On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, moving to free thousands of slaves in the nation's capital. This action is an early hint of steps to come that would eventually hasten the end of slavery across the whole United States as a result of the conflict.
It would be several more months, in September 1862, when he would sign yet another even more famous document -- the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation -- which declared that if the secessionists didn't cease active rebellion and return to the Union by Jan. 1, 1863, all slaves in those states would be free by that deadline.
That step would effectively reframe the war as a battle against slavery -- and not just make it a cause of restoring the Union as Lincoln had maintained early in the conflict.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported in a dispatch dated April 17, 1862, near Yorktown, Va., that Confederate forces have strengthened their defenses and kept up "brisk cannonading" all night near Virginia's James River as Union forces were preparing to mount an offensive toward Richmond from the Virginia coastal region.
The report from a camp near Yorktown said federal gunboats "amused themselves by shelling the woods below Gloucester" in Virginia and one of the vessels approached within two miles of Yorktown when Confederates opened fire from a battery concealed in the woods.
AP reports the federal gunboats were not damaged and the firing continued afterward for long intervals. AP's dispatch added that other engagements were reported in other spots near the James River as Union Gen. George B. McClellan was mustering forces in the region for a looming spring offensive by the federal fighters intent on seizing Richmond, capital of the Confederacy.