The American Civil War, day by day - Page 58 - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#15153030
January 27, Tuesday

Since General Benham’s fiasco last June, the US Navy has been busy working up its own plans for taking Charleston, South Carolina. The ability of the Monitor to withstand punishment in her duel with the more heavily armed Virginia at Hampton Roads last March convinced Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells and his assistant, Gustavus Fox, that the revolutionary little ironclad is just the weapon to bring Charleston to her knees. Lobbying before a Congressional committee for an entire fleet of such ships, Fox rashly asserted that the Monitor is impregnable, and could steam into Charleston Harbor all by herself. It would be a simple matter, Fox contended, for a flotilla of monitors to compel a quick surrender. He was determined that the Navy should have the glory of capturing Charleston, and the sooner the better. As Fox put it, he has two responsibilities: “First to beat our Southern friends; second to beat the Army.” In Fox’s plan for the Charleston operation, the Army will play only a secondary role: Ten thousand soldiers would be landed on the undefended shores of Folly Island, south of the city, and stand by to occupy Charleston once it has been battered into submission by the Navy’s guns. It would be another New Orleans. But unlike New Orleans, which had been defended by two strongpoints downriver, Charleston Harbor is, in the words of a US Navy officer, “a cul-de-sac, a circle of fire” comparable to “a porcupine’s quills turned outside in.” the imposing ring of forts that protect it will have to be silenced; otherwise, they will pound the fleet as it sails through the harbor.

The Federal officer who is to lead the ironclad flotilla against Charleston is Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont, a hale and handsome aristocrat nearing his sixtieth year. As commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and hero of the attack on the Port Royal forts, Du Pont possesses impressive credentials. As an old school Navy man who has spent his professional career commanding wooden warships, however, he is mistrustful of the newfangled machines he is to lead into Charleston Harbor. He worries about their maneuverability, their seaworthiness, and their offensive capabilities against strong coastal defenses. Each monitor mounts two guns, a 15-incher and an 11-inch Dahlgren, both in a heavily armored rotating turret. These guns are bigger than any that General Beauregard can bring to bear against them, but under the best of circumstances they can be fired only once every five minutes. (As one wag put it, a man could smoke a cigar between firings.) The monitors are nearly immune to sinking by shore fire, but their delicate machinery is easily damaged. Cannonballs striking their turrets can jam the gun-rotating mechanisms and porthole shutters, leaving the vessels crippled as fighting machines.

By now Du Pont has received the first monitors. To test their firepower and vulnerability, he dispatches a naval force led by the monitor USS Montauk, against Fort McAllister, a huge earthwork on the Ogeechee River south of Savannah, Georgia. After several hours’ bombardment, the squadron inflicts virtually no damage and withdraws.

There are affairs at Bloomfield, Missouri; near Germantown, Tennessee; a Federal reconnaissance on the Neuse, Dover, and Trent roads, North Carolina; and a skirmish at Deserted House near Suffolk, Virginia.

The proprietor of the Philadelphia Journal, A.D. Boileau, is arrested and taken to Washington for printing anti-Northern material.

President Davis compliments Governor Brown of Georgia for cutting back cotton cultivation and urging produce cultivation, adding, “The possibility of a short supply of provisions presents the greatest danger to a successful prosecution of the war.”
#15153163
January 28, Wednesday

President Davis writes Major General T.H. Holmes in the Trans-Mississippi that “The loss of either of the two positions,—Vicksburg and Port Hudson—would destroy communications with the Trans-Mississippi Department and inflict upon the Confederacy an injury which I am sure you have not failed to appreciate.”

There are skirmishes at Indian Village, Louisiana; Nashville, Yorkville, and Collierville, Tennessee; and a Federal scout from La Grange, Tennessee, toward Ripley, Mississippi.

In St. Louis a mass meeting ratifies the Emancipation Proclamation.

Still another heavy snowstorm hits Virginia and the armies on the Rappahannock.
#15153353
January 29, Thursday

Federal troops defeat the Bannock tribe of Amerinds in an engagement at Bear River or Battle Creeks in Utah Territory. There is skirmishing near Richmond, Louisiana; a Confederate expedition to Daufuskie Island, South Carolina; and Federal ships again bombard the defenses of Galveston.

The Confederate Congress authorizes the borrowing of $15,000,000 through the French financier Émile Erlanger.

