150 years ago, August 1862

by James Durney on August 5, 2012 · 0 comments

150 years ago, August 1862

This is one of the busiest months of the war.

In Tennessee and Kentucky, Braxton Bragg and Kirby-Smith start north.  Bragg marches from Chattanooga toward Nashville and Kentucky.  Kirby-Smith departs Knoxville, marching through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.  Richmond is in the grip of “Kentucky Fever”.  They are obsessed with the idea that Kentuckians will flock to the Stars and Bars, freeing the state from the “grip” of Northern invaders.  Bragg’s Army of Mississippi carries equipment to arm these volunteers.  Bragg’s movement pulls Don Carlos Buell after him.  This will become a footrace between the two armies for Louisville.  Whether Kirby-Smith or Bragg is in command of the invasion is based on an understanding not orders.  Over time, this understanding breaks down as the Confederate invasion wastes time on political theater, lack of a unified plan and questions of authority.  Kentucky will not rally ’round the flag as increasingly bitter letters home indicate.

In Great Britain, the government is considering an offer to act as mediator to end the fighting.  The “cotton famine” is starting to hurt with thousands of workers having lost jobs or having reduced hours.  The toll from Shiloh shocked the British as much as the Americans.  Humanitarian concerns, economic considerations, the upper class favoring the South coupled with the lure of seeing the United States broken up are causing real debate within the government.  This is serious enough that Seward orders Charles Adams to ignore any overtures.

In Minnesota, starving Santee Sioux waiting for a scheduled treaty payment attack local settlements.  The payment is to be in gold.  Agency officials felt the Sioux would reject an attempt to pay in paper money.  Assembling the gold and transporting it to the agency accounts for much of the time.  However, the late payment was a very small part of the problems.  For much of August and September, a very personal “war” occurs.  Murder, rape, burnings and heroics become common.

The war is forcing Lincoln’s administration and the army to confront the questions of slavery and race.  Lincoln at a meeting with Northern Black leaders suggests members of their race be resettled in Central America.  The delegation is not receptive to this idea.  Fredrick Douglas accuses Lincoln of having “contempt for Negroes”.  Lincoln refuses to accept two Indiana Black regiments not long before this meeting.  Generals David Hunter and John Phelps are using Black regiments locally raised and trained by them.  CSA military authorities issue orders to treat white officers as felons for leading African-American troops.  Execution is a possibility.  The US Government disavows their actions causing Phelps to resign.

On the Mississippi River, John C. Breckinridge is to retake Port Hudson as part of operations against Baton Rouge.  The CSS Arkansas will support this attack.  This ship is the largest ironclad built by the Confederacy on the river.  The CSS Arkansas fails to arrive due to mechanical problems.  Attacked by David D. Porter’s flotilla, damaged, broken down and grounded, the ship is set afire and scuttled.  Breckinridge’s operation fails.

Stanton suspends the writ of habeas corpus.

William S. Rosecrans becomes a major general on the sixth.

Guerillas murder General Robert L. McCook while riding in an ambulance near Decherd, Tennessee.

Virginia is the focus of the war.  Robert E. Lee is starting to realize that a stalemate here will mask real reversals elsewhere.  The victory in the 7 Days has unsettled the North.

McClellan is seeking to renew the offensive against Richmond using Harrison’s Landing as his base.  He reoccupies Malvern Hill in preparation for the new offensive.

At the same time, John Pope and the new Army of Virginia are on the move.  On the second, Halleck orders the Army of the Potomac to shift its’ base from Harrison’s Landing to Aquia Landing near Fredericksburg.  Once at Aquia Landing  major formations are ordered to “assist” Pope’s campaign.  Pope, the darling of the Congressional Radicals, is destroying any good will his troops may have felt toward him.  Bombastic, prone to statements questioning the bravery of eastern troops coupled with the harshest possible treatment of southerners is making Pope disliked if not hated by both sides.

“Stonewall” Jackson is detached to counter Pope’s actions.  On the ninth, Jackson and Banks fight at Cedar Mountain.  This hard fought victory, forces Pope to postpone a general advance.  Lee starts the balance of his army north on the 13th, confident that Richmond is safe.

Beginning on the 20th, Jackson skirmishes with Pope.  J.E.B. Stuart’s capture of Pope’s Headquarters providing Lee with the intelligence needed to formulate detailed plans.  Jackson’s corps is to get behind Pope and cut his supply line.  Longstreet will act depending on opportunities.  Marching 56 miles in two days, Jackson captures the main supply at Manassas Junction on the 26th.  On the 27th, skirmishes cause Jackson to take up positions on the Warrenton Turnpike near Groveton.  The next day, Jackson reveals his position attacking at Brawner’s Farm.  A fierce two-hour fight, results in the wounding of Generals Taliaferro and Ewell.  John Gibbon’s black hated westerns become the “Iron Brigade” in their first battle here.

On the 29th, having “found” the Confederate army, Pope Launches a series of piecemeal attacks on Jackson’s line.  Fitz John Porter informs Pope that Longstreet is on his flank.  Pope orders Porter to attack, something he refuses to do.  Pope determines Jackson is defeated and leaving the battlefield.  The army’s order is to follow, attack and defeated the fleeing Jackson on the 30th.   Pope commits all his forces to attacking a “defeated” Jackson.  Longstreet, seeing Pope has no reserves, attacks hitting Porter’s flank.  Desperate fighting slows Longstreet allowing Pope to escape destruction.   .  However, Fredericksburg, along with a quantity of supplies is abandoned.  Second Manassas is one of the worst Union defeats of the war.  Pope’s losses are almost twice Lee’s and the North loses the strategic initiative.  Pope falls back toward Washington.  Jackson marches toward Chantilly, trying to cut Pope off.

Second Manassas results in one of the great armies’ post war battles.  Porter’s close association with McClellan and his open criticism of Pope incite wrath of the Radicals.  Convicted of disobedience and misconduct during the battle.  Dismissed from the Army, for the rest of his life, he fights to clear his name.  In 1878, a special commission exonerates Porter finding his reluctance to attack Longstreet saved the Army of Virginia from an even greater defeat.   Eight years later, President Arthur commutes Porter’s sentence.  He is commission as an infantry colonel in the U.S. Army, backdated to May 14, 1861, but without any back pay due. Two days later, August 7, 1886, Porter, seeing vindication, voluntarily retires.


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