Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Dates: November 3, 1862 to July 4, 1863


Union: Army; Major General Ulysses S. Grant command the Army of the Tennessee
Navy; Admiral David Dixon Porter commanding US naval forces on the Mississippi river.

Confederate: Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton commanding the Vicksburg Defenses.

Prelude: following the fall of Corinth, MS in May of 1862, Union forces had Western Tennessee and Northern Mississippi in their grasp. The next step in the plan to cripple the Confederacy was the capture of the Mississippi River, a stated goal since the beginning of the war. The key to all of this was the town of Vicksburg, situated on the river (at the time) about 200 miles north of New Orleans. The Confederates possession of the town did two things; first, this allowed a section of the river to remain in Confederate hands, and second, that possession alone allowed supplies from Texas and Arkansas to the east. Union possession would not only curtail that, but also cut the CSA in two.

During the summer of 1862 there had already been an attempt to seize Vicksburg. A naval force under the command of Admiral David Farragut sailed to Vicksburg and began to shell the town. First thing that was noticed was that most of the town is situated on bluffs overlooking the river. Second was that the Confederate defenders could mount cannon on those bluffs and could be reasonably protected. The weather, malaria, and the presence of the ironclad warship CSS Arkansas halted any efforts to bombard the town into submission. The Union ships had to pull back and it was decided that that place had to be taken by ground troops.

In October of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Major General Ulysses S. Grant to handle the task. Grant was already beset with a problem, one of his subordinate generals, John McClernand, wanted an independent command and was trying to do so. This might have prompted Grant to begin the campaign sooner that he planned. Grant did get a break when McClernand took leave to get married. What troops that were going to McClernand went to Major General William Sherman. Now the campaign can begin. Grant’s plan was a two pronged advance, with Sherman going along the river and Grant moving along the rail line towards the Mississippi capital of Jackson.

November 3-4, 1862: Grant begins movement with most of his army reaching Grand Junction, at the Tennessee-Mississippi line.

November 8, 1862: Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding a detachment in north Mississippi, pulls back from Holly Springs towards the Tallahatchie River. Movement is complete on November 10.
November 26, 1862: Sherman’s forces depart Memphis, TN and head southeast in support of Grant.

November 27, 1862: Grant’s wing of the attack reaches Holly Springs, MS.

November 27 to December 7, 1862: Federal troops conduct raids in order to wreck rail lines after landing at Friar’s Point, on the Mississippi River.

November 29 to December 5, 1862: Confederate troops pull back from the Tallahatchie to the Yalobusha Rivers. A distance of 50 miles.

December 2, 1862: Grant’s troops occupy Oxford, MS.

December 5, 1862: Van Dorn’s infantry hits Grant near Coffeeville, MS. Grant ends up halting his forces while the rail line from Holly Springs is repaired.

December 8, 1862: Sherman heads back to Memphis.

December 11, 1862: Confederate cavalry under Nathan Forrest begin to attack Grant’s supply lines in Tennessee. This continues until January 1, 1863.

December 20, 1862: Van Dorn springs a big surprise on Grant by hitting and destroying the Federal supply dump at Holly Springs.

December 20, 1862: Sherman departs Memphis and begins heading south along the Mississippi River.

During this time, the Confederates under Lieutenant General John Pemberton begin amassing in the Vicksburg area. A system of fortifications is being dug.

December 22, 1862: With his supply lines in a shambles, Grant decides to pull back to Memphis.

December 26, 1862: Sherman’s forces land at Johnson’s Plantation, on the Yazoo River northwest of Vicksburg. Skirmishing breaks out along the defensive line.

December 29, 1862: Sherman attempts a frontal assault on the Confederate line at Chickasaw Bayou, but the heavily entrenched defenders repulsed the Federals.

January 2, 1863: Sherman’s forces pull back up river to Milliken’s Bend, on the Louisiana side.

January 9, 1862: McClernand returns from his wedding and retakes command of the troops led by Sherman. He than leads those troops on an unauthorized movement up the Mississippi towards the Arkansas River.

January 10, 1863: Grant completes his withdrawal to Memphis. He knows he can take Vicksburg, it’s just finding out how to do it.

January 11, 1863: McClernand launches an attack on Confederate fortifications at Arkansas Post, AR. With gunboat support, McClernand manages to take the fort.

Grant had to go back to the drawing board. He was not the type who sulked away his failures. Battling intrigue within the ranks (McClernand) and bad press outside (the constant accusations that he was drunk), Grant was the type that hated war, but it was the only thing he was good at. He saw Vicksburg as something that could be overcome, so he set to planning the next move.

This is how the Army of the Tennessee was deployed. HQ was at Milliken’s Bend with McClernand’s XIII Corps. Sherman was given XV Corps and was placed at Young’s Point, to the south. XVII Corps, under Major General James McPherson, was placed at Lake Providence, to the southeast, and XVI Corps, under Major General Stephen Hurlbut was left in western Tennessee.

Opposing Grant was a Confederate army under Pendleton. He was commander of the Department of the Mississippi despite the fact that he was a Pennsylvania native who sided with his wife’s native state of Virginia. That was already strike one with the locals in Mississippi but he enjoyed the confidence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi native. His main job was to keep what was left of the Mississippi River in Confederate hands.

January 24, 1863: The next plan tried was a canal that would be dug across the base of De Soto Point, across the river from Vicksburg. The goal was to leave the town high and dry by diverting the Mississippi River. (This would end in failure, but nature, in 1876, accomplished what Grant’s boys couldn’t. The Mississippi river now bends to the south of Vicksburg and a canal was cut from the Yazoo River to the Mississippi.)

February 2, 1863: McPherson’s troops began an attempt to cut a canal from Lake Providence through several bayous.

February 3, 1863: A third attempt at a water assault begins at Yazoo Pass, about 120 miles (straight line, about 325 miles as the river goes) north of Vicksburg.

February 23, 1863: Union troops begin movement southeast from Yazoo Pass.

March 10, 1863: a Federal force reaches the town of Greenwood, MS and finds a fort in the way.

March 11, 1863: Union troops began a series of assaults on the fort, named Fort Pemberton.

March 16, 1863: Admiral Porter’s gunboats are sent up the Yazoo River in order to assist Federal forces at Fort Pemberton. He is supported by some of Sherman’s troops.

March 20, 1863: Porter’s gunboats are turned back at Rolling Fork, on the Yazoo River.

March 21, 1863: Both Sherman and Porter agree to pull back down the Yazoo.

March 27, 1863: Porter’s gunboats and Sherman’s troops return to the Mississippi River.

March 29, 1863; both the De Soto Point and the Lake Providence canal operations are called off. High water and underwater obstructions had contributed to the problems the Union faces, but now the Mississippi was falling, making the canals impractical.

Another plan was already in the works. Grant had three options, launch a cross river assault on Vicksburg, return to Memphis and try an overland approach, or land troops south of Vicksburg and do an overland march. The direct assault across river would be destroyed before any troops could be landed. The Memphis option was probably what the Confederates expected. Grant’s choice was made clear; he would land troops below Vicksburg and then march on the town. He also saw the advantage of taking Jackson, since it was a rail junction that could get supplies to Vicksburg.

April 2, 1863: Federal troops are sent to destroy food stocks that could be helpful to the Confederate defenders.

April 5, 1863: Union troops at Fort Pemberton begin pulling back to Yazoo Pass.

April 16-17, 1863: Porters gunboats run past the Vicksburg defenses. This places naval forces below the town.

At the same time, Federal cavalry under Colonel R. H. Grierson are sent on raids into Mississippi and Louisiana as a diversion.

April 20, 1863: Grant begins moving his army down river to Bruinsburg, MS. Sherman’s corps is left in order to make a diversion. All of this is needed to keep the Confederates occupied as to Grant’s intentions.

April 29, 1863: Sherman’s corps crosses the Yazoo River and is in a position to threaten Snyder’s bluff, north of Vicksburg. On that same day, Grant’s forces reached the river port of Hard Times, LA.

Grant now revealed his plan, he was to take 20,000 men and head inland to Jackson, then approach Vicksburg. He would dispense with supply lines; his army would live off the land, raiding farms and plantations along the way. This was risky, if Pendleton got wind of this, he could cut Grant off from the river without any hope of relief.

April 30, 1862: McClernand’s and McPherson’s corps is sent across the Mississippi to Bruinsburg. They faced a Confederate division under Brigadier General John Bowen. Bowen sent word to Pemberton, who is distracted by Sherman’s presence north of Vicksburg. Any reserves Pemberton might have sent were instead chasing Grierson.

May 1, 1863: After an 18 hour battle, Bowen is forced to pull his troops to the north beyond the Big Black River. Grant now has a secure base in which to operate.

At this time, Confederate General Joe Johnston was assembling an army at Jackson.

May 2, 1863: Sherman begins his movement south to the Federal beachhead at Grand Gulf, MS. At the same time, McPherson gets his corps to Grindstone’s Ford, northeast of Port Gibson, where Grant has his headquarters. Grierson also finishes his raid.

May 3, 1863: Union troops seize Hankinson’s Ferry, on the Big Black River, north of Port Gibson. Porter’s gunboat squadron arrives at Grand Gulf.

May 4, 1863: Pemberton, thinking that Grant is making an assault from the south, orders a defensive line formed from Warrenton, MS east to Baldwin’s Ferry on the Big Black.

May 8, 1863: Sherman completes moving his corps across the Mississippi and reports to Grant, now at Hankinson’s Ferry.

Now that Grant has Pemberton occupied, he begins sending his troops to the northeast.
McClernand’s corps has the left of the advance, Sherman is in the middle, and McPherson on the right.

May 11, 1863: As Federal troops approach the town of Raymond, southwest of Jackson, they encounter the first serious resistance.

May 12, 1863: Confederate troops at Raymond launch an attack on advancing Federal troops, the result was a four hour battle the went in the Union’s favor. The Confederates were forced to retreat to Jackson.

May 13, 1863: Pemberton has a line dug in at Edward’s Station, east of Vicksburg, but Grant now applies full force at Jackson.

May 14, 1863: McPherson’s corps is sent to Clinton, near Jackson and blocks Confederate movement in either direction. Johnston has only 12,000 to counter Grant, so he decides to evacuate Jackson.