President Davis, still apprehensive over Vicksburg, wires Pemberton, “Has anything or can anything be done to obstruct the navigation from Yazoo Pass down?”
#15153359
President Davis, still apprehensive over Vicksburg, wires Pemberton, “Has anything or can anything be done to obstruct the navigation from Yazoo Pass down?”

Davis could see what was coming, but, even after the Confederacy's good showing against the Union recently, he was still powerless to prevent it....

The South basically lacked the resources or the manpower to fight a protracted defensive war, and they should have known it. Johnston's strategy would surely have been the correct one - try to crush the Union armies in the field to bring Washington to terms, rather than try to defend positions which were, in the long term, indefensible.
#15153378
@Potemkin, actually, when it comes to Vicksburg, the Confederacy can do quite a lot, as we're going to be seeing in the next few months as Grant struggles to get into a position where he can place the city under siege. He isn't helped by the political situation.
#15153418
Doug64 wrote:@Potemkin, actually, when it comes to Vicksburg, the Confederacy can do quite a lot, as we're going to be seeing in the next few months as Grant struggles to get into a position where he can place the city under siege. He isn't helped by the political situation.

Good point, but the fact remains that once the Union made a serious effort, Vicksburg was going to fall. And the worst strategy for the South was to go on the defensive. Ultimately, given the disparity in productive strength between the North and the South, there could be only one outcome of that strategy.
#15153471
@Potemkin, getting to the point that the North can lay siege to Vicksburg isn’t as sure a thing as you’d think, in the end Grant is going to take a huge risk to pull it off. What’s stupid is to allow an army to be trapped in the city when it becomes clear that a siege is going to happen.

Beyond that, the South’s defensive strategy is pretty much mandated by their circumstances—every time they go on the offensive, it is at serious risk. But what they need above all is victories, big and splashy enough to convince the Northern voters that they can’t win, or at least that victory isn’t worth the price. And along with the problems of Southern leadership in the West, they’ve had some bad luck. There’s been some battles already that were right on a knife’s edge, and then there was the whole Lost Orders that led to Antietam. What the Civil War comes down to, in the end, is the morale of the Northern populace.
#15153480
Doug64 wrote:@Potemkin, getting to the point that the North can lay siege to Vicksburg isn’t as sure a thing as you’d think, in the end Grant is going to take a huge risk to pull it off. What’s stupid is to allow an army to be trapped in the city when it becomes clear that a siege is going to happen.

Good point. It's easy to be wise after the event. And Grant's military skill and obstinate determination to take Vicksburg was a wild card.

Beyond that, the South’s defensive strategy is pretty much mandated by their circumstances—every time they go on the offensive, it is at serious risk. But what they need above all is victories, big and splashy enough to convince the Northern voters that they can’t win, or at least that victory isn’t worth the price. And along with the problems of Southern leadership in the West, they’ve had some bad luck. There’s been some battles already that were right on a knife’s edge, and then there was the whole Lost Orders that led to Antietam. What the Civil War comes down to, in the end, is the morale of the Northern populace.

All of which just goes to show that the Civil War was a mistake from the beginning - winning it, or at least bringing the Union to accept Secession as a fact, was always going to be a long shot for the South. And the cost of failure would be astronomically high....
#15153487
Potemkin wrote:All of which just goes to show that the Civil War was a mistake from the beginning - winning it, or at least bringing the Union to accept Secession as a fact, was always going to be a long shot for the South. And the cost of failure would be astronomically high....

It didn’t look like it in the beginning, the South badly underestimated the North’s determination to maintain the Union. For that matter, the North didn’t really expect the South to secede just because of a lost election. And even after secession, Lincoln believed there was much more sympathy for the Union among the Southern populace than there actually was (outside of a few places like east Tennessee and what became West Virginia). Each section completely misread the other, they simply didn’t understand each other at all.
#15153489
Doug64 wrote:It didn’t look like it in the beginning, the South badly underestimated the North’s determination to maintain the Union. For that matter, the North didn’t really expect the South to secede just because of a lost election. And even after secession, Lincoln believed there was much more sympathy for the Union among the Southern populace than there actually was (outside of a few places like east Tennessee and what became West Virginia). Each section completely misread the other, they simply didn’t understand each other at all.

I think we have always failed to understand just what a tremendous achievement it was for the Founding Fathers to forge a nation out of the Thirteen Colonies. It was nothing short of a miracle.
#15153528
Potemkin wrote:I think we have always failed to understand just what a tremendous achievement it was for the Founding Fathers to forge a nation out of the Thirteen Colonies. It was nothing short of a miracle.

