21 July, 1861

Today the Union and Confederate armies met outside Manassas, Virginia, in a battle that some in the south would come to call “The Great Skedaddle” owing to the way Union troops ran all the way back to Washington, DC. Their retreat was complicated by fleeing civilians, many of whom had come out as spectators, treating war like a grand circus.

US schoolchildren learn about First Manassas as “the first battle of the Civil War,” which ignores the fact that between the outbreak of hostilities with the attack on Fort Sumter and the clash at Manassas in July, there were scuffles at Alexandria, Sewell’s Point, Aquia Creek, Fairfax Court House, Philippi, Big Bethel, and Blackburn’s Ford, all in Virginia; Camp Jackson near Saint Louis, Booneville, and Carthage in Missouri; and Hoke’s Run, Rich Mountain, and Corrick’s Ford, all of which were in the newly-created state of West Virginia.

Certainly the clash at Manassas Junction was the largest battle to date, though, and represented the first attempt of the US to take Richmond (which had only been declared the capital of the Confederacy on the 29th of May). “On to Richmond!” would become a rallying cry later in the war, but it took four long, long years for the Union army to get there.

Manassas is also the first time the irritating habit of referring to a battle by two different names, depending on whether you lived North or South, reared its contentious head. Northerners preferred to call the battles after bodies of water near by, and hence called it the battle of Bull Run for the small creek the Union army crossed that kicked off the hostilities. Southerners named battles for nearby towns, and so they called it the battle of Manassas. The Southern name, in this case, is the one that stuck, which raises interesting points about the way this war is remembered vice other wars; normally to the victor go the spoils and those spoils generally include naming rights.

Published in: on 21 July, 2011 at 08:38  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

The Confederacy gets bigger.

Today, North Carolina seceded from the United States, joining the Confederacy.

AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of North Carolina and the other States united with her, under the compact of government entitled “The Constitution of the United States.”

We, the people of the State of North Carolina in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by the State of North Carolina in the convention of 1789, whereby the Constitution of the United States was ratified and adopted, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly ratifying and adopting amendments to the said Constitution, are hereby repealed, rescinded, and abrogated.

We do further declare and ordain, That the union now subsisting between the State of North Carolina and the other States, under the title of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved, and that the State of North Carolina is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.

Done in convention at the city of Raleigh, this the 20th day of May, in the year of our Lord 1861, and in the eighty-fifth year of the independence of said State.

The interesting thing about this one is that it makes neither explicit nor implicit mention of slavery. It just dissolves North Carolina’s connection to the US.

Published in: on 20 May, 2011 at 18:22  Leave a Comment  

Fighting begins in Virginia

Well, all right, continues. Alexandria, VA, was captured on 24 April as part of the US’s effort to establish a safe zone around Washington, DC. There wasn’t much of a fight but there were two casualties.

At any rate, today the fighting at Sewell’s Point, Virginia began. Sewell’s Point guards the mouth of the harbor at Hampton Roads and more importantly, it offered a vantage from which artillery could be fired at US-occupied Fort Monroe. Naturally the Confederates began setting up guns there, and equally naturally the occupants of the fort sent a war-ship and an armed tug over to see what the hell was going on. The captain of the USS Monticello, the warship, took exception to the construction of breastworks and artillery emplacements and opened fire. The Confederates, after a startled pause, opened fire right back. There were no casualties during the two-day battle, and eventually Monticello limped back to Fort Monroe with several holes in her sides, the tug trailing behind.

Published in: on 18 May, 2011 at 11:24  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The Union moves in a border state

Today in St Louis, Missouri, the Union army took steps to keep Missouri in the Union. It started when the pro-secession commander of the US Arsenal was removed in some political hocus-pocus, to ensure that a pro-secession governor could not seize the “sixty thousand muskets. . .forty-five tons of gunpowder, over one million cartridges, forty cannons, and all the necessary machinery to repair and manufacture more arms” (Source is this PDF document) that was housed there.

Governor Jackson formed up a secessionist militia anyway, and on 6 May ordered them to start training, while General Lyons of the US Army sat with his troops protecting what equipment he had not sent over the river into Illinois. The secessionist troops were at, natch, Camp Jackson.

