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MILITARY

This Week in the Civil War

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This Week in the Civil War for week of Jan. 15, 1862: USS Hatteras Pounds Cedar Key, Fla.

The Union Navy, intent on further tightening the blockade on the South and seizing Confederate outposts all along its coast, dispatches the USS Hatteras to Cedar Key, Fla., this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. The warship destroys seven small ships suspected of blockade running that are loaded with cotton and other goods at this key supply point along Florida's Gulf coast. Dispatches of the era report heavy firing is heard for miles all around as the raid opens. Troops go ashore and destroy the railroad depot, which is at the western terminus of the Florida Railroad. They also damage the telegraph office and other buildings. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports afterward that Union forces rejoiced in the latest U.S. Naval victory. "It is gratifying to learn through a rebel source that we have captured Cedar Keys," the newspaper says in an extensive report on the ramifications. The newspaper account notes the Gulf Coast produces excellent cedar and other hardwoods for shipbuilding and that the raid has shut off a key supply source for Confederate shipbuilders. It notes Union Navy forces that also went to Key West and earlier seized Fort Pickens on the Florida Gulf Coast have had a string of startling successes in blocking Confederate supply routes to Florida through the Gulf of Mexico. With those areas under Union control, the paper boasts, "there is not much left of the state of Florida worth having." The USS Hatteras would go on to sink several suspected blockade runners in the Gulf before being sunk itself by a Confederate attack off the Texas coast later in the war.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 22: Confederate Beauregard Moved. Hatteras Storm.

Confederate Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard, who forced the Union surrender at Fort Sumter in 1861 that started the war, is reassigned this week and sent west to Tennessee. The general who also helped lead the Confederacy to victory at the First Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run, was one of the Confederacy's first war heroes. But he had begun to quarrel with Confederate President Jefferson Davis and others and was sent west partly because of that. He would now be the second in command under Albert Sidney Johnston in the Confederacy's Army of the Mississippi. Beauregard and Johnston sought to better fortify Confederate defenses along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers vulnerable to Union attack. But Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant would eventually take key forts along those rivers in the coming year, isolating the Confederacy from the West. Grant's early triumph at the Battle of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River in February 1862 would mark the first significant victory both for the Union and for Grant, who would later rise to the top military command and ultimately win the war. Elsewhere, Union Navy warships off Hatteras Inlet, N.C., weathered a severe storm this week in 1862. The Associated Press reports some boats in the fleet of more than 100 ships and vessels were swamped and three lives were lost as Union forces wait for better weather to attack Confederate outposts nearby. "Heavy wind and a rough sea caused our vessels to labor very heavily, and some were obliged to cut loose from the vessels they were towing," the AP dispatch quoted a Union source as stating, adding two Confederate vessels eyeing the fleet were chased off.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 29: Lincoln's Special War Order No. 1.

On Jan. 30, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issues Special War Order No. 1 seeking to prod federal forces into waging all-out war against secession-minded states. Impatient for an all-out offensive, Lincoln's order is essentially directed at the Army of the Potomac and its commander, Gen. George McClellan, whose forces are ordered to open offensive operations by Feb. 22, 1862, with the immediate object of "seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad" in nearby Virginia. The order, which backs up General War Order No. 1 issued months earlier, underscores the president's growing insistence that federal forces begin a general advance on the Confederacy. The president's order also underscores growing political pressure on Lincoln for a large-scale offensive. Nevertheless, a reluctant McClellan, who has capably organized his army into a fighting force, seeks more time to further equip and organize troops as he completes his own meticulous plan — for a major thrust from the Virginia coast on Richmond, capital of the Confederacy. McClellan's so-called Peninsula campaign, which ultimately will go down as a failure, is still many weeks off. As January closes, Lincoln's new war secretary, Edwin Stanton, is busy reorganizing the federal War Department. The San Francisco Bulletin reports Stanton "is determined to clear the War Office of all rubbish," has assigned two new assistant secretaries and taken on "much needed reforms." Elsewhere, The Charleston Courier of South Carolina reports the Confederate steamer Calhoun, en route to Havana with cargo, has been chased by a federal cruiser and had to be burned and scuttled — another sign of a tightened federal blockade of Southern seaports.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 5: Battle of Roanoke Island, N.C.

This week 150 years ago in the war, Union Brigadier Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside leads an amphibious assault in the North Carolina coastal sounds with thousands of soldiers and sailors and more than 60 ships. Now seen as a minor engagement, the federal attack on Roanoke Island gave the Union a much-needed victory early in the conflict. Federal forces would seize that island and hold it for the rest of the war. It began in earnest on Feb. 7, 1862. Burnside landed about 7,500 men on the southwestern side of Roanoke Island as his fleet approached after sailing from federally held Fort Monroe off southeast Virginia. The next day, federal fighters backed by their gunboats thrust themselves on fortifications held by more than 2,500 Confederate fighters. The invaders rapidly outgunned and overran an overwhelmed foe during the two-day assault. Union losses were reported as 37 killed and 214 wounded. Confederate forces reported 22 dead and 58 wounded amid fierce cannon and rifle fire before their remaining troops surrendered or fled. The move secured President Lincoln's military a strategic outpost on North Carolina's coast, further shutting off supply lines to the Confederacy as he tightened a federal maritime blockade on the South. For the North, still beaten down by the disastrous defeat months earlier at the Battle of Bull Run, the victory was a morale booster that gave fresh impetus to fight. The Philadelphia Inquirer, in reporting on the war this week 150 years ago, called it "a great victory" for the Union side.