Dear Civil War scholar friends, I have recently returned from an extended period overseas, and am resuming my posts here. A major project will be the presentation of research and documents dealing with the Missouri Secession Crisis….the initiation of the Civil War in the Western Theater, and the Federal government’s first (if mixed) military successes.
Cairo [pronounced locally as “Kay-roh”], at the southern-most point of Illinois, was one of the key strategic locations for the first two years of the Civil War.
A muddy and rough riverport, Cairo lay at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and potentially held the key to entering the Western Confederacy by water… up (or down) the Ohio and then into Kentucky and Tennessee by way of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. It was also a key rail junction, the southern terminus of the Illinois Central Railroad.
From the earliest days of the war, its military value had been clear and it had been garrisoned and fortified, first by the Illinois militia (rushed down on the Illinois Central), and later by an astounding assortment of Army and Navy forces based at “Fort Defiance” under Brigadier General U.S. Grant (commander of the District of Cairo).
By late 1861, the early Illinois troops would be joined by thousands more, and a fleet of ironclad river gunboats constructed by engineering genius James B. Eads. There the Federals engaged in a stand-off, and light sparring, with a Confederate army under General Leonidas Polk. In early ’62, Grant’s amphibious host, swollen by a fleet of transport steamers from St. Louis, would ascend the Ohio to begin the successful attacks on Forts Henry and Donelson, which would crack open the defense-line of the Western Confederacy and flank Polk out of his defenses.
The map is an extraordinary one. 19th Century maps can be artistic as well as informative, and this wonderful piece more than most. In the 1850s and 60s illustrator John Bachmann created a number of astonishing “Bird’s Eye” depictions of towns and regions, and here he gives the junction of the two mighty rivers his unique treatment. He defies convention by putting south at the top of the image, with the Mississippi entering from the bottom right, and the Ohio from the bottom left, to converge at Cairo, and them ascend south up (!) past Memphis towards the far off Gulf of Mexico.
Bachmann gives us a busy mix of the natural and man-made with streams, bluffs, swamps and groves, dotted with named towns and criss-crossed with road, rail, and bridges. Steamers ply the waters and Tennessee and the Cumberland…targets of Grant’s invasion in a year’s time… reach off to the left from either side of Smithland, KY.
Levee-bound Cairo is in the center foreground, with its shipyard suburb or Mound City, destined to be the headquarters of the Western Gunboat Flotilla (later the Mississippi River Squadron). Just south of Cairo is (on the left) Columbus, KY and around a short bend (to the right) Island No 10 and New Madrid, MO. All would be occupied by the Confederacy, and Columbus’ towering heights would be fortified by the CSA as the “Gibraltar of the West”. This vaunted outpost was destined to be flanked by Grant in February, 1862 and abandoned without a fight.
All that is in the future here though. Bachmann shows us Cairo and the great confluence, in the last moments of peace in 1861. He also shows us all of the terrain…human, terrestrial, and riverine…which would define the War in the West in the crucial early months of 1862.
The state of Missouri is unusual, in that it fielded a large number of both U.S. and CSA units of state volunteer troops. At the link below you can examine infantry, cavalry and artillery flags from Missouri units on both sides of the “Brother’s War” in addition to the personal flag of Confederate General (and later Missouri Governor) John Sappington Marmaduke and the captured flag of the “Beauregard Rifles” (possibly the flag of Company “A”, 9th Alabama Infantry”).
The flags, often with major wear and battle damage bear a variety of battle honors, including most of the great battles of the Western Theater, including Ft Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, and the many battles of the Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta Campaigns.
Many also bear the names of lesser known fights from Missouri’s bitter “civil war, within the Civil War”, fought between Missourians as they struggled for control of the state: Black Water, Silver Creek (Roan’s Tan Yard), Lone Jack and Neosho.
Unique flags include the green regimental color of the 7th Missouri Infantry, the “Irish Seventh”, one of two officially ethnic Irish regiments of Missouri volunteers during the war. Although badly damaged, it is still easy to see why it was considered one of the most beautiful flags produced during the war. The obverse shows a golden sunburst, behind a wreath of shamrocks, charged with a golden Irish harp and a wolf hound. The reverse shows the sunburst and a golden dawn, with the Gaelic war cry “Faj an Bealac!” [a variant transliteration of Faugh an Bealac], meaning “Clear the Way!”
