Sidney Burbank

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150 Years Ago: Wednesday, February 12, 1862

C.S.A. Major General Thomas J. Jackson provides an update to General Joseph E. Johnston, who is in charge of operations in Northern Virginia. Jackson informs Johnston that since the Confederates pulled out of Romney, Virginia (TCWP note: Present-day Romney is located in West Virginia), Union troops have since returned to retake possession. The Union is also moving approximately 3,000 troops 26 miles south to Moorefield. But the most important news is regarding re-enlistments, as the Confederacy is in desperate need to not only recruit, but to retain who they have. Jackson has provided those who re-list with an incentive: an authorized furlough. So far the results are encouraging.

The Alton Military Prison has only been in operation for three days but it’s already facing overcrowding issues. Chas C. Smith, U.S. Captain of the 13th Infantry, sends a letter to U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Burbank letting him know that he received yet another shipment of prisoners last night. They have rented buildings adjacent to the prison for storage and the quartermaster’s department, and the resident surgeon is looking for a suitable building for a hospital but has yet to find one. So far there has been no trouble with any of the prisoners, but soon there will not be room for the 13th Infantry to have quarters within the prison walls.

Under U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s instructions, most of the Union troops depart Fort Henry this morning and proceed about five miles utilizing Dover and Ridge Roads. Along the route troops are met by C.S.A. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is utilizing his cavalry to screen their movements. When Forrest observes a change of direction made by McClernand’s division after an initial encounter, he makes a quick decision to move his cavalry to Indian Creek, where they will wait to intercept them.

Three of Forrest’s squadrons dismount and wait for the large Union force to arrive. Once they do, Forrest orders a charge. The Union cavalry are given orders to move out of the way before the charge, leaving the 8th Illinois to take on Forrest and his men. The infantry opens a terrific fire at short range against the charging Confederate cavalry. A Union Battery arrives shortly after the firing begins and assists in breaking up the attack. Forrest withdraws his men behind the shelter of the Fort for the evening.

The USS Carondelet is the first Union gunboat to arrive up the river. They promptly fire numerous shells into Fort Donelson to test the strength of its defenses. There are no casualties or damage from the act. They pull out of range and await their orders for tomorrow.

Grant finally arrives at nightfall, where he sets up headquarters at Widow Crisp’s house. This puts him near the left side of the front of the line and a mile from the Cumberland River.

Over 740 miles away in Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has spent most of his 53rd birthday at the bedside of 11-year-old son Willie. Willie has been very ill for over ten days now and is growing weaker and more shadow-like each day that passes. He is not allowed to see other children and is too ill to get out of bed, so the President and his wife Mary have been spending most of their time at Willie’s bedside. They comfort and sooth their child, read him stories and remind him that Tad and his favorite pony that he always insisted on riding every day are waiting for him to get better. The White House staff, including dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, also take turns keeping Willie company so he is never left alone. Willie is a favorite among the White House staff; he’s intelligent and vivacious, but has a kind and tender heart. To see him in this state is almost too much for them to bear, but all they can do is pray for him to get better.

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.


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.

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