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."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Aug. 28: Grant's rise, a daring proclamation.
On Aug. 28, Ulysses S. Grant takes early steps in his ascent to military fame, appointed commander of federal forces for the district of southeastern Missouri at Cairo, Ill., where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers converge. Experienced military officers are in much demand on the Union side early on and Grant will soon be drawing recognition for his ability to fight hard and win battles further west. He will later drive Union victories at Vicksburg, Miss., and battlefields in Tennessee en route to winning command of the Union army and _ years from now _ forcing the Confederacy's surrender in 1865. This week also brings a startling, unauthorized move by a Union general that rocks Lincoln's government: Major Gen. John Fremont declares martial law in Missouri and orders the state's slaves emancipated. "All person who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines, shall be tried by Court Martial, and, if found guilty, will be shot," Fremont proclaimed. The property "of those who take up arms against the United States .. is declared to be confiscated .. and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free men." Fremont's bold order _ aimed at reining in a divided border state that hasn't seceded _ sets abolitionists rejoicing. But the proclamation oversteps the bounds of President Abraham Lincoln's new confiscation law and Lincoln soon sends a special messenger to have Fremont revise the order. Lincoln is still a few years from announcing his famed Emancipation Proclamation. For now, the president is wary of linking an anti-slavery stance to his war effort in fear of eroding support in slave states that haven't seceded and might be pushed to the Confederate side. Ultimately, Fremont's proclamation will be revoked altogether.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Sept. 4: Why the Wait?
The July defeat of federal forces at First Bull Run in Manassas still weighs heavily on President Abraham Lincoln as summer turns to fall in 1861. Lincoln earlier gave command of the Army of the Potomac to Maj. Gen. George McClellan, hoping to reorganize the army after the Union defeat at Bull Run. McClellan's forces spend the late summer weeks training, drilling and training some more. Some observers watch and wait impatiently, critical of McClellan's weeks of drills while urging a resumption of battle. Yet Lincoln is willing so far to give McClellan time to pull together a unified fighting force after its panicked, disordered retreat from Bull Run. Inaction ultimately will be McClellan's undoing in months further ahead. This week another Union officer, Ulysses S. Grant, shows the first flashes of military prowess that will eventually take him to the pinnacle of Lincoln's army. On Sept. 6, 1861, Grant is days into his command in southeastern Missouri when he seizes the offensive. He orders Union troops _ backed by gunboats _ to Paducah, Ky., occupying that strategic junction of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers without a fight. The move is critical to Lincoln's strategy of keeping Kentucky in the Union. Eight weeks later, Grant will claim his first wartime victory in Missouri. For now, though, the buildup to further fighting is slow as impatient voices are also heard on the Southern side of the fight. South Carolina's Charleston Mercury calls in a Sept. 5, 1861 editorial for a quick Confederate offensive against Washington. The call goes unheeded. It's a time of training, arming and clothing soldiers on both sides. "There is much need for blankets and socks for our army, at this time, as there is for ammunitions and war," writes one Confederate official, John Campbell, in an appeal this week in Southern newspapers for help with the war effort.