the day after the battle, and all night the next night, expecting momentarily to be ordered forward, but we were not.

On Friday, we went on the field and gathered the dead and wounded. The rebels held the field in which the 16th were cut up so badly, and we had to leave the dead and wounded on that account over the whole of Thursday. They were there about forty-eight hours, but most of them, the wounded, said the rebs treated them kindly and gave them water. It was very hot weather but fortunately there was a heavy rain on Thursday night and they managed to catch a canteen or two full of water by holding up the corners of their rubber blankets. One of our men, who was unable to get off the field, managed to pull off one of his boots and caught water in that and drank it.

I was on the field from noon until eleven o’clock at night of Friday, giving my personal supervision to the collection of the dead and wounded. You may be assured it was a trying position.

The position we occupy now is a pleasant one and I would like it if we could remain in it. Thus far, since we have been out, we have seen little but the “circumstance of glorious war,” as someone has aptly said. Yesterday we saw a little of the “pomp” for the first time. The army was received by President Lincoln and Gen’l McClellan, and of course we did our share. Our division happened to be the first one reviewed in Gen’l Burnside’s corps. As soon as the ceremony was over, the division and brigade commanders were ordered to dismiss their commands and join the President’s escort.

If we had been in command of the regiment, we should have trotted back to camp, but I was lucky once again and as we stood for the time being in a Brig. Gen’l and Adj. Gen’l’s shoes, respectively, we had the honor of tagging old “Abe” around on his reviewing tour for a couple of hours and taking a look at between fifteen and twenty thousand men. I had seen “Abe” before but I thought him half so homely. He ought to be wise and good and honest.

Lottie wished me to write what were my personal feelings in the fight. You have all heard a great deal about men going into battle and, after the fighting had commenced, forgetting all about what they were doing. This may be the case to some extent, but in my opinion nothing like what is represented. I had no time to think of danger. I am frank to confess that although I had no idea of running away I trembled.

In relation to the condition of the rebels, I can answer that unequivocally I saw as many as five hundred prisoners I should think in one day and I never saw anything like it. Their hair was long and uncombed and their faces were thin and cadaverous as though they had been starved to death. It is of course possible that it is the natural look of the race, but it appeared mightily to me like the result of short fare. They were the dirtiest set I ever beheld. A regiment of New England paupers could not equal them for the filth, lice and rags.

I hope as I always have, that I may have the courage to do my duty well, not recklessly but with simple bravery and fidelity, so that if I fall you may have the consolation of knowing that I not only lose my life in a good cause but die like a man. One thing I wish to say particularly–this romance about men being shot in the back is all a humbug. A mounted officer is as likely to be hit in the back, and more likely to be hit in the side, than in the front, and don’t ever do an officer the injustice to think ill of him for such a wound…

Bless you all. Yours affectionately,

John

Source: The Brothers’ War by Annette Tapert (Vintage Books, New York, 1988)

Watch Death and the Civil War online

If you happened to miss the television showing of Death and the Civil War, you can watch it online via the PBS website, where you can also order it on DVD. You can also check out my review of the film as well.

Watch Death and the Civil War on PBS. See more from American Experience.

Please be aware that the video is only available until October 17.

This Week in the Civil War: Oct 1-7, 1862

Wednesday, October 1.  In Kentucky, Federals under General Don Carlos Buell reinforced towns along the Ohio River against the advancing Confederates under General Braxton Bragg. Confederate General John C. Pemberton replaced General Earl Van Dorn as commander of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana. Pemberton’s main task was to defend the stronghold of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.

President Lincoln and General McClellan in Maryland

President Abraham Lincoln and advisors traveled to Harpers Ferry to confer with General George B. McClellan. Lincoln had been dissatisfied with McClellan’s lack of activity since the Battle of Antietam 13 days ago. Federal Admiral David Dixon Porter replaced Charles Davis as commander of the new Mississippi Squadron. The Richmond Whig issued an editorial about the Emancipation Proclamation: “It is a dash of the pen to destroy four thousand millions of our property, and is as much a bid for the slaves to rise in insurrection, with the assurance of aid from the whole military and naval power of the United States.”

Thursday, October 2.  President Lincoln set up a tent besides George McClellan’s at Army of the Potomac headquarters and estimated that the army contained 88,095 effectives. Skirmishing occurred at several points in Kentucky and Texas. Confederate troops under Generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn advanced on Corinth, Mississippi.

Friday, October 3.  In Mississippi, the Battle of Corinth occurred as Confederates reached the town from the northwest and attacked the Federals stationed there under General William S. Rosecrans. Confederate General Van Dorn hoped that defeating the Federals at Corinth would compel Federals to withdraw from western Tennessee and Kentucky to meet the threat. After hard fighting and piecemeal Confederate assaults, the Federals withdrew to stronger defenses closer to the city as night fell. In Maryland, President Lincoln continued conferring with George McClellan, referring to the Army of the Potomac as “General McClellan’s bodyguard.” The Confederate commerce raider Alabama captured three more prizes, prompting Federal shippers to plead for more government support.

