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

Wednesday, December 17.  General Ulysses S. Grant issued a controversial order expelling all Jews from his military department in Tennessee and Mississippi. Grant sought to end the widespread illegal speculation along the Mississippi River, but his order equated peddlers and speculators with Jews. This caused resentment among the Jewish people and carried social and political consequences for years.

Secretary of State William H. Seward and his son Frederick submitted their resignations due to ongoing political conflicts with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. President Abraham Lincoln did not accept the Sewards’ resignations.Ongoing Federal expeditions continued in North Carolina, Virginia, and Missouri.

Thursday, December 18.  In Tennessee, General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates defeated Federal cavalry in Forrest’s ongoing campaign of disrupting Ulysses S. Grant’s supply and communication lines. Grant’s army was formally organized into four corps led by William T. Sherman, Stephen A. Hurlbut, James B. McPherson, and John McClernand.

President Lincoln met with a caucus of nine Republican senators at the White House who demanded that he reorganize his cabinet, including dismissing Secretary of State Seward.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis continued his southern tour by visiting Chattanooga. He wrote to Secretary of War James Seddon that the troops at Murfreesboro were in good spirits, but he expressed concern over anti-Confederate sentiment in eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama, as “there is some hostility and much want of confidence in our strength.”

The South Carolina legislature passed a law allowing the use of slave labor to bolster defenses.

Friday, December 19.  In Washington, President Lincoln met with the Republican caucus and all his cabinet members except Secretary of State Seward. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, another target of the “Radical” Republicans, offered to resign. Lincoln also summoned General Ambrose Burnside to Washington to discuss the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg.

Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Virginia, with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates attacking Ulysses S. Grant’s supply lines at Jackson, Tennessee.

Saturday, December 20.  In Mississippi, Confederates under General Earl Van Dorn attacked Ulysses S. Grant’s huge supply depot at Holly Springs, captured at least 1,500 Federals, and destroyed about $1.5 million in military supplies. North of Holly Springs, Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked railroads and skirmished at Trenton and Humboldt. These raids forced Grant to withdraw his forces to La Grange, Tennessee. The raids also disrupted Grant’s plan to send William T. Sherman’s corps down the Mississippi River to the Chickasaw Bluffs north of Vicksburg.

In Washington, Treasury Secretary Chase submitted his resignation to President Lincoln. This gave Lincoln political leverage because the Radical Republicans supported Chase, and Lincoln informed them that if they insisted on removing Secretary of State Seward, then Chase would go as well. The Radicals relented, and Lincoln informed his cabinet that he would accept no resignations.

Sunday, December 21.  In Tennessee, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raiders left Alexandria to begin a raid on Federal supply lines in Kentucky. Skirmishing occurred in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Virginia. Various Federal forces also began expeditions in Virginia and Arkansas.

In Mississippi, President Jefferson Davis visited Vicksburg, where he wrote to General T.H. Holmes that it seemed “clearly developed that the enemy has two principal objects in view, one to get control of the Missi. River, and the other to capture the capital of the Confederate States.” However, Davis believed that the Federal defeat at Fredericksburg had stopped moves against Richmond for the winter. To prevent the Federals from capturing the Mississippi and “dismembering the Confederacy, we must mainly depend upon maintaining the points already occupied by defensive works: to-wit, Vicksburg and Port Hudson.”

Monday, December 22.  In Washington, President Lincoln conferred with General Burnside about the Fredericksburg debacle and the widespread blame going around for it. Lincoln issued an order congratulating the Army of the Potomac for its brave performance and called the defeat an “accident.”

John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raiders crossed the Cumberland River and invaded Kentucky. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia.

Tuesday, December 23.  President Davis visited Jackson, Mississippi, where he issued a proclamation calling Federal General Benjamin Butler a felon, an outlaw, a common enemy of mankind, and if captured he should not be held prisoner under articles of war but hanged immediately. This was a response to Butler’s tyrannical and corrupt military occupation of New Orleans; he had recently been replaced as commander of occupation forces by General Nathaniel Banks. Davis also wired Secretary of War Seddon, “There is immediate and urgent necessity for heavy guns and long range field pieces at Vicksburg.”

