Frank P. Blair

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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troops are training with flintlock muskets from the Mexican War; the effective target range is short and the musket is outdated.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.

150 Years Ago: Saturday, May 18, 1861

The state of Arkansas is officially admitted into the Confederate States of America.

Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson is not only maneuvering to support the Confederacy, but he’s looking for their help in gaining control of his state out of the hands of Union volunteers that are set on keeping control. His Lieutenant Governor Thomas Reynolds is traveling to meet with the Confederate government to seek their assistance. In addition, there is discussion of getting delegates together from the previous state convention to re-discuss the topic of secession.

In Washington City, Horatio Nelson Taft writes in his diary about the perfect cool weather for the soldiers, who are constantly drilling throughout the city.

Two days ago President Lincoln and several key advisers had agreed to remove General William Harney in Missouri, as he is believed to have Southern sympathies. It was decided that Frank Blair, Jr. would have the final say on whether Harney would be relieved of duty. Lincoln writes Blair today; he is having second thoughts:

My Dear Sir.

We have a good deal of anxiety here about St. Louis. I understand an order has gone from the War Department to you, to be delivered or withheld in your discretion, relieving Gen. Harney from his command. I was not quite satisfied with the order when it was made, though on the whole I thought it best to make it; but since then I have become more doubtful of its propriety. I do not write now to countermand it; but to say I wish you would withhold it, unless in your judgement the necessity to the contrary is very urgent.

There are several reasons for this. We better have him a friend than an enemy. It will dissatisfy a good many who otherwise would be quiet. More than all, we first relieved him, then restored him, & now if we relieve him again, the public will ask, “why all this vacillation.”

Still if, in your judgment, it is indispensable let it be so.

Yours very truly A Lincoln

While Lincoln attends an evening concert at the White House put on by the Marine Band, his wife Mary is with their oldest son Robert in Boston for the weekend.

150 Years Ago: Thursday, May 16, 1861

Tennessee legislators had voted to secede on May 6; today the state is officially admitted into the Confederate States of America. A decision is also made to recruit another 400,000 volunteers for the military effort.

The Confederate Congress also makes a crucial decision to move the Confederate capital from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia. They are hoping this move will encourage Virginia citizens to vote for the Ordinance of Secession on May 23. In some ways Richmond is a good strategic move as it’s more connected for rail and supply routes than Montgomery. On the other hand, it places the Confederate government within only a hundred miles of Washington City.

U.S. President Lincoln goes to Trinity Church at 9am to attend the wedding of Military Chief Administrative Officer’s son. He attends a dress parade of the 7th New York with Secretary of State William Seward and at some point in his day goes to Mathew Brady’s photography studio and has a series of photos taken.

Abraham Lincoln, May 16, 1861 (Source: Library of Congress)

Even though General William Harney had recently returned to St. Louis with his position reinstated, what he did not know was that there was a plot in the works to remove him once again. Montgomery Blair, his brother Frank Blair, Jr. and Captain Nathaniel Lyon, all from Missouri, suspected that Harney is a secessionist. Montgomery Blair has drafted an order to remove Harney from command and replace him with Lyon, who would be appointed a Brigadier General. Lincoln had been given the proposal but wanted to talk with General Scott and Secretary of War Cameron first.

Cameron was not convinced that Lyon was the right guy for the job, especially after the Camp Jackson affair. But today things fall into place; Cameron, Scott and Lincoln approve the order for Harney’s removal but there is one condition: Frank Blair, Jr. – who is in St. Louis – has to make the final decision on whether Harney should be given the order. Obviously this won’t be an issue because Frank was in on the plot from the beginning.

In New York City, Mary Lincoln takes a ride to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Greenwood Cemetery, followed by shopping in the afternoon as she continues to purchase items for the White House. At 10:30pm the city band and the Excelsior Brigade line up below Mary’s hotel window to pay their respects. Mary appears at her window, bows her compliments and drops a bouquet to the band as the surrounding crowd cheers gives her a hearty cheer.

Though he was relieved of command in Annapolis yesterday, today Benjamin Butler takes a special train to Washington City. Butler has learned that he is to receive a promotion but has not yet received official notice. He has been asked by Lincoln to come to the White House, but he first stops by to see General Winfield Scott. Scott receives him coldly and is unwilling to listen to Butler’s explanation. Butler would later say that his venting was so emotional that “upon my return to my quarters I threw myself on my lounge, and burst into a flood of tears.”

In the evening he heads to the White House where he meets with Lincoln and two of Lincoln’s cabinet members, Montgomery Blair (Postmaster General) and Simon Cameron (Secretary of War). Scott may be furious with him, but Lincoln can’t afford to spare officers right now. In their meeting he is officially promoted to Major General; he is now the third Major General in the U.S. Volunteers. Butler is given command of Fort Monroe, a Federal outpost at the end of the Virginia Peninsula. He will leave in the morning.

Daily Civil War Calendar

August 2020

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