This Week in the Civil War

Share article

____

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 3: Naval battle of Memphis.

This week 150 years ago in the Civil War opens with Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beuregard ordering his troops to abandon Fort Pillow in Tennessee and, soon after, nearby Memphis. Federal forces have recently seized the nearby northeast Mississippi rail junction of Corinth, prompting Beauregard's move. His forces remove guns and supplies from Fort Pillow as they begin their withdrawal. Union forces occupying Corinth essentially control a key railroad line, several rail links between Memphis and other points in the South. On June 6, 1862, Union gunboats and rams on the Mississippi River open up the naval battle of Memphis before dawn, approaching from just north of that city. In an hour and a half of fighting, the Union sinks or captures all but one of the Confederate vessels — mostly converted river steamers — that are seeking to defend Memphis. Spectators line the riverbanks, watching the battle that opens with long-range volleys from the federal attackers. The fight descends into shooting and chaotic attempts at close range by opposing ships to ram rival vessels. The Confederate fleet is defeated. Soon after, the Union flag is raised in Memphis as the city surrenders. A vital Southern city and trading center on the Mississippi has fallen into Union hands. The Associated Press, in a dispatch June 13, 1862, reports the destruction is great around Corinth as the Union takes control there. "The Confederate army has stripped, for food, the whole country north of Corinth, and many of the inhabitants are in a starving condition," AP reports. It adds Confederate forces retreating from the Union forces left behind "half burned locomotives" and spies and deserters report the Confederate army there to be "greatly disorganized, mutinous and deserting."

____

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 10: J.E.B. Stuart rides.

Some 150 years ago in the Civil War, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart left Richmond, Va., on June 12, 1862, and began a daring reconnaissance mission on horseback in which his cavalry traced a giant circle around the Union Army of the Potomac. Stuart's three-day, 150-mile roundtrip ride supplied Confederate leadership with key intelligence about the huge Union army of Gen. George B. McClellan, then massed off southeast Virginia in a bid to take the Confederate capital of Richmond. Stuart had already claimed fame by pursuing and harassing routed Union forces in July 1861 as the federals ran from defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, or Manassas. At the request of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Stuart and some 1,500 riders set out from Richmond on the intelligence-gathering mission that would encircle McClellan's Union forces and lead to the capture of dozens of Union soldiers. Though not strategically important, Stuart's ride would boost Southern war morale and prove cause for embarrassment for the Union Gen. McClellan. Stuart isn't the only headache for McClellan this week. The Associated Press reports in a dispatch June 14, 1862, that a small group of Confederate troops have struck at Union forces in an area of the Pamunkey River in Virginia — firing on them and reminding the enemy that they will resist all enemy efforts. "The rebels ... burnt two schooners, some wagons, and drove off the mules," AP reported. The dispatch said Confederate shooters also killed two men on a passing train but the paymaster jumped from the train and hid in the woods all night to evade capture. Despite taking Confederate fire, "the train never stopped," the report added.

____

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 17: Lincoln bans slavery in the U.S. territories.

In June 1862, President Abraham Lincoln is still months away from issuing his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. But 150 years ago this week in the Civil War, Lincoln signed a bill passed by Congress that would ban slavery in the U.S. territories without compensating former slaveowners. It signals Lincoln is giving deep thought to the issue of slavery as the war drags on. On Sept. 22, 1862, following the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln would issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, ordering that in 100 days the federal government would deem all slaves free in those states still rebelling against the Union. Meanwhile, the week opens with a vast Union army bristling in eastern Virginia for several major battles that would erupt in coming days and weeks. Those engagements would claim thousands of lives as Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee would seek to defend their capital of Richmond, Va., from Union foes. The Associated Press reports intermittent shelling followed by calm. One AP dispatch dated June 22, 1862, reports from the field headquarters of Union Gen. George B. McClellan in Virginia that "this has been a remarkably quiet day, considering the close proximity of the two contending forces." But The AP reports there had been "brisk skirmishing" the previous day and concludes: "everything indicated that a general engagement was at hand." Meanwhile, there are the usual daily incidents of war. A dispatch this week reports that Union soldiers hunting for deserters in northern Virginia "came upon a rebel mail carrier, who was endeavoring to conceal himself in the woods." It added a "large quantity of letters to prominent officers in the rebel service, many of which contain valuable information," were found in the mail bag" of the arrested man.

____

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 24: Seven Days' Battle Begin.

The Seven Days' Battles opens this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. The weeklong series of battles will consolidate the rise of starring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and prove influential in shaping the remaining course of the war. On June 25, 1862, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan sent his combat forces marching toward Richmond, intent on putting the Confederate capital within range of his siege guns. The Associated Press reported in a June 25 dispatch that the fighting was fierce as Union troops "met with a most determined resistance" in its Confederate foes. "The ground fought for was a swamp, with thick underbrush," AP notes. In such terrain, McClellan's push is not enough and Lee goes on the offensive the next day. Lee's battle plan succeeds in pushing back federal troops, forcing McClellan's fighters to withdraw southeast along the Chickahominy River. On June 27, 1862, Union troops clash with Confederate forces at the major Battle of Gaines' Mill. There, after hours of afternoon fighting, Lee hurls his combined forces in an all-out attack that forces Union rivals to retreat. His is a sweeping tactical victory, his first. But it comes at a great cost in lives. The 15,000 estimated casualties at Gaines' Mill mark the deadliest and largest battle in the East yet. More fighting follows on June 30, 1862, at Savage's Station. And on June 30, 1862, Confederate forces engaged in close combat with Union forces, unsuccessfully trying to cut their retreat to the James River. July 1, 1862, would see the last and deadliest battle of the Seven Days at Malvern Hill where Confederate forces are unable to withstand withering fire from Union forces ensconced on that high ground. Strategically, Lee is hailed as a hero for successfully defending Richmond, leaving McClellan's monthslong bid to take Richmond in disarray.

This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources.

 
 
 

Advertisement

Comments