This week in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln relieves Major Gen. George B. McClellan of his title as general-in-chief of all federal armies. McClellan is a greater organizer who whipped once disorganized Union troops into a veritable fighting force. But Lincoln and others in Washington are growing impatient after repeatedly urging McClellan to attack Confederate foes.

Despite Lincoln’s action, McClellan still commands the Army of the Potomac, a key cog in the federal war machine. Yet Lincoln will have to wait weeks for McClellan to finish preparations to marshal an elaborate campaign against Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, that will later be waged — unsuccessfully — from the Virginia coastal peninsula.

Elsewhere this week, Union forces occupy New Madrid in Missouri, but frequent shelling continues nearby on the Mississippi River. An Associated Press reporter in a dispatch of March 16, 1862, reports he is aboard a federal flagship in a flotilla patrolling the river and sporadic artillery firing has erupted near the Confederate stronghold at Island No. 10.

“The flotilla got under way at 5:30 a.m. this morning and dropped down slowly till about 7 o’clock where the flagship, being about 27 miles ahead and six miles above the island, discovered a stern wheel steamer run out from Shelter Point on the Kentucky shore, and started down the river. Four shells were thrown after her, but the distance, however, was too great for the shots to take effect.”

The AP correspondent reports a day later that Confederate forces at Island No. 10 have formidable encampments, large enough to hold thousands of troops. He notes “46 guns have been counted” and adds that more than tension fills the air: “Firing was heard in the direction of New Madrid all day.”


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