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MILITARY

This Week in the Civil War

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Nov. 4: McClellan sacked from Union's Army of 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, Lincoln replaces McClellan with Gen. 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 — 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 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."

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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.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Nov. 18: New Confederate secretary of war.

This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, James A. Seddon was appointed war secretary of the Confederacy on Nov. 20, 1862, and would hold the post until January 1865, shortly before the rebellion began to crumble. Seddon was the longest in the position, a successful lawyer praised for his diplomatic tact and for reining in disparate factions within the secessionist states. Though a strong advocate of secession, he was a member of an 1861 peace convention held in Washington, D.C., in a bid to stave off the gathering war clouds. Wartime shortages in the South of foodstuffs that sparked the deadly 1863 bread riot in Richmond prompted Seddon to call on the Virginia press not to publish accounts of the rioting. But word got out about that and other riots in the South despite his concerns the news would embolden the enemy and weaken the home front morale. Seddon would face an immediate challenge. Days before his appointment, the new commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, sent a small fighting force to take up positions east of Fredericksburg, Va. The move would prompt alarm in Fredericksburg and the evacuation of women and children there. The Associated Press reported that the Confederates immediately began to strengthen and extend stout earthen works defending Fredericksburg. In coming weeks, tens of thousands of Union soldiers would stream toward that city as Burnside would open a bloody but ultimately failed offensive in mid-December 1862. Confederate Robert E. Lee vowed, informed of the Union troops near Fredericksburg, vowed in press reports to thwart any enemy incursion deeper into Virginia by fighting to the "last extremity."

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Nov. 25: Fighting in Arkansas.

This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, Confederate forces battle Union rivals at Cane Hill in the far northwest corner of Arkansas. The fighting on Nov. 28, 1862, began with Union Gen. James Blunt sending out probing forces in a bid to destroy Confederate cavalry units detected in the area. The Union contingent caught up with a Confederate force that fought a delaying action while trying to protect its supply trains. Confederates under Col. Joe Shelby set up defensive positions around the Cane Hill cemetery. During a series of clashes, the Confederates withdrew under a fierce Union onslaught. Finally running short of ammunition, Confederate fighters withdrew and nightfall brought an end to the day's fighting. Blunt's forces thus took control of the Boston Mountains in that extreme corner of Arkansas. It was a small-scale fight. But days later, a far bigger battle would be waged at Prairie Grove, Ark., culminating in Union forces consolidating their grip on the region. This week in Washington, President Abraham Lincoln is preparing to open a new session of Congress, his speech kept tightly under wraps. The Charleston (S.C.) Mercury reports tension is rising around Fredericksburg, Va., amid reports of sporadic shots fired and rumors the Union would try to take that city any day in hopes of eventually reaching Richmond, capital of the Confederacy. A correspondent of The Mercury reports in a late November dispatch: "The general opinion here is that the threats of the enemy about Fredericksburg are feints" to cover a change of base by Union forces. In fact, Union and Confederate forces would be in a bloody fight for Fredericksburg before Christmas of 1862.