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150 Years Ago: Sunday, February 9, 1862


It’s 2am in Washington City and U.S. Provost Marshal Major George Sykes and 18 members of the U.S. Third Infantry arrive at The Willard hotel to arrest U.S. Brigadier General Charles P. Stone. Sykes has no charges to present and isn’t exactly sure what the reason is; but he does know that Sykes is to be taken by train to Fort Lafayette, an island coastal fortification off of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. “Why, Fort Lafayette is where they send secessionists! I have been as true a soldier to the Government as any in service,” replies Stone when he is told the news. He had been relieved from command by Major General George B. McClellan days earlier and was unaware that any other action was going to be taken. After being calmed by his wife Fanny and at the suggestion of Sykes, Stone changes into civilian clothes for the journey. He is kept in a nearby building until morning and then boards a train for the two day journey.

Death of Colonel Baker, October 21, 1861
Source: Library of Congress

Unknown to Stone, the unofficial charges against him are serious and involve the his conduct in the battle of Ball’s Bluff back in October 1861. It was during this battle that U.S. Senator and Colonel Edward D. Baker was killed; this not only enraged Congress, but also President Abraham Lincoln. Baker had been a close family friend, so close that the Lincoln’s had named their second born after him (though little Eddie Lincoln died in 1850 when he was four years old).

Due to the combination of losing one of their own, the defeat in battle and the death of over 1,000 Union soldiers (against the Confederate’s 160 dead), Congress formed the first Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. This led to questioning key military personnel involved in the battle, and with McClellan being untouchable the focus turned to who was second in command for this particular engagement: Charles P. Stone. Congress eventually comes to the conclusion that Stone should be charged with the following:

  • Misbehavior at the battle of Ball’s Bluff
  • Holding correspondence with the enemy before and since the battle of Ball’s Bluff, and receiving visits from rebel officers in his camp
  • Treacherously allowing the enemy to build a fort or strong work since the battle of Ball’s Bluff, under his guns without molestation
  • A treacherous design to expose his force to capture and destruction by the enemy, under pretense of orders for a movement from Commanding General which had not been given.

But this West Point graduate and former brevet First Lieutenant who was praised for his “gallant and meritorious conduct” during the Mexican War has no clue about any of this. Based on the Articles of War, the U.S. government has eight days to notify Stone of the charges.

In Alton, Illinois, U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Burbank and companies from the U.S. 13th Infantry Division arrive to the newly renovated military prison. Major General Henry Halleck has already furnished some general orders on how the prison is to be managed:

“You will arrange so that the officers may be confined apart from the men. The medical officer of your command will have the general charge of the sick, aided by the surgeons, prisoners of war. The sick prisoners of war will be in all respects treated as our own sick soldiers. The two officers next in rank to yourself and the surgeon of your command will be constituted a board, to examine and decide what articles of clothing are necessary for the health and proper cleanliness of the prisoners where not furnished by their own Government or friends, and you will make the necessary requisitions on the quartermaster’s department at Saint Louis for such articles as may be needed. The prisoners will be required to sign a receipt for any articles of clothing issued to them, the same as in the case of our enlisted men, the issue in all cases to be witnessed by a commissioned officer.”

Also arriving today are the prisoners of war from McDowell’s College in Missouri. They not only include Confederate soldiers, but southern sympathizers, saboteurs, spies and guerrilla fighters. They are also not only men; several women are also among them. They land via steamer and are ordered to march from the river landing to the prison. Along their path are a group of local residents, many who spit and shout at them as they pass by.

As the Confederates continue to prepare for an attack at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, General Albert Sidney Johnston makes a change in command. Though his first preference is General P.G.T. Beauregard, he instead places Brigadier General Gideon Pillow in command of the fort. Pillow replaces Simon Buckner and Bushrod J. Johnson.

Up the river in Fort Henry, Tennessee, U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Field Order No. 5 stating that there is to be no pilfering or marauding. Every offense will be tracked to a responsible party, so even the military leaders may be held responsible if they can’t identify the guilty party or if they don’t provide prompt punishment. He writes:

“In an enemy’s country, where so much more could be done by a manly and humane policy to advance the cause which we all have so deeply at heart, it is astonishing that men can be found so wanton as to destroy, pillage, and burn indiscriminately, without inquiry.”

Grant also writes a letter to his sister Mary, who currently lives in Covington, Kentucky:

Dear Sister,

I take my pen in hand “away down in Dixie” to let you know that I am still alive and well. What the next few days may bring forth, however, I can’t tell you. I intend to keep the ball moving as lively as possible, and have only been detained here from the fact that the Tennessee is very high and has been rising ever since we have been here, overflowing the back land and making it necessary to bridge it before we could move.—Before receiving this you will hear by telegraph of Fort Donelson being attacked.—Yesterday I went up the Tennessee River twenty odd miles, and to-day crossed over near the Cumberland River at Fort Donelson.—Our men had a little engagement with the enemy’s pickets, killing five of them, wounding a number, and, expressively speaking, “gobbling up” some twenty-four more.

If I had your last letter at hand I would answer it. But I have not and therefore write you a very hasty and random letter, simply to let you know that I believe you still remember me. Whilst writing I am carrying on a conversation with my Staff and others.

Julia will be with you in a few days and possibly I may accompany her. This is barely possible, depending upon having full possession of the line from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson, and upon being able to quit for a few days without retarding any contemplated movement. This would not leave me free more than one day however.

You have no conception of the amount of labor I have to perform. An army of men all helpless, looking to the commanding officer for every supply. Your plain brother, however, has as yet no reason to feel himself unequal to the task, and fully believes that he will carry on a successful campaign against our rebel enemy. I do not speak boastfully but utter a presentiment. The scare and fright of the rebels up here is beyond conception. Twenty three miles above here some were drowned in their haste to retreat, thinking us such vandals that neither life nor property would be respected. G.J. Pillow commands at Fort Donelson. I hope to give him a tug before you receive this.

U.S.G.

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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