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1862: January

[ Battle of Fort Hindman | Battle of Middle Creek | Battle of Mill Springs | Political events ]


As the new year began, the governments and public of both the North and South continued to gird themselves for what clearly was going to be a longer war than anyone had expected. There were a number of battles fought and political events also continued to play an important role in the war.

Much of the activity in January took place west of the Allegheny Mountains. Albert Sidney Johnston, General Commander of the Western Department of the Confederacy, was one of the most able generals in the Southern army, but he was faced with the considerable task of holding a line from the Cumberland Gap to the Mississippi River while facing two Union armies which considerably outnumbered his. It was here that the Union began to make progress in January 1862.

Battle of Fort Hindman: January 9-11

McClernand's troops
Also known as the Battle of Arkansas Post. In order to protect Little Rock, Arkansas, and also have a position to disrupt Union movement on the Mississippi, the Confederacy built Fort Hindman on a bluff above the Arkansas River a bit upriver from the Mississippi. Union General John A. McClernand received permission from Lincoln to attack Vicksburg, but after co-opting Gen. William T. Sherman's troops away from Grant's Army of the Tennessee, McClernand instead attacked Fort Hindman.

On January 9th, Union troops landed near the fort and overran out-flanking Confederate trenches, forcing the Southerners back into the fort. The next day, Flag Officer David D. Porter bombarded Fort Hindman from his ironclad ships. The continuing bombardment on January 11th, now also coming from batteries on the southern shore of the river, together with Porter's cutting off retreat to the north, forced the Confederates to surrender Fort Hindman, giving the Union one of their first victories in the Mississippi basin.

Battle of Middle Creek: January 10

Though Confederate recruiters had been chased out of eastern Kentucky after the Battle of Ivy Mountain in November 1861, they were soon at it again, with Confederate General Humphrey Marshall established at Paintsville. In early January, Col. James A. Garfield was sent to drive the Confederates back to Virginia. The two sides met near the forks of Middle Creek on January 10th, and Marshall was forced to retreat, finally retiring back to Virginia by the end of the month.

Battle of Mill Springs: January 19

Currier Ives Mill Springs
Also known as the Battle of Logan's Crossroads or the Battle of Fishing Creek. Confederate forces under General Felix Zollicoffer moved from Tennessee into Kentucky to shore up that part of their defensive line, setting up camp on the north shore of the Cumberland River across from Mill Springs, a position much weaker than if he had stayed on the south shore. Union General George H. Thomas was ordered to drive Zollicoffer back across the Cumberland, so he headed south, with troops under General Albin Shoepf marching to his support.

Mill Springs
Confederate General George B. Crittenden, Zollicoffer's commander, arrived at Mill Springs and realized that Zollicoffer's troops were in a seriously vulnerable position, so he decided to take the initiative and attack on January 19th before the two Union forces could join up. Zollicoffer's front line troops had initial success, but in the confusion of the battle, Zollicoffer got turned around and approached a Northern officer, who he thought was one of his own; the Union soldier calmly proceeded to kill Zollicoffer. This loss, and the arrival of Union reinforcements under Hunter, turned the tide and the battle became a Confederate rout.

Crittenden tried to stop the flight of his men, but--possibly in part because he was drunk--was unable to do so and the Confederate troops fled until they reached Tennessee, abandoning behind them munitions, wagons, horses and mules, and all their casualties. Crittendon's reputation was ruined by this battle. He was accused of intoxication and treason, and after another episode of inebriation, he was relieved of command. Crittendon eventually resigned and ended up serving as a civilian in a backwater in the trans-Mississippi region.

This battle was a major psychological victory for the North and, together with the Battle of Mill Creek, established the Union's control of the middle of Kentucky, putting their armies in a position to be able to advance into northern Tennessee the following month.

Political events

Edwin Stanton
On January 15th, Secretary of War Simon Cameron, amidst charges of corruption and incompetence, resigned to become U.S. envoy to Russia. He was replaced by Edwin M. Stanton, who despite his distain of Lincoln, proved to be an energetic and often effective Secretary of War.

Shortly thereafter, President John Tyler died on January 18th, at age 72. Tyler was a supporter of secession and was elected as a representative to the Confederate Congress, though he died before he was able to service. Because of his support for the Confederacy, Tyler was the only president not honored by the U.S. Government upon his death.

Why McClellan don't move
Meanwhile, the current president continued to be frustrated by what he saw was McClellan's procrastination (though McClellan was sick with typhoid for most of January). Lincoln decided to try to use his authority to force McClellan into action, issuing General War Order No. 1 on January 27th, which stated that February 22, 1862 would "be the day for a general movement of the Land and Naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces." He followed this four days later with Special War Order No. 1, which further instructed McClellan to being his offense in Virginia. Not surprisingly, this tactic didn't work, for McClellan simply ignored both orders.

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