This Day in the Civil War

Saturday Jan. 4 1862

While the President of the United States has always held the title of “commander in chief” of the military forces, establishing civilian control of the armed services, it is normal for this power to be exercised indirectly, through a Commanding General. This was still the case, but at the moment the Commanding General, George McClellan, was flat on his back suffering from typhoid fever, and Abraham Lincoln was operating directly. The problem of today was Gen. Don Carlos Buell in Kentucky. Lincoln sent him a typically mild telegram asking when he might be able to commence a long-awaited movement into eastern Tennessee, an area of considerable Union sympathy. Buell sent a noncommittal reply, as he was not sure the move was a good idea and was in no hurry to begin it.

Sunday Jan. 4 1863

In one of the more puzzling expeditions of the War, U.S. Gen. John Alexander McClernand, in collaboration with Adm. D.D. Porter, took the Army of the Mississippi on a joint mission upriver to capture the heavily-defended Fort Hindeman. What was puzzling was the McClernand did not have authorization for this move. Including Sherman’s corps, there were 30,000 troops involved; the naval side numbered 50 troop transports, escorted by gunboats. Their opposition, which was also known as Arkansas Post, had 11 guns to oppose them. The fuel situation was so tight on the Union side that Adm. Porter ordered the gunboats taken in tow by the transport ships, so that their boilers would not have to be fired up.

Monday Jan. 4 1864

The cold spell that had started the year continued, and was causing miseries across the Southern states, which were not used to such conditions even in good times of peace. After the depredations of four years of war and destruction, the suffering was intense. Even in the Army of Northern Virginia, the troops were in a bad way. Besides the cold, for which they lacked sufficient blankets and other clothing, they were getting severely short of food. Gen. Robert E. Lee had been sending increasingly plaintive telegrams to Jefferson Davis, pleading for additional rations to be sent. Davis, who was genuinely distraught that he had none to send, became so upset about the situation today that he replied with a suggestion that he simply take it from the countryside. This was appealing to neither man, but “The emergency justifies impression...” Davis said.

Wednesday Jan. 4 1865

The first attack on Ft. Fisher, in the harbor of Wilmington, N.C., last month, had been an unmitigated disaster in the hands of Gen. Benjamin Butler. As he had finally been removed from command yesterday, replaced by Gen. Alfred Terry, planning commenced in earnest today for the second assault, which was going to be vastly better planned. Admiral D.D. Porter was technically in command only of the Navy half of this project, but Terry was smart enough to let the more experienced Porter take the lead in this matter. As Porter was designing it, the Army forces would assault the landward side of the island installation, with only enough Navy operatives to sail the troop transports. Meanwhile the rest of the assault, from the seaward side, would be conducted by Navy and Marines. These men were to be armed with pistols and cutlasses, and would assault their side of the fort in exactly the same manner in which they would board an enemy ship in a fight at sea.

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