150 Years Ago This Week: Cameron out; Stanton in

Secretary of War Stanton
Secretary of War Stanton

Saturday, Jan. 11: a fleet of some 100 vessels carrying Federal troops under Brig. Gen. Ambrose Burnside sailed from Hampton Roads, Va., for the coast of North Carolina. The naval squadron of about 15,000 commanded by Commodore Louis Goldsborough posed a new threat to the already severely intruded Southern coast.

In Washington, President Lincoln accepted the public resignation of War Secretary Simon Cameron, and he indicated that he would name Cameron as a Minister to Russia. Cameron wrote the President that he had long wished to resign, and Lincoln appeared to be relieved. Underneath the change were the charges of fraud and corruption, overactive politics and incompetence in the management of the war department. Cameron was a Pennsylvania politician who could never forget his friends and associates.

On Jan. 12 in Washington, President Lincoln had taken action regarding the stalled armies in Virginia. He met with his cabinet this Sunday morning to discuss the issue. Gen. McClellan, recovering from typhoid fever, unexpectedly appeared at the White House, fearful that his command was being undermined. The next day, the cabinet met again in the morning and Lincoln said he would name the prominent Washington attorney and former attorney general, Edwin M. Stanton of Ohio, to the war secretary’s post. At the same time, the President sent congress the nomination of Simon Cameron as Minister to Russia, replacing Cassius Marcellus Clay. The cabinet met again with Gen. McClellan in the afternoon to consider action by the armies. McClellan refused to divulge his plan of operations, and apparently resented the interference by the other generals and the President.

Burnside’s intended invasion force arrived at Hatteras Inlet, N.C., and Burnside assumed command of the Department of North Carolina. The lack of low-draft vessels and proper landing craft held up the Federal invasion. In Kentucky, three Federal gunboats moved south on the Mississippi River to near Columbus, throwing shells into the Confederate encampments there. Gen. Grant’s reconnaissance into Kentucky operated near Blandville.

On Wednesday, Jan. 15, the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment of Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of war. An energetic, tireless worker, Stanton was known to have made derogatory statements about Lincoln. He was also known to be a friend of Gen. McClellan, and soon Stanton would become one of the most controversial figures of the war. Many felt he was crafty, devious, dishonest and unfit for his position. In conjunction with Gen. Grant’s overland operations from Cairo, Ill., a Federal gunboat reconnaissance operated almost as far as Fort Henry, just below the Kentucky line with Tennessee.

On Jan. 16, Federal naval forces descended on the harbor and village of Cedar Keys, Fla., and burned seven small blockade-runners and coastal vessels, a pier and some railroad flatcars before withdrawing. In Washington, Stanton took over the war department with a drive and efficiency that startled those used to the slipshod management under Cameron. In Kentucky, Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. Felix Zollicoffer moved unwisely from south of the Cumberland River at Mill Springs to north of the river, and were being threatened by a Federal force under Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas.

On Jan. 17, Federals under Brig. Gen. Charles Smith demonstrated against the Confederate fortification at Fort Henry on the Tennessee River in Tennessee. Bad weather hampered the operations and a heavy ice gorge blocked the Mississippi River 20 miles below St. Louis, halting river shipping.

Former President John Tyler died in Richmond at age 72, on Jan. 18, just before taking his elected seat in the Confederate Congress. The same day, the Confederate Territory of Arizona was established, consisting of the southern half of the Federal Territory of New Mexico. In Kentucky, a major battle was about to begin near Mill Springs between Federal forces under Gen. George Thomas and Confederates commanded by Brig. Gen. George Crittenden.

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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.