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)

This Week in the Civil War: Nov 5-11, 1862

Wednesday, November 5.  President Abraham Lincoln relieved General George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing him with General Ambrose Burnside. After several months of frustration, Lincoln had finally lost patience with McClellan’s lack of action, particularly McClellan’s failure to follow up his partial victory at Antietam and his slow advance against the Confederates in Virginia since then. Also dismissed was corps commander Fitz-John Porter, a pro-McClellan general who was charged with willful disobedience for actions in the Battle of Second Bull Run. Various skirmishes occurred in Missouri, Mississippi, and Virginia.

Thursday, November 6.  The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was reorganized, as James Longstreet and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were promoted from major general to lieutenant general and given command of the First and Second Corps respectively. Skirmishing occurred in western Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

Friday, November 7.  In Virginia, General McClellan was informed that he had been relieved of duty. This ended one of the most controversial military careers of the war. His successor, Ambrose Burnside, had tried to turn down the promotion but accepted it when informed that command would go to Joseph Hooker, whom he detested. McClellan wrote, “Poor Burnside feels dreadfully, almost crazy–I am sorry for him.” Over War Department objections, President Lincoln placed the Mississippi River naval fleet under control of the Navy Department. General Braxton Bragg reorganized his Confederate army by placing one corps under Leonidas Polk and another under William Hardee. General William Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland began moving from Kentucky to Nashville. Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia.

Saturday, November 8.  In Virginia, news spread throughout the Army of the Potomac about McClellan’s dismissal. Most soldiers were fiercely loyal to McClellan, so the news was met with sadness and outrage. In Tennessee, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal forces continued a reconnaissance from La Grange. General Nathaniel Banks replaced Benjamin Butler as commander of the Federal Department of the Gulf. Butler had placed New Orleans under dictatorial rule, sparking charges of cruelty and corruption. Banks was informed that “The President regards the opening of the Mississippi River as the first and most important of our military and naval operations.”

Sunday, November 9.  In Virginia, General Burnside assumed command of the Army of the Potomac at Warrenton. Ulric Dahlgren’s Federal cavalry raided Fredericksburg, Virginia. Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

Monday, November 10.  In Virginia, George McClellan delivered an emotional farewell address to the Army of the Potomac. Many soldiers wept at the departure of “Little Mac.” Skirmishing occurred in western Virginia and along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. President Lincoln requested the record on the 303 Indians condemned to death for leading the Sioux Indian uprising in August.

Tuesday, November 11.  In North Carolina, Confederates demonstrated at New Berne. In Virginia, a skirmish occurred at Jefferson.

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

This Week in the Civil War: Oct 29-Nov 4, 1862

Wednesday, October 29.  Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, Texas, and Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln wrote to General George B. McClellan about the Army of the Potomac’s return to Virginia: “I am much pleased with the movement of the Army. When you get entirely across the (Potomac) river let me know. What do you know of the enemy?” Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote the Alabama governor about the difficulty in defending so many points at once: “Our only alternatives are to abandon important points or to use our limited resources as effectively as the circumstances will permit.”

Thursday, October 30.  General William S. Rosecrans assumed command of the Federal Department of the Cumberland, replacing General Don Carlos Buell. Emperor Napoleon III of France proposed that Russia and Great Britain mediate between the U.S. and the Confederacy to end the war. In South Carolina, prominent Federal General Ormsby M. Mitchel died of yellow fever at Beaufort.

Friday, October 31.  Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, and Federal forces began a two-day bombardment of Lavaca, Texas. Federal troops began concentrating at Grand Junction, Tennessee in preparation for General Ulysses S. Grant’s upcoming offensive against Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Saturday, November 1.  General Benjamin Butler, commanding Federal occupation forces in New Orleans, imposed stricter pass requirements and authorized the liberation of “slaves not known to be the slaves of loyal owners.” In North Carolina, a Federal expedition began from New Berne and featured several skirmishes over the next week.

Sunday, November 2.  Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, as General McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac began concentrating in the Blue Ridge. First Lady Mary Lincoln visited New York City.

Monday, November 3.  A Federal expedition began along the coasts of Georgia and eastern Florida. Among the Federals was one of the first black regiments, the First South Carolina Volunteers under Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, even though it would not be officially mustered into service until next year.

