Civil War Daily Gazette

A Day-By-Day Accounting of the Conflict, 150 Years Later

‘Army of the Northwest’

The CSA Calls Upon Tennessee for Troops

Tennessee Regiment

Saturday, September 21, 1861 Since taking command of all Confederate troops in the Trans-Mississippi, General Albert Sidney Johnston had decided upon making a full scale invasion of Kentucky. Thus far, three small armies held three strategic positions in the state, creating a thinly stretched line from Cumberland Gap in the east to the Mississippi River in the west. His numbers were probably not efficient enough to even hold his positions, let alone advance forward. It was plain, he would need more troops. After receiving approval to do so from President Davis, General Johnston called upon the state of Tennessee for volunteers. He informed Governor Isham Harris that the troops would be used in the defense of the Mississippi River and the states within his Department (the Mississippi River Valley, along with parts of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee). Harris was called upon to furnish 30,000 troops for the Southern cause. Though Johnston wished for the men to volunteer for the duration of the war, he realized that many might not be so willing to offer a… Read More

Albert Sidney Johnston Plans Full Scale Invasion of Kentucky

Trans-Mississippi Map

Tuesday, September 17, 1861 Before the War, Albert Sidney Johnston commanded the United States Department of the Pacific. When word finally reached California that Texas had seceded from the Union, he joined up with the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles, a secessionist outfit, and headed through the desert in the middle of summer, passed through a warring New Mexico, finally arriving in Richmond in early September. There, President Davis, who had known Johnston since their days together at West Point and through the Mexican War, found him the perfect match for the much-needed commander of Department Number Two, the Trans-Mississippi. Johnston then moved by rail to Nashville and assessed the situation. By this time, Confederate General Polk had seized Columbus on the Mississippi River and US Grant had taken Paducah on the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, both violating Kentucky’s neutrality. Kentucky’s legislature demanded both to withdraw. It was clear that the Union forces, who had quickly built Fort Holt at Paducah, were planning on staying. Johnston then decided to move the bulk of his troops into… Read More

Lee Doesn’t Quite Admit Defeat; Fremont Almost Responds

Johnston

Saturday, September 14, 1861 For two days, General Lee’s troops from the Army of the Northwest were poised around Cheat Mountain and Elkwater in Western Virginia. His complex plan of a surprise attack had failed the first day and his plan to get around the Union flank on the second day met with not much more than the death of his aide-de-camp, John A. Washington, the great-grand nephew of George Washington. On this date, his body was still behind Union lines. Lee sent a few messengers under a flag of truce towards where Washington was killed in order to retrieve the body. Coming from the Union lines, also under a flag of truce, were a few Union soldiers bearing the remains on a stretcher. They exchanged the body and the Confederates brought it back to camp. With two days of hard campaigning, planning, and skirmishing behind him, Lee had nothing to show. With six weeks of command in Western Virginia, the situation appeared no better than it did when he first arrived. On Cheat Mountain,… Read More

The Death of Washington and the Coming Siege of Lexington

Click!

Friday, September 13, 1861 The odd, almost-battle of the previous day left both sides more or less in the same positions. The Union held Cheat Mountain and Elkwater, seven miles to the west. The Confederates occupied the Union front, rear the right flank at Cheat, and the front and left flank at Elkwater. Lee’s plan to surprise the enemy was shot and on this morning he and General Loring, commander of the brigade to the front of Elkwater, debated on what to do next. Loring wanted to attack the Union camp at Elkwater in a frontal assault. Lee thought it too risky, wishing, instead, to turn the right flank. Needing to reconnoiter the ground, Lee sent several mounted reconnaissance parties to find a usable route. One of these parties was made up of Lee’s son, Rooney, two escorts and Lt. Colonel John A. Washington, the forty year old great-grand nephew of George Washington, who inherited Mt. Vernon only to sell it a couple of years before the war. The party rode west, up a hill… Read More

The Bungled Affair at Cheat Mountain

General Joseph Johnston, Forth in Command

Thursday, September 12, 1861 The Confederate plan of attack at Cheat Mountain in Western Virginia was, by dawn, ready. Each of the five brigades were in position and the Union forces on Cheat and at Elkwater, seven miles to the west, were completely unaware that General Lee was about to attack them. General Lee had put his faith in an untried brigade commander, Col. Rust, to give the signal when to attack. It was on the sound of Rust’s assault upon the Union right flank on Cheat Mountain that the other four brigades were to begin their own movements forward. Rust, determined to prove himself, roused his men and lead them towards the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, behind the Union right flank, capturing two Union pickets and some wagons. The prisoners, lying, told him that there were 5,000 Federal troops in the fort (there were only about 3,000). Now sure of what to do, Rust rode to a clearing to see the Union fortifications for himself. Before him was a formidable bastion with a blockhouse, trenches and… Read More

On the Eve of General Lee’s Surprise

Map!

