Saturday, August 2, 2008

THIS WEEK IN THE CIVIL WAR: July 27-August 2, 1862

Dog Days

As the dog days of summer wheel from July into August, the United States resembles a museum’s electric map, flashes of light sparkling across much of the continent as fire fights erupt randomly. Patrols from opposing camps run into each other, cavalrymen hungry for excitement stage raids, nervous sentinels fire at unidentified shapes moving in the dark.

In the Eastern Theater, this is merely an interlude between the ignominious end of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign and the ignominious debut of Maj. Gen. John Pope at Second Bull Run. Both men—of whom so much is expected—will be removed from the scene before the year is over.

In the Western Theater, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters in Corinth, Mississippi, hums with activity, as reports of back-and-forth clashes with Braxton Bragg’s Confederates erupt here, there, and everywhere. Typical is the news from Maj. Gilbert Moyers of the 3rd Michigan Cavalry, which Grant summarizes in a message (July 28th) to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

Three companies of cavalry under Maj. Moyers went out southeast from Tuscumbia to attack a part of rebel cavalry which had surprised and captured two companies of Gen. Thomas’s command and burnt the bridge near Courtland. They found the enemy about two hundred strong and made the attack, losing 23 killed, wounded, and missing. Does not state whether the enemy were repulsed….

Bragg claims this action near Spangler’s Mill, Alabama, was a Confederate victory.

And so it goes—little victories and small losses, important mostly to those involved. Endless paperwork signifying men trying to kill each other. In one day (July 27), McClernand sends eight alarming telegrams to Grant, claiming threatening movements of Confederate troop movements and requesting reinforcements. Nothing much happens.

And so it goes. North of Grant, in 5th Division headquarters at Memphis, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman also has his hands full. He is being badgered by slave owners who want him to track down and return runaway slaves. Naturally, Sherman has little patience with the slave owners. Instead, runaway slaves reaching him are set to work building a fort for the Federals.

Another problem for Sherman is the price of salt, needed for preserving meat for the soldiers. Speculators have driven the price up to $100 a barrel. “I am getting tired of this, & of volunteer service and would escape if I could,” Sherman grumbles in a letter to Ellen.

He also tells her he is surrounded by the enemy sympathizers.: “Secesh on both sides and all round,” he writes ”and…they hope & pray that the Southern Army will in due time destroy us.”

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