150 Years Ago in the Civil War
As the Civil War entered its first summer, there were several minor actions and skirmishes as both sides ramped up their preparations for war.
On June 3rd, Union forces converged on the town of Philippi in western Virginia and launched a surprise attack from two directions against a smaller Confederate occupying force. The Confederates were quickly driven out of town. Casualties were light on both sides. Although the significance of this Union victory was blown out of proportion in the press, it was nonetheless a victory. It also gave a boost to the career of the commander of the Union’s Department of the Ohio, Major General George B. McClellan.
It was the Confederates’ turn for a small victory a week later when a larger Union force of about 2500 was defeated by a Confederate force about half that size at Big Bethel, Virginia. On June 17th, South Carolina troops attacked a train carrying part of the First Ohio Infantry near Vienna, Virginia. The South Carolinians had deployed two pieces of artillery, which they used effectively, and the surprised Ohioans took to the woods, losing eight men killed and four wounded.
There were small skirmishes in northern and western Virginia, and along the Potomac River in Maryland throughout the month. Confederate forces pulled out of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia on June 15th but they would return later in the war.
In Missouri, General Nathaniel Lyon and his U.S. troops occupied Jefferson City, Missouri on June 15th, driving pro Confederate Governor Claiborne Jackson and his government out of the state capitol. Jackson was attempting to raise a state militia to defend his government. He headed west to Boonville, where Lyon caught up with him on June 17th. Lyon defeated Claiborne’s forces after a brief engagement, and the governor again relocated, this time to southwest Missouri.
At sea, the U.S. Navy continued to tighten the blockade as best as it could with the limited number of ships available at that early stage of the war. One ship that made it out was the commerce raider CSS Sumter, under the command of Commander Raphael Semmes. Sumter left New Orleans on June 30th, and slipped past the blockade. Semmes would go on to have great success in capturing Union merchant ships, first with the Sumter and later with the CSS Alabama.
Throughout the month, more and more men on both sides completed their training and left home for the gathering armies. Through the first two and a half months of the war, engagements had been fought with smaller sized forces and casualties had been light. The size and scope of the fighting would change dramatically in July when two large armies would meet for the first time in battle on the plains of Manassas in northern Virginia near an otherwise undistinguished creek called Bull Run.