Saturday, October 4.  In Mississippi, the Battle of Corinth continued as the Confederates resumed attacks on the strong Federal defenses. After unsuccessful attacks and counterattacks, the Confederates finally withdrew to Chewalla, 10 miles northwest from Corinth. Confederate General Van Dorn had succeeded in preventing Federal reinforcements from reaching Kentucky, but he failed to capture Corinth, relieve Federal pressure in Tennessee, or destroy General Rosecrans’s army. In Kentucky, Confederate General Bragg and others attended the inauguration of pro-Confederate Richard Hawes as governor at Frankfort. In Maryland, President Lincoln continued conferring with General McClellan and visited hospitals, camps, and battlefields before returning to Washington.

Sunday, October 5.  In Mississippi, Rosecrans’s Federals ineffectively pursued Van Dorn’s Confederates. However, Federals under General E.O.C. Ord caught up with the Van Dorn at the Hatchie River in Tennessee, and severe fighting occurred until the Confederates withdrew to Holly Springs. This ended the Corinth campaign. In Texas, Federals captured Galveston without a fight and occupied the island. In Kentucky, Bragg’s Confederates began withdrawing from the Bardstown area with Federal General Don Carlos Buell pursuing; Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith remained in the Frankfort area.

Monday, October 6.  Disturbed by George McClellan’s delays, President Lincoln sent him a wire through General-in-Chief Henry Halleck: “The President directs that you cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy or drive him south. Your army must move now while the roads are good.” In Kentucky, Bragg’s Confederates moved toward Harrodsburg as Buell’s Federals pursued.

Tuesday, October 7.  In Kentucky, Buell’s Federals approached the village of Perryville while the Confederates were divided between Perryville and Frankfort. Federal General Gordon Granger became the commander of the Army of Kentucky, and Federal General E.A. Carr became commander of the Army of the Southwest. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard absorbed middle and eastern Florida into his southeastern command. In Great Britain, Chancellor of the Exchequer W.E. Gladstone proclaimed that Jefferson Davis and the Confederate leaders “have made a nation,” and he anticipated Confederate success. His remarks were highly criticized in Britain and the U.S.

This Week in the Civil War: Sep 24-30, 1862

Wednesday, September 24.  President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and provided for the military trial of “all Rebels and Insurgents, their siders and abettors within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice, affording comfort to Rebels against the authority of the United States.” The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was released to the public through various newspapers. In Pennsylvania, 14 northern governors met at Altoona and approved emancipation, even though the conference had originally been called to criticize the Lincoln administration’s policies on slavery and the war. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard replaced General John C. Pemberton as commander of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia. Federal General Samuel R. Curtis assumed command of the Department of the Missouri. The Confederate Senate approved a seal for the Confederacy.

Thursday, September 25.  In Kentucky, Federals under General Don Carlos Buell reached the vital city of Louisville ahead of the Confederate advance. Various skirmishes occurred in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Friday, September 26.  Federals conducted an expedition from Helena, Arkansas to Marianna, Tennessee. In the Dakota Territory, skirmishing continued between Federals and Sioux Indians. In Washington, President Lincoln discussed black colonization with his cabinet.

Saturday, September 27.  The Confederate Congress passed the Second Conscription Act, which authorized President Jefferson Davis to draft men between 35 and 45 years old for military service. President Lincoln interrogated Major John J. Key and dismissed him from military service for allegedly saying that the object of the Battle of Antietam was “that neither army shall get much advantage of the other; that both shall be kept in the field till they are exhausted, when we will make a compromise and save slavery.” This reflected the view of many Federal troops, and it highlighted Lincoln’s irritation with Federal General George McClellan’s lack of activity since the battle.

Sunday, September 28.  Skirmishing occurred in Kentucky, Missouri, and western Virginia. President Davis wrote to Confederate General Robert E. Lee of his concern over enrolling conscripts “to fill up the thinned ranks of your regiments.”

Monday, September 29.  Federal General Jefferson C. Davis shot and mortally wounded Federal General William “Bull” Nelson during an argument at a hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Skirmishing occurred in Kentucky and Virginia. In Mississippi, General Earl Van Dorn’s 22,000-man Confederate Army of West Tennessee began advancing on Corinth.

