On Christmas week of 1861, the battle between President Lincoln and General George B. McClellan was heating up.
By this time, Congress had created the Joint Committee for the Conduct of the War, and appointed Republicans Ben Wade of Ohio, Zachariah Chandler of Michigan, and Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who represented Tennessee. None of these men really cared for McClellan, and their first act was to summon the General to appear before them.
McClellan, however, reported himself to be sick with typhoid fever, and was unable to do anything. Republicans controlling the committee thought he might be faking his illness, but the New York Times reported on December 26, 1861, that McClellan’s health had improved to the point he could work in his room.
“About the middle of January, 1862, upon recovering from a severe illness, I found that excessive anxiety for an immediate movement of the army of the Potomac had taken possession of the minds of the administration,” the general wrote in 1863.
McClellan’s Own Story, an autobiography published after the General’s death, put it this way:
“The difficulties of my position in Washington commenced when I was first confined to my bed with typhoid fever in December and January and culminated soon after Mr. Stanton became Secretary of War. . . .My malady was supposed to be more serious than it really was; for although very weak and ill, my strong constitution enabled me to retain a clear intellect during the most trying part of the illness, so that I daily transacted business and gave the necessary orders, never for a moment abandoning the direction of affairs. . . it more than once happened that the President called while I was asleep. . .and being denied admittance, his anxiety induced him to think that my disease was very acute. . . .”
Military action during the week
On December 26, 1861, The Confederate fleet at Savannah, commanded by Josiah Tatnall, attacked the Union blockading fleet, driving them out to see for a short time, and the Confederate schooner Gipsey, loaded with cotton, was captured by the USS New Orleans in Mississippi Sound.
Off the coast of Virginia, the CSS Sea Bird captured a Union schooner trying to replenish Fort Monroe with fresh water on Dec. 29.
On New Year’s Eve, Union Navy ships with a force of about 60 Marines secured the surrender of Biloxi, Mississippi. According to a semi-official report at the New York Times dated January 1, 1862:
The enemy came near Biloxi yesterday morning. Two United States officers with sixty men, landed in, small boats and demanded of Capt. FARRELL, commanding, to surrender any property of the United States, together with the munitions of the Confederacy, if any such there might be, giving FARRELL one hour to decide. FARRELL surrendered, and the United States Commodore took two cannon. They said BUTLER and his command were at Ship Island. Biloxi is considered as a possession of the Federals. They are momentarily expected to occupy it.
On the day after Christmas, 1861, Union and Confederate forces engaged each other in the Indian Territories – an area now known as Oklahoma.
Confederate troops had attacked Opothleyahola’s band of Creeks and Seminoles earlier at Round Mountain and Chusto-Talasah and planned to finish them off by attacking their camp at Chustenahlah, located in a well-protected cove on Battle Creek.
Opothleyahola had hoped to move his force of about 9,000 north to Kansas, but the onset of ice and the lack of supplies made that impossible. A post at wtbsindianterritory.com called this move the “Trail of Blood on the Ice.”
Col. James McQueen McIntosh and Col. Douglas H. Cooper, commanding the Indian Department, planned a combined attack with each of their columns moving in from different directions.
McIntosh left Fort Gibson on December 22, with 1,380 men. On the 25th, he received word that Cooper’s force could not join for a while, but he decided to attack the next day, despite being outnumbered.
McIntosh attacked the camp at noon on the 26th.
“One wild yell from a thousand throats burst upon the air, and the living mass hurled itself upon the foe,” he wrote in his offical report.
The Union defenders, consisting primarily of Seminoles under the command of their chief, Halleek Tustenuggeewere, were secluded in the underbrush along the slope of a rugged hill. As the Confederates charged, the Native Americans fell back, taking cover for a while and then moving back.
For a while, the two sides engaged in hand-to-hand combat, but the Federals were ultimately forced to withdraw.
The retreat eventually became a rout as Union forces reached their camp. They attempted to make a stand there but were forced away again. The survivors fled and Confederates declared victory “in the center of Opothleyoholo’s camp” about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
Chief Opothleyahola’s band of Creeks and Seminoles mounted no further resistance, but some later joined three U.S. Indian Home Guard regiments to fight in the Indian Territory.
More on this series at lodeplus.com can be found here.