June 1861 witnessed the first major casualties of the American Civil War, though nothing like the American Civil War was to experience in later years.
June 1st: Union and Confederate forces met at Fairfax Court House, Virginia. Some of the earliest battle casualties took place here with one soldier killed on both sides.
June 2nd: 3,000 Union troops commanded by General McClellan advanced on Philippi in western Virginia to confront a Confederate cavalry force that was out recruiting for volunteers.
June 3rd: McClellan’s men caught the Confederates by surprise having marched through the night. The Confederates made a hasty retreat in what became known as the ‘Philippi Races’. The ease of victory convinced many Union officers that the war would not last long. McClellan shared this view.
June 8th: The Federal government established the United States Sanitary Commission that was tasked with overseeing the health of Union troops. Its creation is considered a major military innovation.
June 10th: A force from General Butler’s command attacked a 2,000 strong Confederate force at Little Bethal. However, confusion reigned in the Union force that had been split in to three for the attack. Approaching Little Bethal at dawn, Union soldiers identified other Union soldiers as Confederate troops. They fired on their own men. They also alerted the Confederates of their approach and lost any chance of a surprise attack. Sixteen Union soldiers were killed in this attack while the Confederates lost just one man killed.
June 11th: Counties in western Virginia set up a pro-Unionist government that was recognised by the federal government in Washington DC. In Missouri, the state governor Claiborne Jackson tried to convince Brigadier-General Lyon, commander of the Department of the West, that the state wished to remain neutral in the war and that Missouri did not want any troops quartered in it or passing through it. Lyon knew, however, that Jackson was a secessionist. However, there was little he could do.
June 12th: Jackson made a proclamation in Jefferson City declaring Lyon’s men “invaders". He called for 50,000 volunteers to defend the state against Lyon’s.
June 13th: Lyon advanced on Jefferson City with 1,500 men while Jackson and all the troops he could muster moved south and out of the city.
June 14th: Confederate troops abandoned Harper’s Ferry in the face of a two-pronged Unionist advance.
June 17th: Professor Thadeus Lowe demonstrated to President Lincoln his hot air balloon. The president’s military advisors considered that the balloon had advantages with regards to battlefield reconnaissance. A small Confederate cavalry force got within sight of the capital. A clash between Lyon’s men and Confederate forces at Booneville, Missouri, left fourteen Confederates dead with twenty wounded.
June 19th: Francis H Pierpont was elected governor of what would eventually become Western Virginia.
June 20th: Confederate forces in Missouri gathered in the south of the state away from Lyon’s men.
June 22nd: Governor Jackson moved out of Booneville and travelled further south in the state.
June 23rd: Two large Confederate armies gathered. The Army of the Potomac, commanded by Beauregard, and the Army of the Shenandoah, commanded by General Joseph E Johnson. To both commanders, Virginia seemed to be the likely state where major confrontations would take place.
June 25th: Minor clashes occurred between the forces of Johnson and General Patterson, a Union commander in the Shenandoah Valley.
June 26th: An article in the ‘New York Tribune’ became popular in Washington. It declared that the Confederate Congress must not be allowed to meet in Richmond on July 20th and that a Unionist army should be in Richmond by that day. Militarily this was highly risky but the article, entitled “Forward to Richmond" caught the public mood in the capital.
June 27th: A committee of men from the army, navy and coastal survey teams met in Washington DC. It discussed the likely problems that Union forces could encounter on land and at sea around the Southern coast.
June 28th: Senior Union officers argued that a rush to Richmond – as demanded by the public –would be folly and would almost certainly end in very heavy Unionist casualties.
June 29th: Senior military and civilian leaders met with Lincoln in Washington DC. Field command of the Union army was handed to General Irwin McDowell. He had spent the previous 12 years in administrative fields and may have been looking at ways to extract some glory from his appointment, as his first order was to march on Richmond. While this was very popular with the public, those in the Union army were less than convinced that it was a good move.
June 30th: ‘CSS Sumter’ broke the Unionist blockade of New Orleans. Commanded by Captain Raphael Semmes, over the next six months the ‘Sumter’ captured or destroyed eighteen Unionist ships.