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1861: December

[ Battle of Camp Allegheny | Battle of Rowlett's Station | Battle of Dranesville ]


As 1861 ran down, Lincoln and many in the Federal government began to worry that McClellan should be doing something before the cold weather made that impossible. Lincoln even submitted his own plan to attack the Confederates at Manassas on Dec. 1, but McClellan replied stiffly that Lincoln's plan wasn't practical. Meanwhile, McClellan was developing his own plan to do an end around the Confederate forces, by shipping his troops up the Rappahannock to Urbanna, just 50 miles south of Richmond. However, McClellan got sick with typhoid fever and was unable to work, so the US army remained in a state of paralysis.

The Trent affair continued to occupy much of the attention of the public both in the South and North, as well as in Great Britain. The British demanded an apology and send troops to Canada. With the threat on a second war, Secretary of State William Seward and President Lincoln crafted a reply that denied that Wilkes acted with authority from the government and stated that, since the U.S. was always in favor of the rights of neutrals (and indeed fought the British in the War of 1812 just on this point), the British commissioners should not have been arrested and would therefore be released. Though not an actual apology, the British accepted this diplomatic solution and the affair passed away without doing harm to the Union.

At the end of the first year of the war, there had been victories on both sides, but the general impression was that the North had failed to deal with the Southern declaration of its independence from Union. Those in both governments and populations in general began to realize that the conflict was not going to be the short one many on both sides had predicated. While battles had been fought and many men died or were wounded, the war really had not begun in its full fury and devastation. That would begin in the next year.

Battle of Camp Allegheny. December 13.

Though the Union retained the upper hand in western Virginia, December saw a minor victory for the Confederates at the Battle of Camp Allegheny. Southern troops, under Col. Edward Johnson, held a strong position at the top of Allegheny Mountain, which was attacked at dawn on December 13th by General Robert H. Milroy. Heavy fighting followed, but the defensive position of Johnson's forces was too strong for the Union troops and Milroy was forced to retreat back towards Cheat Mountain. Because of his stand on this day, Johnson was hereafter called "Allegheny" Johnson, though his losses were considerable.

Battle of Rowlett's Station. December 17.

Battle of Green River
Also known as the Battle of Woodsonville or Battle of Green River. General Don Carlos Buell, commander of the Army of the Ohio, sent General Alexander McDowell McCook into Kentucky to put pressure on the Confederate forces on the Green River. The Confederate forces blew up the Louisville and Nashville Railroad bridge over the river, so in response, Colonel August Willich was sent to build a pontoon bridge to reopen the line. It was completed on December 17th, at which time the Confederates, under General Thomas C. Hindman, launched an attack to destroy this new bridge.

The Union troops, under attack by Confederate infantry and cavalry, especially the 8th Texas Cavalry Regiment, took a square defensive position and managed to hold their position until they were able to retreat to a stronger position. The Confederates eventually gave up and withdrew, leaving the bridge intact and Union access to the railroad open. The commander of the 8th Texas, Colonel Benjamin Franklin Terry, was killed in the fight, and the regiment thereafter changed its name to "Terry's Texas Rangers."

Battle of Dranesville. December 20.

Battle of Dranesville
Early on December 20th, a Confederate foraging party was sent north of their lines around Richmond, protected by troops under the command of General J.E.B. Stuart. Meanwhile, federal troops under General Edward O.C. Ord were sent south from the Union lines in order to disrupt Confederate activity in northern Virginia. The two forces met along the Georgetown Pike near Dranesville. The Battle of Dranesville involved fierce fighting and led to the retreat of the Confederate troops, who suffered over 200 casualties, compared to less than a third as many for Ord's troops. Though little was gained of any lasting strategic value, this Union victory, the first in northern Virginia, did give those in the North a renewed belief that they could defeat the Southern armies.

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