April 1862… a pivotal month of the war

Today marks the 155th anniversary of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, generally called the “start” of the American Civil War.  I don’t know what to call the 155th other than just “155th.”  Likewise, I have no smart name for the 151st anniversaries of the surrender at Appomattox (last Saturday) or Lincoln’s assassination (coming Thursday).  Having just experienced the sesquicentennial years, I trust we are all aware that April 1861 and April 1865 serve as convenient bookends of the Civil War.  And thus we see a number of good, scholarly works aimed to explain the events from those months. That is, in my opinion, a focus well spent.  Yet, there is a lot of “in between” laying between those two Aprils which is also due focus.

One “in between” that has always struck my fancy is April 1862.  Just a lot of moving parts in that spring month.  Consider –

  • April 4- Major-General George McClellan lead the Army of the Potomac up the Peninsula toward Confederate defenses at Yorktown.
  • April 6 – General Albert Sidney Johnston’s army struck Major-General U.S. Grant’s force camped around Pittsburg Landing.
  • April 7- Major-General John Pope landed a force at Watson’s Landing, on the Tennessee shore below New Madrid, Missouri, and behind Island No. 10.
  • April 10 – Federal batteries directed by (then) Captain Quincy Gillmore opened fire on Fort Pulaski.
  • April 12 – James Andrews hijacked the locomotive General at Big Shanty, Georgia.
  • April 17 – Major-General Nathaniel Banks occupied New Market, Virginia, with Major-General Thomas Jackson’s command falling back to the vicinity of Harrisonburg.
  • April 18 – Federal fleet under Commodore David Farragut began bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Philip downstream from New Orleans. Days later the fleet would run past those forts.
  • April 26 – After a month long siege, Confederates surrendered Fort Macon on the North Carolina coast.

Those being, mostly, start or end points of longer campaigns or operations.  The conclusions seen were:

  • A prolonged siege at Yorktown.
  • Over 23,000 casualties and a major Confederate reverse at Shiloh.
  • Some 7,000 Confederates captured at Island No. 10 and the Mississippi laid open south nearly (Fort Pillow) to Memphis.
  • New Orleans lost to the Confederacy – both as a port and manufacturing center.
  • Savannah mostly closed as a port.
  • The coast of North Carolina, save Wilmington, under Federal control.  As were large portions of the Shenandoah Valley, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

I added the Great Locomotive Chase entry as it had some impact on the Confederate logistic system at the time.

Furthermore, in a era without the benefit (or handicap) of the 24-hour news cycle, the timing of that raid reminds us how these events were connected in time. Imagine the newspaper headlines each morning, as the events unfolded.  In learning about the war, we approached the initial study by chapters… nicely defined chapters covering specific campaigns.

But unfortunately a format that failed to give us that appreciation for how those events were experienced – real time.  Those of us who waded into the sesquicentennial gained much from “real time, 150 years after the fact” following.  And I do hope that added to the perspective of many.  However I think in general that historians have not done enough to demonstrate the connection between these events and how such factored into the course of the war.  Nor have us students done enough to bring out those connections in our studies.  Thus several logical, time-line groupings of events have not received due attention.  There were several pivotal weeks and months in which the course of the war turned.

April 1862 was one of them.  The war entered its first mature campaign season… from the plains of Kansas to the Atlantic Ocean (and beyond).  And given the victories cited above, April 1862 might have been a turning point sending the Confederacy to an early end.  As a “western theater guy” I am fond of saying the Confederates lost the war at Shiloh on the night of April 6, 1862 and the Federals won the war atop Missionary Ridge on November 24, 1863.  Easterners will disagree, but the fact is defeat at Shiloh broke the back of the Confederate army in the west.  Shiloh set-up Vicksburg.  Vicksburg set-up Chattanooga and that Missionary Ridge thing.  Missionary Ridge set-up Atlanta.  And from Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Columbia, and Fayetteville … and set-up Appomattox. The long way around, to be sure.  But that’s how my “western-centered” perspective views it… feel free to disagree.

Yet from the opposite side of the coin, April 1862 was also an important set-up for the Confederacy. Consider the closures… or results… from some of those Federal actions:

  • The Army of the Potomac invested Yorktown, not taking that place until the first days of May.
  • Major-General Henry Halleck took direct control of the advance toward Corinth, Mississippi, concentrating forces across the western theater for a slow pursuit.  The Crossroads of the Confederacy would not be in Federal hands until the end of May.
  • Major-General Samuel Curtiss, due to logistic constraints and in spite of a victory at Pea Ridge in March, fell back into Missouri.

This turn of events, again happening concurrently, gave openings and created angles which the Confederates could exploit. One of those, of course, being Jackson’s Valley Campaign.  That campaign, and actions on other fronts, setup six months in which the Confederacy would reach its zenith… and take the war onto northern soil.

