History of the United States
Volume III


Chapter XVIII
First Year of the War

On the 24th of May the Union army crossed the Potomac from Washington city to Alexandria. At this time Fortress Monroe, at the mouth of James River, was held by twelve thousand men, under command of General B. F. Butler, At Bethel Church, in the immediate vicinity, was stationed a detachment of Confederates commanded by General Magruder. On the 10th of June a body of Union troops was sent to dislodge them, but was repulsed with considerable loss. Meanwhile the conquest of Western Virginia had been undertaken by General George B. McClellan.

In the last days of May General T. A. Morris moved forward from Parkersburg to Grafton with a force of Ohio and Indiana troops, and on the 3d of June came upon the Confederates stationed at Philippi. This was in reality the first battle of the war. After a brief engagement the Federals were successful; the Confederates retreated toward the mountains. General McClellan now arrived, took comand in person, and on the 11th of July gained a victory at Rich Mountain. General Garnett, the Confederate commander, fell back with his forces to Carrick's Ford, on Cheat River, made a stand, was again defeated and himself killed in the battle. On the 10th of August General Floyd, commanding a detachment of Confederates at Carnifex Ferry, on Gauley River, was attacked by General Rosecrans and obliged to retreat. On the 14th of September a division of Confederates under General Robert E. Lee was beaten in an engagement at Cheat Mountain--an action which completed the restoration of Federal authority in Western Virginia. The people living in this section of the State were not in sympathy with the rebellion. They owned but few slaves and when the governor of Virginia called upon them for their quota of troops to serve in the Confederate army, some forty of these mountain counties refused. Mass meetings were held in various cities. The result was the holding of a convention. A new government was established and thus in time another State was carved from the soil of the Old Dominion.

In the beginning of June General Robert Patterson marched from Chambersburg with the intention of recapturing Harper's Ferry. On the 11th of the month a division of the army commanded by Colonel Lewis Wallace made a sudden and successful onset upon a detachment of Confederates stationed at Romney. Patterson then crossed the Potomac with the main body, entered the Shenandoah Valley, and pressed back the Confederate forces to Winchester. Thus far there had been only petty engagements, skirmishes, and marching. The time had now come when the first great battle of the war was to be fought.

After the Union successes in West Virginia the main body of the Confederates, under command of General Beauregard, was concentrated at Manassas Junction, on the Orange Railroad, twenty-seven miles west of Alexandria. Another large force, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, was within supporting distance in the Shenandoah Valley. The Union army at Alexandria was commanded by General Irwin McDowell, while General Patterson was stationed in front of Johnston to watch his movements and prevent his forming a junction with Beauregard. The Federal army consisted of raw, untrained militia, and were far from being able to compete with the Southerners, who naturally inclined toward the military. But there was a general note of impatience in the North at the inactivity of the army. On the 16th of July the national army moved forward. Two days afterward an unimportant engagement took place between Centreville and Bull Run. The Unionists then pressed on, and on the morning of the 21st--Sunday--came upon the Confederate army, strongly posted between Bull Run and Manassas Junction. A general battle ensued, continuing with great severeity until noonday. At that hour the advantage was with McDowell, and it seemed not unlikely that the Confederates would suffer a complete defeat. But in the crisis of the battle General Johnston arrived with nearly six thousand fresh troops from the Shenandoah Valley. General Patterson had failed to detain him. This blunder lost the Federals the day. The tide of victory turned immediately, and in a short tiem McDowell's whole army was hurled back in utter rout and confusion. A ruinous panic spread through the defeated host. Soldiers and citizens, regulars and volunteers, horsemen and footmen, rolled back in a disorganized mass into the defenses of Washington. The Union loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners amounted to two thousand nine hundred and fifty-two; that of the Confederates to two thousand and fifty.

Great was the humiliation of the North, and greater the rejoicing of the South. But the defeat served as a valuable lesson to the North. They learned that the contest now on was not a "breakfast job," as Secretary Seward had said, but that the Southern people were in deadly earnest, and for the first time there was a feeling that the war might be a long and bloody one. For a while the Federal government was more concerned about its own safety than about the conquest of Richmond. In that city, on the day before the battle, the new Confederate government was organized. In the Southern Congress and cabinet were many men of distinguished abilities. Jefferson Davis, the President, was a far-sighted man, of wide experience in the affairs of state, and considerable reputation as a soldier. He had led the troops of Mississippi in the Mexican War, had served in both houses of the national Congress, and as a member of President Pierce's cabinet. His talents, decision of character, and ardent advocacy of State rights had made him a natural leader of the South. In the meantime President Lincoln had called an extra session of Congress. There was a general unanimity in voting the President all the men and numitions of war necessary in putting down the rebellion. He was authorized to call for five hundred thousand additional volunteers for three years. The Secretary of the Treasury was permitted to borrow $250,000,000. Taxes were levied, the navy increased, and the whole military and naval forces were put on a war footing.

The next military movements were made in Missouri. That commonwealth, though slaveholding, still retained its place in the Union. A convention, called by Governor Jackson in accordance with an act of the legislature, had in the previous March refused to pass an ordinance of secession. The disunionists, however, were numerous and powerful; the governor favored their cause, and the State became a battlefield for the contending parties. Both Federal and Confederate camps were organized, and hostilities began in several places. By capturing the United States arsenal at Liberty, in Clay county, the Confederates obtained a considerable supply of arms and ammunition. By the formation of Camp Jackson, near St. Louis, the arsenal in that city was also endangered; but by the vigilance of Captain Nathaniel Lyon the arms and stores were sent up the river to Alton, and thence to Springfield. Camp Jackson was soon afterward broken up by the exertions of the same officer.

The lead mines in the southwest part of the State became an object of great importance to the Confederates, who, in order to secure them, hurried up large badies of troops from Arkansas and Texas. On the 17th of June, Lyon encountered Governor Jackson with a Confederate force at Boonevile, and gained a decided advantage. On the 5th of July the Unionists, led by Colonel Franz Sigel, were again successful in a severe engagement with the governor at Carthage. On the 10th of August the hardest battle thus far fought in the West occurred at Wilson's Creek, a short distance south of Springfield. General Lyon made a daring but rash attack on a much superior force of Confederates under command of Generals McCullough and Price. The Federals at first gained the field against heavy odds, but General Lyon was killed, and his men retreated under direction of Sigel.

General Price now pressed northward across the State to Lexington, on the Missouri River. This place was defended by a force of Federals two thousand six hundred strong, commanded by Colonel Mulligan. A stubborn defense was made by the garrison, but Mulligan was soon obliged to capitulate. Price then turned southward, and on the 16th of October Lexington was retaken by the Federals. General John C. Fremont, who had been appointed to the command of the Union forces in Missouri, followed the Confederates as far as Springfield, and was on the eve of making an attack, when he was superseded by General Hunter. The latter, after retreating to St. Louis, was in turn superseded by General Halleck on the 18th of November. It was now Price's turn to fall back toward Arkansas. The only remaining movement of importance was at Belmont, on the Mississippi.

The Confederate general Polk, acting under orders of his government, had, notwithstanding that State's neutrality, entered Kentucky with an army, and had captured the town of Columbus. Batteries planted here commanded the Mississippi. The Confederates gathered in force at Belmont, on the opposite bank. In order to dislodge them Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, with a brigade of three thousand Illinois troops, was sent by way of Cairo into Missouri. On the 7th of November he made a vigorous and successful attack on the Confederate camp; but General Polk sent re-enforcements across the river, the guns of Columbus were brought to bear on the Union position, and Grant was obliged to retreat.

The rout at Bull Run had the effect to quicken the energies of the North, and troops were rapidly hurried to Washington. The aged General Scott, unable to bear the burden resting upon him, retired from active duty, and General McClellan from his victories in West Virginia was called to take command of the Army of the Potomac. By the middle of October his forces had increased to a hundred and fifty thousand men. On the 21st of that month a brigade, numbering nearly two thousand, ws thrown across the Potomac at Ball's Bluff. Without proper support or means of retreat, the Federals were attacked by a strong force of Confederates under General Evans, driven to the river, their leader, Colonel Baker, killed, and the whole force routed with terrible loss. Fully eight hundred of Baker's men were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners.

During the summer of 1861 the Federal government sent to sea several important naval expeditions. One of these, commanded by Commodore Stringham and General Butler, proceeded to the North Carolina coast, and on the 29th of August captured the forts at Hatteras Inlet. On the 7th of November a second armament, under command of Commodore Dupont and General Thomas W. Sherman, entered the harbor of Port Royal, and captured Forts Walker and Beauregard. Hilton Head, a point most advantageous for military operations against Charleston and Savannah, thus fell into the power of the Federals. Around the whole coast the blockade was becoming so rigorous that commerce and communication between the Confederate States and foreign nations were being rapidly cut off. In this juncture of affairs a difficulty arose which brought the United States and Great Britain to the very verge of war.

There was much reason for the South to expect aid and sympathy from some of the European countries, especially England. While the relations of that country and the United States were especially amicable, yet the cotton mills of Liverpool and Manchester needed cotton from the South. Even prominent English statesmen, among whom was Gladstone, prophesied the inability of the North to maintain the Union. The English ministry refused to commit itself on the matter of the recognition of the Confederacy. Scarcely had the echoes from the guns upon Sumter died away, before the Confederate government was accorded belligerent rights.

The Confederate government had appointed James M. Mason and John Slidell, formerly senators of the United States, to go abroad as ambassadors from the Confederate States to France and England. The envoys went on board a blockade runner, and escaping from Charleston Harbor, reached Havana in safety. At that port they took passage on the British mail steamer Trent, and sailed for Europe. On the 8th of November the vessel was overtaken by the United States frigate San Jacinto, commanded by Captain Wilkes. the Trent was hailed and boarded; the two ambassadors and their secretaries were seized, transferred to the San Jacinto. carried to Boston, and imprisoned. The Trent proceeded on her way to England; the story of the insult to the British flag was told, and the whole kingdom burst out in a blaze of wrath.

At first the people of the United States loudly applauded Captain Wilkes, and the government was disposed to defend his action. Congress tendered him a vote of thanks. The Cabinet with one exveption united with the people in their rejoicings. The President, however, saw danger ahead. England at once flew into a rage. Preparations for war were immediately begun. Seven days were allowed in which the United States might apologize. The country was saved from the peril of war by the adroit and far-reaching diplomacy of William H. Seward, the secretary of state. When Great Britain demanded reparation for the insult and the immediate liberation of the prisoners, he replied in a mild, cautious, and very able paper. It was conceded that the seizure of Mason and Slidell was not justifiable according to the law of nations. A suitable apology was made for the wrong done, the Confederate ambassadors were liberated, put on board a vessel, and sent to their destination. This action of the secretary was both just and politic. The peril of war went by, and Great Britain was committed to a policy in regard to the rights of neutral flags which she had hitherto denied and which the United States had always contended for. So endd the first year of the civil war.


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