Civil War

April Historical Events: Civil War and WWII

Mark takes a look at some significant events that took place in April during the Civil War and WWII. “April is the cruelest month” according to T.S. Eliot, but how accurate is that historically? You decide. Here are some major happenings and a few occurrences that are not so well known: Fort Sumter, Shiloh, Eel Creek, California, Norway, Murmansk and Iraq.

CIVIL WAR

1861

11-14 April – Charleston, SC -Thursday to Sunday. A South Carolina delegation of three men delivered a demand for surrender to Major Robert Anderson at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The message was from Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and stated that they intended to take “possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors . . . necessary to its defense and security.” They let Anderson know that they would not fire upon his position if he advised them of the time of the evacuation of the Union troops stationed there.

Anderson replied that he also would not fire except in response, but that he would evacuate on 15 April if he did not receive supplies coming from the Federal government.The Confederates were aware that a supply ship was en route and deemed the answer unsatisfactory. At 0430 on Friday a signal shot opened a barrage from the other batteries in rotation. Anderson had a garrison of 85 officers and men as well as over forty laborers who worked in the fort. They began to return fire at 0700. More to come on Edmund Ruffin in a future episode.

On Saturday, after thirty-four hours of bombardment, a rash of fires and destruction, and some minor injuries, Fort Sumter capitulated. The formal surrender ceremony occurred on Sunday at which time was the only fatality. When the colors changed and the fifty-gun salute concluded, there was an accidental explosion in a pile of ammunition that killed a Union private and injured several others.

Major Anderson, a Kentuckian, remarked that “Our Southern brethren have done grievously wrong. . . . They must be punished and brought back, but this necessity breaks my heart.”

South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens addressed a crowd, “We have met them and we have conquered.”

1862

4-5 April – Union General George B. McClellan had moved most of his massive army of 120,000 men plus horses, mules, artillery, wagons and supplies from Alexandria, VA down the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay to land at Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. His aim was to march his horde northwest and take Richmond. His first obstacle was Yorktown, where his army attacked 15,000 Confederates under General John Bankhead Magruder. General Joseph E. Johnston, in command of the Confederate Army in Virginia was sending reinforcements while McClellan’s men prepared to conduct a siege. After a minor battle, the Confederates withdrew toward Williamsburg.

6-7 April – Battle of Shiloh. In southwest Tennessee, General Ulysses S. Grant had brought his army to Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. At the same time, General Albert Sidney Johnston was leading his Confederate force northward from Mississippi. Johnston would suffer a mortal wound that caused him to bleed to death in minutes on the first day of battle. Beauregard, who just a year earlier had been in command on the war’s opening day at Fort Sumter, took the reins. On the first day, he pushed the Union forces back nearly two miles. By nightfall, Gen. Grant’s camp was almost back at the landing at the Tennessee River—an important position to retain. That night reinforcements arrived and Grant launched a counterattack. The fighting raged for six hours until Beauregard decided to withdraw. The Federals did not pursue and the Confederates returned to Corinth, Mississippi.

WORLD WAR II

1940

19 April – Lofoten Islands, Norway. Three convoys departed Scotland, from the mainland and Scapa Flow: destination Norway. British and French forces were planning to take control of Norwegian ports but in a seemingly uncoordinated effort, the army and navy command staffs travelled separately. With a disjointed embarkation schedule, units did not know the whereabouts of the artillery nor munitions in many cases. While some of the transports tarried off the coast, hesitant to make an amphibious assault, German Stukas dived and strafed. Once on shore, the Allies would face the German 169thcrack mountain division. With the exception of the French Chasseurs Alpins, none of the other units had trained for mountain fighting.

1941

3 April – Rashid Ali al-Gaylani took over the government of Iraq in a coup backed by Nazi Germany. He deposed the British backed monarchical administration of six-year old King Faisal II. Gaylani refused to allow any Allied transports through his country. Baghdad became an HQ for Nazi intelligence operations in the Middle East.