Tuesday, September 30.  Skirmishes occurred in Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and western Virginia. Federal expeditions began from the Savannah River in Georgia and from Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Source: The Civil War Day-by-Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1971)

This Week in the Civil War: Sep 17-23, 1862

Wednesday, September 17.  The bloodiest single day of the war occurred at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland. General Robert E. Lee’s outnumbered Confederate Army of Northern Virginia assembled along Antietam Creek to meet the attack by General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac. The first wave of assaults took place on the Confederate left against General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps in the woods, the cornfield, the Bloody Lane, and the Dunkard Church. Federal gains were small and costly. The battle then shifted to the center of the Confederate line, with uncoordinated Federal attacks again achieving little. Finally, the battle moved to the Confederate right, where Federals crossing a bridge finally broke through and headed for Sharpsburg. However, they were halted by General A.P. Hill’s “Light Division” arriving from Harpers Ferry to save Lee’s army. McClellan’s piecemeal attacks and failure to use all his reserves also helped save the Confederate army from destruction. The battle ended when McClellan disengaged, making it a draw. Total casualties for this single day were estimated at over 26,000 killed, wounded, or missing. In Kentucky, a Federal garrison of over 4,000 men surrendered to General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates. Federal General Ormsby M. Mitchel assumed command of the Department of the South, stationed along the southeastern coast.

Thursday, September 18.  In the evening, Robert E. Lee began withdrawing the remnants of his army from Maryland. George McClellan did not attack, despite having up to 24,000 fresh reserves. Lee’s withdrawal made the Battle of Antietam a tactical Federal victory, even though McClellan ignored pleas from President Abraham Lincoln to pursue and destroy Lee’s army. On the Atlantic Ocean, the Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Alabama destroyed the whaler Elisha Dunbar off New Bedford, Massachusetts. Braxton Bragg announced that his Confederate troops had come to Kentucky to free the people from tyranny, not as conquerors or despoilers. Federal General James H. Carleton replaced General E.R.S. Canby as commander of the Department of New Mexico.

Friday, September 19.  In Mississippi, Federals under General William Rosecrans defeated General Sterling Price’s Confederates at the Battle of Iuka. Rosecrans had arrived at Iuka as part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s advance guard, and the Confederates sought to prevent Grant from reinforcing General Don Carlos Buell in Kentucky. Price was awaiting the arrival of General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederates when the battle occurred. Rosecrans, knowing that Federal reinforcements were forthcoming, withdrew southward during the night. The Federal Department of the Missouri was reestablished, and the Department of Kansas was discontinued. In Maryland, George McClellan’s halfhearted pursuit of Robert E. Lee was halted by Confederate artillery.

Saturday, September 20.  In Maryland, George McClellan’s Federals made one last effort at catching Robert E. Lee’s Confederates, but the Federals were repulsed at various points. In Washington, President Lincoln prepared the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which he had first introduced to his cabinet in July.

Sunday, September 21.  In Kentucky, Braxton Bragg’s Confederates advanced to Bardstown in preparation for linking with General Edmund Kirby Smith’s forces. However, this enabled Don Carlos Buell’s Federals to reach Louisville. In California, San Francisco residents raised $100,000 for aid to wounded and sick Federal troops.

Monday, September 22.  In Washington, President Lincoln presented the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Lincoln had been waiting for a military victory to issue the order, and Antietam provided the opportunity. The proclamation technically freed no one since it only applied to slaves in states that rebelled against the U.S.; it exempted rebellious states from freeing their slaves if those states rejoined the U.S. before January 1, and it exempted regions under Federal military occupation. Lincoln also called for congressional approval of compensated emancipation. Thus, the path was partially opened toward a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery.

Tuesday, September 23.  In the Dakota Territory, Federals clashed with Indians at Fort Abercrombie. In Minnesota, Federals under H.H. Sibley defeated the Sioux Indians at the Battle of Wood Lake as part of the Dakota War. On the Ohio River, Confederate guerrillas plundered the steamer Emma at Foster’s Landing. In Tennessee, Federals retaliated against an attack on a ship by burning the town of Randolph. Word of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was beginning to spread throughout the North.

Source:  The Civil War Day-by-Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1971)

A Soldier’s Letter: Frederick Pettit

Letter from Corporal Pettit (Company C, 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry) to his family after his involvement in the Battle of South Mountain on September 20, 1862

Dear Parents, Brothers and Sisters:

Having a little spare time this morning, I will commence to give you a short account of what our regiment has done since I came to it.

I overtook it about twenty miles from Washington at Brookeville, Md. It was dark when I found them. They had been resting a day to get provisions. The next morning, we started out a little before dark. Our rations are crackers, coffee, sugar, and beef when the cooks have time to boil it.

The next day, we started on our march again and passed through New Market, where the rebel pickets had been the night before. This town is eight miles from Frederick. After passing about two miles from the town, we halted and the cavalry and artillery were sent forward to reconnoiter. After waiting about four hours, we again moved forward. About three miles from Frederick, we again halted.

