Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lee Moves to Counter Hooker

It wasn’t long after Joseph E. Hooker crossed the Rapidan that Robert E. Lee got word of the movement. He was in a dangerous position – three Union corps were moving to his flank, while he was still facing a large Union force at Fredericksburg. Most generals in this position would have instantly decided to retreat, but not Robert E. Lee. He would go on the offensive. He decided to leave a skeleton force of 10,000 men to watch Sedgwick at Fredericksburg, while he moved with the other 50,000 men of the army to crush Hooker around Chancellorsville. The Confederates would begin moving on April 30th, 150 yeas ago today, and only the next day the armies would meet in the thickets of the Wilderness.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bombardment of Grand Gulf

As the Union troops under Grant worked to capture the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg on the Mississippi, their next obstacle would be Grand Gulf. The Union transports had run the formidable Vicksburg batteries with little losses, and the army had marched around on the western shore. Now Admiral David Porter with seven ironclads would attempt to silence the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, which commanded the Union’s planned beachhead, and then capture them with the troops of John McClernand.
The Union ironclads went out to battle at 8:00 am on April 29th, 150 years ago today. Four of the boats would engage the lower Confederate battery of Fort Wade, and after subduing the rebel guns, they would join the other three ironclads in fighting the upper battery, Fort Cobun. Advancing to within 100 yards, the Union ships opened on the forts. The fight continued until 1:30 pm. The ironclads were successful in subduing Fort Wade, but were unable to achieve the same success at Fort Cobun. The ships took heavy damage. The USS Benton took one shot which killed or injured 25 men. Her steering crippled by a shot to her pilot house, she floated downstream. Seeing the Benton’s danger, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Hoel of the Pittsburg maneuvered his ship to cover the Benton, taking the fire from the fort while the Benton could be secured.

After five and a half hours of combat and 80 men lost, Porter decided that it was impossible to capture Grand Gulf. This Confederate victory was only a temporary setback for the Federals. It wasn’t long before the infantry crossed further downstream, and Grand Gulf had to be abandoned when threatened from the rear. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hooker Begins His Campaign

Hooker's Plan for the Campaign

General Joseph Hooker, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, did not want to make the same mistake as Burnside had at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December. So he would not try a direct attack on the entrenched Confederates. This left him with two options - he could either cross the Rappohannock above, or below Fredericksburg. He chose to cross above so he could continue to cover Washington to prevent Lee from making a quick rush at the city. His plan was for George Stoneman to cross with the cavalry thirty miles north of Fredericksburg and sweep into Lee's rear, riding over JEB Stuart's outnumbered troops, and spreading havoc in rebel communications. The infantry corps of Slocum, Howard and Meade would then cross at Kelley's Ford. This ford appeared to be unguarded, and he hoped that he could cross and get in Lee's rear before his presence was discovered. As this Union force advanced south they would uncover Bank's Ford, where Couch's Corp would cross. Meanwhile Sedgwick, Reynolds and Sickles would cross just south of Fredericksburg, where Jackson had fought in December's battle, to hold those Confederates in place. If Hooker's plan worked as he hoped, he would envelope Lee and give him no choice but to fight on the ground of Hooker's choosing. "My plans are perfect," Hooker declared, "and when I start to carry them out, may God have mercy on Bobby Lee, for I shall have none."

Hooker had his men moving the last week of April, getting into position to cross the river. The cavalry was late in starting, and failed to cause the confusion in the southern plans that Hooker hoped for. The infantry crossed the river on the night of April 28th, 150 years ago today. The Union troops concentrated in an area called the Wilderness around a crossroads called Chancellorsville. The Wilderness was a large jungle of woods and underbrush that was destined become the scene of the bloodiest battles in Virginia. Hooker soon had four corps concentrating in the area, with another one, Sickels, on the way from the left. It seemed that everything was going perfectly in the Federal favor. Hooker proclaimed on April 30th:
It is with heartfelt satisfaction the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him. Lincoln remained sceptical. He had heard this talk before, particularity from John Pope, who had been whipped by Lee at 2nd Manassas. He commented, "The hen is the wisest of all the animals in creation because she never cackles until the egg is laid." Hooker’s plans would fall apart when Lee responded with one of Lee’s most daring plans of the entire war.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lincoln Approves the Lieber Code

Francis Lieber
 150 years ago today, Lincoln issued General Order No. 100, implementing the Lieber Code for the humane treatment of prisoners. The Lieber Code is named after Francis Lieber, a German philosopher who immigrated to America. He was the first self-titled political scientist, as a professor at Columbia College. He sided with the North, and helped Lincoln draft the orders defining the laws of war.

