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 Pittsburg Landing, in Tennessee. But a feisty Confederates rearguard led by Nathan Bedford Forrest 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.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 22, 1862: Farragut captures New Orleans.
In this week 150 years ago in the war, U.S. Navy Flag Officer David Farragut takes his Union fleet and runs it past two heavily armed Confederate forts on the lower Mississippi River near the Gulf of Mexico. The daring move leads Farragut onward to capture New Orleans on April 25, 1862, forcing a sullen Southern city to surrender. It's one of the most eventful months of war yet. And Farragut's daring provides the Union a key victory in its thrust to seize the main inland waterway and divide the Confederacy. New Orleans is one of the busiest Southern ports and a supply lifeline for the secessionist states. Farragut's plan involved weeks of sizing up Confederate-held Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip several miles downriver from New Orleans. His forces spend days pounding the forts with intense fire from mortar boats while crews cut a gap in heavy chains strung across the river. Then, hours before dawn on April 24, 1862, Farragut's fleet begins moving stealthily upriver, racing a gauntlet of raking fire from the forts. The fight is intense, and The Associated Press reports in an April 24 dispatch that there was a "heavy and continuous bombardment of Fort Jackson" before Farragut's move. The Confederates reported to AP that Fort Jackson alone had been targeted by some 25,000 13-inch shells but they vowed the fort was capable of absorbing heavy fire indefinitely. Farragut chose instead to bypass the forts entirely. All told, 13 of Farragut's ships would make it upriver beyond the two forts and continue on to New Orleans to force its surrender. There are more than 1,000 casualties on both sides. And Confederates still holding the forts downriver surrender on April, 28, 1862, when they realize their garrisons are cut off and isolated.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 29: Union march toward Corinth, Virginia skirmish.
In late April of 1862, more than 100,000 Union soldiers under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck march out from Tennessee for Corinth, Miss., intent on wresting away from Confederate forces that key railroad junction for the South. The journey into northern Mississippi means crossing thick forests and rugged country as many of Halleck's men come down with dysentery and typhoid — common diseases of that era in the South. The 22-mile route took Halleck's forces weeks to cover as they endured bad weather and as illnesses felled many. By early May of 1862, the Union army would be within 10 miles of Corinth but then Confederate rivals began unleashing sporadic, small-scale attacks. Union forces would repeatedly dig and settle into trenches as they advanced mile by mile — expecting to eventually approach Corinth. The Confederates, whose soldiers also were falling ill in large numbers, would hang on until late May before stealthily withdrawing and leaving Corinth to Union forces to occupy. Until then, more than 40 miles of earthen trenches and breastworks would be built in the area during the weeks of confrontation. Elsewhere, The Associated Press reported on May 4, 1862, that skirmishing had erupted near Williamsburg, Va. Union Gen. George B. McClellan now has a formidable fighting force arrayed in coastal Virginia and the skirmishing signals big battles soon to come. AP reports that Union forces probing the Confederate fortifications at Williamsburg fire upon approaching rebel cavalry. It adds Union troops were suddenly "opened upon by a deadly fire from the artillery posted behind the (Confederate) works." When the Confederate cavalry charged, Union forces counterattacked and "in more instances than one it was a hand to hand encounter with the enemy's cavalry."
(This version CORRECTS spelling of Nathan Bedford Forrest's surname; Corrects spelling of Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee.)