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This Week in the Civil War

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The Associated Press | October 5, 2012 09:01 AM EST | AP


This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Oct. 7: Fight for Kentucky.

This week 150 years ago, Kentucky's biggest Civil war battle was fought at Perryville, or Chaplin Hills. A border state coveted both by North and South, Kentucky was at the crossroads of the Civil War and Confederate and Union fighters fought on Oct. 8, 1862, in its crossroads town of Perryville. Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg had invaded Kentucky in the fall of 1862, nearly reaching Louisville before falling back. In central Kentucky, more than 50,000 federal troops caught up with Bragg's army and skirmishing on Oct. 7, 1862, led to a wider battle the next day at Perryville. Savage combat saw Confederate fighters pummeling a Union flank, then forced back under a Union counterattack. Fighting raged for hours. But in the end, the weary rebels under Bragg retreated at night following the battle, headed for eastern Tennessee. Thus a major Confederate incursion to take Kentucky ended with the Union in control of the border state. The Union's strategic victory was not without a cost. Perryville's bloody combat claimed more than 7,400 in dead, missing and wounded on both sides – but more heavily on the Union side. Elsewhere, The Associated Press reported in early October of 1862 that Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation stirred anger in the Southern slave states and Confederate calls to redouble the fight. One AP dispatch quoted The Richmond Whig newspaper as saying Lincoln's proclamation aiming to eventually free of slaves in states in rebellion was tantamount to "ordering servile insurrection in the Confederate States." Said The Richmond Whig, it was "a dash of the pen to destroy four thousand millions of our property, and it is as much as a bid to the slaves to rise in insurrection – with assurance of aid, from the whole military and the naval power of the United States."

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Oct. 14: Confederate raiders, impact of Antietam on Europe.

Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan raided Lexington, Ky., 150 years ago this week in the Civil War. Morgan's cavalry overpowered Union forces posted at Lexington on Oct. 18, 1862, and briefly captured its garrison before withdrawing. His raid has whipped up fear and unease in the border state of Kentucky and surrounding states, including Ohio. But he's not the only Confederate sowing unease this month in 1862. Confederate cavalry legend J.E.B. Stuart has just raided Chambersburg, Penn., in early October 1862 following the carnage at Antietam. Stuart set out on a hard, fast ride with hundreds of horsemen to reconnoiter Union positions, cut telegraph lines and cause destruction. By Oct. 11, 1862, Stuart's raiders have turned back from the 100-plus mile raid into the North that shocks Union forces. Wary about his foe, Union Major Gen. George McClellan orders scouts to spy out Confederate positions and troop strength after the Battle of Antietam. McClellan, long criticized for a cautious and go-slow approach to the war, will find his days numbered at the top of the Union command as President Abraham Lincoln grows increasingly restless and anxious to put an aggressive, fighting general in command. The Associated Press reports in a dispatch Oct. 17, 1862, that Antietam's bloody outcome is having an impact in how European powers view the war. AP reports: "Since the battle of Antietam, there is less indication in Europe than previously to recognize the Southern Confederacy, and that the result of that engagement, so far as the Government of the United States are concerned, has decidedly had a beneficial influence." AP also reports federal prisoners held in Richmond, Va., are receiving better treatment than before, including regular rations and daily newspapers.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Oct. 21: McClellan's last days in Union command.

Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan is in his last days as commander of federal fighting forces. President Abraham Lincoln has testily written McClellan of late, exhorting him to drive after the Confederate army retreating after the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. In a letter dated Oct. 13, 1862, Lincoln reminds his top general that he should not shrink from pursuing and vanquishing the rival. "You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing?" Lincoln writes. Although Lincoln says in the letter that his suggestions of aggressively pursuing the enemy by no means constitute an explicit order, he nonetheless exhorts McClellan to move toward Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, and cut off secessionist forces returning to Virginia under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Of the foe, Lincoln says: "I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond." McClellan, who had taken command earlyin the war amid great promise and then drilled, trained and equipped the Union war machine, has long been chided for failing to fight aggressively. Now, McClellan will ignore the latest call by Lincoln to pounce on the enemy – only to be sacked by Lincoln in early November. The Associated Press reports this week that the stringing of the telegraph across the land is revolutionizing the delivery of news of war and other affairs. AP reports on how California telegraph operators can now communicate directly with Chicago and other points – to the point that one operator in California told his Chicago counterpart while transmitting news: "Hold on `till I light my pipe."

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Oct. 28: African-American troops in action for the Union for first time.

African-American troops engaged in combat as an organized fighting force for the first time this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment repelled a Confederate unit while skirmishing with the rebels at Island Mound in Missouri on Oct. 29, 1862. It was among the first of the black regiments to be organized. Yet in a few months' time, numerous African-American regiments would be armed and poised to fight for the Union. Thousands would eventually join the Union ranks from both the population of free blacks and escaped slaves. One of the most famous fights by African-American troops would still be months ahead in July 1863 at Fort Wagner, S.C. Formally mustered into the federal army in 1863, the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment would win praise as a disciplined and first-rate infantry unit. Authorities say that regiment saw five officers and 173 enlisted soldiers killed in action during its involvement in the war. Another 165 enlisted soldiers and officers died from diseases contracted during the conflict. Elsewhere, The Associated Press reports on Oct. 29, 1862, that a fire that began in a train loaded with bales of hay threatened to burn the large train trestle bridge at Harper's Ferry, connecting western Virginia with Maryland. AP reported: "Some teamsters were cooking their dinner under the trestle work ... where immense quantities of hay were being unloaded from the cars" when the fire erupted. In the end, the burning trainload of hay was pulled off the bridge and the bridge was saved, despite damage to the trestle.