Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Battle of Glorieta Pass

Glorieta Pass
In New Mexico, after winning the battle of Valverde Ford, the Confederates continued north capturing Albuquerque and Santa Fe, leaving Colonel Canby in possession of Fort Craig in the Confederate rear. Brigadier General Sibley, Confederate commander, sent a force of 200-300 Texas soldiers under Major Charles Pyron and William Scurry to Glorieta Pass, an important position along the Santa Fe Trail. There met Union forces under Colonel John Slough with infantry from Colorado and detachments from the US regular cavalry. On March 26th skirmishing took place around Apache Canyon, at one end of the pass, ending in a small defeat for the Southerners. Reinforcements arrived for both sides, bringing the totals up to 1,300 Federals and 1,100 Confederates.

Both sides set out to attack on the morning of March 28th. Slough, the Federal commander, sent out a force to hit the Confederate flank. Unexpectedly, the Confederates attacked at 11:00 am, and after holding their ground for an hour the Federals fell back to another position strengthened by artillery posted on a hill. Scurry attacked all along the line, and the attacks held off by the Federals, and fierce fighting occurred along the line. Finally at 3:00 pm the Confederates successfully got around the Union right flank, and from what was later known as Sharpshooters Ridge, shot down the Federal cannoneers and soldiers. Their flank having been turned, the Federals fell back again, and were driven from a new position as the Confederates continued to press them. By the end of the day the Confederates remained in control of the field.

However, the Federal flanking party which Slough had sent out early in the day had happened upon the Confederate supplies. They burned the wagons and disabled the cannon, and returned to the main Federal force. So although the Confederates remained in control of the field and were the nominal victors, the destruction of their supplies meant that they could not advance further through the barren country. The Confederates fell back to Santa Fe, and eventually all the way to Texas. All of Sibley's grand plans for the capture of the American west fell apart for the simple lack of supplies. Never again would the Confederates seriously threaten New Mexico Territory.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Battle of Kernstown

 150 years ago today the Battle of Kernstown was fought, marking the beginning of Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, which would be one of the most famous campaigns in the Civil War. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who had gained fame at Manassas, had been placed with 4,000 men in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to guard it against a federal invasion. General Nathaniel Banks was sent to defeat him with 20,000. Jackson was the left flank of the Confederate army under Joseph E. Johnston. When Johnston retreated from Manassas, Jackson was ordered to keep federal troops in the valley without fighting a battle to prevent them from reinforcing McClellan who was attacking Richmond. Jackson kept a watch on Banks and his cavalry commander, Turner Ashby, reported on March 21st that Banks was moving North with virtually all his troops. While Banks was moving, it was only half of his troops he was sending to McClellan. However, Jackson, acting on the incorrect information, decided to attack Banks to prevent him from going to McClellan. By this time Jackson was down to 3,500 men, Banks, 8,500, commanded by Colonel Nathan Kimball.

Ashby opened the battle at 9:00 am. When Kimball moved his troops south, he saw the great strength of Pritchard's Hill, and placed 12 batteries of artillery there. After skirmishing with Ashby for 1 ½ hours, the Confederates fell back and reported to Jackson more forces would be required. Jackson came up with his men, and saw that Pritchard's Hill was key to the position. So putting his men in line, he decided to try to capture the hill by attacking it with two brigades. However, the Federal artillery broke the ranks of the assistants, defeating their attack. Jackson decided to instead try to flank the hill on the Confederate left by capturing Sandy Ridge, which was 100 feet higher. After an artillery bombardment, Jackson sent his men forward. Kimball reinforced the men on Sandy Ridge with a brigade under Colonel Erastus B. Tyler. When Tyler's men reached the ridge, they encountered just one regiment of Confederates behind a stone wall. He ordered his men to charge, without even moving into line of battle. The Confederate volleys broke the formation, and sent the men on their stomachs to escape the Confederate fire. However, the pressure of numbers soon began to toll, but another Confederate regiment came up at just the right time to stabilize the line. The line along the wall continued to be reinforced, and by 4:30 pm it was clear to Kimball that Tyler's brigade would not be able to break the Confederate line. He decided to send in three regiments of troops that had been guarding the artillery on Pritchard's Hill. They hit the Confederate right flank on Sandy Ridge, at right angles to the stone wall. A Federal soldier remembered this:
We were soon at the top-when a scene presented itself that I never will forget. Immediately in front of our whole lines, at a distance of perhaps 80 or 90 yards, was a long wreath of blue smoke settled over a low stone wall – out of this a fire flashed constantly. Between our line and this wall the dead and wounded lay in heaps, while clustered around the starts and stripes, a few heroic blue jackets still fought desperately-some standing, some kneeling, and other lying at full length; but all apparently determined to die right there.