On 10 May, Lyons grew weary of waiting and marched his 7,000 troops out and completely surrounded Camp Jackson and demanded that General Frost, the militia commander of the fort, surrender his forces. Frost eventually agreed, and the surrender was negotiated without a bit of bloodshed.

Except. Except. Lyons got too close to the rear end of an orderly’s horse, and got kicked in the stomach and knocked unconscious while the secessionist troops were marching out of the fort and forming up to be taken as POWs to the Arsenal and then sent on to…wherever the Union intended to send them. He lay senseless for nearly an hour, during which time a mob of restless pro-secession citizens formed. One of the civilians threw a clod of dirt, nailing a Union officer in the leg, and either he ordered his troops to fire at that point, or they mistook his startled exclamation for an order to fire, and they opened up into the prisoners and the civilian crowd.

When it was over, nearly 30 people lay dead and many more were wounded, including the Union officer whose startled oath or possibly order to fire had started the whole thing. St Louis and Camp Jackson were firmly in Union hands, but public sentiment in Missouri swung southward to the Confederacy among many people who had been on the fence.

Published in: on 10 May, 2011 at 04:02  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Robert E. Lee resigns his commission in the US Army

Today, after the fall of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, after President Lincoln proclaimed an insurrection and issued a command to muster troops to put down the rebellion, after the President’s proclamation of a blockade on southern ports, Colonel Robert E. Lee of the First Cavalry, veteran of the Mexican War and the man who ended the violence at Harpers Ferry with more violence and captured John Brown, wrote two brief letters, one slightly longer than the other.

The first was to the Secretary of War of the United States.

Arlington, Washington City P.O.
20 April 1861

Honble Simon Cameron
Sect. of War


I have the honor to tender the resignation of my Commission of Colonel of the 1st Regt. of Cavalry.

Very respectfully your Ob’t servant

R. E. Lee
Col 1st. Cavalry

The second, slightly longer letter, was to his old friend General Winfield Scott, commander of the US Army.

Arlington, Washington City, P.O
20 Apr 1861

Lt. Genl Winfield Scott
Commd U.S. Army

Since my interview with you on the 18th Inst[1]: I have felt that I ought not longer to retain any Commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation which I request you will recommend for acceptance. It would have been presented at once but for the struggle it has Cost me to separate myself from a Service to which I have divoted [sic] all the best years of my life, & all the ability I possessed. During the whole of that time, more than a quarter of a century, I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors & the most Cordial friendships from any Comrades. To no one Genl have I been as much indebted as to yourself for kindness & Consideration & it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation. I shall carry with me, to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind Consideration, & your name & fame will always be dear to me. Save in the defense of my native state shall I ever again draw my sword. Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for “the Continuance of your happiness & prosperity & believe me

Most truly yours
R E Lee

You can see a picture of the original of this letter at the Arlington House National Park Service site. What’s interesting is the amount of editing Lee did on this letter; clearly it was a difficult one for him to write and get down everything he wanted to say. The sadness of it is heart-breaking.

[1] “of this month”

Published in: on 20 April, 2011 at 04:00  Leave a Comment  

Lincoln proclaims blockade on southern ports

Today, April 19, 1861, President Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of the states in rebellion. Not only was he attempting to keep supplies from coming in, knowing that the south didn’t have much of an industrial base, but he was trying to keep cotton from going out. Well, and there’s a reference to the states in rebellion threatening to issue letters of marque to entitle Confederate ships to legal piracy on US vessels, which was probably quite irksome to the president of the US.


Whereas an insurrection against the Government of the United States has broken out in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, and the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed therein comformably to that provision of the Constitution which requires duties to be uniform throughout the United States:

And whereas a combination of persons engaged in such insurrection, have threatened to grant pretended letters of marque to authorize the bearers thereof to commit assaults on the lives, vessels, and property of good citizens of the country lawfully engaged in commerce on the high seas, and in waters of the United States: And whereas an Executive Proclamation has been already issued, requiring the persons engaged in these disorderly proceedings to desist therefrom, calling out a militia force for the purpose of repressing the same, and convening Congress in extraordinary session, to deliberate and determine thereon:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, with a view to the same purposes before mentioned, and to the protection of the public peace, and the lives and property of quiet and orderly citizens pursuing their lawful occupations, until Congress shall have assembled and deliberated on the said unlawful proceedings, or until the same shall ceased, have further deemed it advisable to set on foot a blockade of the ports within the States aforesaid, in pursuance of the laws of the United States, and of the law of Nations, in such case provided. For this purpose a competent force will be posted so as to prevent entrance and exit of vessels from the ports aforesaid. If, therefore, with a view to violate such blockade, a vessel shall approach, or shall attempt to leave either of the said ports, she will be duly warned by the Commander of one of the blockading vessels, who will endorse on her register the fact and date of such warning, and if the same vessel shall again attempt to enter or leave the blockaded port, she will be captured and sent to the nearest convenient port, for such proceedings against her and her cargo as prize, as may be deemed advisable.

