Union inmates begin arriving at deadly Andersonville prison


Year
1864
Month Day
February 27

On this day in 1864, the first Union inmates begin arriving at Andersonville prison, which was still under construction in southern Georgia. Andersonville became synonymous with death as nearly a quarter of its inmates died in captivity. Henry Wirz, who ran Andersonville, was executed after the war for the brutality and mistreatment committed under his command.

The prison, officially called Camp Sumter, became necessary after the prisoner exchange system between North and South collapsed in 1863 over disagreements about the handling of black soldiers. The stockade at Andersonville was hastily constructed using slave labor, and was located in the Georgia woods near a railroad but safely away from the front lines. Enclosing 16 acres of land, the prison was supposed to include wooden barracks but the inflated price of lumber delayed construction, and the Yankee soldiers imprisoned there lived under open skies, protected only by makeshift shanties called “shebangs,” constructed from scraps of wood and blankets. A stream initially provided fresh water, but within a few months human waste had contaminated the creek.

Andersonville was built to hold 10,000 men, but within six months more than three times that number were incarcerated there. The creek banks eroded to create a swamp, which occupied a significant portion of the compound. Rations were inadequate, and at times half of the population was reported ill. Some guards brutalized the inmates and there was violence between factions of prisoners.

Andersonville was the worst among many terrible Civil War prisons, both Union and Confederate. Wirz paid the price for the inhumanity of Andersonville; he was executed in the aftermath of the Civil War.

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Legal Tender Act passed to help finance the Civil War


Year
1862
Month Day
February 25

On February 25, 1862, the U.S. Congress passes the Legal Tender Act, authorizing the use of paper notes to pay the government’s bills. This ended the long-standing policy of using only gold or silver in transactions, and it allowed the government to finance the enormously costly Civil War long after its gold and silver reserves were depleted.

Soon after the war began, the federal government began to run low on specie. Several proposals involving the use of bonds were suggested. Finally, Congress began printing money, which the Confederate government had been doing since the beginning of the war. The Legal Tender Act allowed the government to print $150 million in paper money that was not backed by a similar amount of gold and silver. Many bankers and financial experts predicted doom for the economy, as they believed there would be little confidence in the scheme. There were also misgivings in Congress, as many legislators worried about a complete collapse of the nation’s financial infrastructure.

The paper notes, called greenbacks, worked much better than expected. The government was able to pay its bills and, by increasing the money in circulation, the wheels of Northern commerce were greased. The greenbacks were legal tender, which meant that creditors had to accept them at face value. In 1862, Congress also passed an income tax and steep excise taxes, both of which cooled the inflationary pressures created by the greenbacks.

Another legal tender act passed in 1863, and by war’s end nearly a half-billion dollars in greenbacks had been issued. The Legal Tender Act laid the foundation for the creation of a permanent currency in the decades after the Civil War.

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Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern), Arkansas


Year
1862
Month Day
March 07

On March 7, 1862, Union forces under General Samuel Curtis clash with the army of General Earl Van Dorn at the Battle of Pea Ridge (also called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern),in northwest Arkansas. The following day, the battle ended in defeat for the Confederates.

Pea Ridge was part of a larger campaign for control of Missouri. Seven months earlier, the Confederates defeated a Union force at Wilson’s Creek, some 70 miles northeast of Pea Ridge. General Henry Halleck, the Federal commander in Missouri, now organized an expedition to drive the Confederates from southwestern Missouri. In February 1862, Yankee General Samuel Curtis led the 12,000-man army toward Springfield, Missouri. Confederate General Sterling Price retreated from the city with 8,000 troops in the face of the Union advance. Price withdrew into Arkansas, and Curtis followed him.

Price hooked up with another Rebel force led by General Ben McCulloch, and their combined army was placed under the leadership of General Earl Van Dorn, recently appointed commander of Confederates forces in the trans-Mississippi area. Van Dorn joined Price and McCulloch on March 2, 1862, and ordered an advance on Curtis’ army. Curtis received word of the approaching Confederates and concentrated his force around Elkhorn Tavern. Van Dorn sent part of his army on a march around the Yankees. On March 7, McCulloch slammed into the rear of the Union force, but Curtis anticipated the move and turned his men towards the attack. McCulloch was killed during the battle, and the Confederate attack withered. Meanwhile, the other part of Van Dorn’s army attacked the front of Curtis’ command. Through bitter fighting the Union troops held their ground.

Curtis, suspecting that the Confederates were low on ammunition, attacked the divided Rebel army the following morning. Van Dorn realized he was in danger and ordered a retreat, ending the battle. The Yankees suffered some 1,380 men killed, wounded, or captured out of 10,000 engaged; the Confederates suffered a loss of about 2,000 out of 14,000 engaged. The Union won a decisive victory that also helped them clear the upper Mississippi Valley region on the way to securing control of the Mississippi River by mid-1863.

