The American Civil War, day by day - Page 35 - Politics | PoFo

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February 19, Wednesday

Federal forces of General C.F. Smith from Grant’s command occupy Clarksville, Tennessee. While Grant is looking toward Nashville there is an inter-army squabble brewing. Grant’s men are accused of entering the territory of General Don Carlos Buell, who also is advancing slowly south toward Nashville from the Bowling Green, Kentucky, area.

In New Mexico Territory, Confederate General Sibley has decided that rather than directly attack Fort Craig, deciding it is too strong, he will cross to the east bank of the Rio Grande and bypass the fort, then recross the river six miles north at Valverde—from there he can follow an almost straight track paralleling the Rio Grande to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, leaving Fort Craig isolated with its supply line to the north cut. This move has been delayed two days by a sandstorm, but now the Confederates cross to the east side of the Rio Grande and move to bypass the fort.

In North Carolina, General Burnside’s Federal expedition continues mopping up after its capture of Roanoke Island. Today Commander Rowan leads eight gunboats carrying 1,000 troops up the Chowan River toward the village of Winton, intending to destroy two railroad bridges and contact the powerful faction of pro-Unionists rumored to be in the area. The Confederates have anticipated the attack and secreted a four-gun battery, backed by a battalion of Volunteers, on a bluff overlooking the village. Down at the village below a slave has been instructed by her master to wave a handkerchief as if to indicate that the town is undefended and safe to enter. The ploy almost works, but at the last moment Colonel Hawkins up in the rigging of Rowan’s flagship, the Delaware, spots the glint of Confederate muskets on the bluff and the flotilla withdraws with nothing worse than the Delaware’s low guards, wheel house and masts riddled with bullets. This night the citizens of Winton celebrate, believing they’ve routed the foe, but the Federal flotilla will return in the morning, pulverize the Confederate positions from midstream, then loot and burn the town.

A skirmish at West Plains, Missouri, marks the day.

In a transparent effort to undermine General McClellan, the Federal Secretary of War Edwin Stanton writes in the New York Tribune: “Battles are to be won, now, and by us, in the same and only manner that they were ever won by any people since the days of Joshua—by boldly pursuing and striking the foe.”

President Davis writes General Joseph E. Johnston that “Events have cast our arms and our hopes the gloomiest shadows, and at such a time we must show redoubled energy and resolution.” He summons the general to a day-long strategy meeting with the president and Cabinet. All the news is bad—the recent fall of Roanoke Island on the North Carolina coast has made possible a Federal attack against the important Confederate base at Norfolk, Virginia; in Tennessee, Davis’s favorite general, Albert Sydney Johnston, is in full retreat after the loss of Forts Henry and Donelson; these reverses have dimmed Confederate hopes for British recognition and Royal Navy help in breaking the Federal blockade. General Johnston brings more bad news to the meeting, saying that his position around Manassas will soon become untenable, the good spring weather will dry the muddy roads and make it possible for McClellan to attack with superior forces. He recommends a withdrawal to the south as soon as the roads are solid enough to bear artillery. When Davis asks how far, Johnston says he doesn’t know yet because he is unfamiliar with the topography to his rear. Although Davis doesn’t dispute the recommendation for withdrawal, he will later call Johnston’s ignorance of the terrain “inexplicable on any other theory than that he had neglected the primary duty of a commander.”

Johnston’s determination to withdraw is reinforced when he returns to his Richmond hotel after the meeting only to find that the lobby is humming with word of the withdrawal, and again on the train back to Centreville. But the withdrawal will be a mammoth task—mountains of baggage have accumulated there; over Johnston’s protests, the Confederate commissary department has stockpiled twice the rations he wanted; and a meat-packing plant has even been built at Thoroughfare Gap, northwest of Manassas, where more than two million pounds of bacon and salt beef are now piled up dangerously close to enemy lines. Because horse-drawn wagons soon bog down in the winter mud, Johnston has to rely on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad to move nearly everything south. The railroad has only a single track and practically no sidings, and traffic soon becomes so snarled that some trains require 36 hours to crawl the 60 miles from Manassas south to the junction at Gordonsville.

Meanwhile, the new Confederate Congress counts the electoral vote and orders the release of two thousand Federal prisoners of war.
February 20, Thursday

At Fort Craig, New Mexico Territory, Colonel Canby realizes what General Sibley is planning and moves his own force in an attempt to intercept the Confederates. But the difficult terrain broken by sandy ridges and ravines slows his advance and prevents placement of his artillery. For a time the two small armies watch each other as they move along parallel ridges. Eventually Confederate artillery panics some of the Union troops, confusion spreads to other units, and with darkness approaching Canby orders most of his men back to the fort, leaving only an infantry picket line along the west riverbank. With nightfall Captain Graydon, company of the Union scouts and spies, attempts to stampede Sibley’s beef herd by tying boxes of howitzer shells to the backs of a pair of elderly mules and leads the animals across the shallow river. Lighting the shell fuses, Graydon heads the mules toward the Texans’ cattle. However, the mules turn around and begin following Graydon and his helpers, who are forced to run for safety back to their own lines. The shells explode harmlessly, except for the mules.

In the late afternoon at the White House William Wallace “Willie” Lincoln dies, at the age of twelve, personal tragedy overshadowing the victories in the West. A weeping President tries to console his distraught wife. General McClellan writes one of the tenderest messages of sympathy that the President will receive. In addition to offering his condolences, McClellan says, “You have been a kind true friend to me in the midst of the great cares and difficulties by which we have been surrounded during the past months. Your confidence has upheld me when I should otherwise have felt weak. I am pushing to prompt completion the measures of which we have spoken, and I beg that you will not allow military affairs to give you a moment’s trouble.”

