Thursday, January 31, 2013

Confederate Ironclads Strike at Charleston

CSS Chicora
In the first months of 1862, two Confederate ironclad rams were begun in Charleston. They were designed by John L. Porter, one of the builders of the Virginia. Their construction was payed for by contributions from the women of South Carolina. They were 170 feet long, and covered in several inches of iron. The CSS Chicora and the CSS Palmetto State were ready by fall.
Gunboats in the harbor
The gunboats went out to attack the blockading squadron on the night of January 30th. They chose that day because one of the most important ships of the war had just been captured by the blockaders. It was a British ship carrying many military supplies, including engines for two other ironclads under construction. They hoped to recapture the blockade runner before it was sailed North. The Union blockading squadron off the harbor at the time was 10 ships, but they were wooden and lightly armed, intended to only deal with blockade runners. The commander of the Palmetto State reported this on the ensuing battle:
As we approached the bar, about 4 A.M., we saw the steamer Mercedita lying at anchor a short distance outside it...the men stood silently at their guns...they did not see us until we were very near. Her captain hailed us, and ordered us to keep off or he would fire... we struck him on the starboard warter, and dropping forward part-shutter, fired the bow gun. The shell from it, according to Captain Stellwagen who commanded her, went through her diagonally, penetrating the starboard side, ... through the seam-drum of the port boiler, and exploded against the port side of the ship, blowing a hole in its exit four or five feet square.
For a Civil War ship, a shot through the boiler was very destructive. The scalding steam was released, and it flowed through the ship burning the crew, and without the boiler the ship could no longer be controlled. The Mercedita was unable to defend itself because its guns could not aim low enough to strike the Confederate ironclads, which rode low in the water. With no other alternative, the Mercedita was surrendered to the Confederacy.
USS Mercidita
The CSS Chicora did just as well as its sister ship. It moved on the Keystone State, and one of its first shots pierced the Keystone State's boiler, killing and wounding 40 men. The Keystone State lowered its flag, indicating its surrender. The captain of the Chicora ordered a boat to be sent to take over the prize. He wrote:
While the boat was in the act of being manned I discovered that she was endeavoring to make her escape by working her starboard wheel, the other being disabled, her colors down. I once started in pursuit and renewed the engagement. Owing to superior steaming qualities she soon widened the distance to some 200 yards. She then hoisted her flag and commenced firing her rifled guns, her commander, by this faithless act, placing herself beyond the pale of civilized and honorable warfare.
After this dishonorable act, there was a bout of long range firing with the other Union ships and the battle was broken off at 7:30. The two small ironclads had broken the blockade around Charleston. However, it did not last long. As soon as the news reached the Federal high command, they sent the USS New Ironsides and several sister ships of the Monitor, and the blockade was reestablished since the two small ironclads were no match for the larger Northern ships. If the blockade was to be permanently broken by the Confederacy something more would be needed.

USS Keystone State

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Battle of Fort McAllister

The Nahant

One of the goals of the Union high command was to capture Charleston, South Carolina. Not only was it an important port, its capture would also be a severe moral blow to the Confederacy, as it was a hotbed of secession fervor, and the war had begun with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in the harbor. It was clear that the new ironclads would be used, but many questions remained about them. Largely new inventions, the Union naval officers did not know how effective they would be on fortifications.
The Fort today
Therefore, as a training run for the more formidable task of capturing Charleston, three ironclads, the Patapsco, Passaic and Nahant were sent to the small three gun battery of Fort McAllister, Georgia. Over the next few weeks the ships would bombard the fortification several times, training the men for harder fights ahead and testing the new equipment. A handful of casualties were suffered on both sides in this fighting. Although some damage was done to both the fort and the ironclads, neither was destroyed and the fort did not fall. Although it was proved that ironclads alone were not guaranteed to destroy a land fort, the men would be better trained for their next battle. 

Turret of the Passaic

The Passaic

Bear River Massacre

Patrick Conner
While the United States was engaged in a Civil War they could not neglect border defense. Indians were still a serious force to be reckoned with, and the pre-war army was scattered through frontier forts to defend against Indian attacks. The American settlers moving west into the Cache Valley in what is now northern Utah and southern Idaho settled among the Indians, as the area was rich in furs. But as the numbers of white settlers increased, the natural resources diminished, and the Shoshone Indians, who relied on hunting for food, began to starve.

