Richard Yates

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150 Years Ago: Monday, April 27, 1863

Joseph Hooker U.S. Commanding General, Army of the Potomac Source: Library of Congress

Joseph Hooker
U.S. Commanding General, Army of the Potomac
Source: Library of Congress

How does it look now?“, reads U.S. Commanding General Joseph Hooker. The telegram in his hands is from President Abraham Lincoln, who, like every Spring since the war started, is highly anxious and high strung now that Winter is behind them. With the warmer weather, the Army of the Potomac should be on the move. But at the beginning of each Spring they must deal with rising rivers from the melting snow and consistent rains, which often hinder their movements. The last major move the Union army made in the Eastern theater of war was at Fredericksburg last December, under U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside. It had resulted in a major loss that has challenged the will of the people in the North to continue the war and has diminished the power of the United States on an international level. With Hooker now in charge, Lincoln has been sending communications that he no longer wants constant maneuvering of positions. He wants a battle and he wants it won. The Union needs a major victory.

It just so happens that Hooker has just begun moving his troops today, in what he considers a major plan to surprise C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee and the majority of his troops in the Fredericksburg area. Hooker is hoping to swing around Lee and cut off their supply lines from Richmond, and to turn the Confederate left flank. Hooker isn’t looking for a repeat battle at Fredericksburg; he was against the move back in December as he saw Lee’s troops on the high ground behind the stone wall protecting them. He has his own plans for success.

After days of waiting for the water levels to lower, Hooker’s Fifth, Eleventh and Twelfth Corps cross the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers above Fredericksburg. Union cavalry under Major General George Stoneman begins a long distance raid against Lee’s supply lines that Hooker is hoping will be successful and also preoccupy some of Lee’s troops.

The man who had once been a friend of U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant and had met with him on surrender terms back in February 1862 at Fort Donelson, Tennessee is promoted today by C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis. Major General Simon Buckner, who has spent the last six months in command of the District of the Gulf and has been in charge of the defenses in Mobile, Alabama, has been assigned command of the Department of East Tennessee. He will make arrangements to make the move to Knoxville, where he will work closely under C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg, who he has worked with before and dislikes as a General. In fact, Buckner had been one of many to publicly denounce Bragg’s performance during his Fall campaign in Kentucky last year, which resulted in Bragg’s army abandoning any future invasion of Kentucky even after a successful fight in Perryville in October.

Two days ago Grant had given specific orders for his men to be ready to take Grand Gulf, Mississippi fortifications in a strategic move to take the final target of Vicksburg. Yesterday Grant had arrived at U.S. Major General John McClernand’s camp only to find it highly disorganized and not at all working on his orders to prepare for the move today. McClernand had steamers and transports that were still scattered freely along the river and bayous, unable to support the move as planned. The two divisions that were to board the steamers were stuck on land. Instead of following Grant’s orders of preparation, McClernand staged a review of a single brigade for his visiting friend, Illinois Governor Richard Yates. McClernand’s men listen to a long and splendid motivational speech from Yates, followed by one from McClernand. At the end, McClernand has his artillery fire a salute to the Governor using ammunition that was to be saved to fight the enemy per Grant’s orders, as they were in very low supply. McClernand couldn’t have made a more obvious statement to Grant that he did not only disagree with his plan, but disrespected him as a leader. This was not new to Grant, who has been struggling with McClernand for months, with McClernand feeling that he should be the one in charge of the Vicksburg campaign. Though Yates has strong political power, Lincoln has the final say and he believes in Grant’s abilities.

Grant again sends specific, written orders to McClernand as to what he wants done today: McClernand’s troops are to board and await orders to move via steamers to a point opposite Grand Gulf. The Navy will reduce whatever batteries the Confederates have in place, and then McClernand’s men will be ferried to the Mississippi shore, where they are to unload from the steamers and storm up the bluffs, capturing the Confederate fortifications. Men are to take only three days supply of rations; Grant wants everyone traveling light and with only the bare necessities. He needs his men to be able to move quickly.

Instead of following Grant’s orders, McClernand again has other ideas. Instead of taking the troops via water, he wants to take an open road to the same point opposite Grand Gulf, which leads to a little village called Hard Times. Grant allows a reconnaissance party to see if roads are passable, and instead they find Confederate cavalry. As McClernand still does not have enough transports to board his men, Grant seizes the opportunity and orders the last two of McClernand’s divisions to drive the Confederates out and take the village of Hard Times. There will be no move today against Grand Gulf but at least the Union army can accomplish something.

