This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 31: Spying by Balloon.
Military preparations deepen as the nation girds at the first hints of a long, brutal conflict. Washington is abuzz with troop movements while the Confederate states also are organizing and calling up more forces for the inevitable fighting to follow. In Tennessee, Gov. Isham G. Harris advises the Confederate War Department in an Aug. 1 missive that he has formally transferred Tennessee forces over to the Confederacy. "The transfer is now being made as rapidly as Confederate officers can verify our rolls by the inspection of our regiments, and I hope will be completed within a few days," Harris advises Richmond, seat of the Confederacy. He proposes Nashville for a major Confederate army supply depot. Meanwhile, each side is eyeing each others' military strengths warily. New technologies emerge in the first summer of wartime as federal forces make several initial attempts in July, including at First Bull Run, to send up manned observation balloons to spy out rebel troop movements. For decades, balloons had been used generally for sport but are now seen by the commanders as a way to glean valuable intelligence about one's foe. Reports indicate a balloonist on the Union side completed the first successful ascent in late July in Arlington, Va., just outside the nation's capital, and spied out Confederate artillery emplacements and rebel scouting parties in northern Virginia beyond Washington's Union defenses. Despite some spectacular crashes, more reconnaissance balloons would be sent aloft in the first weeks of August and the technology would be deployed particularly in the first two years of war.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Aug. 7: First combat west of the Mississippi.
The village of Hampton, Va., is burned by Confederate troops Aug. 7, 1861 to impede its seizure by federal forces from Fort Monroe, the Union-held fortress used to blockade Virginia's lower Chesapeake Bay. Confederate Col. John Bankhead Magruder ordered the burning after months of wrestling with Union foes for control of Virginia's southeastern coastal approaches to Richmond, capital of the Confederacy. Accounts state Magruder came to believe the Union planned to quarter troops and escaped slaves in Hampton and quickly ordered fires lit. The Philadelphia Inquirer later described "a forest of bleak-sided chimneys and brick houses tottering and cooling in the wind, scorched trees and heaps of smoldering ruins." Days later on Aug. 10, 1861, Union forces met with their second major defeat after First Bull Run _ at Wilson's Creek in Missouri. The first major battle west of the Mississippi River also killed the first Union general in combat, Nathaniel Lyon. Though Missouri had voted to stay in the Union, Gov. Claiborne Jackson continued to advocate secession. He refused a federal call to supply regiments for the Union and plotted to seize the federal arsenal at St. Louis. Learning of the plan, Lyon had most of the weapons secretly moved, futilely sought to resolve differences with Jackson and later pursued rebel forces into southwestern Missouri. Lyon's surprise attack on Confederates at Wilson's Creek began strongly but lost momentum amid bloody charges and countercharges as his forces finally withdrew, outnumbered. One Confederate general, N.B. Pearce, later wrote his troops under gunfire showed "no signs of wavering or retreat." The state _ prized by both sides for abundant resources and proximity to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, saw much fighting in years to come.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Aug. 14: Second Wheeling Convention.
Delegates in what is present-day West Virginia gather Aug. 6-21, 1861, for the "Second Wheeling Convention" to consider breaking with Virginia over the state's secession from the Union. The delegates adopt several resolutions, including one nullifying measures of counterparts in Richmond, seat of the Confederacy, who declared the ongoing pro-Union deliberations in Wheeling to be "null, void, and without force or effect." The delegates debate boundaries for a future state and a committee on Aug. 20 proposes that it be named "Kanawha" and consist of dozens of breakaway-minded counties. Voters in those counties in October will ultimately approve a statehood referendum, clearing the way for a later constitutional convention to establish a state government framework. In a legal step, President Abraham Lincoln on Aug. 16, 1861, declares the 11 states of the Confederacy and its denizens "in a state of insurrection against the United States" and proclaims all commercial trade to other parts of the United States to be "unlawful" while the insurrection continues. The move effectively stymies a once bustling cotton trade between the South and Border states and further bolsters the federal naval blockade of Southern ports and waterways. In this week, Gen. George McClellan is seen organizing his command of the Army of the Potomac and reports on his work to Lincoln, who also visits the Washington area Navy Yard as preparations are made for the next phase of the conflict.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Aug. 21: Homefront Help, Amphibious Assault.
Tenn. Gov. Isham G. Harris, his state in the Confederacy, issues a call for the homefront women to prepare blankets, uniforms and other clothing for troops set to fight. Tennessee is a state of divided loyalties that mustered tens of thousands of Confederate troops but saw thousands also go to the Union side. Some of Tennessee's bloodiest fighting is still well distant, at Shiloh in 1862. For now the war, in its early stages, sees light and scattered skirmishes. Confederate soldiers, like Union counterparts, are just adjusting to camp life. Yet there are reports of Confederate officers scrambling to procure large quantities of tobacco for those grumbling troops deprived of a smoking habit. Union Major Gen. Benjamin Butler sets sail Aug. 26, leading a naval force from Fort Monroe, Va., to stifle blockade runners and seize Hatteras Inlet, N.C. Days later, the naval ships begin bombarding Fort Hatteras before Union landing parties wade ashore and that and nearby Fort Clark are captured. Hatteras' poorly trained defenders surrender unconditionally. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is damaged by artillery in the fighting. The early Union naval victories tighten the federal blockade of the South, squelching blockade runners off North Carolina's Outer Banks. The expedition is hailed as the first amphibious assault in U.S. Navy history and the territory seized is the first by the Union that will be held for the duration of the war. There is rejoicing in the North, anger in the South. Butler is fast earning Confederate wrath as one unnamed Southerner's poem attests: " ... In every land, The Scoundrel is despised. In Butler's name the foulest wrongs and crimes are all comprised ... Ages unborn will tell in scorn of him as mankind's scourge."