General Simon B. Buckner assumed command of the Confederate District of the Gulf, and General E. Kirby Smith resumed command of the Confederate Department of East Tennessee.

Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri.

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

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

Wednesday, December 10.  In Virginia, General Ambrose Burnside’s Federal Army of the Potomac increased activity at Falmouth, indicating that an attack on Fredericksburg was imminent. In North Carolina, Confederates captured a Federal garrison at Plymouth. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill approving the secession of the western part of the state from Virginia. The Senate had already passed a measure creating the state of West Virginia on July 14.

Thursday, December 11.  In Virginia, Federal engineers began constructing pontoon bridge for Burnside’s army to cross the Rappahannock River and enter Fredericksburg. The engineers were under fire from Confederate sharpshooters until Federal artillery cleared them out. Federal forces crossed into Fredericksburg on two bridges and drove the Confederates out of town. Confederate General Robert E. Lee awaited the invasion; the only mystery was where the Federals would strike. In northern Mississippi, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest led about 2,500 men in a raid on Federal General Ulysses S. Grant’s communications.

Friday, December 12.  In Virginia, Federal troops continued crossing the Rappahannock and entering Fredericksburg. Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson positioned his corps on Lee’s right flank, while General James Longstreet’s corps assembled on the left. It was apparent that there would be a Federal attack the next day. On the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Federal ironclad Cairo struck a mine and sank; the crew escaped. In response to rumors of peace overtures, President Abraham Lincoln wrote to New York Mayor Fernando Wood that if the southern states ceased resistance to national authority, “the war would cease on the part of the United States.”

Saturday, December 13.  The Battle of Fredericksburg took place as the Federal Army of the Potomac attacked the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia outside town. Federal attacks on “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps were repulsed. The Federals then attacked Longstreet’s corps positioned on a ridge outside town called Mayre’s Heights. After brutal, desperate fighting, the Federals were easily repulsed and their assault failed miserably. Ambrose Burnside’s eagerness to fight Robert E. Lee had led to one of the worst Federal defeats of the war.

In Tennessee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis continued his tour of the South by reviewing General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at Murfreesboro and conferring with the generals.

Sunday, December 14.  In Virginia, Ambrose Burnside ordered a renewed attack on Fredericksburg, but his officers persuaded him to change his mind. Robert E. Lee was criticized in the South for failing to counterattack, even though his men were vastly outnumbered. In Washington, President Lincoln held conferences with his generals and advisers. In North Carolina, Federal forces under General John G. Foster captured Kingston. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Virginia.

Monday, December 15.  In Virginia, the beaten Federal Army of the Potomac completed its withdrawal back across the Rappahannock River and away from Fredericksburg. Many army officers complained about Burnside’s decisions. In Louisiana, General Benjamin Butler relinquished command of the Federal Department of the Gulf, headquartered in New Orleans. The city’s residents were ecstatic to see the controversial general leave. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Missouri.

Tuesday, December 16.  In Virginia, the Federal Army of the Potomac established positions on Stafford Heights overlooking the Rappahannock. In Louisiana, General Nathaniel Banks assumed command of the Federal Department of the Gulf. In North Carolina, John G. Foster’s Federals skirmished with Confederates at White Hall and Mount Olive Station. President Lincoln postponed the execution of Dakota Sioux Indians (imprisoned for conducting the Dakota Sioux uprising this summer) from December 19 to December 26.

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

The debate over the language of Lincoln

First off, it’s good to be back to blog with you all, as the last few weeks have been extremely hectic for me preparing for my doctoral comprehensive exams, which I am now through the written portion (cue Hallelujah Chorus). Thanks to intrepid fellow CWH blogger Walter Coffey for keeping up some interesting posts the last two months.

Now, I did find a little time to go see the Spielberg film Lincoln with my two friends and fellow reenactors Stuart Lawrence and Den Bolda. Den dressed in period civilian trappings, while I dressed as a soldier for the event (Hey, if folks can go to comic book movies, etc. dressed as the characters from those films, why not us?), which was fun, as one couple who were visiting relatives in the area, but were from Indiana took their picture with us.