The Union regiments charged and gained a foothold on Sandy Ridge, although they did not break the Confederate line. By this time it was 6:00. The Confederates had suffered heavy casualties and were running out of ammunition. Some soldiers decided to cease fighting and retreat. Jackson met one of these men going to the rear.
One of our company in going to the rear was encountered by General Jackson who inquired where he was going. He answered, that he had shot all his ammunition away, and did not know where to get more. Old Stonewall rose in his stirrups, and gave the command, "Then go back and give them the bayonet," and rode off to the front.
Soon it was not just a few privates that were retreating. Richard Garnett, commander of the Stonewall Brigade on Sandy Ridge, decided of his own accord to retreat without consulting Jackson. He was being attacked on the flank and was out of ammunition. With the Stonewall Brigade gone, the rest of the Confederates on the field soon followed their example. By this time it was getting dark, and a Federal pursuit was unable to catch Jackson while retreating.
Stone wall on Sandy Ridge
 In this battle the Union lost 181 killed, 389 wounded and 4 missing, 8% of their force. The Confederate suffered 139 killed, 312 wounded, 253 captured and 33 missing, 22% of their force. Jackson blamed his defeat on Garnett, and demanded a court-marshal. This trial was never completed because of the battles in quick succession, and Garnett's death in Pickett's charge at Gettysburg. However, it seems likely that Garnett would have been pronounced innocent. Perhaps the real cause for the defeat could be assigned to other factors. Jackson had attacked because of false information, his troops did not have enough ammunition and were tired from long marches. The Confederates were often uncoordinated, and Jackson was sending reinforcements up from the rear instead of leading the battle in the front. Although the Confederates were defeated, it was a strategic victory. The government in Washington feared that Jackson was being reinforced and was planning to attack Washington, so Banks was given 35,000 more men, men which McClellan said he needed for his attack on Richmond.

Pitchard's Hill
Rise in Sandy Ridge
For more resources on the Battle of Kernstown or other battles in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, get our MP3 CD tour on Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bombardment of Island No. 10

The Confederate position at Island No. 10 was critical to their defense of the Mississippi River. The town of New Madrid was at an S curve in the river on the Kentucky, Tennessee border. Three forts at the town covered one bend, while Island No. 10 covered the other. P. G. T. Beauregard wrote, "The fall of Columbus and of Island No. 10, must necessarily be followed immediately by the loss of the whole Mississippi Valley to the mouth of the Mississippi River." After the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson the attention of the North turned to Island Number 10. An army under John Pope laid siege to New Madrid, and captured the place after one day of bombardment.

