1995 32¢ Civil War
Issue Date: June 29, 1995
City: Gettysburg, PA
Quantity: 15,000,000 panes of 20
Printed By: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Photogravure
The release of the 20 Civil War stamps marked the most extensive effort in the history of the U.S. Postal Service to review and verify the historical accuracy of stamp subjects. Each of the 16 individuals and four battles featured were chosen from a master list of 50 subjects, which included Presidents, generals, major battles, rank-and-file soldiers, women, African and Native Americans, and abolitionists. The goal of the U.S.P.S. was to show the wide variety of people who participated in the Civil War.
Joseph E. Johnston
A West Point graduate, Joseph Eggleston Johnston had a distinguished career in the U.S. Army before resigning his commission to join the Confederacy. Promoted to full general following his decisive contribution to the victory at the First Battle of Bull Run, he was given command of the main Confederate Army in Virginia. When the Union Army advanced up the Virginia peninsula the following spring, Johnston moved in to attack. Wounded in the fighting that followed, he was succeeded by Robert E. Lee.
Following his recovery he was given overall command in the west, and in 1863 was placed in charge of the Army of Tennessee with orders to lead an offensive attack against Union troops in Chattanooga. Realizing the capabilities of his army, he instead began a brilliant retreat in front of General William T. Sherman’s advance towards Atlanta. Despite his skilled leadership Johnston was relieved by President Davis who thought him too cautious. In 1865 he returned to field command at the head of a small army opposing Sherman’s advance through the Carolinas. Against Davis’ wishes he surrendered to Sherman on April 26, 1865. In 1891, after standing in the rain at the funeral of his old adversary W. T. Sherman, Johnston died of pneumonia.
Battle Of Fair Oaks
On May 31, 1862, the Civil War Battle of Fair Oaks began.
The Union Army was close enough to the Confederate capital to hear Richmond’s church bells ring on Sunday morning. If Major General George B. McClellan could lead his Army of the Potomac just six more miles, they could take the capital and the Civil War would be over. The Battle of Fair Oaks, known in the South as the Battle of Seven Pines, could have been one of the last battles of the war. Instead, it was a turning point in McClellan’s campaign, and the fighting continued for three more years.
McClellan began leading the Army of the Potomac up the Virginia Peninsula in March 1862. His troops slowly advanced toward the Confederate capital. Always cautious and often relying on faulty information, McClellan planned for a siege against a force he thought was much larger than his. General McClellan was ill with malaria throughout much of the campaign and struggled with the sickness during this battle.
Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and his troops had repeatedly retreated from McClellan’s forces and were now in a defensive position northeast of the capital. The rain-swelled Chickahominy River was a natural defense for the 60,000 Confederate troops protecting Richmond. General Johnston knew his army could not survive a siege, so he decided to go on the offensive while the Union Army was divided, with two corps south of the river and three corps to the north. Johnston hoped to attack before the larger group could cross, but his plan was not communicated well to those under him. He gave oral instructions to Major General James Longstreet and vague written plans to the other leaders. The result was a lack of clear direction and much confusion during battle.
A thunderstorm during the night of May 30 further raised the water level of the river. Many of the bridges built by the Union engineers were washed away, and the surrounding land became swamps. This was a positive turn of events for Johnston because his enemy’s reinforcements were stranded on the other side. His plan to surround the Union Army seemed destined to succeed. Instead, the attack was not well coordinated and chances at victory slipped away.
One of the pieces of information missing from Johnston’s orders was a specific time to start the attack. The battle began five hours later than the general had planned. The first engagements occurred against Brigadier General Silas Casey’s inexperienced force of 6,000 men. Both sides fought bravely and suffered heavy losses. The Confederates broke through the line and Casey’s men retreated to Seven Pines.
By about 4:30 p.m. Confederate reinforcements arrived. General Johnston received news of the battle for the first time and rushed to join. In the early evening, he was wounded twice and taken from the field. Major General G. W. Smith took command.
Meanwhile, Union reinforcements from the other side of the Chickahominy River arrived. Brigadier General Edwin C. Sumner led his men across the unstable “Grapevine Bridge” to the south shore. Before crossing, an engineer desperately tried to convince him the river could not be crossed. Sumner replied, “Impossible? Sir, I tell you I can cross! I am ordered!” The weight of the crossing soldiers held the bridge in place, until after the last man was safely across when it was swept away in the current. The reinforcements helped slow the Confederate advance, then the fighting stopped for the night.
The Confederate Army resumed their attack the next morning. The Union reinforcements in their strong positions proved too powerful for the Southern troops. The Confederate forces withdrew to their defenses, and the battle was over before noon. McClellan did not pursue the retreating army.
The Battle of Fair Oaks was the largest battle of the Eastern Theatre up to that time, and both sides claimed victory. Casualties numbered about the same on both sides and no land was gained by either army. Confederate General G. W. Smith was indecisive in battle and President Davis replaced him with General Robert E. Lee. His offensive against the Union Army forced McClellan and his troops to retreat up the James River. It would take the Union Army nearly two years to get that close to Richmond again, and almost three years to overtake the Confederate capital.
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