The Civil War 150 Years Ago: June 1861

The Civil War 150 Years Ago

June 1861

  • War is a great adventure excitement fills the air as men rush to enlist.
  • Many experts think the USA will not be able to force the South back into the Union.  They think the South’s land mass will be impossible to conquer.  They base this on the problems Napoleon had in Russia in 1812.
  • Many of the men enlisting fear that the war will not last long enough for them to see battle.   Napoleonic wars were short usually ending in a single grand battle.  We see these wars as one long war but they were a series of short quick wars.  This was the last major series of wars the world had seen and set many of the expectations for this one.  The one battle idea makes the professional military cautious about risking battle.  Union generals suffer more from this caution in the first year of the war.  Robert E. Lee, U. S. Grant, Samuel L. Curtis and Stonewall Jackson are among the handful of generals not smitten.
  • Elements in the British government will not be upset if the USA splits into two nations.  They are looking ahead and see America as a major world power.  A CSA victory could delay or prevent this from happening.  Additionally, Great Britain might be able to convert the CSA into a dependent state.
  • Neither side is saying much about slavery.  The Lincoln administration is saving the Union of States.  Radical Republicans may be pushing emancipation but this is NOT official policy.  The CSA recognizes slavery is a basic feature of their society.  They are ensuring full legal protection of slavery is built into the national fabric.
  • This is the era of limited war.  Lincoln is convinced a real feeling for one nation exists in the South.  He is determined to reestablish the Federal Government’s control of the area. He is not looking to make major changes to Southern society.  Lincoln is firm in the belief that he lacks the legal power to end slavery where it exists but plans to keep it from expanding.  This feeling will last well into 1862 and only end after a number of hard battles.
  • Northern Democrats, lead by Stephen Douglas, are supporting the war.  The voices that become the Copperheads and force the 1864 Democratic platform into being are still for now.  America is under attack, the war is popular with the majority.  Speaking against the war places you in peril.  Patriotic mobs are not averse to making this point in a forceful manner.
  • President Abraham Lincoln declared a blockade of the Southern coast; Great Britain declares neutrality in response to the blockade.  Their action is increasing the anti-British sentiment especially among the Irish and some Americans.
  • Elmer Ellsworth the leader of the popular pre-war Ellsworth’s Zouaves dies tearing down a CSA flag.  His killer, James Jackson the owner of the building flying the flag, dies minutes later providing both sides with martyrs.   Ellsworth is commanding the 11 New York Fire Zouaves at the time of his death.  There is still time for state funerals and Ellsworth gets the full treatment as a fallen hero.  In the June 1 issues, Harper’s Weekly makes Luther C. Ladd a Massachusetts volunteers the first soldier to die in combat.  Pvt. Ladd dies during the riot in Baltimore on April 19.  His body is buried in Monument Square, Lowell Massachusetts under an obelisk shaped monument dedicated to him, Addison Whitney, and Charles Taylor; members of the Massachusetts 6th Regiment and among the first four casualties of the Civil War.
  • Fighting is starting.  June sees an increase in skirmishes in Virginia and small battles in Missouri.


Boonville, Missouri

June 17, 1861

The battle itself while actually little more than a skirmish is one of the first significant land actions of the war, and has grave consequences for Confederate hopes in Missouri.

Lyon’s command encounters State Guard pickets as they approached the bluffs outside the Boonville.  Lyon deploys skirmishers and pushes his men forward rapidly. The Union artillery quickly displaced sharpshooters stationed in the William Adams house, as Union infantry close with the line of Missouri State Guards firing several volleys causing the Guard to retreat. This portion of the fighting lasts barely 20 minutes. The guard attempts to rally and resist the Federal advance, but the effort collapses when a Union company flanks the Guard’s line.  Support from a siege howitzer on one of Lyon’s riverboats decides the fighting. As Marmaduke feared, the Guard’s retreat rapidly turns into a rout. The guardsmen flee through Camp Bacon and the town of Boonville; some continue on to their homes.  The majority retreat with Governor Jackson to the southwest corner of Missouri.

The short fight at Boonville and the State Guard’s precipitate retreat earned the battle the nickname of “The Boonville Races.”

This battle clears Northern and central Missouri of Confederate forces.





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