The naval flotilla under Foote attempted to reduce the batteries on Island Number 10 with a bombardment starting 150 years ago today, March 17th, 1862. He had seven gunboats and and 11 mortar boats, carrying one 13 inch mortar each. High hopes were placed in these boats, but they were failures. Their long range fire inflicted no casualties and caused no damage to the fort. Foote declared that he would not risk running the powerful batteries of the fort, as he was convinced they would blow his ships to shreds. Another way would have to be found to bypass Island Number 10.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Battle of New Bern

Federal gunboats
150 years ago today Burnside's expedition captured the Confederate position at New Bern, North Carolina. Roanoke Island fell in early February, and Burnside planned to move on to New Bern, the most important city in the area. New Bern was commanded by General Lawrence Branch, and he had only 4000 men to resist the Federal invasion. Burnside had 11,000 men accompanied by a fleet of gunboats. The Confederates took up there defense along a line of breastworks six miles below the town, with their left at Fort Thompson on the Neuse River, and their right on a road. Before reaching the Confederate position Burnside's men would have to cross a swamp and cross obstacles such as felled trees. Burnside's line moved forward against the Federal position on the morning of March 14th.
Battle Map
Unfortunately for the Confederates, there was a serious problem in their line. At the railroad in the center of the line there was a gap into which the Union troops charged. They broke several regiments by attacking their flanks, but their attacks stalled and Branch brought up reinforcements to plug the gap. Burnside ordered his reserves forward, and the entire Confederate line broke. Branch's men abandoned New Bern and continued to retreat and could not be stopped until they reached Kinston, 35 miles from the battlefield. In this battle the Confederates suffered 64 killed, 101 wounded and 413 captured, the Federals 90 killed, 390 wounded and 1 missing.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

McClellan Removed as General in Cheif

Lincoln left, McClellan right
For the last few months McClellan had been planning his attack on the army of Joseph E. Johnston in Virginia. He planned to embark his men on ships and sail them to Fort Monroe, flanking Johnston. However, he was moving much slower than Lincoln liked. Up to this point he was General in Cheif of all the Federal Armies, while retaining personal control over the Army of the Potomac. Although Lincoln said that his removal from overall command was to enable him to focus more carefully on the situation in Virginia, McClellan thought otherwise. He later wrote:
"The intelligence took me entirely by suprise, and the order proved to be one of the steps taken to tie my hands in order to secure the failure of the approaching campaign."1
1. McClellan's Own Story, p. 225

Friday, March 9, 2012

Monitor vs Virginia

USS Monitor
Yesterday the Virginia struck the Northern fleet, sinking two of the strongest ships, and it appeared there was nothing preventing it from destroying the entire fleet and sailing up to the Northern ports. But that was not too be. When the Virginia sailed out 150 years ago today to finish off the Federal fleet, they met a new opponent. During the night, the Monitor had arrived from the North. It didn't look like much, and at first the Confederates thought it was just machinery being moved on a raft, but soon they discovered how wrong they were. Although it only had two cannon, it had a rotating turret and was much more maneuverable. The ships began circling each other and firing, and it was found that both of their armor was very strong.

But both ships had their disadvantages. The Virginia had not brought solid shot, only exploding shells. While shells were good for wooden ships, they did not do much against the Monitor's iron sides. The Monitor's pilot house had been put in a bad position. The captain was severely wounded when a shell exploded outside the opening while he was looking out.

The battle continued for several hours, with no serious damage being done on either side. The Virginia's ram was broken, but they tried to get alongside to board, hoping their larger crew would carry the day, but the more maneuverable did not let the ships come together. At one point the Virginia ran aground, but they were able to get it afloat again. Although neither ship was being destroyed, it was a hard fight for the men inside their iron sides. The blood ran from their ears from the pounding of the shots on the side and the noise of their cannon firing, and inside the Monitor the boltheads were knocked loose and flew around inside.

