150 years ago, December 1862

by James Durney on December 3, 2012 · 0 comments

150 Years Ago

December 1862

The bright promise of summer has turned into bitter disappointment.  In May, the Army of the Potomac was closing on Richmond, now it is on the Rappahannock facing the Army of Northern Virginia on the hills behind Fredericksburg.  Nashville, once a securely occupied city is now the front lines.  Bragg and Rosecrans glower at each other in Tennessee as the newspaper’s watch.  Grant seems stuck in northern Mississippi as Wheeler, Morgan and Forrest move freely.  During December, Tennessee sees a series of Cavalry battles involving one of these commands.

The Emancipation Proclamation is drawing mixed reviews.  Most unpopular with the Army of the Potomac, it has general acceptance in the western armies.  The Irish, the North’s underclass, fear it will increase competition for jobs thereby cutting wages.  New England welcomes the proclamation even as some complain it is to little.

While never officially stated, Her Majesty’s Government has given up on intervention in the war.  Officially, they will respect a real blockade of Southern ports even as English shipyards build blockade runners and commerce raiders.  However, the government is increasingly unwilling to allow the yards to build commerce raiders.

Lincoln struggles with the question of Northern slavery and how the newly freed slaves will live in America.  Compensated emancipation and colonization are his preferred choices.  He offers plans to the Northern slave states and Negros in early December.  As both a Whig and admirer of Clay, Lincoln is a long-term advocate of voluntary colonization.  Both of these ideas are unacceptable.  Northern slave owners do not want to “sell slaves” to the government.  Northerners without slaves do not want the expenses of “buying slaves”.  The North’s Negro population sees themselves as Americans with almost no interest in leaving their homes.

Gideon Wells reports the navy has 427 ships mounting 1,577 guns manned by 28,000 crewmen back by 12,000 mechanics and laborers.

Jackson’s Corps takes position on Lee’s right flank at Fredericksburg.

The Confederate’s abandon Grenada, Mississippi after destroying 15 locomotives and 100 railroad cars.

On the 3rd, General Hindman marches from Van Buren, Arkansas to attack the isolated command of General James Blunt at Crane Hill.  The nearest aid is General Francis Herron is Springfield, Missouri 100 miles away.

Joseph E. Johnston arrives to coordinate military operations between Pemberton at Vicksburg and Bragg at Nashville, adding another layer of command to what is already a confused situation.

On December 5th, Lincoln pardons 303 Sioux convicted of rape and/or murder during the Minnesota uprising.  This pardon has serious repercussions in the election of 1864.

December 6, 1862, two divisions under General Herron make one of the faster marches of the war.  In bitter cold over rough terrain in 3 days they march 100 miles.  This march saves the North’s position in Arkansas.  On the 7th, they fight the Battle of Prairie Grove.  Over 2,500 causalities among 18,000 participates makes this a very hard-fought bloody battle.

West Virginia moves toward statehood as the House approves their admission 96-55.

On December 11, 1862 the United States Army makes its’ first opposed river crossing as Burnside’s army crosses the Rappahannock.

On the 12th, as Union forces loot Fredericksburg, Pemberton appoints Earl Van Dorn to command a three-brigade cavalry division of 3,500 troopers.

The USS Cairo hits a torpedo on the Yazoo River and sinks, gaining the distinction of being the first of 40 vessels sunk due to torpedos.

Patrick R. Cleburne becomes a Major General on the 13th.

The same day, the Battle of Fredericksburg is being fought.  Meade and Gibbon exploit a weak spot in Jackson’s line.  General Maxcy Gregg is killed as his brigade flees.  The breakthrough is not supported and the break is sealed.  In a series of misunderstandings, the main attack is directed at Longstreet on Marye’s Heights.  Strongly entrenched they slaughter the attacking brigades of Hooker and Sumner.  Darkness brings the battle to an end.  Over the next two days, Burnside’s army will cross to the north shore of the Rappahannock.   This is one of the most one-sided battles of the war.  Burnside loses 12,653 while inflicting 5,377 causalities.  Burnside takes full responsibility for the battle, even though he is badly served by his senior generals.

While Lee is fighting Fredericksburg, Jefferson Davis is in Murfreesboro meeting with Braxton Bragg and reviewing the Army of Tennessee.