Abraham Lincoln was worried the new state of California would be cut off from the United States as it was bordered by Utah Territory, and the loyalty of the Mormon militia there was doubtful. Therefore he ordered several regiments of California troops to be raised to defend the area. One of these was the 3rd California Volunteer Infantry, which moved to the Salt Lake City area to keep the peace. The 3rd California was commanded by Patrick Conner, an Irishman who immigrated to America and joined the army, fighting in the Mexican and Indian wars.

There were several incidents of violence between the settlers and the Shoshone Indians in the preceding years. In early December, 1862, Col. Connor sent Major Edward McGarry on an expedition into the Cache Valley to recover some livestock thought to have been stolen by the Shoshone. The Indians fled at the soldiers' approach and all made their escape, except for four warriors. Although they did not seem to be the thieves, McGarry said that if the livestock was not returned by the next day, the Indians were to be executed. It was not, and so the four men were executed by firing squad.
Conner heard reports that the Shoshone were determined to avenge the warrior's death, and that they had attacked a party of lost miners, even killing one of them. This was the final straw. Conner prepared to lead the 3rd California on an expedition against the natives. He tried as best he could to keep the attack a secret, so that they would not flee as they had before McGarry's attack the year before. He set out in late January with two columns, one with 80 men of the 3rd California under Captain Samuel Hoyt, the other 220 men of the 2nd California Cavalry under Conner himself.

Conner was in position on January 28th, and he had his men moving for a surprise attack at 3:00 am on the morning of January 29th, 150 years ago today. It was the dead of winter and even colder than usual, the temperature that morning may well have been around -20° F. The first American units arrived at the camp at around 6:00 am. The Indians were unprepared for the attack. They thought that the United States would try to negotiate, instead of resorting to an attack. However, when Conner's men attacked, their advance was halted by the Shoshone fire. Conner sent McGarry around to flank the village, and positioned a line of troops to block any attempt to escape.
Site of the massacre
After the fight had gone on for two hours, the Indian's small supply of ammunition ran out. While trying to quickly make bullets to continue the fight, they had to resort to the traditional bows and tomahawks when the soldiers charged. As the Indian resistance broke down, the fight soon turned into a massacre. Most of the men were killed, even women and children were shot. There are reports of soldiers assaulting the women and beating out their children's brains. Killing any survivors who had not escaped the village, they burnt the houses and most, if not all, of the supplies. The California troops lost 14 men killed, and 49 wounded.

Some Shoshone had escaped. Chief Sagwitch was shot in the hand, and escaped on horseback. His horse was killed, and he survived by floating in a hot spring, hidden under some brush. Estimates of Shoshone casualties vary. Connnor reported killing 224 of 300 braves and capturing 160 women and children. Many years later a settler reported counting 493 Indians killed, and the son of the chief said that half of the Indians escaped, and 156 were killed. Whatever the death toll, the Shoshone tribe was destroyed. Chief Sagwitch and the survivors of the tribe joined the Mormon church.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Joe Hooker Takes Command

Ambrose Burnside's Mud March, as it was called, was the last straw for Lincoln. Burnside had been disastrously defeated at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December, and with the latest debacle he had to be replaced. He was moved to the Department of the Ohio and replaced with Joseph Hooker on January 26th.

Hooker was a West Pointer from Massachusetts. He had fought in the Mexican-American War and served the staffs of the leading American generals. In the Civil War, he had quickly risen to prominence, and was known as Fighting Joe because of a typo in a newspaper article, but the name stuck because of his aggressiveness. Hooker was also famous for his hard drinking. One officer recorded that “the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac was a place to which no self-respecting man like to go, and no decent woman could go. It was a combination of bar-room and brothel."
Lincoln wrote a letter to Hooker upon giving him the command giving him his instructions:
I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac... And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and a skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm. But I think that during Gen. Burnside's command of the Army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of it's ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the Army, of criticizing their Commander, and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can, to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army, while such a spirit prevails in it. And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Grant Takes Command at Vicksburg

When Grant heard of the capture of Fort Hindman, he was very upset. John McClernand had moved without informing Grant, and Grant saw this as only a waste of time in the main mission – to capture Vicksburg. Using this as an opportunity to take out McClernand, a possible threat to his authority, Grant got permission from Halleck to take command of the army himself.