Maybe April 1862 was not the turning point it could have been.  And maybe it was not the most important thirty days of the Civil War.  But I submit it was a pivotal month in the course of the war.


Unfilled and overdue requisitions: Artillery of the Department of the Gulf

When Major General Nathaniel P. Banks took over the Department of the Gulf at the end of 1862, his chief mission mirrored, if not directly competed with, that of General Ulysses S. Grant further upstream on the Mississippi River.   Like Grant’s operations to the north, any progress made by Banks required a significant maneuver element to close on Confederate river defenses.  And at that time in military history, maneuver elements required mounted field artillery.  In January 1863, Captain Richard Arnold, Banks’ Chief of Artillery provided an assessment of the artillery in the department.  (Arnold’s report being one of several submitted as Banks was getting to know General Benjamin Butler’s former command.)

Arnold tallied ten mounted batteries and two sections:

  • Company F, 1st US Artillery (with one section of Company A, 1st US Artillery), under Captain Richard C. Duryea, with six 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch rifles.
  • Company G, 5th US Artillery, under Lieutenant Jacob B. Rawles, with six 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • 2nd Vermont Battery, under Captain Pythagoras E. Holcomb, with two 6-pdr Sawyer guns, two 12-pdr howitzers, and two 3-inch rifles.
  • 18th New York Artillery, under Captain Albert Mack, with six 20-pdr Parrott rifles.
  • Company L, 1st US Artillery, under Captain Henry W. Closson, with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • Company C, 2nd US Artillery, under Lieutenant John I. Rodgers, with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch rifles.
  • 2nd Massachusetts Battery, under Captain Ormand F. Nims, with six 6-pdr guns.
  • Company A, 1st US Artillery, under Captain Edmund C. Bainbridge, with two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch rifles.
  • 1st Maine Battery under Captain E. W. Thompson, with four 6-pdr rifled guns and three 12-pdr howitzers.
  • 6th Massachusetts Battery, under Captain William W. Carruth, with four 6-pdr Sawyer guns and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • A section comprising of men from the 21st Indiana Infantry Regiment using three 6-pdr guns captured in the Battle of Baton Rouge.
  • A section from the 4th Massachusetts battery with two 12-pdr rifled guns.

The mix of artillery stands in contrast with that used at the same time by the Army of the Potomac, but is similar to that of Army of the Cumberland in some regards.  Arnold’s report indicates these batteries were deployed in southern Louisiana, mostly around New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The use of Sawyer rifles is noteworthy.  Three of these cast steel rifles were delivered to the Army for experiments in December 1861.  After the start of hostilities, more were produced for state orders.  Likely the six mentioned in Arnold’s report were some of the later.

In addition, the department included four more batteries deployed for garrison duty:

  • Company K, 2nd US Artillery, under Captain Harvey A. Allen, at Fort Pickens.
  • Company H, 2nd US Artillery, under Captain Frank Larned, at Fort Barrancas.
  • 4th Massachusetts Battery, under Captain George G. Trull, at Fort Pike.
  • 1st Vermont Battery, under Captain George W. Duncan, with two 6-pdr rifled guns, two 6-pdr guns, and two howitzers, at Camp Parapet (defenses of New Orleans).

Of those four, only the 1st Vermont might be mounted for the upcoming campaign.  Arnold noted that three batteries were in route to Louisiana – the 21st, 25th, and 26th New York Batteries.  If properly supplied, the department might field fifteen mounted batteries, with a total of 90 guns.

Arnold suggested an arrangement of three batteries per division.  He felt the best mix for each divisional assignment was a battery of Napoleon guns, a battery of rifled guns, and a mixed battery of rifles and light smoothbores.  “This, in my opinion, will give the best proportion and most efficient combination for both combined and separate operations,” explained Arnold.  Unlike operations in other theaters where the Corps was the army commander’s unit of maneuver, in the swamps of Louisiana, operational focus fell to the divisional level.

But the main concern facing Arnold was the need for equipment to properly outfit the batteries.  “Many of the requisitions sent to the ordnance department have not been filled, owing to the non-arrival of the stores now overdue.”  Arnold had out a call for inventories.  His intent was to press the Chief of Ordnance to fill the shortfalls.

Another problem Arnold mentioned, which would become an issue later in the spring, was the lack of siege weapons.  “I would add in reference to siege operations that there are no guns whatever [in New Orleans] suitable for the purpose.  They can probably be obtained at some of the forts along the coast, but the procuring and transporting them to this place and the organization of a siege train will require some weeks at least.”

Organizational returns indicate at least some of Arnold’s request was fulfilled.  The 1st Vermont was indeed mounted.  Three of the department’s divisions, those of Brigadier Generals Thomas Sherman, William Emory, and Cuvier Grover, had three batteries of artillery (though not with the mix of guns preferred by Arnold).  Major General Christopher Augur’s division included five batteries – including the 12th Massachusetts Battery which arrived in February and the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery. The three New York batteries mentioned in Arnold’s report were not mounted for the field.  The 25th New York Battery had lost all its horses when its transport wrecked off Key West.