Although the code was issued as only an order for the United States army, it was eventually adopted by the Confederacy, and other armies across the world. It became one of the foundational expressions of the international laws of war. It said that war was between societies, so that civilians of the opposing nation were indeed enemies, but it also said that they should be spared whenever militarily possible. It also established rules for dealing with captured property, both public and private, spies, deserters. You can read the entire order here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Grierson’s Raid

Grierson and his staff
To support his latest attempt to capture Vicksburg, Grant planned several diversions to distract Confederate troops. One of these was a cavalry raid by Benjamin Grierson. Up to this point the Confederate cavalry had ridden circles around the Union cavalry, often literally. The Confederacy had produced officers like Forrest, Stuart and Morgan, but their northern counterparts were notably lacking. However, 150 years ago today, Grierson set out with 1,700 troopers to try to change that.

At first glance, Colonel Benjamin Grierson would not be considered an ideal cavalry officer. Before the war he had been a music teacher, and he hated horses after he was nearly killed by one at the age of eight. Nonetheless, his raid was very successful. He rode on routes not yet touched by Union armies, tearing up railroads, destroying stores and freeing slaves. Along the way he set off smaller unites to distract his pursuers. One of the reasons he did so well was because of a lack of major Confederate pursuit. Nathan Bedford Forrest was busy dealing with another Union raid, that one under Abel Streight.

Grierson's men on their raid, taken by a Confederate scout

Grierson brought an end to his raid on May 2, 1863, when he arrived at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He had lost only three killed, seven wounded, nine missing, and five who fell sick and had to be left behind. Grierson would go on to rise to the rank of Major General later in the war, obtaining more successes as a cavalry officer.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Porter Runs the Vicksburg Batteries

After determining on his plan to run the transports past the Vicksburg batteries, Grant moved quickly. The army worked on building a road over the swamps so they could march down the western bank, and it was completed by April 17th.

On the night of April 16th, David Porter was ready to try to sail his ships past the batteries. They were covered so they would be completely dark, and strict orders were given to make no noise. They would move slowly so their engines would not be heard. This plan started off working well. The boats were opposite Vicksburg before they were sighted. But, when they were discovered, the Southern guns opened on them with a tremendous fire. For ninety minutes the Confederates fired every gun they could, firing off over 500 shots. Even with all this resistance, Porter's fleet successfully ran the batteries. Most ships sustained only minor damage, though one transport was sunk. Altogether, it was a great success. Although one ship had been lost, no one had been killed and only 13 wounded. After receiving some repairs, the ships would be ready to transport Grant's men. A few more ships were sent through the next night, and, as before, all made it through except one.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Queen of the West Sinks

150 years ago today the Queen of the West was destroyed in an engagement on the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana. The Queen of the West was originally fitted out as a warship by the United States government. After running the Vicksburg she was abandoned by the Federals while assaulting Fort DeRussy, and was captured by the Confederates. She was used as the CSS Queen of the West by the Confederates, and assisted in the capture of the ironclad USS Indianola. However, her career would come to an end on April 14th, when she was attacked by three Union steamers, the USS Arizona, Calhoun, and Estrella. The cotton on board the Confederate steamer caught fire from a long range Union shot, and the ship burned to the water line and sank.

Destruction of the Queen of the West

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Battles of Fort Bisland and Irish Bend

In Louisiana, Union general Nathaniel P. Banks was preparing to attack Port Hudson on the Mississippi River. But, before he did so he needed to drive back 5,000 Confederates on his flank who were under the command of Richard Taylor, who had fought under Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. Banks undertook this in what is called the Bayou Teche Campaign. Banks moved with two divisions to attack Taylor’s force at Fort Bisland, while Brigadier General Cuvier Grover embarked in boats to sail across Grand Lake and land on Taylor’s flank.
Richard Taylor

Taylor would spend April 13, 150 years ago today, fighting off Bank’s forces to his front. Then, realizing he was nearly trapped, he would pull out during the night. He would fight another battle the next day, this time against Grover. While his trains were pulling out he held on in the Battle of Irish Bend. His trains having pulled back, Taylor successfully made his escape. Grover lost 353 men. Taylor’s casualties were less, but not known with certainty.