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States meet to form Confederacy


Year
1861
Month Day
February 04

In Montgomery, Alabama, delegates from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana convene to establish the Confederate States of America.

As early as 1858, the ongoing conflict between the North and the South over the issue of slavery led Southern leadership to discuss a unified separation from the United States. By 1860, the majority of the slave states were publicly threatening secession if the Republicans, the anti-slavery party, won the presidency. Following Republican Abraham Lincoln’s victory over the divided Democratic Party in November 1860, South Carolina immediately initiated secession proceedings. On December 20, its legislature passed the “Ordinance of Secession,” which declared that “the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved.” After the declaration, South Carolina set about seizing forts, arsenals, and other strategic locations within the state. Within six weeks, five more Southern states had followed South Carolina’s lead.

In February 1861, representatives from the six seceded states met in Montgomery, Alabama, to formally establish a unified government, which they named the Confederate States of America. On February 9, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was elected the Confederacy’s first president.

By the time Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, Texas had joined the Confederacy, and federal troops held only Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Fort Pickens off the Florida coast, and a handful of minor outposts in the South. On April 12, 1861, the American Civil War began when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay. Within two months, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee had all joined the embattled Confederacy.

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Congress passes Civil War conscription act


Year
1863
Month Day
March 03

During the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passes a conscription act that produces the first wartime draft of U.S. citizens in American history. The act called for registration of all males between the ages of 20 and 45, including aliens with the intention of becoming citizens, by April 1. Exemptions from the draft could be bought for $300 or by finding a substitute draftee. This clause led to bloody draft riots in New York City, where protesters were outraged that exemptions were effectively granted only to the wealthiest U.S. citizens.

Although the Civil War saw the first compulsory conscription of U.S. citizens for wartime service, a 1792 act by Congress required that all able-bodied male citizens purchase a gun and join their local state militia. There was no penalty for noncompliance with this act. Congress also passed a conscription act during the War of 1812, but the war ended before it was enacted. During the Civil War, the government of the Confederate States of America also enacted a compulsory military draft. The U.S. enacted a military draft again during World War I, in 1940 to make the U.S. ready for its involvement in World War II, and during the Korean War. The last U.S. military draft occurred during the Vietnam War.

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Confederate states adopt new constitution


Year
1861
Month Day
March 11

In Montgomery, Alabama, delegates from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas adopt the Permanent Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

The constitution resembled the Constitution of the United States, even repeating much of its language, but was actually more comparable to the Articles of Confederation–the initial post-Revolutionary War U.S. constitution–in its delegation of extensive powers to the states. The constitution also contained substantial differences from the U.S. Constitution in its protection of slavery, which was “recognized and protected” in slave states and territories. However, in congruence with U.S. policy since the beginning of the 19th century, the foreign slave trade was prohibited. The constitution provided for six-year terms for the president and vice president, and the president was ineligible for successive terms. Although a presidential item veto was granted, the power of the central Confederate government was sharply limited by its dependence on state consent for the use of any funds and resources.

Although Britain and France both briefly considered entering the Civil War on the side of the South, the Confederate States of America, which survived until April 1865, never won foreign recognition as an independent government.

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Union General Ulysses S. Grant expels Jews from his military district


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Year
1862
Month Day
December 17

On December 17, 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant lashes out at at Jewish cotton speculators, who he believed were the driving force behind the black market for cotton, and issues an order expelling all Jewish people from his military district, which encompassed parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky.

At the time, Grant was trying to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. Grant’s army now effectively controlled much territory in western Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and parts of Kentucky and Arkansas. Grant had to deal with numerous speculators who followed his army in search of cotton. Cotton supplies were very short in the North, and these speculators could buy bales in the captured territories and sell it quickly for a good profit. In December 1862, Grant’s father came to visit him along with friends from Ohio. Grant soon realized that the friends, who were Jewish, were speculators hoping to gain access to captured cotton. Grant was furious and fired off his notorious Order No. 11: “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from receipt of this order.”

The fallout from his action was swift. Among 30 Jewish families expelled from Paducah, Kentucky, was Cesar Kaskel, who rallied support in Congress against the order. Shortly after the uproar, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Grant to rescind the order. Grant later admitted to his wife that the criticism of his hasty action was well deserved. As Julia Grant put it, the general had “no right to make an order against any special sect.”

READ MORE: Ulysses Grant’s Civil-War Expulsion of the South’s Jews

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Union general George Custer marries


Year
1864
Month Day
February 09

Union General George Armstrong Custer marries Elizabeth Bacon in Monroe, Michigan, while the young cavalry officer is on leave. “Libbie,” as she was known to her family, was a tireless defender of her husband’s reputation after his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana in 1876, and her work helped establish him as an American hero.

The two met in November 1862 at a party in Monroe, and courted while Custer was on winter furlough. After he retuned to service in 1863, Custer became, at 23 years old, the youngest general in the Union Army. George and Libbie continued their correspondence, and when he returned to Monroe that winter, their relationship intensified.Custer recognized that Libbie’s good judgment balanced his brash and impulsive behavior. They were engaged by Christmas.