The “Hoosier” heavy artillery was formerly the 21st Indiana Infantry, mentioned earlier with three field pieces.  The 1st Indiana Heavy would soon transition to garrison artillery, but some elements would serve in the siege lines at Port Hudson.

So in summary, Arnold asked for fifteen mounted batteries but only got thirteen.

(Captain Arnold’s reports appear in OR, Series I, Volume 15, Serial 21, page 649-651.)

150 Years Ago: Banks’ Orders call for “military promptness”

A few days ago I made reference to General Nathaniel Banks’ orders to replace General Benjamin Butler.  Realize that relief was a slow motion affair.  Banks would not arrive in New Orleans for several weeks, and only then was Butler officially informed.  And as mentioned earlier, there were two pieces of correspondence that Banks carried – the official orders and the detailed instructions provided by General in Chief Henry Halleck.  The later contained what we’d call “commander’s intent” under the modern orders process.  Since I don’t see it reproduced elsewhere, allow me the long citation (from OR, Series I, Volume 15, Serial 21, page 590) here:

WASHINGTON, D. C., November 9, 1862.
Maj. Gen. N. P. BANKS,  Commanding, &c.:

GENERAL: The President of the United States having assigned you to command of the Department of the Gulf, you will immediately proceed with the troops assembling in transports at Fort Monroe to New Orleans and relieve Major-General Butler. An additional force of some 10,000 men will be sent to you from Boston and New York as soon as possible. The first military operations which will engage your attention on your arrival at New Orleans will be the opening of the Mississippi and the reduction of Fort Morgan or Mobile City, in order to control that bay and harbor. In these expeditions you will have the co-operation of the rear-admiral commanding the naval forces in the Gulf and the Mississippi River. A military and naval expedition is organizing at Memphis and Cairo to move down the Mississippi and cooperate with you against Vicksburg and any other points which the enemy may occupy on that river. As the ranking general in the Southwest, you are authorized to assume control of any military forces from the Upper Mississippi which may come within your command. The line of division between your department and that of Major-General Grant is therefore left undecided for the present, and you will exercise superior authority as far north as you may ascend the river.

The President regards the opening of the Mississippi River as the first and most important of all our military and naval operations, and it is hoped that you will not lose a moment in accomplishing it.

This river being opened, the question will arise how the troops and naval forces there can be employed to the best advantage. Two objects are suggested as worthy of your attention: First, on the capture of Vicksburg, to send a military force directly east to destroy the railroads at Jackson and Marion, and thus cut off all connection by rail between Northern Mississippi and Mobile and Atlanta. The latter place is now the chief military depot of the rebel armies in the West. Second, to ascend with a naval and military three the Red River as far as it is navigable, and thus open an outlet for the sugar and cotton of Northern Louisiana. Possibly both of these objects may be accomplished if the circumstances should be favorable. It is also suggested that, having Red River in our possession, it would form the best base for operations in Texas.

It is believed that the operations of General Rosecrans in East Tennessee, of General Grant in Northern Mississippi, and of General Steele in Arkansas will give full employment to the enemy’s troops in the West, and thus prevent them from concentrating in force against you. Should they do so, you will be re-enforced by detachments from one or more of these commands.

These instructions are not intended to tie your hands or to hamper your operations in the slightest degree. So far away from headquarters, you must necessarily exercise your own judgment and discretion in regard to your movements against the enemy, keeping in view that the opening of the Mississippi River is now the great and primary object of your expedition, and I need not assure you, general, that the Government has unlimited confidence not only in your judgment and discretion, but also in your energy and military promptness.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Nothing like clear and concise orders, right?

Look over the second and third paragraphs.  The entire Federal strategy for the remainder of the war with respect to the Department of the Gulf is laid out there.  Nearly three years of activity, neatly summed up in wide ranging descriptions.  As I read them, I can visualize President Lincoln, Secretary Stanton, and Halleck hovering over some large scale map of the U.S., with the tall man from Illinois gesturing over wide swaths of territory.  And in all fairness, that’s the sort of high level planning that must go on.

But when those high level plans enter the operational scope, there must be assigned objectives, coordination measures, delineation of operational sectors, and clear delegations of command.  The “intent” should convey that in at least conceptual terms.  Do you see that here?

However on the other side of things, the last thing a field commander needs is lengthy, detailed orders that constrain initiative.  Yes, Halleck suggested he would not bind Banks to some rigid order. But he did so in some 500 words!

Yet, I’m reminded how easy it is to “Monday morning quarterback” someone’s written orders 150 years later.  In my experience, orders must be tailored to fit the command relationships.  Some folks can achieve the desired result with simple, direct orders.  Others need a little more … coaching.  But Halleck was not offering much coaching here.

Other than to press for “military promptness.”