The “measures” McClellan is referring to are the long-neglected business of clearing the Confederate batteries along the lower Potomac and the reopening of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad above Harper’s Ferry. Under orders from Lincoln to settle these matters before mounting the Urbanna expedition, McClellan now plans on a two-pronged campaign. On the lower Potomac, 4,000 troops commanded by Brigadier General Joseph Hooker are to cross the river by boat and attack the Confederate guns near Evansport, Virginia. At the same time, a larger force is to bridge the upper Potomac at Harpers Ferry, guard the rebuilding of the broken stretch of railway and then—to protect the B&O from further attacks—march southwest to occupy Winchester, the northernmost Confederate outpost in the Shenandoah Valley and General Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters. By staging these two forays simultaneously, McClellan hopes to prevent the Confederate army at Manassas from marshalling reinforcements at either points.

At the same time casualty lists from Fort Donelson are spread on bulletin boards North and South.

On the Mississippi the Confederate bastion of Columbus, Kentucky, is to be no more; the fall of the forts on the rivers has ordained its evacuation and orders are given from Richmond. Withdrawal into the middle South is a necessity for the Confederacy, and Kentucky is nearly devoid of organized Confederate troops.

Governor Isham Harris announces the removal of Tennessee’s capital from Nashville to Memphis. The Confederate Army, reassembling at Nashville, is pulling back to Murfreesboro, southeast of the city, at command of General Albert Sidney Johnston. The soldiers aren’t the only ones leaving—people mill about the streets, circulating rumors, loading what they can carry into wagons and fleeing south. Departing trains are jammed with men, some even riding on the roofs. Entrepreneurs hire out their wagons and teams for up to $25 an hour ($660 in today’s currency).

In North Carolina there is an expedition by Federals in Currituck Sound.

Farragut, flag officer of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron of nineteen ships, arrives Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast below New Orleans. He will have to wait for mortar ships and the bulk of the 18,000 troops under General Benjamin Butler before moving against the city.
February 21, Friday

Early in the morning General Sibley again starts the main body of his Texans up the east bank of the Rio Grande, aiming for the ford at Valverde. When Colonel Canby learns of the movements he sends Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin S. Roberts and a detachment of 220 cavalrymen, followed by infantry and artillery, hurrying up the east side of the river to block the Confederate crossing. The Federals arrive opposite Valverde to find an advance unit of 180 Texans occupying a cottonwood grove on the east bank. Roberts sends four companies of cavalry cross the river and, after prolonged maneuvering, drive them away to some nearby sandhills. The Union artillery batteries, supported by skirmishers, set up on the west bank and begin firing as more of Sibley’s men appear, including a light howitzer battery, and an artillery exchange begins.

Toward noon more Union reinforcements commanded by Captain Henry R. Seldon join Roberts on the west bank, soon followed by Kit Carson and eight companies of his New Mexicans. Roberts orders these fresh troops upstream to protect his left flank. There Seldon’s command wades across the Rio Grande and drives a force of dismounted Texans from some woods with a bayonet charge, only to face a counterattack by a company of Texans armed with nine-foot-long wooden lances tipped with three-inch-wide steel blades. Some of the Colorado volunteers begin to panic, but are rallied by their commander and a volley shatters the lancers’ charge just short of the Union line. Only three Texans escape unharmed. Encouraged by this success, Roberts now brings his artillery across to the east bank.

As the fighting rages on, Sibley becomes ill and before retiring from the field places in command Colonel Thomas Green, a transplanted Virginian who had battled both Mexicans and Amerinds during the Texas Republic’s early days. Some of Sibley’s men later claim he was drunk, and Baylor will contend Sibley spent the rest of the battle cowering in an ambulance. Whatever the truth of the charges, Sibley has picked an excellent officer to take his place. Under Green’s leadership the Texans fight furiously, beating off Federal attacks until, in the late afternoon, they make their own climactic rush.

The stage is set about 3 pm. Colonel Canby has arrived from Fort Craig and taken over Union field command. Recalling Kit Carson’s regiment from its upstream position, he orders Carson’s troops and the 2nd New Mexico to cross the river and join an assault on the Texas left. Carson’s regiment quickly moves into position, but most of the 2nd New Mexico refuses to move. During the confusion of the aborted Federal assault, Green launches a two-pronged counterattack. On the Texas left about 200 men charge down a slope against the battery on Canby’s right. They are met by some dismounted Federal cavalry and other units, including Kit Carson’s men, and hurled back with 40 men killed or wounded.

It’s a different story on the other flank, however. There about 4 pm Green sends a yelling mass of 750 dismounted Texans led by Major Lockridge across a plain toward the Federal battery there commanded by Captain McRae. They waver for a moment when they are met with a storm of canister that turn the cannon into giant shotguns, but then dash forward until they reach the guns. There the fighting is hand-to-hand, the Texans firing pistols point-blank, clubbing gunners with rifle butts, and slashing with their feared Bowie knives. Two companies of the 2nd New Mexico break and run, demoralizing in turn another company. As the fighting swirls around the guns both Lockridge and McCrae are killed—some will claim by simultaneously shooting each other across one of the artillery pieces.

Even with Lockridge dead the Texan assault sends the Federals reeling, and when a counterattack fails to retake McRae’s artillery Canby orders a general withdrawal to Fort Craig’s walls. As the Federal troops splash back across Rio Grande, shells from their captured guns fall among them, killing a number of men and horses. The Texans pursue Canby as far as the river, but are halted when Colonel Green agrees to Canby’s request for a truce to recover the Federal dead and wounded.

Canby’s Federals have about 3,810 men and lose 68 killed, 160 wounded, and 35 missing; while the Confederates lose 31 killed, 154 wounded, and 1 missing. The Confederates have also lost half their cavalry mounts and are forced to convert one of their regiments to infantry. But Valverde is clearly a Confederate victory, opening the way for a continued march northward into the heart of New Mexico Territory.

