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Burnside Replaces McClellan

On November 7, Federal Major General George B. McClellan received an order from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck: “By direction of the President, it is ordered that Major General McClellan be relieved from command of the Army of the Potomac; and that Major General (Ambrose) Burnside take the command of that Army.”

General George B. McClellan

After over a year of frustration, President Abraham Lincoln’s patience with McClellan finally ended. Lincoln had been pressured from all sides of the political spectrum to relieve McClellan because of his constant reluctance to attack the Confederates. Some accused McClellan of political duplicity because, as a Democrat, he regularly disagreed with Lincoln’s Republican policies and possibly tried to undermine him.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton took precautions to prevent McClellan from resisting the order by first informing Burnside of his promotion and then having both the messenger and Burnside deliver the order to McClellan. Burnside only accepted the command after being informed that if he refused, the promotion would go to Major General Joseph Hooker, whom Burnside strongly disliked.

McClellan had expected the news, and he agreed to help transition command to Burnside before returning home to New Jersey. Meanwhile, news of McClellan’s removal devastated the Army of the Potomac; “Little Mac” was as popular among his troops as he was unpopular among his superiors. McClellan held a highly emotional final review on November 10, where his farewell address brought many soldiers to tears.

The next day, McClellan boarded a train to leave the Army of the Potomac for the last time. From the platform of the rear car, he announced, “Stand by General Burnside as you have stood by me, and all will be well. Good-by lads.”

As McClellan’s replacement, Burnside had been successful in earlier independent campaigns on the North Carolina coast. However, he had been selected to command the Army of the Potomac largely because he had the fewest perceived liabilities or political aspirations. Most of McClellan’s other immediate subordinates were too reluctant to fight, too politically vocal, or too difficult to control.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee expressed disappointment that McClellan had been relieved because McClellan had been a predictable foe. Lee told Lieutenant General James Longstreet, “(McClellan and I) always understood each other so well. I fear they may continue to make these changes till they find someone whom I don’t understand.”


This Week in the Civil War: Nov 5-11, 1862

Wednesday, November 5. President Abraham Lincoln relieved General George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing him with General Ambrose Burnside. After several months of frustration, Lincoln had finally lost patience with McClellan’s lack of action, particularly McClellan’s failure to follow up his partial victory at Antietam and his slow advance against the Confederates in Virginia since then. Also dismissed was corps commander Fitz-John Porter, a pro-McClellan general who was charged with willful disobedience for actions in the Battle of Second Bull Run. Various skirmishes occurred in Missouri, Mississippi, and Virginia.

Thursday, November 6. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was reorganized, as James Longstreet and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were promoted from major general to lieutenant general and given command of the First and Second Corps respectively. Skirmishing occurred in western Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

Friday, November 7. In Virginia, General McClellan was informed that he had been relieved of duty. This ended one of the most controversial military careers of the war. His successor, Ambrose Burnside, had tried to turn down the promotion but accepted it when informed that command would go to Joseph Hooker, whom he detested. McClellan wrote, “Poor Burnside feels dreadfully, almost crazy–I am sorry for him.” Over War Department objections, President Lincoln placed the Mississippi River naval fleet under control of the Navy Department. General Braxton Bragg reorganized his Confederate army by placing one corps under Leonidas Polk and another under William Hardee. General William Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland began moving from Kentucky to Nashville. Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia.

Saturday, November 8. In Virginia, news spread throughout the Army of the Potomac about McClellan’s dismissal. Most soldiers were fiercely loyal to McClellan, so the news was met with sadness and outrage. In Tennessee, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal forces continued a reconnaissance from La Grange. General Nathaniel Banks replaced Benjamin Butler as commander of the Federal Department of the Gulf. Butler had placed New Orleans under dictatorial rule, sparking charges of cruelty and corruption. Banks was informed that “The President regards the opening of the Mississippi River as the first and most important of our military and naval operations.”

Sunday, November 9. In Virginia, General Burnside assumed command of the Army of the Potomac at Warrenton. Ulric Dahlgren’s Federal cavalry raided Fredericksburg, Virginia. Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

Monday, November 10. In Virginia, George McClellan delivered an emotional farewell address to the Army of the Potomac. Many soldiers wept at the departure of “Little Mac.” Skirmishing occurred in western Virginia and along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. President Lincoln requested the record on the 303 Indians condemned to death for leading the Sioux Indian uprising in August.

Tuesday, November 11. In North Carolina, Confederates demonstrated at New Berne. In Virginia, a skirmish occurred at Jefferson.