At one point Lt. Jones of the Virginia came down to the guns and saw that they were not firing. "Why are not you firing, Mr. Eggleston?" he asked. The officer questioned replied, "Why, our powder is very precious, and after two hours' incessant firing I find I can do here about as much damage by snapping my thumb at here very two minutes and a half." A Federal officer wrote this:
"I triced up the port, ran out the gun, and taking deliberate aim, pulled the lockstring. The Merrimac was quick to reply, returning a rattling broadside (for she had ten guns to our two), and the battle fairly began. The turret and other parts of the ship were heavily struck, but the shots did not penetrate; the tower was intact, and it continued to revolve. A look of confidence passed over the men's faces, and we believed the Merrimac would not repeat the work she had accomplished the day before. The fight continued with the exchange of broadsides as fast as the guns could be served and at very short range, the distance between the vessels frequently being not more than a few yards. Worden skillfully man|uvred his quick-turning vessel, trying to find some vulnerable point in his adversary. Once he made a dash at her stern, hoping to disable her screw, which he thinks he missed by not more than two feet. Our shots ripped the iron of the Merrimac, while the reverberation of her shots against the tower caused anything but a pleasant sensation."
Finally, after fighting for six hours, both ships realized that it was useless to continue. They both ended the drawn battle, and went back claiming victory. The Virginia hoped to get solid shot and try again the next day, but the expected rematch never occured. The Monitor never accepted a challenge of single-handed combat, and soon the superior resources of the North built more ironclads to contain the Virginia.

While the battle was a draw, it is clear who were the strategic winners. The Monitor had put a stop to the feared Virginia. No more did the North fear the Virginia sailing to Washington and pounding the government into submission. Never again would a Confederate ironclad have the same chance as the Virginia to completely change the course of the war. Although most of the Union navy was obsolete for naval combat, they could bring their superior resources to bear and build ironclads that could fight anything the South could hope to build.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Virginia Attacks the Northern Fleet

CSS Virginia
At the same time as the Battle of Elkhorns tavern was being fought, another equally important naval battle was being fought off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Confederates had raised the USS Merrimack, and had converted her from a normal sailing ship to a new ironclad called the CSS Virginia. She was ready to attack the blockading squadron off Virginia in early March. As she moved down the river, the engineers were still working on getting her ready for battle. She had strong armor, but she was slow. She carried several guns, and another important tactic would be ramming in the sides of the wooden ships. As she moved forward 150 years ago today, she was accompanied by what was called a Mosquito Fleet, small gunboats carrying one or two cannon. They were not strong enough to stand up to the Federal ships, and did not play an important role in the battle.
Ramming the Cumberland

The Union blockading squadron at Hampton Roads consisted of the Congress, Cumberland, St. Lawrence, Roanoke and Minnesota along with some smaller boats. Although they were all wooden, they were some of the most powerful ships the United States had. When the Union fleet saw the Virginia approaching with her sister ships, they went out to meet her. The St. Lawrence and Roanoke ran aground before reaching the Virginia. The Virginia picked out the Cumberland and charged in an effort to ram. The Cumberland opened fire on the Virginia, but the shots just bounced off the ironclad's armor. Getting in range, the Virginia sped up to ram the Cumberland. Ashton Ramsey, an officer on the Virginia, remembered the experience:
"There was an ominous pause, then a crash, shaking us all off our feet. The engines labored. The vessel was shaken in every fiber. Our bow was visibly depressed. We seemed to be bearing down with a weight on our prow. Thud, thud, thud, came the rain of shot on our shield from the double-decked battery of the Congress. There was a terrible crash in the fire-room. For a moment we thought one of the boilers had burst. No, it was the explosion of a shell in our stack. Was any one hit? No, thank God! The firemen had been warned to keep away from the up-take, so the fragments of shell fell harmlessly on the iron floor-plates. We had rushed on the doomed ship, relentless as fate, crashing through her barricade of heavy spars and torpedo fenders, striking her below her starboard fore-chains, and crushing far into her. For a moment the whole weight of her hung on our prow and threatened to carry us down with her, the return wave of the collision curling up into our bow port. The Cumberland began to sink slowly, bow first, but continued to fight desperately for the forty minutes that elapsed after her doom was sealed, while we were engaged with both the Cumberland and the Congress, being right between them. We had left our cast-iron beak in the side of the Cumberland. Like the wasp, we could sting but once, leaving it in the wound."
With the Cumberland sinking from the Virginia attack, the Congress attacked next. Not being able to ram, the Virginia traded broadsides with her. The Congress's shots bounced harmlessly off the Virginia's iron sides. The shells from the Virginia, however, tore through the wooden sides of the Congress, inflicting many casualties. Finally she surrendered, knowing the fight was hopeless against the seemingly impregnable Virginia. The Congress was set on fire, and it burned through the night, finally exploding and sending flames high into the air. As it was late in the day, the Virginia retreated back up the river, ready to return the next day and finish off the rest of the Federal ships.
USS Congress