In Tangier, Morocco, US consul James De Long seizes two officers of the Confederate cruiser CSS Sumter, John Smith and T.T. Tunstall. After a months-long furor the pair will be released.

In New York City convicted slave trader Nathaniel Gordon is hanged.
February 22, Saturday

“The tyranny of an unbridled majority, the most odious and least responsible form of despotism, has denied us both the right and the remedy. Therefore we are in arms to renew such sacrifices as our fathers made to the holy cause of constitutional liberty.” Thus speaks Jefferson Davis, newly inaugurated President of the Confederate States of America. In the pouring rain in the yard of the Confederate Capitol at Richmond, Davis takes the oath of office as the regularly elected President and asks divine blessing on their cause. “Civil War there cannot be between States held together by their volition only,” he says in going over the reasons for the present difficulty.

Meanwhile, there is a brief brush at Aransas Bay, Texas; in Virginia a Federal expedition operates to Vienna and Flint Hill; there is a skirmish at Independence, Missouri.

In Kentucky Buell’s Federals begin moving in force from Bowling Green, Kentucky, toward Nashville.

At the Federal capital on this Washington’s Birthday it is observed that the Army of the Potomac, ordered forth on or before this date by the President, has not moved, although operations aplenty have occurred in the West.

Lincoln, sorrowing for the death of one son and concerned over the illness of another, Tad, does not attend the Washington’s Birthday observances.

Also in celebration of Washington’s Birthday, Louisiana’s Confederate governor has called for a grand parade at New Orleans to bolster the morale that has been sagging as the growing blockade has almost completely suppressed the port’s rich international trade and the city’s residents the growing Federal forces on Ship Island—clearly, the North is coming for the city. The grand parade has mixed results, however. More than 25,000 militiamen march, among them units representing many of New Orleans’ colorful ethnic groups, and the sheer size of the turnout gives a sense of security to undiscerning spectators. But knowledgeable observers realize that this supposed show of strength reveals a glaring weakness: The majority of the troops are unarmed. In fact, supplies are so short that only 6,000 of the men carry a weapon of any sort. But New Orleans isn’t entirely defenseless, at Jefferson City just above the city work is proceeding on two monster ironclads. And seventy-five miles below the city stand two strongholds that are the city’s chief defense: Fort St. Philip, a citadel built by the Spanish in the 1790s and expanded two decades later; and the more powerful, modern pentagonal Fort Jackson. Massive iron chains, supported by firmly anchored cypress rafts and floating hulks, are stretched across the Mississippi just south of the forts and well within range of their guns. The assumption is that the forts will force any Union assault from the south to come by land and that the broad inlet bayous and New Orleans Chalmette defense line, a string of fortifications four miles south of the city, will easily stop the enemy soldiers.
February 23, Sunday

Citizens and soldiers are evacuating Nashville, Tennessee, more rapidly than ever, as Federal soldiers and gunboats begin to draw nearer. Nashville descends into chaos when the mayor promises the citizens any leftover army stores, and mobs of desperate people begin taking what they want by force. Then Nathan Bedford Forrest rides into Nashville, and takes over the job of restoring law and order. He appeals to the populace to think of their patriotic duty, and when that doesn’t work he lines up his men and gallops into the mob, swinging the flat of his saber and scattering people before him. He uses a fire hose to keep the mob away from the warehouse in Public Square while his men empty it.

President Lincoln nominates Andrew Johnson as military governor of Tennessee. The Department of the Gulf is constituted under Union Major General Benjamin F. Butler, and John Pope assumes command of the Army of the Mississippi at Commerce, Missouri.

Outside Fort Craig, New Mexico Territory, Confederate General Sibley, his health recovered, forms his columns and strikes out for Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Federal troops occupy Fayetteville, Arkansas, in the northwestern part of the state, and there is fighting around Pea Ridge Prairie, Missouri, to the north. Federals carry out reconnaissances of several days from Greenville to Little River, Missouri, and on Bull River and Schooner Channel, South Carolina.
February 24, Monday

Northern troops under General Don Carlos Buell reach the north bank of the Cumberland River at Nashville as troop transports begin arriving. Forrest’s cavalry form the Confederate rear guard, retreating to the southeast. Forrest has commandeered every wagon he can find, and gets out large quantities of weapons and ammunition as well as 250,000 pounds of bacon, at least 600 boxes of army clothing, and hundreds of wagonloads of flour and commissary stores. He has dismantled some of the Nashville foundry’s precious machinery for rifling cannon and ships it with other ordnance equipment to Atlanta. Then, at the last moment, he and his men drift down the road to Murfreesboro as the first Federal troops enter Nashville. A few Federals follow him, and Forrest turns and bloodies them; they need not think that tracking Sidney Johnston’s army is going to be easy.

Other Federal troops under General Nathaniel Banks occupies Harper’s Ferry, western Virginia, strategically situated at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The 18,000 he had commanded when General Stonewall Jackson took command at Winchester in early November has grown to at least 38,000 with the prospect of receiving others from northwestern Virginia now that he has crossed the Potomac. That he has not moved before now is not his fault, he has been caught in the middle of the tug-of-war between President Lincoln and General McClellan on the proper approach to taking Richmond. Now Banks has been given orders to move on Winchester—the site of General Jackson’s headquarters—to secure the Baltimore & Ohio tracks in the northern Shenandoah Valley before moving most of his force to Manassas Junction to cover Washington while General McClellan takes most of the Union forces to Urbanna to flank the Army of Northern Virginia on its right. Unfortunately, the artillery and other equipment are too heavy for the pontoon bridge that Bank’s infantry uses and the canal boats that are supposed to be used for a stronger bridge prove to be too wide for the locks on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. The move against Winchester will have to be suspended.