Primary source: The Civil War Day-by-Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc. 1971)


This Week in the Civil War: Oct 29-Nov 4, 1862

Wednesday, October 29.  Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, Texas, and Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln wrote to General George B. McClellan about the Army of the Potomac’s return to Virginia: “I am much pleased with the movement of the Army. When you get entirely across the (Potomac) river let me know. What do you know of the enemy?” Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote the Alabama governor about the difficulty in defending so many points at once: “Our only alternatives are to abandon important points or to use our limited resources as effectively as the circumstances will permit.”

U.S. General William S. Rosecrans

Thursday, October 30.  General William S. Rosecrans assumed command of the Federal Department of the Cumberland, replacing General Don Carlos Buell. Emperor Napoleon III of France proposed that Russia and Great Britain mediate between the U.S. and the Confederacy to end the war. Prominent Federal General Ormsby M. Mitchel died of yellow fever at Beaufort, South Carolina.

Friday, October 31.  Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and Federal forces began a two-day bombardment of Lavaca, Texas. Federal troops began concentrating at Grand Junction, Tennessee in preparation for General Ulysses S. Grant’s upcoming offensive against Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Saturday, November 1.  General Benjamin Butler, commanding Federal occupation forces in New Orleans, imposed stricter pass requirements and authorized the liberation of “slaves not known to be the slaves of loyal owners.” In North Carolina, a Federal expedition began from New Berne and featured several skirmishes.

Sunday, November 2.  Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, as General McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac began concentrating in the Blue Ridge. First Lady Mary Lincoln visited New York City.

Monday, November 3.  A Federal expedition began along the coasts of Georgia and eastern Florida. Among the Federals was one of the first black regiments, the First South Carolina Volunteers under Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, even though it would not be officially mustered into service until next year.

Tuesday, November 4.  In the midterm Federal elections, Democrats made substantial gains in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In New York, Democrat Horatio Seymour was elected governor. Democrats also won many seats in New Jersey, Illinois, and Wisconsin. These Democratic gains were largely attributed to war weariness and northern dissatisfaction with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamantion. Nevertheless, the Republicans retained their congressional majority with victories in New England, California, and Michigan. In Tennessee, Federal troops under General Ulysses S. Grant occupied La Grange and Grand Junction, which were important supply depots for his upcoming offensive against Vicksburg.

Primary source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)


This Week in the Civil War: Oct 22-28, 1862

Wednesday, October 22.  General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate forces continued withdrawing from Kentucky following the Battle of Perryville. Confederate cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler captured London, Kentucky. Various skirmishes occurred in Arkansas, Missouri, and the Indian Territory.

Thursday, October 23.  Bragg’s Confederates successfully returned to Tennessee; President Abraham Lincoln was angry with Federal General Don Carlos Buell for allowing Bragg to escape. President Jefferson Davis wrote about his concerns with pro-Union sentiment in eastern Tennessee. In Kentucky, Federals destroyed the Goose Creek Salt Works near Manchester.

Friday, October 24.  General Buell was replaced by General William S. Rosecrans, primarily due to Buell’s failure to prevent Bragg’s escape back to Tennessee. Rosecrans assumed Buell’s command as well as the new Department of the Cumberland following his recent successes at Iuka and Corinth in Mississippi. Various skirmishes occurred in Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Louisiana.

Saturday, October 25.  President Lincoln wired General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan’s forces had been mostly inactive since driving General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates out of Maryland. An angry Lincoln wrote, “I have just read your despatch about sore tongued and fatiegued (sic) horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?” McClellan responded that his cavalry was conducting several reconnaissances and raids. General Ulysses S. Grant assumed command of the Thirteenth Army Corps and the Department of the Tennessee.

Sunday, October 26.  Over a month after Antietam, George McClellan’s Federals began crossing the Potomac River into Virginia to pursue Robert E. Lee. President Lincoln wrote to McClellan that he “rejoiced” over the crossing. Braxton Bragg’s Confederates completed their return to Tennessee, reaching Knoxville and Chattanooga. General Samuel Heintzelman replaced Nathaniel Banks as the commander of Federal defenses around Washington. In Texas, Federal gunboats captured Indianola.

Monday, October 27.  The Federal blockade along the southern coast continued strengthening as two Confederate commerce raiders were captured.

Tuesday, October 28.  George McClellan’s Federals continued moving into Virginia, moving east of the Blue Ridge. Robert E. Lee’s Confederates began moving southward in the Shenandoah Valley to avoid being outflanked by McClellan. General John C. Breckinridge assumed command of the Confederate Army of Middle Tennessee.

