This Week in the Civil War
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Oct. 21: McClellan's last days in Union command.
Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan is in his last days as commander of federal fighting forces. President Abraham Lincoln has testily written McClellan of late, exhorting him to drive after the Confederate army retreating after the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. In a letter dated Oct. 13, 1862, Lincoln reminds his top general that he should not shrink from pursuing and vanquishing the rival. "You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing?" Lincoln writes. Although Lincoln says in the letter that his suggestions of aggressively pursuing the enemy by no means constitute an explicit order, he nonetheless exhorts McClellan to move toward Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, and cut off secessionist forces returning to Virginia under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Of the foe, Lincoln says: "I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond." McClellan, who had taken command early in the war amid great promise and then drilled, trained and equipped the Union war machine, has long been chided for failing to fight aggressively. Now, McClellan will ignore the latest call by Lincoln to pounce on the enemy — only to be sacked by Lincoln in early November. The Associated Press reports this week that the stringing of the telegraph across the land is revolutionizing the delivery of news of war and other affairs. AP reports on how California telegraph operators can now communicate directly with Chicago and other points — to the point that one operator in California told his Chicago counterpart while transmitting news: "Hold on 'till I light my pipe."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Oct. 28: African-American troops in action for the Union for first time.
African-American troops engaged in combat as an organized fighting force for the first time this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment repelled a Confederate unit while skirmishing with the rebels at Island Mound in Missouri on Oct. 29, 1862. It was among the first of the black regiments to be organized. Yet in a few months' time, numerous African-American regiments would be armed and poised to fight for the Union. Thousands would eventually join the Union ranks from both the population of free blacks and escaped slaves. One of the most famous fights by African-American troops would still be months ahead in July 1863 at Fort Wagner, S.C. Formally mustered into the federal army in 1863, the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment would win praise as a disciplined and first-rate infantry unit. Authorities say that regiment saw five officers and 173 enlisted soldiers killed in action during its involvement in the war. Another 165 enlisted soldiers and officers died from diseases contracted during the conflict. Elsewhere, The Associated Press reports on Oct. 29, 1862, that a fire that began in a train loaded with bales of hay threatened to burn the large train trestle bridge at Harper's Ferry, connecting western Virginia with Maryland. AP reported: "Some teamsters were cooking their dinner under the trestle work ... where immense quantities of hay were being unloaded from the cars" when the fire erupted. In the end, the burning trainload of hay was pulled off the bridge and the bridge was saved, despite damage to the trestle.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Nov. 4: McClellan sacked from command of Union's Army of the Potomac.
President Abraham Lincoln removes Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan from his command of the leading Union army 150 years ago this week in the Civil War. Long vexed by McClellan's cautious steps in waging war on the Confederacy, Lincoln replaces McClellan with Ambrose Burnside. The move comes after renewed criticism of McClellan as Lincoln, and the Union, anxiously seeks a commander able to aggressively battle and defeat the foe. McClellan had failed during his major offensive in the summer of 1862 to capture Richmond, seat of the Confederacy, with a force of more than 100,000 troops — the so-called Peninsula Campaign. Now McClellan's recent refusal to chase Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's outnumbered and battered army back into Virginia after the September 1862 Battle of Antietam, Md., is one of the final straws in eroding Lincoln's support of McClellan. But it will still be some time yet before Lincoln discovers a general who fights and wins — in the form of Ulysses S. Grant. Although McClellan is deposed on Nov. 7, 1862, much of the country is informed days later when The Associated Press reports the shakeup in a dispatch to leading newspapers. The AP dispatch dated Nov. 10, 1862, notes McClellan has been abruptly relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac. The ouster of McClellan "was entirely unexpected to all, and therefore everyone was taken by surprise," AP added. The dispatch noted that ranking government officials gave no immediate reason publicly for the step, which, "though sudden to the public ... may possibly have been for some time contemplated by the Executive."
This Week in The Civil war, for week of Sunday, Nov. 11: Skirmishing in Mississippi.
This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, Union cavalry skirmish with Confederate fighters near Holly Springs, Miss., vying for control of the town. Though not a significant fight itself, the daylong skirmishing comes amid the larger Union quest by Ulysses S. Grant to crush Confederate forces and gain control of key Southern rail supply lines and the lower Mississippi River. Grant's intent was to gain full control of the lower Mississippi and thereby split the South in two while taking away the river as a key commercial corridor for the Confederacy. But the bigger fight for the lower Mississippi River would come months later in the spring of 1863 with a focus on Vicksburg, Miss. At that time, Grant's armies would besiege Vicksburg, trapping Confederate troops with civilians there and forcing its surrender by July 1863 — a military triumph that would help catapult Grant to a position as commander of the Union armies. This week, news reports tell of soldiers in the downtime between large-scale fighting getting into trouble in Tennessee. A news dispatch dated Nov. 16, 1862, reports five murders in Nashville, Tenn., adding "two of the homicides were of saloon keepers, who refused to sell liquor to soldiers." It also said two soldiers were among those killed.