In this one day the Virginia changed naval history. Although it was known that ironclads were the future of warfare, an ironclad had never fought a wooden ship. The Virginia had shown what ironclads could two. The Virginia had sunk two of the best ships of the United States navy, inflicting 300 casualties, while she remained almost completely unharmed. There was nothing forseeable in the minds of the North prohibiting the Virginia from sailing to any Northern port and blasting it into submission. Stanton, Lincoln's secretary of war, said this:
"The Merrimac will change the whole character of the war; she will destroy, seriatim, every naval vessel; she will lay all the cities of the seaboard under contribution. I shall immediately recall Burnside; Port Royal must be abandoned.... I have no doubt that the monster is at this minute on her way to Washington, and not unlikely we shall have a shell or cannonball from one of her guns in the White House before we leave the room."
CSS Virginia

Battle of Elkhorn's Tavern - Day 2

During the night, Curtis, realizing he was being attacked by a full force in his rear, brought his entire army up to Van Dorn's front, and made sure his men had food and ammunition. Van Dorn's men remained disorganized. They had no food except what could be found on the bodies of the Northern dead, and the ammunition trains had been misplaced. When morning dawned on March 8th, Van Dorn did not take the initiative and attack. So Curtis assembled his artillery and opened a terrific bombardment on the Confederate forces with his 50 cannon. The noise was so loud it could be heard in towns 50 miles away. The Confederates hid in whatever shelter they could find to escape from the bursting shells, which killed or wounded many of their comrades. After inflicting two hours of this on Van Dorn's men, Curtis attacked. They advanced in a mile long line with flags flying, drums beating, and bugles sounding.
“That beautiful charge I shall never forget. With banners streaming, with drums beating, and our long line of blue coats advancing upon the double quick, with their deadly bayonets gleaming in the sunlight, and every man and officer yelling at the top of his lungs. The rebel yell was nowhere in comparison.”
The disheartened Confederates could not stand up to this impressive attack. Van Dorn ordered a retreat at 11:00 am, and the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, or Pea Ridge as it is also called, was over. Van Dorn's men retreated for a week, suffering terribly from lack of supplies. Curtis did not pursue. He had lost 200 killed and 1000 wounded. Van Dorn's complete casualties are not known, but they were probably significantly higher.

Pea Ridge - The Elkhorn Tavern
Elkhorn Tavern
With this defeat, most of Arkansas was also lost to the Federal forces. All hopes of recapturing Missouri were put to an end. Van Dorn's army was later sent to Mississippi, and Curtis marched South, finally capturing Helena 700 miles from his starting point and becoming the Union army furthest south.
Earl Van Dorn

This battle was lost by the failure of Confederate leadership. Van Dorn was bold and successful in his movement into the Federal rear, but he and his staff horribly mangled logistics. No food or ammunition was provided for his army, greatly discouraging them. He split his army in face of the enemy, and when two commanders were killed, one half was rendered practically useless for the crucial day. Van Dorn moved too cautiously, and by the time he broke the Federals, there was no time to continue on and rout them from the rest of their positions.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Battle of Elkhorn Tavern