Primary Source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)


A Soldier’s Letter: Samuel E. Nichols

Letter from Lieutenant Nichols (37th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry) in Maryland on October 17, 1862

Dear Brother Fayette,
Your letter sent with Phebe’s was welcome, very so. Write often. Do not limit the number of your letters to that of mine. I am forced to plead a lack of stationery, and, what is more serious, a goneness of money. So do not mind if I do not respond as frequently as you write, and urge upon the folks the necessity of keeping me posted in all matters about home. All the matters, those even of minor importance; for everything about home multiplies in interest and in the same ratio as the distance from home and the time since separation have increased.

I give you the idea generally here among the soldiers, namely: that the war is hardly begun yet; that our three years will not see the war closed; that it is a war of extermination. But I believe differently. I may be over sanguine. I know I have seen no fighting service, but I think that does not interfere with my judgment; in fact, I believe those who have engaged in these hard-fought battles are unfit to form a correct opinion as to the durability of this rebellion.

It is like this: two armies are about to engage of nearly equal numbers. One side is termed the “South,” the other the “North.” They engage in a terrible conflict. It is doubtful what the result will be. Perhaps the “South,” perhaps the “North,” will be victorious; at any rate, the party that is victorious is almost as badly off as (the party that is) whipped. These men who engage liken the whole contest to this one struggle. They forget that the whole South almost exhausts her resources in getting up this one army and expedition, which is crippled by the almost crippling of one of our armies, while the North has exposed to loss only one of her armies. If the North should checkmate in every battle and each side destroy the other, in that event we should conquer; but you cannot, I cannot, no one can compute at what cost we gain our victory.

Ask father if he would not like to have a darky to work for him when I come home. I presume I might bring one home. Some of them are keen. It is sport to have them round.

The cannonading of yesterday was one continual roar from break of day to sunset. The air was all of a tremble, although the firing was twenty miles distant. I tell you it was exciting, even at this distance, to me. “But what must it be to be there?” I know it is awful, but at the same time it is so exciting as to make men forget themselves in the all glorious struggle.

I wish the thing were through with. You might think I should prefer to see one fight before coming home, but I think I could forego that if the thing could stop here. I have spilled my ink. I’ll stop here. Write often. Be careful with your letters. Nothing like practice in these things.

Your affectionate Brother,
Saml. E. Nichols

Source: The Brothers’ War by Annette Tapert (New York: Vintage Books, 1988)


This Week in the Civil War: Oct 15-21, 1862

Wednesday, October 15.  Skirmishing occurred on various fronts. Admiral David Farragut reported that the Federals had secured Corpus Christi, Galveston, and Sabine City in Texas. North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance requested North Carolinians to provide blankets and clothing, for the Confederate Army.

Thursday, October 16.   Federal General George McClellan conducted two major reconnaissances from Maryland and northern Virginia. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was positioned in the northern Shenandoah Valley. General Ulysses S. Grant was given command of the new Federal Department of the Tennessee. The Federal militia draft began in Pennsylvania.

Friday, October 17.  In Pennsylvania, Luzerne County troops suppressed protests against the ineffective Federal militia draft. President Abraham Lincoln asked Attorney General Edward Bates to commission David Davis of Illinois as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

Saturday, October 18.  In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raiders defeated Federal cavalry near Lexington, captured the city’s garrison, then moved on to Versailles. Other skirmishing occurred on various fronts.

Sunday, October 19.  Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee began moving through Cumberland Gap during their withdrawal from Kentucky. Various other skirmishing occurred.

Monday, October 20.  President Lincoln ordered a fellow Illinois politician, General John McClernand, to organize and lead a force on an expedition to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Since Vicksburg was in the jurisdiction of Ulysses S. Grant’s new military department, this order conflicted with Grant’s command. Lincoln also issued a memorandum reporting that the Army of the Potomac contained 231,997 men, of which 144,662 were fit for duty.

Tuesday, October 21.  Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to General T.H. Holmes in Missouri and shared tentative plans for combining various Confederate forces to drive the Federals out of Arkansas and Tennessee, and reclaim Helena, Memphis, and Nashville. President Lincoln requested civil and military authorities in Tennessee to organize pro-Federal elections for local, state, and national officials.

Primary source:  The Civil War Day-by-Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)


Interview with American Civil War Today

I recently had the privilege to be interviewed by Charles Cummings at American Civil War Today. The interview is now available at Charles’s site, and you can listen by clicking here. The interview is also posted on YouTube here. Thanks to Charles for his time and consideration!


