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A Nation Divided.  The Civil War in contemporary prints
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1861: August

[ Union Resolve | Missouri & the Battle of Wilson's Creek | Aftermath of the battle | Hatteras Inlet ]


August saw the Union rebounding with renewed vigor after the defeat at the first battle of Bull Run, only to suffer another loss in the second major land battle of the war. The generally bad news for the Union west of the Mississippi was off-set by a victory on the Atlantic coast as the month drew to a close. Meanwhile, slavery's role in the war became more of an issue among the politicians and citizens of the North.

Union Resolve

Though a shocking loss, the Battle of Bull Run strengthened the resolve of Lincoln and the government to pursue its course against the Confederacy. In response, Congress passed the first income tax (3% of incomes over $800), issued bar bonds, ordered the building of iron clad ships, confiscated slaves used in the Confederate war effort, and suppressed pro-Confederate newspapers.


Much of the action in August took place in Missouri, which remained sharply divided between the pro-secession, "States' Rights" faction, led by Governor Claiborne F. Jackson, and Union supporters led by Francis P. Blair, Jr., who had formed a militia of "Home Guards."

The commander of the Federal arsenal in St. Louis, and military commander of the Union forces, was General Nathaniel Lyon, who in June had captured the capital, Jefferson City, and won the Battle of Booneville, gaining the Union forces the upper hand in the state (cf. June 1861). However, Confederate supporters in Missouri continued to battle against the Federal troops, winning the Battle of Carthage on July 5th.

Dug Spring
Feeling pressured, the pro-secessionist State Militia forces, under Sterling Price, received help from the Confederate army of the West in Arkansas under Brig. General Benjamin McCulloch. The strengthened Confederate forces were able to push north, where Lyon's troops were encamped at Springfield. Lyon learned that the secessionist army planned to attack the city. So on August 1st, he marched out in an attempt to surprise them. The two forces met briefly at Dug Springs on Aug. 2nd, a skirmish the Union forces won, but Lyon learned that he was heavily outnumbered, so he marched back to Springfield.

Battle of Wilson's Creek
On August 10th, Lyon tried another surprise attack on the Confederate army, under the overall command of McCulloch, which was encamped at Wilson's Creek, about 10 miles southwest of Springfield. In the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Union forces, divided into two columns under the command of Lyon and Col. Franz Sigel, were initially successful, but events turned against them and they were forced to abandon the field. One major result of the battle was the loss of General Lyon, who was the first Union general killed in battle during the Civil War. Lyon's death made him a Union hero and a number of prints were issued in his memory.

Aftermath of the battle

Though the secessionist troops won the battle of Wilson's Creek, they were unable to follow up, allowing the Union troops to retreat. However, their victory did open up southern Missouri to Confederate control. The Confederate Congress admitted Missouri to the Confederacy, even though the state had not voted for secession.

This prompted General John C. Fremont, who had been appointed Federal commander in Missouri, to declare martial law on August 30th. Fremont declared all pro-secessionist property forfeit to the government, including slaves, an action which was highly controversial. Lincoln felt this declaration went too far--smacking of making the war a fight against slavery, not simply to preserve the Union, so he soon rescinded Fremont's order.

Hatteras Inlet

Bombardment of Fort Hatteras
Lincoln's direction to blockade the Confederacy put an immense burden on the U.S. Navy, for there were almost 200 harbors and river openings along the 3,549 miles of coastline between the Potomac and the Rio Grande. To achieve this, a three-man board, comprised of officers from the Navy, as well as Army and Coast Survey, was set up to plan the strategy.

The first objective was the Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, an important avenue of access to the Atlantic for Southern blockade runners. The South had built two forts--Hatteras and Clark--on either side of the gap, and at the end of August a naval expedition under Silas H. Stringham sailed south from Hampton Roads to take these strategic fortifications.

On August 28th and 29th, Stringham, standing outside the range of the Confederate guns, was able to lob shells at the forts. Ben Butler's forces were landed just north, but by the time they arrived at the forts, the Confederates had surrendered.

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