This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 22, 1862: Farragut captures New Orleans.
In this week 150 years ago in the war, U.S. Navy Flag Officer David Farragut takes his Union fleet and runs it past two heavily armed Confederate forts on the lower Mississippi River near the Gulf of Mexico. The daring move leads Farragut onward to capture New Orleans on April 25, 1862, forcing a sullen Southern city to surrender. It's one of the most eventful months of war yet. And Farragut's daring provides the Union a key victory in its thrust to seize the main inland waterway and divide the Confederacy. New Orleans is one of the busiest Southern ports and a supply lifeline for the secessionist states. Farragut's plan involved weeks of sizing up Confederate-held Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip several miles downriver from New Orleans. His forces spend days pounding the forts with intense fire from mortar boats while crews cut a gap in heavy chains strung across the river. Then, hours before dawn on April 24, 1862, Farragut's fleet begins moving stealthily upriver, racing a gauntlet of raking fire from the forts. The fight is intense, and The Associated Press reports in an April 24 dispatch that there was a "heavy and continuous bombardment of Fort Jackson" before Farragut's move. The Confederates reported to AP that Fort Jackson alone had been targeted by some 25,000 13-inch shells but they vowed the fort was capable of absorbing heavy fire indefinitely. Farragut chose instead to bypass the forts entirely. All told, 13 of Farragut's ships would make it upriver beyond the two forts and continue on to New Orleans to force its surrender. There are more than 1,000 casualties on both sides. And Confederates still holding the forts downriver surrender on April, 28, 1862, when they realize their garrisons are cut off and isolated.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 29: Union march toward Corinth, Virginia skirmish.
In late April of 1862, more than 100,000 Union soldiers under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck march out from Tennessee for Corinth, Miss., intent on wresting away from Confederate forces that key railroad junction for the South. The journey into northern Mississippi means crossing thick forests and rugged country as many of Halleck's men come down with dysentery and typhoid _ common diseases of that era in the South. The 22-mile route took Halleck's forces weeks to cover as they endured bad weather and as illnesses felled many. By early May of 1862, the Union army would be within 10 miles of Corinth but then Confederate rivals began unleashing sporadic, small-scale attacks. Union forces would repeatedly dig and settle into trenches as they advanced mile by mile _ expecting to eventually approach Corinth. The Confederates, whose soldiers also were falling ill in large numbers, would hang on until late May before stealthily withdrawing and leaving Corinth to Union forces to occupy. Until then, more than 40 miles of earthen trenches and breastworks would be built in the area during the weeks of confrontation. Elsewhere, The Associated Press reported on May 4, 1862, that skirmishing had erupted near Williamsburg, Va. Union Gen. George B. McClellan now has a formidable fighting force arrayed in coastal Virginia and the skirmishing signals big battles soon to come. AP reports that Union forces probing the Confederate fortifications at Williamsburg fire upon approaching rebel cavalry. It adds Union troops were suddenly "opened upon by a deadly fire from the artillery posted behind the (Confederate) works." When the Confederate cavalry charged, Union forces counterattacked and "in more instances than one it was a hand to hand encounter with the enemy's cavalry."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, May 6: Battle of Williamsburg and aftermath.
The Battle of Williamsburg, Va., is the first major combat of Union Gen. George B. McClellan's Virginia "Peninsula Campaign" Waged May 4-5, 1862, the battle pitted nearly 41,000 Union soldiers against more than 30,000 Confederate forces. Union forces advancing after a Confederate retreat from Yorktown clashed with a Confederate rearguard near Williamsburg, but were nearly pushed back in attacking Confederates hunkered down behind strong earthworks. At one point, the Union force appeared close to being repelled before arriving reinforcements shore up their position. The fighting raged on before Confederate forces pulled back at the battle's end in a nighttime move. The battle comes as a cautious McClellan, despite tens of thousands of troops, tentatively begins pressing toward Richmond up the peninsula formed by the York and James Rivers. More than 3,800 casualties are estimated at Williamsburg, heavily to the Union side. By May 6, Union forces continue probing toward Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, and a day later there's a smaller fight of a Union division with two Confederate brigades. But several major battles will lay weeks ahead in McClellan's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to take Richmond. The Associated Press reports in a May 11, 1862, dispatch that advancing Union cavalry have pushed on to White House, Va., and the Custis estate owned by a relative of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. AP reports Virginia's alarmed "citizens are flocking in from the surrounding country" to the protection of Richmond and Confederates have "burnt the railroad bridge and tore up the road for some distance" toward that city. At the time, AP reports, the closest Union forces are just 23 miles from the gates of Richmond.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, May 13: Battle of Drewry's Bluff, Va.
A Union warship fleet steaming up Virginia's James River opens fire early on May 15, 1862, against Confederate fortifications on a 90-foot-high bluff several miles from the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va. A union ironclad, the Galena, is the first to fire. Confederates entrenched behind strong earthworks and gun emplacements respond with searing artillery fire from Drewry's Bluff. Confederate snipers on the riverbank also rain down shot and shell on the Union squadron. After about four hours of blistering fire both ways, the Union force calls a halt to the offensive. Reports indicate federal forces tallied some 14 dead and a similar number of wounded, while the Confederates had 7 dead and several wounded. The Confederate fortification holds firm. In the ensuing months, secessionist leaders alarmed by the attack on Drewry's Bluff would go on to further strengthen the crucial defensive site, making it a veritable fort. Also this week 150 years ago in the Civil War, the North is rife with speculation about the movements of the massive Union force arming off southeast Virginia _ tens of thousands of troops in all. The Associated Press reported in a May 15, 1862, dispatch from Baltimore that passengers arriving in eastern Maryland by ship had seen several steamers loaded with newly freed Union prisoners from Richmond traveling to Washington, D.C., up the Chesapeake Bay. The AP also discuss the speculation. "This city is this morning filled with a variety of rumors, stating that the city of Richmond has been taken by the Union forces," The AP said without comment. In fact, Union forces _ after their early battles and skirmishes _ are still just ramping up a Virginia Peninsula Campaign that eventually approach Richmond, but never overrun that city.