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1861: July

[ Missouri and the Battle of Carthage | Western Virginia | Battle of Bull Run | Aftermath of the battle | Battle of Mesilla ]


The month of July began with the appearance of the "Great Comet of 1861." This dramatic celestial sign, visible to the naked eye, may have seemed to both those in the North and South as a heavenly sign of the justice of their cause and a promise of the quick victory. The two capital cities were so close to each other, with large armies encamped nearby, that a major, and possibly decisive, battle seemed imminent. That battle did come, but the result showed that the comet not as a beacon of victory, but a warning sign of the coming trials.


Missouri remained a sharply divided state. The pro-secession faction, mainly supporters of "States' Rights," were led by Governor Claiborne F. Jackson, who commanded, along with Sterling Price, the Missouri State Guard. Union supporters were led by Francis P. Blair, Jr., who had formed a militia of his own, the "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).

Battle of Carthage
Jackson and Price were able to raise a fairly large army of about 6,000 men, though many were poorly armed or supplied. After the battle of Boonesville, a force of about 1,000 Union soldiers, under Franz Sigel, took Springfield and then set off in pursuit of Jackson. The two armies met at the Battle of Carthage on July 5th. Sigel was forced to retreat and while the balance of power did not really change in Missouri, this battle did give the pro-Secessionists a victory and helped recruit more troops to their cause.

Western Virginia

The opposing forces in western Virginia continued to face off, with July seeing a pair of Union victories. On July 11th, General William S. Rosecrans won the Battle of Rich Mountain, forcing the Confederate troops under General Robert S. Garnett to retreat. General George B. McClellan was in overall charge of the Union forces in the region, but he showed a reluctance to attack (a trait that would resurface time and again as the war went on).

Death of Garnett
Garnett pulled back his troops, which were considerably outnumbered, looking for a more defensible position. They were pursued by General Thomas A. Morris, who caught up with them on July 13th at Corrick's Ford, on the Cheat River. In the Battle of Corrick's Ford, Garnett personally directed the Confederate attempts to hold off the Union attackers, but his forces were hard pressed and when Garnett was killed, the Southerners fled the field.

Camp, Gauley Bridge
The consequences of these two battles were of some significance. One was the loss of Garnett, the first general killed in the war. They also essentially established Union control of the region, paving the way for the later creation of the state of West Virginia. Perhaps the largest significance was the glory and fame which accrued to McClellan. Though he was overall commander in the area, he had little to do with either battle, except for his dubious behavior at Rich Mountain. However, to him was given the credit for the Union victories, leading to a promotion and new command later in the month.

First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas): July 21

Beauregard's Encampment
While the battles in western Virginia did have some important consequences, they can be considered skirmishes rather than full scale battles. The first major battle of the Civil War was fought about a week later and further to the east. In the first weeks of the war, Lincoln began assembling a large army in and around Washington. The Confederates placed a good sized force, under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard, near Arlington both to keep a watch on the Federal troops and to protect the railroads which ran through Manassas Junction about 25 miles southwest of Washington.

The leader of the Union forces, General Irvin McDowell, was pressured by the government and the northern public to push south towards Richmond, displacing Beauregard and taking control of Manassas Junction. Learning of McDowell's plans, the Confederates reinforced Beauregard with troops from the Shenandoah Valley under General Joseph E. Johnston.

Currier and Ives Battle of Bull Run
On July 21st, McDowell's 35,000 men attacked Beauregard's and Johnston's 30,000 troops along Bull Run Creek, in what the Northerners called the Battle of Bull Run and the Southerners, the Battle of Manassas. The Union forces initially had some success, but the tide was turned in one of the pivotal events of the war. Generals Barnard Bee and Thomas J. Jackson were fighting against the Union advance at the top of Henry House Hill. Bee, impressed with how firmly Jackson's troops were holding their line, encouraged his men by crying, "Look. There is Jackson standing like a stone wall!"

Battle of Bull Run
Bee was subsequently killed in the battle, but this gave Jackson his famous nickname and inspired the Confederates, who began to push back against the Union soldiers, who began to withdraw. What began as a fairly orderly retreat, soon became a rush and then a rout. As the soldiers scurried back towards Washington, they became entangled with many civilians, including U.S. Congressmen, who had come out with picnics to watch an anticipated Union victory. Some prominent northerners were captured, and by nightfall the remaining civilians and soldiers staggered ingloriously back into Washington.

At Bull Run, the Union had nearly 3,000 soldiers killed, wounded or captured, and the Confederates almost 2,000. These causality figures would prove to be small compared to future battle, but they horrified both sides. Union supporters were particularly dismayed as many in the North had assumed the war would be short and easily won. With this battle it began to dawn on Americans that this war might not be so short, though no one then had any idea of the magnitude of the horror that was to come.

Aftermath of the Battle of Bull Run

The battle gave Southerners great confidence, provided them with a new hero in "Stonewall" Jackson, and provided them with a tactic which some think played a significant role in future battles. When Jackson's troops began to push back the Union forces at Henry House Hill, he is said to have given the order, "Charge, men, and yell like furies!" This yelling gave the Confederate troops encouragement and probably instilled some dread in the Union soldiers; it certainly led the subsequent use of the famous "Rebel Yell."

George B. McClellan
Despite the set back and Confederate army well entrenched near Washington, Lincoln resolved to regroup and continue on his course. However, Lincoln felt he needed a fresh start, so at the end of July McDowell was dismissed and replaced as commander of what would be called the Army of the Potomac by McClellan. Fresh from his supposed victories in western Virginia, McClellan arrived as the potential savior for the Union cause, becoming an immediate hit with both the public and Union army.

Battle of Mesilla: July 25

When the Confederacy was created in February, 1861, pro-slavery settlers in the southern part of the New Mexico territory saw an opportunity to create their own territory of Arizona. Conventions held in March voted to secede from the Union and petition to join the Confederate States. That summer, Col. John Robert Baylor, from Texas, occupied a series of forts in western Texas, which had been abandoned by the Union. In order to protect these forts, fearing an attack from Fort Fillmore, near Mesilla in the New Mexico Territory, and in order to support the southern sympathizers in that territory, Baylor moved his troops across the border into Mesilla.

Arizona Territory
On July 25th, supported by armed Arizonians, Baylor was able to repulse an attack by the Union troops from Fort Fillmore, led by Major Isaac Lynde. After retreating back to the fort, the next day Lynde began a retreat further to the northeast. However, his troops, facing a lack of horses and water, were overtaken and forced to surrender at San Augustine Springs on July 27th. As a result, on August 1, Baylor declared the establishment of the Confederate Arizona Territory, installing himself as the territory's military governor. This act was authorized by the Confederate Congress on January 13, 1862, and then officially recognized when President Jefferson Davis signed the proclamation on February 14, 1862.

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