Sunday, July 15, 2012

The CSS Arkansas Fights at Vicksburg

At this time Vicksburg, the last remaining Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, was being attacked by the Federal navy under Flag Officers David Farragut and Charles Davis. However, 150 years ago today, the situation was brightened for the southerners with the attack of the CSS Arkansas.

The Arkansas was an ironclad begun in October 1861 in Memphis Tennessee. With the approach of the Federal ships here sister ship, the Tennessee, had to be burnt, but the Arkansas was far enough along that she was able to be taken to Yazoo City to be finished. Captain Issac Brown was sent out by the Navy Department to finish and captain her. Gathering local workers, in six weeks he had her fit for duty, excepting a few section of curved armor. He gathered a crew of 160 men, sailors from river boats and also infantry soldiers. Although they were inexperienced, they were spoiling for a fight. "The only trouble they ever gave me" Brown said, "was to keep them from running the Arkansas into the Union fleet before we were ready for battle." When his preparations were complete he set sail for Vicksburg to attack the Union fleet. On the way there it was discovered that steam had gotten into the forward magazine and wet the powder, making it useless. However, Brown pulled over to shore, spread the powder on tarps and was able to get it dry enough to explode by sundown, so he against out on his way.

Just after sunrise, 150 years ago today, the Arkansas can in sight of three Union fleet, the ironclad Carondelet, ram Queen of the West and wooden gunboat Tyler. Brown attacked, and soon disabled the Carondelet with a shot in her steering mechanism. He pursued the other two ships down river, and turning a bend came upon the rest of the Federal fleet, "a forest of masts and smokestacks." Not halting for a moment, the Arkansas bore down upon them. The Federal ships, not expecting an attack, did not have their steam up and therefore were imobile. The Arkansas sailed through the entire fleet, trading shots with the ships, and arrived safely in Vicksburg amid the cheers of the populace, who had watched the bold run.
David Farragut

Farragut was not content to let this ship remain in Vicksburg. That night he ran his fleet past Vicksburg, and as he did, tried to destroy the Arkansas. In this he was again unsuccessful. His ships missed their target in the darkness, and only one shell struck the Confederate vessel, killing two and wounding three. When the day was over the Federals had lost 23 killed, 59 wounded and 10 missing, probably drowned. The Arkansas lost only 12 killed and 18 wounded. Although the Arkansas had not sunk any ships, she had delt a blow at Union pride and was a constant threat to the Federal fleet around Vicksburg, forcing them to keep under constant steam. The Federals tried to destroy her again on July 22nd. The ships which made the attempt tried to ram but could not sink the Arkansas and instead were riddled with shot from ship and shore. Having tried twice to destroy the peskey Confederate vessel, Farragut and Davis left Vicksburg with their ships, it having been clear already that infantry were required to capture the city.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

John Pope Issues a Proclamation

John Pope
Even before the Seven Days Campaign was fought, Abraham Lincoln recognized another army would be needed to capture Richmond. He began forming the Army of Virginia, which would move on Richmond from the north. The command was given to John Pope, hero of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River. On July 14th, 150 years ago today, he issued this much reviled proclamation:
By special assignment of the President of the United States I have assumed command of the army. I have spent two weeks in learning your whereabouts, your condition, and your wants, in preparing you for active operations, and in placing you in positions from which you can act promptly and to the purpose. These labors are nearly completed and I am about to join you in the field.
Let us understand each other. I have come from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an Army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense. In but one instance has the enemy been able to place our western armies in defensive attitude. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system, and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily. I am sure you long for an opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving. That opportunity I shall endeavor to give you. Meantime I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases which I am sorry to find much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of taking “strong position and holding them,” of “lines of retreat,” and of “bases of supplies.” Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance; disaster and shame lurk in the rear. Let us act on this understanding and it is safe to predict that your banners shall be inscribed with many a glorious deed, and that your names will be dear to your countrymen forever.
Jno. Pope, Maj. Gen., Commanding The Union troops did not take this kindly. The soldiers who had been beaten in the valley by Stonewall Jackson were offended by his rash statements. Pope frequently addressed his dispatches, Headquarters in the Saddle, and the soldiers repeated the old army joke, that his headquarters were where his hindquarters should have been. Pope was also hated by the Confederates, for he issued another proclamation which ordered that all male civilians who would not take a loyalty oath were to be sent across the lines. It was also forbidden for any civilian to communicate with a Confederate soldier, even if they were their family member. Lee called him, “the miscreant Pope,” very strong words for Lee. He would soon turn his attention to putting him down.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Halleck Appointed General in Chief