The front skirmishers loaded their guns and advanced cautiously. The artillerymen ran two guns to the top of a hill on the right. But the rebels had gone. A shot or two at their rear sent them flying. We marched about a mile further and encamped two miles from the city. The next day we could plainly see the cannonading. We could not see any effects of it except a dead horse or two and houses turned into hospitals. After going some distance further, we encamped and lay down and slept during the remainder of the night.

The next morning we started early toward Middletown. It was not long before we heard cannonading in front. About a mile from Middletown, we found a large barn and bridge burned. But the stream was shallow, and we had no difficulty in crossing. After going a short distance further, we could see the batteries at work and hear the whizzing of the shells. The rebels occupied a wooded pass in the mountains. The turnpike runs through the middle of the pass. On the right of it, the rebels had a battery in a ploughed field and others on the left in the woods.

When we came in sight of the enemy, our division halted and our regiment was sent forward as skirmishers. We advanced along the turnpike in plain view of their batteries on the right until we came within a half mile of it. We halted and protected ourselves as well as we could under the bank at the side of the road. The enemy sent their shell amongst us thick and fast. They exploded above and all around us. Shortly an orderly came and told us to fall back. When we commenced to move, the shot and shell flew faster than ever. Our loss this time was only one man wounded, but if we had stayed fifteen minutes longer we would have been cut to pieces…

We advanced up the hill steadily under a shower of shot until we came near the top of the hill, where the road ran between two high banks. Just had we halted when a number of cavalrymen and artilleries came rushing down upon us crying, “Clear the road for the cannon, we are beaten.” Then the artillery came galloping down with the guns and caissons. And to make things worse, the rebels were sending grape shot and shell amongst us in a perfect shower.

We clambered out of the road as fast as we could, and our officers soon formed us in line of battle on the right of the road. We were ordered to fix bayonets and expected to make a charge, but after we started down the hill again and marched on up the valley about a mile, we halted, about faced, and started back across the hill. While coming up the valley, a number of men gave out; amongst them Lieutenant Morton. We saw him no more that day. We soon met General Wilcox and, as we were almost exhausted, he ordered us to lie down and rest.

After resting about three hours, we formed in line of battle. The rebels had advanced upon our cannon and we must drive them back. The 45th Reg. Pa. and 17th Michigan went in before us and drove them behind a stone wall. We then advanced to the top of the hill through a shower of musket balls. When we came to the edge of the woods, we halted and commenced firing. We were about as far from them as from our corn crib to the barn. They were in a lane behind a stone fence and we were in the edge of a woods with a clear lot between us. I fired eleven shots. Most of the boys fired fifteen before the rebels ran. The lane was piled full of killed and wounded rebels…

I have a chance to send this now. We are all well and near the Potomac River. We move soon. I send you a rebel envelope I picked up on the battlefield.

F. Pettit

Source: The Brothers’ War by Annette Tapert (Vintage Books: New York, NY, 1988)

Antietam: 150 years ago today

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, if you prefer) in 1862. It represents the bloodiest one-day battle in American history with over 23,000 casualties on both sides. Ethan Rafuse provides a wonderful post on this subject, complete with the opening to the film Glory (1989), which began with this battle.

He also noted the letter from Lt Col. Wilder Dwight, who died from wounds at the battle and the letter he wrote was featured in the documentary Death and the Civil War, which I reviewed earlier.

This battle was significant for several reasons. One was that it allowed Lincoln to justify the Emancipation Proclamation, as the tactical draw served as a psychological and strategic victory for the Union, aiding in a small way in keeping the European powers out of the conflict, though this was largely accomplished by this point in 1862.

Also, it was a major setback for Robert E. Lee, as his invasion of the North failed. It represented a series of missed opportunities and blunders that could have ended the war sooner, had McClellan acted more decisively upon finding Lee’s Special Order 191, which was his battle plan, or had McClellan pursued and destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle.

Though, 150 years old, this battle is still an important event in our history, worthy of continuing staff rides by military educational programs around the country. One of the better books on the battle that is both scholarly and great for a general audience is James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War (2002), as it discusses the larger significance of the battle as well as how it relates to the concept of freedom at the time. As we approach the anniversaries of some of the most important battles of the war, it will be notable to see how we reflect and what historians write and do to understand the importance of these events against our modern society.

This Week in the Civil War: Sep 10-16, 1862

Wednesday, September 10:  In Maryland, Federal cavalry informed General George McClellan that General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was falling back toward the Monocacy River, away from Frederick. McClellan responded by accelerating his previously sluggish pursuit. As Confederates advanced north in Kentucky, 1,000 “squirrel hunters” volunteered in Cincinnati to defend against a possible Confederate invasion.

