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150 Years Ago: Friday, February 7, 1862

Last night Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had withdrawn his resignation in the Confederate army. Part of his original outrage was regarding the town of Romney, Virginia (TWCP note: the town will eventually be part of West Virginia). He had entered the city on January 13, 1862, immediately after Union troops had evacuated it. Jackson had decided to take his Stonewall brigade to Winchester, Virginia, leaving Brigadier General William W. Loring’s brigade to occupy the town. Loring and his men were unhappy with the situation and perceived to be in a dangerous situation, though in reality it was a very secure area. Loring had gone behind Jackson’s back and sent a request directly to Richmond on January 23 asking to be recalled and the request was approved. When Jackson found out, he was furious and submitted his resignation. But now Jackson is back in command and his first act is to charge Loring with seven acts of insubordination and dereliction of duty. Richmond will ignore the request, but they will reassign Loring to a new command to avoid future conflicts between him and Jackson.

From his headquarters in St. Louis, U.S. Major General Henry Halleck writes a letter to Major General George B. McClellan notifying him of the victory and casualties during the battle of Fort Henry yesterday. He also notifies McClellan that their forces are moving down the river to capture Fort Donelson.

U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Burbank has been serving in the U.S. military for almost thirty-two years. A West Point graduate, the 55 year-old received notification three days ago from Halleck that he was going to be in charge of a new military prison camp in Alton, Illinois.

The former old state penitentiary was built in 1833, and at the beginning of the war it was considered a strategic location because of its position on the border and its proximity to St. Louis and the Union command there. The town was originally split on this move as there was concern it would put the citizens in danger of attacks from the Confederates, but in the end many saw it as their contribution to the Union cause. With over eight years of experience in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Lieutenant Colonel James B. McPherson was trusted to carefully assess the facility in December 1861 to determine whether it was feasible to use it as a military prison. With $2,400 in improvements, it was estimated that it could house approximately 1,700 prisoners.

Alton Military Prison, 1861 (Prior to modifications made in 1862 for the Confederate POWs)

Today Burbank is making his way towards the Alton military prison along with three to four companies of the 13th U.S. Infantry Division who will serve as guards. The prison was to be completed today, but workmen are still rushing to complete the project. Also on their way to the prison via river steamers are Confederate POW’s from McDowell College in Missouri and those who were captured yesterday at Fort Henry.

Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard sends out a memorandum from his headquarters in Bowling Green, Kentucky. After meeting with his military leadership regarding the fall of Fort Henry, they start to prepare for the likelihood that their troops at Fort Donelson will soon be attacked and unable to hold the position. If it does fall, they are prepared to move the troops just south of Nashville to develop a fortified point of strength so they can defend the Cumberland River from the passage of enemy gunboats and transports. He orders troops in Clarksville, Tennessee to head to the site, only leaving behind a sufficient force to protect manufacturing facilities and other property that the Confederate government has deemed important.

Beauregard also realizes that the fall of Fort Henry and subsequent Union control of the Tennessee River means that his armies in Bowling Green and Columbus, Kentucky are separated and therefore must act independently of each other in their defense of the State of Tennessee. He also foresees the dreaded possibility that the Union forces will be successful in taking over the other key rivers that divide the state, so he lists the southwest city of Memphis as the fallback point; or Grand or even Jackson, Mississippi if necessary.

Map of the Battle of Roanoke Island, February 7-8, 1862
Source: Library of Congress

At noon, U.S. army and navy forces begin their attack in the North Carolina Sound. Approximately 2,000 Confederate forces are armed and ready, but the various islands and regions have gaps in coverage. The C.S.A. Navy – nicknamed the “Mosquito Fleet” – fights hard but retires when they run out of ammunition. Slowly Union forces made their way towards Roanoke Island; even though there is heavy fighting on both sides, casualties are few. At 3pm, U.S. Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside ordered landings to begin at Ashby Harbor, which is near the midpoint of the island. An hour later his troops begin to reach the shore. A 200-man Confederate force is already there, but they flee when Union gunboats open fire. By midnight, all 10,000 Union men are safely on the island and settled into camp for the night.

Daily Civil War Calendar

February 2012

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