May 15, 1863: Jackson, MS has fallen to Federal troops. Sherman’s troops wreck the rail lines and anything of military importance while McClernand’s and McPherson’s corps is turned to the west. Meanwhile, Pemberton sends a force to cut Grant’s line of retreat. Grant finds this out from a Union agent posing as a Confederate.

May 16, 1863: McClernand and Pemberton meet at Champion’s Hill, west of Clinton, and began a battle in which the hill changed hands three times. In the end, Pemberton was forced to retreat.

May 17, 1863: Grant pushes his forces, with Sherman rejoining him, to the Big Black River. Sherman and McPherson prepare to cross, but McClernand launches an attack on a Confederate defensive line, which crumbles. Pemberton now has no choice but to pull all of his army within the defensive lines now surrounding Vicksburg.

May 18, 1863: Unknown to Grant, Pemberton manages to have two fresh divisions, the last he will get.

May 19, 1863: As the Army of the Tennessee approaches Vicksburg, Grant makes contact with Admiral Porter. On the heels of his other victories, Grant felt that he could breach the line and take Vicksburg immediately. At 1:30 p.m. he launches an assault on the works, which last until dark without success. Grant decides to bring up artillery and try again in three days.

May 22, 1863: 6:10 a.m. Federal artillery and gunboats begin shelling both Vicksburg and the defensive line.

Starting at 10:00 a.m. Grant began to launch frontal assaults from the Square Fort north to the Railroad redoubt. The defensive line proves too tough to crack and fighting ends at dusk.

May 25, 1863: After another attempt to break the Confederate line, this time with a tunnel bored under the defensive line, filled with explosives, and detonated, Grant decides on a siege as the best way to take the town.

Even with his losses, Grant still had 44,000 men and gunboat support to isolate the town. Pemberton wanted his forces to hang on in hopes that Johnston will come to his aid. The civilians were subjected to short rations and daily bombardment. In the end, the citizens were forced to live in caves in order to survive the shelling.

Conditions during the siege were terrible to say the least. The hot weather, bugs, and lack of food (on the Confederate side) were taking their toll. Still, the evenings were when soldiers from both sides could do some trading. There was even a truce so bodies could be buried because the smell was offensive.

To stiffen the siege, Grant had additional troops sent in, raising his troop levels to about 70,000.

As June was coming to an end, Pemberton’s men were reduced to eating horses and mules. The local paper was printing their editions on the backs of wallpaper. There was an editorial that claimed that Grant promised to eat dinner on July 4 in Vicksburg. The answer was that the only thing that could be eaten in Vicksburg was rabbit. And first Grant must “catch the rabbit,” meaning Vicksburg.

Meanwhile, Johnston was assembling a force to break the siege. But after finding out the size of the Union forces, he notified President Davis on June 15 that there was no way that siege could be lifted with what he had. The fate of Vicksburg was sealed and it was only a matter of time.

July 1, 1863: There was another explosion at the 3rd Louisiana Redan, but this time there was no follow up attack.

July 2, 1863: Pemberton was faced with two choices, either try to break out or surrender. His commanders informed him that the troops were not in condition for an assault. Pemberton decides to meet with Grant.

July 3, 1863: Grant and Pemberton meet. Grant demands unconditional surrender, Pemberton refuses. Grant oversees the situation; an unconditional surrender would leave him with thousands of prisoners to send north. He did not have the time or the transports to take care of that. Grant decided that it was easier to take the Confederates parole, a promise not to resume fighting until exchanged for a Union soldier being held prisoner, and concentrate on defeating Johnston and taking the war to the east. Grant offers Pemberton those terms and they are accepted.

As Palmerton broke the news, some of his commanders were resistant until he said, “I know my people (Northerners). They are a vain, glorious lot. That they will give anything if this city and its garrison surrenders on July Fourth.”

July 4, 1863; Vicksburg, MS formally surrenders to the Army of the Tennessee. The Confederates stack their arms and equipment, accept a parole slip, and then are allowed to leave the town.

With Vicksburg captured and the later Union victory at Port Hudson, the Mississippi River was fully in Federal hands. President Lincoln summed up the event with this statement, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the Sea.”

The people of Vicksburg would not celebrate July 4th until 1948.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Timeline: CSS Alabama

Dates: May 15, 1862 to June 19, 1864.

Commander: Captain Raphael Semmes, Confederate States Navy

Prelude: When the Civil War broke out, the Confederacy had no navy to speak of. Upon its formation in February 1861, the Confederate States Navy had only ten vessels. Even with the addition of five additional ships, the CSN would be no match for even the pre-war United States Navy, who had 70 warships, 42 of which were in service. They were short of the hundreds needed to blockage Southern ports, but could draw on the merchant fleet. The North also enjoyed having eight of the ten Navy Yards in Northern waters.

Following the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, US President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers. Two days later, CS President Jefferson Davis authorized applications for letters of marquee and reprisal. This allowed private vessels to serve the CSA in attacking Union shipping. Lincoln responded with the blockade and ordered that any Southern “privateers” will be treated as pirates.

The Southern plan was to engage in commerce raiding. Hit Union merchant vessels as they sailed between the US and Europe. This would have the effect of 1.) Curtailing trans-Atlantic trade, hitting the Yankee pocketbook, and 2.) Forcing the US Navy to spread its resources from the blockade to hunt down the raiders.

In order to get ships capable of making these raids, Confederate agents were sent to England to either buy ships or have then built. In June of 1861, James Bulloch, a former US Navy officer, arrived in Liverpool and made arrangements with shipbuilders W. C. Miller and Sons to have a ship called the Oreto built, presumably for the Italian government. The Oreto became CSS Florida.

August 1, 1861. Bulloch makes an order for another vessel at the firm of John Laird and Sons. This vessel is designated Hull No. 290.

May 15, 1862: Hull No. 290 was launched and christened Enrica. At the same time Bulloch purchases another ship and has it loaded with war material. Two Union agents, Thomas Haines Dudley, the US counsel in Liverpool, and Matthew Maguire, a former policeman, discovered the subterfuge concerning the Oreto and reported it to US Minister (Ambassador) Charles Francis Adams, who made a protest to British Prime Minister lord Russell. Officially, the UK was neutral and had a law prohibiting the fitting of vessels for use by a party engaged in a war. Bulloch was getting around this by not arming the vessels inside of British waters. Still, the British customs authorities were taking a hard look at Enrica.

Things began to move fast. Bulloch received a message that Captain Raphael Semmes was on his way from Gibraltar, where he had just abandoned CSS Sumter, to take command of the Enrica. Adams received a message that the Union vessel that blockaded Sumter, the USS Tuscarora, was also on its way. Adams instructed the Tuscarora’s commander, Captain Thomas Craven, to follow the Enrica if it left the port of Birkenhead.

Adams then received a report from Maguire that sailors were being sought for the Enrica and that the ship would soon be in Confederate service. Adams presented that evidence to Lord Russell and demanded the UK Government take action to stop Enrica.

July 25, 1862: What came next was a break for the South, Lord Russell sought legal opinion from the Queen’s Counsel, who suffered a seizure that same day. The matter was sent to the attorney general, but the opinion would not be ready until the 28th.

Bulloch receives a message that same morning (he claimed later that he had an informant in the UK Government, but that was never verified) that Customs agents may seize the Enrica.

July 28, 1862: Without waiting for Semmes to arrive, Bulloch placed Captain Matthew Butcher of the Royal Navy Reserve in command of the Enrica and planned to have a festive sailing up and down the Mersey River the next day. That afternoon, the attorney general found cause for the British Government to seize the Enrica.

July 29, 1862: The Enrica is sailed out of Birkenhead and down the Mersey. Another ship accompanied the Enrica in order to take Bullock and some guests back to Liverpool, while the Enrica was sailed to a secluded bay. There a party was held for the crew and their wives (who collected their husband’s first few months’ pay) then the women were sent back on another boat. That evening, the Enrica began sailing for the Azores.

August 9, 1862: After taking a course around Ireland, the Enrica arrived at Terceira, the Azores.

August 13, 1862: The steamship Bahama leaves Liverpool with Bulloch, Semmes (who arrived just after Enrica left), and other officers, and heads on a direct course for the Azores.

August 18, 1862: The vessel Agrippina arrives at Terceira with the ordinance, ammunition, supplies and coal for the Enrica.

August 20, 1862: The Bahama arrives with the command crew for the Enrica. Semmes steps aboard his new ship. All three vessels were places outside territorial waters before any transfer of personnel or stores could be made.

August 24, 1862: In a grand ceremony, Semmes officially rechristens the Enrica as the CSS Alabama. After a rousing speech by Semmes, 80 men join the crew.


Length: 230 feet
Width: 32 feet
Depth: 20 feet
Draft: 15 feet
Displacement: 900 tons
Three-masted sailing vessel with steam propulsion.
Top speed: 10 knots
Armament: six 32-pound cannons, three on each side. One pivot gun near the bow and one pivot gun at the stern.
Crew: 120men and 24 officers.

The Alabama was fitted with a propulsion screw that could be detached and brought up into a well. The smokestack could be raised and lowered to change the vessel’s profile.

After a brief shakedown cruise, Semmes declared the Alabama ready for war.

The concept of commerce raiding was this; a raider spotted a merchant ship. The raider is then sent after the merchant, sending calls for the merchant to stop. If the calls were not heeded, a few shots across the merchant’s bow usually got the message across. The merchant was boarded. If any of the cargo was of any use to the raider, it was taken. If they were near a port, a prize crew (one officer and several men) was put aboard and the merchant was sailed to a neutral port, where a prize court will hear the case and usually award a cash prize based on the value of the cargo. The cargo was sold to raise the money. The money would be distributed amongst the officers and crew. Even the lowest sailor on the raider could make a lot of money. If it was not convenient to do that, the merchant was destroyed and its crew held prisoner and released at a neutral port.

September 5, 1862: the whaler Ocmulgee was captured and destroyed northwest of the Azores.

September 5, 1862: the vessel Starlight was captured and destroyed northwest of the Azores.

September 8, 1862: the vessel Ocean Rover was captured and destroyed west of the Azores.

September 9, 1862: the vessel Alert was captured and destroyed southeast of the Azores. That same day the Weather Gauge was captured and destroyed south of the Azores.

September 13, 1862: the ship Altamaha was captured and destroyed southeast of the Azores.

September 14, 1862: the vessel Benjamin Tucker was captured and destroyed southeast of the Azores.

