This Week in the Civil War

July 8, 2011 - 9:14 AM

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 10: Views on Independence.

As the Union calls up more troops, the 11-state Confederacy is also marshaling its soldiers for war. From farms and cities throughout the South, more units are organizing for the fight, the names of the officers and numbers of rank-and-file troops listed in newspaper accounts of the era. Some of the men are so young, teenagers still, that they must ask their fathers' permission to fight. The Southern Recorder of Milledgeville, Ga., editorialized on July 9, 1861, about what the recently concluded Independence Day meant for many in the South: "Hitherto, when strangers visited Philadelphia their first inclination, and, as they esteemed it, their first duty was to see Independence Hall ... The Day, however, which has been thus consecrated in the annuals of Liberty, does not attach as the exclusive property of the North, like Independence Hall in which the Congress of 1776 framed and signed the immortal Declaration. The people of the Southern Confederacy freely give up the Hall, and wish that the North may carefully preserve it as a hallowed memento of a common struggle and a common triumph; but the principles of the Declaration the South will forever cherish, as they are taught by it that Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed."

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 17: First Battle of Bull Run.

The Confederate shelling of federal-held Fort Sumter in April 1861 launched the start of the Civil War. The First Battle of Bull Run — also known as the First Battle of Manassas — marked the start of the conflict in earnest. Under pressure to crush the secessionists, Union forces on July 21 initially attacked a mass of Confederate troops arrayed amid woods and farmfields of Bull Run, in northern Virginia. The battle raged for hours. Union forces briefly drove Confederate foes back, but the Confederates got reinforcements. A contingent led by Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson stood its ground at a farmhouse hilltop, earning him his nickname. The Confederates counterattacked with cavalry charging, starting a headlong federal retreat. Amid gunfire and chaos, panicked Union soldiers retreated in disarray to Washington. The Confederacy had scored its first major victory. The Charleston (S.C.) Mercury's correspondent reported of Confederate forces: "Men never fought more desperately than did ours to-day." He added: "A great battle has been fought to-day at the Stone Bridge, on Bull Run ... The Southern troops are again victorious. The slaughter on both sides was terrific." The correspondent described "raking fire" and an enemy that gave way toward sundown, adding: "At dark they were still flying, closely pursued by our troops." The Boston Herald reported July 24 that Union forces would now reorganize: "Dispatches of this morning to the Associated Press tell us that the services of 60,000 soldiers, previous offered the government but refused, have now been accepted, and that a complete reorganization of the army is to be made."

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 24: First Bull Run's fallout.

The Confederate victory in northern Virginia triggered the somber realization on both sides that war could possibly drag on far longer and be far more bloody than imagined. Shock fell on the North at the federal defeat. At the time, it was the largest and bloodiest battle of the young conflict. An Associated Press account from Washington said the rout of federal forces "excited the deepest melancholy through Washington. The carnage was tremendously heavy on both sides." The AP's correspondent wrote of the battle that Union troops were driving toward Manassas Junction, Va., when a Confederate countercharge commenced, driving federal forces back in full-scale retreat to Washington. "The panic was so fearful that the whole Army became demoralized," it added. The AP also reported "the most intense excitement" in Washington followed combat as the wounded and dead streamed back aboard wagons and some even briefly feared that the Confederates might even attack Washington. "The greatest alarm exists throughout the city, especially among the female portion of the population," the AP dispatch said. Immediately there came a shakeup of the Union military command. On July 25, President Abraham Lincoln and his administration named Gen. George B. McClellan, at the helm of the Union armies after another commander was largely blamed for the federal defeat at Bull Run.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 31: The Confiscation Act.

Military preparations deepen as the nation girds at the first hints of a long, brutal conflict. Washington is abuzz with troop movements while the Confederate states also are organizing and calling up more forces for the inevitable fighting to follow. In Tennessee, Gov. Isham G. Harris advises the Confederate War Department in an Aug. 1 missive that he has formally transferred Tennessee forces over to the Confederacy. "The transfer is now being made as rapidly as Confederate officers can verify our rolls by the inspection of our regiments, and I hope will be completed within a few days," Harris advises Richmond, seat of the Confederacy. He proposes Nashville for a major Confederate army supply depot. Meanwhile, each side is eyeing each others' military strengths warily. New technologies emerge in the first summer of wartime as federal forces make several initial attempts in July, including at First Bull Run, to send up manned observation balloons to spy out rebel troop movements. For decades, balloons had been used generally for sport but are now seen by the commanders as a way to glean valuable intelligence about one's foe. Reports indicate a balloonist on the Union side completed the first successful ascent in late July in Arlington, Va., just outside the nation's capital, and spied out Confederate artillery emplacements and rebel scouting parties in northern Virginia beyond Washington's Union defenses. Despite some spectacular crashes, more reconnaissance balloons would be sent aloft in the first weeks of August and the technology would be deployed particularly in the first two years of war.