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150 Years Ago: Saturday, February 1, 1862


General Henry Halleck, the fourth most senior ranking general in the Union army, has been overseeing the Department of Missouri and the western theater of operations since November 1861. Currently stationed in St. Louis, Halleck has been involved in severe infighting between military leaders and politicians over what then next moves should be and when they should take place. But five days ago President Abraham Lincoln issued an order that requires all armies to begin offensive operations by February 22; the significance of the date is the birthday of the first President, George Washington. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, under Halleck’s command, had been repeatedly pushing him for permission to head southeast to attempt to capture Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. Strategically a win would allow the Union army to advance to the Tennessee capital of Nashville, but more importantly it would open the river into northern Alabama, thus providing another means of moving men & supplies, and in turn cutting off these resources from the Confederacy.

Panoramic view looking south from Cairo, Illinois, showing parts of Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. (Source: Library of Congress)

Two days ago Halleck approved of Grant’s plan. Today Halleck makes small, final attempts to give Grant what little resources he can provide towards the effort. Halleck denies Grant’s request for additional horses and wagons and gives him a couple of additional regiments to add to his 15,000 troops, though Halleck feels he will need triple that amount if he is to succeed on to Nashville. The dirt roads have turned to mud and are mostly unusable, so steamers will be used to transport troops and supplies. This is all Halleck has to give – or is willing to give – to Grant. But Halleck does promote one of his Additional Aide-de-Camp’s, Ohioan James Birdseye McPherson, to Lieutenant-Colonel and Chief Engineer, and transfers him to Grant’s command immediately.

In Cairo, Illinois, Grant makes final preparations and sends instructions to his two division commanders, Brigadier Generals John A. McClernand & C. F. Smith, to pack light and leave behind only a small amount of men to defend Cairo & Paducah, Kentucky. Though Halleck worries about Grant’s numbers, he does not appear concerned. A few days earlier he happily wrote his sister Mary that “I have now a larger force than General (Winfield) Scott ever commanded prior to our present difficulties.” They will move out tomorrow evening.

In Washington City, General George B. McClellan is at home, balancing his responsibilities as Commanding General of the U.S. Army along with rest after coming down with typhoid fever in December. Lincoln is pressuring him to move his forces, not only with the “February 22” deadline, but with an additional supplementary order for the Army of the Potomac to attack the Confederates at Manassas Junction and Centreville, Virginia. McClellan is furious. He not only disagrees with the President’s proposal, but it’s winter time; the roads are nothing but mud and his health has still not fully recovered.  He can’t possibly be expected to move men, wagons, horses & supplies under these conditions. McClellan had presented his own “Urbanna plan” back in November, but it was high level and lacked the details needed to garner support. He sets to work on responding to Lincoln’s supplemental request by writing a 22-page letter objecting to the order. He will once again promote his Urbanna plan, but this time he will provide actual details.

The U.S. capital is overrun with soldiers in camps and visitors from the North who are stranded in the city due to heavy rains, making travel almost impossible. There is also another unique group of individuals coming into the city: fugitive slaves. Because of its distance to the Confederate border, the city was a primary destination. Lincoln instructs Ward Hill Lamon, his personal friend and U.S. marshal for Washington City, to refrain from arresting or committing fugitive slaves.

The Confederate States of America has been in existence for almost a full year, but it’s fiscal year ends today. It enters the second year of the war without debt or impaired credit; expenditures total $170 million. They enter the second year with over $100 million in reserve.

In Southampton, England, Confederate Commissioners James Mason & John Slidell arrive on the Royal Mail Company’s steamship, the La Plata. The British position on the American Civil War has been one of neutrality. There is some willingness to recognize the Confederate government, but Britain has found it difficult to fully support a government that, from the outside, appears to be fighting for the right to own slaves. Britain had abolished slavery in all its territories in 1833, and Queen Victoria’s recently deceased husband Prince Albert had been the President of the Society for the Extinction of Slavery.

Nevertheless, Mason & Slidell had boarded the British vessel Trent in November with the mission to meet with British and French leaders to press for diplomatic recognition of the Confederate States of America. The U.S.S. San Jacinto intercepted the vessel on November 8 while in international waters and, under instructions from the Department of the Navy, searched the vessel and apprehended the two men as contraband of war. What followed was outrage from not only Britain but other powerful countries such as France and Russia. Initial celebration over the capture in the U.S. was quickly followed by calls by many – including former President James Buchanan – to release the prisoners to avoid war with outside powers. Britain even built up its military forces in Canada and made preparations for war. It wasn’t until December that the diplomatic discussions had begun in earnest. It was U.S. Secretary of State William Seward who eventually proposed to Lincoln & the cabinet to release the prisoners, and it was accepted without dissent. Lincoln would later tell Seward that he found he was unable to draft a convincing rebuttal to Seward’s proposal. The two Confederates have now reached their destination; now the hard work begins as they work to convince the British and European powers to not only recognize their fight for independence, but to provide financial and military assistance.

Last November Julia Ward Howe and her husband, both whom are members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, had been in Washington City at the request of President Lincoln. When they visited one of the camps, they heard several versions of “John Brown’s Body,” a popular song amongst the soldiers. One of the clergyman thought the words were severe and urged Julia to use her poetry skills to rewrite the lyrics. She awoke at the Willard Hotel with the new words clearly in her mind, and put those thoughts to paper in the dark of night. She had submitted the new lyrics to the Atlantic Monthly in her hometown of Boston; today they are published. She is paid $4 for the submission, and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” will quickly become the new anthem of the Union.

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Source: Library of Congress)


Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
While God is marching on.

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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