Interesting facts, links, and suggested books for each month of the Civil War.
This Month's Events
12 December. On the Yazoo River, the USS Cairo is sunk by 2 mines, the first ship to be lost this way in combat.
11-15 December. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia more than 17,000 men die in this disastrous defeat of the Union Army of the Potomac by Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. New Union commander Ambrose Burnside planned a quick and decisive movement, but when the needed pontoon bridges failed to arrive in November, he lost his advantage. By the time of the actual battle, Lee has his defensive troops so well placed that one Confederate officer says that not even a chicken could live on the field once the Southerners opened fire.
13 December. Watching the charges at Fredericksburg, Robert E. Lee says, "It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it."
After the battle ends, an officer inspecting the troops of the 88th New York tells a soldier standing alone to join his company. The soldier replies, "I am my company."
16-18 December. At White Hall (now Seven Springs) in Wayne County, North Carolina, Federal troops attack Confederates guarding the crossing of the Neuse river. The Federal objective is, first, Goldsboro and the railroads there, and, second, the ironclad CSS Neuse under construction on the river. The ironclad is damaged, but not destroyed and the Union forces eventually cross the river at another location to reach Goldsboro. Several men from Gaston and Lincoln Counties are killed in this engagement.
21 December. Having heard that his brother George is among the wounded at Fredericksburg, Walt Whitman goes to Virginia. Finding his brother alive and well, he begins visiting the hospitals and battlefields, writing letters for the men and just talking to them. He will continue this throughout the war and his resulting notes and poems are part of America's literary heritage.
30 December. In North Carolina there is growing dissatisfaction with the war. Public meetings have been held in 49 counties airing these feelings. Today Governor Zeb Vance writes to Jefferson Davis asking him to negotiate with the Union to appease this anti-war feeling. Davis will reply that Lincoln will not negotiate.
30-31 December.USS Monitor, the U. S. Navy's first ironclad battleship, sinks in a storm off Cape Hatteras with the loss of 16 men. The Monitor was under tow and the tow ship manages to rescue 49 men.
31 December. The Battle of Stone River (aka the Second Battle of Murfreesboro) begins in Tennessee. At issue is the control of middle Tennessee. Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee has had up to 38,000 men, but on December 16th, he had been visited by Jefferson Davis who ordered him to send 7500 men to the defense of Vicksburg. Meanwhile he is being attacked by William S. Rosecrans, newly appointed commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland. The Union forces are slightly larger than the Confederate numbers, but they are being heavily harrassed by rebel cavalry -- 2 days earlier 2500 men had ridden completely around the Union army, capturing supples and 1,000 prisoners. [See next month.]
The night before the battle as the opposing armies face each other less than half a mile apart, the military bands begin their own battle with "Yankee Doodle" and "Hail Columbia" on one side and "Dixie" and "The Bonnie Blue Flag" on the other. Finally one band starts "Home Sweet Home", others join in, and thousands of soldiers on both side sing it together.
This month a new Union regiment is formed, the 37th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. Its 914 members are all men over 45; eventually there will be at least one soldier who is 80. Predictably, it becomes known as "the Graybeard Regiment".
Once again as he did last year [see December 1861]. Moravian record keeper Francis Raymond Holland attempts to sum up the year. "In an unprecedented degree, this year has been a year of affliction and bereavement. ... The desolating tide of an obstinate and bloody war has continued to roll over our land. ... Upon a moderate estimate, it is computed that not less than 200,000 men on both sides have perished or been permanently disabled during this year. Were these ghastly victims of war to march past us, two and two, in close ranks and at quick time, not less than two whole days from sunrise to sunset would be required for the dismal procession to sweep past a given point!"
This Month's Fiction
Fredericksburg : a novel of the Irish at Marye's Heights, by Kirk Mitchell, pub. 1996, 364 p. On December 13, 1862, the Confederate and Union armies clashed in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in a savage battle. Mitchell shows the progression of "Bloody Sunday" through the eyes of six Irish soldiers, three on each side. Mitchell switches viewpoints frequently. Subheads offer time and place of segments, which shorten as the pace of battle heats up and grow longer as it wanes. The result is choppy and confusing, leaving the reader to wonder where he is and to root for both sides at once.
President Lincoln has grown furious with the war's slow progress and in November replaced his arrogant, insubordinate, and incredibly popular commander George McClellan with the modest and reluctant Ambrose Burnside. Pressured to deliver a significant victory in Southern territory before the winter set in, General Burnside quickly advances the Army of the Potomac into Virginia toward the city of Fredericksburg. It is a rash gamble that hinges on the element of surprise; meanwhile, of course, Robert E. Lee's army lurked somewhere in Virginia, waiting. Arriving on the banks of the Rappahannock River, the Union army -- the largest army in the world -- is stymied for a lack of bridges. Major Ira Spaulding and raw recruit Billy Blakesley are among those whose job it is to provide them, but mishandled orders, unbroken mules, and the winter storm of the century conspire against the hapless bridge builders, giving Lee time to amass his Confederate army on the opposite banks. The cast of characters includes Lincoln, Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and common soldiers on both sides, all based on actual participants.
Through the eyes of Haswell Colby Magruder, readers see and experience the horrors of the Civil War. Set in Shenandoah, VA, the story opens as the 13-year-old agrees to hide a wounded Confederate soldier. The Yankees' discovery of the young man on the Magruder farm and their subsequent retaliation starts a sequence of events that culminates with Haswell's escape with his seven-year-old sister, and his later solo journey in search of his older brother, who is fighting in the war. Although the main characters are from the South, Hahn succeeds in writing about the horrors of war without really taking sides. War is the villain here, and people from both sides are its victims. This is a wonderfully written story peopled by believable, three-dimensional characters who exhibit fear, courage, love, hate, compassion, prejudice, and understanding. The drama of the Civil War and the fine storytelling and characterization hook readers from the outset. Gr. 5-8.
Gansler chronicles the intriguing life and times of a woman who served as a man during the Civil War. Fleeing from home at age 17 to escape an abusive father and avoid an unwanted marriage, Sarah Edmonds lived as a man for two years before she heeded Lincoln's call for more troops and enlisted in the Second Michigan Infantry. Performing her duties with distinction, she won the respect and admiration of the men she served alongside, even after they discovered, many years later, her astounding secret. Resuming her female identity and marrying after the war, she lived a relatively tranquil life until she decided to seek a military pension 20 years later. Enthusiastically supported by her former comrades-in-arms, she became the only woman to secure a soldier's pension for her Civil War service. Although questions remain whether she also served--as she claimed--as a Union spy, Edmond's gender-bending Civil War experiences are well worth reading about.
Times in Tennesse were tough for both sides in 1862. This is a volume in the Time Life series described as: "A gripping, comprehensive account of the Civil War, including eyewitness testimony, profiles of key personalities, period photographs, illustrations and artifacts, and detailed battle maps. Fully researched, superbly written." It takes the reader through the Volunteer State from the spring of '62 to the massive battle at Stones River on the last day of the year.