150 Years Ago This Week: Winter military maneuvers, campaigns

Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate troops, moving from Bath in western Virginia, on Sunday, Jan. 5, in pursuit of Federal troops halted on the Potomac River across from Hancock, Md. For two days they bombarded Federal troops garrisoned in Hancock. Brig. Gen. Frederick Lander refused Jackson’s demands for surrender, and the Confederates searched unsuccessfully for a safe river crossing.

In Washington on Jan. 6, President Lincoln conferred with Gen. McClellan, recovering from typhoid fever. Lincoln rejected a proposal of some senators to remove the general from command for lack of action. At the same time, the President wrote Gen. Buell in Kentucky of his distress over “our friends in East Tennessee,” and urged without ordering military advances in that area. The next day Gen. Jackson’s troops left the area opposite Hancock, Md. and moved towards Romney in western Virginia. The Federal Department of North Carolina was established, and Brig. Gen. Ambrose Burnside was named to command it.

In Richmond on Jan. 8, President Davis continued corresponding with various governors of the Confederate states, including Claiborne Jackson of Missouri, trying to persuade them that their states were not being neglected by the government, and that the Confederacy needed manpower.

On Thursday, Jan. 9, President Lincoln informed Gen. McClellan that neither of the commanders in the West, Halleck or Buell, had met his request to name a day when they would be ready to advance their troops. At Cairo, Illinois, however, Brig. Gen. Grant was preparing a reconnaissance in force into Kentucky towards Columbus. In St. Louis, orders were sent out to have a copy of each daily newspaper sent to the Federal provost marshal for inspection, to determine if there was anything of a seditious nature being published. The city’s Chamber of Commerce was disrupted by the withdrawal of pro-Union members. In the Congress of the United States, petitions were continually being issued calling for an end to slavery, and members of Congress on the floor were suggesting “emancipation, colonization of negroes, and compensation to owners.”

On Friday, Jan. 10, the Federal troops commanded by Gen. Grant marched in the cold and damp from Cairo towards Columbus, Ky. Meant largely as a diversionary movement to draw attention from Union military operations towards east Tennessee, Gen. Grant led his men on a dreary, wearisome march with little fighting. Farther east, near Prestonburg, Ky., troops led by Colonel James A. Garfield (destined to become the 20th president of the U.S.) advanced against Confederate troops under Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall. Garfield’s men were unable to penetrate the Confederate lines or force them back, but after some intense fighting, both sides retreated and both sides claimed victory. It was another event in the slow Federal drive towards east Tennessee, and taught both armies about the travails of winter marching and military campaigning.

In western Virginia, Federal troops evacuated Romney without a fight in the face of Gen. Jackson’s advances. The Confederates entered the town and settled in to winter quarters for awhile. The lack of military action brought to the surface a serious dispute between Gen. Jackson and one of his brigade commanders, Brig. Gen. William W. Loring. Loring and his men contended that Jackson mistreated his Valley Army; Loring eventually went over Jackson’s head and complained to the War Department in Richmond. This resulted in Jackson submitting his resignation from the Confederate Army. This was refused, and in time, relations between Jackson and Loring became amiable.

The same day, the Confederate Trans-Mississippi District No. 2 was established under command of Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn. This department would control all Confederate military operations west of the Mississippi River. In Washington, President Lincoln wrote Secretary of War Simon Cameron that he was exceedingly discouraged by the failure of the armies to launch an offensive in the West. There were in the Congress repeated charges of corruption in the War Department, and demands for Cameron’s ouster. In the Senate, Missouri senators Waldo Johnson and Trusten Polk were unanimously expelled for their pro-Confederate sentiments.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.