When he arrived there on January 30th, he was faced with a hard problem. Vicksburg was built on a bluff running roughly along the Mississippi River. Repulsed at Chickasaw Bayou, Sherman had shown the difficulty of attacking the bluffs themselves, and Grant had already retreated from an attempt to march overland because of strikes at his supply lines, and the batteries at Vicksburg were so strong it was clear the navy would not attempt to silence the guns. That left Grant with two options. He could try to run the batteries, a dangerous proposition in unarmored transports, or he could try to find a way to go around, which is what he set out to do.
Grant's Canal
It was about this time that the work was resumed on the first in his series of attempts to find a way around Vicksburg through the complicated rivers and bayous in the area. Grant planned to dig a canal across De Soto's point, right across the river from Vicksburg. If a canal could be opened, the Union ships could sail through, avoiding the Vicksburg batteries, and land troops below the town to capture it from the landward side. Work on a canal had already been begun with what was called "Butler's Ditch." But it was only six feet wide and six feet deep. Sherman set the men to make it 60 feet wide and 7 feet deep. The Union soldiers worked for weeks, many falling sick from diseases in the unhealthy, wet climate. But then as they were working the Mississippi River suddenly rose, as it is wont to do, filling the canal with dirt. With weeks of work wasted, the project was abandoned as hopeless.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Two Union ships Captured off Galveston

After recapturing Galveston, Texas at the beginning of the month, the Confederates scored another success in Texas 150 years ago today. The port was still blockaded by part of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, specifically the USS Morning Light, an 8 gun sailing ship and the USS Velocity, a captured British blockade runner that had been converted into a blocker. They were attacked by two cottonclad steamers, the Uncle Ben and Bell, covered in bales of cotton and filled with Texas soldiers.

The Confederate steamers came out of the harbor early on the morning of the 21st. The wind was very light, so the steamers were able to quickly gain ground on the Union vessels. When the steamers came within range they opened fire, and the Union vessels answered with broadsides. The conflict continued this way for two hours, until the Confederate ships were able to draw up close enough that the infantry on the decks could open fire. Assistant Surgeon J. W. Sherfy of the Morning Light wrote:
It was impossible for the men to remain at the guns under the galling fire from the enemy's sharpshooters. They had come within close range upon our port and starboard quarters, and from their elevated position completely swept our decks. An effort was now made to train the two aft guns upon the enemy and fire through the cabin, but as it was impossible to get such a bearing as would offer a reasonable chance of inflicting any damage, and the men were now all driven from the other guns, the commander, deeming further resistance useless, reluctantly determined to surrender, and our flag was hauled down.
Both ships were captured, with a handful of men having fallen on both sides. Although this action temporarily cleared the blockade off of Galveston, it did not last long, as the Union navy soon sent stronger ships to take up the blockade.

Fitz John Porter Courtmarshalled


After his disastrous defeat by Robert E. Lee in the Battle of Second Manassas, one of the men who Union commander John Pope blamed for his defeat was Fitz John Porter. Porter, commander of the V Corps brought up from McClellan's army, was no friend of Pope. He complained of Pope's management of the army to another enemy of Pope, Ambrose Burnside, who forwarded these communications to McClellan, Henry Halleck and Abraham Lincoln among others. During the battle, Pope's order to Porter was very confusing and unclear. Porter did not attack, and the order did not require him to. Pope sent another message explicitly ordering Porter to attack, but his nephew, carrying the order, got lost and delivered the message late. Porter decided that it was impossible to obey it. In both these instances, Pope had launched other costly attacks elsewhere on the field, which he expected to be aided with attacks from Porter. On the next day of battle, Porter's corps did assault, and suffering heavy casualties they nearly broke Stonewall Jackson's line, but were driven back by Longstreet, who had arrived on the field.

