William S. Harney

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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troops are training with flintlock muskets from the Mexican War; the effective target range is short and the musket is outdated.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: Friday, May 31, 1861

Ellen Sherman is packing up her St. Louis home; she and the children are moving back to her father’s home in Lancaster, Ohio. Today is her husband William Tecumseh (Cump) Sherman’s last day as President of the Fifth Street Railroad; he has served just two out the twelve months he had originally agreed to. Though it took some persuasion on the part of Sherman’s brother John and Ellen’s own political-involved Ewing family, Cump had accepted the command of Colonel of the Thirteenth Regular Infantry which he was appointed to on May 14. Though Cump had requested to raise this new Regiment at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, General Winfield Scott had denied the request; he wants Sherman in Washington City. Knowing that Washington is not a safe place for his wife and five children – with a sixth child on the way – Cump had made arrangements with Thomas Ewing, Ellen’s father. Ellen prefers to be as close to her parents as possible, so she is very agreeable to the arrangement.

Also in St. Louis, two Union officers are reacting to two very different letters received from Washington that are dated May 16. U.S. Brigadier General William S. Harney is in shock to learn that he has been relieved of command after only a few weeks. He writes to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, acknowledging that he received the instructions and officially relinquishes command, but at the same time is convinced that President Lincoln could not have approved this action. He believes this is all a mistake and informs Thomas that news from Missouri over the past few weeks was more animated and blown out of proportion than what politicians in Washington may think. Harney believes that things are best left in his capable command, but leaves his fate at the hands of the President.

But one man’s loss is another man’s gain. With Harney’s removal, this now puts Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon in charge. Lyon immediately assumes command of Union troops in Missouri. It’s the position he has been aiming for over the last several months as he recruited volunteers, secured the St. Louis Arsenal and weapons, and captured rebel Camp Jackson, all on his own initiative.

In Washington, U.S. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair suspends all mail to the states that have seceded from the Union and closes accounts of secessionist postmasters. All remaining postmasters must take an oath of allegiance to the Union if they wish to retain their positions.

The Confederate government continues to make military appointments now that the government has been moved to Richmond. Today General P.G.T. Beauregard is given command of the “Alexandria Line” which includes all of northern Virginia.

From her home in New Brunswick, Canada, Betsy Edmonds writes a letter to her daughter Sarah Emma Edmonds. Sarah is better known as Private Frank Thompson to her comrades in the Second Michigan Infantry and she is now at Fort Wayne in Detroit after being mustered into service six days ago. Betsy is confused over her daughter’s behavior to pose as a young man and join a war in another country. She’s hoping that her words will reach Sarah and get her to change her course of action:

My dear child:

I take time to write you to let you know that your family is well. I received a letter from you today and I was much displeased. I implore you to give up this ruse and come home at once. This war is not yours, my child. Leave it to the Americans who fight each other, most foolishly, in my opinion.

If you will not leave the war, at least then leave that which causes you the most danger, and which must surely be your most constant trouble–that of seeming to be what you are not. Cast off the Yankee uniform and take back your skirts, Emma. Or if you must stay in this war, at least stay as the woman you are.

I pray daily for your safety. And I pray for the swift resolution to this foolish war which is ripping your adopted country apart.

Your loving mother,

Betsy Edmonds

Betsy closes with a final afterthought, telling her daughter not to bother writing her again until she can sign her “own rightful name” to the letter.

150 Years Ago: Tuesday, May 28, 1861

Missouri Major General Sterling Price responds to General William Harney’s telegram from yesterday. Sterling says that he and Governor Jackson are not aware of any activity in Arkansas. If troops try to cross into Missouri Price will send them back. Whether Price is aware of the communications between the Governor and Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope – which does give reference to Confederate troop support – is unknown.

U.S. General Irvin McDowell is appointed commander of the Department of Northeastern Virginia, with the main responsibility to protect the capital city of Washington.

Commander of Virginia forces, Robert E. Lee, writes a letter to his wife Mary from his new post in Manassas. Their Arlington home is now occupied by Union forces, and Mary is staying with family and out of harms way. The Lee’s know they have likely lost their home for good, but there is still discussion over where Mary should move to for the long term and Robert is very concerned for her safety.