There is fighting at Mingo Creek, near St. Francisville, at New Madrid, and in St. Clair and Henry counties, Missouri; as well as a small affair at Lewis Chapel, near Pohick Church, Virginia.

Funeral services are held in Washington for Willie Lincoln, while his brother Tad shows improvement.
February 25, Tuesday

Federal troops move into Nashville in full force. The capital of Tennessee, CSA, now again capital of Tennessee, USA, and a vital base for the Union. Its capture without bloodshed has been made possible by Grant’s victory at Fort Donelson, although it is formally occupied by troops of General Buell.

Elsewhere that are minor operations in Loudoun County, Virginia, and at Keetsville in Barry County, Missouri.

Confederate Major General E. Kirby Smith is assigned to command in east Tennessee.

The Federal War Department orders control of all telegraph lines by the department to facilitate military moves.

The US Navy commissions the Monitor and appoints Lieutenant John Worden to command her. Warden undertakes to recruit 57 men for the crew. It will be easy: When he appeals for volunteers aboard warships in New York Harbor, he will get many more applicants than he needs.

Confederate Commodore Franklin Buchanan, one of the most distinguished officers of the US Navy and organizer of the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845—arrives at Gosport Yard to take up his assignment as commander of the James River defenses—and so the ironclad CSS Virginia. He finds that while there is sufficient stores of coal, powder, and supplies, there is a critical shortage of flannel, used to make gunpowder bags. With the aid of a local newspaper, a story is published urging patriotic women to contribute their flannel dresses and skirts.

In Richmond President Davis sends a message to the Confederate Congress reviewing the war, calling for sterner measures, and stating, “we have been so exposed as recently to encounter serious disasters.” Davis thinks the financial system is adequate and the postal department is improving. He desires to establish a Supreme Court. Naval construction is proceeding, despite limited resources, the need for more soldiers is being met, and strenuous efforts are being made to reinforce armies in the threatened West. It is not wholly a dark picture, although the military situation leads to sobering thoughts.
February 26, Wednesday

There is Confederate scouting toward Nashville in a day of little or no fighting.

Kentucky senator William E. Simms declares in the Confederate Congress that the Confederacy will defend her rights to the last extremity.

In Washington President Lincoln signs the Loan and Treasury Bill creating a national currency of United State notes and providing for sale of stock to finance the currency. He also talks with General McClellan, who is leaving to supervise the crossing of the Potomac at Harpers Ferry.

At Harpers Ferry engineers quickly lay a pontoon bridge across the river, and the vanguard of 23,000 troops march over while bands play. For the main body of troops, along with their artillery and baggage, McClellan has ordered the construction of a larger, more solid bridge built by lashing together big canal boats side by side, but the boats have not yet arrived.
February 27, Thursday

At Harpers Ferry the canal boats needed for General McClellan’s larger bridge are brought up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, but when they reach the lock that would allow them to enter the Potomac the boats, designed only for canal travel, are found to be six inches too wide to fit through. McClellan already has enough men across at Harpers Ferry to safeguard the rebuilding of the railroad, but he has to call off the scheduled march against Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley. Fearing that the Confederates might now feel free to reinforce the batteries downriver, he cancels General Joseph Hooker’s planned crossing of the lower Potomac.

Official Washington is enraged to learn of the attacks’ cancellation—and all because no one had bothered to find out if the boats were too wide. President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton have just authorized the procurement of ships for McClellan’s planned move to Urbanna, but now summon his chief of staff, General Randolph Marcy. The President, Marcy will later telegraph McClellan, WAS IN A HELL OF A RAGE. Realizing that Lincoln’s patience with McClellan is sorely strained, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War demands the President force McClellan to fight or fire him. Lincoln considers the proposition soberly but decides against it on the grounds that there is no one to replace him: “I must have somebody. I must use the tool I have.” But Lincoln’s doubts about his general in chief continue to deepen.

The Confederate Congress gives President Davis the power to suspend the privilege of habeus corpus, which will be sparingly used.

President Davis orders martial law for the threatened cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia.

From New York USS Monitor goes to sea for trials and an unknown destination.
February 28, Friday

Federal forces under John Pope move south along the west shore of the Mississippi from Commerce toward New Madrid, Missouri, in another drive against the Confederate heartland in the West. Confederate batteries protect the Mississippi River at Island No. 10 north of New Madrid on both the Missouri and eastern sides.

Confederate Captain Hunter has led his company across the New Mexico Territory desert of Apache country and now enters the old adobe pueblo of Tucson—“a city of mud-boxes, dingy and dilapidated, cracked and baked into a composite of dust and filth,” according to a contemporary observer. They receive an enthusiastic welcome from Tucson’s secessionist inhabitants.

There is an affair at Osage Springs, Arkansas, near Fayetteville, where yet another Federal column is threatening.

In Washington President Lincoln talks with General McClellan regarding the failure to institute operations at Harpers Ferry. He learns it was because the canal boats sent north to form the pontoon bridge over the Potomac are too large for the locks. McClellan proposes that, while supplying General Banks’ troops with the matériel needed for an advance in force, Banks should occupy Charles Town and Bunker Hill, 40 miles northeast and 12 miles north of Winchester respectively. The capture of these towns will cover the rebuilding of the Baltimore & Ohio track torn up beyond Harpers Ferry by the Confederates. Banks will have little trouble capturing the two towns, but McClellan informs Washington that he can’t move against Jackson at Winchester “for many days.”

Throughout the Confederacy it is a day of fasting and prayer, following a proclamation by President Davis.