Burnside Cracks Down on Copperheads

Ambrose Burnside, after his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, was appointed commander of the Department of Ohio. From there he set out to deal with the Copperheads, the Northern Democrats who wanted to bring an end to the war. 150 years ago today he issued his General Order No. 38, prescribing harsh punishments for those who helped the Confederacy:
[H]ereafter all persons found within our lines, who commit acts for the benefit of the enemies of our country, will be tried as spies or traitors, and if convicted will suffer death. This order includes the following class of persons.

Carriers of secret mans.

Writers of letters sent by secret mails.

Secret recruiting officers within the lines.

Persons who have entered into an agreement to pass our lines for the purpose of joining the enemy.

Persons found concealed within our lines, belonging to the service of the enemy, and, in fact, all persons found improperly within our lines who could give private information to the enemy. All persons within our lines who harbor, protect, conceal, feed, clothe, or in any way aid the enemies of our country.

The habit of declaring sympathies for the enemy will no longer be tolerated in this Department. Persons committing such offences will be at once arrested with a view to being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends.

It must be distinctly understood that treason expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this Department.
This order was directed not only at those who were doing legitimately treasonous things, such as recruiting for the Confederacy, but also those who even so much as expressed sympathy for the Confederate cause. It didn’t take long for Burnside to implement this, with the arrest of Clement Clement Vallandigham, the leading Copperhead politician, and the closing of the Chicago Tribune. Burnside and the government would meet a lot of backlash for this order, and the actions taken because of it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Siege of Suffolk

After the Battle of Fredericksburg in December, 1862, the decision had been made to send Longstreet and his troops away from the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia. There wasn’t an immediate need to defend against a Federal attack, supplies were low in Northern Virginia, and there were other places troops could be used. For these reasons, Longstreet was made commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. His missions were to protect Richmond, gather supplies, and capture Suffolk, Virginia, if possible.

Siege Gun

Longstreet began moving to Suffolk 150 years ago today. He had about 25,000 men against a garrison of 20,000, under the command of John Peck. Confederate reconnaissances and probes showed that a frontal attack was unlikely to succeed. Therefore, the Confederate troops dug entrenchments and their commanders looked for an opportunity to strike. The siege lasted until May 1st, when Longstreet withdrew to support Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville. There were several engagements in the fighting around Suffolk in which the Union troops attacked several Confederate positions. However, none of them were decisive in breaking the siege. Casualties totaled for the Union about 50 killed and 200 wounded, for the Confederates 500 killed and wounded, and 400 captured.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Battle of Charleston Harbor

Confederates in Charleston
In April 1863, the United States Navy turned its attention to Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston was an important city in the Civil War. Not only did it have military importance, as a center of blockade running, but it also had a vast political importance. It was where the war began with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in the harbor, and its capture would prove a major hit to Confederate morale and the town was also very supportive of secession. 
Samuel Du Pont
For these reasons it was decided by the Federal government to make an attempt to capture the town. The command was given to Samuel Du Pont. Du Pont had been sailing since the age of 12, and by the Civil War was a captain. He was on his way toward retirement, holding a post as commander of the Philadelphia Shipyard, but, when the Civil War came, he was returned to active service. He was promoted to flag officer, and after commanding the navy at the capture of Port Royal, he was promoted to rear admiral.
Ironclads advance
The expedition would be primarily naval in nature. Du Pont was given nine ironclads to make the attack. The flagship was the massive New Ironsides. It had been designed independently of the Monitor, was very similar to the French ironclad Glorie. It carried 18 guns and had masts as well as a steam engine. Accompanying the New Ironsides in the attack on Charleston were seven sister ships of the Monitor and an experimental ironclad, the Keokuk.
Charleston was commanded by General P. G. T. Beauregard. He had gained his fame in the town by leading the capture of Fort Sumter. He was assigned to duty elsewhere, but was sent back to South Carolina when he did not preform to the satisfaction of Richmond. The Confederate batteries and forts were well suited for the defense of Charleston from an attack from the sea. They had also placed barriers and torpedoes in the harbor, and although the defenders knew they were defective, the Yankees did not. 