My thoughts on the film are mixed. I felt that Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Honest Abe was pretty good, aside from being a departure from the classic Hal Holbrook rendition in North and South, or Gregory Peck in The Blue and the Gray (which were good also, but not necessarily as accurate). I also enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens.

I would have liked to have seen a bit more on Lincoln’s conduct of the war as Commander-in-Chief, which did not have to mean another Civil War film full of battle scenes, but just more on the course of his presidency. I thought the debate over the 13th Amendment was interesting and one of my colleagues noted that he hoped it would get people into the documents surrounding the debate on that legislation. Den and I both enjoyed the costuming, as the material culture presented in the film was quite good. Overall, I thought the film presented a real conception of Lincoln, more human as opposed to being on such a pedestal.

That said, one other area that I thought was a bit off, and has apparently became a topic of debate between historians is the foul language that appears a few times. Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book Team of Rivals was an inspiration for the movie did not have much problem with the profanity used in the film. In contrast, James McPherson argued that Lincoln did not approve of such language and likely did not use it to the degree that was portrayed, especially the utterance of “f—” by W. N. Bilbo, one of the lobbyists for the 13th Amendment. Another who argued that Lincoln likely did not swear as much as was portrayed in the movie, but would not have had as much issue with swearing around him was University of Richmond president Edward Ayers.

Overall, I have to agree with both McPherson and Ayers on their assessment of Lincoln and colorful language. I wonder if Spielberg chose to keep such language to resonate with modern audiences, who are used to such things, and if that is so, what does it say about our society. Further, the movie would have been just as good without it, which would have allowed parents to take younger children to see the film. One wonders how many stayed away because of the language issue. It would have been interesting to see, were he still alive, what David Donald would have said about this issue.

While swearing has become increasingly pervasive in our culture, this does not mean it was so in earlier times. I think the work by Richard Bushman called The Refinement of America is particularly relevant. While focused on the eighteenth century, it also explored the nineteenth century, charting the desire of Americans to achieve elements of refined culture, which extended to personal behavior, including manners and decorum.

It is interesting that this has become a mini debate among respected scholars, but it is good, as it allows historians to interject their knowledge and insights on a given topic into the larger culture. Much like the earlier kerfuffle over how Day-Lewis vocalized Lincoln, the issue of swearing by Abe will be another in a series of appraisals on the film in the coming weeks. Such is the nature of the beast when movies based upon historical events and actors are produced. I encourage everyone to at least go and see Lincoln, but also pick up a good biography of him (I recommend Lincoln by the late David Donald).

This Week in the Civil War: Dec 3-9, 1862

Wednesday, December 3.  Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and western Virginia. Three Confederate blockade runners were captured off the coast of North Carolina. In Mississippi, Federal forces under General Ulysses S. Grant continued pressing Confederates along the Yocknapatalfa River.

Thursday, December 4.  General Joseph E. Johnston assumed command of all Confederate forces in the West. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory. In Minnesota, settlers attacked Indian prisoners in a continuation of the Dakota Sioux War that had erupted in August. In Kentucky, Confederates captured supplies at Prestonburg.

Friday, December 5. In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal cavalry was defeated in a skirmish at Coffeeville.

Saturday, December 6.  President Abraham Lincoln ordered the execution of 39 Indians among the 393 convicted in participating in the Dakota Sioux War. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Missouri.

Sunday, December 7.  The Battle of Prairie Grove occurred about 12 miles southwest of Fayetteville, Arkansas on Illinois Creek. Confederate General Thomas C. Hindman had hoped to destroy two Federal armies before they could unite. However, the Federals had joined forces by the time the Confederates attacked. After intense and confusing combat, the Confederates held their ground, but the bitterly cold weather forced them to withdraw during the night.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, concerned about Vicksburg, wired General John C. Pemberton at Grenada, Mississippi, “Are you in communication with Genl. J.E. Johnston? Hope you will be re-inforced in time.” The Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana was organized with Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price commanding the First and Second Corps. Confederate John Hunt Morgan and about 1,400 men surprised and captured a Federal garrison at Hartsville, Tennessee.

