Friday, November 25, 2011

Civil War 150 — Three Battles on One Day

October 21, 1861 was a busy day in the Civil War. There were three battles. The one closest to Washington had the greatest impact. But that impact was much more political than military.

Battle of Camp Wildcat, October 21, 1861. It took place in Laurel County, Kentucky which is south of the city of Lexington.

Link to site about the reenactment.

Here’s more information on the battle:

The Battle of Camp Wildcat (also known as Wildcat Mountain and Camp Wild Cat) was one of the early engagements of the American Civil War. It occurred October 21, 1861, in northern Laurel County, Kentucky during the campaign known as the Kentucky Confederate Offensive. The battle is considered one of the very first Union victories, and marked the second engagement of troops in the commonwealth of Kentucky.

Battle of Fredericktown, October 21, 1861. It took place in Madison County, Missouri in the town of Fredericktown. The town is about 90 miles directly south of St. Louis. Another battle fought in Missouri. This again points out how important Missouri was to both sides. It was another Union victory in the state.

Here’s a quick description of what happened:

Col. J.B. Plummer and Col. William P. Carlin, USA
Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson, CSA

A Union brigade-equivalent (2,500-3,500) tangled with a much smaller group of Missouri State Guards.

Union losses are unknown; the Confederates lost a bit over 50.

Two Union columns, one under Col. J.B. Plummer and another under Col. William P. Carlin, advanced on Fredericktown to overtake Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson and his men. On the morning of October 21, Thompson’s force left Fredericktown headed south.

About twelve miles out, Thompson left his supply train in a secure position and returned toward Fredericktown. He then learned that Union forces had occupied Fredericktown, so Thompson spent the morning trying to scout the enemy numbers and disposition. Unable to do so, around noon he attacked anyway. Plummer, with his force and a detachment of Col. William P. Carlin’s troops, met the Rebel forces outside town and a two-hour fight ensued. Overwhelming Union forces took their toll, and Thompson’s men retreated. Union cavalry pursued, chasing the Rebels but inflicting few further casualties.

Battle of Ball’s Bluff which took place on October 21, 1861.

This battle was unique because it had a sitting Senator as one of the commanders: Col. Edward Baker.

Here's what happened.

Baker was a Republican Senator from Oregon with limited military experience from the Mexican War. He commanded one of the three brigades in Stone’s division and is the only sitting U.S. Senator ever to die in battle. Evans commanded the Confederate brigade at Leesburg; Hunton and Featherston served under him, commanding the 8th Virginia and 17th Mississippi respectively. Baker, Hunton, and Featherston commanded on the field as neither Stone nor Evans were present at Ball’s Bluff. Stone remained at Edwards’ Ferry while Evans directed his forces from Fort Evans near Leesburg.

This minor Union defeat at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff had severe political ramifications in Washington. The death of Baker, the only U.S. Senator ever to be killed in battle, was particularly shocking, as was the disparity in casualties. As a result, a concerned Congress established the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which would lead Union commanders to second-guess their decisions for the rest of the war.

It turned out this would be just one of the many things Congress pried into and caused Lincoln unending headaches during the course of the war.

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