Of special interest are the special “Veterans” flags issued to by the (Unionist) state government of Missouri to units which reenlisted at the end of three years service. The blue flags bear the state arms (rather than the Federal eagle) in gold, with the word “Veterans” and the unit designation on the reverse. These flags tell a story of the contest for legitimacy, and the Unionist’s claim to recognition as the lawful government of the state. At the beginning of the war, the secessionist Missouri State Guard had designated a blue flag with the state arms in gold (the unofficial state flag in common use) as the State Guard battle flag. By issuing Federal veteran units the state flag in its own name, the Unionist government of Provisional Governor Hamilton Gamble was making the public statement that his administration, not the government-in-exile of Missouri’s Confederates, was the legitimate government of Missouri.
As for Missouri’s Confederates, they are represented as well, with both the “starry cross” of the commonly known Confederate battle flag, and examples of “Price’s Flag” (aka the “Missouri Battle Flag”) popular with many Missouri Confederate regiments in the later part of the war (a blue flag, bordered in red, with a white Latin cross near the fly).
So, click on the link below, and enjoy the fine work the conservators in Missouri are doing, and all the great things the state staff and volunteers in Missouri are doing to preserve and publicize the history of America’s most divided state.
Shortly after passing Arkansas’ Ordnance of Secession, the Arkansas Secession Convention created the “Provisional Army of Arkansas”, commonly known as the Arkansas State Troops. These forces cooperated with (and fought along side) Confederate Forces, but were ultimately under Arkansas state control.
The Hempstead Rifles was a local militia company, raised in Hempstead County in southwest Arkansas. This photo shows the “Rifles” parading in Washington, Arkansas on May 4, 1861, having just received a locally made Confederate flag [1st National Pattern] , visible near the center rear of the company.
[click through twice on photo for close-up]
The volunteers are mostly dressed in improvised uniforms, based on “militarized” civilian clothes. Many wear home-made “battle shirts” popular among western Confederates early in the war. The battle shirt was a roomy overshirt, often with two breast pockets, decorated with fabric tape (in a contrasting color), particularly along the collar, cuffs, and front placket. Despite their lack of training, and (to us) unconventional (if not unmilitary) appearance, the volunteers would distinguish themselves in battle.
The Hempstead Rifles, under their Captain, John R. Gratiot, were subsequently combined with other local militia companies into a regiment which became the 3rd Regiment Arkansas State Troops. Gratiot was promoted and made Colonel of the Regiment.
The 3rd Arkansas joined a mixed force of Confederate regiments, Arkansas State Troops, and (secessionist) Missouri State Guards under Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch. On August 10, 1861 they fought in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, about 10 miles south of Springfield, Missouri.
The battle, popularly known as the “Bull Run of the West”, was a vicious one and (depending on ones point of view) resulted in a Confederate tactical victory. The Third Arkansas fought well, but paid a heavy price, suffering 109 casualties (including 25 killed) in the 500 man unit.
After the battle the regiment, along with the other Arkansas State Troops, returned to Arkansas. Provided the opportunity to enter the Confederate Army as a unit, the regiment voted to disband instead. Many of the members of the regiment subsequently joined other Confederate units.
[Photo courtesy of the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield]
The Anaconda Plan, is the (retrospectively) un-ironic name given to the much modified but eventually successful Federal Grand Strategy to win the Civil War.
The (very) rough outlines of the plan were sketched out by U.S. Army General-in-Chief Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott in May of 1861.
General Scott envisioned a grand envelopment (a crushing Anaconda in the public mind) which would divide, isolate, and economically cripple the seceded states. Scott wished to avoid a “war of conquest” if possible, so he called for a naval blockade to isolate the seceded states from foreign markets and imported goods. His main military action was to be a huge offensive down the Mississippi River, seizing key points along this strategic artery to put in under Federal control all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.
