This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 10: J.E.B. Stuart rides.
Some 150 years ago in the Civil War, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart left Richmond, Va., on June 12, 1862, and began a daring reconnaissance mission on horseback in which his cavalry traced a giant circle around the Union Army of the Potomac. Stuart's three-day, 150-mile roundtrip ride supplied Confederate leadership with key intelligence about the huge Union army of Gen. George B. McClellan, then massed off southeast Virginia in a bid to take the Confederate capital of Richmond. Stuart had already claimed fame by pursuing and harassing routed Union forces in July 1861 as the federals ran from defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, or Manassas. At the request of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Stuart and some 1,500 riders set out from Richmond on the intelligence-gathering mission that would encircle McClellan's Union forces and lead to the capture of dozens of Union soldiers. Though not strategically important, Stuart's ride would boost Southern war morale and prove cause for embarrassment for the Union Gen. McClellan. Stuart isn't the only headache for McClellan this week. The Associated Press reports in a dispatch June 14, 1862, that a small group of Confederate troops have struck at Union forces in an area of the Pamunkey River in Virginia _ firing on them and reminding the enemy that they will resist all enemy efforts. "The rebels ... burnt two schooners, some wagons, and drove off the mules," AP reported. The dispatch said Confederate shooters also killed two men on a passing train but the paymaster jumped from the train and hid in the woods all night to evade capture. Despite taking Confederate fire, "the train never stopped," the report added.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 17: Lincoln bans slavery in the U.S. territories.
In June 1862, President Abraham Lincoln is still months away from issuing his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. But 150 years ago this week in the Civil War, Lincoln signed a bill passed by Congress that would ban slavery in the U.S. territories without compensating former slaveowners. It signals Lincoln is giving deep thought to the issue of slavery as the war drags on. On Sept. 22, 1862, following the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln would issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, ordering that in 100 days the federal government would deem all slaves free in those states still rebelling against the Union. Meanwhile, the week opens with a vast Union army bristling in eastern Virginia for several major battles that would erupt in coming days and weeks. Those engagements would claim thousands of lives as Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee would seek to defend their capital of Richmond, Va., from Union foes. The Associated Press reports intermittent shelling followed by calm. One AP dispatch dated June 22, 1862, reports from the field headquarters of Union Gen. George B. McClellan in Virginia that "this has been a remarkably quiet day, considering the close proximity of the two contending forces." But The AP reports there had been "brisk skirmishing" the previous day and concludes: "everything indicated that a general engagement was at hand." Meanwhile, there are the usual daily incidents of war. A dispatch this week reports that Union soldiers hunting for deserters in northern Virginia "came upon a rebel mail carrier, who was endeavoring to conceal himself in the woods." It added a "large quantity of letters to prominent officers in the rebel service, many of which contain valuable information," were found in the mail bag" of the arrested man.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, June 24: Seven Days' Battle Begin.
The Seven Days' Battles opens this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. The weeklong series of battles will consolidate the rise of starring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and prove influential in shaping the remaining course of the war. On June 25, 1862, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan sent his combat forces marching toward Richmond, intent on putting the Confederate capital within range of his siege guns. The Associated Press reported in a June 25 dispatch that the fighting was fierce as Union troops "met with a most determined resistance" in its Confederate foes. "The ground fought for was a swamp, with thick underbrush," AP notes. In such terrain, McClellan's push is not enough and Lee goes on the offensive the next day. Lee's battle plan succeeds in pushing back federal troops, forcing McClellan's fighters to withdraw southeast along the Chickahominy River. On June 27, 1862, Union troops clash with Confederate forces at the major Battle of Gaines' Mill. There, after hours of afternoon fighting, Lee hurls his combined forces in an all-out attack that forces Union rivals to retreat. His is a sweeping tactical victory, his first. But it comes at a great cost in lives. The 15,000 estimated casualties at Gaines' Mill mark the deadliest and largest battle in the East yet. More fighting follows on June 30, 1862, at Savage's Station. And on June 30, 1862, Confederate forces engaged in close combat with Union forces, unsuccessfully trying to cut their retreat to the James River. July 1, 1862, would see the last and deadliest battle of the Seven Days at Malvern Hill where Confederate forces are unable to withstand withering fire from Union forces hunkered down on high ground. Strategically, Lee is hailed as a hero for successfully defending Richmond, leaving McClellan's monthslong bid to take Richmond in disarray.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 1: Battle of Malvern Hill.
This week opened 150 years ago in the Civil War with the roaring finish to the Seven Days' Battle _ that bloody, pivotal week of combat between Union and Confederate forces in swampy terrain outside Richmond, Va. The Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, opened when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee unleashed a flurry of brazen assaults on the virtually impregnable Union position atop the hill. Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan fired back, mowing down Southern soldiers trying to charge up the grassy slope toward them. All told, the Confederacy suffered more than 5,300 casualties in the day's fighting, defeated at Malvern Hill. But while the Union appeared to end the week of fighting on a strong note, McClellan was effectively withdrawing his massive army to the protection of federal gunboats on the James River. And soon he would be pulling out of the area entirely, cutting short his long-planned Peninsula Campaign and its aim of taking Richmond. Lee would soon return to Richmond a hero, lionized in the South for successfully defending the capital of the Confederacy from the Union onslaught. Lee later wrote that his true aim at the time was to crush the federal army as a fighting force. "Under ordinary circumstances the Federal Army should have been destroyed," he wrote. But he noted that Malvern Hill had afforded the Union army a "position of great natural strength" to retreat. And he said bad weather and the battle-weariness of his fighters stymied attempts to pursue the enemy army on its retreat. As The Richmond Examiner reported of the climactic week of fighting, Southern forces went into the battle "with coats off and sleeves rolled up, fighting like tigers."