I reached here, dearest Mary, this afternoon. I am very much occupied in examining matters, and have to go out to look over the ground. Cousin John tempts me strongly to go down, but I never visit for many reasons. If for no other, to prevent compromising the house, for my visit would certainly be known.

I have written to you fully and to Cousin Anna. I am decidedly of the opinion that it would be better for you to leave, on your account and Cousin Anna’s. My only objection is the leaving of Cousin Anna alone, if she will not go with you. If you prefer Richmond, go with Nannie. Otherwise, go to the upper country, as John indicates. I fear I cannot be with you anywhere. I do not think Richmond will be permanent.

Colonel Thomas J. Jackson had taken over a large section of rail in Maryland and Virginia a few days ago, but its today that John Garrett, the President of the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad, acknowledges that over 100 miles of track is in control of the Confederacy.

The Richmond Daily Dispatch prints a disturbing warning to the North.

Hanging a game for two.

We can inform the Federal ruffians, newspaporial and military, that their darling idea of catching and hanging Jeff. Davis is likely to produce an effect which they have not altogether anticipated. There is another neck which is quite as likely to be broken as that of Jeff. Davis, and there are men who have ‘ “registered a vow”’ in Heaven of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. It does not follow that because high public functionaries are surrounded by soldiers, and bloody-minded newspaper editors are crying on in supposed safety the slaughter of an unoffending people, that the means cannot be found of making them receive in their own persons the punishment of their crimes.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney once again asks for Union General George Cadwalader to deliver John Merryman to his court. Merryman is being held in Fort McHenry and has yet to be charged with a crime. Cadwalader once again refuses to appear. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is aware of this back and forth, yet also has chosen to ignore Taney’s ruling. Taney will start to write a draft outlining his reasons for his actions, and also plans to inflict find and imprisonment upon Cadwalader once he does finally show his face in Taney’s court room.

A few days ago the White House East Room was a place of mourning; tonight is serves as a place for celebration. President Lincoln and his wife Mary host a reception for civil and military dignitaries. The President looks to be in good spirits; husband and wife pass happily among the visitors, the party going well past the scheduled time.

150 Years Ago: Tuesday, May 21, 1861

In St. Louis, Missouri, General William S. Harney is unaware of the political maneuvering occurring in Washington City to get him removed from his position. Today Harney meets with Missouri General Sterling Price to discuss peace. Missouri is a border state with a population very split between Northern and Southern sympathies. The Missouri governor has been communicating with the Confederate government in an attempt to obtain weapons and men to help defeat the strong Union forces that have managed to keep control of the state. Price agrees to utilize the state police to maintain the peace, while Harney agrees to not to make any military movements that might cause unnecessary violence.

In Montgomery, Alabama, Confederate President Jefferson Davis signs a bill prohibiting Southerners to pay Northern merchants the money that is owed to them, instead diverting the money to the Confederate treasury. The Confederate Congress adjourns; they will meet in Richmond on July 21.

U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron writes a demanding letter to acting Surgeon General Robert Wood expressing his dissatisfaction with the poor sanitary conditions of the military camps in Washington. Cameron wants an immediate inspection and removal of “any evils found to exist.” Wood takes offense to this, stating that he has made frequent visits and directed medical officers to take every precaution necessary to prevent disease.

U.S. Secretary of State William Seward gives a draft dispatch to Lincoln for his review. Seward has been very upset at the foreign response regarding Southern secession, as even simple acknowledgements of the Confederate government gives the South legitimacy. Seward had written a very detailed dispatch to send to new U.S. Minister to Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams, on how he should handle the situation. It is not only a strong and unwavering stance, but if carried out it has the potential to completely alienate Britain and push them to fully support the Confederacy and into a potential war with the U.S. While in previous months Seward had been the one to support Lincoln in his writing efforts by offering suggestions that directly or indirectly improve important speeches and proclamations, today Lincoln returns the favor. Lincoln’s edits not only strengthen the U.S. foreign position, but the changes likely divert a war with Britain.

After spending ten days in Philadelphia, New York and Cambridge, Mary Lincoln and her entourage head back to Washington City. Over the next several days and weeks, bills will arrive to the General Accounting Office detailing the various expenditures Mary made to help refurbish the executive mansion; today a bill arrives for $116.50 for carpeting.

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.

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