“The object being to clear out and keep open this great [riverine] line of communication in connection with a strict blockade of the sea-board, so as to envelope the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan.” [LTG Winfield Scott letter to MG George McClelland, May 21, 1861]
Scott did not wish to have to force the “insurgent States” back into the Union as “conquered provinces”, and he believed that there was significant “latent Unionism” in the seceded states which might be rekindled (a view Lincoln shared at the time). Isolation from foreign markets, a drought of luxuries, and economic collapse might, in Scott’s mind, bring many of the insurgents back into the U.S. with a minimum of destruction.
At the time Scott’s concept was widely derided. The label “Anaconda Plan”…or “Scott’s Great Snake”….came from enemies of the Plan, or of the Administration. Unionist fire-brands who supported a more direct “on to Richmond” strategy dismissed it as passive and weak. Peace Democrats and Confederate commentators dismissed it as doomed to fail, and as foolishly underestimating Confederate determination to break away.
In the end, Scott DID underestimate the Confederate will to fight and willingness to accept privation to achieve independence. The Confederate population proved willing to not only forgo luxuries, but bore up under economic collapse and serious food shortage. Still, Scott was right that the blockade would be a key to victory, and that a long complex campaign on the Mississippi (far from the dueling capitals) would be vital to eventual success.
Scott also saw something that few did at the time: that it would be a hard, LONG war. At the time of the plan’s origination, most Federal volunteer troops were “Three Months Volunteers”, mustered for 90 days service under the Militia Act of 1795. Scott had little use for the Three Months Men, as they could hardly be armed and partially trained before them would be mustered out. His main hope for these short-term volunteers was that they might receive some military instruction during that period, so they could be more useful as recruits for future “Three Year Regiments”. At the time, many commentators, North and South, still believed the war would be over in a matter of months.
Scott’s plan for the (Anaconda-like) slow crushing of the Confederate economy, was eventually put into place, although with the addition of the conquest and attrition Scott hoped to avoid.
The wonderful graphic of “Scott’s Great Snake” presents a great Federal “Anaconda” …studded with Navy ships…..wrapping around the southern states, and curling around to plunge, snake head-first down the Mississippi. It was created by J. B. Elliott of Cincinnati in 1861.
But in addition to the Great Snake there are numerous other miniature images, often commenting on current (to 1861) views of states or recent events. The snake’s tail is anchored to an American Flag at Washington, topped with a liberty cap.
A enthusiastic zouave, in puffy red pants, charges out of New York, as a winged helmet emblazoned “Free Trade” hovers overhead.
Maryland declares “We give in” as a bridge burns on the MD/VA border.
A West Virginian defends “The Old Flag” with a sword, as the rest of Virgina is symbolized by a battered bee hive, topped with a tattered Confederate Flag [First National pattern] hanging from a broken staff.
A North Carolinian notes that pine rosin is “Poor Eating”, while “Contrabands” escape slavery in South Carolina.
The Georgian cotton factory is abandoned and wrecked, while a lone Floridian sits in a swamp.
A proud Alabamian is angry that “Dam old Virginai took our Capitol”, because the CSA capitol was transferred from Mongomery, AL to Richmond. :-(
Some of the cartoons are grim or horrible. Rebelling slaves (apparently) are “burning massa out” as a plantation burns. In Louisiana a “Union Man” is hung while locals complain that they can’t ship out their cotton. Next door in Texas a planter shoots fleeing slaves, noting it is “costly shooting $100,000 a head”
Kentucky….wearing a coonskin cap…. perches on the fence, trying to maintain “Armed Neutrality”
Tennessee is divided, with the Unionist “Knocksville [Knoxville] Whig” [Newspaper] leading East Tennesseans in defending the American Flag. In West Tennessee a secessionist in a cocked hat looks for threats across the Mississippi.
There, the Great Snake is chasing out Missouri’s secessionist Governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson (the fleeing jackass), while an over-armed Arkansan wields two Bowie Knives and wearing two muskets over his shoulders.
A native chief smokes a pipe in Indian Territory [Oklahoma today], while in “Kanzas”, marching feet make “Union Music”. A second battalion of “Hawk-Eye Marksmen” march south, while a cannon points south from the Federal redoubt at Cairo [pronounced Kay-Roh] Illinois, where Ft Defiance guards the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi.
