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

[ Peninsular Campaign | Battle of Plum Run Bend | Shenandoah Campaign | Peninsular Campaign continued | Military Declarations | Evacuation of Corinth | Battle of Fair Oaks ]


The conflict in Virginia heated up considerably, both to the east and west of Richmond. Stonewall Jackson began his brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, while McDowell's army slowly worked its way up the Virginia Peninsula towards Richmond. A pair of declarations by Union generals were something of a political fiasco, but Halleck took the important railroad junction of Corinth, Mississippi.

Peninsular Campaign

Battle of Williamsburg
After a month-long siege, General Joseph Johnston decided to abandon his line at Yorktown and pull back his troops in order to be able to better defend the Confederate capital of Richmond. In order to protect his retreat, he placed troops, under General James Longstreet, at Fort Magruder, which straddled the road north out of Yorktown, near the town of Williamsburg. On May 5th, General "Fighting Joe" Hooker's advance division came upon the Confederate force at Magruder and the first pitched battle of the Peninsular Campaign took place, called the Battle of Williamsburg or the Battle of Fort Magruder. The battle was inconclusive, for Hooker's attack was repulsed and Johnston's forces were able to continue their withdrawal.

When McClellan realized Johnston's forces were retreating, he sent troops under General William B. Franklin north by ship up the York River, hoping to cut off the Confederates from the rear. Delays led to this maneuver being ineffective, with the only result being a skirmish between Franklin's troops and those of General John Bell Hood on May 7th near Eltham's Landing across from West Point on the York. This battle is called variously the Battle of Eltham's Landing, Battle of West Point or Battle of Barhamsville.

Meanwhile, on the James River the Confederates realized that the ironclad CSS Virginia could not navigate in the shallow waters of the upper James, so when they retreated they had to scuttle her to prevent her capture. This meant that the James River was now open to the Union navy, which sent five warships, including the ironclads Monitor and Galena, upstream towards Richmond.

Battle of Fort Darling
Seven miles below Richmond, on Drewry's Bluff above the James, was Fort Darling, the only Confederate position left defending the city along that river. The Confederates further strengthened the position by placing numerous submerged obstacles below the bluff. On May 15th, as the Union flotilla approached the fort, it came under heavy bombardment while the height of Drewry's Bluff prevented the Union from effectively returning the fire. After three hours of abuse, the federal ships retreated. This Battle of Fort Darling, also known as the Battle of Drewry's Bluff or Drewry's Fort, stopped the Union designs on Richmond along the James.

Battle of Plum Run Bend: May 10

Way to the west on the Mississippi River, Commodore Foote's next goal, after the capture of Island No. 10, was to take the Confederate's Fort Pillow. He sailed down river where he positioned a mortar ship at Plum Run Bend, a bit upstream, to begin the bombardment of the fort. Foote, however, was handicapped because General Pope and most of his troops had been pulled away by Halleck. Soon his ill health forced Foote to retire; he was dead within about a year.

With the mortar barge at Plum Run Bend protected by only one ironclad ship, the Cincinnati, the Confederates saw a change to revenge the loss of Island 10, so they sent eight gun boats north from Fort Pillow to attack, in what is called the Battle of Plum Run Bend. The union flotilla reacted, but not before the Cincinnati was sunk, as was one of the rescue party's ships, the ironclad Mount City. The Confederate fleet then managed to retreat safely back to Fort Pillow, having dealt the Union a setback, albeit one that was temporary.

Shenandoah Campaign

The Battle of McDowell, also known as the Battle of Sitlington's Hill, fought on May 8th, was the first in a series of successful actions for Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson moved his forces to attack Generals Robert H. Milroy and Robert C. Schenck in their position at McDowell, Virginia. The fighting on May 8th was inconclusive, with the Confederates sustaining considerably more casualties than the Union, but Schenck and Milroy felt compelled to retreat the next day, northwards towards Franklin, thus handing Jackson a victory.

Later in the month, the Union army in the valley, under General Nathaniel P. Banks, was concentrated in the vicinity of Strasburg, with a forward detachment at Front Royal to the east. On May 23rd, Jackson attacked and defeated this small force in the Battle of Front Royal also called the Battle of Guard Hill or the Battle of Cedarville. In contrast to the Battle of McDowell, the Union casualties were considerably greater than those of the Confederates, including almost 700 men captured.

