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Civil War digest: This week, 150 years ago



This Week in the American Civil War-March 5-11, 1862 (150 years ago)

Wednesday March 5, 1862

Federal troops under Major General Nathaniel Prentice Banks advanced up the Shenandoah Valley from Harper's Ferry, western Va., to Winchester, Va., and Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Confederates. There was a skirmish at Bunker Hill, north of Winchester, and near Washington a skirmish at Pohick Church. In the West, General P.T.G. Beauregard at Jackson, Tenn., assumed command of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, while General Albert Sidney Johnston's forces were moving west from Murfreesboro, Tenn., toward Corinth, Miss., to block the Federal move up the Tennessee River. The first of a large Federal force under Brigadier General Charles F. Smith arrived at Savannah, Tenn., northeast of Corinth, soon followed by 80 troop transports and three gunboats. In northwest Arkansas, Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn hurriedly concentrated his forces beyond Fayetteville and Elm Springs in preparation for attack.

Thursday March 6, 1862

By late afternoon, the four Federal divisions of Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis's army in Arkansas were in position at Sugar Creek, north of Fayetteville, and were well entrenched, looking south. However, Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn would not risk a frontal attack and decided late in the day, after some moderate fighting, to pass around the Federals by means of a night march, and attack from the north at Pea Ridge.

Near New York, the ironclad U.S.S. Monitor, after limited sea trials, set out for Fort Monroe, Va., where the Federal squadron had been anticipating an attack from the Confederate ironclad Virginia. Virginia was a heavy-draft ironclad, well-armed and well protected, reconstructed from the former Federal frigate Merrimack. She was expected to control Hampton Roads and the harbor area that was threatened by the Federals.

President Lincoln sent Congress a message calling for cooperation with any state that would adopt gradual abolition of slavery, and giving such states financial aid, to be used at their discretion. In Richmond, the Confederate Congress passed a measure stipulating that military authorities should destroy cotton, tobacco and other property if it could not be removed before it fell into the hands of the enemy. President Davis wrote to General Joseph E. Johnston in Virginia that he was aware of his problems and the possible need to retreat before McClellan's Army of the Potomac, which was expected to advance at any moment.

Friday March 7, 1862

BATTLE OF PEA RIDGE

The weather was clear but cold after recent storms in northwest Arkansas as two Confederate columns under Major General Earl Van Dorn passed around the Federal flank and attacked Brigadier General Samuel Curtis's forces from the north at Pea Ridge, also known as Elkhorn Tavern. The Federals discovered the move and quickly swung around. The Confederates, aided by two regiments of Cherokee Mounted Rifles from nearby Indian Territory, gained early success. The death of Confederate Brigadier Generals Benjamin McCullough and James McIntosh caused confusion. Curtis was able to use this to his advantage by massing his forces by nightfall and prepared to resume battle the next morning.

Union Major General George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac, finally on the move in Virginia, advanced toward General Joseph E. Johnston's Confederates at Manasses. Johnston was alerted to this move and pulled his forces from Evansport, Dumfries, the Occoquan River and Manassas further south toward Fredericksburg.

Saturday March 8, 1862

BATTLE OF PEA RIDGE CONCLUDES; BATTLE OF HAMPTON ROADS

In the biggest battle west of the Mississippi River during the Civil War, the 21 guns of the Union Brigadier General Samuel Curtis's artillery opened up a deadly fire on General Van Dorn's Confederates who were facing severe ammunition shortages because of a mix up the previous day which brought the supply wagons back to their base of operation at Camp Stephens. Around noon, the final Federal victory occurred near the Elkhorn Tavern, but Van Dorn escaped down the Huntsville Road and not Cross Timber Hollow, as Curtis, his adversary, originally believed. Casualties for the Pea Ridge battle amounted to 1,384 Federals (including 203 killed in action); and approximately 2,000 for the Confederates (including around 800 killed in action).

The U.S.S. Minnesota was engaged in battle at Hampton Roads, Va., near Norfolk and Fort Monroe. The ironclad C.S.S. Virginia, formerly the U.S.S. Merrimack, steamed out of Norfolk Harbor and faced the frigates, Roanoke, Minnesota, Congress and

the sloop Cumberland. The Virginia destroyed the Cumberland and Congress, while the Minnesota and Roanoke ran aground. Darkness fell before the ironclad could finish the job.

Sunday March 9, 1862

BATTLE OF THE MONITOR AND MERRIMACK

During the evening, the U.S.S. Monitor, a Federal ironclad vessel, arrived at Hampton Roads, Va. At dawn, as the C.S.S. Virginia (formerly the U.S.S. Merrimack) ironclad attempted to finish off the U.S.S. Minnesota, which ran aground near Sewell's Point, Va., the previous day, the Monitor interceded. The two ironclads fought in a lengthy engagement, until noon, which resulted in a draw when the captains of each vessel misinterpreted the intentions of the other and each claimed victory. The Monitor was able to protect the Minnesota, which was towed to Fort Monroe later in the day for much needed but temporary repairs.

In New Orleans, two Confederate powder mills exploded, killing five.

Monday March 10, 1862

The aftermath of the Battle of Pea Ridge, in Arkansas, and the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack in Virginia, coupled with the build-up of Federals on the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing made its way across the heartland of the United States and Confederate States. A brief skirmish in LaFayette County, Mo., is the only recorded military action of the day. In Washington, Congress debated various aspects of slavery.

Tuesday March 11, 1862

In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln officially relieved Major General George B. McClellan from his post as General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army but kept him in control of the Army of the Potomac. All generals in the U.S. Army were to report directly to the Secretary of War as the General-in-Chief position was vacant.

In Richmond, President Jefferson Davis declined to accept the reports of Brigadier Generals John B. Floyd and Gideon J. Pillow, who fled Fort Donelson before the fort's surrender. Davis relieved both of them from command.

Where Minnesota Regiments were the week of March 5-11, 1862

1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry-On the march from Leesburg to Winchester, Va.

2nd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry-Advance to Pittsburg Landing, Tenn.

3rd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry-At Shepherdsville, Lebanon Junction and Belmont, Ky., guarding Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry-On garrison duty at Fort Snelling, Minn., Fort Ridgely, Minn., and Fort Abercrombie, Dakota Territory.

Brackett's Battalion of Minnesota Cavalry-On patrol duty at Fort Henry, Tenn.

1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery-On garrison duty at St. Louis, Mo.

2nd United States Sharpshooters, Company A-Training at Colonel Hiram Berdan's "Camp of Instruction"