The bride wore a white satin dress for the wedding, which was held in Monroe’s First Presbyterian Church. The couple honeymooned in New York, where they visited the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Custer’s alma mater. After spending time in New York City, they settled in Washington, D.C.,and soon became darlings of the social scene. While her husband was in the field, Libbie worked to advance his career by hobnobbing with prominent Republican politicians. Her influence with some members of Congress was helpful, and possible crucial, for Custer’s promotion to major general on April 15, 1865.

After the Civil War, Custer became a lieutenant colonel in the downsized postwar frontier army. On June 25, 1876, he and the 210 men under his command were wiped out by Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Libbie spent the remainder of her life building Custer’s reputation and defending his actions during his final battle. The enduring legend of George Custer was due in large part to the tireless efforts of his widow.

READ MORE: What Really Happened at the Battle of the Little Bighorn?

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Battle of Valverde


Year
1862
Month Day
February 21

On February 21, 1862, at the Battle of Valverde, Confederate troops under General Henry Hopkins Sibley attack Union troops commanded by Colonel Edward R. S. Canby near Fort Craig in New Mexico Territory. The first major engagement of the Civil War in the far West, the battle produced heavy casualties but no decisive result.

This action was part of the broader movement by the Confederates to capture New Mexico and other parts of the West, and thereby secure territory that the Rebels thought was rightfully theirs but had been denied them by political compromises made before the Civil War. Furthermore, the cash-strapped Confederacy could use Western mines to fill its treasury. From San Antonio, the Rebels moved into southern New Mexico (which included Arizona) and captured the towns of Mesilla and Tucson. Sibley, with 3,000 troops, now moved north against the Federal stronghold at Fort Craig on the Rio Grande.

At Fort Craig, Canby was determined to make the Confederates lay siege to the post. The Rebels, Canby reasoned, could not wait long before running low on supplies.He knew that Sibley did not possess sufficiently heavy artillery to attack the fort. When Sibley arrived near Fort Craig on February 15, he ordered his men to swing east of the fort, cross the Rio Grande, and capture the Valverde fords of the Rio Grande. He hoped to cut off Canby’s communication and force the Yankees out into the open.

At the fords, five miles north of Fort Craig, a Union detachment attacked part of the Confederate force. They pinned the Texans in a ravine and were on the verge of routing the Rebels when more of Sibley’s men arrived and turned the tide. Sibley’s second in command, Colonel Tom Green, filling in for an ill Sibley, made a bold counterattack against the Union left flank. The Yankees fell back in retreat, and headed back to Fort Craig.

The Union suffered 68 killed, 160 wounded and 35 missing out of 3,100 engaged. The Confederates suffered 31 killed, 154 wounded and 1 missing out of 2,600 troops. It was a bloody but indecisive battle. Sibley’s men continued up the Rio Grande. Within a few weeks, they captured Albuquerque and Santa Fe before they were stopped at the Battle of Glorieta Pass on March 28.

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Battle of Shiloh concludes

Year
1862
Month Day
April 07

Two days of heavy fighting conclude near Pittsburgh Landing in western Tennessee. The Battle of Shiloh became a Union victory after the Confederate attack stalled on April 6, and fresh Yankee troops drove the Confederates from the field on April 7.

Shiloh began when Union General Ulysses S. Grant brought his army down the Tennessee River to Pittsburgh Landing in an effort to move on Corinth, Mississippi, 20 miles to the southwest. Union occupation of Corinth, a major rail center, would allow the Yankees to control nearly all of western Tennessee. At Corinth, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston did not wait for Grant to attack. He moved his army toward Grant, striking on the morning of April 6. Throughout the day, the Confederates drove the Yankees back but could not break the Union lines before darkness halted the advance. Johnston was killed during the first day, so General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command of the Confederate force.

Now, Grant was joined by the vanguard of Buell’s army. With an advantage in terms of troop numbers, Grant counterattacked on April 7. The tired Confederates slowly retreated, but they inflicted heavy casualties on the Yankees. By nightfall, the Union had driven the Confederates back to Shiloh Church, recapturing grisly reminders of the previous days’ battle such as the Hornets’ Nest, the Peach Orchard, and Bloody Pond. The Confederates finally limped back to Corinth, thus giving a major victory to Grant.

The cost of the victory was high. Grant’s and Buell’s forces totaled about 62,000, of which 1,754 were killed, 8,408 were wounded, and 2,885 were captured or missing for a total of 13,047 casualties. Of 45,000 Confederates engaged, 1,723 were killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing for a total of 10,694 casualties. The 23,741 casualties were five times the number at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, and they were more than all of the war’s major battles (Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, Fort Donelson and Pea Ridge) to that date combined. It was a sobering reminder to all in the Union and the Confederacy that the war would be long and costly.

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