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150 Years Ago: Saturday, June 1, 1861


In Donaldsonville, Louisiana, a group of Irishman volunteer their services. They call themselves the “Sons of Erin”; they are citizens of Ireland, but their home is now in Louisiana. They will fight for freedom and independence from the North.

In Cairo, the southernmost town in Illinois, Union guns are being placed and tested. Cairo is a strategic point for the Union as the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers converge at this location. It also is the southern end of the Illinois Central Railroad, which Senator Stephen Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln had successfully lobbied for in the 1850’s. The railroad reaches Ulysses S. Grant’s current hometown of Galena, Illinois and also has a branch line to Chicago, which can be used for transporting troops and supplies. Today the Union tests a 32-pound mortar that can cross the river.

In Tennessee, ten companies are organized into a regiment at the Camp of Instruction at Camp Cheatham; they become the 11th Tennessee Infantry Regiment and are led by Colonel James E. Rains.

In Virginia, Confederate troops are training with flintlock muskets from the Mexican War; the effective target range is short and the musket is outdated. Orders are being placed in Europe for state-of-the-art caplock muskets, which is the quickest loading mechanism available. The caplock will be easier to load, is more weather resistant and reliable. For now Southern troops must learn to work with what they have.

In St. Louis, Missouri, newly promoted Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon turns over the arsenal to Colonel Frank P. Blair. Lyon will focus his efforts on reorganizing the volunteers obtaining the appropriate supplies. He is preparing; he will not be as passive about secessionist troops looking to take over the state as William S. Harney was.

Though the North and South have been busy recruiting and drilling men for their armies, there have only been a few minor engagements so far with minimal casualties and loss of life. However, the number of skirmishes are slowly beginning to increase. Today there are two: Battle of Fairfax Court House and Battle of Arlington Mills, both in Virginia.

The Battle of Fairfax Court House takes place between Virginia militia and a small band of Union regular army cavalry. The cavalry is on a reconnaissance mission to gather information on Confederate forces in Fairfax County. In the early morning hours the Union cavalry ride loudly through the village streets, firing at random and taking a few prisoners. The Virginia Warrenton Rifles militia puts up a resistance to the cavalry, inflicting a few casualties and forcing the Union to retreat. The result is considered indecisive, though several special and key events occur.

First, John Quincy Marr, Captain of the Virginia militia unit, is the first Confederate officer/soldier to die in combat. Richard S. Ewell, who is currently a Lieutenant Colonel, is also wounded; he is the first field grade Confederate officer wounded in the war.

Second, Union commanding Lieutenant Charles H. Tompkins comes back with the intelligence that there are “upwards of 1,000” men at the village. This gives some Union leaders hesitation about launching a larger campaign in northern Virginia at this time. Unfortunately Tompkin’s numbers are way off, as there were only around 200 men. The North’s delay using false information could cost them; while they wait, the South in turn has more time to prepare.

Around 11pm the Battle of Arlington Mills begins when a small squad of Virginia militia approaches the Union camp and picket stations. The 1st Michigan Volunteer Infantry are in the mill while the 1st New York Fire Zouaves – who had come to relieve the 1st Michigan for the evening – are in a nearby home. Shots are fired, including some accidental friendly fire from the Zouaves who thought they were aiming at the Virginians and not their own men. By the end of the engagement the Zouaves suffered one fatality and the Virginians leave with one man wounded. These engagements today do not resolve anything, but fuels the flames on both sides for a major battle, decisive battle.

About thecivilwarproject

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. The site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.

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