Monday, December 8.  President Davis informed General Robert E. Lee that he was going west to address the dwindling Confederate prospects in Tennessee and Mississippi. Davis also expressed regret that he could offer no more manpower to Lee’s outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia.

Tuesday, December 9.  Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri. Federal expeditions began from Ozark, Missouri and from Corinth, Mississippi toward Tuscumbia, Alabama.

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

This Week in the Civil War: Nov 26-Dec 2, 1862

Wednesday, November 26.  President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Virginia to confer with General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac. President Jefferson Davis wrote to Confederate state governors asking for help enrolling draftees and sending them to the various fronts, returning soldiers to the ranks who were absent without leave, and securing supplies for military use. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and western Virginia.

Thursday, November 27.  In Virginia, President Lincoln conferred with General Burnside at Aquia Creek about the upcoming Federal offensive against General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Burnside rejected Lincoln’s plan for a three-pronged attack, instead favored a direct assault on Lee at Fredericksburg. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Missouri, and Federals began an expedition near Grenada, Mississippi.

Friday, November 28.  Federal forces scored an important victory in the Trans-Mississippi Theater at Cane Hill, Arkansas. In Mississippi, skirmishing occurred at Holly Springs, where Federals were gathering supplies for their upcoming assault on Vicksburg. Skirmishing also occurred in Tennessee and Virginia.

Saturday, November 29.  General John B. Magruder assumed command of the Confederate District of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Mississippi.

Sunday, November 30.  Skirmishing occurred in Mississippi, and Federals began an expedition from Rolla to the Ozarks in Missouri.

Monday, December 1.  In Washington, the third session of the Thirty-seventh U.S. Congress assembled. In his annual message to Congress, President Lincoln reported that foreign relations and commerce were satisfactory, and Federal receipts were exceeding expenditures. Lincoln also proposed three constitutional amendments: 1) compensating every state that abolished slavery before 1900; 2) all slaves freed during the war would remain free and their owners (if loyal to the Union) compensated for the loss; 3) Congress would colonize all consenting freed slaves in Africa.

In Virginia, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia began moving into position to Lee’s right at Fredericksburg. In Mississippi, skirmishing intensified as General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued advancing toward Vicksburg. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and western Virginia.

Tuesday, December 2.  In Virginia, skirmishing occurred along the Rappahannock between portions of the armies under Burnside and Lee. Federal forces began a reconnaissance from Bolivar Heights to Winchester, and a skirmish occurred in the Indian Territory.

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

This Week in the Civil War: Nov 19-25, 1862

Wednesday, November 19.  In Virginia, General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps within General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia established positions in the heights above Fredericksburg after moving from the main Confederate camp at Culpeper. General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Federal Army of the Potomac, established headquarters across the river from Fredericksburg at Falmouth. A Federal expedition took place from Grand Junction, Tennessee to Ripley, Mississippi as part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s probe of Confederate defenses around Vicksburg, Mississippi. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri.

Thursday, November 20.  In Virginia, Robert E. Lee arrived at Fredericksburg as troops on both sides continued gathering in the area. The Confederate Army of Tennessee was officially established, commanded by General Braxton Bragg and consisting of three corps commanded by Generals E. Kirby Smith, Leonidas Polk, and William Hardee. In Arkansas, a Federal expedition began toward Van Buren and Fort Smith.

Friday, November 21.  Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed James A. Seddon as secretary of war. Seddon was a prominent Richmond attorney and a former U.S. and Confederate congressman. Braxton Bragg dispatched General Nathan Bedford Forrest to disrupt Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal activities in western Tennessee. In Virginia, Ambrose Burnside called on the mayor of Fredericksburg to surrender or face bombardment. The mayor was allowed 16 hours to remove the women, children, elderly, and infirmed, then requested more time while the Confederate corps under General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson hurried to the town from Winchester. President Abraham Lincoln told a delegation of Kentucky Unionists that he “would rather die than take back a word of the Proclamation of Freedom,” then again urged the adoption of his plan of gradual, compensated emancipation.

