Friday, May 9, 2008


AUTHOR’S NOTE: Effective April 25, “Blood, Tears, and Glory—The American Civil War, Day by Historical Day, changed to a weekly format, presenting a summary of that week’s events in the war. While the emphasis will continue to be on the Western Theater, all major events in the war will be recognized.

Is the Confederacy doomed?

The bad news for the Confederacy keeps getting worse. Threats press in from every side. In the Western Theater, over 100,000 Union soldiers under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck are heading for Corinth, Mississippi, intent on capturing that vital rail junction. In the Eastern Theater, another 100,000 Federals, led by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, is on the Virginia Peninsula, with the Confederate capital of Richmond its objective.

After a month of standing still while planning a siege, McClellan’s Army of the Potomac finally enters Yorktown, Virginia, on Sunday, May 4. Just as McClellan was moving big siege guns in place in front of Yorktown, Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and his smaller army slipped away, leaving the door open. McClellan calls his near bloodless siege “brilliant,” but Johnston’s army remains intact, simply moving westward, towards Richmond and, briefly, out of McClellan’s range. On Tuesday, after a small, sharp fight, advance units of the Union army enter nearby Williamsburg as well—but Johnston keeps falling back.

On Thursday, the Confederate government gets a little good news when Stonewall Jackson scores the first victory of his Shenandoah Valley campaign. In the battle of McDowell (or Bull Pasture Mountain) Jackson’s 10,000 Confederates push back 6,000 Federals under Brig. Gen. Robert Schenck, an Ohio “political general.” Now Jackson will start moving north to gain more successes in the Valley. His objective is to tie up Union troops who might otherwise bolster McClellan’s Army of the Potomac on the Virginia Peninsula. Already, Jackson is developing a reputation for moving fast and hitting hard. Soon the name of “Jackson” will be feared in the North.

But there is more bad news for the Rebellion’s government. On Friday, feeling the pressure of McClellan’s 100,000-man invasion force nearby, the Confederates abandon their important naval and army base at Norfolk, Virginia. It is a severe loss. Although the retreating Confederates try to burn as much as they can (the abandoned, burning Norfolk is pictured above), considerable booty falls into the hands of the Federals, who enter Norfolk unopposed on Saturday. While visiting the Peninsula, President Lincoln watches Union troops moving into Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia.

So things are looking up for the Union, but all is not well. McClellan’s army will slow down again, and so will Halleck’s. Historians will look back at all this, not so much as a time of Union success, but of lost opportunities.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3 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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