This Week in the Civil War

AP News

11/4/2011 9:00:45 AM - AP News

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Nov. 6: Battle of Port Royal.

The Associated Press reports that a "great storm at Hatteras Inlet" off North Carolina has drenched Union troops occupying formerly Confederate-held coastal forts there in the first days of November 1861. After the storm, the report adds: "Five rebel steamers came near the inlet yesterday, but returned after firing a couple of shots." The gale is not enough of a deterrent for a U.S. Navy fleet and Army expeditionary force sailing down the coast toward South Carolina on a special mission. The Union force moves into position and opens the Battle of Port Royal Sound, S.C., on Nov. 7, 1861. With heavy fire, the federal warships go on to bombard forts on both sides of the sound, sending overwhelmed Confederate gunboats fleeing after attempts at resistance. First Fort Walker is taken and then Fort Beauregard across the sound is occupied by the Union invaders after Confederates abandon that position. The Union now commands a strategic spot between Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga., crucial to enforcing the Northern blockade of Southern seaports. A British steamer, Fingal, will be the last blockade-running ship to slip through this area to nearby Savannah, Ga., on Nov. 13, 1861, carrying munitions and supplies to the Confederates. Separately, AP reports no fighting of note _ "all quiet on the entire line of the Potomac." But reports indicate the Confederates have many flatboats capable of quickly crossing the Potomac. And the Charleston Courier of South Carolina boasts: "Our army stands alone in a line of battle .. with bristling bayonets and furbished swords" arrayed across Virginia, ready to fight. The paper also reports hundreds of northern prisoners once held in Richmond, Va., are being moved into South Carolina.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Nov. 13: Port Royal aftermath, Seizure of Southern envoys.

Detailed accounts by The Associated Press and others of the Battle of Port Royal, S.C., are reaching newspapers in mid-November of 1861. AP reports Union forces off the South Carolina coast had captured 55 cannons, some 500 muskets and "any quantity of ammunition" in the attack. AP adds: "Thirty dead rebels have been found, and more are being found, having been hastily buried in the sand." The New York Times reports on Nov. 14, 1861, that Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Sherman landed at Port Royal and issued a proclamation to "the people of South Carolina," the state where a Confederate artillery attack on Union-held Fort Sumter opened the war in April 1861. Sherman writes that federal forces have arrived "with no feelings of person animosity; no desire to harm your citizens, destroy your property, or interfere with any of your lawful rights." Yet the proclamation adds: "The civilized world stands appalled at the course you are pursuing! .. You are in a state of active rebellion against the laws of your country ... "The Times reports federal warships used "raking broadsides" to punish the two Confederate-held forts lining Port Royal Sound. It adds: "All our accounts concur in testifying that the rebels fought bravely and well. But our broadsides were overwhelming." This month sees another key development in the federal capture of two Southern envoys, James Mason and John Slidell, taken off a British steamer intercepted at sea by the Union warship San Jacinto. The detention of the envoys _ sent by the Confederacy to Britain in hopes of boosting support for the South _ heightens British tensions with Washington for weeks.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Nov. 20:

Federal forces this week in 1861 continue to press their blockade of the Southern coast. Two Union men-of-war, the USS Niagara and the USS Richmond, turn their guns on Confederate defenses rimming Florida's northern panhandle _ targeting Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee and the Pensacalo Navy Yard. After a bombardment spanning two days, there is little loss of life after an attack that will have little impact on the larger conduct of the war. Nonetheless the bombardment has damaged Fort McRae, where many women and children took refuge, several Navy Yard buildings, and a nearby village. In 1862, Pensacola will ultimately be surrendered to Union troops who will use it as a staging point for Naval actions in the South the rest of the war. The Associated Press reports, meanwhile, that wintry weather has begun nipping at the Northern cities where many are alarmed at the high wartime price of coal used to heat homes and buildings. In Philadelphia, AP reports, "The coal question has been agitating residents of this city ever since the cold weather has set in." It adds some seek coal at lower prices directly from "Good Samaritans" at a Pennsylvania mine refusing to profit exceedingly from wartime scarcity. This same week AP reports from Washington that more pressing issues are emerging in Congress over how the Union should handle questions of slavery _ and particularly escaped or liberated slaves known as "contrabands" who reach the federal side. "Inasmuch as many slaveholders in Virginia and in other quarters abandon their plantations when menaced by the Federal armies, and necessarily leave their slaves behind them, a practical question is forced up on the government as to what is to be done with the "contrabands," the AP dispatch notes.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Nov. 27: The Trent Affair _ Britain and U.S. in crisis.

The Trent Affair, a diplomatic crisis involving the doctrine of freedom of the seas that brought Britain and the United States to their closest point of possible hostilities early in the Civil War, reaches a boiling point this week 150 years ago. Word that the Union warship USS San Jacinto had stopped the neutral British ship Trent east of Cuba on Nov. 8, 1861, and seized two Confederate diplomats bound for Britain, inflames tensions between the two nations. The Trent steams on without the pair, arriving with its remaining passengers in London on Nov. 27, 1861. An emergency British Cabinet meeting is called. Britain demands an apology and the release of the seized Confederates, arguing the San Jacinto acted in violation of international law. Northerners overwhelmingly laud the detention of Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell, then on a mission to seek British and French support for the Confederacy. Southern authorities condemn the detentions. The Times-Picayune of New Orleans proclaims Nov. 23, 1861: "The act of the San Jacinto was in flagrant violation of the law of nations." After heated Cabinet meetings, President Abraham Lincoln adopts a conciliatory approach, seeking to avert any armed conflict with Britain. In December, the U.S. government concedes in a note to Britain that the San Jacinto captain erred in failing to bring the Trent to port for a court ajudication of the matter. The U.S. releases Mason and Slidell in January 1862 to continue their mission to Europe. But European powers decline to intervene in the Civil War on behalf of the Confederacy and the successful resolution of the Trent Affair builds confidence between the British and U.S. governments.