Thursday, September 11:  In Maryland, Lee’s Confederates entered Hagerstown, and skirmishing with Federal forces increased. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin called for 50,000 volunteers to defend the state. In Kentucky, Confederates under General Edmund Kirby Smith occupied Maysville. Skirmishing intensified as the Confederates came within seven miles of Cincinnati.

Friday, September 12:  In Maryland, McClellan’s Federals reached Frederick as Lee’s Confederates began dispersing in accordance with Special Orders No. 191. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate corps approached Harpers Ferry, and skirmishing took place over the next five days. In Kentucky, Confederates occupied Glasgow as skirmishing continued. The Federal Army of Virginia was officially absorbed into McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. In Pennsylvania, assets and archives were transfered from Harrisburg and Philadelphia to New York. The Confederate Congress debated the wisdom of the northern invasion. President Jefferson Davis wrote to the governors of Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Arkansas attempting to assure them that the Trans-Mississippi theater of war was not being ignored.

Saturday, September 13:  In Maryland, two Federal soldiers found a copy of Robert E. Lee’s Special Orders No. 191. They were forwarded to George McClellan, who now knew that Lee’s forces were divided. McClellan pushed his Federals west, while Lee learned that McClellan had found his order. Skirmishing intensified. In western Virginia, Federals evacuated Charleston as Confederates under General W.W. Loring advanced from the Kanawha Valley. In New Orleans, General Benjamin Butler, commander of Federal occupation forces, ordered all foreigners to register with Federal authorities.

Sunday, September 14:  In Maryland, the left wing of George McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac advanced toward Crampton’s Gap to cut off the Confederates at Harpers Ferry and divide Lee’s army. Meanwhile, another Federal force attacked Confederates at South Mountain. After hard fighting, the Confederates withdrew; Federal General Jesse Reno was killed. This became known as the Battle of South Mountain. Meanwhile, “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates lay siege to the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. In Kentucky, General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates reached Munfordville. Federals under General Don Carlos Buell hurried ahead of Bragg and reached Bowling Green. In Mississippi, a third phase of the overall Confederate offensive began taking shape when Confederates under General Sterling Price occupied Iuka near Corinth.

Monday, September 15:  In Virginia (now West Virginia), “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates captured Harpers Ferry, taking about 12,000 prisoners. In Maryland, Robert E. Lee’s Confederates at South Mountain fell back to Sharpsburg. Lee was hurriedly concentrating his scattered forces before George McClellan’s Federals could launch a full-scale attack. Lee originally planned to withdraw, but when he learned that Jackson had captured Harpers Ferry, he began forming a line along Antietam Creek. In Kentucky, Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederates reached Covington across the Ohio River from Cincinnati but quickly withdrew. Braxton Bragg’s Confederates lay siege to Munfordville. 

Tuesday, September 16:  In Maryland, Robert E. Lee gathered his Army of Northern Virginia and established battle lines along Antietam Creek. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates arrived on the scene after a hard march from Harpers Ferry, while one of Jackson’s divisions under General A.P. Hill remained behind to accept the garrison’s surrender. George McClellan faced criticism for not attacking today. In Kentucky, Bragg continued his siege of 4,000 Federals at Munfordville. Smith’s Confederates withdrew from the Ohio River toward Lexington. President Abraham Lincoln, unable to contact McClellan, wired Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania: “What do you hear from Gen. McClellan’s army?”

Review of Death and the Civil War

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you all that American Experience on PBS will be airing a documentary by Ric Burns (younger brother of filmmaker Ken Burns) entitled Death and the Civil War on Tuesday, September 18 at 8:00PM Eastern Time. The airing is timely, as it will be just after the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with the Battle of Antietam on September 17.

This film, based upon Drew Gilpin Faust’s landmark work This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008), illustrated how the Civil War changed how Americans on both sides of the conflict perceived death. Prior to the war, influenced by the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening, people believed in the concept of a “good death”, which involved dying at home, surrounded by loved ones, at peace and ready to go, and possibly and offering of last words to friends and family. This death was rooted in Christian tradition emerging in the nation through the early 19th century, where a new belief in a corporeal heaven, gained wide acceptance by the eve of war. This belief held that the deceased will gain a renewed body upon entering heaven and will reunite with loved ones who passed on before them, as well as the surviving relatives and friends when they die, with all living in everlasting peace and harmony with God.

As the war’s cruel reality shattered notions of a short, relatively bloodless conflict, Americans faced a new concept of death, as hundreds, and soon thousands, of young men were slaughtered in their prime, unable to enjoy the tranquility and dignity of a “good death”. Soldiers soon adapted to this changing circumstance and created the same conditions, in a modified fashion, for their dying comrades. The men were surrounded by photographs of loved ones, their army friends, and were able, when possible, die in relative peace. The deceased’s comrades also took on the unenviable task of notifying loved ones of the demise of the soldier, as well as arranging for shipment of effects and, if able, the body.

