This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 25, 1862: Fighting out West, McClellan's moves.
A battle unfolded out West 150 years ago this week during the Civil War. On March 26, 1862, a Confederate force of about 300 Texas fighters camped near Glorieta Pass in New Mexico Territory _ a strategic location at the southernmost end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the Santa Fe trail. Several hundred approaching Union soldiers led by Maj. John M. Chivington went on the attack, pressing in on the Confederates until artillery fire threw the federal fighters back. Chivington split his force into two groups on each side of the pass and put the Rebels in a crossfire before fighting halted for the day. The next day both sides regrouped and fighting wouldn't resume again until March 28, 1862, with the Union side swelled by hundreds of reinforcements. Confederates held their ground as the battle surged back and forth in the coming hours. Eventually a wearied Confederate force retreated to Santa Fe _ and eventually back to Texas _ securing a strategic Union victory in a key point of the conflict out West. Elsewhere Union Gen. George B. McClellan has begun a long-awaited step of moving thousands of troops, heavy artillery, armaments and supplies to Fort Monroe off Virginia as he prepares for a major federal assault on Richmond, capital of the Confederacy. For weeks and even months, McClellan had come under criticism for not waging an all-out offensive sooner. But now he was on the move. Nonetheless, The Springfield Daily Republican in Massachusetts, indicates McClellan had already lost some element of surprise ahead of what would be his ill-fated Virginia peninsula campaign. A dispatch in the paper reported: "The latest accounts from Richmond show that the rebels are crowding troops down upon the York and James River, showing they know where to expect Gen. McClellan."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 1, 1862: Battle of Shiloh. McClellan Moves.
Thousands of Confederate troops unleash a surprise attack on Union camps at Shiloh Church near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River on April 6, 1862. The onslaught surprises Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his tens of thousands of fighters massed there. But the federal forces rally and bitter fighting rages for hours as Confederates slowly gain ground. Despite the advantage of surprise, Confederate troops become disorganized before Grant's pummeled forces hunker behind defensive positions and fighting subsides at nightfall. The next day, Grant goes on the attack. His Union forces totaling more than 54,000 troops, slam into Confederate ranks, eventually forcing their withdrawal and securing the Union a victory that further burnishes Grant's reputation as a general who fights and wins. Elsewhere, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan has sent out first forces of his vast army from Fort Monroe on the Virginia coast as he ramps up for his long-awaited Virginia peninsula campaign. Soon, those Union troops meet a small Confederate army at `Yorktown, dug in behind the Warwick River. Confederate Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder uses theatrics _ including frequent marching back and forth of troops and loudly shouted orders _ to convincingly suggest he has a far bigger force than he actually has. The Union forces are swayed by the Confederate show. McClellan suspends moves toward Richmond and orders siege fortifications built. Heavy guns are brought up by Union forces and on April 16, Union forces testing the Confederate line trigger a battle that leads to more than 300 casualties. McClellan hesitates to follow up, delaying two more weeks and Magruder's forces will ultimately slip away. But a major ground campaign long promised by McClellan is on.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 8, 1862: Shiloh's fallout. War's first anniversary.
Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sends troops in pursuit of Confederate fighters retreating after the battle at Shiloh, or Pittsburgh Landing, in Tennessee. But a feisty Confederates rearguard led by Nathan Bedford Force thwarts the Union pursuit, allowing the secessionists to slip away. It is a difficult week for the Confederacy as word of their loss at Shiloh reaches Richmond. The news for the secessionists stands in glum contrast to celebrations one year ago this week in the South. The first shots of war were fired April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. That Confederate bombardment _ and the subsequent Union surrender of that federal garrison at Fort Sumter _ kicked off wild celebrations on April 14, 1861 in Charleston. A year later, euphoria has given way to the grim reality of the deadly grind of war. Shiloh's two days of pitched fighting end with more than 23,000 men killed, wounded or missing on both sides _ the bloodiest battle in U.S. history at the time and a portent of big battles to come. The Associated Press reports Shiloh's outcome in an April 13 dispatch, reporting "the beginning of the fight on that day was a total surprise" for the Union as Confederates attacked _ "many officers and soldiers being overtaken in their tents and slaughtered or taken prisoners." The dispatch notes the Union attacked back the second day of Shiloh "and the rebels soon gave way." It adds one captured Confederate prisoner told officers the Southern fighters were told a Confederate victory "was a sure thing" and that "they could not fail to capture Grant's army."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 15, 1862: Lincoln's early emancipation move.
On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, moving to free thousands of slaves in the nation's capital. This action is an early hint of steps to come that would eventually hasten the end of slavery across the whole U.S. as a result of the conflict. It would be several more months, in September 1862, when he would sign yet another even more famous document _ the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation _ which declared that if the secessionists didn't cease active rebellion and return to the Union by Jan. 1, 1863, all slaves in those states would be free by that deadline. That step would effectively reframe the war as a battle against slavery _ and not just make it a cause of restoring the Union as Lincoln had maintained early in the conflict. Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported in a dispatch dated April 17, 1862, near Yorktown, Va., that Confederate forces have strengthened their defenses and kept up "brisk cannonading" all night near Virginia's James River as Union forces were preparing to mount an offensive toward Richmond from the Virginia coastal region. The report from a camp near Yorktown said federal gunboats "amused themselves by shelling the woods below Gloucester" in Virginia and one of the vessels approached within two miles of Yorktown when Confederates opened fire from a battery concealed in the woods. AP reports the federal gunboats were not damaged and the firing continued afterward for long intervals. AP's dispatch added that other engagements were reported in other spots near the James River as Union Gen. George B. McClellan was mustering forces in the region for a looming spring offensive by the federal fighters intent on seizing Richmond, capital of the Confederacy.