This Week in the Civil War

AP News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2011 9:00 AM

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 26: War jitters, gunboat building.

A dispatch to The Associated Press in late June reports the U.S. Navy has opened bids for the construction of a number of "steam gun-boats" as war preparations continue. There were 100 to 150 bidders, the dispatch states, adding, "the largest portion are from New England Shipyards and manufacturers." War jitters are running high. Dispatches published in the North in late June discuss speculation and rumors of a possible Confederate attack on Arlington Heights just outside the nation's capital or possibly a Confederate push near Washington at Fairfax, northern Virginia. "There are strong reasons to suspect a Confederate advance at Fairfax," one report says of the speculation, adding the Federal forces defending the capital are "deemed impregnable." Accounts late in the month speak of Confederate pickets sporadically ranging up the banks of the Potomac River while firing weapons, raising alarm in the Georgetown section of Washington. Spotters for federal forces command a high hilltop near the capital and scour the surrounding countryside for any signs of Confederate movements.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 3: Girding for battle.

The Associated Press reports as July dawns that the nation appears to be building inexorably for major combat as a contingent of federal troops cross the Potomac River from Maryland into Virginia in sight of Confederate forces: "The reporter from the Associated Press went down yesterday to see the expected move of the (federal) troops across the river ... The stars and stripes were hoisted on the south side of the river to-day by a Marylander named Saunders, in full view of the rebels, who did not fire on him ... The enemy are observed to be busily engaged in erecting outworks ... it is thought they design putting guns in a position to obstruct the march of our troops." Other dispatches in early July report about 5,000 rebels are within an hour's march of Fairfax in northern Virginia including "large bodies of horsemen" and adds that four rebels were killed by the Pennsylvania pickets on July 4, 1861. President Abraham Lincoln, who had called a special session of Congress for July 4, uses the occasion to declare that the war is a struggle for maintaining a form of government whose object is to preserve national unity and "elevate the condition of men." Lincoln tells Congress that 500,000 more men are needed for the Union forces in the war between the states. Congress authorizes the large-scale troop mobilization.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 10: Views on Independence.

As the Union calls up more troops, the 11-state Confederacy is also marshaling its soldiers for war. From farms and cities throughout the South, more units are organizing for the fight, the names of the officers and numbers of rank-and-file troops listed in newspaper accounts of the era. Some of the men are so young, teenagers still, that they must ask their fathers' permission to fight. The Southern Recorder of Milledgeville, Ga., editorialized on July 9, 1861, about what the recently concluded Independence Day meant for many in the South: "Hitherto, when strangers visited Philadelphia their first inclination, and, as they esteemed it, their first duty was to see Independence Hall ... The Day, however, which has been thus consecrated in the annuals of Liberty, does not attach as the exclusive property of the North, like Independence Hall in which the Congress of 1776 framed and signed the immortal Declaration. The people of the Southern Confederacy freely give up the Hall, and wish that the North may carefully preserve it as a hallowed memento of a common struggle and a common triumph; but the principles of the Declaration the South will forever cherish, as they are taught by it that Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed."

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 17: First Battle of Bull Run.

The Confederate shelling of federal-held Fort Sumter in April 1861 launched the start of the Civil War. The First Battle of Bull Run _ also known as the First Battle of Manassas _ marked the start of the conflict in earnest. Under pressure to crush the secessionists, Union forces on July 21 initially attacked a mass of Confederate troops arrayed amid woods and farmfields of Bull Run, in northern Virginia. The battle raged for hours. Union forces briefly drove Confederate foes back, but the Confederates got reinforcements. A contingent led by Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson stood its ground at a farmhouse hilltop, earning him his nickname. The Confederates counterattacked with cavalry charging, starting a headlong federal retreat. Amid gunfire and chaos, panicked Union soldiers retreated in disarray to Washington. The Confederacy had scored its first major victory. The Charleston (S.C.) Mercury's correspondent reported of Confederate forces: "Men never fought more desperately than did ours to-day." He added: "A great battle has been fought to-day at the Stone Bridge, on Bull Run ... The Southern troops are again victorious. The slaughter on both sides was terrific." The correspondent described "raking fire" and an enemy that gave way toward sundown, adding: "At dark they were still flying, closely pursued by our troops." The Boston Herald reported July 24 that Union forces would now reorganize: "Dispatches of this morning to the Associated Press tell us that the services of 60,000 soldiers, previous offered the government but refused, have now been accepted, and that a complete reorganization of the army is to be made." The bloody battle hinted at a long, grinding war to come.