With the coming of spring and good weather, events picked up a quicker pace across the nation.On March 6th and 7th, armies clashed at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, the largest battle west of the Mississippi River.Union forces held off Confederate attacks, and the Federals controlled the area for much of the war.
On the 9th, the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac) engaged in their epic battle at Hampton Roads.The first naval engagement in history between two iron warships ended in a draw, but it changed naval warfare forever.Both sides rushed to produce more ironclads, and other nations watched with interest and began to experiment with their own ironclad ships.
This month Union forces took New Berne, North Carolina and New Madrid, Missouri.Forces under General Ulysses S. Grant advanced along the Tennessee River, penetrating as far as Pittsburg Landing.Here they set up camp and prepared to push on into northern Mississippi.
Back in Virginia, events were heating up in the Shenandoah Valley.General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who helped ensure the victory at Manassas, was battling Union forces who attempted to control the valley.The region was an important source of food for the Confederacy, and it offered easy access for troops invading Virginia.The beautiful valley saw some of the war's worst devastation and most brutal guerilla warfare.
Private Richard Buck of the 11th Virginia wrote his father that he was "still in the dark as to what move is anticipated."He and the other soldiers from Lynchburg shared the tension of an uncertain future.The regiment spent its first winter in camp, settling into a routine that would revisit them for the next three years.At one point firewood ran out, and the men had to go further and further from camp to get sufficient fuel.Cold rain and snow eventually ended, and the men looked forward to movement and active campaigning.
Toward the end of the month, more fighting erupted in the far flung New Mexico Territory.Confederate forces from Texas invaded the territory and battled small garrisons of Federal troops.On the 26th at Apache Canyon, Confederates forced a Union withdrawal.Two days later on the 28th at Glorietta Pass, also known as Pigeon Ranch, the Confederates were stopped cold.From here they retreated back down along the Rio Grande to Texas.Among the Union troops who turned the tide were Colorado and New Mexico Volunteers as well as regular army forces.
Susan Blackford noted the arrival of wounded in Lynchburg from the fighting on the Peninsula.Soon the hill city would become a major hospital center.She wrote, "Many sick and wounded soldiers reached here yesterday.I went over to church with mother and father.I found mother sick in bed, and very nervous and distressed, as it is supposed a battle is going on in the Peninsula."
Tragedy struck Blackford's family this month as she lost a son and daughter to illness.She wrote to her husband in the army, "I scarcely know how to write to you when I have such heavy tidings to send you.In less than a fortnight I have been called twice to pass through the fiery furnace of affliction doubly heated.Yes, my darling, in that short time I have seen two of our precious children laid in the cold dark grave.Willy and Lucy are now to us only bright and beautiful dreams."
The public is invited to visit Appomattox Court House National Historical Park April 8th-12th and 16th-17th for a series of special events.From the 8th -12th park rangers will offer special talks related to the surrender, and on the following weekend re-enactors will be camped at the park.
This article is part of a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. War is complex, and through this series we hope to highlight the experiences of those who lived through the most traumatic period of our nation's history.We also wish to build interest in the coming of the 150th Anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox, in 2015. Over the course of the next five years, the park will hold special events and programs related to the Civil War's 150th Anniversary.Contact Park Historian Patrick Schroeder with questions or comments at 434-352-8987 X31 or Patrick_Schroeder@nps.gov.