Davis writes General Joseph E. Johnston, who commands the main Confederate army in northern Virginia. Davis is aware that the enemy appears to be concentrating on Johnston’s front, and that the general believes his position can be turned. Davis directs Johnston to make sure that the heavy guns can be removed, along with stores, and that lines of retreat be planned. “Recent disasters have depressed the weak, and are depriving us of the aid of the wavering. Traitors show the tendencies heretofore concealed, and the selfish grow clamorous for local, and personal, interests. At such an hour, the wisdom of the trained, and the steadiness of the brave, possess a double value.”
March 1, Saturday

Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding Federals in the West, orders Grant at Fort Donelson to proceed south up the Tennessee River to near Eastport, Mississippi, continuing the advance so well begun. Grant, hurrying from Donelson to Fort Henry, sets the machinery in motion for another major movement of his army.

Meanwhile, two wooden gunboats go up as far as Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, and silence a Confederate field battery already sent there by Beauregard. In charge of Confederate troops along the Mississippi, Beauregard is concentrating his units from Columbus, Kentucky, and elsewhere at Island No. 10, Fort Pillow, and Corinth, Mississippi. A.S. Johnston with the remnants of his army from Bowling Green is beginning to move from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, southeast of Nashville, across country toward Corinth. Already it is fairly clear that the next Western moves by the Federals will be down the Mississippi and Tennessee.

In addition, there is a fight at Sikeston, Missouri.

President Davis proclaims martial law in Richmond and Confederate authorities arrest Virginian John Minor Botts and other pro-Northern sympathizers accused of operating against the South.

General Johnston issues orders to General Stonewall Jackson at Winchester that he is to move southward parallel to Johnston’s planned withdrawal on the other side of the mountains. As Jackson pulls back, he is to attempt to secure the Blue Ridge passes so as to prevent General Banks from crossing the mountains and falling on Johnston’s flank. Jackson is expected to be flexible enough to keep Banks from leaving the Shenandoah Valley by any route to reinforce McClellan.
March 2, Sunday

General Beauregard had been sent to Columbus, Kentucky, to take charge of the withdrawal of the garrison there, but fell ill along the way. Stopping at Jackson, Tennessee, he set up headquarters, called General Polk to his bedside, and told him that his fortifications at Columbus must be abandoned. Now the final units of the Confederate garrison of the batteries at Columbus pull out, leaving the town and bluffs on the Mississippi to the Federals. Most of the 140 guns (two are left behind) are taken south to Island No. 10 and nearby batteries, as that place and Fort Pillow are the new Mississippi River posts. With the end of Columbus the last fragment of the Confederate Kentucky line is gone and, while not again a line, new defense points are mainly in Tennessee and northern Mississippi.

There is a light skirmish near New Madrid, Missouri, as advance units of the Federals fight Confederates.

In the far Southwest, H.H. Sibley’s Confederates, marching the hundred miles from Fort Craig north along the Rio Grande in their invasion of New Mexico Territory, forces the abandonment of Albuquerque by the Federals, seizing all the Federal stores that haven’t been burned or removed to Santa Fe.
March 3, Monday

On the Mississippi Federals under Pope begin the siege of New Madrid, Missouri. Other Federals occupy evacuate Columbus, Kentucky, to the north.

In Arkansas Van Dorn joins Price and McCulloch at Cove Creek, and the three Confederate generals prepare their attack on General Curtis’s army. Price has 7,000 men, McCulloch about 8,000, and General Pike’s Amerinds from Indian Territory will add another thousand or so. Although Van Dorn thinks that Curtis’s force is much larger, the Confederate total of 16,000 actually outnumbers the Union army, which as been reduced to about 10,500 effectives.

At Cubero, 60 miles west of Albuquerque, four Southern sympathizers call for and accept the surrender of 47 New Mexico volunteers. This provides another cache of military supplies for General Sibley’s invading Confederates. Sibley sets out for Santa Fe.

There is a skirmish at Martinsburg, western Virginia, as Federals occupy the town; Confederates evacuate Amelia Island, Florida; Cubero, New Mexico Territory, is taken by the Southerners; an action occurs at Comanche Pass, New Mexico Territory; and there are several days of Federal operations around Berryville, Arkansas.

In Richmond President Davis recalls General Lee from Charleston, South Carolina, to be a military adviser in Virginia.

In Washington President Lincoln approves a lengthy list of officers for appointment as major and brigadier generals.

General Halleck in St. Louis is authorized by Washington to place Brigadier General C.F. Smith in command of the expedition from Fort Henry up the Tennessee, after Halleck accuses Grant of not reporting properly at the time of Fort Donelson and other misconduct.
March 4, Tuesday

In Florida, Amelia Island is occupied by Federals.

For a week there will be a Federal scout through Laclede, Wright, and Douglas counties of Missouri.

General Van Dorn launches his newly named Army of the West, heading north for Bentonville, General Curtis’s most advanced position. The town is held by Brigadier General Franz Sigel and two divisions composed largely of German immigrants and sons of immigrants from St. Louis.

In command changes Grant is told to stay at Fort Henry, Tennessee, as district commander while C.F. Smith is put in charge of the Federal advance up the Tennessee River, a direct slap at Grant by General Halleck. The US Senate confirms Andrew Johnston as brigadier general and Military Governor of Tennessee. Major General John C. Pemberton assumes command of the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida in place of R.E. Lee.

President Davis is having difficulties with General J.E. Johnston over reenlistment of troops in Virginia, over furloughs, and with Confederate congressmen who want more guns for defense of the Mississippi, although the government is doing all it can to supply such guns.

Word of the Union defeat at Valverde reaches Denver and galvanizes the Colorado Volunteers. The Union garrison at Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, evacuates north to Fort Union while US Governor Connelly moves the territorial capital thirty miles east to Las Vegas.
March 5, Wednesday

Federal troops under Nathaniel Banks advance up the Shenandoah Valley from Harper’s Ferry toward Winchester, Virginia, and Jackson’s command. There is a skirmish at Bunker Hill, north of Winchester, and over near Washington another skirmish at Pohick Church.

