This Week in the Civil War
Posted at: 03/01/2013 9:08 AM
By The Associated Press
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 3: Lincoln signs Enrollment Act to draft new troops.
When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, many on both sides of the conflict had expected it to be a short-lived war. But nearly two years later, after several big battles and horrific numbers of casualties, President Abraham Lincoln was compelled to sign the first Enrollment Act _ instituting the first wartime draft in American history on March 3, 1863. The move 150 years ago during the Civil War was a controversial step. But the conflict was dragging on far longer than any had expected and the Union wasn’t raising enough troops for combat by other means. Thus, Lincoln needed more manpower for the fight, much as the Confederacy did in resorting to a draft months earlier. The act required enrollment of every male citizen ages 20-45, with certain exemptions, and male immigrants of that age who had signed intent of becoming U.S. citizens. Nonetheless, exemptions from the draft could be bought for $300 each draft period, or by finding a substitute draftee. Those exemptions would lead to violent riots for days in July 1863 in New York City, when the first inductees were called. Fueling the draft riots was widespread outrage that such exemptions could only be afforded by the wealthy, making the conflict a "poor man’s fight." Months later, the $300 "commutation fee" would be repealed by Congress. The Associated Press reports more fighting, near Franklin, Tenn., as 2,000 rebels are repelled by Union forces and compelled to retreat.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 10: Sinking of USS Mississippi.
This week 150 years ago in the Civil War, the Union lost the USS Mississippi when the warship ran aground on the Mississippi River. Built in 1839, the side-wheel steamer had taken part in expeditions during the war against Mexico and also in the Mediterranean and Pacific waters before the Civil War. The ship had been part of a Union squadron led by the famed future admiral, David Farragut, who captured New Orleans in 1862. However, the Mississippi remained most of its time at New Orleans after the conquest because it was designed as deep draft ocean-going vessel. On March 14, 1863, the ship ran aground attempting to pass Confederate batteries near Fort Hudson as part of a battle group seeking to run upriver on the key inland waterway. Feverish attempts were made under enemy fire to free the Mississippi, but the efforts proved fruitless and Union officers had to blow up the ship. Set ablaze, the ship drifted downriver before its magazine loaded with gunpowder exploded and it sank. In a March 19, 1863, dispatch about the sinking, The Richmond Whig newspaper reported the Mississippi had been burned and Farragut’s attack fleet driven back. It said Confederate forces opened fire when the Mississippi and other vessels tried to pass Southern batteries at night and only one or two ships could get beyond that gauntlet. "The firing was terrific. One gunboat passed in a damaged condition and the U.S. sloop-of-war Mississippi was burnt to the water’s edge in front of one of our batteries." Added The Richmond Whig: "Our victory was complete. No casualties on our part."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 17: Fighting in Virginia as winter nears end.
Save for the Union’s aborted "Mud March," the winter of 1863 saw Confederate and federal forces idle in their camps until roads became passable and the frigid weather abated. But fighting at the battle of Kelly’s Ford in Virginia broke out on March 17, 1863, ending the monotony of winter camp for the two sides. For the first time, Union forces were able to mass a formidable cavalry force for an attack. All told, some 2,100 troopers in the Union cavalry division moved on Confederate positions, aiming to do battle near Culpeper, not far from the ford. But when Confederates detected Union movements, fighting erupted instead near the ford where the Southerners had taken up positions behind felled trees and other obstacles. The bitter combat raged until Confederate cavalry troops successfully counterattacked, prompting Union forces to withdraw by mid-afternoon of that March 17th. The outcome appeared inconclusive. Nonetheless, the Union’s cavalry _ which had only recently been united from far-flung units by the U.S. War Department _ proved itself to be a formidable fighting force that would be used to greater effect later in the war, including an appearance at the Battle of Gettysburg.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 24: West Virginia residents urge statehood.
What is present-day West Virginia broke away from secession-minded Virginia early in the Civil War, only to enter the Union in June 1863. That movement toward statehood was well in motion 150 years ago this week during the conflict. The mountainous area had already begun drumming up Union supporters even before a Richmond Convention voted for Virginia to secede from the Union in 1861. Soon a move was afoot to form a new pro-Union government for the region, which found itself largely under Union control early in the conflict. President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law in December 1862 approving the creation of West Virginia as a pro-Union state. The issue of statehood then went to a vote of West Virginia residents on March 26, 1863, and a majority approved of the statehood bill, including its amendments. Ultimately the state would be officially created as of June 20, 1863. Though West Virginia obtained statehood in the Union during the Civil War, animosities between pro-Confederate and pro-Union sides rankled for years in that region as families sent troops to both sides of the conflict to fight.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)