Wanting to create a diversion, Grant turns his attention to his most trusted fellow officer, U.S. Major William T. Sherman, who is the furthest north and closest to Vicksburg. He sends a note to Sherman:

“If you think it advisable, you may make a reconnaissance of Haynes’ Bluff, taking as much force and as many steamers as you like. The effect of a heavy demonstration in that direction would be good so far as the enemy are concerned, but I am loath to order it, because it would be so hard to make our own troops understand that only a demonstration was intended, and our people at home would characterize it as a repulse. I therefore leave it to you whether to make such a demonstration. Publish your order beforehand, stating that a reconnaissance in force is to be made for the purpose of calling off the enemy’s attention from our movements south of Vicksburg, and not with any expectation of attacking.”

The orders Sherman receive give him a lot of leeway and decision making power. But Grant trusts him fully. Sherman immediately swings into action. To cover the road from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage, he detaches a division under Major General Frederick Steele. Sherman reveals to Steele that “General Grant directs me to control matters at this end.” Sherman knows he has Grant’s trust and that fuels him; it gives him confidence in his own abilities, which is something he lacked at the beginning of the war.

The move Grant wanted to make today against Grand Gulf will have to wait until tomorrow. He only hopes that this delay has not given the Confederates time to repulse their attack. But in typical Grant fashion, he has still made moves and tried to take advantage of the delay as best he can. He understands that public and political perception is very important right now.

C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson sends another battle report to General Robert E. Lee, this time regarding the second Battle of Manassas (known as Bull Run in North) from last August. He once again praises the support of C.S.A. Major General and cavalry officer J.E.B. Stuart for his action on the field. His fondness for Stuart is very obvious; it’s a huge compliment coming from someone who does not often give such high praise so freely. Jackson closes with the following:

For these great and signal victories our sincere and humble thanks are due unto Almighty God. We should in all things acknowledge the hand of Him who reigns in heaven and rules among the armies of men. In view of the arduous labors and great privations the troops were called to endure and the isolated and perilous position which the command occupied while engaged with greatly-superior numbers of the enemy we can but express the grateful conviction of our mind that God was with us and gave to us the victory, and unto His holy name be the praise.

150 Years Ago: Saturday, December 27, 1862

America continues to be the one theme that occupies the world’s tongue and thought. The Rappahannock has been crossed in the face of the whole Confederate army; and by the time these pages reach the reader a battle will probably have been fought upon which great issues may hang. If the Confederates are the winners it will go far to establish, as an unquestionable fact, their military superiority, and to inspirit them, in spite of all difficulties, to new exertions and struggles. But if they are beaten their position will be a most dangerous one. General Sumner has also, and on an earlier day, crossed the river some miles further down, and from that point was almost within a day’s march of Petersburg and its railway, which is connected with all the railways of North and South Carolina, and must be the chief line for bringing supplies to Lee’s army. Sumner, therefore, in the event of a Federal victory at Fredericksburg, would be ready to make a flank attack on the retreating army; and that most dangerous measure under the circumstances could only be evaded by the Confederates retreating by a different and circuitous line to Richmond, so that the Federals would probably be able to reach the Confederate capital first. Much, then, depends upon the battle at Fredericksburg, which we are told by telegrams arriving at the moment we write had actually begun.

The Alabama threatens to become a source of trouble between our own and the American Governments. If the responsible advisers of the Crown say the English law of enlistment has been violated by the building and fitting out of such a vessel in our country, it will be of course our duty to offer amends. But if no law has been violated the Americans must learn to be less susceptible, to annoyance, and direct their energies rather to the capture of the offending vessel than to angry abuse of us. Meantime we cannot but own the Americans are doing a very handsome act in contributing so largely to the wants of our operatives.

– – The London Times

The final Emancipation Proclamation is to be issued in a few days and many are nervous that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln may change his mind. He spends the day meeting with various members of Congress and clergymen on the issue, one of them Dr. Bryan Sunderland, who tells the President that “We are full of faith and prayer that you will make clean sweep for the Right.” Lincoln leans forward in his chair towards the clergyman and says “Doctor, it’s very hard sometimes to know what is right! You pray often and honestly, but so do those across the lines. They pray and all their preachers pray honestly. You and I don’t think them justified in praying for their objects, but they pray earnestly, no doubt! If you and I had our own way, Doctor, we will settle this war without bloodshed, but Providence permits blood to be shed. It’s hard to tell what Providence wants of us. Sometimes, we, ourselves, are more humane that the Divine Mercy seems to us to be.

