Following the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, there had been few full-scale battles during the first year of the Civil War. When there wasn’t fighting on the battlefield, there was plenty of political intrigue on the state, national and international level. With the second year of the war beginning, leaders from north and south recalled past trials and wondered what lay in store for 1862.
Even before the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, the hallowed halls of the U. S. Congress began to resemble a battleground. In January 1861, the newly opened Senate chamber served as the stage for the nation’s budding tragedy. On Jan. 21, 1861, Senator Jefferson Davis gave a farewell speech as Mississippi and other states seceded from the Union in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president.
In his speech, Davis apologized for any pain generated on his part during heated discussions in the Congress. He also implored his colleagues to allow the South to leave and live in peace. Davis warned that a failure to do so would “bring disaster on every portion of the country.” After speaking, Davis led his southern colleagues out of the Senate chambers.
For southerners, the election of Lincoln threatened the institution of slavery and any hope for further compromise regarding slavery and the country’s ability to remain one union. With the line drawn, southern states left the union, choosing to form another nation. Davis, who had returned to Mississippi, was later chosen president of the new confederacy of states.
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Southern states attempted to seize Federal property such as arsenals and forts along the coastline. While this was done peacefully at most places, passions fueled the secession fire as Confederates fired on Fort Sumter at Charleston, S. C. in April 1861.
After Fort Sumter, Virginia seceded and the Confederate capital was moved from Montgomery, Ala., to Richmond, Va. Meanwhile, Colonel Robert E. Lee resigned from the U. S. Army after turning down an offer to command all Union forces.
A simmering hatred and distrust filled the hearts of north and south as former countrymen performed violence against each other. In Baltimore, rioters threw bricks at Union soldiers marching through town, bringing about some of the first casualties of the war.
In Alexandria, Va., Elmer Ellsworth was killed after taking down a Confederate flag at Marshall House Inn. James M. Jackson, the owner of the inn, killed Ellsworth with a shotgun blast to his chest. Union soldiers then killed the inn keeper.
The battle of First Bull Run, fought on July 21, 1861, was the only full-scale battle of the year. Elected officials from Washington D. C., followed the Union army to Manassas, Va., thinking certain victory was at hand. Timely reinforcements and a determined stand by Brigadier General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson insured a Confederate victory instead.
There were other battles throughout the year at Big Bethel, Wilson’s Creek, Ball’s Bluff, Belmont, Dranesville and a few locations in present day West Virginia. Despite the losses suffered at these conflicts, no one was prepared for the carnage that occurred in the second year of the war.
By Dec. 26, 1861, the Lincoln administration was given a gift in not going to war with Great Britain. In order to keep it to just one war at a time, Lincoln had to apologize for the U. S. Navy seizing two Confederate ambassadors from a British vessel in international waters. Lincoln also had to free the two seized ambassadors, John Slidell and James Mason, currently being held in captive in Boston Harbor.
In 1862, the New Year began with an artillery barrage from Union-held Fort Pickens against Confederates in Pensacola, Fla. Although small in scale, the action served notice that the coming year would be a violent one.
During 1862, two generals, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, would begin their rise to fame with victory after victory. Grant earned victory and a nickname at Fort Donelson. Grant later averted disaster at Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., in what was called the battle of Shiloh. The carnage at Shiloh forced both north and south to realize that the Civil War would be a long, bloody affair. For all the death and destruction at Shiloh, its numbers would pale in comparison to future battles in the coming months and years.
Lee assumed command in Virginia after General Joseph E. Johnston is wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines. Lee, who some soldiers called “Granny” due to his advanced years, built the Army of Northern Virginia into a stellar fighting force. Lee’s aggressive Confederates stopped a cautious Major General George B. McClellan, ending his Peninsula campaign. These same Confederates followed that success with resounding victories at Second Bull Run and Fredericksburg.
There would also be battles at Pea Ridge, Ark., Perryville, Ky., Corinth, Miss., as well as South Mountain and Sharpsburg, Md. The battle of Antietam would cause unspeakable death and destruction. This battle between Lee and McClellan still stands as the bloodiest single day of fighting in U. S. history with 23,000 combined casualties.
By mid 1862, the first in a number of attempts to take Vicksburg ensued. By the end of the year, attempts to take the town failed at Holly Springs and Chickasaw Bayou. The town overlooking the Mississippi River became the Gibraltar of the South, withstanding numerous attempts to seize it.
Before the end of 1862, President Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation which only freed slaves in the Confederate states. Although the Proclamation failed to immediately free slaves in border states, it brought the Civil War to a higher moral ground, making it a fight to free an oppressed people.