This documentary did an outstanding job of analyzing the harsh situation facing the nation in the early years of the war, that stands in stark contrast to how our nation treats the war dead today. Before and during the early years of the war, the federal government did not bear responsibility for identifying, accounting for, and treating its war dead. The result was that many dead were not identified initially, being buried in graves marked “Unknown”. Further, the government had no way of effective notification of casualties, with relatives relying upon the casualty reports in local papers, which could be inaccurate, creating increased anxiety among people as to the fate of their loved one serving, whether they were dead or not. Death was exacerbated by the lack of an ambulance corps, preventing early evacuation of wounded, which caused many to linger on the battlefield, dying of their wounds, without the comfort of the “good death”.

The film revolved around several themes: dying, burial, emotions around death, memorializing, identifying, and slavery. Each of these themes was well treated. Slavery was quite interesting, as the African-American experience with death was quite different through the horrors of slavery, which created a higher mortality possibility for them than whites. They created their own concept of the “good death”, which involved dying in the struggle for freedom. What was interesting to consider was that the historians involved in the film argued that contraband camps, where escaped slaves were initially housed, represented one of the first American examples of refugee camps, where conditions were quite harsh and fostered a higher mortality.

Beyond the overall content of the documentary, there were several things that stood out for me in this piece. One was the early mention of the casualty figure of 750,000, which is based upon new research that appeared in the journal Civil War History (December 2011), that is still gaining acceptance in the scholarly community and will take years to gain full recognition. The use of the figure will go far in terms of generating wider acceptance of the new calculations of just how many died in the war.

In addition to the use of new casualty figures, the story of 19th century methods of embalming and the role photographers played in bringing the savagery of death on the battlefield to Americans’ homes. Further, commemorating the dead, both through establishing national cemeteries and creating Memorial Day (on both sides of the Mason-Dixon) was an important subject. It was quite interesting to consider that without the Civil War, we likely would not have the system of national cemeteries, let alone an accounting of our war dead, at least as we know it. The story of Charleston blacks burying deceased Union POW’s from the racetrack prison camp and leading a commemoration ceremony and parade with Union forces in early May 1865 represented one of the earliest occurrences of what we know as Memorial Day.

With an all-star cast of historians and commentators, including Drew Gilpin Faust, Vincent Brown, David W. Blight, and George Will among others, Ric Burns has crafted a masterful documentary in the vein of his brother’s The Civil War. It combines the use of photographs, filmed scenes, and stirring narration, including powerful and emotional examples from the primary sources of the war, the writings of the people experiencing the war themselves. While Faust’s book is an important read and I urge everyone to read it, Death and the Civil War is a must-see documentary that illustrates the transformative effect of the war on our nation in the midst of its 150th anniversary.

This Week In The Civil War: Sep 3-9, 1862

Wednesday, September 3:  General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia began moving to relieve Federal pressure on Virginia by invading the North. The troops moved west toward Leesburg and occupied Winchester. In Washington, Federal General John Pope conferred with President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. Pope delivered a report accusing General Fitz John Porter of disobeying orders and General George McClellan of failing to support him in the Battle of Second Bull Run. In the Dakota Territory, Sioux Indians unsuccessfully attacked Fort Abercrombie as part of their uprising against Federal authority. In Kentucky, Confederates under General Edmund Kirby Smith continued their invasion by occupying the state capital of Frankfort.

Thursday, September 4:  Lee’s Confederates began crossing the Potomac River into Maryland; the crossing continued for three days. Various skirmishes ensued as politicians conferred in Washington, Federals evacuated Frederick, Maryland, and McClellan began reorganizing the Army of the Potomac. In Minnesota, Federals skirmished with Sioux Indians at Hutchinson. In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raiders joined Edmund Kirby Smith’s men. In western Virginia, Confederates under General A.G. Jenkins crossed the Ohio River for a brief northern invasion.

Friday, September 5:  In Washington, Halleck informed Pope that his Army of Virginia would be consolidated into McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. McClellan began gathering Federal troops around Washington as Robert E. Lee continued advancing on Frederick, Maryland. In Indiana, Governor Morton called on citizens to form militias along the Ohio River in defense of a potential Confederate invasion. At Sparta, Tennessee, Bragg proclaimed, “Alabama is redeemed. Tennesseans! your capital and State are almost restored without firing a gun. You return conquerors. Kentuckians! the first great blow has been struck for your freedom.” Meanwhile, General Don Carlos Buell’s Federals abandoned northern Alabama, falling back to Murfreesboro and Nashville.

