This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 29, 1862: 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.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 5, 1862: 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 did give 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.
This Week in the Civil War for week of Feb. 12, 1862: The Battle of Fort Donelson.
The Battle of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River near Dover, Tenn., marks the first major Union battlefield victory of the Civil War, 150 years ago this week in 1862. Federal gunboats on Feb. 14, 1862, began exchanging heavy fire with big Confederate artillery guns set high up the river bluff. But the gunboats suffered such damage that their decks ran with blood and they were soon forced to withdraw, denying Union Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant the speedy victory he had hoped to achieve. The next day, Grant sent in ground troops, fighting a pitched battle with the fort's Confederate defenders before his soldiers are forced to retreat. Confederate defenders mistakenly believed they had won the confrontation. But then Grant surprises them with a counterattack, taking back lost ground and setting the stage for a Union victory. Some 2,000 Confederate fighters slipped away before Grant captured those defenders still remaining. Asked for his terms of surrender, Grant bluntly and famously replied: "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." The remaining Confederates gave up the fight as Fort Donelson became the first sizable land victory for the North in the Civil War. At Fort Donelson, "Unconditional Surrender" Grant would gain hero status. The victory would help secure Grant a promotion to major general and begin forging a destiny that would take him on to become eventual commander of all the Union armies.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 19, 1862: Confederate President Davis re-inaugurated.
Jefferson Davis, who was provisionally elected the president of the Confederacy at a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, and inaugurated in February 1861, is reinaugurate this week 150 years ago. The re-inauguration on Richmond's Capitol Square takes place on Feb. 22, 1862, following Davis' election in November 1861 to a six-year term. In his address, Davis declares that the people of the Confederacy have come to believe that "the Government of the United States had fallen into the hands of a sectional majority, who would pervert the most sacred of all trusts to the destruction of the rights which it was pledged to project. ... Therefore we are in arms to renew such sacrifices as our father s made to the holy cause of constitutional liberty." The Richmond Examiner, in a report on the eve of Davis' oath-taking, declares the day an "auspicious" one, but it exhorts his administration to take up its cause with energy so as to "escape the miseries of a protracted war." The Philadelphia Inquirer is among Northern newspapers that will print the bulk of the speech in later days along with details of the elaborate inaugural ceremonies and the politicians, judges and other prominent officials present. Elsewhere, The Associated Press reports from Springfield, Missouri, that federal army troops are in "vigorous pursuit of the rebels" in that state. A dispatch states that Union forces have captured four rebel officers and 13 privates but the main body of pro-Confederate forces led by Sterling Price eludes them in the countryside. From 1862 to 1864, Missouri will be the crucible of bloody guerrilla warfare. Only Virginia and Tennessee will see more battles, clashes and other engagements during the war.