The Civil War’s Almost Forgotten Theater

June 22, 2016

Although the American Civil War took place over 150 years ago, there is STILL plenty to learn about the bloodiest war in U.S. history. One particularly under-discussed chapter involves the vast Trans-Mississippi West. Where exactly is that, you ask? The Trans-Mississippi West refers to all major military operations west of the Mississippi River but excluding the states and territories bordering the Pacific Ocean.

GPO makes available a U.S. Army Center of Military History short study, authored by Jeffery S. Prushankin, fittingly titled “The Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Theater.”

008-029-00592-1The Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Theater

The long and costly struggle between industrial North and agricultural South, “half slave and half free,” spilled into lands west of the Mississippi. The region witnessed approximately 130 battles stretching from New Mexico to New Orleans and Fort Brown to Fort Leavenworth. It saw small-scale military actions at Wilson’s Creek, Prairie Grove, and Galveston, among others. Although “often neglected in history books,” argues Prushankin, “the Trans-Mississippi Theater played an important role in the Civil War.”

The theater presented the Union with strategic terrain for projecting its military power. President Abraham Lincoln considered it a campaign to control arable (and gold-filled) land, pacify Western denizens, and eliminate a possible Confederate stronghold.  He knew such a primitive frontier would be hard-won. Over the course of the war, his War Department marshalled some 200,000 Union soldiers to the hardscrabble landscapes of New Mexico, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

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Trans-Mississippi Theater 1861-1865

The book devotes several pages to the Red River expedition, a.k.a. the struggle for Louisiana and Texas, which took place in the spring of 1864. The Federal campaign through the Red River Valley intended to open up a Union path for a Texas invasion. But commanding officer Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks bungled almost every maneuver and eventually retreated his 30,000 troops in humiliation. Although the initiative did cause a “disruption of Confederate designs,” it didn’t do much to sway the war’s outcome.

The Red River Expedition, Louisiana and Texas, 1864. (Library of Congress)

The Red River Expedition, Louisiana and Texas, 1864. (Library of Congress)

That Union debacle eventually gave way to Price’s Raid. Three gory, inconclusive years and Lincoln’s looming reelection sent Southern leaders into a panic. They believed that to save their cause, they would have to re-capture Missouri for the Confederacy. During the fall of 1864, Confederate cavalry raided Missouri and Kansas. Long story short, Union troops delivered a decisive blow. Price’s ineffectual raid effectively ended major combat operations in the Trans-Mississippi.

Much of Civil War history remains focused on events east of the Mississippi. Ultimately, the Trans-Mississippi closedown was not a “winner, winner, chicken dinner” pivot for the Union. Perhaps it will remain a forgettable theatre in an unforgettable war. But the Trans-Mississippi did allow the North to prove itself a better organized, better led army. And that certainly was a leading factor in the Union’s overall victory.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THIS PUBLICATION?

Shop Online Anytime: You can buy eBooks or print publications —with FREE Standard Shipping worldwide— from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore at http://bookstore.gpo.gov.

 Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.

Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.

Visit a Federal depository library: Search for U.S. Government publications in a nearby Federal depository library. You can find the records for most titles in GPO’s Catalog of U.S. Government Publications.

About the author: Blogger contributor Chelsea Milko is a Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Public Relations Office.


Civil War Defenses of Washington & the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Stevens

July 10, 2014

Gettysburg, Manassas, and Antietam are famous Civil War battles remembered for President Lincoln’s address, the turning point of the war, and the bloodiest battle of the war. They are also battles that took place in states surrounding Washington, DC – within 100 miles of the nation’s capital. This week marks the 150th anniversary of the only and relatively unknown battle that took place in Washington, DC, the Battle of Fort Stevens.

024-005-01232-0[1]A Historic Resources Study: The Civil War Defenses of Washington by the Department of Interior’s National Park Service follows the history of efforts to defend Washington, DC from the city’s conception in the 1790s to the Civil War and the Battle of Fort Stevens. This publication is very descriptive painting a clear picture of what Washington, DC was like during the Civil War. The Union constructed a fortification system to protect Washington, DC that by the end of the war consisted of 68 enclosed forts and batteries, emplacements for 1,120 guns, and 20 miles of rifle-trenches. Because the city was the capital and the location of war departments and bureaus it had the largest collection of supplies, equipment, and materials. In the Foggy Bottom area where the Kennedy Center, George Washington University, and the Department of State currently sit, there was a depot of 30,000 horses and mules and the Washington Monument grounds housed an Army cattle-slaughtering yard.

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Company F, 3d Regiment Massachusetts Heavy Artillery assembled at Fort Stevens. Photo by William Morris Smith, courtesy Library of Congress.

The Battle of Fort Stevens is the grand finale of the publication. After establishing the condition and role of the Washington, DC during the war, the book goes into step-by-step detail of the battle. Here is my perceived synopsis of the Battle of Fort Stevens: General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate army gave orders to Lieutenant General Jubal Early to threaten Washington, DC, which had remained largely untouched during the war. Early led his troops through Virginia and Maryland, taking part in different skirmishes along the way. On July 9 at the Battle of Monocacy near present-day Frederick, Maryland, Early defeated the Union army, thereby opening up the route to Washington, DC. The Battle of Monocacy temporarily stalled Early, giving General Ulysses Grant more time to send reinforcement troops to defend the capital – ultimately derailing Early’s efforts. The Battle of Fort Stevens started on July 11 and ended with Early withdrawing his troops by July 13. The Confederate troops moved towards the Capitol along Georgetown Pike and Rockville Pike culminating in the Battle of Fort Stevens, which took place with the Capitol dome in sight – six miles away – on what was mostly open farm area around present-day Georgia Avenue near Rock Creek Park. The reinforcements sent by Grant and reports suggesting more Union troops were coming caused Early to retreat and end his pursuit of the city.

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Battle of Fort Stevens Map courtesy Civil War Preservation Trust

GPO’s early history is intertwined with the Civil War. One of GPO’s most significant print jobs was the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation produced in September 1862. Aside from production work done by the agency as part of the war effort, some GPO employees were part of the Interior Department Regiment organized to protect the city. With the threat of General Early closing in on Washington, employees were called on to defend the city but not needed when the reinforcement troops sent by General Grant arrived.

During the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, think beyond the famous battles of the war and remember the skirmishes and other important battles like the Battle of Fort Stevens that may be unknown but are just as important.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THIS PUBLICATION?

Shop Online Anytime: You can buy these and other publications (with FREE Standard Shipping worldwide) from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore website at http://bookstore.gpo.gov:

Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.

Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.

Visit a Federal Depository Library: Search for these in a nearby Federal depository library.

About the author: Our guest blogger is Emma Wojtowicz, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Office of Public Affairs.


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