Saturday, September 6:  In Maryland, Confederates under General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson occupied Frederick. Federal cavalry skirmished with the Confederate invaders over the next nine days. Robert E. Lee had expected to gain recruits in Maryland, but Frederick was abandoned and an observer wrote, “everything partook of a churchyard appearance.” In Virginia, Federals evacuated the important supply center at Aquia Creek near Fredericksburg. John Pope was assigned to command the new Department of the Northwest, which consisted of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Nebraska and Dakota territories. His main task was to suppress the Sioux Indian uprising. In the Dakota Territory, the Sioux unsuccessfully attacked Fort Abercrombie a second time.

Sunday, September 7:  George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac began slowly moving northward from Washington, protecting the capital and Baltimore while unaware of Robert E. Lee’s location. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Hagerstown, Maryland experienced “tremendous excitement,” with frantic people preparing for a Confederate invasion. The Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry was isolated by Lee’s forces. President Lincoln worried about events in both the eastern and western theaters, asking “Where is Gen. Bragg” and “What about Harper’s Ferry?” U.S.S. Essex battled Port Hudson batteries on the Mississippi River. Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to Robert E. Lee, Braxton Bragg, and Edmund Kirby Smith that they should inform northerners “That the Confederate Government is waging the war solely for self-defence, that is has no design of conquest or any other purpose than to secure peace and the abandonment by the United States of its pretensions to govern a people who have never been their subjects and who prefer self-government to a Union with them.”

Monday, September 8:  Apprehension intensified in Maryland and Pennsylvania, as Robert E. Lee’s Confederates continued advancing. Lee proclaimed to Maryland residents: “The people of the Confederate States have long watched with the deepest sympathy the wrongs and outrages that have been inflicted upon the citizens… We know no enemies among you, and will protect all, of every opinion. It is for you to decide your destiny freely and without constraint. This army will respect your choice, whatever it may be.” President Lincoln asked George McClellan at Rockville, Maryland, “How does it look now?” General Nathaniel Banks assumed command of the Washington defenses. Various skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Tuesday, September 9:  At Frederick, Robert E. Lee issued Special Orders No. 191, calling for “Stonewall” Jackson to attack Harpers Ferry and General James Longstreet’s corps to advance on Boonesborough, Maryland. These orders would later be found by Federal troops and forwarded to George McClellan. General Samuel P. Heintzelman was given command of the Washington defenses south of the Potomac.

Source: The Civil War Day-by-Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1971)

A Soldier’s Letter: Henry Pearson

Letter from Captain Pearson (Company C, 6th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry) writing home after the Battle of Second Bull Run on September 5, 1862

Friend:  Perhaps you would like to know our experience in the late great battles near Manassas. As my account will probably differ from any which you have seen in the newspapers, I will endeavor to speak only of what I saw.

(August) 28th we slept at Blackburn’s Ford. Jackson was supposed to be at Centreville. Friday (the 29th) we marched up to Centreville and finding no enemy there followed down the Warrenton turnpike to Stone Bridge. Some skirmishing occurred near the bridge, but the enemy falling back, we advanced up the turnpike to the old battle ground. Some of the hills where the old battle was fought have been cleared of their woods, and the open country now lies nearly in the shape of a square bounded on three sides, north, west and south by woods.

About two o’clock Friday, (Major General) Heintzelman attacked the enemy in the belt of the woods on the north side of the square. After half an hour’s sharp fighting, the rebels were driven from it back into the woods on the west side. Here they made another stand. Kearney’s Division and Hooker’s Division were repulsed with great slaughter in succession and driven entirely from this part of the field, leaving nearly half their numbers killed or wounded in the hands of the enemy.

It would seem that after the slaughter of two such divisions as Hooker’s and Kearney’s, General Pope would have sent a larger force into these woods.

Instead of this, however, he ordered up our Brigade, the first of Reno’s Division, and ordered us to clear the woods in front of us. We deployed and advanced in line, the 6th New Hampshire on our left. We had not entered the woods more than three or four rods before the muskets began to pop ahead of us and a few bullets to whistle by us. Soon we could see plenty of snuff-colored pants ahead of us not more than seventy-five yards, and the cracking of rifles became general.

We delivered a volley and advanced, loading and firing. The storm of bullets soon became terrible. The rebels fought us every inch of the way. We charged upon them in a sunken road which ran through the woods parallel to our lines and drove them from it. As they were skedaddling from the ditch road, our boys poured in a volley which literally strewed the ground with them. When we had advanced some fifty paces, we could see through the woods into the open fields beyond. The rebel artillery began to play upon our flank, which did us very little damage, however, as the trees were so thick.