Saturday, November 22.  Federal Secretary of War Edwin Stanton released nearly all political prisoners held by the military. In Virginia, 12 Confederate salt works and several vessels were destroyed in Matthews County on Chesapeake Bay. Federal General Edwin Sumner agreed not to bombard Fredericksburg “so long as no hostile demonstration is made from the town.”

Sunday, November 23.  In North Carolina, the Federal steamer Ellis commanded by Lieutenant William Cushing captured two schooners on the New River at Jacksonville. However, Ellis hit a shoal upon returning and Cushing narrowly escaped capture in one of the captured schooners.

Monday, November 24.  Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was given command of the region of western North Carolina, Tennessee, northern Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and eastern Louisiana. Johnson’s main objectives were to oversee operations by Braxton Bragg in Tennessee and John C. Pemberton in Mississippi. In Tennessee, Bragg began moving his Confederate Army of Tennessee to Murfreesboro, southeast of Nashville. In Maryland, a Federal expedition began from Sharpsburg to Sheperdstown in western Virginia. A Federal expedition began from Summerville to Cold Knob Mountain in western Virginia. President Lincoln wrote to Carl Schurz, “I certainly know that if the war fails, the administration fails, and that I will be blamed for it, whether I deserve it or not.”

Tuesday, November 25.  Confederate General Samuel Jones was given command of the Trans-Allegheny, or Western Department of Virginia. Confederate cavalry crossed the Potomac River and briefly seized the government offices in Poolesville, Maryland. In Arkansas, a Federal expedition began to Yellville.

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

This Week in the Civil War: Nov 12-18, 1862

Wednesday, November 12.  Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee along Stone’s River and Virginia near Suffolk.

Thursday, November 13.  In Mississippi, Federal troops captured the vital railroad depot at Holly Springs. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee near Nashville and Virginia at Sulphur Springs. In Tennessee, General Braxton Bragg began moving his Confederate Army of Tennessee north from Chattanooga to join Confederates under General John Breckinridge at Murfreesboro. President Abraham Lincoln assigned Attorney General Edward Bates to enforce the Confiscation Act.

Friday, November 14.  President Lincoln approved General Ambrose Burnside’s plans to reorganize and move the Army of the Potomac toward Richmond. The army was divided into three “Grand Divisions”: the Right Grand Division under General Edwin V. Sumner, the Center Grand Division under General Joseph Hooker, and the Left Grand Division under General William B. Franklin. In Virginia, skirmishing occurred at several points. In Tennessee, General Bragg began concentrating his Confederates around Tullahoma. In New Orleans, a proclamation was issued allowing for the election of U.S. congressmen from portions of Louisiana under Federal military occupation.

Saturday, November 15.  In Virginia, General Burnside led his first action as commander of the Army of the Potomac by beginning an advance from Warrenton toward Fredericksburg. In Tennessee, Federal forces began a five-day reconnaissance from Edgefield Junction to Clarksville. Confederate President Jefferson Davis accepted the resignation of Secretary of War George W. Randolph. Randolph had grown increasingly annoyed by Davis’s micromanagement of the War Department. President Lincoln called for an “orderly observance of the Sabbath” by the military.

Sunday, November 16.  In Virginia, General Burnside shifted his headquarters from Warrenton to Catlett’s Station as his Army of the Potomac continued toward Fredericksburg. The Federals were closely watched by General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and a skirmish between the armies occurred at U.S. Ford on the Rappahannock River. In Arkansas, Federal forces began a five-day expedition from Helena to Arkansas Post.

Monday, November 17.  In Virginia, General Sumner’s Right Grand Division reached Falmouth, opposite the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and Missouri. President Davis appointed General G.W. Smith as acting secretary of war following George Randolph’s hasty resignation.

Tuesday, November 18.  In Virginia, Federal and Confederate armies continued advancing on Fredericksburg. In Tennessee, Federal and Confederate armies continued concentrating at Nashville and Tullahoma. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina.

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