150 Years Ago This Week: The Southern picture grows dimmer

April/May 1862

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler

The taking of the Confederate forts Jackson and St. Philip at the mouth of the Mississippi River by Federal naval forces in late April was not the only setback experienced by the Confederacy during the waning days of April. On Friday, April 25, the month-long siege of Fort Macon on the North Carolina coast near Beaufort ended.

Federal troops under John G. Parke opened a heavy bombardment on the fort, and dismantled more than half of the fort’s guns. Gunboats on the water side went into action and by late afternoon, Col. Moses J. White had no recourse but to raise the white flag. Casualties were light but another bastion of the Confederacy had fallen. Formal surrender ceremonies were conducted April 26. The taking of the fort further demonstrated the inadequacy of masonry forts against large-bore rifled artillery. At Savannah, Tenn., Maj. Gen. Charles Smith, who for a time superceded Gen. Grant after Fort Donelson, died of an infection after he had skinned his leg getting out of a rowboat.

In New Mexico Territory, there was a sharp engagement at Socorro between the retreating Army of New Mexico and shadowing Union troops. In New Orleans on April 26, surrender negotiations continued between Adm. David Farragut and the mayor. William Mumford, a resident of the city, removed the U.S. flag flying over the Mint as mobs still ranged through the city’s streets. A teen-age girl living in New Orleans confided to her diary, “We are conquered but not subdued.”

Four other small Confederate fortifications protecting New Orleans surrendered to Federal forces on April 27. Adm. Farragut told the mayor that he would bombard the city unless the Federal flag was respected by the city’s residents and business. On April 28, the British ship Oreto arrived at Nassau, Bahamas, to be officially fitted out and commissioned as the Confederate commerce raiser, CSS Florida.

On April 29, the massive Federal army commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck was making ready to march from Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee towards the Confederate Army of Mississippi under Gen. Beauregard at Corinth, Miss. Halleck’s army numbered more than 100,000; the Confederates had about two-thirds that number.

Upset by what he considered a demotion, Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant was serving as Halleck’s second-in-command. On the last day of April, Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops left Conrad’s Store (now Elkton) in the Shenandoah Valley and headed south towards Staunton and what would become the major part of his famed Valley Campaign. April was the most active (and most disastrous for the Confederacy) month of the war so far.

May 1862 opened with Federal offensives mounted in the Shenandoah Valley and on Corinth, Miss. Powerful forces advanced on the Confederacy in Virginia, in the Carolinas, Tennessee and southern Alabama. On May 1, the siege at Yorktown was being tightened. If Yorktown fell, so too would the Norfolk Navy Yard and other important points along the James River.

In New Orleans, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler with his troops officially took over the city. His reign would be of efficiency in sanitary and other conditions, but with corruption in administration and harsh suppression of the populace. Citizens of New Orleans would never forget nor forgive Butler for what were termed “bestial acts.” President Jefferson Davis wrote Gen. Joseph Johnston at Yorktown: “Accepting your conclusion that you must soon retire, arrangements must be commenced for the abandonment of the Navy Yard at Norfolk and the removal of public property from Norfolk and the Peninsula.”

On Friday, May 2, Gen. Beauregard called on the soldiers of the Confederacy to defend Corinth from the “invading despoilers of our homes.” There was fighting in Louisa County, Va., at Litchfield, Ark., and at Deep Gully on the Trenton Road in North Carolina. On the peninsula below Richmond, Gen. Johnston began to make preparations for the evacuation of Yorktown, unable to use his force of some 55,000 Confederates to overwhelm some 110,000 Federal troops surrounding him on three sides.

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.