In the West, Beauregard at Jackson, Tennessee, assumes command of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, a sprawled-out army meant to defend the Mississippi Valley. Meanwhile Albert Sidney Johnston’s forces are moving west from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, toward Corinth, Mississippi, to block the Federal move up the Tennessee. Corinth is a strategic rail junction 20 miles inland from the big bend of the Tennessee. If the rail lines crossing at Corinth fall to the Union, Memphis will be cut off from the East and Mobile will lose its communication link into the Tennessee valley. Johnston knows that Corinth is bound to be the next Union objective, so what better place for him to mass his troops and launch a devastating surprise attack? Confederate troops will stream into Corinth from every direction.

The first of a large Federal force under C.F. Smith arrives at Savannah, Tennessee, northeast of Corinth, soon to be followed by eighty troop transports and three gunboats.

In northwest Arkansas General Curtis learns of the Confederates’ approach from scouts. Notifying General Sigel to withdraw from Bentonville, Curtis orders his forces to concentrate fourteen miles north on a high bluff along the northern side of Little Sugar Creek. The position is a good one, backed by a chain of cliffs and wooded heights two and a half miles long. Called Pea Ridge, after the wild peas that grow on vines along its slopes, the heights overlook the Telegraph road, the main route from Fayetteville to Springfield. It is along this road that the Federals assume the Confederates will have to march. Curtis’s men throw up earthworks and fell trees to block the road.
March 6, Thursday

General Sigel has complied with General Curtis’s orders and sent the bulk of his two divisions to join the rest of the Union forces at Little Sugar Creek, Arkansas. But he has kept back 600 men and a battery of six guns, forming a rearguard at McKissick’s farm near Bentonville. By midmorning General Van Dorn’s forces approach from the south. Thinking he is facing the main Union army, Van Dorn attempts to encircle Sigel’s detachment. After a series of sharp skirmishes in which Missourians fight Missourians, Sigel falls back to Little Sugar Creek. Van Dorn orders his army to bivouac for the night and sits down with Price, McCulloch to plan his next step. Late that afternoon General Pike’s Amerind brigade and 200 Texan cavalry arrive.

Van Dorn is hesitant to risk a frontal assault on Curtis’s strong position, and decides on a bold alternative. McCulloch, who knows there area, has told him of a secondary road that diverges from the Telegraph road close to their campsite and takes an eight-mile route circling the western end of Pea Ridge and rejoins the Telegraph road north of Curtis’s position. By marching up it that night then turning south at the intersection, they can come down the Telegraph road in the morning to attack the Federals from the rear and cut their line of retreat. Unfortunately, Van Dorn doesn’t bother to explain his plan to the newly arrived General Pike, merely sending him a message to follow McCulloch’s division.

By that time General Price’s cavalry, in the lead, have already started moving. They ford Little Sugar Creek, ride up the Bentonville Detour—and promptly run into trouble. Earlier this day, Union soldiers felled bushes and trees to block the road. Price’s cold, tired, and hungry troopers slow to a crawl as they struggle to clear the way. A further delay develops at the creek, where the infantry can’t wade the icy, fast-running stream. Eventually a precarious bridge is fashioned and the men move across in single file. As they regroup and trudge northward, Van Dorn, who as fallen sick with chills and fever, rides past them in an ambulance accompanied by his staff.

The revolutionary new iron ship, USS Monitor, after very limited trials, leaves New York Harbor. The Monitor’s commander, Lieutenant John Worden, has been ordered to report to the squadron blockading Hampton Roads, then to proceed up the Potomac to protect Washington.

President Lincoln sends Congress a message calling for cooperation with any state that will adopt gradual abolition of slavery, and giving such state financial aid, to be used at their discretion. Lincoln has long urged and spoken for gradual, compensated emancipation as a war measure and an answer to the slavery problem, just as he has urged colonization of free Blacks in Central America and Africa.

In Richmond the Confederate Congress passes a measure stipulating that military authorities should destroy cotton, tobacco, and other property if it could not be removed before it fell into the hands of the enemy.

President Davis writes General Joseph E. Johnston in Virginia that he is aware of his problems and the possible need to retreat before McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, expected to advance at any moment.
March 7, Friday

At 10 am the weather is clear but cold after recent storms in northwest Arkansas as General Price’s Confederate division reaches the junction with the Telegraph road north of the Union army at Pea Ridge, but McCulloch’s troops still have many miles to go and Pike’s Amerinds have just crossed Little Sugar Creek. By now, General Curtis is aware of what is happening. Wheeling his troops around, he sends a brigade northward on the Telegraph road to intercept Price. At the same time, he orders Colonel Peter J. Osterhaus, one od Sigel’s division commanders, to move west past the hamlet of Leetown with a force of cavalry, infantry, and artillery and attack the Confederates still on the Bentonville Detour. The unexpected appearance of a Union brigade in Price’s front forces Van Dorn to change his plans. With the element of surprise lost due to the delays and with Price at risk of being overwhelmed, Van Dorn orders McCulloch to reverse his march, take Pike’s force with him, and attack Curtis’s western flank near Leetown. The assault would take pressure off Price and compel Curtis to fight on two fronts, as the cost of giving Curtis the opportunity to defeat in detail two Confederate forces widely separated by the rugged wall of Pea Ridge.