150 years ago today in Arkansas a 16,000 man Southern army under under General Earl Van Dorn attacked the flank of a 10,000 man Federal army under Samuel Curtis. Van Dorn's night march had placed them directly in the rear of the Northerners. Van Dorn decided to divide his army, sending McCulloch to attack by a different road. However, the Federals were not where he expected them to be. Curtis did not think Van Dorn would be rash enough to march into his rear, but he still sent one third of his army north to Elkhorn Tavern to protect his supply wagons from the Confederate column.
A Federal brigade reconnoitering stumbled upon McCulloch's entire force, and although they were hopelessly outnumbered, they set up a battery of artillery and opened fire. McCulloch sent 3,000 cavalry to charge the brigade, and they completely overwhelmed the Federals. But now a crisis occurred. McCulloch went forward to reconnoiter, and was shot by the Federal skirmishers. However, he was out of sight of the army, and for an hour his men remained in position waiting for orders. Command fell to General McIntosh, who rode out to see the Federals' position, just as McCulloch had done. He too was shot, only 200 yards from his chief. The command went to Herbert, but he did not know he was in command. He advanced with his own troops, but the Federals were now reinforced. There was a hard fight in the woods. One soldier said that the air was “literally filled with leaden hail. Balls would whiz by our ears, cut off bushes closely, and even cut our clothes.” Herbert finally withdrew from the attack. For the rest of the day, most of this wing of the Confederate army was idle, with no one knowing who was in command.

The other half of the Confederate army under Price and Van Dorn also encountered Federals before they reached the entrenchments. Van Dorn was surprised at this, and although he was usually very aggressive, this day he moved cautiously. He did not organize a general attack until one hour before dark. The Confederates became disorganized as they moved forward, and the Federal troops started out holding their own, but finally Van Dorn's greater numbers crushed the Northern line. The Confederates chased the Federals through the buildings around Elkhorn tavern, and formed a line on the high ground there. Van Dorn could not find McCulloch's division, which he should have met there. However, he decided to attempt to continue on the success he had gained in the fading light. But the Federal line had been reinforced, and their artillery tore huge holes in the 3,000 advancing men. They continued on until they were within 50 yards of the Federals, for at that moment the infantry opened fire. Unable to stand up to the artillery and infantry, the Confederates fled for the rear. Night had fallen, and the first day of the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, or Pea Ridge, was over.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Preparations for Elkhorn Tavern

During 1861 and the first months of 1862, the Northern armies had driven the Southern sympathizing Missouri militia out of their state. Samuel Curtis continued on with 10,250 men and 50 cannon into Arkansas. The Confederate commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department was Major General Earl Van Dorn. To resist Curtis, Van Dorn had gathered 16,000 men. This would be one of the few times during the Civil War where the Southerners would have more men than their Union opponents.

Curtis picked the best defensive position he could find and waited for Van Dorn to attack. Van Dorn did not want to attack the Federal entrenchments frontally, so he planned to march around Curtis' position and strike his army in the flank and rear.

The Confederates undertook a night march to the Union flank 150 years ago today. Like many Civil War Van Dorn's men were much slower than expected. The roads had been obstructed by Curtis, and Van Dorn had no engineer corps to handle clearing the roads. It was a terrible march for the men, with one third of them falling out of the ranks before arriving at their destination. However, they were able to get in a wonderful position. On the morning of March 7th, they would be directly in the Federal rear. It seemed all but certain that victory was at hand for the Confederates in Arkansas.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Robert E. Lee Appointed Military Adviser

150 years ago Robert E. Lee was appointed military adviser to Jefferson Davis. Although Lee had been one of the most famous soldiers in the United States Army, at this point he was not popular in the South. Lee's organizational work in Virginia and Georgia had been important, but his opportunity to run a battle in West Virginia turned out badly with no victories gained. The people thought that he was useless, but Davis disagreed. He still thought that Lee was one of the best soldiers in America, and he was right. If it had not been for Jefferson Davis recognizing Lee's value and putting him in important positions of leadership, the Confederacy probably would have ended several years sooner.