The Alabama was sailed past the Azores and then turned to the southwest.

September 16, 1862: the whaler Courser was captured and destroyed southwest of the Azores.

September 17, 1862: the whaler Virginia was captured and destroyed southwest of the Azores.

September 18, 1862: the whaler Elisha Dunbar was captured and destroyed southwest of the Azores.

The Alabama was then turned north.

October 3, 1862: The ships Brilliant and Emily Farnham were captured in the open sea due west of the Azores. The Brilliant was destroyed and the crew was put on board the Farnham, who was allowed to sail away after the captain gave his parole, or pledge, not to Semmes.

October 7, 1862: Sailing near Bermuda, the Alabama captures and destroys the ships Wave Crest and Dunkirk.

October 9, 1862: North of Bermuda, the vessel Tonawanda was captured, but after a bond was posted with Semmes, the ship was let go.

October 11, 1862; Still north of Bermuda, the vessel Manchester is captured and destroyed.

October 15, 1862: Northwest of Bermuda, the ship Lamplighter is captured and destroyed.

Semmes decides to head south.

October 23, 1862: Approaching the West Indies, the vessel Lafayette is captured and destroyed.

October 26, 1862: Approaching the West Indies, the vessel Crenshaw is captured and destroyed.

October 28, 1862: Approaching the West Indies, the vessel Lauraetta is captured and destroyed.

October 29, 1862: : Approaching the West Indies, the vessel Baron de Castile is captured and released after the captain posts a bond with Semmes.

November 2, 1862: Within the waters of the West Indies, the whaler Levi Starbuck is captured and destroyed.

November 8, 1862: Near Martinique, the vessel Thomas B. Whales is captured and destroyed.

November 18, 1862: Alabama meets the vessel Agrippina at Fort de France, Martinique for resupply and refueling. All prisoners are released.

November 19, 1862: That night, the Alabama leaves Fort de France, getting by the USS San Jacinto, this is the first indication that the Union is now alerted to their activity.

November 21, 1862: Near Martinique, the vessel Clara L. Sparks is captured and destroyed.

November 30, 1862: South of Martinique, the vessel Parker Cook is captured and destroyed.

The Alabama then stops at Blanquilla Island, off Venezuela, for additional coaling. Afterwards, they head towards Cuba.

December 5, 1862; the vessels Nina and Union were captured near Blanquilla, but were both bonded and released.

At this point Semmes hears about a steamer coming from Panama with California gold. That would help the Confederacy greatly.

December 7, 1862: the steamer Ariel was captured in the passage between Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico. The vessel was not carrying gold (it was headed for Panama) but Semmes took a bond from the captain, paroled the 150 Marines on board.

December 23, 1862: The Alabama enters the Gulf of Mexico and meets the Agrippina off the Yucatan Peninsula to resupply and recoaling. Semmes orders are to head for Galveston, Texas and hit the Union troop transports there.

January 5, 1863: The Alabama sails for Galveston, arriving that afternoon. Unknown to Semmes, the port was retaken by the Confederates and the Union troop transporters were diverted to New Orleans. Instead, Semmes sees five Federal warships. Upon seeing that they were spotted, Semmes orders the Alabama sailed to a point 12 miles offshore. This is the only time that the CSS Alabama was even in Confederate waters. The Union naval commander, Commodore Henry Bell, orders the USS Hatteras to check out the ship on their horizon. The Alabama began sailing further out until darkness fell. Then turned around and attacked Hatteras. After a few broadsides, the Hatteras was sunk and the crew taken prisoner. Semmes then sails for Jamaica, where the prisoners were paroled on arrival on January 20.

January 26, 1863; While heading towards Brazil, the vessel Golden Rule was captured and destroyed.

January 27, 1863: Still heading for Brazil, the ship Chastelaine was captured and destroyed.

February, 3, 1863: Near Santo Domingo, the vessel Palmetto was captured and destroyed.

February 21, 1863: Heading into the South Atlantic, the vessels Golden Eagle and Olive Jane were captured and destroyed.

February 27, 1863; In the South Atlantic, the vessel Washington was captured and destroyed.

March 1, 1863; In the South Atlantic, the vessel Bethia Thayer was captured and destroyed.

March 2, 1863; In the South Atlantic, the vessel John A. Parke was captured and destroyed.

March 15, 1863; In the South Atlantic, the vessel Punjab was captured and released after a bond was posted.

March 23, 1863: In the South Atlantic, the vessel Kingfisher was captured and destroyed while the vessel Morning Star was captured and released after a bond was posted.

March 25, 1863: In the South Atlantic, the vessel Nora was captured and destroyed while the vessel Charles Hill was captured and released after a bond was posted.

April 4, 1863: In the South Atlantic, the vessel Louisa Hatch was captured and destroyed.

April 9, 1863: The Alabama arrives at Fernando de Naronha Island, off Brazil and waits for the Agrippina for resupply.

April 15, 1863: Back in the South Atlantic, the vessels Kate Cory and Lafayette were captured and destroyed.

April 22, 1863: deciding that the Agrippina was not coming, Semmes orders the Alabama back to sea.

April 24, 1863: In the South Atlantic, the vessel Nye was captured and destroyed.

April 26, 1863: In the South Atlantic, the vessel Dorcas Prince was captured and destroyed.

May 3, 1863: In the South Atlantic, the vessels Sea Lark and Union Jack were captured and destroyed.

May 11, 1863: The Alabama puts into the port of Bahia, Brazil. There they meet the crew of CSS Georgia.

May 25, 1863: Back at sea, in the South Atlantic, the vessel Gildersleeve was captured and destroyed while the vessel Justina was captured and released after a bond was posted.

May 29, 1863; In the South Atlantic, the vessel Jabez Snow was captured and destroyed.

June 2, 1863; In the South Atlantic, the vessel Amazonian was captured and destroyed.

June 5, 1863; In the South Atlantic, the vessel Talisman was captured and destroyed.

Semmes decides to travel further south towards the Cape of Good Hope.

June 20, 1863: Nearing the Cape of Good Hope, the vessel Conrad was captured and recommissioned CSS Tuscaloosa.

July 2, 1863; Nearing the Cape of Good Hope, the ship Anna F. Schmidt was captured and destroyed.

July 6, 1863: Nearing the Cape of Good Hope, the ship Express was captured and destroyed.

In the latter part of July, 1863 the Alabama put into the port of Saldanha Bay on the west coast of South Africa.

August 5, 1863: While en route from Saldanha Bay to Capt Town, the vessel Sea Bride was captured.

At Cape Town, Semmes reads a few newspapers that tell him that the Federals have made the Alabama the Number One Target. He also finds out that the USS Vanderbilt is in the area.

August 15, 1863: The Alabama leaves Cape Town and heads into the Indian Ocean. They manage to avoid Vanderbilt.

In September the Alabama returned to Cape Town.

September 24, 1863: The Alabama leaves Cape Town and sets sail for the South China Sea.

November 6, 1863: The Alabama is now in the Sunda Strait and while avoiding the USS Wyoming, captures and destroys the vessel Amanda.

November 10, 1863; In the South China Sea, the vessel Winged Racer is captured and destroyed.

November 11, 1863: In the South China Sea, the vessel contest is captures and destroyed.

At this time, the long months at sea are taking a toll on the Alabama. The steam engine is encrusted with salt and the hull is deteriorating.

December 1863: The Alabama is in Singapore for repairs and provisioning.

December 24, 1863: After leaving Singapore, the vessel Martaban (otherwise known as the Texas Star) is captured and released after a bond is posted. Semmes decides to head back to the Atlantic and find a port where the Alabama can be overhauled.

December 26, 1863: Between Malaysia and Indonesia, the vessels highlander and Sonora are captured and destroyed.

January 14, 1864: South of India, the vessel Emma Jane is captured and destroyed.

March 20, 1864: Alabama arrives at Cape Town where Seems learns that British authorities seized the CSS Tuscaloosa.

March 25, 1864: CSS Alabama leaves Cape Town for the last time.

April 23, 1864: In the South Atlantic, the vessel Rockingham is captured and destroyed.

April 27, 1864: In the South Atlantic, the vessel Tycoon is captured and destroyed.

The Alabama was in very bad shape. Barnacles had encrusted the keel and had slowed the raider down considerably. Semmes decided to find a friendly port and make repairs.

June 10, 1864: The Alabama reached Cherbourg, France. Semmes requested a dry dock but the French authorities refused. The arrival is watched by the US counsel, who gets a telegraph message to Flushing, Holland, where the USS Kearsarge, under Captain John Winslow, was at. Winslow orders the Kearsarge sailed to Dover, England, where he receives orders on how to handle the Alabama.

June 14, 1864: USS Kearsarge arrive off Cherbourg. After being refused a request that prisoners be turned over to him, Winslow orders Kearsarge just outside French territorial waters. Semmes and his crew prepare for battle. On June 18, they are as ready as could be.

June 19, 1864: 9:30 a.m. (local) The Alabama, accompanied by the French warship St.Louis, leave Cherbourg Harbor. The French vessel is there to make sure French territory is not violated. Both Semmes and Winslow do not plan to any such thing. This battle will be in the middle of the English Channel.

10:20 a.m. lookout on the Kearsarge spots the Alabama. Winslow orders the distance closed.

10:57 a.m. The Alabama opens the fight with several broadsides. As the distance closed, one shell hit the Kearsarge’s stern post, but fails to explode. Another thing the Alabama found out was that Winslow had chain curtains over the sides to protect the hull. Another factor was that the Alabama’s powder had deteriorated, and so was not as powerful as should be.

As the distance closed, shells from the Kearsarge began to strike the Alabama, and they had no problems with their powder.

The two ships circled each other at 400 yards, trading broadsides. Soon there was too many holes in the hull and the Alabama began to sink. Semmes saw the writing on the wall and ordered the colors taken down. There was confusion as to whether the Alabama kept firing after a white flag went up, but Winslow kept his fire.

Ships and yachts had come from England and France to watch the fight and afterwards helped the Kearsarge pick up the surviving Alabama crewmembers.

At 12:24 p.m. the CSS Alabama went to the bottom, ending the career of the most successful commerce raider of the Confederate States Navy.

Semmes was picked up by the yacht Deerhound and taken to England. After a celebration, he paid off the rest of his crew and disbanded them. After a rest, he made his way to the CSA by way of the Bahamas and Mexico and into Texas.