John A. McClernandSource: Library of Congress

John A. McClernand
Source: Library of Congress

U.S. Major General William T. Sherman’s troops move their way through the swamps and bayous as they make their way towards Vicksburg. They are engaged in small skirmishes against Confederate pickets as Lieutenant General John Pemberton rushes troops in from the north to defend the strategic Confederate city. Sherman is waiting to receive additional assistance from Major General John McClernand, though he lacks respect for the man and is not looking forward to working with him. McClernand has proven himself to care more about using his political connections to advance his rank than to actually earn his promotions. Very few men respect or trust him; and they probably shouldn’t, as he is one of the key people responsible for spreading the word to politicians and the press that U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant is a drunk. Of course, if Grant is forced to step down because of this, McClernand naturally assumes he will obtain Grant’s position of Commander of the Western army. He has already been working closely with Illinois Governor Richard Yates to gain control over the Vicksburg campaign and authority to execute his own plan that goes against what Grant already has in motion. He knows that capturing Vicksburg will be a huge win for the Union; if his plan is the successful one, he will gain the credit and fame. But for now, Grant’s orders – backed by Washington – put him under Sherman’s control.

In Tennessee, U.S. Major General William Rosecrans continues his march towards Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg and his army of over 20,000 are stationed in defense of the city.

150 Years Ago: Monday, May 20, 1861

While Virginia and Tennessee still need a vote by their citizens to approve of secession, the state of North Carolina now adds itself to the list of states that have left the Union. While initially the state remained pro-Union even after the election of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, the battle of Fort Sumter, Lincoln’s proclamation for volunteer troops and the blockade of the southern coastline was too much for the leadership of North Carolina to accept. A state convention had been authorized by the legislature to meet today in Raleigh to discuss the topic of secession. The delegates vote for the Ordinance of Secession; they will align themselves with the Confederate States of America.
 
 

U.S. as of May 20, 1861 (Source: TCWP)


Walker Brothers (Source: Library of Congress)

After the vote, many North Carolinian’s rushed to volunteer for the Confederate army. Two brothers (shown here, right), Henry J. (age 24, teacher) and Levi Jasper Walker (age 19) leave behind their parents and three younger siblings. They travel to Mecklenburg County to enlist in Company B, 13th North Carolina Infantry as Privates. 

The Union had lost another state to the Southern cause, but there was some good news today: Kentucky declares its neutrality. The state forbids any movement of troops by either side on their soil. Both sides, at least for now, will respect Kentucky in the hope that the citizens will eventually choose their side. While the state has not chosen a side, many citizens will choose to fight for the Union or Southern independence.

In Montgomery, Alabama, the Confederate Congress officially votes to move the Confederate capital to Richmond, Virginia. The citizens of Virginia must vote in three days to approve secession; the hope is that this move will make Virginians feel acknowledged in its history and significance to the country. Not all of the Confederate states were for the move: Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas were against it. 

Southern aristocrat Mary Chesnut eats lunch with Confederate First Lady Varina Davis. The food is up to her standards, unlike a meal she had yesterday at her hotel where she was “forced to dine on cold asparagus and blackberries, so repulsive in aspect was the other food they sent me.” During the lunch they discuss the move of the capital to Richmond, which Mary’s husband strongly opposes as Montgomery is a more central location within the Confederacy. Mary sees it differently; she feels that Richmond will provide more comfortable hotels and will be cooler in the summer.  

In Chicago, Illinois, former Senator Stephen Douglas has been battling typhoid fever for the last few weeks. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that while at one point his condition was considered “dangerous” he is now on the mend. Also in Illinois, Governor Yates receives notification from U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron to muster troops into service for three years based on the quota that was provided earlier in the month. 

U.S. Marshals raid telegraph offices throughout the northern states in an effort to obtain evidence of traitorous acts to assist the South. The government is able to obtain a large amount of important information; over 300,000 telegraph transmissions were seized.

The Quartermaster at Staunton, Virginia, Michael Harman, writes Virginia Governor Letcher suggesting an expedition to the northwest corner of the state. Harman has purchased uniforms for his men and suggests using the militia to reinforce troops in western Virginia where Union sentiment is very high.

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