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This Week in the Civil WarThis Week in the Civil War
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 29: Capture of Confederate spy Belle Boyd.
One of the Confederacy's most famous spies, sexy temptress Belle Boyd, is captured by the Union on July 29, 1862, and hauled off to prison in Washington, D.C., only to be released about a month later in a prisoner exchange. Born into an affluent Virginia family ardently loyal to the South, Boyd used her charms to eavesdrop on Union officers while frequenting their camps. Reports have it that she beguiled at least one officer into providing her with advance word on federal troop movements before the First Battle of Bull Run or Manassas. As war progress, Boyd would regularly deliver gleaned war intelligence to the Confederacy, at times crossing enemy lines at great risk on horseback. Reports have it that Confederate Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was so impressed with the spy that he made her an honorary aide-de-camp. In the North, her espionage would garner her media attention to the point that some began calling her "La Belle Rebelle." Later in the war, in 1864, Boyd was sent to England as a Confederate courier but captured before she could complete that mission. Historians say she later escaped and went on to marry a Union naval officer and live in England until 1866, where she worked as a stage actress. Boyd eventually returned to the U.S. and died in Wisconsin in 1900 while on a lecture tour touting her adventure-filled life. The Associated Press reports on Aug. 2, 1862, that the Union at this point in the war is garnering thousands of prisoners. The AP dispatch from Fortress Monroe, Va., said three steamships laden with a total of 3,000 rebel prisoners had just arrived, docking outside the large Union-held fortress off the Virginia coast. "The physicians from Fortress Monroe have been on board and cared for the sick and wounded," AP's dispatch said.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Aug. 5: Fighting in Louisiana, Confederate ironclad scuttled.
Confederate troops bidding to regain control of Louisiana reached the outskirts of its state capital, Baton Rouge, on Aug. 5, 1862, and fighting erupts as they meet Union resistance. Union gunboats on the Mississippi River begin shelling the secessionist troops. The Confederates had hoped that their ironclad, the CSS Arkansas could arrive in time to shell the gunboats and put them out of action. But the engines failed on the ironclad and the vessel is unable to take part in the battle. A day later, on Aug. 6, 1862, the CSS Arkansas again attempts to close in on the Union gunboats. But the ironclad experiences engine problems anew and suffers damage to a propeller before running aground. A sitting duck for capture, the vessel is hastily scuttled, blown up by her crew to avoid capture. The Associated Press, reporting on the destruction of the Arkansas in a dispatch 12 days later, said the ironclad had come aground above Baton Rouge when federal gunboats approached to attack and the Arkansas "blew up." It added that "The ram Arkansas approached with the intention of engaging (federal) gunboats, but grounded at a distance of 6 miles" from the capital city before being destroyed. The account notes thousands of troops took part in the fighting on both sides with a large proportion of officers among at least 250 dead. The demise of the ironclad also signals defeat for the Confederacy in this attempt to regain the Louisiana state capital. Meanwhile, news reports indicate Union forces driven away from Richmond, the Confederate capital, during the Seven Days' Battle, have virtually evacuated the bulk of their troops, guns and supplies from Harrison's Landing off the Virginia Peninsula region. That fighting earlier in the summer saw rising Confederate star Robert E. Lee repulse a massive Union force at the gates of Richmond, assuring that the Civil War would not be ended quickly.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Aug. 12: Fighting in Missouri, arming the armies.
Fighting in the wide-ranging Civil War erupted in the heartland on Aug. 11, 1862, when Confederate forces attacked Independence, Missouri. The Confederate fighters surprised and scattered a force of Union troops garrisoned at Independence. But ultimately, the Union forces that hadn't been killed or immediately captured were forced to surrender. It marked a morale-boosting victory for the secessionist government based in Richmond, Va. The fighting continued days later when a Confederate force of about 3,000 men attacked more Union pickets it encountered in the state on Aug. 15, 1862. Charges and countercharges ensued as the fighting raged for hours in what was also considered a Confederate victory. However, the Confederate force was obliged to withdraw from the area when a larger Union force began advancing toward its position. More fighting would follow in the weeks and months ahead in the states clustered around the Mississippi River and other inland waterways deemed vital to transport and trade. Also this month 150 year ago in the war, the armies were still feverishly arming and supplying their troops with all manner of goods and materiel for what is shaping up as a drawn-out fight. The War Department, in an order published in Northern newspapers, called for rush bids from leather workers to be received no later than 5 p.m. on Aug. 26, 1862, for thousands of much-needed sets of harnesses, saddles and other cavalry equipment to be rushed to several armories around federal territory. "Bidders will state explicitly in their proposals the time, quantity and place of each delivery," the order stated, adding the bidders should send proposals to the War Department in Washington, D.C., clearly labeled as "Proposals, for Horse Equipments."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Aug. 19: Confederates on the move.
This week 150 years ago in the war, Confederate fighters are on the move, set to open an offensive in Kentucky that would trigger fighting in the border state in late August 1862. The state is seen as crucial territory to both sides. Confederate Gen. E. Kirby Smith puts his troops on the road on Aug. 14, 1862, and within days that tramping army is moving well into Kentucky. All told, his roughly 6,000 men present a formidable fighting force. The troops advancing on the road to Richmond, Ky., would not engage Union rivals in combat until Aug. 29, 1862, in the first of their clashes in the region. Meanwhile, every sign suggests this war will be protracted, deadly and grim. Now the once popular move of signing up to fight is wearing thin in some cities and mandatory calls for duty are being resisted by some. The Associated Press reports a large number of people claiming "protection of the British flag" thronged the British consul's office in St. Louis one summer day seeking to exempt themselves from government-ordered militia duty. "Several affrays and struggles occurred between the disturbers and police," AP reported, adding critics complained of those who sought to "sneak from duty by enrolling themselves as subjects of Great Britain." AP notes that several arrests were made. Elsewhere, reports note that a Union army that waged an enormous but ultimately failed offensive to seize Richmond, Va., capital of the Confederacy, has fully withdrawn by Aug. 16 from Tidewater areas to the east. The report said several hundred of the last troops had completed the withdrawal on ships and boats in recent days and "all is quiet." The failure of the Union to capture Richmond and end the war quickly has quashed morale in the North while notably boosting spirits in the South.
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