In February 1865, he was promoted to Rear admiral and given command of the James River Squadron. As Richmond, VA fell to the Union he scuttled his fleet, reformed his men into infantry, and marched south. Semmes was commissioned a Brigadier General, the only known American to hold generalships in both the army and navy. He surrendered his command with General Joe Johnston’s at Greensboro, NC.

After a brief confinement, he became a lawyer in Alabama. He died on August 30, 1877 and is buried in Mobile, AL.


Prizes taken: 66

Total worth: about $7 million.

It was the early-20th Century before US merchant shipping recovered from the voyage of the Alabama

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hampton Roads

Dates: March 8-9, 1862


Union: Commodore John Worden aboard USS Monitor.

Confederate: Commodore Franklin Buchanan aboard CSS Virginia. (Lieutenant Catsby ap Roger Jones on March 9)

Prelude: On 20 April, 1861, the Gosport Navy Yard was in the process of being taken over by the Confederacy when the Union commander of the base, Commodore C.S. McCauley, ordered the base destroyed in order to prevent vital stores from falling into enemy hands. Among seven ships that were ordered scuttled was the frigate USS Merrimack, built in 1855 and a veteran of deployments with the West Indian and Pacific Squadrons. In February, 1860, the vessel arrived at Gosport for extensive maintenance.

During the evacuation, it was found that there were not enough crews to get all of the operational vessels out of the facility, so they were set afire. The Merrimack was burned to the waterline and left to sink. Within a matter of hours, Confederates had taken over the base, seizing a large amount of cannon, which was sent to costal forts around the Confederacy. As the fires were put out, the Merrimack was discovered still afloat, but with the top of the vessel charred. The hull was towed into a dry dock (which survived the fire) and the burned areas cut away.

CS Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory saw this as an opportunity. There were plans for an ironclad vessel designed to attack the wooden vessels of the still growing US Navy blockade of Confederate ports. Instead of building a warship from the keel up, it was decided to build an iron casemate over the Merrimack’s hull. They also decided to keep the engine that came with the Merrimack. Problem was that engine was designed to power the vessel in calm winds, not be the sole source of propulsion. The Confederates had no choice but to use the engine, since there were only a few factories able to build engines. Another problem facing them was that the only factory that could roll the iron plate necessary to build the casemate was the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, and it would take weeks to retool for that process from casting cannon. If this operation was supposed to be secret, it didn’t last very long as Southern newspapers trumpeted the news of a new weapon that would chase away the Yankee blockade.

In the North, the news of what the Confederates were doing to the Merrimack caused quite a stir in governmental circles. US Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles had convened an Ironclad Board to study designs for ships that would counter anything the Confederates were building. Into this fray stepped John Ericsson. The Swedish born inventor had worked for the US Navy before, designing the world’s first steam frigate propelled by a screw propeller, USS Princeton. On February 28, 1844, during a test run of the ship, a cannon had exploded, killing the Secretary of the Navy, the Secretary of State, and several others. This colored Ericsson’s relations with the Navy.
During a rather fractious meeting between Ericsson and several Navy officers, President Lincoln had taken a look at the cardboard model of the proposed vessel, a long deck, low hull, and a single two-gun turret, all of it iron plated. He settled the issue by saying, “All I have to say is what the girl said when she put her foot into the stocking. It strikes me there is something in it.” Ericsson got the contract on 15 September, 1861.

Work proceeded on both vessels with the Confederate vessel completed on 27 January, 1862. Three weeks later, on 17 February, the ship was christened CSS Virginia. The Union vessel was completed on 30 January, 1862 and was christened USS Monitor at Ericsson’s request.


USS Monitor

Length: 172 feet.
Width: 41feet
Draft: 10 ½ feet
Freeboard (between waterline and deck): 18 inches
Turret height: 9 feet
Turret width: 20 feet
Displacement: 1000 tons
Armament: Two Dahlgren 11-inch guns

Armor: Hull and deck, one inch iron plate back by wood. The turret was all iron.

CSS Virginia

Length: 263 feet
Width: 41 feet
Draft: 22 feet
Armament: Six smoothbore cannon and four rifled guns. Also had a 1500 pound spike for ramming.

Armor: Two inches of iron plating backed with two inches of pine and four inches of oak.

The US Navy ordered the monitor to head for Hampton Roads to fend off any attempt by the Confederates to break the blockade.

March 6, 1862: USS Monitor leaves New York harbor for Hampton Roads. It would take two days and the vessel was almost sunk by high waves. The first thing the crew found out was the ship was not designed for the open ocean.

March 8, 1862: 12:00 noon. Amid celebrations, the CSS Virginia cast off and headed up the Elizabeth River from Gosport towards Hampton Roads. In command was Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan, a former US Navy Captain who resigned his commission on the chance that his native state of Maryland would secede. When that was not the case, Buchanan tried to get back in the Navy but was refused by Secretary Welles. He now wanted to extract his revenge on the Navy by taking out as many ships as possible.

1:00 p.m. CSS Virginia enters Hampton Roads and heads toward its first target. The 24-gun sloop of war USS Cumberland. The shocked Union crewmembers soon realized that they were under attack. No one had seen a vessel like that before. Gun crews on the Cumberland began to fire on the Virginia. The shells bounced off the Virginia’s armor. Buchanan ordered full speed ahead (not easy with that weak engine) and rammed the Cumberland. The Virginia was stuck in Cumberland’s hull and was in danger of sinking when Buchanan ordered full reverse. The ram tore off and the Virginia was free.

The next target was the fifty gun frigate USS Congress, who had already taken a few shots from Virginia and was being assisted by shore batteries. Virginia delivered a broadside to Congress, heavily damaging the warship and even killing Buchanan’s brother, a lieutenant aboard Congress. The senior surviving officer ordered the Congress’s flag lowered, a signal of surrender. Shore batteries kept engaging the Virginia and Buchanan ordered another broadside into the Congress, which set the Federal warship on fire. Another Union vessel in the area, USS Minnesota, tried to flee but was aground on a sand bar. Firing continued from shore and Buchanan went on the top deck for a look. He was wounded by a Union sharpshooter. Command was passed to Lieutenant Catsby Jones. He orders a return to up river to sit out the night. They would deal with Minnesota in the morning.

As Virginia was steaming out of Hampton Roads, Monitor arrived. It was too late to start an engagement but Worden was instructed to protect Minnesota until the high tide can float the warship off the sand bar.

March 9, 1862: 9:00 a.m. Virginia reenters Hampton Roads and heads for the still beached Minnesota. On approach another vessel was spotted. To the Virginia’s crew, it looked like “a cheesebox on a raft.” Jones orders the Minnesota fired on but then Monitor intervened. The two vessels circled each other and the fight was on.

The Monitor had one advantage; after the guns were fired the turret could be rotated while they were being reloaded. This protected the crew, but if someone was at a bulkhead when an incoming shell struck the outside, he would have quite the headache. This was also the Monitor’s disadvantage; only two guns could be fired as opposed to the Virginia’s 3 to 4 guns in a broadside.

For the next three hours, the two vessels tried to gain the advantage, but no one had the upper hand. Virginia got stuck on a sand bar and it took 15 minutes (with the engine’s safety valves tied down to increase pressure) to free the Confederate vessel. A shot from Virginia hit Monitor’s pilot house, temporarily blinding Worden. As Monitor stopped, Jones thought they were breaking off the fight. The Confederates declared victory, and headed back to Gosport for repairs. The crew of Monitor, thinking that Virginia was breaking off the fight, declared victory and retook up position next to Minnesota.

This was the first engagement between ironclad vessels. There were ironclad warships in existence, the British vessel HMS Warrior and the French warship La Glorie were examples. It was said after the battle that the world’s navies became obsolete the moment Monitor and Virginia began engaging each other.

CSS Virginia never sought another engagement with USS Monitor. The warship stayed at Gosport until the Norfolk area was retaken by Union forces. Since Virginia had too much of a draft to sail up the James River to Richmond, the ship was scuttled on May 12, 1862 to prevent capture.

On that same day, Monitor and three other ships sailed up the James River to shell Richmond, but were stopped short of the city. After repairs and modifications, monitor was ordered to Beaufort, NC to assist in the blockade. While passing Cape Hatteras, NC a violent storm sent Monitor to the bottom with 16 still aboard.

The main effect of that battle was that the face of naval warfare was changed forever.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing, TN)

Dates: April 6-7, 1862


Union: Major General Ulysses S. Grant commanding the Army of West Tennessee
Major General Don Carlos Buell commanding the Army of the Ohio

Confederate: General Albert S. Johnston commanding the Army of the Mississippi

Prelude: Following the capture of Forts Henry and Donaldson in February, the Confederates were forced to establish a new defensive line from Memphis and stretching into Mississippi and Alabama in order to prevent further Federal incursion deeper into Confederate territory. Johnston centered his line on the town of Corinth, MS and began to pull in reinforcements from across the Confederacy. Soon he had 47,000 under his command and was ready to take the offensive.

The Union commander in the West, Major General Henry Halleck ordered Grant and Buell to head up the Tennessee River to a spot where they can launch an offensive towards Corinth.

March 1 to April 5, 1862: Grant transports his 58,600 troops from the Fort Henry area to Pittsburg Landing. There he will await Buell’s troops who are marching from the northeast.

March 1, 1862: Johnston’s army is amassed at Corinth.

April 3, 1862: Johnston receives word that a Federal army is at Pittsburg Landing with more on the way. He decides to take the offensive and hit Grant before Buell arrives. His troops begin marching towards Pittsburg Landing, but rain slows the march.

April 5, 1862: Johnston’s army comes within sigh of the Federal encampment but do not see any pickets. Johnston orders the attack to start at dawn.

April 6, 1862: 4:55 a.m. Confederate troops began to move forward. They are spotted by a Union reconnaissance patrol and after a brief skirmish, falls back to report. Initially, the reports of a massed Confederate army approaching are discounted, the commanders believing that Johnston was still at Corinth.

6:30 a.m. Johnston sends eight brigades into the southernmost camp, that of the division commanded by Major General Benjamin Prentiss. They immediately fall back towards the river. There is a delay in the advance as Confederate troops begin to loot the abandoned camp. Johnston grabs a tin cup and rallies his men to keep moving.