Wednesday, September 11, 1861 By this cold and rainy morning, General Lee’s brigades of the Army of the Northwest were reaching their positions. The complex plan of attack, issued on September 8th, was made more complex by the cliffs, rocky valleys, impenetrable forests and mountain spurs. Of the five brigades, four had already left their camps. Rust’s Brigade of 1,600, to attack the Union right flank on Cheat Mountain, had started out from Traveler’s Repose on the 9th. They left the comfort of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike for the tangled wilderness without a road nor a path to guide them. They marched miles through the freezing cold waters of Shavers Fork. As the rain fell, on this date, they reached a ridge about a mile from the Union right. Here they slept in the wet mud without so much as a fire to warm them. Donelson’s brigade left Valley Mountain on the 10th. They were to attack the Union left at Elkwater [near Salt Lick on the map]. Donelson’s march was little easier than Rust’s. For… Read More

Lincoln and Scott Look to Wrangle Fremont

Fremont's wire.

Thursday, September 5, 1861 General John C. Fremont, Union commander of the Western Department, was out of control and out of his depths. President Lincoln knew he had to be replaced, but was unsure who would be up to the incredibly difficult task of keeping Missouri in the Union. Lincoln met with General-in-Chief Winfield Scott on this rainy Thursday morning. They talked of Fremont’s August 30 proclamation, where he promised a death sentence to any armed secessionist and freed the slaves of any disloyal slave owners. Lately, the President had been hearing an increasing number of reports about Fremont’s ineptitude. The General rarely left his headquarters, got along with basically nobody and was fast losing the respect of his subordinates. General Scott agreed. A change needed to be made. Replacing Fremont, however, was not what they had in mind. They decided to send an Adjutant and Inspector General to assist Fremont. Scott’s first choice was Major-General David Hunter, a West Point graduate, veteran of the Mexican War and borderline abolitionist. Hunter accompanied Lincoln from Springfield… Read More

The Rebels Burn Hampton, Virginia; A Possible Prisoner Exchange?

Rooney Lee

Wednesday, August 7, 1861 General Benjamin Butler had been in a quandary over what to do with the 800 or more escaped slaves that had taken shelter near Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula. He had assumed that since they were considered property by the enemy, they could be confiscated as “contraband of war.” Butler’s opposite, Confederate General John Magruder, had a slightly different opinion. After the Battle of Bull Run, Magruder took advantage of the Union call for regiments near Washington that diminished Butler’s ranks. He moved 2,000 of his men near Hampton, which had been abandoned by Butler, to sweep up Union pickets, “and to capture and send up to the works at Williamsburg all the Negroes” they could find. That operation netted 150 escaped slaves. Magruder read Butler’s letter to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, which was printed in the local newspaper. In it, Butler stated that he did not know what to do with so many escaped slaves if they could not hold Hampton, since many had been encamped in that… Read More

Lincoln Doesn’t Quite Free the Slaves; Lee in WV

WV Map

Tuesday, August 6, 1861 Abraham Lincoln was in the Senate chambers to sign the bills voted on and approved. Before him were bills raising the pay of soldiers, promoting generals and, most importantly, Senator Lyman Trumbull’s Confiscation Act. Lincoln hesitated as he was about to sign it. Some would certainly see this as the first step in freeing the slaves.1 There had been some confusion in the upper ranks of the Union army concerning what to do with escaped slaves. Were they free? Were they United States Army property? Since they were legal property in the slave states and being used for the Confederate war effort, it seemed reasonable that they could be confiscated as contraband of war. General Butler at Fortress Monroe saw them as such. General McDowell, near Washington, however, held the opposite opinion and returned escaped slaves to their former masters. The Confiscation Act was written to finally lay out exactly what to do with such persons. It concluded that any slaves (though it did not use the term) working for the… Read More

Rebels in Missouri Decide to Attack; Rebels in Western Virginia Think Twice

Western Virginia Map!

Sunday, August 4, 1861 The morning broke over the Rebel camp at Crane Creek, Missouri with all the uncertainty that two tactical losses could bring. The Rebel force of 10,000 was actually two forces. The Confederates, commanded by General Ben McCulloch, consisted of two brigades of roughly 5,000 well-trained men from Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana. The remainder of the force consisted of the Missouri State Guards under General Sterling Price. These men were poorly armed (if at all), poorly trained and, after losing two small skirmishes, the scorn of Confederate McCulloch. Union forces, under General Nathaniel Lyon, were only 5,600 strong, but neither Rebel force could defeat them on their own. Both the Confederates and the Missouri State Guard had joined forces in late July and were moving towards General Lyon and Springfield on Wire Road. Though his troops had been routed at Dug Springs and beaten back the next day near Curran Post Office, General Price urged General McCulloch to attack with both forces. The entire Union force was immediately before them, Price thought… Read More

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