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Key Civil War Battles in 1862: Monitor and Merrimac, Antietam, New Orleans & Shiloh

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  • 0:07 Implementing the…
  • 1:08 The Battle of the Ironclads
  • 3:06 The War in the West
  • 4:08 New Orleans Falls
  • 4:56 The Battle of Antietam
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

In 1862, the Union put its Anaconda Plan into action, resulting in several critical events: the Peninsular Campaign, the Battle of Hampton Roads between the ironclads Monitor and Virginia (Merrimack), the Battle of Shiloh, the capture of New Orleans, and the Battle of Antietam.

Implementing the Anaconda Plan in 1862

Following the embarrassing rout in the first Battle of Bull Run (also called Manassas), the Union devised a long-term strategy, dubbed the Anaconda Plan, to attack the Confederacy from all sides. Lincoln was ready to win, and in 1862, all four parts were implemented. It was a terrible year in American history, and the following battles are just a few of the major events of the American Civil War in 1862.

First of all, Lincoln was ready to go after Richmond, but General George McClellan was dragging his feet. In March, Lincoln demoted him to a field commander and ordered him to get moving. This launched the 5-month long Peninsular Campaign, and it ended with another humiliating defeat. Despite some victories, McClellan was as slow on the battlefield as off, allowing for a change in Confederate command. Confederate President Jefferson Davis' highest military advisor, Robert E. Lee, took charge of the battlefield, and his aggressive leadership changed the war for good.

The Confederacy put armor on the USS Merrimack in order to resume cotton exports.
USS Merrimack Picture

The Battle of the Ironclads

Meanwhile, the Union blockade had effectively reduced cotton exports by 95% in 1861, and Southern forces decided to challenge the Union's naval superiority. One of their strategies was to hire blockade runners typically operated by British citizens. Five out of six blockade runners safely shuttled between the Confederacy and the Bahamas and Bermuda, importing critical war supplies. But the Confederacy also needed to start exporting again, and they didn't have the resources to build a traditional navy, so they started experimenting with the latest in naval technology: armor-plated ships powered by steam engines. They raised the sunken USS Merrimack, rebuilt the decks with iron plating, and outfitted her with the best guns. The ironclad warship was renamed the CSS Virginia. The Confederacy hoped to break the blockade in strategic positions, beginning with Hampton Roads, Virginia. On March 8, 1862, Virginia steamed into the harbor, destroyed two U.S. ships, and was poised to sink the rest of the blockade fleet in the morning.

Little did they know that the North had built its own ironclad. The USS Monitor rested just above the water line. Instead of having several small guns, it boasted just two giant 11-inch guns in a rotating turret. Just after midnight on March 9, Monitor slipped into the Union line. When dawn broke, and Virginia sought out a wooden Union ship for conquest, the tiny Monitor ran between them, swiveled its guns, and pounded away. The Confederates sneered at what they called the Union 'cheese box,' but they were unable to penetrate its hull or contend with its technology. At last, Virginia fled the scene. The Battle of Hampton Roads, sometimes called the Battle of the Ironclads Monitor and Merrimack, has become one of the most memorable naval battles in American history.

The War in the West

The Battle of Shiloh brought the war into western parts of the nation.
Battle of Shiloh Picture

A critical - and ultimately successful - part of the Anaconda Plan was winning the West. In early 1862, U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant was doggedly making his way down the Tennessee River. After capturing Forts Henry and Donelson, he decided to wait for reinforcements before launching an offensive against the South's main east-west railroad connection. Confederate forces decided to attack before the reinforcements arrived on April 6. At first, the Battle of Shiloh looked like it would be a Confederate victory. But the South's commander was killed, and Union reinforcements arrived just in the nick of time. Confederate forces retreated, and Grant did not pursue them. Looking back, this was a mistake, but his men were too exhausted at the time to see that. The casualty rate at Shiloh topped all previous battles combined: 23,746 Americans dead, wounded, or missing in just two days - a quarter of the troops involved on both sides.

New Orleans Falls

The Anaconda Plan also involved controlling the Mississippi River, not only to keep the Confederacy from moving west to the Pacific but also to allow the Union to transport troops and supplies into the South. To do this, they had to capture New Orleans. First, the Northern navy took possession of a small outpost on Ship Island without firing a shot. But it took two fleets to pass the heavily armored Forts Jackson and St. Philip, where the Union could finally land troops. Flag Officer David Farragut then led nine ships up the Mississippi River towards New Orleans. As he approached, Confederate troops fled, money was withdrawn from banks, cotton burned, and citizens evacuated. New Orleans was captured on April 25 and remained under martial law for the rest of the war.

The Battle of Antietam

As the Peninsular Campaign drew to a close in the East, Confederate leaders decided to keep up the momentum and push north. On September 17, they were stopped by General McClellan at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and all hell broke loose. The Battle of Antietam was a 12-hour bloodbath in which the Union pushed back the entire Southern line but, due to leadership errors, never broke through.

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