Henry Halleck

150 years ago today Henry Halleck was appointed General in Chief of the Union armies. Halleck had just captured Corinth, Mississippi after an excruciatingly slow campaign, or rather siege as it almost seemed to be. He lacked the dash of Ulysses S. Grant, who had won the battles of Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh, but who was now simply Halleck's lieutenant and had little to do, and was even considering resigning from the army. Halleck would not meet Lincoln's expectations. Halleck, known as 'Old Brains,' had been an expert in military tactics before the war. Lincoln had hoped he would be able to prod Union generals into action, but Halleck was unable to do so, the generals at times simply ignoring his messages. Instead of a General in Chief, Halleck became "little more than a first rate clerk." However, Halleck's promotion opened the way for Grant, who was given back command of an army which would allow him to do great things in time to come.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Battle of Malvern Hill

After maintaining their position in the Battle of Glendale, McClellan set his men to retreating again, to consolidate them on Malvern Hill. Malvern Hill is not steep, rather a long, gradual rise. Although it may not look impressive, it was a very good artillery position, as the Union guns would have plenty of time to fire into the Confederate ranks. As the Confederates moved forward the generals examined McClellan's lines on the hill. D. H. Hill, having heard a description of the place, told Lee, “If General McClellan is there in force, we had better let him alone." Longstreet replied laughingly, “Don't get scared, now that we have got him whipped.” Lee decided to press forward, hoping that the Federals were disheartened and would break if pushed. Jackson and Ewell would remain on the left, Holmes, Longstreet and A. P. Hill on the right. The attack would be made by D. H. Hill, Huger and Magruder in the center.
Federal cannon

Crucial to the success of Lee's plan was the role of his artillery. The Confederate cannons needed to neutralize the Federal batteries so that the infantry could attack. However, through mismanagement the Confederate batteries failed completely. The Yankee cannon opened at 1 pm, and the Confederate guns came into action a few at a time. The Federals simply focused on each section as it came into the fight, put it out of action, and moved on to the next one. 100 Confederate guns were supposed to participate in the fight, but only 20 actually made it in. The Confederate artillery positions were soon covered in dead horses and smashed equipment, while the Union guns were virtually untouched.

Although the bombardment was a failure, the rebel infantry would go forward none the less. D. H. Hill advanced in late afternoon, along with Magruder who only got two of his six brigades into the action. Fitz John Porter, Union corps commander, wrote this of the assault:
As if moved by a reckless disregard of life, equal to that displayed at Gaines Mill, with a determination to capture our army, or destroy it by driving us into the river, regiment after regiment, and brigade after brigade, rushed at our batteries; but the artillery of both Morell and Couch mowed them down with shrapnel, grape, and canister; while our infantry, withholding their fire until the enemy were within short range, scattered the remnants of their columns, somethings following them up and capturing prisoners and colors. As column after column advanced, only to met the same disastrous repulse, the sight became one of the most interesting imaginable. The havoc made by the rapidly bursting shells from guns arranged so as to sweep any position far and near, and in any direction, was fearful to behold.
The Confederate attacks were useless, but they came on again and again pressing forward against the hill. D. H. Hill wrote:
I never saw anything more grandly heroic than the advance after sunset of the nine brigades under Magruder's orders. Unfortunately, they did not move together, and were beaten in detail. As each brigade emerged from the woods, from fifty to one hundred guns opened upon it, tearing great gaps in its ranks; but the heroes rolled on and were shot down by the reserves at the guns, which a few squads reached. Most of them had an open field half a mile wide to cross, under the fire of field-artillery in front, and the fire of the heavy ordnance of the gun-boats in their rear. It was not war - it was murder.
When night fell all the Confederate attacks had been bloodily repulsed. 5,300 Southerners had fallen, half of those from the artillery, a very high number.

The Battle of Malvern Hill the Seven Days campaign was over. The casualties had been very heavy. The Confederates had 3,300 dead, 15,900 wounded and 100 missing. The Federals had lost 1,700 killed, 8,060 wounded and 6,050 captured. Many mistakes had been made. McClellan had retreated before numbers less than his own, convinced he had just escaped destruction. He pulled his men of Malvern Hill to a camp along the river, under cover of the gunboats. He telegraphed Washington,
My men are completely exhausted and I dread the result if we are attacked today by fresh troops.... I now pray for time. My men have proved themselves the equals of any troops in the world, but they are worn out.... We have failed to win only because overpowered by superior numbers.
The Confederate generals had time and time again demonstrated their inexperience. They had failed again and again to arrive on the field promptly and press the attack. Lee's staff had failed, producing orders which confused the generals. However, there was no doubt that this was a resounding Confederate victory. Lee had driven McClellan from the gates of Richmond and pressed him back all the way to the James River. If they had failed in completely destroying the Federals, none the less they had brought back the Confederacy from the brink of defeat with a much needed victory.