The book about the Constitutional Convention that was titled The Miracle at Philadelphia was well named. I remember what Benjamin Franklin said to John Adams in the movie “1776,” after the Southern delegates walked out over the slavery clause in the Declaration of Independence: “These aren’t ribbon clerks to be ordered about. They are proud, accomplished men, the cream of their colonies, and like it or not, they will be a part of this new nation you hope to create. Either learn to live with them, or give up and go home!” And for over three generations, that was what we managed to do—but towards the end only just, because the same Declaration of Independence that created that new nation also transformed slavery into a Major Problem.
#15153634
January 30, Friday

General Grant travels downriver to Young’s Point, Louisiana—just below Milliken’s Bend—where Generals McClernand and Sherman have established their headquarters, and assumes direct command of the army in the field. Grant’s troops, excepting one corps which remains at Memphis, will soon follow down the Mississippi to the base at Milliken’s Bend. The troublesome McClernand is now firmly in hand—at least for the time being.

Farragut has failed against Vicksburg, Sherman has failed, and now it is Grant’s turn. During the next few months, he will launch no fewer than four amphibious operations aimed at capturing Vicksburg or bypassing it entirely. All are highly unconventional; although he is in a profession that worships precedent, Grant is always willing to try something new. He will refer to the four attacks as “experiments,” yet he will clearly hope that at least one of them will succeed. These operations are conducted more or less concurrently at a time when Grants army might be expected to go into winter quarters to wait out the bad weather and terrible road conditions of the season. But Grant apparently thinks it better to keep his men active, even on somewhat dubious projects, then to relegate them to months of idleness, with the attendant problems of disease and low morale.

The first attempt will simply be a return to the canal begun by Brigadier General Thomas Williams last June, during Farragut’s second Vicksburg expedition. The purpose of the canal is to cut across the mile-wide peninsula formed by the horseshoe bend of the Mississippi at Vicksburg and thus bypass the port’s defenses. Williams’ troops dug the canal to an average depth of thirteen feet and an average width of eighteen feet before the project was abandoned. Grant is truly dubious about the canal, but the resumption of work on it is dictated by the interest of President Lincoln, a man with as strong a predilection for the unconventional as Grant himself. To be useful, the canal has to accommodate vessels with beams as broad as sixty feet and drafts as deep as nine feet. General Sherman is given the inglorious assignment of enlarging it.

General Grant himself sees another possibility. On the western side of the Mississippi about forty miles north of Vicksburg lies a body of water known as Lake Providence. At one time it was a bend of the Mississippi, but the river changed course and now it lies a mile inland. However, the lake can be connected again—and Grant estimates that the project could involve less than a quarter of the effort required by the canal project President Lincoln is interested in. Once in Lake Providence, Union vessels might be able to pick their way down a chain of southward-flowing waterways to the Red River, which in turn will lead them back to the Mississippi below Vicksburg. Grant estimates the distance from entry to exit at something more than 470 miles, and at the far end the traveler will be 250 river miles south of Vicksburg. The success of this operation might also bring the Federals closer to eliminating another Confederate river stronghold, the little Louisiana town of Port Hudson. This bluff-top town is situated about fifty miles south of the exit to Grant’s projected waterway, and just north of Baton Rouge, dominating the Mississippi at that point just as Vicksburg does to the north. It is well fortified thanks to General Breckinridge, who retreated there after his defeat at Baton Rouge, and both strongholds will have to be conquered before the Union can open up the river. When Major General Banks was placed in command of Federal forces at New Orleans last November he was instructed to cooperate with Grant in clearing the Mississippi. So far Grant has focused on Vicksburg while Banks has focused on Port Hudson. The long journey from Lake Providence to the Red River will be worthwhile, Grant thinks, if their two forces can then join in attacking the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson and then move together on Vicksburg. General McPherson, one of Grant’s corps commanders and a man with a wealth of engineering experience, is given the assignment of opening the intervening waterways.

While Confederate General Beauregard’s assigned command in September covered South Carolina and Georgia (expanded to include middle and east Florida in October), he has not been idle in Charleston itself. When he arrived, Charlestonians were exultant; Beauregard is one of their heroes for his role in the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, and—of more immediate importance—he is one of the South’s leading military engineers. Spurred by reports in the Northern press of an imminent attack on the city, he has worked around the clock to add to the work done by his predecessor. At Fort Sumter, in the center of the harbor, and at Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island to the north, he has mounted powerful new guns. On Morris Island, at the harbor entrance, he has doubled the defenses: a strongpoint called Battery Gregg sits on the island’s tip; to the south, about a quarter of the way down the island, he has expanded another battery into an enclosed fortification that comes to be known as Fort Wagner. And at numerous other batteries around the harbor—on James Island, at Castle Pinkney, on the waterfront in Charleston itself—Beauregard has made improvements. He has also placed buoys at measured distances from the forts to establish accurate firing ranges. And he has salted the harbor with mines, submerged obstructions and floating webs of rope to snarl propellers. To man his defenses, he can call upon thousands of troops.

