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A Nation Divided.  The Civil War in contemporary prints
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1862: March

[ Battle of Pea Ridge | Dilution of McClellan's power | Battle of Hampton Roads | Capture of New Madrid | Battle of New Bern | Battle of Kernstown | Battle of Glorieta Pass ]


As warmer weather came on, Federal forces began to move to put pressure on Confederate positions. With the March 7th sailing of troops south, March saw the beginning of McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, designed to attack Richmond from the southeast, up the peninsula between the York and James Rivers. Military engagements began to occur with greater frequency. Among these was the famous battle between the Monitor and Merrimack, which signaled a major shift in naval warfare.

Confederate prospects in the West were bleak. In Kentucky, Confederates abandoned their stronghold at Columbus. In Missouri, Federal General John Pope's forces captured New Madrid after a siege. In Tennessee, Federal General Ulysses S. Grant's forces moved south and established a base at Pittsburg Landing near the Mississippi border. And Federal General Don Carlos Buell's forces began moving out of Nashville to link with Grant for an invasion of the Deep South.

Battle of Pea Ridge: March 7-8

Samuel R Curtis
After their victory at the Battle of Lexington, Confederate fortunes in Missouri soured. From that time until early 1862, the Union army, under General Samuel R. Curtis, pushed General Sterling Price's Confederate Missouri State Guard out of the state and into northern Arkansas. There the Confederate army was reorganized under General Earl Van Dorn. In order to regain access to Missouri, Van Dorn decided to strike at Curtis, who had moved into northern Arkansas.

Battle of Pea Ridge
The Battle of Pea Ridge, also called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, began when Van Dorn attacked Curtis at Pea Ridge on March 7th. Despite being outnumbered, Curtis was a able to hold off the Confederate attack and then the following day force the Confederates to retreat. Besides losing the battle, the Southerners lost a number of officers, including Generals McCullock and McIntosh. The Union victory solidified Union control over Missouri, which was never again threatened by the Confederacy.

Dilution of McClellan's power

Though McClellan had developed his plan for a Peninsular Campaign, Lincoln remained frustrated by his interminable excuses of why he couldn't launch the campaign immediately. As Bernard DeVoto so nicely put it, in The Course of Empire, "There had followed the heartbreaking delays of a general who felt confident that he would be invincible tomorrow and certain that the enemy was invincible today."

Lincoln decided that McClellan needed to focus on the Army of the Potomac, so on March 8th, he issued General War Order No. 2, which divided the Army into four corps under commanders who were not in McClellan's camp, and then on March 12, in General War Order No. 3, Lincoln removed McClellan from the position of General-in-Chief, having all military commanders henceforth report directly to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. This further strained the relationship between McClellan and the President.

Battle of Hampton Roads: March 8-9

Merrimac and Cumberland
On March 8, the Confederate ironclad, C.S.S. Virginia (formerly the U.S.S. Merrimack, which had been captured by the confederates and fitted with iron plates) steamed into Hampton Roads to attack the ships of the Union blockade. Protected by its iron armor, and with its battering ram and cannon, the Virginia managed to destroy two Union ships, the Congress and Cumberland, and run three others aground.

Monitor and Merrimac
The next day, when the Virginia headed out to finish its work, she found that she was facing the U.S.S. Monitor, a Union ironclad which had been built to answer the threat posed by the Virginia and which had just arrived at Hampton Roads. For four hours the two ships fought a fierce battle, but neither's ordnance could penetrate the other's iron protection. In the confusion, and after an exhausting and violent battle lasting hours, the ships disengaged, each believing it had won the day. The battle was essentially a draw, though as the Union was able to maintain its blockade, they had the better claim to "victory." The biggest result, however, was that this battle signaled a fundamental change in naval warfare, with each navy henceforth putting its resources into armored ships.

Capture of New Madrid: March 14th

New Madrid
The Confederate posts at New Madrid and Island 10, located on a double switch-back just a bit upstream from the town, were the main impediments to Union control of the Mississippi River south of the Ohio. In early March, General John Pope marched his troops south, taking New Madrid on March 14, as well as Point Pleasant, a Confederate position eleven miles downstream. Meanwhile, Commodore Andrew Foote, less aggressively inclined than Pope, had sailed his fleet of ironclads and mortar rafts to a position three miles upstream of Island 10, from whence he commenced bombarding the enemy.

Battle of New Bern: March 14

Battle of New Bern
After capturing Roanoke Island and securing the northern end of Pamlico Sound, Ambrose Burnside turned his attention to the Confederate position at New Bern, at the southern end of the sound. General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch commanded the fortifications there, but his troops were few and poorly trained and armed. Burnside's men were able to break through the center of the Confederate line, thus able to attack the wings from their side as well as front. This led to a rout of the Southerners and New Bern remained in Federal hands for the rest of the war.

Battle of Kernstown: March 23

General Stonewall Jackson was ordered to conduct 'diversionary" operations in the Shenandoah Valley in order to keep Union forces from leaving the area to support McClellan's peninsular campaign. Thus Jackson began what became a very successful Shenandoah Valley Campaign by attacking General James Shield at the Battle of Kernstown. He had been misinformed of the strength of the Union forces and he was forced to retreat. This was Jackson's only military defeat in the war, but it did cause the Union to halt their withdrawal of troops to the east, the main aim of the action.

Battle of Glorieta Pass: March 26-28

After the Battle of Valverde, Sibley--low on rations and transportation--decided to abandon his attempt to capture Fort Craig, and instead continue on to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. From there, he decided to move on to take the main Union supply base at Fort Union, passing over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains by way of the Glorieta Pass.

Selby sent a detachment under Charles L. Pyron and William Read Scurry to take control of the pass. They camped at the western end in Apache Canyon, with pickets set near the summit of the pass. Meanwhile, U.S. and Colorado troops, under Col. John P. Slough and Major John M. Chivington, advanced to the eastern end of the pass. On March 26th, the two forces skirmished and then returned to their respective camps, where they stayed the following day as reinforcements arrived.

On March 28, both armies moved in to the pass, the Confederates throwing almost their entire force at the Union, leaving but a small contingent behind to guard their supply train. They were making progress against the Union forces when they heard the awful news that their opponents had not committed all of their force to the pass, but had sent a detachment of 400 Colorado volunteers, under Chivington and led by a local Native American guide, to swing around to the south and attach the Confederate supplies at their rear. Chivington was able to burn the Confederate supply wagons, spike their cannon, and kill or drive off all their horses and mules.

With a long supply line behind them, which was threatened by Fort Craig and it still potent garrison, Sibley had no choice but to retreat from Glorieta Pass back to Santa Fe, and then even further, abandoning New Mexico/Arizona altogether. Glorieta Pass was a major turning point in the Civil War in the west, giving the Union control of the region for the rest of the war.

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