Published November 23, 2012
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.
This Week in The Civil war, for week of Sunday, Dec. 2: Battle of Prairie Grove, Ark.
This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, Confederate and Union forces continued their fight for supremacy in Arkansas. Confederates led by Maj. Gen. Thomas Hindman moved to put his sizeable force between two Union divisions in hopes of smashing them. But rival Union commanders fought back against the Confederates, who set up defensive lines along a ridge at Prairie Grove. Attacks and counterattacks followed and at one point it looked as if the rebels would triumph. But then sunset brought a halt to the fighting with neither side a winner. Nonetheless, Hindman was forced to withdraw from the region, leaving the Union in control of a large swath of Arkansas. Elsewhere, newspaper reports spread word that Confederate leaders were rejoicing over the discovery a large cache of salt in the earth that can be used for any number of purposes, including preserving food. "The rebels are said to be rejoicing over the discovery of (the) immense bed of rock salt at Obelisk, Ala.," the Daily Illinois state Journal reported on Dec. 2, 1862.
This Week in The Civil war, for week of Sunday, Dec. 9: Battle for Fredericksburg, Va.
This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, the North and South battled for Fredericksburg, Va. Midway between the federal capital of Washington, D.C., and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va., Fredericksburg was a strategic point for both sides. On Dec. 11, 1862, Union troops sneaked forward under the pre-dawn fog to begin building pontoon bridges crossing the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, drawing Confederate fire. Union commander, Gen. Ambrose Burnside, then ordered a bombardment opened up on the city. The fierce bombardment lasted nearly two hours as thousands of shells and projectiles rained down on the city. Amid the bombardment, Union soldiers crossed in boats to the other side and block-by-block street combat began — a rarity in the conflict. The full body of federal forces crossed the Rappahannock on Dec. 12, 1862, and Burnside ordered a series of deadly and ineffective frontal assaults on two heights in the city, leaving thousands dead and wounded. Even though Union forces briefly pierced the main Confederate line, they were repulsed By Dec. 15, Burnside had canceled the offensive and his battered and beaten forces retreated across the river. The fighting engaged some 100,000 Union troops and more than 72,000 troops under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. When it was over, there were more than 13,000 Union casualties and some 4,500 others on the Confederate side. After the Union's defeat, Burnside would be replaced a month later at the head of the Union army by yet another general.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Dec. 16: the sinking of the USS Cairo.
This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, the Union lamented another kind of loss beyond its defeat at Fredericksburg. On Dec. 12, 1862, the USS Cairo — an ironclad river gunboat — was struck by two torpedoes and sank within minutes on the Yazoo River, about 10 miles north of Vicksburg, Miss. No one died but the sinking of one of the most feared gunboats was an embarrassing loss for the Union. The 175-foot vessel bristled with heavy weaponry, its guns menacing from turrets set about on all sides. A young crewmember, George Yost, later remarked: "Nothing of the Cairo could be seen 12 minutes after the first explosion, excepting the smokestacks, and the flag staff from which still floated the flag above the troubled waters." The ironclads played a crucial part in the Union's Western war aim of seizing and dominating the inland waterways that carried trade, people and foodstuffs through the heartland. It would only be rediscovered and salvaged in 1964, then put on display. Another ironclad, the Cincinnati, would be sunk during the siege of Vicksburg in 1863 by Confederate forces firing from bluffs lining the river bank. Also this week, the Macon Telegraph of Georgia clamors for information on the outcome of the fighting for Fredericksburg, in which the Confederates under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee prevailed over a bigger Union force. "It is said our loss is 1,800 and the enemy's five times as much," the paper reports. "Somehow, we feel almost, as sure that Lee has got those rascals, as if we saw them already in his grip."