Beauregard is not content with making defensive preparations. He wants to strike a blow at the Federal flotilla before the threatened arrival of the North’s new ironclads. Today concealed batteries on the banks of the Stono River trap the Federal gunboat Isaac Smith and force her surrender. Renamed the Stono, the vessel joins the small Confederate defense fleet.

There is an engagement at Deserted House or Kelly’s Store, near Suffolk, Virginia, in which Confederates withdraw. A skirmish also occurs at Turner’s Mills, Virginia.
#15153802
January 31, Saturday

Confederate gunboats Chicora and Palmetto State move out of Charleston Harbor, obscured in haze, and raid the Federal blockaders. Mercedita is so severely damaged by ramming and shellfire that she surrenders, but later is able to get underway and escape. Keystone State is set afire, her boilers struck with ten or more shells. Other vessels are less seriously damaged. As usual, scalding steam causes most of the casualties, with four killed and three wounded on Mercedita and twenty killed and twenty wounded on Keystone State. The Confederate ironclads withdraw unhurt. Beauregard seizes the opportunity to declare the blockade broken, and the Confederacy so declares to foreign powers. This boast is rightly dismissed in the North—the blockade is not really broken, despite the temporary interruption.

There is an affair on Bull Island, South Carolina, January 31 to February 13. A Federal expedition from Murfreesboro to Franklin include skirmishing at Unionville, Middleton, and Dover, Tennessee.

In Morgan County, Indiana, the arrest of alleged deserters is resisted and Federal cavalry sent out. After brief shooting, the civilian rioters are dispersed or captured, and the deserters taken into custody.
#15153975
February 1863

Thus far it has been a busy winter on the military fronts, but the heavy storms of late January and the usual reluctance to mount major offensives in winter means a quiet time. There are the usual skirmishes, reconnaissances, the blockade, and similar actions; but the big battles will wait for spring. Nevertheless, the threats present at the first of the year are still apparent to the Confederacy—on the Mississippi at Vicksburg, in Tennessee below Murfreesboro, on the coastline, and of course in Virginia. A new commander for the North, Hooker, is shaping the Army of the Potomac to his taste across from Fredericksburg, while Lee tries to strengthen his Army of Northern Virginia and gather its energy for events to come.

February 1, Sunday

Federal naval forces led by the monitor Montauk make their second attack on Fort McAllister south of Savannah, Georgia, and again are unsuccessful.

Federals occupy Franklin, Tennessee, during a reconnaissance. February 1-10 there is another Federal expedition from New Berne to Plymouth, North Carolina.
#15154097
February 2, Monday

Even as General Grant’s Federal army works on President Lincoln’s dream of a canal across the horseshoe bend Vicksburg occupies as well as the channel to Lake Providence and the bayous to its south on the west side of the Mississippi, there is another possibility, another network of waterways leading directly to Vicksburg that is proving somewhat more promising. For many years before the war, much of the river traffic coming down the Mississippi turned off 350 miles north of Vicksburg, into a waterway called the Yazoo Pass, and proceeded through various deepwater streams to trade at ports on the upper Yazoo River, about 80 miles east of the Mississippi. New Orleans-bound boats have only to follow the Yazoo south to regain the Mississippi just above Vicksburg. If Federal forces can descend the Yazoo and land north of Haynes’ Bluff, Grant realizes, they will be able to bypass the formidable Confederate river defenses there and attack Vicksburg from the east.

The problem is how to get into the Yazoo Pass. In the mid-1850s, the state of Mississippi constructed a levee 100 feet thick and 18 feet high across the entrance to the pass. Mississippians thus lost a useful waterway, but they gained much-needed protection from frequent floods. That levee will have to be cut in order to give Federal forces access to the old watercourse. They can then move swiftly to the Yazoo River. The proposed route is scouted and pronounced entirely feasible. The Confederates under General Pemberton are expected to put up little resistance, and Grant himself predicts that the attempt to move on Vicksburg through the Yazoo Pass will be “a perfect success.” Today an explosion is set off under the levee to let the Mississippi into the pass. It is a spectacular sight: The difference in water levels is nine feet, and the flood-swollen Mississippi pours through in a solid wall. The rushing waters quickly carve an opening 200 feet wide in the levee.

