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This week in the Civil War - March 18, 1862

Jerfferns cabinet

Confederate Cabinet Shake-up, Stonewall Attacks.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, beset by recent military setbacks, orders a major Cabinet reshuffle this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. The Confederate leader orders on March 18, 1862, that George W. Randolph — a Virginia native and grandson of Thomas Jefferson — take charge as Confederate war secretary. Randolph succeeds Judah P. Benjamin. Benjamin, who was criticized for his handling of the department and now moves to secretary of state.

Randolph will go on in the next eight months to reorganize and bolster the Confederate war machinery for the battles ahead. Despite recent reversals for the Confederacy, the war is still young. An Associated Press dispatch in early March speaks of growing federal worries about a vexing Confederate commander, Maj. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, now ranging about the Virginia countryside. AP's correspondent reports: "Intelligence from Winchester leads to the belief that General Jackson is there in full force."

Indeed, some 3,400 Confederate troops commanded by Jackson will clash with a far larger Union force of about 8,500 troops on March 23, 1862, not far away at Kernston, Va. Federal forces stop Jackson's daring drive, but his campaign sounds alarm bells in Washington.

President Abraham Lincoln, wary of Jackson's threat to the capital from Virginia's neighboring Shenandoah Valley, redirects defensive forces to protect Washington's back door just when Union Gen. George B. McClellan is pressing for all the troops the federal War Department can spare him. McClellan argues a huge force is needed for an all-out attack on Richmond he is planning for his upcoming Peninsula Campaign. And after his campaign fails later in 1862, McClellan will claim he could have captured the seat of the Confederacy if he had had those extra troops at his command.

The Associated Press

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