March 3rd saw the appointment of Andrew Johnson as the Military Governor of Tennessee by President Lincoln.
On that same day, the action in south Missouri continues as Union General John Pope lays siege to New Madrid.
On the 4th, faulty communications resulted in the relieving of General Grant from command by General Henry Halleck.
The Battle of Pea Ridge, also known as Elkhorn Tavern, was fought from March 6-8 in northwest Arkansas near the Missouri border. Union forces under Samuel Curtis had driven Confederates from central Missouri into northwest Arkansas. Confederate General Earl Van Dorn launched a counter-offensive but Curtis held off the attack and drove the southerners from the battlefield on the second day. It was one of the few battles in the entire war when the Confederates had a numerical superiority on the battlefield. It was a costly fight for the south. Three CSA generals were killed or mortally wounded and recent estimates put the overall loss at around 2,000 soldiers. After the battle, Van Dorn’s forces were forced to live off the land for a week. During that time, thousands of troops originally under Sterling Price deserted and returned home to Missouri. A few weeks later, the remnants of Van Dorn’s forces were transferred to Tennessee, leaving Arkansas virtually undefended.
Also on March 6th, President Lincoln proposed that slaves in border states be emancipated gradually with compensation being paid to their owners. Also on that day, the first Union ironclad ship, the USS Monitor put to sea from New York. And on the 8th the Confederate Ironclad, CSS Virginia (also known as the Merrimac) engaged and destroyed two Union frigates.
On March 8th, after intelligence reports of increased Union activity provided by JEB Stuart, Joseph E. Johnston withdrew the Confederate Army of the Potomac from Centerville, VA to the Rappahannock River. On that same day, Lincoln, frustrated at McClellan’s failure or refusal to appoint corps commanders, named Edwin Sumner, Samuel Heintzelman, Erasmus Keyes, and Irvin McDowell to those posts.
March 9th was an important date in Naval history when the two opposing ironclads, Monitor and Merrimac faced off in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The CSS Merrimac was sent to the area in an attempt to break the Union blockade that was preventing international shipments from reaching Norfolk and Richmond. The two ships fought for three hours, without a decisive victory. However since Merrimac retired to repair battle damage and the blockade remained intact, the battle was clearly a strategic victory for the Union. Neither ship would survive the year. In May, after General Benjamin Huger abandoned Norfolk without telling anybody in the Navy, the Merrimac was stranded by low tide. Her Captain had her burned. The ship’s magazine blew and destroyed the ship. The Union Monitor survived to the end of the year, when she foundered in high seas off the Virginia Capes.
March 11th saw the culmination of a leadership crisis for the north when Lincoln summarily relieved McClellan as General in Chief of the Union Army, although allowing him to retain command of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln then put Henry Halleck in command of all western forces and put John Fremont in command of the Mountain Department, covering the mountainous areas of Virginia and West Virginia. It was a day of decision for the south as well. President Davis, after the disaster at Fort Donelson, fired John Floyd and Gideon Pillow.
Union naval forces occupied Jacksonville, FL on the 12th.
On the 13th, Grant was reinstated to his command. On that same day, President Davis gave command of confederate armies to Robert E. Lee.
Also on the 14th, Federal forces under Pope finally took New Madrid on the Mississippi after a two-week siege.
William T. Sherman and Stephen Hurlburt’s Union troops arrived at Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee and began to move inland, setting the stage for the April fight at Shiloh. Grant arrived and assumed command of all forces on the 17th.
Also on the 17th, McClellan, finally prodded into action began transporting Union troops to Fort Monroe, VA for the Peninsula Campaign.
On March 18th, Jefferson Davis moved Judah Benjamin from the War Department to the post of Secretary of State, replacing R. M. T. Hunter. The post of Secretary of War is assumed by George Randolph of Virginia.
On the 19th, after more than $10,000 in renovations, Ford’s Theater in Washington opens for business.
On the 20th, Union General Nathaniel Banks is forced to withdraw from Strasburg to Winchester, VA by the forces of Stonewall Jackson.
On the 23rd, Union General John Parke demanded the surrender of Fort Macon on the coast of North Carolina. The southerners refused, so Parke laid siege to the fort.
March 23rd was also the day of the First Battle of Kernstown, the opening action of Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Campaign. Jackson, in receipt of faulty intelligence attacked what he thought was a single regiment, but was actually a full division twice the size of Jackson’s force. After his initial cavalry attack was beaten back, Jackson attempted to turn the Union flank, but was driven from the field by brigades under Erastus Tyler and Nathan Kimball. It was Jackson’s only defeat of the entire war. But strategically, the action kept the Union from transferring forces from the Valley to reinforce McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, probably saving Richmond from capture.
In another prelude to Shiloh, CSA General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Army moves from Murfreesboro, TN to Corinth, MS on the 26th.
In one of the rare far western actions, the Battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico Territory was fought between the 26th and 28th. This action, sometimes referred to as the Gettysburg of the West, was intended to break the Union possession of the west along the front range of the Rockies. The two forces skirmished on the 26th and the main battle was fought on the 28th. The Southerners were able to push the Union forces back through the pass, but the Union destroyed the Confederate’s supply train, forcing them to retreat. Eventually, the CSA had to completely withdraw from New Mexico Territory. Among the Union commanders in this battle was John M. Chivington, leading the 1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry. Chivington, two years later would commit one of the worst atrocities in American history when he attacked a treaty village of Cheyenne and Arapaho, slaughtering 160, two-thirds of whom were women and children. The troops, volunteers, not regular army, committed sickening atrocities and ended up touching off a war that would last for nearly 20 years. Also present at Glorieta Pass was Major Edward Wynkoop who would later see his Army career destroyed after strenuous efforts to protect peaceful Cheyenne and Arapahos.
Jefferson Davis, recognizing early the Confederacy’s critical manpower problem, shocked southerners by proposing a conscription bill on March 28th.
On March 29th, the Confederate Army of Mississippi was formed out of units from Kentucky, Alabama, and West Florida and placed under the command of Albert Sidney Johnston.
And on March 30th, a vital rail line, the Baltimore & Ohio reopened after six months under Confederate control.