The Federal navy came out to battle on April 7th, 150 years ago today. Time was lost as the ships met delays in their preparations. As the ships moved forward, one after another, problems were encountered with the New Ironsides. The sailors had difficulty maneuvering her, so she was pulled out of line and anchored, so the rest of the ships could proceed. Unknowingly, the New Ironsides was anchored directly over a huge Confederate torpedo. But, when the rebels pulled the electric switch to activate it, nothing happened. It is not known exactly why the torpedo failed, but a great opportunity was missed to destroy an important Union ship. 

New Ironsides
As the rest of the ships continued on, Du Pont's battle plan fell apart. The ships became disordered and came under a tremendous fire from the Confederate batteries. The fire was intense, and the ships remained far away from the Confederate batteries, rendering their fire inaccurate. When the tide began to turn, Du Pont ordered his fleet to retreat. The Confederate batteries had fired about 2000 shot, hitting 520 times. The Union ships had fired only 154 shots.

Different Union ships received differing amounts of damage. The Keokuk was hit the worst. She was shot 90 times, 19 below the waterline. She was taking on water as she withdrew from the fight, and despite the efforts of the crew, she sunk the next morning. Although the Union ships had been badly damaged, the actual casualties were light. On the ships only one was killed and 21 wounded, with the Confederates losing five killed and eight wounded. 
When Du Pont held a council of war the next day, his captains were unanimously against a renewal of the battle, and so he called of another attack. The government in Washington was not happy with Du Pont for giving up so easily, after loosing only a handful of men. He was removed from command.

Friday, April 5, 2013

CSS Alabama - Confederate Raider

150 years ago the CSS Alabama sailed the seven seas, spreading fear through the Union fleet. Learn about her career and demise in this video by Discerning History!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Grant Develops a Plan to Capture Vicksburg

Over the last several months, Grant had tried many strategies to try to capture Vicksburg. But at every turn he had been rebuffed by the Confederates or the nature of the difficult terrain of the area. But 150 years ago he decided to abandon his efforts to capture Vicksburg by moving around it through the bayous and swamps, and instead to try to run the batteries, and land below the fortress where the terrain would be less formidable. Although the ground would be easier for operations, the army would have to run much peril to get there. They would need transports to cross the river, and these would have to run by the formidable batteries on the bluff at Vicksburg. The transports were made of wood, and would be very vulnerable to the Union shot. It was a bold and risky plan, but Grant believed it would give him the best chances to capture Vicksburg.

Richmond Bread Riot

Confederate Money
Although the majority of southerners supported the war effort and voted for secession, it was not unanimous. There was a sizable belt of opposition centered in the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia down to western North Carolina. West Virginia. The opposition during the war was fueled by the Confederacy’s financial problems. 

One problem both sides faced during the war was rampant inflation. They turned to printing paper money to help pay for the war. However this increased the money supply, raising prices and decreasing the value of everyone's money. The problem was more acute in the Confederacy. The North approximately doubled its money supply during the war, the South increased theirs by 20 times. Inflation rapidly increasing prices in the south, quickly doubling, tripping and quadrupling. At the beginning of 1863 a barrel of flower could be bought for $70, but by the end of the war it would cost $250. That barrel of flower would have been only $10 when the war began.

Richmond Bread Riot
Complaints from the southern people came to a crisis in Richmond on April 2nd, 1863. There had been a drought in 1862 and much of the food that was grown was destroyed by moving armies. Food was scarce and very expensive. The riot began when a woman named Mary Jackson riled up a crowd by complaining of the cost of food. Pulling out a revolver and bowie knife, she led a crowd of 300 women with shouts of "Bread! Bread!" The governor came out and read the Riot Act, but the mob ignored him, smashing the windows of shops and stealing not only food, but anything they could lay their hands on. A company of milita was brought out, and Jefferson Davis himself came to try to disperse the crowd. Reached into his pockets, he pulled out all the money he had and thew it to the rioters, shouting:
You say you are hungry and have no money. Here is all I have. It is not much, but take it. We do not desire to injure anyone, but this lawlessness must stop. I will give you five minutes to disperse. Otherwise you will be fired on.
The women, knowing that Davis was not making an idle threat, began to disperse. Davis was able to quell this riot with the threat of the soldiers rifles, but there were others elsewhere throughout the south. Similar events occurred in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina. Although they turned out not serious in and of themselves, they were signs of growing discontent with the government.
Jefferson Davis