Sunday, September 4

This Week in The Civil War: Sunday, Sept. 4

Why the Wait?

The July defeat of federal forces at First Bull Run in Manassas still weighs heavily on President Abraham Lincoln as summer turns to fall in 1861. Lincoln earlier gave command of the Army of the Potomac to Maj. Gen. George McClellan, hoping to reorganize the army after the Union defeat at Bull Run. McClellan's forces spend the late summer weeks training, drilling and training some more. Some observers watch and wait impatiently, critical of McClellan's weeks of drills while urging a resumption of battle. Yet Lincoln is willing so far to give McClellan time to pull together a unified fighting force after its panicked, disordered retreat from Bull Run. Inaction ultimately will be McClellan's undoing in months further ahead. This week another Union officer, Ulysses S. Grant, shows the first flashes of military prowess that will eventually take him to the pinnacle of Lincoln's army. On Sept. 6, 1861, Grant is days into his command in southeastern Missouri when he seizes the offensive. He orders Union troops – backed by gunboats – to Paducah, Ky., occupying that strategic junction of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers without a fight. The move is critical to Lincoln's strategy of keeping Kentucky in the Union. Eight weeks later, Grant will claim his first wartime victory in Missouri. For now, though, the buildup to further fighting is slow as impatient voices are also heard on the Southern side of the fight. South Carolina's Charleston Mercury calls in a Sept. 5, 1861 editorial for a quick Confederate offensive against Washington. The call goes unheeded. It's a time of training, arming and clothing soldiers on both sides. "There is much need for blankets and socks for our army, at this time, as there is for ammunitions and war," writes one Confederate official, John Campbell, in an appeal this week in Southern newspapers for help with the war effort.

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