7:00 a.m. Johnston sends several brigades against the Federal right flank, held by the division of Brigadier General William Sherman, who makes a stiff defense around Shiloh Church (from whence the battle gets its name). Sherman is forced to fall back to the position held by the division of Major General John McClernand.

At this time, word has gotten to Grant that a Confederate attack is in progress. He alerts the divisions of Major Generals W.H.L. Wallace and Stephen Hurlbut to prepare to move forward.

8:00 a.m. W. Wallace and Hurlbut begin movement to the front. They are sent to the Federal left to assist Prentiss.

9:00 a.m. The approaching Federal reinforcements are spotted. Word is sent to Johnston, who orders two brigades to hit the Federal left.

11:00 a.m. Confederates make contact with a Federal defensive line that dug into a group of trees. Johnston orders a sweeping attack through a peach orchard towards the group of trees. The Federals, the divisions of W. Wallace and Prentiss, keep up a heavy volume of fire. The musket exchange is so intense that the wooded area became known as the “Hornet’s Nest.”

1:00 p.m. The Federal left is still holding, but the right, despite a counterattack by Sherman and McClernand, falls further back. By 2:30, they have withdrawn across a stream known as Tlighman Branch.

2:00 p.m. Johnston renews the attack on the Federal left. At 2:30, as he is check on the progress of the attack, a bullet strikes him in a leg. His aids get him to the ground but see no wound. Seconds later blood flows from his boot. Johnston dies as his aids try to save him, however his surgeon was tending to wounded Union prisoners and could not come back in time to put a tourniquet on the leg. General P.G.T. Beauregard assumes command the presses the attack.

4:00 p.m. Hurlbut’s division is forced to pull back toward Pittsburg Landing. At the Hornet’s Nest, W. Wallace and Prentiss begin playing for time as the rest of the Union forces are still falling back to the landing. Sherman and McClernand pull back to the Savannah-Hamburg Road to cover for Wallace.

5:30 p.m. Beauregard has artillery brought up to suppress the Federal guns covering the Hornet’s Nest. They succeed in driving the Union guns back to the landing. With those guns gone, the Hornet’s Nest is surrounded and W. Wallace and Prentiss are forced to surrender.

6:30 p.m. Beauregard makes another push but is stopped by the reformed Union artillery. He decides to pull back to the abandoned Union camps and resume the offensive in the morning.

April 7, 1862: During the night Buell’s army arrived at Pittsburg Landing. Also arriving was Grant’s reserve division, commanded by Major General Lewis Wallace. By regrouping the shattered divisions and adding the fresh troops, Grant is now able to launch his own offensive. He arranges the divisions of Major Generals William Nelson and George Crittenden on the left. Sherman, McClernand, and Hurlbut are in the middle. And making up the right ate L. Wallace and Major Alexander McCook.

Grant also orders the gunboats Tyler and Lexington to shell the abandoned camps where the Confederates are trying to sleep.

7: 00 a.m. L. Wallace begins the offensive by driving four Confederate brigades from a field, otherwise the main attack runs into light skirmishing.

9:00 a.m. Federals continue to advance but the center is stalled in the Hornet’s Nest area. Confederates are now alerted to the attack. Beauregard orders a strike on the Federal left, which halts things for a while.

McCook hits the Confederate center, hitting the left flank of Major General John Breckenridge’s division.

10:30 a.m. Sherman, McClernand, and Hurlbut drive across Tlighman Branch and engage the divisions of Major Generals Braxton Bragg and Leonidas Polk.

Confederates are forced to pull back as L. Wallace’s division hits their left flank.

12:00 noon. Nelson and Crittenden have received reinforcements and resumed their advance, Driving Major General William Hardee’s division back.

McCook’s division engages Bragg’s at Water Oak Pond. Beauregard orders a counterattack but fails the stop the Federal advance.

4:00 p.m. Confederates had fallen back to the abandoned Union camps. Beauregard brings up artillery for a last ditch attempt to stop the Union advance. This works and the Confederates are able to withdraw from the field. The Union forces are too exhausted to pursue and are content to reclaim the camps they lost the day before. Fighting ends.

The Union was able to stop a major Confederate attempt to thrust into central Tennessee and maybe even head back into Kentucky. Despite this, there were rumors that Grant was drunk on the first day of battle. These rumors would cause Halleck to relieve Grant on April 11, but that would not last long.

The Confederacy lost a capable general and probably the best chance to achieve a victory in the West. The had to fall back to Corinth but this would also lead to the eventual fall on Memphis in June, another critical step in the Union plan to regain control of the Mississippi River.

Causalities (Total):

Union: 13,000

Confederate: 10,000

Forts Henry and Donaldson

Dates: February 4-16, 1862


Union: Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew Foote.

Confederate: Brigadier General Lloyd Tlighman commanding at Fort Henry.
Brigadier General John Floyd commanding at Fort Donaldson.

Prelude: As part of President Lincoln’s order for a general advance on all fronts, the Union commander in the West, Major General Henry Halleck, wanted to push the Confederates out of Kentucky altogether and gain a foothold in Tennessee. A key to future operation was control of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The Confederates knew this as well and had placed forts along those rivers to either stall or stop and Federal advance. Fort Henry was placed along the Tennessee River just inside the border from Kentucky. Across the river, on the Kentucky side, was Fort Heiman. These forts created a chokepoint in the Tennessee. About 10 miles to the east was Fort Donaldson, covering a bend in the Cumberland. If the Union was going to gain a foothold in Tennessee, these forts had to go.

February 4, 1862: During the night, the Federal flotilla arrived at Bailey’s Ford, about three miles up river from Fort Henry. The division of Brigadier General John McClernand was placed on the east bank.

February 5, 1862: The division of Brigadier General Charles Smith was placed on the west bank so that they can advance on Fort Heiman.

February 6, 1862: At 11:00 a.m. McClernand begins marching his troops towards Fort Henry.

Smith begins marching his troops towards Fort Heiman. They reach it and found out that the fort was evacuated.

Foote sails his gunboats to Fort Henry and proceeds to shell it. The Federals notice that the fort was built on swampy ground which was prone to flooding. It was flooding. At a pause in the bombardment, the fort surrendered and its garrison was evacuated to Fort Donaldson. That night Grant and his command occupy Fort Henry.

Meanwhile, the Confederate Commander in the West, General Albert Johnston sent 15,000 men under Floyd to Fort Donaldson to assist in the defense. Because of his seniority, Floyd becomes the fort’s commander.

February 11, 1862: Grant formulates a plan to take Fort Donaldson. He sends some of Foote’s flotilla to raid along the Tennessee while the rest of the gunboats went back to Cairo, IL to pick up the division of Brigadier General Lew Wallace and take them down the Cumberland to assist in the assault. Meanwhile Grant sends both Smith and McClernand on parallel roads towards the fort.

February 12, 1862: Both Smith’s and McClernand’s divisions reach the outer defenses of Fort Donaldson as Wallace’s division is landed up river and Foote’s gunboats shell the fort.

February 13, 1862: Federal forces try to assault the Fort Donaldson defenses but a blizzard has put a damper on things.

February 14, 1862: Foot’s gunboats shell the fort but return fire damages some of them. This as Wallace’s division arrives, giving the Federals an advantage.

February 15: 1862: Dawn: Floyd and Brigadier General Simon Buckner launch an attack on the Federal line, momentarily opening an escape route. At the moment of success, Floyd orders hit forces back into their trenches.

1:00 p.m. Grant arrives on the scene and orders a general attack on the entire line. The initial attack regains the ground lost that morning. In the mid-afternoon, Smith’s division seized a line of Confederate trenches. Fighting stops at that point.

That night, Floyd gives his command to Brigadier General Gideon Pillow, who passes the buck to Buckner. Floyd was the Secretary of War in the Buchanan Administration and had sent arms south as the southern states were seceding and he thought that he would be hung as a traitor. Floyd and Pillow escape with 2500 men. Another commander, Brigadier General Nathan Forrest wanted no part of a surrender and took his command out as well.

February 16, 1862: Dawn breaks to find Buckner and the remaining force surrounded by Federals. He sends a letter to Grant:

Headquarters, Fort Donaldson
February 16, 1862

Sir—In consideration of all the circumstances governing the present situation of affairs at this station, I propose to the Commanding Officer of the Federal forces the appointment of Commissioners to agree upon terms of capitulation of the forces and fort under my command and in that view suggest an armistice until 12 o’clock to-day.

I am, sir, very respectfully
Your ob’t se’v’t
S. B. Buckner
Brig Gen C.S.A.

Grant replies:

General S. B. Buckner
Confederate Army

Sir—Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of Commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except an unconditional an immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

I am, sir, very respectfully
Your ob’t se’v’t
U. S. Grant
Brig Gen

The answer came back:

Headquarters, Dover, Tennessee
February 16, 1862

To Brig Gen U. S. Grant
U. S. Army

Sir—The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, not withstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.

I am, sir,
Your ob’t se’v’t
S. B. Buckner
Brig Gen C.S.A.

Buckner remembered loaning Grant some money several years back and thought he could be let down easy. Instead, Grant showed the style that would lead to the surrender of two more Confederate armies during the remainder of the war. When the news reached the north, newspapers nicknamed him “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. The greatest effect of this Union victory was that the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers could be used to make an advance into Tennessee and the Deep South.

First Manassas

Date: July 21, 1861


Union: Brigadier General Irwin McDowell

Confederate: Brigadier General P.T.G. Beauregard (Later General Joseph Johnston)

Prelude: for the past few months both sides have been training and preparing for what seemed to be a colossal showdown. In the South, the new Confederate Army was drilling at various places, expecting to go to the field, scare off the Yankee invader, and secure independence for the new Confederate States of America. This was evident in Virginia, where President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to put down the rebellion spurred that state to vote for secession. The response to the President’s request for Virginia to furnish three regiments for Federal service was that three regiments were formed, but for the Armed Forces of Virginia. Within weeks, those troops, and others, were re-mustered into Confederate service and their commander, former US Army Colonel Robert E. Lee, becoming an advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In the North, many were taking offense to the firing on the US flag at Fort Sumter and were flocking to recruiting stations to enlist in regiments being raised by the State governments for Federal service. Many of these were 90-day enlistees, the feeling being that this war would end after one battle. Most of these had no idea what military service and discipline was like. It was not as if the Federal government had much of a choice. The Regular Army only had 16,000, many of those scattered at outposts on the frontier. There was no way the professionals could hold off the tens of thousands now flocking to the Stars and Bars now flying over Southern cities.

