May 1862: A Civil War status report after one year of protracted fighting - Colorado Politics

May 1862: A Civil War status report after one year of protracted fighting

Author: Patrick Teegarden - May 4, 2012 - Updated: May 4, 2012


In the coming months, I look forward to writing in more detail about 1862, including tragedies (like Antietam and Fredericksburg) and triumphs (like the Emancipation Proclamation) which are part of this year’s Sesquicentennial remembrance, as well as other core antebellum and post-bellum issues.

For this week, however, since so many readers of The Colorado Statesman are about to emerge from the “fog” of the legislative session for 2012, I though it might be helpful to provide a very brief situational report on the American Civil War as it stood 150 years ago this week, in 1862.

From February through early April, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union forces captured Forts Donelson and Henry along the strategically vital Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, then snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburgh Landing, TN), defeating the Confederate Army of Tennessee and driving it back to Corinth, MS.

In March, Union General Samuel Curtis’ forces defeated the combined troops of three Confederate Generals (Earl Van Dorn, Sterling Price, and Ben McCullough) at Pea Ridge, Arkansas (aka, Battle of Elkhorn Tavern). This victory secured Union control of Missouri.

In early April, nearly simultaneous with the Union victory at Shiloh, Union Army and Navy forces, commanded by General John Pope and Captain Andrew Foote, defeated the Confederates at Island #10 on the Mississippi River near New Madrid, MO. Shortly thereafter, Admiral David Farragut opened up the lower Mississippi River with his naval forces, and occupied New Orleans, LA.

All in all, the Union was dominant against the Confederates in the Western Theater that spring of 1862.
Unfortunately, there was still the Eastern Theater, where General George S. McClellan was up to his usual practice of dillying, dallying, diddling, delaying, and dawdling.

Having finally pushed off on his overdue “Peninsula Campaign” in early April (Lincoln had ordered him to move by February 22), “Little Napoleon” had some early successes, mostly due to waiting while the enemy retreated toward Richmond. But as he advanced, McClellan encountered genuine resistance from General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army, which was committed to protecting and defending the Confederate Capitol of Richmond, VA.

In fact, McClellan was even enjoying some success against Johnston’s troops, until some (no doubt well-intentioned) Yankee soldier decided that shooting (and seriously wounding) Joseph E. Johnston, Commander of the Confederate army in Virginia, was a good idea. Confederate President Jefferson Davis promptly and permanently replaced Johnston with his personal military advisor — none other than Robert E. Lee. Lee, of course would “out-general” every Union Commander he faced (yes, even including Meade, who failed to capitalize on his success at Gettysburg!) until Grant came east in 1864.

Finally, prior to coming toward Richmond to join forces with Lee, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson defeated no less than three separate Union Armies during his fabled “Valley Campaign” in the Shenandoah Mountains of western Virginia. Between that humiliation and Confederate Cavalry General J.E.B. Stuart’s famous 360-degree ride around and behind McClellan’s entire Army, the Union troops must certainly have been questioning whether they were inferior soldiers.

But never fear, while McClellan was faltering and trying to blame others for his lack of success, the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, during a trip to visit McClellan’s troops in the field, noticed that Norfolk, VA, had been left relatively unguarded. Joined by his Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, and a relatively small military force, Lincoln stepped in where his commanding general had failed, and reclaimed the port city of Norfolk for the Union.

So, to recap, Grant et al were win-ning decisively in the West, Abraham Lincoln commanded the capture of Norfolk, and McClellan met Robert E. Lee and was trounced on the battlefield and in the psychological war as well.

In the near future, 2nd Manassas and Antietam loomed in the East, and the combination of General Van Dorn and General Nathan Bedford Forrest in the West would set Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign back by five to six months through insurgent actions in Holly Springs, MS and Memphis, TN.

So that’s the status report for early 1862, and I look forward to more Civil War reflections in the months to come.

Patrick Teegarden has been covering the 150th anniversary of the Civil War for Statesman readers. His columns won the second place award last year in the Colorado Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. He can be reached at

Patrick Teegarden

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