1942

1 April – Murmansk, USSR- Convoy PQ-13 reached its destination with munitions and war supplies for the Soviet Union. The convoy began with 19 merchant ships, and reached the harbor after losing five vessels. German U-boats destroyed two, the Luftwaffe accounted for another two sinkings and a destroy took out the fifth. A violent storm had separated the convoy from its destroyer escort and German scout planes located the ships and called in the attack. The convoy departed northern Scotland before stopping in Iceland on the voyage through the Arctic Sea. This was the first Arctic convoy to reach Murmansk, the world’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle. Because of the Gulf Stream currents, the harbor in Murmansk remains ice-free for a good part of the year.

Sultana Disaster: Part II

Author Sally M. Walker joins Mark to discuss the tragic disaster of the explosion and sinking of the Sultana in 1865. It was America’s greatest maritime disaster that occurred on the Mississippi River at the end of the Civil War—but so few people know about it. Her book, Sinking the Sultana, tells the intriguing story.

The Lincoln Assassination and the Sultana Disaster

Mark and Professor Gerry Prokopowicz wrap up last week’s Lincoln discussion with some points about the assassination in April 1865. Mark gives background and the basic story of the Sultana tragedy, America’s greatest maritime disaster that occurred that same month.

Civil War and Abraham Lincoln: Part I

Mark talks with Professor Gerald J. Prokopowicz about Abraham Lincoln, his youth, early career, presidency and the Civil War. Professor Prokopowicz addresses some of the popular questions readers ask about the sixteenth president as well as some that may be more obscure.

Civil War New Orleans

Mark talks about New Orleans during the Civil War. General Mansfield Lovell assumes military command of New Orleans and begins to shore up the defenses. He affirms that the threat will come upriver from the Gulf of Mexico, despite Richmond’s insistence that he transfer men and boats north. Construction begins on two super CSA gunboats, the Louisiana and Mississippi, said to surpass anything the Union had.

Union Threat Looms Before New Orleans

In the fall of 1861 morale was good in New Orleans and it spirits remained good into the start of 1862. The Confederates had won a decisive victory near Manassas, Virginia at the end of July where Louisiana’s native son, P.G.T. Beauregard had been the victorious commander and Louisiana boys had done well in the battle. At the end of that September, the citizens were treated to the spectacle of a trainload of captured Yankee prisoners marching under guard through the streets en route to the Orleans Parish prison. The local newspapers played it up to The New Orleans Crescent described the unfortunate captured, ushered through the streets under the curious stares of the local citizens who “behaved with their accustomed order and good breeding.” The Yankees were “a hard looking set.”

And they made reference to the notion that the prisoners might be foreign mercenaries, the Daily Crescent warned citizens and military guard alike to be aware of the arrival of “Hessian prisoners” that were on their way to the city by train. As so often in the South, there was a fear of being overrun by foreigners.

There also was a revival of community service in the area. There were festivals and fairs to raise money for families whose breadwinners were away in military service as well as for the less fortunate citizens. The city also began a free market. Public-spirited civilians made donations, the city provided operating funds and the market distributed food and other necessities to all eligible. The city regulated the system and issued tickets to “families and dependents of volunteers” who currently were in Confederate service or those whose had providers had died in service.

New Orleans was functioning and making things work as well as possible, but the diaphanous demon that festered in the minds of merchants, business people as well as everyday citizens was the blockade. In the country’s major port a chokehold on trade stifled the normal spirit, the joie de vivre for which New Orleans was so well known. The hard fact was that the U.S. fleet was maintaining a close watch on the Head of the Passes at the mouth of the Mississippi.

An enterprising group of businessmen, sparked by a former river captain raised the funds to purchase and convert a large, powerful tugboat into a warship. They had the boat covered with what took on the appearance of an armored turtle shell made of iron “T” train track rails. The locals readily applied the moniker, “The Turtle,” which immediately stuck. Its armor rendered it virtually impregnable and certain northern news organizations noted that it was going to be a terrible scourge once let loose on the American fleet.

This was not to be. In command of the Confederate naval defenses was the elderly, but spirited, Commodore George N. Hollins. The Marylander had a distinguished career with the U.S. Navy beginning with his enlistment as a teenager during the War of 1812, and spanning a series of actions and promotions from the Barbary Coast of Africa to Central America. Hollins commandeered the Manassas, staffed the crew with volunteers from within his fleet and steamed downriver.

