Thursday, August 14, 2008

THIS WEEK IN THE CIVIL WAR: Aug. 10-16, 1862

Storm Clouds

It’s another of those in-between times in the Civil War, with no major battles but plenty of action nonetheless. From Virginia to Missouri, firefights are erupting almost no one ever heard of then or since (e.g., Switzler’s Mill, Missouri; Brown’s Plantation, Mississippi; Medon, Tennessee; Clarendon, Arkansas). Each clash is of little significance in itself, but taken together, they form a thunderous and deadly chorus. More importantly, the military forces of each spend this week moving with grim intent.

In Virginia, Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign against Richmond has proven a flop, so his immense Army of the Potomac is leaving Harrison’s Landing on the James River, heading in the general direction of Washington. Shadowing McClellan, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of the Northern Virginia is moving towards Gordonsville, part-way between the opposing capitals of Richmond and Washington. Having left the Shenandoah Valley and moved into north central Virginia, Stonewall Jackson’s force has already whipped one division of the Union Gen. John Pope’s newly created three-division Army of Virginia. Pope and McClellan are expected to link up and turn their mighty host on the Confederates.

Meanwhile, Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith is leading 21,000 men from Knoxville to the strategic Cumberland Gap (which he will bypass), isolating the Union force there), then into Kentucky to wreak havoc on Union forces based there. Meanwhile, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg is sending those redoubtable raiders, Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan, into middle Tennessee. Soon, Bragg will advance into Kentucky and join forces with Kirby Smith. That forces Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell to abandon his snail’s pace advance on Chattanooga and head north from Alabama to turn back the Confederates in Tennessee and Kentucky. Meanwhile, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is stuck in Corinth, Mississippi, surrounded by enemies, his troops too dispersed to mount a significant offensive. He is further handicapped by having to supply reinforcements to Buell.

So far this year, the bottom line in Virginia has been stalemate, while in the Western Theater Union forces have enjoyed a succession of victories, but are under heavy pressure form the Confederates. The war has not reached a turning point, but the weeks to come will bring a number of critical moments.

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