- 07 Mar 2020 14:23
A big post today, there’s a lot going on.
March 8, Saturday
In the wet early spring in northwest Arkansas a Union battery opens fire, signaling what is really the third day of the battle of Pea Ridge or Elkhorn Tavern. This sets off an artillery duel that subsides gradually as the Confederate guns become disabled or run out of ammunition one by one. With elements of all four of his division now in position, Curtis attacks. For a while, the Confederates hold. On the right, some of Price’s infantry make a gallant stand on the ridge above Elkhorn Tavern before Sigel’s artillery and infantry drive them down the slopes and onto the Telegraph road. At the same time, waves of Federal infantry surge against Van Dorn’s center and left. Bareheaded, his wounded arm in a sling, General price rides along the line, exhorting his faltering Missourians to hold, but without the artillery it is useless. As the Confederate left crumbles, Van Dorn gives the order to withdraw. Discipline quickly collapses and the retreat becomes a rout. Many of the Missourians flee north into their own state, where they will organize guerilla bands that will fight on against the Federals until the end of the war. The main body of Confederates circle around the Federals and, breaking into small groups, retreat deeper into Arkansas. For days the bone-weary men will trudge through the Boston Mountains in pouring rain until they straggle into Van Buren, Arkansas, where Van Dorn and Price will regroup them. Convinced that Van Dorn’s army is totally destroyed and that the area will soon be invaded, Pike will refuse to join up, taking his small force back into the Indian Territory.
The Confederate defeat means, probably, the permanent loss of Missouri, and its adverse effects hamper Confederate plans to maintain the Mississippi River. For General Curtis it is his high point in the war. He and his outnumbered army have fought well. The Federals had about 10,500 troops, with 203 killed, 980 wounded, and 201 missing or captured, compared to Van Dorn’s about 16,000, with probably 600 killed and wounded and 200 captured or missing. Curtis contemplating the scene, writes his brother, “The enemy is again far away in the Boston Mountains. The scene is silent and sad—the vulture and foes sleep in the same lonely graves.”
There is a different scene in Virginia as a new type of battle breaks out. While the Monitor is heading south, curious crowds line the banks of the Elizabeth River to watch the Virginia depart Gosport for Hampton Roads. Its mission, known only to Commodore Buchanan and a few of his officers, is to attack the powerful Union fleet there: the 50-gun sailing frigate St. Lawrence, the 50-gun sailing frigate Congress, the 40-gun steam frigate Minnesota, the 40-gun steam frigate Roanoke, and the 24-gun sailing sloop Cumberland. The Virginia is hard to steer and even more sluggish than expected. At noon, after one hour of cautious steaming, the Virginia exits the mouth of the Elizabeth River. Buchanan outlines his plans to his officers: The Virginia will first attach the Cumberland and the Congress off Newport News. Then she will swing eastward and go after the Minnesota and the Roanoke, several miles closer to Fort Monroe.
The Virginia has been underway for about 90 minutes when the Federal gunboat Zouave sights her. The Zouave opens fire, but the ironclad shrugs off the shells and closes to within a mile of the Cumberland, which is standing firm, and opens fire before closing the final mile at full speed to ram. The Virginia ignores the shells from the Cumberland, the Congress, and the Union Army batteries at Newport News, the hostile fire glancing harmlessly off the Virginia’s sloping sides, though she does finally return fire against the Congress when they come abreast three or four hundred yards from the Cumberland. Finally she breaks through the protective barrier of timbers surrounding the Cumberland’s anchorage and smashes into the Yankee’s starboard side. The impact causes only a slight jarring inside the Virginia, but it rips a gaping hole “wide enough to drive a horse and cart through” below the Cumberland’s water line. The doomed sloop lists to starboard, and Buchanan orders the engines reversed to pull the Virginia free ... and nothing happens, she’s caught. For a few tense seconds it seems that the sinking Cumberland will take the ironclad down as well, but then the tidal current slews the Virginia sideways and she pulls free—but she leaves the ram broken off in the Cumberland’s side.