A detailed examination of “Scott’s Great Snake” can be made at the Library of Congress:
Here is a great article from the excellent Blog: TO THE SOUND OF THE GUNS. The author, Mr. Craig Swain, discusses a spectacular feat of Federal railroad logistics,
In brief the story is this. In August of 1863, Federal Major General William Rosecrans had skillfully maneuvered his Army of the Cumberland to drive Confederate General Braxton Bragg out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a key railroad junction and a key to north Georgia.
After the battle, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered two corps from Robert E. Lee’s (Eastern Theater) Army of Northern Virginia transferred by rail to support Bragg. Their commander Lt General James Longstreet came with them.
On Sept 19, Rosecrans and Bragg’s Army clashed again, along Chickamaugua Creek, south of Chattanooga. The first day’s fighting was inconclusive, but Longstreet’s corps were available to reinforce Bragg’s force for the second day’s fighting.
The battle developed slowly, until Rosecrans ordered troops moved to fill a non-existent gap in his line….in inadvertently creating a REAL gap. Longstreet lead an attack into the gap, smashing the Federal right, and driving one third of the Federal army….including Rosecrans….out of line and back towards Chattanooga. The Army of the Cumberland was saved by the stubborn defense of elements of the center and right of the army, lead by Major General George Thomas, who earned the nickname “The Rock of Chickamaugua”.
Despite the heroic stand, it was still a retreat, and the previously successful Army of the Cumberland found itself besieged at Chattanooga, as Bragg’s troops took up positions on the heights overlooking the strategic city. Rosecrans was exhausted, and probably mentally defeated. Lincoln described him as “confused and stunned, like a duck hit on the head”.
The risk was that now the hard-won city might be lost……along with parts of the besieged Federal army.
This brings us to Mr. Swain’s fine article. On Sept 23 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton proposed sending two corps from the inactive (Eastern Theater) Army of the Potomac to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland (as Jefferson Davis had for Bragg). Historian James M. McPherson relates:
“It would be a trip of 1,200 miles by the routes they would have to take. Stanton had consulted railroad officials and said the twenty thousand men could reach Nashville in five days and Chattanooga in a few more. Mindful of the previous movements by the sluggish Army of the Potomac, Lincoln responded skeptically that they could hardly get from Culpepper [VA] to Washington in five days! [A surface distance of only about 70 miles.]
“In the end Stanton prevailed. The movement began September 24. It when like clockwork, a marvel of organization and coordination between the War Department and several railroads. Eleven days after the start, more than twenty thousand [23,000] men of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps [under Major General Joe Hooker] arrived at the railhead near Chattanooga with their equipment, artillery and horses after a trip of 1,233 miles through the Appalachian and across the unbridged Ohio River twice [!] It was the longest and fastest of such a large body of troops before the twentieth century”
These fresh easterners helped stabilize the position in Chattanooga, although the city remained besieged and supplies remained tight. They proved vital to the subsequent successful campaign to break the siege and drive Bragg back into Georgia. That victory opened up the center of the Confederacy to invasion….but that is another story.
Now read how almost magical transfer was made in the article above……..
It was great to meet all you fellow students of the American Civil War today! As we saw, the issue of how the people of the U.S. got to the impasse that led to the “Late Unpleasantness” is a complicated on….and one that PHDs (and others) will continue to argue about. Over the next few days, I’m going to look for media that deals with the road to war.
Be sure to explore this page. I have socked it with links to some of the most scholarly and interesting blogs available, and the Resources let you explore important data, media and primary sources.
Looking forward to getting smart together!
Built by James B. Eads at the the Union Marine Ways, in the St. Louis suburb of Carondelet, the LOUISVILLE was a heavy “City Class” river gunboat. These vessels, paid for by the Army and operated by the Navy, were the heart of the Western Gunboat Flotilla (later the Mississippi River Squadron). Ponderous but powerful, they provided river-borne gunpower and protected the fleet of transports that allowed Western Federal armies to drive deep into Confederate territory.
The LOUISVILLE is shown in her everyday rigging, with canvas sunshades, to mitigate the terrible heat in the ironclad, her gunports open and cannon run out.
Photo courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield