Wednesday, March 5, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Thursday, March 6, 1862

Intimations of Battle

Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who succeeded Ulysses S. Grant as commander of the District of Cairo, is making his headquarters at Paducah, Kentucky. From there, he writes “Dearest Ellen” about his actions at Columbus, Kentucky. This Mississippi River town was a major Confederate base until recently. General P.G.T. Beauregard has withdrawn Rebel forces from it (and elsewhere) to make a strong stand downriver at Island Number Ten, just above New Madrid, Missouri. Suspecting the Confederates’ departure, Sherman sent his cavalry to scout Columbus, followed by 900 infantrymen.

Columbus is found to be empty. The Yanks move in. “The place must have been very formidable, but they carried off all their guns” and supplies, Sherman tells Ellen. He also tells her that he has just been ordered by Halleck to join a major expedition up the Tennessee—originally to be commanded by Grant, but abruptly replaced by C. F. by Smith.

Sherman also makes a prediction: “The next battle will be at New Madrid and at some point up the Tennessee.” He is right on both counts.

Grant, newly minted as a major general but almost immediately sidelined by Halleck, busies himself at Fort Henry with forwarding troops for the Tennessee River expedition. He is careful to keep Halleck informed, sending him two telegrams of information today.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston is rushing his Confederates south from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, headed for Corinth, Mississippi, where he hopes to block any Union advance up the Tennessee.

Clearly, the American conflict’s “winter break” is over. Both the Union and the Confederacy are saying, “Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war.”

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: In Arkansas, the 16,000 Confederate soldiers of Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn’s Army of the West are trudging through the snow, so many of them ill-equipped that they are shoeless and leaving bloody footprints in the snow. They are moving north, planning to attack the Union’s Army of the Southwest, entrenched at Pea Ridge under Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis. Curtis, who calls Iowa home, spent several years serving in the Ohio militia. Van Dorn hopes to destroy Curtis’s army, ridding Arkansas of Yankee soldiers and exposing Missouri to invasion.

In the east, a strange-looking new warship, the U.S. S. Monitor, leaves New York today, bound for Fort Monroe, Virginia. Despite having had only limited trials, the revolutionary iron ship, nicknamed “the cheese box on a raft,” will soon engage in its first battle.

In Washington, President Lincoln asks Congress to welcome and financially aid any state promising to gradually abolish slavery. Lincoln’s idea follows from his belief at this time that slavery—although he despises it—is Constitutionally protected and can only be reduced through a gradualism that employs the carrot more than the stick.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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