As June began, there was pressure being put on McDowell to start an offensive. The politicians were calling for a grand offensive to crush the rebellion. However, there was a bigger problem, those who enlisted for 90 days were nearing the end of their terms and they were intending to leave at the 90th day. Under this pressure, McDowell did come up with a plan. He would lead a force to seize the rail junction at Manassas, VA while another force under Brigadier General Robert Patterson was sent into the Shenandoah Valley to face Confederate troops under Joe Johnston. When McDowell expressed his concerns about the greenness of his troops, he was told that the enemy was also green.

July 16, 1861: McDowell’s army begins marching from their camps into northern Virginia. Confederate spies in Washington quickly get word to Beauregard, who orders his pickets to fall back.

July 17, 1861: Beauregard requests reinforcements from Johnston.

July 18, 1861: Johnston keeps a cavalry screen to fool Patterson into remaining where he was, while Johnston moves his army towards Manassas by rail.

McDowell was having problems with discipline as many of his troops break ranks to pick blackberries and play around. The progress of the Union forces is very slow. He finally reaches Centerville. An attempt to move towards the Confederate right flank is stopped at Blackburn’s Ford. McDowell decides to scout out the enemy positions in front of him.

July 20, 1861: Despite receiving word that Beauregard was being reinforced, McDowell issues orders to launch an attack in the morning. It was believed that Patterson was holding Johnston at bay, but the truth was that Johnston’s troops were on trains heading for Manassas Junction, a short march away.

July 21, 1861: Morning; McDowell sent his troops down the Warrenton Turnpike towards a creek called Bull Run. South of Centerville, the force split, with one group continuing down the road while the second group went west and looped around to seize the Sudley Ford crossing over Bull Run. The first group, under Brigadier General Daniel Tyler reached the Stone Bridge about 5:00 a.m. One of the brigades is commanded by Colonel William Sherman.

9:00 a.m. The second group, under Brigadier Generals David Hunter and Samuel Heintzelman crosses Bull Run at Sudley Ford and attempts to hit the Confederate left. Beauregard was planning to launch an attack on the force at the Stone Bridge, but this new threat forces him to shift troops from Colonel Nathan Evans brigade to the west to support the brigades of Brigadier Generals Bernard Bee and Francis Bartow as they were holding off the Federal thrust.

10:00 a.m. At Matthews Hill, the Federal attack was pushing Bee’s and Bartow’s troops back. At the same time, Tyler’s troops make it across the Stone Bridge and pushed south.

2:00 p.m. All of the Confederate forces begin to concentrate on Henry House Hill.

At the same time, Johnston’s troops were arriving at Manassas Junction and were marching toward the battle.

The first brigade from Johnston’s army, led by Virginia Military Institute professor and now Brigadier General Thomas Jackson arrives to find Bee and Bartow, and Evans pulling back. Bee meets Jackson:

Bee: General, they are pushing us back.

Jackson: Well, sir, we shall give them the bayonet.

Bee rides back to his troops and shouts, “Look, there is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let up endeavor to die here and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!”
It is not know whether that was a compliment, meaning that Jackson was bravely facing the storm of shot and shell that was coming in, or an insult, meaning that Jackson was slow bringing his troops into battle. Fifteen minutes after he said those words, Bee was killed by a Federal volley. The main result was that Jackson became known as “Stonewall” and the brigade was named the “Stonewall Brigade.” (Jackson never liked to be called “Stonewall,” he felt that the brigade deserved the nickname more than he did.)

Between one and four p.m. there was a series of back and forth attacks with neither gaining the advantage until Johnston’s army was fully into line of battle. The Confederates were ready for a full charge. Beauregard orders the charge.

4:00 p.m. Jackson was rallying his men when a bullet smashes into his left hand. That gets him mad. He yells, “When you charge, yell like furies.” (This is believed to be the origin of the “Rebel Yell.”)

Beauregard orders the charge. As the Confederates moved forward, the disorganized Union line began to crumble. Some units tried to hold off the charge, but a cavalry charge led by Colonel J.E.B. Stuart broke the Federal line and McDowell’s troops began to fall back.

As the Union forces were falling back, some in fine order and others in a rout, they ran into an incredible sight. Several hundred politicians and society persons had come out from Washington to watch the battle with picnic baskets and champagne to toast the Union victory. Now they were astride the only route that the Union troops could take to get away.

As the soldiers and civilians were crossing the Stone Bridge, a Confederate shell exploded overhead, overturning a carriage and blocking the road. The panic had begun in earnest as people tried to swim across the creek. Soldiers were tossing aside knapsacks, muskets, and cartridge boxes, anything that would lighten their load.

Caught up by the charging Confederates were Congressmen like Alfred Ely of New York, who was threatened with execution by a Confederate colonel. Ely ended up in a prison for several months.

The fleeing Federals did not stop until they were back in Washington. The Confederates, especially Jackson, wanted to press on to the city but they too were disorganized and exhausted to continue. As night fell, the battle came to an end.

Several lessons were gained from this battle;

1. The Confederates were not going to be a pushover. The idea that one volley and they would run was disproved by noon on that day.

2. Johnston’s movement proved the value of railroads in military operations. This was a lesson that the Union was able to take full advantage of.

3. The idea of a glorious war was quashed as lists of those killed were published in Northern and Southern news papers. Both sides learned the blood price that would have to be paid in order for either side to win.

4. There can no longer be 90-day recruits to fight this war. There will have to be a long term commitment to any army that takes the field again.

McDowell was relieved of army command and he served a time in the Washington Defenses before receiving a corps command under Major General John Pope. Following another defeat on the same battlefield, he was relieved of field command and was named Commander of the Department of the Pacific in 1864.

As the south celebrated this first victory, few actually realized what the next few years will be like.

Causalities (Total):

Union: 2896

Confederate: 1982

Monday, September 11, 2006

Battle Timeline: Gettysburg

Dates: July 1-3, 1863


Union: Major General George Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, General Lee wanted to press the advantage he now has and take the war into the North. He wanted to relieve Virginia farmers of the pressure that both armies were placing on them. He also wanted to take the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg and even threaten Philadelphia or Baltimore. This could make the anti-war elements in the North force the Lincoln Administration of reach a settlement that allows the CSA to achieve independence.

To aid in this plan, Lee reorganized his army into three corps. I Corps under Lieutenant General James Longstreet, II under Major General A.P. Hill, and III under Major General Richard Ewell. This plus a cavalry division under Major General J.E.B. Stuart.

June 3, 1863: Lee orders his troops to begin moving north towards the Shenandoah Valley. Federal observers see dust plumes but can not tell what is going on.

June 9, 1863: At Brandy Station, Stuart was conducting a review of his cavalry when Federal cavalry under Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton launched an attack. This became the largest cavalry battle of the war. When it seemed that Stuart was going to lose, Pleasonton ordered a withdrawal.

June 13, 1863: Hooker finally figures out that the Confederates are doing and begins to head after Lee. All the while telegraphing Washington for reinforcements.

June 14, 1863: Confederate troops under Ewell capture the Federal garrison at Winchester.

June 15, 1863: Ewell’s forces cross the Potomac into Maryland.

June 25, 1863: Stuart takes most of his cavalry and departs from the main body. He will not see Lee until July 2.

June 30, 1863: Following a heated exchange of telegrams between Hooker, General-in-chief Henry Halleck, and even President Lincoln, Hooker tenders his resignation, which is rapidly accepted. Major General George Meade is made commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade is automatically in a position where he has to shield Washington, stop Lee, and does not have a lot of time to do it. He plans a defensive line in north Maryland to draw Lee in. However the Confederates are already in Pennsylvania, with advance cavalry unite approaching Harrisburg and the rest of the army concentrating around Chambersburg. Meade decides to send up tows Gettysburg in order to get a better handle on the situation. Two brigades under Brigadier General John Buford are sent.

Stuart, now cut off from Lee, engages Federal Cavalry at Hannover, PA.

That afternoon, a spy under the pay of Longstreet came in with news that the Federal army was on their way. Lee decides to concentrate the army (effectively abandoning Harrisburg, where Ewell’s corps was headed) and make for the cross roads at Gettysburg. An advance party from Hill’s corps reached Gettysburg and exchange fire with what they thought was a Pennsylvania Emergency Militia unit. It was, actually, some of Buford’s troopers. Buford realized that Lee was turning his way and prepared a defense. He also sent a message to the closest infantry, I Corps under Major General John Reynolds, requesting assistance.

July 1, 1863: 5:00 a.m. General Hill sends forward the divisions of Major Generals Henry Heth and William Pender down the Chambersburg Pike east towards Gettysburg. It was believed that it was only militia in the town. Lieutenant Marcellus Jones was believed to have fired the first shot at the Confederates before leading his troop back to the defensive line.

Heth and Pender reformed their troops into battle formation and with artillery support continued to advance.

8:00 a.m. The Confederate advance hit the Federal line at McPherson’s Ridge and while they outnumbered the Union cavalry, the progress became slow. The Federals were using breech loading carbines, which kept up a good rate of fire. Even so, the Federals were forced to give ground. Hopefully they can hold out long enough for infantry to arrive.

10:00 a.m. Reynolds arrives with I Corps behind him. The addition of infantry strengthens up the defense and causes Hill to commit the rest of his corps. Meanwhile Ewell’s corps is approaching from the north. Reynolds leads I Corps in a counterattack and was killed by a sharpshooter. Major General Abner Doubleday assumes command in the field.

News of the battle reached Lee near Cashtown and he decided to investigate. Lee had ordered no general engagement until the whole army was together. He was also concerned about the whereabouts of Stuart. He was blind without his cavalry.

12:00 noon: The Union Army’s Iron Brigade turns back a Confederate thrust and captures Brigadier General James Archer in the process. XI Corps under Major General Oliver Howard arrives and Howard assumes command.

2:00 p.m. Meade receives word of the battle and sends Major General Winfield Hancock to Gettysburg to take command. He than orders all of his army to head for the town.

Confederate troops under Ewell arrived and engages the Federal right.

2:30 p.m. Lee arrives in the area and sees the situation for himself. He orders a general advance.

North of the town, a division under Union Major General Carl Schurz collapsed under Ewell’s onslaught. Federals began to retreat through the town.

3:30 p.m. Schurz’s line collapses.

