150 Years Ago This Week: General War Order No. 1

The Confederate government on Sunday, Jan. 26, ordered Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard from the Potomac District in northern Virginia to the west, where he became second-in-command to Gen. Albert S. Johnston in that threatened area. This left Gen. Joseph E. Johnston (no relation to Gen. Albert Johnston) in full command in Virginia.

Frustrated by months of delay and inactivity on the part of his field commanders, in the East and West, President Lincoln issued General War Order No. 1, in which Lincoln “ordered that on the 22nd of February, 1862, be the day for a general movement of the Land and Naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces.” He called specifically for advances from the army at Fort Monroe, near Newport News; the Army of the Potomac; the Army of Western Virginia; the army in Kentucky; the force at Cairo, Ill.; and the naval force in the Gulf of Mexico. Aghast that he was not consulted on the President’s plans, Maj. Gen. George McClellan revealed to Lincoln his secret plan to bypass the Confederates at Centreville and Manassas by sailing his army south on the Chesapeake Bay to the port town of Urbanna, and then march behind the Confederate lines up the peninsula to Richmond. This operation became known as the Urbanna Plan.

The same Jan. 27, Emperor Louis Napoleon of France told the French people that the war in America has “seriously compromised our commercial interests” but that France would confine itself by hoping for a termination of hostilities as long as the rights of neutrals were respected. Skirmishing between opposing troops took place on Jan. 28 near Greensburg, Ky. and Lebanon, Mo.

A small Federal force on Jan. 29 operating on the Occoquan River in northern Virginia broke up a party at Lee’s House after a brief skirmish, and scattered a number of Confederate dancers. The following day, Jan. 30, a large crowd gathered at Greenpoint, Long Island, N.Y., and witnessed the launch of the USS Monitor, the revolutionary iron ship constructed by John Ericsson. At Southampton, England, the two Confederate commissioners, John Slidell and James Mason, reached Britain on a British vessel, completing their long-delayed journey that began in November 1861, and landed them for a short time in prison.

On the last day of January, 1861, President Lincoln issued Special War Order No. 1, which pertained specifically to Gen. McClellan and the Army of the Potomac. The army was ordered to form an expedition “to seize and occupy a point upon the Rail Road south westward of what is known as Manassas Junction.” This movement was to be done no later than Feb. 22, 1862. The order was aimed at forcing Gen. McClellan to open offensive operations overland in Virginia. The same day, the Congress authorized President Lincoln to take possession of railroad and telegraph lines whenever the public safety required it. In Britain, Queen Victoria declared it was her purpose to maintain British neutrality in the war in America.

The month of February, 1862, opened with military preparations in Cairo, Ill., as Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant began to get his troops ready to advance on Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. Several days earlier, Grant sought and obtained permission from Maj. Gen. Halleck to open a major offensive movement on the Confederate fort. The same day, a meeting was held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas between Federal authorities and the chiefs of local Indian tribes. Only a small skirmish in Morgan County, Tenn., marked the day of Sunday, Feb. 2, in fighting between opposing forces, but the expedition assembling on the Ohio River at Cairo was rapidly becoming organized.

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.