Discovering that our regiment was alone and (that) the bullets began to come thick and fast from the rear, the Colonel sent me back to see why the other two regiments did not follow us and to tell them they were firing upon us. Peeping up over the bank, I could hardly trust my eyes when I saw yellow legs standing as thick as wheat not more than twenty-five paces from the ditch. I instantly called to the regiment to retreat to the ditch, which was done at a run. Taking a second look to see if I could spot a flag, I saw one, their battle flag, with a red cross worked in it and a swarm of rebels following it at double quick towards our left, as we were now faced, so as to surround us.

As it was evident that we would soon be surrounded and overwhelmed with numbers, and be all killed or captured, the Col. wisely ordered a retreat up the road which led around into the wood from which Heintzelman had driven the enemy at the beginning of the battle. After fighting until sundown with little better success than we had, the enemy held the field that night.

Saturday, August 30th, for about an hour there was a perfect din of musketry in the woods. A large rebel battery on our left raked our troops with terrible effect, and soon our extreme left and then all the rest of our line gave way and came out of the woods in the greatest disorder, pursued by the enemy, who were yelling in their peculiar effeminate manner.

From the time they began to advance until sundown, they never halted but swept everything before them like a hurricane. At sundown, they had swept away round to our rear and were within a short distance from the turnpike–our only line of retreat. Here they had met the veteran force of Sigel and Reno, who held them at bay until darkness put an end to the contest. Towards midnight, we forded the stream and, our minds depressed with sorrow, bade a final adieu to the ill-fated fields of Bull Run.

General Pope is a most unblushing liar. In his official dispatch, he calls the result of the contest a victory when every man in the army knows that we were defeated at all points both Friday and Saturday and that too because at all points we were out-generaled. Had the great battle been fought Friday, we might have won, because the rebels received large reinforcements that night.

The battle was a great blunder. The defeat was as complete as that of the old Bull Run. The difference was that in this battle when a regiment was defeated it was not panic stricken, but rallied on its colors the moment it got behind the reserves. A rebel prisoner with whom I conversed told the truth when he said, “Boys, you can fight as well as we can, but Old Jackson is always one day ahead of you.”

The Northern people get not the faintest idea from the newspapers of the true state of affairs at the seat of operations. The lying reports of our general and reporters beat anything that ever existed among the rebels. The whole army is disgusted. Are we disposed not to recognize impossibilities? We can do now voluntarily what we shall certainly be compelled to do when thousands of more lives have been sacrificed. You need not be surprised if success falls to the rebels with astonishing rapidity. They certainly have the force, the skill and genius to do it…

Yours Very Respectfully, H.M. Pearson

Henry Pearson was killed in action on May 26, 1864.

Source: The Brothers’ War by Annette Tapert (Vintage Books, New York, NY: 1988)

Welcome to our newest writer

I would like to welcome Walter Coffey, author and blogger, who has his own Civil War blog as well as a general history blog. He will be doing some guest posting, largely focusing on anniversaries, as his latest book chronicles the war on a monthly basis. If you are looking for a month-by-month look at the war, consider his new book The Civil War Months. Welcome to the blog Walter!

Civil War Events Feature Minstrel Song Revival – ABC News

Civil War Events Feature Minstrel Song Revival – ABC News.

Pretty interesting article on a revival of Civil War era music via reenacting. I had the opportunity to listen to the 97th Regimental String Band while at Pipestone, MN a few weeks ago and they were a great group.

While I understand some of the discomfort over some of the lyrics used in the songs, we must remember that society was different 150 years ago and did not subscribe to the same values and attitudes that we might. Such events must be understood in their proper historical context and they can serve a purpose for reflecting upon the past to hopefully open a civil and honest debate about the issues of slavery and race in America’s past.

150th anniversary of the siege of Fort Abercrombie

From the Grand Forks Herald:

Fort Abercrombie: On 150th anniversary, a look back at a bloody clash

By: Patrick Springer, Grand Forks Herald

FARGO – The first hint of trouble came to Fort Abercrombie on a tranquil summer day when word arrived that the Dakota Sioux in Minnesota were ripe for an uprising.

It was unwelcome news for a military post whose new commander had recently discovered was stocked with ammunition that was the wrong caliber for the soldiers’ muskets.

Also, since the fort wasn’t yet protected by a stockade or blockhouses, the soldiers scrambled to build defensive breastworks of earth and timber to surround the key buildings comprising the post.

Help was 227 miles away, at Fort Snelling, and the nearest community of any size was more than 150 miles away, in St. Cloud.

Click here to read the rest of the article

Author’s Note:  I will be taking part in the commemoration this Saturday, portraying a soldier, so if you are in the area, come on down to the fort and check out the program, as it looks to be pretty good. I will also share my thoughts on the event and the actual siege over the weekend.