Tuesday, November 4.  In the midterm Federal elections, Democrats made substantial gains in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In New York, Democrat Horatio Seymour was elected governor. Democrats also won many seats in New Jersey, Illinois, and Wisconsin. These Democratic gains were largely attributed to war weariness and northern dissatisfaction with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamantion. Nevertheless, the Republicans retained their congressional majority with victories in New England, California, and Michigan. In Tennessee, Federal troops under General Ulysses S. Grant occupied La Grange and Grand Junction, which were important supply depots for his upcoming offensive against Vicksburg.

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

This Week in the Civil War: Oct 22-28, 1862

Wednesday, October 22.  General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate forces continued withdrawing from Kentucky following the Battle of Perryville. Confederate cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler captured London, Kentucky. Various skirmishes occurred in Arkansas, Missouri, and the Indian Territory.

Thursday, October 23.  Bragg’s Confederates successfully returned to Tennessee; President Abraham Lincoln was angry with Federal General Don Carlos Buell for allowing Bragg to escape. President Jefferson Davis wrote about his concerns with pro-Union sentiment in eastern Tennessee. In Kentucky, Federals destroyed the Goose Creek Salt Works near Manchester.

Friday, October 24.  General Buell was replaced by General William S. Rosecrans, primarily due to Buell’s failure to prevent Bragg’s escape back to Tennessee. Rosecrans assumed Buell’s command as well as the new Department of the Cumberland following his recent successes at Iuka and Corinth in Mississippi. Various skirmishes occurred in Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Louisiana.

Saturday, October 25.  President Lincoln wired General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan’s forces had been mostly inactive since driving General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates out of Maryland. An angry Lincoln wrote, “I have just read your despatch about sore tongued and fatiegued (sic) horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?” McClellan responded that his cavalry was conducting several reconnaissances and raids. General Ulysses S. Grant assumed command of the Thirteenth Army Corps and the Department of the Tennessee.

Sunday, October 26.  Over a month after Antietam, George McClellan’s Federals began crossing the Potomac River into Virginia to pursue Robert E. Lee. President Lincoln wrote to McClellan that he “rejoiced” over the crossing. Braxton Bragg’s Confederates completed their return to Tennessee, reaching Knoxville and Chattanooga. General Samuel Heintzelman replaced Nathaniel Banks as the commander of Federal defenses around Washington. In Texas, Federal gunboats captured Indianola.

Monday, October 27.  The Federal blockade along the southern coast continued strengthening as two Confederate commerce raiders were captured.

Tuesday, October 28.  George McClellan’s Federals continued moving into Virginia, moving east of the Blue Ridge. Robert E. Lee’s Confederates began moving southward in the Shenandoah Valley to avoid being outflanked by McClellan. General John C. Breckinridge assumed command of the Confederate Army of Middle Tennessee.

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: Oct 15-21, 1862

Wednesday, October 15.  Skirmishing occurred on various fronts. Admiral David Farragut reported that the Federals had secured Corpus Christi, Galveston, and Sabine City in Texas. North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance requested North Carolinians to provide blankets and clothing, for the Confederate Army.

Thursday, October 16.   Federal General George McClellan conducted two major reconnaissances from Maryland and northern Virginia. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was positioned in the northern Shenandoah Valley. General Ulysses S. Grant was given command of the new Federal Department of the Tennessee. The Federal militia draft began in Pennsylvania.

Friday, October 17.  In Pennsylvania, Luzerne County troops suppressed protests against the ineffective Federal militia draft. President Abraham Lincoln asked Attorney General Edward Bates to commission David Davis of Illinois as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

Saturday, October 18.  In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raiders defeated Federal cavalry near Lexington, captured the city’s garrison, then moved on to Versailles. Other skirmishing occurred on various fronts.

Sunday, October 19.  Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee began moving through Cumberland Gap during their withdrawal from Kentucky. Various other skirmishing occurred.

Monday, October 20.  President Lincoln ordered a fellow Illinois politician, General John McClernand, to organize and lead a force on an expedition to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Since Vicksburg was in the jurisdiction of Ulysses S. Grant’s new military department, this order conflicted with Grant’s command. Lincoln also issued a memorandum reporting that the Army of the Potomac contained 231,997 men, of which 144,662 were fit for duty.

Tuesday, October 21.  Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to General T.H. Holmes in Missouri and shared tentative plans for combining various Confederate forces to drive the Federals out of Arkansas and Tennessee, and reclaim Helena, Memphis, and Nashville. President Lincoln requested civil and military authorities in Tennessee to organize pro-Federal elections for local, state, and national officials.

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: 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.

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)

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.

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.