As General Grant’s bayou experiments are proceeding apace, Admiral Porter attempts a strike of his own against the Confederates. Vicksburg is still receiving substantial supplies from the west via the Red River, whose entrance to the Mississippi north of Port Hudson lies in that 250-mile stretch still controlled by the Confederates. Under orders from Porter to put a stop to the Red River commerce, the youthful Colonel Charles Rivers Ellet heads south past the Vicksburg batteries in The Queen of the West, the ram his father commanded. On the way past the Vicksburg docks, Ellet spots the steamer City of Vicksburg moored there, and braves the batteries to ram her and set her afire with flaming balls of turpentine-soaked cotton. The Queen of the West sustains some damage, but not enough to prevent Ellet from proceeding down the Mississippi.

Federals destroy some salt works at Wale’s Head, Currituck Beach, North Carolina. There are scouts and skirmishes at Vine Prairie on White Oak River and near the mouth of Mulberry River, Arkansas, and in and about Mingo Swamp, Missouri. In Virginia Federals explore the Rappahannock River fords and engage in a skirmish at Rappahannock Station. February 2-5 there is a Federal reconnaissance near Saulsbury, Tennessee.
#15154337
February 3, Tuesday

The Queen of the West heads up the Red River and wreaks havoc on Confederate shipping. Colonel Ellet captures three steamers, a number of army officers and several ladies, and vast quantities of supplies—pork, hogs, molasses, sugar, flour, and cotton. Whatever cannot be carried away is destroyed.

A Confederate attack by Forrest’s men on Fort Donelson in Tennessee is repulsed by the Federal garrison and gunboats.

In Tennessee also there is a skirmish at the Cumberland Iron Works, and February 3-5 an expedition from Murfreesboro to Auburn, Liberty, and Alexandria, by the North.

In Washington the French minister, M. Mercier, talks with Secretary of State Seward, offering mediation of the war, but the suggestion is turned down.
#15154407
In Washington the French minister, M. Mercier, talks with Secretary of State Seward, offering mediation of the war, but the suggestion is turned down.

Quite right too. At this stage of the Civil War, any 'mediation' would inevitably involve the de facto recognition of the South's independence. This would mean victory for the South and defeat for the North. The war had to continue.
#15154415
@Potemkin, that pretty much sums it up. So long as the central issue is the Confederacy’s existence, there isn’t much point to negotiating. Which, of course, is why the South had pinned its early hopes on King Cotton pushing the European nations (primarily Britain and France) to impose a negotiated settlement, and why the Emancipation Proclamation was so significant, and the Confederacy’s high water mark was arguably the summer of 1862.
#15154611
February 4, Wednesday

The Queen of the West claims two more river boats and their cargo on the Red River. Then Colonel Ellet moves on with his little fleet to attack the Confederate fortifications at Gordon’s Point, about 85 miles up the river.

Federal troops drive Marmaduke’s men out of Batesville, Arkansas; and there is a skirmish near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Major General John Sedgwick succeeds W.F. Smith in command of the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac.

President Davis writes General Lee of the worry of authorities over the Federal threats on the South Carolina and Georgia coasts.
#15154829
February 5, Thursday

Queen Victoria’s address to the British Parliament states that Britain has abstained from attempting to “induce a cessation of the conflict between the contending parties in the North American States, because it has not yet seemed to Her Majesty that any such overtures could be attended with a probability of success.”

In Virginia Hooker eliminates Burnside’s grand divisions of the Army of the Potomac and corps commands are given to J.F. Reynolds, Darius N. Couch, Daniel E. Sickles, George G. Meade, John Sedgwick, William F. Smith, Franz Sigel, and H.W. Slocum. George Stoneman is assigned to command the cavalry.

Operations at Rappahannock Bridge and Grove Church, Virginia, continue for three days. There is also a skirmish near Olive Branch Church, Virginia; a four-day Union scout from Camp Piatt into Wyoming County, West Virginia; a skirmish in Pope County, Arkansas; and another on Bear Creek, Johnson County, Missouri. February 5-12 Federal scouts operate from Fayetteville to Arkansas River, with skirmishes at Threlkeld’s Ferry and near Van Buren, Arkansas.
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