4:00 p.m. A Confederate attack forces the rest of the Union to pull back toward Cemetery Ridge, south of the town.

Hancock arrives and assumes command. Orders all troops to reform at Cemetery Ridge.

4:30 p.m. Federal units reach Cemetery Hill and begin to dig entrenchments.

Lee orders Ewell to attack Cemetery Hill; he does not carry out the order.

6:00 p.m. III Corps under Major General Daniel Sickles arrives in the area as darkness falls.

July 2, 1863: As dawn arrives, the Union line begins to form like a fish hook. It stretches from Culp’s Hill, southeast of Gettysburg, west to Cemetery Hill, then south through Cemetery Ridge and ending at two hills called the Round Tops.

The Confederate line covers the Union one, with Ewell covering the town and the north, Hill covering the middle, and Longstreet covering the right.

Lee decides on a flanking attack on both ends. Longstreet wants to pull back and find a good defensive position. Lee refuses and orders Longstreet to attack the Federal left. Longstreet will take all day to do it.

On Cemetery Ridge, Sickles sees the Confederate movement and sends some sharpshooters and one regiment forward. He then orders his entire corps to move forward against orders. Meade is livid and orders him back. At that time Longstreet launches his attack.

4:00 p.m. Confederate troops under Major General John Hood launch their attack on the Union left flank, pushing them into a rocky area known as Devil’s Den.

Major General Gouverneur Warren, topographical engineer for the Army of the Potomac, arrives on Little Round Top, and seeing the hills bare, sends for the nearest troops, the approaching V Corps. Troops are quickly dispatched. Those troops arrive just in tome to hold off repeated attack by Texas and Alabama troops.

5:30 p.m. A wheat field becomes the scene of intense fighting. Sickles is injured during this time and loses a leg. III Corps pulls back to the Round Tops but holds off and further confederate attacks. The attack on the Union left is soon stopped.

8:00 p.m. Ewell sends in two divisions to take both Culp’s and Cemetery Hills. They capture parts of the line but do not take the entire line. Fighting stops for the night.

That evening, Stuart makes contact with Lee.

July 3, 1863: 5:30 a.m. Ewell launched an attack on Culp’s Hill and despite repeated attempts, does not break the line.

Lee decides to try something else. He orders Longstreet to take his only fresh division, that of Major General George Pickett, and with two others, those of Major Generals J. Johnston Pettigrew and Issac Trimble, and with other support, including artillery, attacks the Federal center. Despite Longstreet’s reluctance, troops begin to form up along Seminary Ridge.

1:00 p.m. A massive artillery bombardment is launched against the Federal center. Union artillery responds with counterbattery fire. At the height on the exchange, Federal troops remove damaged artillery. Confederate spotters see this as a withdrawal and seeing that their ammunition was getting low, decide to attack. The removal of the Federal artillery was done on the orders of Major General Henry Hunt, the Army of Potomac’s Chief of Artillery. It was a ruse to get the Confederates to attack. He soon replaced the line with fresh batteries.

3:00 p.m. The Confederate attack was formed into battle formation and at the signal of a single artillery volley, began the more than one mile march toward the Union line.

Almost immediately the formation came under heavy artillery fire. When they reached the Emmitsburg Road, they came under musket fire. When part of them reached a fence line called The Angle, they managed to briefly break the Federal line. However, reinforcements pushed them back. Seeing that the attack was failing, a withdrawal was ordered and the troops reformed at Seminary Ridge.

At the same time, a Confederate cavalry thrust towards the Federal rear was repulsed.

5:30 p.m. A Federal cavalry probe of the Confederate right flank was repulsed.

That evening, Lee orders a full pull back to start the next day.

July 14, 1863: After ten days, the Army of Northern Virginia crosses the Potomac back into Virginia, ending the Gettysburg campaign.

Causalities (Total):

Union: 23,000

Confederate: 28,000

Battle Timeline: Chickamauga

Dates: September 19-20, 1863


Union; Major General William Rosecrans commanding the Army of the Cumberland.

Confederate: General Braxton Bragg commanding the Army of Tennessee.

Prelude: In June 1863, Rosecrans had started a campaign against Bragg, hoping to force him out of Tennessee and into Georgia. By August Bragg was in north Georgia refitting his army and receiving reinforcements from Virginia in the form of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps. When all was completed, Bragg had a force of 60,000 men and was ready to take on Rosecrans.

In early September, Rosecrans, fresh from securing Chattanooga, TN, resumed his offensive. He spread out his army on a fifty mile front and proceeded to sweep into Georgia. Despite the Federals being spread out, Bragg failed to take advantage of it. Rosecrans, beginning to see that there was something wrong, ordered his army to concentrate at Chickamauga Creek. For those farthest away, it required a fifty mile forced march to accomplish it.

September 19, 1863: As the Union line was forming, Major General George Thomas sent a division to the east in search of reported Confederate activity. What he found was cavalry under Brigadier General Nathan Forrest. A fight started which increased as more men were drawn in. There was not much form to this fight, which petered out at nightfall.

September 20, 1863: 9:00 a.m. Bragg sends in the corps of Longstreet and Major General Leonidas Polk to hit the Federal line, but was heavily repulsed.

9:30 a.m. Another Confederate attack, this time by the divisions of Major Generals Patrick Cleburne and John Breckenridge, was repulsed.

11:00 a.m. Rosecrans receives a report that his line has a gap, which he sends a division to seal. Problem was, there was no gap until the movement of the Federal division made the gap. Bragg takes advantage of that by slamming into the Federal right, collapsing it and forcing Rosecrans to leave the field. Rosecrans orders his troops back to Chattanooga.

To give the retreating Union forces time to get away, Thomas forms his troops on Snodgrass Hill and prepare to meet the Confederate assault.

1:00 p.m. Thomas withstands attacks from four Confederate divisions. The fact that some of the soldiers were using Henry repeating rifles played a factor. This as well as some timely reinforcements.

5:30 p.m. As darkness falls, Thomas orders his troops to head for Chattanooga. Bragg does not pursue.

The Army of the Cumberland manages to reach Chattanooga, but Bragg eventually followed them and laid siege to the city which would not be broken until November, 1863.

Causalities (Total):

Union; 16,170

Confederate: 18,454

Battle Timeline: Chancellorsville

Date: May 1-4, 1863


Union: Major General Joseph Hooker commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: After the debacle at Fredericksburg in December 1862 and the abortive “Mud March” in early 1863, Major General Ambrose Burnside was relieved as commander of the Army of the Potomac. The position was offered to General Hooker, who assumed command on January 25, 1863.

One of the first things Hooker did was to reorganize the army back to the structure it used to have, removing the “Grand Division” level of command. This structure placed several corps under a commander, who then answered to the Army commander. Hooker then changed it back to having the Army commander directly oversee the corps commanders.
Other changes, live granting leave to soldiers soon brought up the morale of the Union army. After rest and refit, it was time to get back to business.

Public opinion in the North was that since spring had come to Virginia, it was time for another “On to Richmond” offensive. Problem was, the Confederates were solidly entrenched at Fredericksburg and they barred the way to the Confederate capital, or did they?

Hooker’s plan was simple and had a good chance to work; keep the Confederates at Fredericksburg with a diversionary attack while the bulk of the army went around and hit the Confederate’s flank. Then it was “On to Richmond.”

April 26, 1863: The Federal I Corps, under Major General John Reynolds, and VI Corps, under Major General John Sedgwick, cross the Rappahannock River and engage Confederate troops south of Fredericksburg.

April 27, 1863: The main Federal force, consisting of the V (Major General George Meade, recently promoted after Fredericksburg), XI (Major General Oliver Howard), and XII (Major General Henry Slocum) Corps begin to move northwest with cavalry support.

April 29, 1863: Union cavalry secure Kelly’s Ford, on the Rappahannock and the three corps crosses the ford despite slight opposition. At a fork in the road, V Corps takes the left while the other two go straight ahead. That evening, V Corps crosses Ely’s Ford, on the Rapidan, and the other two cross at Germanna Ford, up river from Ely’s Ford.

April 30, 1863: Meade sends a division under Major General George Sykes downstream to secure United States Ford so that II (Major General Daruis Couch) and III (Major General Daniel Sickles) corps can cross. Little do they know that the whole thing was observed by Confederate cavalry, who were sending regular reports to General Lee. Figuring that something was up, He orders 10,000 troops under General Jubal Early to remain at Fredericksburg while the rest of the army marches west. Meanwhile, the entire Union right wing reunites at the Chancellorsville cross roads.

May 1, 1863: 10:00 a.m. A Confederate division under Major General Richard Anderson digs in at Zoan Church, four miles east of the Chancellorsville crossroads. The bulk of the force, under Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, pushes on toward the cross roads. Word of this reaches Hooker, who interprets them as a retreat, despite some skirmishing. However, he orders his troops into defensive positions.

Afternoon: As the Federal forces move into defensive positions at Chancellorsville, Jackson makes an attack that convinces Hooker that the Confederates were not retreating. He forms his army using Chancellorsville as the center. XII Corps has the center with II and V taking the left. III and XI has the right, with XI at the end of the line in what turned out to be a weak position.

Late Evening: Armed with this intelligence, Lee and Jackson meet to formulate a plan that will exploit the weakness of the Federal right. Jackson proposes to take his troops, march them around the Federals, and strike the Union flank. Lee agrees. They do not know that this will be the last time Lee and Jackson will talk to each other.

May 2, 1863: 7:00 a.m. Upon finding a road suitable to move his troops, Jackson takes 27,000 and begins to move west. Some of the movement was seen by Federal troops of III Corps, who report it to Sickles, who reports it to Hooker, who dismisses it.

12:00 noon: Sickles decides to take things into his own hands and attack Jackson. He ends up fighting Lee instead while Jackson continues his movement.

5:00 p.m. Jackson completes his maneuver and can see the Federals of XI Corps encamped and settling down for the evening. At his signal, all of Jackson’s force ran out of the woods and launched an assault on XI Corps positions, driving them back. They continued the push as night fell.

9:30 p.m. Jackson wanted to push the attack even into nightfall, but the various Confederate units were entangled and needed to be sorted out before the Federals could regroup. Jackson reluctantly agrees and conducts a reconnaissance with his staff. After scouting out what seemed to be Federal positions, he returns to his lines. While doing so, a South Carolina unit saw the mounted men and mistook them for Federal cavalry. Quickly they moved into line formation and fired a volley at the horsemen. Jackson was hit in the right wrist and the left shoulder. A stretcher was brought up and Jackson was carried to the field hospital where the left arm was amputated.

