August 1862 was a complex month of past, present and future in both the theatre of war as well as the arena of political and social upheaval.
On the battlefield it was a month that saw the after-effects of the Peninsula Campaign as McClellan was ordered to withdraw from the Harrison's Landing and defend Washington D.C. Just a month and a half prior, Northern newspapers were confident that Richmond would fall in August, but the outcome of the Seven Days Battles had turned the tide for the South and now there were grave concerns for the safety of Washington itself.
The largest engagement in August 1862 would be the Second Battle of Bull Run / Manassas. The loss of Pope's forces to Lee would foreshadow Lee's Maryland Campaign and the legendary engagement in September at Antietam / Sharpsburg, which remains the single bloodiest day in American history.
While the battles raged in the East, in the West the Battles of Baton Rouge and Donaldsonville were fought for control of Louisiana's capital. In Kentucky, Gen. Kirby Smith opened the Kentucky Campaign with a significant defeat of Gen. William "Bull" Nelson's troops at Richmond, Ky.
In Missouri, the Battle of Kirksville consolidated Federal control over northeastern Missouri, but in western central Missouri Quantrill's Raiders struck at Independence and Lone Jack. The latter battle of Lone Jack saw action by the future Secretary of War Elkins (as well as delegate for New Mexico). Elkins would also later be involved in the "Santa Fe Ring", the largest land speculation conspiracy in U.S. history. Other members of the Santa Fe Ring included Lawrence Murphy and James Dolan, one side of the "Lincoln County War" that led to the legend of Billy the Kid.
Yet another piece of Western lore was present at the Battle of Lone Jack; Cole Younger, later of the James-Younger gang, rode along the lines supplying troops.
Despite the plethora of activity on the warfront, August 1862 was a month that saw the North in political and social turmoil. It was a month in which the North's divided position regarding black Americans, both slave and free, would become more prominent. This would be a month that foreshadowed the Emancipation Proclamation with Lincoln's famous letter to Horace Greeley (editor of the New-York Tribune) stating:
"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."
"I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free."
It would also be a month that saw great divisiveness over the organization of black troops. Although initially opposed to Gen. Phelps organization of three regiments of black troops, Gen. Butler acceeds and authorizes the units. At the same time, Governor Sprague of Rhode Island informs Washington that part of Rhode Island's quota will be filled with black regiments recruited and led by the Governor himself. In stark contrast a large race riot was centered around a tobacco factory in Brooklyn, and was covered extensively by the New-York Times.
In August 1862, the social upheaval in the U.S. would not be limited to African-Americans. In Minnesota, a number of factors including broken treaties and encroachment on Dakota lands led to the opening of the Dakota War of 1862 and the Battle of Fort Ridgely between Dakota warriors and Union troops. The Dakota War of 1862 foreshadowed the troubles that would come post-Civil War as the U.S. began a westward expansion that would result in Red Cloud's War, the Great Sioux War (Custer & Little Bighorn) and ending in the Wounded Knee massacre of the Lakota.
Indeed, August 1862 was a month of past, present and future.
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