Speaking with the Sons of Confederate Veterans

On October 1, I had the privilege to speak to a group of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Waul’s Texas Legion, Camp 2103 in Katy, Texas. Below is a summary of what I discussed with them:

Most history books state that the war was fought because of slavery. But that’s not the real truth. The two main causes of the war were too many taxes and too much government. For anybody following current events, that should sound familiar!

Cause 1 – Too Many Taxes

Before the war, there was no federal income tax. Most federal revenue came from tariffs, which were taxes on goods imported from other countries.

When countries have to pay more to trade their goods, they usually raise their own prices to offset the costs. This made imports more expensive than goods made here in America. Since the southern economy was based on farming, the South relied a lot more on imports than the North. So southerners generally paid more for their goods than northerners.

Another way that countries offset high tariffs is to raise tariffs of their own, making it more expensive for Americans to export their goods. The South exported more goods than the North, which meant it was usually more expensive for southerners to do
international business than it was for northerners.

On top of this, northern business leaders lobbied the federal government for even higher tariffs because raising the cost of foreign goods protected cheaper American-made goods from competition. These were known as “protectionist” tariffs because they were taxes raised solely to protect American business, not to raise revenue.

So then along comes the Republican Party, which (not so coincidentally) was organized just a few years before the war. The Republicans made it plain and clear that they supported northern business interests, which couldn’t help but hurt southern interests.

Now back then there was lots of debate about whether protectionist tariffs were even constitutional. In fact, southerners were so strongly opposed to these types of taxes that when they formed the Confederacy, protectionist tariffs were outlawed under the
Confederate Constitution.

While the war was being fought, the Republicans took advantage of no southern opposition in Congress and sent tariffs through the roof. And they pretty much stayed that way until the Sixteenth Amendment came along in 1913 and started the progressive income tax we have today.

Incidentally, the progressive income tax was actually first introduced in the North during the Civil War. The high tariffs weren’t enough to cover the costs of the war, so the federal government created a bureaucracy to collect taxes on income, which was the
forerunner of the IRS. It went away after the war ended, but of course it came back in 1913 under the Sixteenth Amendment.

So starting with tariffs and continuing with income taxes, the floodgates were opened for the government to tax and spend just about as much as it pleased. And this was one of the main causes of the Civil War.

Cause 2 – Too Much Government

The founders knew that centralizing power in the federal government would threaten state sovereignty. The founders also knew that centralization just wasn’t practical in a country like ours. This is because one region will always get preferential treatment over the other regions, depending on who’s in power.

Before the Civil War, the differences between North and South were like night and day. When all the country’s power gets put into a central government, only one region’s interests can be served at a time. This naturally leads to one region exploiting the other for economic and political gain. It can also force one region to compromise its sovereignty at the hands of the other.

As stated before, the Republican Party served mostly northern business interests. So we know what region it favored. Republicans also wanted to centralize government by teaming up with preferred businesses. They did this by supporting what was called
“internal improvements” back then, or what we call pork-barrel spending today.
Republicans knew that a good way for government to grow was to use taxpayer
money to dole out pork.

Most of this went to the hottest new industry of the time, which was the railroad. Politicians talked up the railroads just like they talk up stuff like green energy and health care today. At the same time that the North was spending millions of tax dollars per day
fighting the war, it was also spending millions more on companies like the Union Pacific to build a transcontinental railroad, which was the biggest public works project of its time. The line got built, but not before unprecedented scandals took place and the project cost millions more than originally estimated.

Most southerners strongly opposed this type of government spending because they believed it would only increase lobbying, corruption, and abusing tax dollars. That’s why most types of pork barrel spending were prohibited in the Confederate Constitution. And ever since the war, government pork-barrel spending and corruption has gotten bigger
and bigger until it’s nearly bankrupting our country today. And all this started—at least on a major scale—during the Civil War.

Northern industry boomed in the decade before the war, and the northern population was skyrocketing because immigrants were coming to America to take on the new industrial jobs. The population growth meant that the North was getting more representation in Congress. And when the Republicans won control of Congress and the White House in 1860, southerners were about to be consistently outvoted in Washington for the first time. America was about to turn into what James Madison once feared would be the “tyranny of the majority,” under which minority interests would be
constantly ignored. To fix this, southerners played what they thought was their final trump card to stop big government taxing and spending—and that was

There was a time when most Americans took the Constitution literally, especially the Tenth Amendment, which says that all powers not granted to the federal government belong to the states and the people. Southerners not only took this literally, but they
invoked the Tenth Amendment as a check against a growing federal power. In fact, the South invoked not only the principles of the Constitution, but also the Declaration of Independence, which was essentially an announcement of secession from England.