On November 25th, after his friend, George B. McClellan, was removed from command for his failure to follow up on the Union success at Antietam, Porter was arrested and relieved of his command. He was charged with two violations of the Articles of War, the military regulations passed by Congress, in disobeying a lawful order and misbehaving in front of the enemy. The punishment for these could be very severe, even up to execution. Porter pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The court is said to have been handpicked by Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, an enemy of McClellan, and therefore of Porter. The president of the court was Major General David Hunter, an ally of Lincoln. Hunter made the trial open to the public, and it made headlines in newspapers as it progressed. The prosecution called up other generals of Pope's army, who testified against Porter trying to clear their own names of blame for the defeat. Porter's defense tried to argue that Pope was incompetent and that Porter had in fact saved the army. The conflict soon went beyond just the men and issues involved, as Porter was a supporter of George B. McClellan, who would soon launch a presidential campaign against Abraham Lincoln, a personal friend of Pope. Porter was even accused of being a traitor, and his friendship with Lee at West Point was pointed out. Porter responded:
Traitor to my country! When did treason so peril and labor to rescue it from destruction?... If the charge had not assumed the solemn form that has been given to it, it would be received everywhere where my whole conduct is known, as ludicrous, false, or the creation of a morbid or distempered brain.
On January 21st, 150 years ago today, the court found Porter guilty of both charges, and sentenced him “to be cashiered and to be forever disqualified from holding any office of trust or profit under the Government of the United States.”

Porter and staff
This decision did not nearly bring an end to the matter. A large part of the public were dissatisfied with the conduct of the war, exemplified by the disastrous attack at Fredericksburg and Porter's trial. The Democratic Party began to gain strength, and McClellan would eventually run against Lincoln in 1864. In the years that followed Porter strove to clear his name, He studied the battlefield, meticulously mapping it and recording any testimony he could. He argued that the court had been rigged with Republicans, and pointed out that some officers had been promoted right after the trial. There was fierce debate on both sides, with the government refusing to retry the case and some newspapers opining that he was a traitor and ought to have been executed.

After the war Porter wrote to Lee and Longstreet, and they gave him their accounts of the battle. Using this new evidence and with the support of now famous generals such as Grant, Sherman and Thomas, he was able to gain a retrial in 1878 under Gen. John Schofield, with the approval of President Rutherford B. Hayes. It reversed the previous decision, saying:
What General Porter actually did do, although his situation was by no means free from embarrassment and anxiety at the time, now seems to have been only the simple, necessary action which an intelligent soldier had no choice but to take. It is not possible that any court-martial could have condemned such conduct if it had been correctly understood. On the contrary, that conduct was obedient, subordinate, faithful, and judicious. It saved the Union army from disaster on the 29th of August.
The retrial was still a very controversial issue, and there was enough opposition from the radical Republicans that Hayes would not approve the trial. The next president, James A. Garfield, had actually been part of the court and had voted to convict Porter. But Garfield was assassinated and his successor, Chester A. Arthur, on May 6, 1882, restored Porter's citizenship and his ability to hold public office, while still upholding Porter's first conviction and ignoring the Schofield Commission. Later, Congress passed a bill over Arthur's veto restoring Porter's rank in the regular army. Nearly a quarter of a century after his conviction, Porter's name had been cleared. He retired from the army a few days later, and was pardoned by President Grover Cleveland on August 5, 1886.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Burnside's Mud March

After his disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg in December, Burnside looked for a new way launch an offensive. He did not plan to put his army in winter quarters, as would normally be done, but instead strike to restore his reputation and the morale of the army and the nation. He planned to move in the first days of January. Feinting at the fords upstream of Fredericksburg, the main army would cross seven miles downstream. At the same time, he would send the cavalry on a large scale raid. Up to this point in the war, the Confederate cavalry under JEB Stuart literally rode circles around the Union cavalry, which was of a much lesser quality. However, as soon as Burnside was prepared to move, he received a message from Lincoln, saying that “no major army movements are to be made without first informing the White House."
Burnside had only told his plans to a few close confidants, so he knew someone had told the President. He was right. Brigadier Generals John Newton and John Cochrane had taken leave and gone to Washington. There they had the opportunity to meet with the President. They told him that the Army of the Potomac had no confidence in Burnside and that if Burnside attempted to move, the army would fall apart. It was this meeting which inspired Lincoln's telegram. Burnside came to the White House to investigate. He wanted to court marshal the generals, but Lincoln would not reveal their identities. Burnside resigned, “to relieve you from all embarrassment in my case,” but Lincoln did not accept it. Although Burnside was in many ways incompetent as a general, unlike McClellan he recognized his mistakes and accepted responsibility for them.
After this altercation with Lincoln, Burnside revised his plan. He switched the locations, feinting to the downstream of Fredericksburg, and crossing at the United States Ford upstream. The move began on January 20th, 150 years ago. The weather had been good up to this point, but once the army started moving this quickly changed. On the night of the 20th, it began to rain. The rain continued to fall over the next days, turning the roads into quagmires, streams into rivers and rivers into rushing torrents. For several days, the soldiers foundered in the mud, making no progress. Burnside finally ordered the army to return to its camps, as by now he knew Lee had been alerted to his move. The soldiers remembered the march with a ditty:
Now I lay me down to sleep 
In mud that's many fathoms deep. 
If I'm not here when you awake 
Just hunt me up with an oyster rake

