1861 April 18th

April 18 1861 Thursday

Harper’s Ferry Arsenal and Armoury, VA

Go to April 19 1861

USA. Robert Edward Lee, son of a Revolutionary War hero, a distinguished 25 year veteran of the United States Army, former Superintendent of West Point Military Academy, and Colonel of the 1st US Cavalry was offered supreme field command of the US Army. He was invited personally by General-in-Chief Major-General Winfield Scott who had estimated his talents very highly since the Mexican War. Lee declined, choosing to put loyalty to his home state of Virginia above that of loyalty to the Federal state. Albert Sidney Johnston, Colonel of the 2nd US Cavalry, was also highly regarded and was offered a position as second-in-command of the US Army by Scott but he also declined the invitation and joined the Confederacy.

Arkansas. The US Army’s subsistence supply depot at Pine Bluff was seized by state forces.

District of Columbia. Five hundred unarmed and untrained Pennsylvania volunteers arrived in Washington to strengthen the garrison of 300 Regular Army soldiers that had been drawn from various commands to defend the capital.

Florida. The Confederates again demanded the surrender of Fort Pickens at Pensacola Bay but this was refused by the reinforced garrison.

Maryland. Union volunteer Nicholas Biddle was wounded by a secessionist mob in Baltimore and became the first black soldier to shed blood during the Civil War.

Texas. The steamer USS Star of the West was captured at Indianola by Confederate forces under Colonel Earl Van Dorn. The Star of the West had arrived at Charleston Harbour on 9 January 1861, to resupply the garrison at Fort Sumter. The ship was fired upon by cadets from The Citadel stationed at the Morris Island battery and was hit three times by what were arguably the first shots of the American Civil War. Although Star of the West suffered no major damage, the unarmed ship turned about to leave the harbour. its mission was abandoned and Star of the West headed for New York. The Star of the West next sailed for Texas to pick up seven companies of Union Army troops assembled at Indianola after being expelled from their US Army posts. While anchored off the Pass Caballo bar leading into Matagorda Bay, the ship was captured by Colonel Earl Van Dorn and members of two Galveston militia units, the Wigfall Guards and the Island City Rifles.

Virginia. The US Armoury and Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry was abandoned by Federal troops. Virginia State Brigadier-General Kenton Harper led in his volunteer command, fearing resistance from a regiment of Massachusetts volunteers but the garrison had already departed to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Before leaving, the garrison burned the workshops and the building in which 17,000 muskets were stored. Although nearly 20,000 firearms were destroyed, the Virginia state forces were able to salvage the workshop equipment, tools, machinery, and spare parts for the manufacture of muskets and pistols. They began to evacuate this material to the Richmond Arsenal in Virginia and the Fayetteville Arsenal in North Carolina. The means to manufacture the 1841 “Mississippi” US Rifle Musket went to Fayetteville, while the equipment for the 1855 US Rifle Musket went to Richmond. The Harper’s Ferry Arsenal was abandoned and mever resumed operation during or after the war. Its machinery and tools added greatly to the Confederates’ capacity to manufacture arms.

Virginia. The USS Merrimack was reported to be ready for sea at Norfolk. The modern steam frigate had been launched in 1855 and sailed to the Caribbean and Europe, before returning to Boston in 1857 for repairs. On 17 October 1857, it left port to become the flagship of the Pacific Squadron, sailing around Cape Horn to cruise the Pacific coast of South and Central America until heading for home in November 1859. Further repairs began at Norfolk in February 1860. On the afternoon of 17 April 1861, Engineer in Chief B F Isherwood managed to start the frigate’s engines but during the previous night, secessionists had sunk light boats in the channel between Craney Island and Sewell’s Point, to block its passage out to sea.

Virginia. The schooner Buchanan (a lighthouse tender) was seized by the Confederates and taken to Rich­mond.

Virginia: Confederate Colonel Robert Edward Lee assumed command as Major-General of the Provisional Army of Virginia, arriving to take up his command on 23 April 1861.

Virginia. Major-General of Virginia Militia William Booth Taliaferro was assigned to command Virginian forces at Norfolk.

Union Organisation

USA: Major Harvey Brown (2nd US Artillery) arrived to command the Department of Florida, with headquarters at Fort Pickens in Pensacola Bay.

Commander in Chief: President Abraham Lincoln
Vice-President: Hannibal Hamlin
Secretary of War: Simon Cameron
Secretary of the Navy: Gideon Welles

Pacific Squadron: John Berrien Montgomery

General–in-Chief: Winfield Scott

Department of the East: John Ellis Wool

Department of Florida: Harvey Brown assumed

Department of New Mexico: William Wing Loring

Department of the Pacific: Albert Sidney Johnston interim Edwin Vose Sumner awaited

  • District of Oregon: George Wright

Department of Texas: Carlos Adolphus Waite

Department of Utah: Philip St George Cooke

Department of Washington: Charles Ferguson Smith

Department of the West: William Selby Harney

Confederate Organisation

CSA: The Forces in Norfolk was established, comprising Virginia state forces sent to occupy Norfolk, Virginia, and the Gosport Navy Yard.
CSA: Major-General of Virginia Militia William Booth Taliaferro assumed command of the Forces in Norfolk.

Commander in Chief: President Jefferson Finis Davis
Vice-President: Alexander Hamilton Stephens
Secretary of War: Leroy Pope Walker
Secretary of the Navy: Stephen Russell Mallory

Department of South Carolina: Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard

  • “Forces in Charleston”: Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard

Department of Texas: Earl Van Dorn awaited

Department of West Florida: Braxton Bragg

  • “Forces in Pensacola”: Braxton Bragg

District of Louisiana: David Emanuel Twiggs

  • “Forces in New Orleans” “Army of Louisiana”: Braxton Bragg

Defences of Savannah: Alexander Robert Lawton

“Forces in Harper’s Ferry”: Kenton Harper

“Forces in Norfolk” established: William Booth Taliaferro assumed

Union Generals

Note: Italics, awaiting confirmation of the commission

Major-General USA

Winfield Scott

Brigadier-General USA

John Ellis Wool
William Selby Harney
Edwin Vose Sumner

Brigadier-General USA (Staff)

Joseph Eggleston Johnston

Confederate Generals

Note: Italics, awaiting confirmation of the commission

Major-General PACS

David Emanuel Twiggs

Brigadier-General ACSA

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
Braxton Bragg

Brigadier-General PACS

Alexander Robert Lawton

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