The first target finished, even though the Cumberland’s crew continues to fire at the Virginia as long as possible before abandoning ship, Buchanan takes his ironclad a short way up the James River to have water deep enough to come about, while the commander of the Congress, Lieutenant Joseph Smith, Jr., signals to the Zouave to tow him into the shoals, where the deep-draft Virginia can’t follow and Union batteries will offer protection. But by the time the Zouave has the Congress headed toward shore, the Virginia has come about and is closing astern. Joined by a group of Confederate gunboats, they pour round after round into the wooden vessel. Blood is running from the Congress’s scuppers onto the Zouave’s deck “like water on a wash-deck morning.” Because of the angle at which she has run aground, Congress can bring only two of her 50 guns to bear on the Virginia and they are quickly knocked out of action. Reduced to helplessness and her young commander killed, the Congress attempts to surrender. But the Yankee batteries on shore keep firing, and an angry Buchanan orders his men to fire hot shot—cannonballs heated red-hot—to set the crippled ship in fire. Then he climbs out onto the casemate to direct operations and is badly wounded in the thigh by a sharpshooter’s bullet. His executive officer, Lieutenant Catesby Jones, assumes command.
With the Cumberland sunk and the Congress on fire, Jones decides to attack the Minnesota. That Federal frigate has run aground in the North Channel in an attempt to come to the aid of the first two victims. Her commander, Captain Van Brunt, frantically signals for the Zouave to tow him to safety. But as the Zouave steams toward the frigate, a shot from the Virginia carries away her rudder and one of her propeller blades, spinning her around. The gunboat, now facing the enemy, makes an attempt to steam backward to the Minnesota. But it is now ebb tide and nightfall is approaching. The pilots on the Virginia refuse to risk getting close enough to dispatch the Minnesota out of fear that she might run aground herself, so Jones breaks off the attack and heads for home. They will return in the morning to finish the job.
The Virginia has won a smashing victory. In four and a half hours, it has destroyed two large Federal warships. Numerous hits from 100 heavy Federal cannon afloat and ashore has disabled two of the Virginia’s guns, riddled her smokestack, and swept away almost everything on the outside. But the Virginia has lost only two men killed and 19 wounded, and her armor is hardly damaged. As the telegraph flashes the news of the Union disaster across the North, the Virginia’s crew settles down for the night, unaware that after sunset the Monitor arrives at Hampton Roads. The trip south proved harrowing—the ship was less seaworthy than Ericsson had expected and twice came close to sinking in rough weather. But she has made it, and after Lieutenant Worden reports to the acting commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, the ship drops anchor alongside the grounded Minnesota at midnight. Worden and his men are exhausted. No one has eaten anything but hardtack or slept a wink in two days. They need sleep to be ready for a life-or-death struggle in the morning. But they get little sleep—sometime after 1 am, the Congress blows up in a series of spectacular explosions. No one is able to sleep for the rest of the night; the men stay tensely alert, ready for any emergency.
In other fighting Federal forces occupy Leesburg, Virginia. There are operations about Rolla, Missouri. Confederate cavalry under John Hunt Morgan raid suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee, and Chattanooga is occupied by Confederate forces. Meanwhile, W.T. Sherman’s division embarks at Paducah, Kentucky, for its trip up the Tennessee. Confederate E. Kirby Smith reaches Knoxville and assumes command of troops in east Tennessee.
Two peremptory General War Orders from President Lincoln land on General McClellan’s desk. One order formally approves his plan to transfer the Army of the Potomac to Urbanna, but with conditions: McClellan must leave the defenses of Washington “entirely secure”; he must obtain the agreement of his senior officers on the number of men to be left behind; he must move no more than half his force until the Confederate blockade of the lower Potomac is lifted; and the Army of the Potomac has to get moving within the next ten days. the second order McClellan finds even more offensive. It groups the 12 divisions of the Army of the Potomac into four corps and designates four senior generals—Irvin McDowell, Edwin V. Sumner, Samuel P. Heintzelman, and Erasmus D. Keyes—as commanders of the new units. McClellan doesn’t oppose the corps idea, he discussed it with Lincoln some weeks before. But he had told the President that he wanted to wait until his generals could be tested in combat before selecting the corps commanders. Not only has McClellan been denied his own choice, but three of the four senior generals chosen—all but Keyes—oppose the move to Urbanna. McClellan fears their appointment dooms his strategy.
Eager to take the fight to the enemy, General Stonewall Jackson sends a request to General Johnston for reinforcements for his 3,600 infantry, 600 cavalry, and six batteries with 27 guns—outnumbered more than 8 to 1 by General Banks. Johnston apparently reckons that this is a pipe dream and doesn’t bother to reply.
Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don’t allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas?
To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.