August 1861 saw no military developments in the American Civil War that were likely to tip the balance towards one side or the other. In fact, the military commander of the North, General McClellan, was criticised by Lincoln for being too cautious. McClellan for his part argued that if he lost a major battle just once, the American Civil War could have seen a Confederate victory. McClellan despaired about what he saw as a political interference into military matters.
August 1st: Captain Baylor claimed Arizona and New Mexico for the Confederacy.
August 3rd: A skirmish occurred between Union and Confederate troops at Mesilla, New Mexico.
August 4th: The Union planned to expand her naval capabilities and $1.5 million was spent on a study regarding the Union Navy’s capability.
August 6th: Congress passed the Confiscation Act, which declared that all property used in insurrection would be forfeited. The President was also given extraordinary powers when dealing with navy and army matters.
August 7th: Hampton, held by Unionist forces, was burned to the ground by attacking Confederate troops in retaliation for the Union harbouring fugitive slaves.
August 10th: General Lyons was killed in a battle at Wilson’s Creek, the second largest of the year after Bull Run. Ironically, Confederate losses were higher but the loss of such a talented commander was a major blow to the Union forces.
August 11th: McClellan, in a letter to Lincoln, argued that the Confederacy was large enough to constitute a nation. To defeat it, McClellan argued, the Union would have to create a very large military capability.
August 14th: A mutiny occurred in the 79th New York Regiment that was defending Washington DC.
August 15th: A further mutiny occurred in the 2nd Maine Volunteers who were also defending Washington DC. It became clear that a major reorganisation was required to take into account the militia status of those defending the capital.
August 19th: The Confederate Congress announced an alliance with Missouri that further widened the gap between those for the Union and those for the Confederacy within that state.
August 20th: The Confederate government announced that it was sending more commissioners to Europe – especially Great Britain and France – in an effort to secure war supplies.
August 22nd: The Confederacy started to make plans for an expected Unionist attack along its vulnerable coastline.
August 25th: General McClellan continued to improve the defences of Washington DC and ignore the public demand that his forces launch an attack on the Confederates based near the capital. He was a lot more cautious simply because he did not know the true strength of the army opposing him. Therefore McClellan concentrated on being defensive as opposed to launching an offensive campaign. McClellan also knew that if he gave in to the public’s demand for an offensive policy and that campaign failed, the capital would be open to occupation by Confederate forces.
August 26th: The Battle of Cross Lanes (also known as the Battle of Summerville) was fought in Virginia. The Unionists lost with over 200 men taken prisoner.
August 28th: The first major action involving gunboats took place at Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. Union gunboats bombarded Forts Clark and Hatteras but could not press home their attack because of worsening weather. 600 Union troops were landed on the inlet but the naval force, commanded by General Benjamin Butler, could not support them because of the difficult weather.
August 29th: The attack on Fort Hatteras continued with the coming of improved weather. After several hours of shelling, the commander of Fort Hatteras, Commodore Barron, agreed to surrender unconditionally. The Unionist attack on Hatteras Inlet was a success and a great propaganda boost after Bull Run. The Confederates lost 56 men and had 700 taken as prisoners.
August 30th: Butler was given orders to destroy Fort Hatteras. It was only after he landed at Hatteras Inlet and visited the fort that he realised its strategic importance in terms of being a Unionist base to disrupt ships attempting to break the blockade of the South. Butler returned to Washington DC to state his case for making Hatteras Fort a Unionist stronghold. In Missouri a state of martial was declared. General Frémont also ordered that anyone who openly supported the Confederate government in Missouri would have their property and slaves confiscated.