Radical Republicans, in the Senate, demand Lincoln replaces Secretary of State Seward with Salmon P. Chase.  Highly insulted by their demand, Seward resigns.  Lincoln refuses to accept the resignation or bow to the Senator’s demand.

General Grant issues General Order Number 11 on the 17th.  The order expels all Jews from his area of responsibility.  In a few weeks, Grants bowing to pressure revokes the order.

On the 18th, Nathan Forrest defeats Robert G. Ingersoll at Lexington Tennessee, the first action in an extended raid in Tennessee.

Grant reorganized the Army of the Tennessee: XIII Corps John A. McClernand, XV Corps William T. Sherman, XVI Corps Stephen A, Hurlbut and XVII Corps James B. McPherson.

On December 20th, Earl Van Dorn captures Holly Springs Mississippi destroying Grant’s primary stock pile.  Van Dorn holds the town for ten hours as over $1,500,000 in supplies and 1,500 men disappear from Grant’s organization.  One of the most successful cavalry raids in history destroys Grant’s overland campaign against Vicksburg.

On Christmas Day, President & Mrs. Lincoln visiting hospitals in the area.  John H. Morgan fights Union troops in Bear Wallow Kentucky and captures the town of Glasgow.

On the 26th, J.E.B. Stuart starts another raid behind Union Lines.  Morgan captures Nolin and the Army of the Cumberland marches out of Nashville toward Murfreesboro.

Sherman, unaware of the Holly Springs Raid and Grant’s return to Memphis, disembarks the XIII Corps north of Vicksburg.

38 Sioux are hanged for the crimes of rape & murder in Mankato, Minnesota.  These are the ones not pardoned by Lincoln earlier in the month.

December 27th is a busy day in the West.  Morgan overruns the garrison at Elizabethtown, captures 600 men and cuts the Louisville & Nashville railroad.

Rosecrans is involved in a running skirmish with Bragg as he advances on Murfreesboro.  Sherman reaches Chickasaw Bluffs, north of Vicksburg, after advancing against stiff resistance.

On the 28th, the Confederate Congress removes hiring of substitutes from the Draft Law.

Van Dorn slips past Union forces, crosses the Tallahatchie River to reach his base at Granada.  His raid covering 500 miles in two weeks crippled any overland effort directed at Vicksburg.

Sherman’s probe of Chickasaw Bluffs indicates a large Confederate force in a well-fortified position.  Unaware of Grant’s return to Memphis, Sherman determines to follow the plan and attack.  The next day’s attack results in one of the worst defeats of the war.  Sherman loses about 8.5 men for every CSA causality.  On the 30th, he withdraws to Memphis.

Rosecrans establishes his line along Stone’s River facing Bragg’s 37,000 on the 30th.  That night, both armies’ bands give a concert by alternately playing songs.  The concert ends with “Home Sweet Home” played by the bands of both armies.

6:00 AM December 31, Bragg hits Rosecrans’ right flank with an all-out assault.  William Hardee’s Corps destroys Richard W. Johnson’s division and drives the Union line back almost three miles.  Leonidas Polk’s assault on the center coupled with Wheeler’s cavalry getting in the rear, forces Phil Sheridan and Jefferson Davis back.  Rosecrans must protect his line of communication the Nashville Pike.  He is everywhere on the field, personally directing the battle.  The Union line becomes a “V” based on the Round Forrest.  The line holds and about 3:00 PM, the Confederate offensive dies out.  Bragg stays at headquarters relying on couriers, Breckinridge’s four brigades stand by watching the fighting end.  Bragg telegraphs Richmond announcing a “Great Victory”, expecting Rosecrans to abandon the field and limp back to Nashville.  That night, Rosecrans refuses to consider retreat overriding his senior officers insisting they stay on the field.

Nathan B. Forrest suffers a rare defeat at Parker’s Crossroads.  The fact that he managed to save his command adds to his growing reputation.

The USS Monitor, under tow, sinks in a gale off Cape Hatteras, 16 die.

1862 ends.  This year Lincoln suffered both military and political defeats. The Army of Northern Virginia is riding the crest of a victory wave that even Antietam cannot diminish. The Army of Tennessee camps on a battlefield confident of victory. 1863 will open with a battle. The Army of Northern Virginia is riding the crest of a victory wave that even Antietam cannot diminish.  The Army of Tennessee camps on a battlefield confident of victory.  1863 will open with a battle.


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