So we all know how the war ended, but what have we seen since then? Well, to fight and win a war in which over 600,000 people were killed, the federal government had to balloon to a size never seen in this country before. The massive mobilization of troops and industry that was needed to win turned America into the centralized world power
that we are now.

When the war ended, the government did shrink quite a bit, but it never shrank back down to its pre-war size. And as time went on, it gradually got bigger and bigger with each Congress and each president, eventually becoming the giant that we have today.

What It Means Today

The greatest legacy of the war was the end of slavery and the movement toward equal rights for all Americans. But I also contend that another extremely important legacy was the removal of that check that states once had on federal power. Since the war, the
federal government hasn’t had to worry about states challenging its power or
nullifying laws or seceding from the Union. And it’s no surprise that government has grown ever since, after all, when federal politicians are allowed to go unchecked by the states, there’s no limit to the power they’ll grant themselves.

And that’s why I needed to write The Civil War Months. I wanted to provide a comprehensive account of the most important event in our history and explain the truth about why it happened, how it happened, and why it’s still so very important to understand if we are going to honestly handle the issues that we’re facing today.


This Week in the Civil War: Oct 8-14, 1862

Wednesday, October 8.  In Kentucky, the Battle of Perryville occurred as parts of General Don Carlos Buell’s Federals fought a portion of General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army. Buell was unaware that a battle was taking place until afternoon due to an atmospheric phenomenon that prevented him from hearing the fighting. Part of Bragg’s force was still in Frankfort. The Federals fought off hard Confederate attacks until Bragg withdrew to the southeast. This was the largest battle fought in Kentucky, and it stopped the Confederate invasion of the state, just as Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland had also been stopped.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart

Thursday, October 9.  General Jeb Stuart led Confederate cavalry in a reconnaissance and raid into Maryland en route to Pennsylvania. Federal cavalry unsuccessfully tried stopping this ride around General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. The Confederate Congress established military courts with defined powers.

Friday, October 10.  Braxton Bragg’s Confederates began their withdrawal from Kentucky. Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry crossed the Potomac River into Maryland on the reconnaissance and raid of the Federal Army of the Potomac. Stuart reached Chambersburg, Pennsylvania by evening. In the Dakota Territory, Dakota Sioux Indians battled miners on the upper Missouri River below Fort Berthold. In Indiana, home guards drove off a band of Confederate guerrillas at Hawesville. President Jefferson Davis asked Virginia to provide 4,500 slaves to complete fortifications around Richmond. Confederate General John B. Magruder was assigned to command the Department of Texas.

Saturday, October 11.  In Pennsylvania, Jeb Stuart’s Confederates drove residents and officials out of Chambersburg and cut telegraph wires, destroyed railroad depots and equipment, seized horses, and burned any supplies they could not take. Stuart then moved southeast toward Emmitsburg, Maryland. The Confederate commerce raider Alabama destroyed the grain ship Manchester. Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law adding more exemptions to the Confederate draft. The most controversial provision exempted an owner or overseer of over 20 slaves. Richmond newspapers began discussing a possible end of the war due to recent Confederate victories.

Sunday, October 12.  Jeb Stuart’s Confederates crossed the Potomac back to Virginia after skirmishing at the mouth of the Monocacy River. General Earl Van Dorn assumed command of all Confederate troops in Mississippi. President Abraham Lincoln asked General Don Carlos Buell for updates in Kentucky; Lincoln was concerned that Buell was not pursuing the withdrawing Confederates fast enough.

Monday, October 13.  The second session of the First Confederate Congress adjourned after approving a bill suspending habeas corpus (with some exceptions) until February 12, 1863. President Lincoln wrote a letter to George McClellan urging him to renew the offensive against Robert E. Lee in Virginia: “Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing?” Federal General Jacob D. Cox assumed command of the District of Western Virginia. In Kentucky, Braxton Bragg’s Confederates began moving through Cumberland Gap back to Tennessee.

Tuesday, October 14.  In elections for congressional seats in Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Democrats gained seats in every state except Iowa. Many cited the Lincoln administration’s war policies and the Emancipation Proclamation as reasons why voters turned against Lincoln’s Republicans. Confederate General John C. Pemberton assumed command of the Department of Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana.