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This Week in the Civil War
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 5, 1862: Battle of Roanoke Island, N.C.
This week 150 years ago in the war, Union Brigadier Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside leads an amphibious assault in the North Carolina coastal sounds with thousands of soldiers and sailors and more than 60 ships. Now seen as a minor engagement, the federal attack on Roanoke Island did give the Union a much-needed victory early in the conflict. Federal forces would seize that island and hold it for the rest of the war. It began in earnest on Feb. 7, 1862. Burnside landed about 7,500 men on the southwestern side of Roanoke Island as his fleet approached after sailing from federally held Fort Monroe off southeast Virginia. The next day, federal fighters backed by their gunboats thrust themselves on fortifications held by more than 2,500 Confederate fighters. The invaders rapidly outgunned and overran an overwhelmed foe during the two-day assault. Union losses were reported as 37 killed and 214 wounded. Confederate forces reported 22 dead and 58 wounded amid fierce cannon and rifle fire before their remaining troops surrendered or fled. The move secured President Lincoln's military a strategic outpost on North Carolina's coast, further shutting off supply lines to the Confederacy as he tightened a federal maritime blockade on the South. For the North, still beaten down by the disastrous defeat months earlier at the Battle of Bull Run, the victory was a morale booster that gave fresh impetus to fight. The Philadelphia Inquirer, in reporting on the war this week 150 years ago, called it "a great victory" for the Union side.
This Week in the Civil War for week of Feb. 12, 1862: The Battle of Fort Donelson.
The Battle of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River near Dover, Tenn., marks the first major Union battlefield victory of the Civil War, 150 years ago this week in 1862. Federal gunboats on Feb. 14, 1862, began exchanging heavy fire with big Confederate artillery guns set high up the river bluff. But the gunboats suffered such damage that their decks ran with blood and they were soon forced to withdraw, denying Union Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant the speedy victory he had hoped to achieve. The next day, Grant sent in ground troops, fighting a pitched battle with the fort's Confederate defenders before his soldiers are forced to retreat. Confederate defenders mistakenly believed they had won the confrontation. But then Grant surprises them with a counterattack, taking back lost ground and setting the stage for a Union victory. Some 2,000 Confederate fighters slipped away before Grant captured those defenders still remaining. Asked for his terms of surrender, Grant bluntly and famously replied: "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." The remaining Confederates gave up the fight as Fort Donelson became the first sizable land victory for the North in the Civil War. At Fort Donelson, "Unconditional Surrender" Grant would gain hero status. The victory would help secure Grant a promotion to major general and begin forging a destiny that would take him on to become eventual commander of all the Union armies.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 19, 1862: Confederate President Davis re-inaugurated.
Jefferson Davis, who was provisionally elected the president of the Confederacy at a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, and inaugurated in February 1861, is reinaugurate this week 150 years ago. The re-inauguration on Richmond's Capitol Square takes place on Feb. 22, 1862, following Davis' election in November 1861 to a six-year term. In his address, Davis declares that the people of the Confederacy have come to believe that "the Government of the United States had fallen into the hands of a sectional majority, who would pervert the most sacred of all trusts to the destruction of the rights which it was pledged to project. ... Therefore we are in arms to renew such sacrifices as our father s made to the holy cause of constitutional liberty." The Richmond Examiner, in a report on the eve of Davis' oath-taking, declares the day an "auspicious" one, but it exhorts his administration to take up its cause with energy so as to "escape the miseries of a protracted war." The Philadelphia Inquirer is among Northern newspapers that will print the bulk of the speech in later days along with details of the elaborate inaugural ceremonies and the politicians, judges and other prominent officials present. Elsewhere, The Associated Press reports from Springfield, Missouri, that federal army troops are in "vigorous pursuit of the rebels" in that state. A dispatch states that Union forces have captured four rebel officers and 13 privates but the main body of pro-Confederate forces led by Sterling Price eludes them in the countryside. From 1862 to 1864, Missouri will be the crucible of bloody guerrilla warfare. Only Virginia and Tennessee will see more battles, clashes and other engagements during the war.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 26, 1862: Nashville occupied, Willie Lincoln's funeral.
Though Tennessee had seceded from the Union, federal troops entered Nashville and occupied that strategic city this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. Nashville thus became the first Confederate state capitol to fall to Union forces as Confederate fighters retreat to Alabama and elsewhere. By week's end, pro-Union Tennessee Sen. Andrew Johnson ' the future president of the United States after Lincoln's assassination in 1865 ' would be appointed the state's military governor and arrive in Nashville to head up the occupation. His chief task: Suppressing rebellion. Union troops now command a vital railroad junction for supplying war campaigns elsewhere in the South. In December 1864, Confederate forces would unsuccessfully try to retake the city, but the two-day Battle of Nashville would yield thousands of casualties on both sides. Nashville's occupation angered Southerners and secession-minded women in Memphis would even take up shooting practice and others would try to raise money for a Confederate gunboat. Meanwhile, Nashville's refugees would stream into Memphis, tasking that city's resources. Newspapers this week report on a somber funeral cortege for Lincoln's 11-year-old son Willie, who died in the White House on Feb. 20, 1862, of typhoid fever. The Springfield Republican reports a crowd followed the grieving Lincoln family as the boy's casket was carried to a Washington cemetery. Lincoln, the report said, appeared "completely prostrated" by grief. It added: "Friday night, and all day Saturday, he was in a stupor of grief, and seemed to care little even for great national events, but on Sunday, he began to recover from the shock, and is now, though deeply bowed down by his great affliction, in nowise incapacitated for the duties of his position."