Hollins had his squadron assembled and moving toward the passes and the Federal ships at midnight. The Union ships, commanded by Captain John Pope, who had served almost as long as Hollins, had the Confederates outgunned by more than double, fifty-five to little more than twenty. But Hollins did have the advantage of range and was able to surprise Pope.

The surprise was a crash as the Manassas rammed the USS Richmond and left a five-inch hole in the hull below the water line. Before sunrise, Pope had his squadron in a retreat, withdrawing downriver toward the Southwest Pass.

Hollins sent a dispatch that in those pre-dawn hours of 12 October he had “attacked” the blockaders and had been successful with “his little fleet.” He was able to achieve “a complete success,” he said. Hollins gave the people of New Orleans hope when he affirmed, “after a very short struggle, [I was able] to drive them all aground on the southwest bar, except the Preble, which I sunk. I have captured a prize from them, and after I got them fast on the sand I peppered them well. No casualties on our side.”

Hood’s Texas Brigade

Mark and guest Susannah J. Ural, a professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi and co-director of the University’s Dale Center for the Study of War and Society, discuss her recent book, Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit.

Vicksburg Monuments: The Art of Commemoration

General Parker Hills joins Mark to discuss the monuments at the Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi. General Hills’ book, Art of Commemoration, catalogues and details the magnificent sculpture, architecture, the artists and interpretations that memorialize this incredible Park.

Excerpt from the Introduction to Art of Commemoration

Soon after Vicksburg National Military Park was established in 1899, the nation ‘s leading architects and sculptors were commissioned to honor the soldiers that had fought in the campaign. The park’s earliest state memorial was dedicated in 1903, and over 95 percent of the monuments that followed were erected prior to 1917. An aging Civil War veteran who hastened to Vicksburg to see the resulting works was so impressed that he aptly described Vicksburg National Military Park as “the art park of the world: ‘ The work of commemoration has continued sporadically since 1917, and today, over 1,370 monuments, tablets and markers dot the park landscape. Unfortunately, some of these are on former park lands or are not situated along the tour road.

In touring the park, it is helpful to know that the ancient Roman writer, architect, and engineer, Vitruvius, insisted that there were two points in all matters: the thing signified, and that which gave it its significance. The thing signified at Vicksburg – the spirit of the park-is the valor of the soldiers and sailors who struggled as participants in the Vicksburg campaign. The memorials and markers, through their information, art and architecture, signify, or honor, these combatants. The bronze, stone, and iron works were created to help preserve the spirit of duty, honor and country, and hopefully, this spirit will be experienced by the viewer.

The best way to appreciate the park and feel its spirit is to park in designated areas and spend some time on short walks. The reward will be that the works of art will reveal details and fuel emotions that are impossible to appreciate and feel from afar. As composer Daniel Gregory Mason observed; “Art of any profundity can be experienced only slowly, gradually, in leisurely contemplation.” You are, therefore, encouraged to savor your time amidst the heroes of the past.

Parker Hills, Brigadier General (Retired)
Clinton, Mississippi

Civil War New Orleans

Mark discusses New Orleans during the Civil War. In 1861, the City of New Orleans prepared for an imminent invasion by Union forces after Louisiana joined the Confederacy. As a crisis loomed, leadership, politics and military shortcomings become evident.

Ulysses S. Grant: Later War Years

Harry Laver, Professor of History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, returns to review Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign, his rise to General-in-Chief of the Union Army, the Chattanooga campaign and his campaigns in Virginia.

Grant and Fort Donelson

General Simon Bolivar Buckner was in command at Fort Donelson when Union forces were moving by land in conjunction with a flotilla of gunboats to besiege the Confederate stronghold. They had known each other at West Point, classes of 1844 (Buckner) and 1843 (Grant), and remained friends after the war.

General Gideon Pillow had been in charge of the Confederates who pushed Grant back to the river at Belmont the previous November. The Tennessean had his men hold off the approaching Union forces but did not take advantage of a break in their lines. He retired to the fort and took command at Fort Donelson when General John B. Floyd decided to make a hasty departure.