Friday, January 18, 2013

Shelton Laurel Massacre

Throughout most of the Confederacy the secession from the United States had a general popular support. Very large majorities across the country voted for secession or secessionist delegates. In South Carolina the convention voted unanimously for secession. But there were areas of pro-Union sentiment, mostly running down the Blue Ridge Mountains, from West Virginia, which split off to form a new state, through eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, through the northeast corner of Georgia. In those areas many of the people were opposed to the war, and in the Shelton Laurel valley in western North Carolina there was even a massacre of Union supporters 150 years ago today.

Violence had begun in Madison County early in January when a group of Unionists had broken into a salt store and the home of Confederate Colonel Lawrence Allen. In response to this, his regiment, the 64th North Carolina which came from the Shelton Laurel area, was sent to the valley to punish the looters. The Confederates were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Keith, as Allen was sick at the time.

When Keith arrived in the valley with his men the situation quickly escalated. A skirmish broke out, and 12 Unionists, reportedly the looters, were killed and several captured. Keith began hearing rumors of a large Union force in the area, and he began to get worried. He was ordered by the governor not to harmed the prisoners, but Keith ignored these orders. He found several loyalist women and reportedly tortured them to get them to reveal where their husbands and sons were.

After rounding up a group of union sympathizers, Keith set them marching east, presumably to prison and the Confederate army. But soon after leaving the area, he led the 13 captures who remained into the woods, two of them having escaped, lined them up and had them shot. The bodies were dumped into a trench and the 64th North Carolina went on its way. The state attorney general wrote:
One man was badly and mortally shot in the bowels, and while he was writhing in agony and praying to God for mercy a soldier mercilessly and brutally shot him in the head with his pistol. Several women were whipped... 
 Governor Vance was shocked when he heard the news. He wrote to James Seddon, Secretary of War:
An armed force was ... sent ... to suppress the insurrection which was accomplished before the local militia could get there, though ordered out immediately. But in doing so a degree of cruelty and barbarity was displayed, shocking and outrageous in the extreme on the part of Lieutenant Colonel J. A. Keith, Sixty-fourth North Carolina Troops, who seems to have been in command and to have acted in this respect without orders from his superiors so far as I can learn. I beg leave to ask you to read the inclosed letter ... which you will perceive discloses a scene of horror disgraceful to civilization. I desire you to have proceedings instituted at once against this officer, who if the half be true is a disgrace to the service and to North Carolina.
Keith resigned before he was court marshaled. After the war he was tried by a civilian court, and after remaining in jail for two years he escaped, just before a state supreme court decision which would have vindicated him. He was never recaptured.


Friday, January 11, 2013

CSS Alabama Sinks the USS Hatteras

CSS Alabama

The CSS Alabama, a commerce raider, had been launched from England in May of 1862 and in the months that followed Captain Raphel Semmes, her commander, had been successful in capturing many Union merchant vessels, but he and his crew had not yet seen combat. That would change 150 years ago today, in the encounter with the USS Hatteras.

USS Hatteras vs CSS Alabama
The Hatteras, a 5 gun steamer, was on blockade duty of Galveston when a sail was sighted about 3:00 pm. Her captain, Homer C. Blake, gave chase. The Alabama had succeeded in luring the Hatteras away from the other ships of the blockade. After a twenty mile chase the Hatteras drew near the Alabama. The Yankee ship demanded that the unknown ship identify itself. The southerners called out the HMS Spitfire to confuse the Union, but just as a launch filled with Union sailors pushed off to board the Alabama, the Confederates shouted out, “We're the CSS Alabama!” Lowering the Union Jack and raising the Stars and Bars, they fired a heavy broadside directly into the port side of the Hatteras. The surprised Union sailors soon returned fire.
Hatteras sinking
Outgunned more than two to one, the Union vessel had little chance. After exchanging broadsides for thirteen minutes, the sinking Hatteras fired a signal gun in token of surrender. Semmes sent out his boats to recover the Union crew, and just after the last boat pulled away the Hatteras sank, 45 minutes after the action began. Two Union sailors were killed and five wounded. 118 were captured, six having been able to secure a boat and escape onto shore. The Alabama successfully evaded the consorts of the Hatteras, and continued on in a glorious career until her fight with the USS Kearsarge of Cherbourg, France.

Captain Semmes on the Alabama

Battle of Arkansas Post

Union ironclads bombard the fort
The Union army under John McClernand and William Sherman began arriving at Arkansas Post on January 9th. The Confederates had built Fort Hindman on a 25 foot bluff on the Arkansas River, with a mile view of the river in each direction. Manned by only 5,000 dismounted Texas cavalry and Arkansas, it did not stand a chance against the 30,000 bluecoats and 13 gunboats.

On January 10 Flag Officer David Porter sailed in his fleet, and bombarded the rebel position heavily. Porter late wrote in a congratulatory address:
In no instance during the war has there been a more complete victory and so little doubt as to whom the credit belongs. Our ironclads and gunboats knocked the fort to pieces, dismounting every gun (eleven in all), while our lightdraft vessels and the ram Monarch cut off the retreat of the enemy, throwing them back upon the army, who captured them by hundreds.
It was thought that the fort had been pummeled into submission, as most of the guns were silenced, but the fort was not done for, and the fight was renewed the next day. Brigadier General Thomas Churchill, the Confederate infantry commander, was determined to hold out to the last. But as the Union troops advanced under cover of fire from the ironclads, white flags were shown along the walls of the fort. Although Churchill wanted to fight to the last, the fort's commander had determined to surrender. The Confederates lost 5,500 in this battle, most of which surrendered, the Federals suffered 1,047.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

McClernand Heads for Arkansas Post

In the Battle of Chicasaw Bayou on December 29th, Sherman had met a bloody repulse in his effort to capture Vicksburg before Christmas. Now John McClernand arrived with more troops to take over the army which had been swiped from him by Grant and Sherman. He called the new force the Army of the Mississippi, and was sure that he wanted to use it to attack, only he was not sure what. Sherman convinced him to attack the Confederate Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post, one of the first settlements in that part of the nation. It was garrisoned by 5,000 Confederates, and was a major threat to McClernand's supply line. It was 150 years ago today that Union army set out for this Confederate outpost. However, McClernand and Sherman made the mistake of not letting Grant know of the movement until January 8th, well after it began.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Battle of Stone's River – Day 3

On December 31st Bragg had driven back Rosecrans's army around Murfreesboro, Tennessee. But Rosecrans did not retreat the next day as he expected, so on January 2nd, 150 years ago today, he decided to renew the attack. In the afternoon he ordered John C. Breckinridge to attack Beatty's division, which had reoccupied the heights on the east side of the river. At first, Breckinridge protested that the attack would be suicidal, but he eventually agreed and attacked with vigor. He drove the Yankee's off the heights and across the river, but when he attempted to cross McFadden Ford, his troops encountered heavy artillery fire. Captain John Mendenhall had placed his guns very skillfully, 57 guns completely dominating the river crossing. As the rebels tried to cross the river they were driven back time and again by the terrific fire from these guns. Finally, after losing over 1,800 men in one hour, Breckinridge called off the assault. He was devastated by the losses, especially in his Kentucky troops of the Orphan Brigade, so called because they could not return home because their state was occupied by the Union. "My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans!" Breckinridge cried as he rode among the survivors. One third of the Orphan Brigade had fallen in the assault.

The fighting was over around Murfreesboro. Rosecrans received reinforcements and supplies the next day, and Bragg knew that the Unions would only gain troops over the coming days. He retreated in the night of January 3rd. Just as at Perryville, Bragg had beaten the Union army, but had been unable to turn his success into a victory. Tactically it was a draw, although Rosecrans could claim victory as Bragg had eventually retreated. Abraham Lincoln wrote to Rosecrans, "You gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over." The Federals made no attempt to pursue, remaining for months in earthworks dug around Murfreesboro. Union General Crittenden wrote of the battle:
The battle was fought for the possession of Middle Tennessee. We went down to drive the Confederates out of Murfreesboro, and we drove them out. They went off a few miles and camped again. And we, although we were the victors, virtually went into hospital for six months before we could march after them again. As in most of our battles, very meager fruits resulted to either side from such partial victories as were for the most part won. Yet it was a triumph. It showed that in the long run the big purse and the big battalions - both on our side - must win, and it proved that there were no better soldiers than ours.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Battle of Galveston

In the fall of 1862, Union ships under Commodore William Rensaw sailed into the harbor of Galveston, Texas. Without any forces to defend the city, the Confederates were forced to surrender. Around the same time, Major General John B. Magruder was appointed Confederate commander of the District of Texas. Known as “Prince John” in the old army for his showy looks, he had performed some good service in Virginia, especially when he tricked the Union army into inaction by convincing them his forces were much greater than they actually were. Magruder determined that Galveston had to be retaken. He planned to do this with two river steamers, the Bayou City and Neptune. He turned them into cottonclads by piling bales of cotton on board to protect them from Union shot.
Harriet Lane captured

At dawn on January 1, 1863, these two strange ships entered Galveston harbor, and set their sights on the Harriet Lane, a Union steamer. The battle quickly turned bad for the Confederate warships. They were outgunned by the Federals, and the Neptune was soon sent to the bottom. The Bayou City did not retreat after this misfortune, she continued to face the six Union ships. In a desperate attempt to avoid the Union guns, the captain ran his ship directly into the Harriet Lane. He hit her straight on, and his crew rushed aboard and were able to secure the vessel.
Harriet Lane captured

Meanwhile, Renshaw's flagship, the Westfield, had run aground in shallow water. The crew being unable to get her off, a truce was called for both sides to consider what to do. Realizing that he could not get the Westfield off, Renshaw decided to destroy her and get off while he could. Lighting a fuse to the magazine, he and his crew rowed away from the doomed ship. However, as the time passed by and nothing happened, Renshaw realized that the fuse had failed. Returning to the ship, he relit the fuse, but before he and his men could clear the ship, she exploded. Renshaw was killed along with thirteen of his men.

Their captain dead, the flagship destroyed and another ship captured, the surviving ships made their way out of the harbor as quickly as possible, still under the flag of truce. Although the Confederates were unable to pursue, they had still gained a glorious victory. At the loss of 150 casualties they had inflicted twice that many, and had captured one ship intact with 400 prisoners. They had also recaptured Galveston, and would retain control of the town for the rest of the war.
Harriet Lane

The Confederate Congress said this of this glorious feat of southern arms:
The bold, intrepid, and gallant conduct of Maj. Gen. J. Bankhead Magruder, Col. Thomas Green, Maj. Leon Smith and other officers, and of the Texan Rangers and soldiers engaged in the attack on, and victory achieved over, the land and naval forces of the enemy at Galveston, on the 1st of January, 1863, eminently entitle them to the thanks of Congress and the country... This brilliant achievement, resulting, under the providence of God, in the capture of the war steamer Harriet Lane and the defeat and ignominious flight of the hostile fleet from the harbor, the recapture of the city and the raising of the blockade of the port of Galveston, signally evinces that superior force may be overcome by skillful conception and daring courage.

Battle of Stone's River – Day 2

After their hard fight of the previous day, both the Union and Confederate armies around Murfreesboro remained stationary on New Years Day, neither wanting to attack the other. Rosecrans had been driven back by Bragg, but now he was just more concentrated around his supply line. Some Union forces did recross the river to reoccupy the heights they had abandoned the previous day, and there were several small Confederate probes along the line, but in general, both armies did little more than rest and tend to their wounded.

Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect

Back in September, after the Union army had won the victory (or near victory) at Antietam, Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. In it he said that the slaves in the states in rebellion would be freed if the states were still in rebellion on January 1st, 1863. That day had come, the war was still continuing, and so the Proclamation went into effect. However, only a small number of slaves were actually freed on this day. The Proclamation was declaring the slaves free in areas over which the government had no control, so until the armies pushed forward and recaptured the southern states, they would remain in slavery. However, there was a fraction of slaves that were immediately effected by the proclamation. The status of the “contraband of war,” slaves which had either escaped their masters or been released as the Union armies advanced, was made clear. They would be free. It appears that about 20,000 to 50,000 of the 4,000,000 slaves of the south were officially freed by this proclamation.
Not everyone in the north was pleased by this course of events. The war had begun as a fight to restore the Union. Although it was given as a war measure, Lincoln, with this proclamation, turned the purpose of the war to ending slavery. Many Northern Democrats disagreed with this measure, and some state legislatures even officially condemned Lincoln's course. However, the Republicans retained political power, so they would be the ones who would prosecute the war as they saw fit.