And I hereby proclaim and declare that if any person, under the pretended authority of the said States, or under any other pretense, shall molest a vessel of the United States, or the persons or cargo on board of her, such person will be held amenable to the laws of the United States for the prevention and punishment of piracy.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this nineteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-fifth.


One thing I like about Mr. Lincoln, he kept his proclamations short and sweet even with all the legal language.

Published in: on 19 April, 2011 at 18:13  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The balance tips in the Old Dominion

Today, the secession convention in Richmond, Virginia, approved the secession ordinance they had begun to consider yesterday.

The convention had been in session, and deadlocked, for a little over two months. What finally tipped it toward secession was Lincoln’s April 15 declaration of a state of insurrection, which called for 75,000 soldiers. Virginia would be required to supply a little over 2300 of this number, and that was enough to let the pro-secession faction at the convention push things to a resolution. The white men of Virginia would not take up arms against their fellow slave-holders.

With Virginia’s secession, Robert E. Lee’s path was made clear to him. He began drafting a letter.

Published in: on 17 April, 2011 at 12:00  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The powers granted them…might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression

April 16, 1861, the Secession Convention Delegates in Richmond, Virginia, met in secrecy to consider a very brief document. It read, in its entirety:


To Repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution:

The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.

Now, therefore, we, the people of Virginia, do declare and ordain that the Ordinance adopted by the people of this State in Convention, on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and all acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying or adopting amendments to said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between the State of Virginia and the other States under the Constitution aforesaid, is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong to a free and independent State. And they do further declare that the said Constitution of the United State of America is no longer binding on any of the citizens of this State.

This Ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day when ratified by a majority of the votes of the people of this State, cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.

Done in Convention, in the city of Richmond, on the seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Sec’y of Convention.

The “injury and oppression” here is of course the fear of emancipation. The white slaveowners who met in Richmond were not concerned with the injury and oppression they had inflicted and were inflicting upon enslaved people for two hundred years. The secession ordinances of the southern states all cited fears of emancipation, despite Lincoln’s declaration in his inaugural address:

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Published in: on 16 April, 2011 at 12:00  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

April 15, 1861

Today, President Lincoln proclaimed a state of insurrection. There is certainly an argument to be made that he had waited a Christless long time to admit the obvious, but he was playing a fairly delicate game with international opinion. He did not need foreign powers deciding to recognize the Confederacy, he needed them to stay out of affairs. So he waited until after Fort Sumter fell, until after the Confederate States had fired the first shots of the war, and issued a proclamation.


Whereas the laws of the United States have been for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the Marshals by law,

Now therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed. The details, for this object, will be immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War Department.

I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government; and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.

I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth will probably be to re-possess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union; and in every event, the utmost care will be observed, consistently with the objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with, property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.

And I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid to disperse, and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within twenty days from this date.

Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both Houses of Congress. Senators and Representatives are therefore summoned to assemble at their respective chambers, at 12 o’clock, noon, on Thursday, the fourth day of July, next, then and there to consider and determine, such measures, as, in their wisdom, the public safety, and interest may seem to demand.

In Witness Whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this fifteenth day of April in the year of our Lord One thousand, Eight hundred and Sixtyone, and of the Independence the United States the Eightyfifth.


Lincoln did one other thing that day. He offered command of the US Army to a career army officer named Robert Edward Lee. Lee turned down the offer, waiting to see what his home state of Virginia would do. Since the first guns fired on Fort Sumter, calls for secession had been growing louder. Indeed, a secession convention had been meeting since the 13th of February. Lee felt that his first duty was to Virginia, not the Union, and so he waited to see what would happen.

Published in: on 15 April, 2011 at 19:10  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,