May 3, 1863: 5:00 a.m. Major General J.E.B. Stuart takes command of Jackson’s troops and proceeds to push forward to reunite with Lee’s force. Fighting is fierce all morning but the two groups manage to come together around 10:00 a.m. Hooker, on the other hand, is making a strong defense.

12:30 p.m. Lee plans to make a push to throw Hooker off the field when a message comes in from Early that the Federals have broken through at Fredericksburg. This was VI Corps that made the breakthrough and was coming to assist Hooker. Lee responds with sending the division of Brigadier General Lafayette McLaws to Salem Church.

May 4, 1863: McLaws forms his troops in a C shape around VI Corps, forcing Sedgwick to pull back across the Rappahannock at Scott’s Ford, ending any chance to assist Hooker. McLaws was pulled back to assist Lee, but Hooker decided to pull his army back across the Rappahannock that night.

May 6, 1863: Hooker completes his withdrawal, ending another attempt to take Richmond.

May 10, 1863: Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson dies of pneumonia that was a complication of his wounds suffered at Chancellorsville. This deprives the Confederacy of its ablest general besides Lee.

The battle was considered Lee’s greatest victory but it could be attested to Hooker’s incompetence. The Union was now no closer to Richmond. Lee now wanted to take the momentum, now on his side, and use it in another try at invading the North.

Causalities (Total):

Union: 17,000

Confederate: 13,000

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Battle Timeline: Fredericksburg, VA

Date: December 13, 1862


Union: Major General Ambrose Burnside commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: On November 7, 1862, Burnside took command of the Army of the Potomac. He was a very reluctant officer who thought he was not suited for the job. It seems the only motivation to take the job was in order to keep Major General Joseph Hooker from getting the command. He immediately proposed to make a straight line advance on the Confederate capital of Richmond, VA. In order to do so, he needed access to an area with both river and rail access. The best candidate was the town of Fredericksburg. All he needed was pontoon bridges in order to cross the Rappahannock River. After that, the town could be used as a supply point, keeping his soldiers fed and equipped for the advance on Richmond.

General Lee, just fresh from defeating two Union armies, at Manassas, VA and Sharpsburg, MD, has been resting and refitting his troops. Of course his cavalry was having fun; Major General J.E.B. Stuart had ridden a circle around the Army of the Potomac on October 10-12, causing great embarrassment for the Union and led to the second and final removal of Major General George McClellan from command. His army is back in a position to block and Federal thrust toward Richmond.

November 15, 1862: Burnside orders his army to begin moving towards Fredericksburg. Burnside received assurances from Major General Henry Halleck, General-in Chief that the bridging material would be waiting for him.

Meanwhile, word of the rapid advance would have reached General Lee and he would have ordered his troops to move to the area immediately.

November 17, 1862: General Burnside and the Army of the Potomac arrived at Stafford Heights, opposite Fredericksburg. The plan was to force the river on November 19, but with one problem, the bridging material was not there! Bureaucratic tangles resulted in the bridges being stopped at Washington and stored! After a delay, the bridging material was sent on.

In the 1860s, it was a massive endeavor to get large cargoes from anywhere to anywhere. Each pontoon boat (which supported the bridge) needed a wagon pulled by at least six horses. A short bridge needed about 30. You also needed wagons to haul the planks, supports, tools, and supplies necessary to get this bridge to where it is needed. If there is a delay, it took time to get everything going again. You are talking several hundred wagons and about a thousand horses.

November 27, 1862: The bridging material finally arrives. However, the Confederates were not idle. Lee’s first corps, under Lieutenant General James Longstreet had arrived on November 21 and had fortified a position on a stretch of heights west of the town. Soon after the corps commanded by Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson arrived and began taking up positions to the right of the heights into a heavily wooded area to the southwest of the town.

Over the next two weeks, Burnside ordered a search of any river crossing that could bypass the Confederates. Problem was, while he was dithering, Lee was improving his position and moving artillery into the area.

December 10, 1862: Burnside met with his Grand Division and Corps commanders and announced his intention to cross the Rappahannock and attack Lee.

As part of putting his mark on the army, Burnside had reorganized the corps into Grand Divisions. This created another level of command and control.

That night, the construction of the bridges started.

December 11, 1862: Dawn came to reveal Confederate sharpshooters under the command of Brigadier General (and former US Senator from Mississippi) William Barksdale. As the troops became able to see the bridge builders, they opened fire. Union troops formed up to exchange fire with the Confederates and the Federal artillery began to shell the town. The town’s inhabitants saw what was coming and began to evacuate the town.

Soon the sniping from Fredericksburg stopped and the artillery bombardment was halted. The bridge building resumed. Soon, Barksdale had a Florida regiment come up and the sniping resumed. Finally, one Michigan and two Massachusetts regiments volunteered to grab some pontoon boats and cross the river to attack the Confederates. Once they were able to do so, fierce street-to-street fighting resulted. Barksdale was then ordered to pull his forces out of the town.

That evening, Union troops secured Fredericksburg.

December 12, 1863: Burnside had failed to launch an immediate attack, which could have broken the Confederate line. While he was deciding what to do, many of his troops had proceeded to loot the town. Lee took advantage of this to complete his fortifications. He actually wanted to draw the Federals toward him so that his artillery could break them up. One of his artillery commanders, E.P. Alexander, declared that “a chicken could not live on that field” when his guns opened up.

Burnside decided to launch his attack the next morning.

December 13, 1862: 10:00 a.m. Major General William Franklin’s Left Grand Division was ordered to attack the Confederate right flank, held by Jackson. The orders were a little vague and gave Franklin the impression that he only needed to send only a division (not his “Grand” division, but part of a corps). He ordered the division commanded by Major General George Meade to go forward.

As Meade’s division was approaching the Old Richmond Road (going south of Fredericksburg) the commander of General Stuart’s horse artillery, Major John Pelham, received permission to send his two guns forward and engage the Federals. His fire checked Meade’s advance but attracted Federal artillery fire. Refusing to order his guns back, Pelham shifted his guns from one spot to another. He told a messenger with an order to pull back, “tell General Stuart I can hold my ground.” Pelham held off Meade (and by extension, Franklin) for two hours until his ammunition ran out. Then he pulled back.

Meade resumed his advance but was getting hit by other Confederate artillery. All of a sudden, a gap was found in the Confederate line and Meade exploited it, splitting Jackson’s line. Meade then ran into two problems. First, the support he was expecting was not there (namely the division of Major General John Gibbon) and then he ran into the veteran troops of Confederate General A.P Hill. Thing was, the lead element, South Carolina troops under Brigadier General Maxey Gregg, had not expected a fight so soon and had stacked their muskets. Gregg actually thought that is was Confederate troops and told his reformed troops to hold their fire. He paid for that mistake when a musket ball hit him. Two days later Gregg, a signer of the South Carolina Articles of Secession, died. A redoubled defensive effort finally forced Meade to pull back around 2:00 p.m.

11:00 a.m. Burnside orders an assault on the Confederate left using the Right Grand Division, under Major General Edwin Sumner. He would have to send his troops up a ling slope towards a summit known as Marye’s Heights. This would have to be done under artillery fire from the start. Any attacking force would have to cross a canal before moving up the slope, and everywhere from the canal onwards would be under Confederate artillery fire. Once any troops got to the summit, they would face troops under the command of Georgian Brigadier General Thomas Cobb, supported by the Washington Artillery of New Orleans.

12:00 noon. First into the attack was II Corps under Major General Darius Couch, with the division of Brigadier General William French. The first thing they found out was the Confederate line was out of range of Federal artillery. The next thing they found out was they were well within range of the Confederate artillery. This fire punched holes in their formation as they went up the hill. As they approached the Confederate line, a sheet of fire greeted them. They found the Confederates behind a fence that ran alongside a sunken road. They had protection. The Federals did not. The defenders had their best shooters up front while the rest were loading muskets and passing them up. By the time French was forced to pull back, 1/3 of his troops were down.

Next came the division of Brigadier General Winfield Hancock. Among his brigades was the famed Irish Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Thomas Meagher. As they closed on the wall, they found among the defenders a Georgia regiment made up of Irishmen. Perhaps that a Union Irishman saw among the Confederates their bunkmate from the voyage across the Atlantic. However they saw their duty and pushed ahead. The Confederate Irishmen may have saw a brother or friend among those in blue, but their duty was clear. With tears streaming down their faces, the Confederate Irish leveled their muskets, and opened fire. When the Irish Brigade pulled back, they left 535 on the field.

Is was around this time that troops of Confederate General Joseph Kershaw were moved on to the heights to reinforce Cobb. This was just in time; Cobb suffered a wound in a thigh and bled to death. Kershaw took over the line.

2:30 p.m. French and Hancock’s troops are shattered and trapped on the slope below Marye’s Heights. Meanwhile more divisions were being sent into the fray. This following a pause so Burnside could assess the situation. He decided to continue the attack, throwing the divisions of Major General Oliver Howard and Brigadier General Andrew Humphreys up the slope. They met the same result.

The slope was carpeted with the dead, the wounded, and the surprisingly untouched trapped by constant Confederate fire. Soon, those who were still alive were using the dead to protect themselves.

A last attempt, of the fourteen made, was launched about 5:00 p.m. with the division of Brigadier General George Getty making a flanking attack on the Confederate line. Same result. No Union soldier got closer than 50 yards from the line. As night fell, those who could, retreated into the town. The others spent a freezing night on the slope.

General Lee looked on the scene and remarked, “It is good that war is so terrible. Else we should grow too fond of it.”

December 14, 1863: As dawn broke, a South Carolina sergeant, Richard Kirkland, took pity on the wounded Union soldiers crying for water. He gathered some canteens and went out to give water to those who were trying to kill him the day before. For this he was named “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.”

Burnside conducted a meeting where he made his attention to renew the attack, this time with him leading the charge. He was persuaded not to do that and to instead pull everyone back across the Rappahannock.

December 15, 1862: The Army of the Potomac, after managing to withdraw those trapped below Marye’s Heights, crossed the Rappahannock.



Killed: 1284

Wounded: 9600


Killed: 608

Wounded: 4116

Total causalities from both sides: 15,608

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