This Day in the Civil War

Friday, Jan. 17, 1862

Two groups of Union forces were on the move in Kentucky this day...or at least trying to. Troops of Grant’s command, under McClernand, struggled along through increasingly unpleasant weather and ground conditions. Theoretically, they made up one arm of a two-prong assault down the Mississippi, the overall intent of which was to take Vicksburg, Miss., and reclaim the Father of Waters for the union. In practical terms, Grant could not really have expected this to succeed, especially in one of the bitterest winters in memory. Afloat, gunboats under the overall command of Brig. Gen. C.F. Smith were working up the Tennessee River, intending to threatened Ft. Henry. These ships represented the waterborne arm of the two-pronged assault. They were not making much progress: Ice was so bad on the Mississippi that shipping was blocked just below St. Louis.

Saturday, Jan. 17, 1863

Lt. Comdr. J.G. Walker and his gunboat “USS Baron DeKalb” were piling up quite an impressive record over the last few days. Yesterday he and his men had seized Rebel guns, ammunition and other supplies at Devall’s Bluff, Ark. Today they departed from Devalls and proceeded up the White River to Des Arc, Ark., where he repeated his actions of the day before-capturing 39 Rebels, although it must be admitted that it was not much of a battle: the secessionists in question were in the hospital, and in no condition to fight back. He didn’t even bother to haul them to prison; under the rules of the time they were paroled. Booty recovered included, he wrote in his report, , “171 rounds of fixed ammunition, 72 cartridges, and 47 shot for a 12-pounder gun.” He also took possession of the post office.

Sunday, Jan. 17, 1864

Ironclad gunboats were the first item and also the last item on the “want” list of Admiral David Farragut on this day. He wrote to Admiral D.D. Porter, pointing out that for the upcoming assault on Mobile Bay, Ala,: “...I am anxious to know if your monitors, at least two of them, are not completed and ready for service; and, if so, can you spare them to assist us? If I had them, I should not hesitate to become the assailant instead of awaiting the attack. I must have ironclads enough to lie in the bay to hold the gunboats and rams in check in the shoal water.” In the event that this correspondence should sound a bit less formal than was the custom in military circles at this time, there is a good reason for this: Farragut and Porter were brothers in every way but blood. When Farragut was orphaned at an early age he was adopted by Porter’s father, also named David D., and the two were raised together.

Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1865

Admiral David D. Porter, although less known than his famous brother since he was not given to dramatic statements like “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”, nevertheless had an equal share of flair for the dramatic --and more than his share of a slightly sneaky streak. In the wake of the capture of Ft. Fisher two days before, it occurred to him that the news could not possibly have reached blockade runners making for Wilmington. These blockade runners had been the bane and target of the entire blue-water U.S. Navy since the earliest days of the war, and Porter decided to have a little fun at their expense. He ordered the usual fires to be lit on a man-made hill known as the Mound,which held a flaring light that signaled the all-clear to approach the harbor. He also ordered all lights doused on Federal ships.....

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