The order to countermarch confuses McCulloch’s men, but they carry it out. About a mile from the Bentonville Detour, Pike’s Cherokee collide with the Union force sent to intercept them. Before the Federals can attack McCulloch starts his division forward. His movement is the signal for a wild charge at a Union battery by Pike’s Amerinds—Colonel John Drew’s full-blooded Cherokee riding in the lead, wearing crossed pins as a sign of their adherence to traditional tribal customs, and behind them a dismounted regiment of Cherokee mixed bloods led by a three-quarter Cherokee colonel, Stand Watie. Ironically, until Pike’s treaty, Drew’s full-blooded Cherokee, who had bitterly opposed their relocation to Indian Territory, and Stand Watie’s mixed bloods, who had favored relocation, had been enemies. Panic-stricken, the Federals flee. The Cherokees swarm over the battery, yelping and whooping in triumph as they ride around and mount the “wagons that shoot.” This gives Osterhaus the chance to regroup his men and open fire with another battery, sending the Cherokees racing back to the woods in panic. Meanwhile on Pike’s left, McCulloch’s infantry, under Colonel Louis Hebert, and his cavalry, led by McIntosh, are slowly driving Osterhaus’s main force before them, farther and farther back. Suddenly, the tide turns when a fresh Federal division, coming in from the east to reinforce Osterhaus, hits the Confederates’ left flank by surprise. McCulloch is shot and killed instantly, McIntosh is killed soon thereafter, and Hebert and some of his officers are captured. In midafternoon, learning that he is now the senior commanding Confederate officer in the field, Pike gathers up Stand Watie’s Cherokees and his own Texans along with some of McCulloch’s battered troops and tries to set up a defensive line. But it is too late, the troops too exhausted and beaten to fight anymore stream past him on their way back to the Bentonville Detour. Reluctantly joining the withdrawal, Pike soon receives orders to take his battered troops around to Van Dorn on the Telegraph road.

Price and Van Dorn, meanwhile, have fared considerably better, driving back the brigade Curtis sent against them in the morning. As more and more of Price’s Missourians enter the Telegraph road and turn south to join the fighting, their Union opposition retreats across the hollows and ridges on both sides of the road and along the wooded slopes of Pea Ridge. Price suffers a flesh wound in the abdomen and another in his right arm, but stays in the field. The afternoon brings a lull while Van Dorn and Price prepare a fresh assault. Because of the pressure from McCulloch’s division, General Curtis has resisted sending more troops against them. But he has kept Sigel’s 2nd Division in reserve at Little Sugar Creek. Now he orders a portion of that reserve forward, and as darkness falls their guns check the Missourians’ advance.

Price’s men believe they have won a victory, but their fighting strength is sapped. Days of marching and fighting without adequate food or rest, has exhausted them physically and mentally. Long after dark they are joined by Pike’s and McCulloch’s equally weary units straggling in from the Bentonville Detour. With his men low on ammunition Van Dorn sends for his wagon train, only to discover that through some “strange and criminal mistake” an ordnance officer has ordered it withdrawn beyond Bentonville. Without replenishment of food and ammunition, the Confederates cannot mount another attack.

In northern Virginia, General Joseph E. Johnston orders that all of his troops east of the Blue Ridge Mountains—42,000 effectives—to fall back to the Rappahannock River, nearly halfway to Richmond. Only 5,400 men under Major General Thomas J. Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley are exempt from the orders; they are to remain at their positions around Winchester as a threat to the right flank of any Federal advance.

At Gosport Yard, Virginia, the call for Confederate women to contribute their flannel dresses and skirts for gunpowder bags has been enthusiastically responded to, and now the last batch of powder is brought to the ironclad CSS Virginia. The ship is ready for action.

In Missouri lesser action occurs at Fox Creek, Point Pleasant, and Bob’s Creek, with four days of operations in Saline County.

In the Gulf off New Orleans, Flag Officer Farragut sails from Ship Island to the lower delta, where the five passes from the Mississippi River splay out into the Gulf. Now Farragut will have to begin the tedious task of maneuvering ships over the bars. Since the blockade has taken effect, the channels, normally maintained by dredging, have become heavily silted through disuse. It will take weeks for the larger ships of the fleet to bull their way across the bar, steaming ahead full speed until the sand stops them, then backing off to do it again.

And down in South Carolina Federals carry out reconnaissance up the Savannah River and to Elba island.
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.
March 9, Sunday

Early in the morning, President Lincoln calls an emergency meeting of his Cabinet. “The Merrimac will change the whole character of the War,” declares Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a fierce critic of Navy Secretary Welles. “She will destroy, seriatim, every naval vessel; she will lay all the cities on the seaboard under construction.” In reply Welles confidently reads a telegram announcing that the Monitor arrived in Hampton Roads after sunset the day before. But the message doesn’t reassure Lincoln’s Cabinet. Stanton feels that “Ericsson’s folly,” armed with only two guns, has little chance against the Virginia. Gazing out the window at the Potomac, he declares, “Not unlikely, we shall have a shell or cannonball from one of her guns in the White House before we leave this room.” Afterward, he fires off telegrams to the governors of seacoast states: “MAN YOUR GUNS. BLOCK YOUR HARBORS THE MERRIMAC IS COMING.”

At dawn, just as a light fog is lifting, Lieutenant Catesby Jones takes the Virginia out of anchorage off Sewell’s Point, Virginia and heads westward across Hampton Roads to finish the previous day’s job. As the Virginia nears her objective, a bizarre little ship darts out from behind the huge Minnesota. The officers on the Virginia know at once that the strange craft is Ericsson’s Monitor, which they have long been expecting at Hampton Roads. But she is hardly intimidating. Aboard the Monitor, in the eerie glow of lanterns, each man waits at his post in profound silence—they are crewing an untried experiment, and the enemy’s first fire might make it a coffin for them all. The Virginia opens fire at precisely 8:06 am. Her first shot passes directly over the Monitor and smashes into the side of the Minnesota, which answers with a full broadside. To the men inside the Monitor, the noise is deafening. Then the Virginia reaches close range, turns sideways, and delivers a broadside. Heavy shells strike the Monitor’s turret and explode harmlessly, filling the Monitor’s crew with confidence. The Virginia will not repeat the previous day’s work.

