So December is here. For us 21st century-folks, our focus might be on gift lists and scheduling of festive events. Of course just over a figurative hill are wars, in some cases held by cease fires. We don’t see much in the way of major battles. But that’s the nature of counter-insurgency, one might argue with respect to Afghanistan.
That was not the case in 1862. News of battle after battle came nearly every day. This was in the face of contemporary military wisdom that armies should “go into quarters” at the onset of winter. Yet, there were several active campaigns resulting in important (if not major) battles:
- Prairie Grove – December 7
- Fredericksburg – December 11-15
- Foster’s Raid (North Carolina) – December 13-20
- Chickasaw Bayou – December 26-29
- Stones River – December 31 – January 2
Taken in isolation, this activity might not be so noteworthy. Just another month in a major war.
But the activity in December happened after a very, very active late summer and early fall season. Two major Confederate invasions, not to mention several smaller campaigns, drained the resources of both armies. Again, under conventional military wisdom, following a major campaign armies would rest, recuperate, resupply, reorganize, and rest. And yes, the respective armies on both sides did just that. But in compressed cycles. Sixty days after the invasions fizzled out, the respective armies lined up for another round of battles.
Reviewing the list of campaign activity, the odd one of the set is Prairie Grove – being the result of a Confederate offensive move. At the theater level at least. The others were result of Federal offensives from Virginia to Mississippi. And even Prairie Grove, one might argue, was a function of the aggressive Federal stance. By holding the northwest corner of Arkansas, the strategic flanks of forces operating along the Mississippi were more secure.
New commanders – Burnsides, Rosecrans, and Banks – with offensive oriented orders. Existing commanders likewise given orders to press the Confederates. Activity across one thousand miles from the Chesapeake to the tributaries of the Arkansas River (if I said Illinois River, folks would be confused).
What objective would prompt political leadership to issue such orders? Think about it.