Floyd was the senior Confederate commander. As U.S. Secretary of State before secession, he had been under indictment in Washington for the questionable transfer of military stores to southern states before the hostilities broke out. He desperately wanted to avoid capture by the Federals for fear of charges for treason. Before this could happen, he loaded his two Virginia regiments and some artillery onto a steamboat and “skedaddled” upriver (to the southeast) to Nashville. He turned over command to Pillow who had once echoed Patrick Henry’s statement about a preference for death over loss of liberty. When the situation looked grim at Donelson, Pillow had a change of heart and sought “liberty” in a rowboat across the Cumberland river under cover of night. General Grant had a terse assessment of him as an adversary: Pillow “was no soldier, and possibly, did not possess the elements of one.”

On February 13, the Union continued to move into position and surround the fort. Both division commanders ordered attacks against the Confederate works without success. This gave the Confederates precious time to reinforce the garrison, increasing the ranks to about 15,000 to 17,000. They now had a force nearly equal or slightly larger than the attackers. Grant sent word to Fort Henry ordering W.H.L. Wallace to bring his brigade to Donelson. That night the wind shifted and the temperature began to drop. A heavy rain that soaked both armies, changed to sleet then freezing rain and finally a snowstorm that lasted all night. By morning, there were several inches of snow on the ground and the temperatures remained well below freezing.

There are reports that many of the soldiers who had marched in the balmy weather discarded their overcoats and blankets. They were unused to such mild days in February and enjoyed the false dose of spring that was concealing a wintry blast. They regretted their hasted the following day when they were exposed to the snow and unprotected from the icy winds.

In the Podcast, we discuss the terms of surrender, Grant’s relationship with Buckner and how the Northern press picked up on the new moniker. Civl War Trust has an informative feature on Fort Donelson including statistics and an overview at CWT.com.

Ulysses S. Grant: Early Career and Civil War

Mark and Harry Laver, Professor of History at the US Army Command and General Staff College will discuss Ulysses S. Grant’s early career and his leadership in the Western Theatre of the War up to the Vicksburg Campaign. This is Part 1 of a two-part podcast.

Grant at Belmont

In late 1861, Confederate General Leonidas Polk occupied Columbus in southwestern Kentucky on the Mississippi River. He broke the “neutrality” of the state and gave Union forces a reason to take aggressive action. Pro-union officers were actively recruiting Kentuckians to take up arms to support their cause and were breaking the neutrality in their own right. Just across the river, in far southeast Missouri, was the sparsely populated ferry landing of Belmont, where the Confederates had set up an outpost. Missouri’s U.S. military commander, General John Frémont sent Brigadier U.S. Grant into the region with 3,000 troops. Grant sent an initial force to overrun the Confederate encampment at Belmont. However, Polk learned of their approach and sent reinforcements who forced Grant’s men out and re-gain control of that section of the Mississippi River.

Grant’s plan was to capture the Confederate stronghold at Columbus, but first he had to take the Confederate garrison at Belmont. The 1,000 men that Polk had sent across the river to protect that bank of the river would be no match for Grant’s approaching numbers and Polk sent an additional 2,500 troops across the river to provide relief for his troops on the other side. He wanted to retain control of both sides of the Mississippi. Grant’s arriving force was able to push the Confederates back into a disorderly retreat and scatter them along the river. Discipline broke down within the Northern ranks, who prematurely began to celebrate their victory and engaging in wholesale looting of the Confederate camp.

General Charles Smith (who would also serve with Grant at Forts Henry and Donelson) began an advance from Paducah, Kentucky, just to the northeast. He was to make a feint and make Polk commit forces to pursue and keep them away from Belmont. Grant hoped that Polk would believe that Smith’s advance was the primary attack and that Belmont was the diversion. However, Polk recognized the move and dispatched additional troops to Belmont. Five Confederate regiments arrived as Grant was attempting to restore order and withdraw his men back to the river and move to a safer position. Grant himself narrowly escaped capture, but was able to get most of his force back to the boats, cross the river and retreat to Cairo, Illinois.

Union casulaties were 120 dead and 487 wounded or captured, while the Confederates lost 105 dead and 536 wounded or captured. Grant realized that maintaining order among the troops was of paramount importance. His men mistakenly felt that victory was theirs until surprised by the Confederate reinforcements. He had been facing General Gideon Pillow, who would later make his hasty retreat as Grant’s troops moved on Fort Donelson.