For the next four hours the ironclads exchange blows at ranges varying from a few yards to half a mile. Like boxers, they circle and probe for weak spots, moving in and out. But at whatever range, neither can hurt the other. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Because of her shallow draft, better engines, and smaller size, the Monitor is a faster, more maneuverable, and elusive target. But Virginia has greater firepower—her ten guns can be fired and reloaded every five minutes. It takes up to eight minutes to fire, reload, and run out the Monitor’s two guns. And even when the Monitor’s guns are ready, the crew has become disoriented; they have limited visibility, and the white marks on the port and starboard sides to identify which way the turret is facing soon disappear in the grime and smoke of battle. At one point, the Virginia’s deep draft almost brings her to disaster when she hits bottom and becomes stuck in the sand. As the Monitor closes in at an angle to avoid the Virginia’s guns and pumps shot after shot into her casemate, the Confederate ship’s engineers tie down the safety valves on the engines and throw every combustible they can find into the boilers for extra power. After 15 minutes, the Virginia thrashes free and the sparring resumes. With powder running low, Lieutenant Jones decides he will have to ram the Monitor. It takes him an hour to maneuver into position, but when he finally attacks the nimble Monitor swerves, taking only a harmless glancing blow. Shortly after noon, the Virginia fires the most damaging shot of the battle when a shell explodes on the forward side of the Monitor’s pilot house. Lieutenant Worden is pressing his face against the eye slits at that moment, and is temporarily blinded in his right eye and permanently in the left, with half his face forever blackened. Though the only damage is a slight buckling of the pilot-house roof, Worden thinks the damage is far greater and orders his helmsman to sheer off then is led to his wardroom where he turns command over to his officers, though asking them to “save the Minnesota if you can.” Aboard the Virginia, Lieutenant Jones watches the Monitor’s retreat in utter frustration. His foe’s departure has given him a chance to finish off the Minnesota, but the tide is going out and his pilots tell him he can’t close on the frigate without running aground. Besides, the Virginia is leaking and her ammunition is nearly exhausted. Consoling himself with the thought that the Virginia has driven the Monitor from the field, he sets his course for home. On board the Monitor, Greene sees the Confederate ironclad steaming for home and fires off several shots, but is satisfied to let the fight end; the Monitor’s strict orders are to provide protection for the Minnesota, and she has done so.

Tactically the struggle is a draw. Neither vessel has been seriously damaged; neither has given up. Strategically, however, the edge goes to the Federals, though for weeks there will be dread that Virginia will sally forth to destroy the fleet or even appear off Washington or New York. But her poor engines and heavy draft imprisons her in Hampton Roads. In Washington news of the battle brings a sigh of relief at the White House, and in Richmond a stronger realization that the time has come when Norfolk and the eastern end of the Peninsula, perhaps even Richmond, can be seriously threatened from the James. Both nations fear the new machines of war they don’t understand. Monitor’s chief engineer, Alban Stimers, writes his father correctly that the fight “was the first of its kind that ever occurred in history.”

The second guessing also begins at once. What if the Virginia had concentrated her fire on the Monitor’s pilot house from the beginning? What if her prow had been intact when she rammed the Monitor? Word leaks out that the Navy Department had cautiously ordered the Monitor to reduce her powder charges from the specified 30 pounds to 15 pounds out of fear that her big guns would burst. Ericsson is outraged. He asserts bitterly: “If they had kept off at a distance of 200 yards and held her guns exactly level, the 30-pound charges would have gone clear through.” Later experimentation will prove him correct.

The last of General Joseph Johnston’s Confederate troops have evacuated their entrenchments at Manassas. Most of the heavy fortress guns along the Confederate front are left behind, some spiked but many still in working order. Rearguard cavalry stays on to put the torch to rail cars, storehouses, and the million pounds of meat remaining at Thoroughfare Gap after local farmers have carted off everything they can. The smell of burning bacon allegedly provides Federal scouts with one of the first signs of the Confederate retreat. Until this evening, McClellan—contrary to Johnston’s fears—had no idea that the Confederate army is rapidly evacuating northern Virginia.

McClellan learns of Johnston’s retreat while conferring with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton, and hurries across the Potomac to prepare his army for the pursuit of the withdrawing Confederates. He recognizes the irony of chasing an army that he had considered too strong to attack all winter. But he has no choice, there is still the possibility of catching the Confederate rear guard.

McClellan is actually better informed than President Davis, who is still so ignorant of Johnston’s plans that the next day he will telegraph the general, promising him reinforcements for Manassas and even suggesting an offensive to be launched from there as soon as the roads dry. Johnston won’t receive the wire, of course. He’s en route to the Rappahannock where, on March 13 he will finally get around to informing Davis that his army is establishing a new line of defense.

Near Winchester, Virginia, General Banks’ army is among those McClellan has ordered to advance, which he does—also slowly. Banks is apparently much impressed by what appears from a distance to be formidable fortifications on the hills north of Winchester.

Other things happen this day: skirmishing near Nashville on the Granny White Pike; at Big Creek and Mountain Grove, Missouri; and at Sangster’s Station, Virginia. Federal troops of Grant’s army, led by C.F. Smith, for several days probes toward Purdy, Tennessee, in operations from Crump’s Landing to Savannah on the Tennessee.

In New Orleans two precious Confederate powder mills blow up, with five killed.
In many ways, the American Civil War was the birth of modern industrial warfare, just as the American Revolution had been the birth of modern democratic politics. And like any birth, it was accompanied by blood and terrible pain. The birth pangs of modernity.
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