This victory placed Jackson in a position where he could move directly on Winchester, Virginia, in the rear of Bank's army. This sent Bank scurrying in retreat up the valley the next day. Harassed by Confederate cavalry and artillery, Banks's army lost so many men, wagons and stores that the Southerners came to call him "Commissary Banks." Banks arrived in Winchester on May 29th, with the Confederate army right behind, Jackson allowing his men only a few hours of sleep.

Battle of Winchester
On May 25th, Jackson launched his attack in the Battle of Winchester. In hard fighting, Jackson's strategically planned attack forced Banks to withdraw from Winchester, across the Potomac into Maryland. This was another battle with lopsided casualties, with over 2,000 for the Union and only 400 for the Confederates. This was a major victory for Jackson, both preventing the Union from approaching Richmond from the north-west and forcing the federals to pull troops to defend the perceived threat to Washington, thus weakening McClellan's peninsular campaign.

Peninsular Campaign continued

Towards the end of May, General Johnston had fallen back to a strong defensive position around Richmond, his line running east from Fort Darling on Drewry's Bluff, then along the Chickahominy River to the east and north of the city. McClellan expected reinforcements to be marching south from Fredericksburg, and he saw that as an opportunity to threaten the Confederate left flank. Thus he sent General Fitz John Porter north to take up a flanking position and to neutralize a Confederate force around Hanover Court House, under Colonel Lawrence O'Bryan.

On May 27th, Porter and O'Bryan met in the Battle of Hanover Court House, also known as the Battle of Slash Church or the Battle of Peake's Station. The battle was poorly managed on both sides, but the out-manned Confederates were forced to withdraw and McClellan secured his right flank. However, Jackson's victory at Winchester just a couple days before resulted in the troops supposedly on their way to join McClellan being kept to protect Washington, and the Union army now had a significant number of troops on the north of the Chickahominy River, a fact which would have a negative impact for McClellan just four days later.

Military Declarations

On May 9th, Maj. General David Hunter declared martial law in the Department of the South, which included South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and also declared slavery abolished there. Lincoln was concerned that this would not only solidify the secessionist feelings in the South, but also might incline the border states to secede, so ten days later he revoke this order.

Just six days later, General Benjamin Butler got into the act by making controversial Order No. 28. Butler was the commander of the Union forces in New Orleans, where the Union was deeply unpopular. The women, especially, were rude to occupiers, culminating in an chamber pot being dumped upon the head of Captain David Farragut. In response to this insult, Butler issued his order that any woman who insulted a Union soldier "shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation." This order in turn outraged not only the citizens of New Orleans, but those throughout the South and even in Britain, where Lord Palmerston condemned Butler's order as "infamous." As a result Butler became known throughout the South as the "Beast of New Orleans."

Evacuation of Corinth,

After the Battle of Shiloh, General Halleck reorganized his large army of over 100,000 men and very slowly advanced the short distance towards the important railroad junction of Corinth, Mississippi, which was held by the Confederates under General Beauregard. On May 25th, Halleck arrived outside the city, which he put under seige. Beauregard was heavily outnumbered and his men were suffering from disease, so he decided to evacuate, which he did on the evening of May 29th.

Beauregard used a number of clever ruses to safely withdraw all his troops from the besieged city. Some of his men were given three days' rations and ordered to prepare for an attack; when, as expected, some of these deserted to the Union, this misinformation was passed on to Halleck. Also, when a train arrived in Corinth, to help remove his troops, Beauregard had the soldiers cheer loudly, impressing the Union forces with the belief that the Confederates were receiving reinforcements. Beauregard also had "Quaker Guns" mounted along the earthworks and camp fires were kept burning, while buglers and drummers played loudly. Thus it was that when Union patrols entered Corinth on the morning of May 30th, they were completely surprised to find the city deserted by the entire Confederate army.

Battle of Fair Oaks: May 31-June 1

The Battle of Fair Oaks, also known as the Battle of Seven Pines was fought from May 31st to June 1st. General Joseph E. Johnston's forces protecting Richmond were already outnumbered by McClellan's troops straddling the two sides of the swollen Chickahominy, but Johnston knew that if McDowell moved south from Fredericksburg his position would be untenable. Thus he decided to attack McClellan's left wing while it was somewhat isolated from the right. He launched the attack on May 31st.

The battle was a sorry spectacle of mistakes and confusion on both sides, with no decisive conclusion. The Confederates gained many supplies, but had over 6,000 casualties compared to just over 5,000 for the Union. The biggest loss for the Southerners was the wounding of Johnston. To replace Johnston, Jefferson Davis appointed Robert E. Lee as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

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