This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Jan. 21, 1862

Activities were heating up (although the weather was not) on the Mississippi River as U.S. Gen. U.S. Grant wanted to get an early start on the campaign. Although the ultimate objective was to have the river completely back under Union control, and the eastern Confederacy cut off from the west, it was obviously going to be a long project. Today Lt. S. L. Phelps returned with his ironclad gunboat USS “Conestoga” returned from patrol to report. His assignment was to probe the area and defenses of Ft. Donelson. He informed Flag Officer Foote that in his estimation, the best means of attack would be from boat-borne mortars. Foote had only one problem applying this information to the project: he didn’t have any mortars, and didn’t have any boats that could be refitted in time to carry them if he did, at least not in time to meet the schedule for the attack on the fort.

Wednesday Jan. 21 1863

Braxton Bragg had fought the battle of Murfreesboro back at the first of the year. His troops had fought well, and really seemed like they were going to accomplish a clear-cut win for awhile, and Bragg had gone so far as to send a telegram to Richmond to that effect. However, in the end he had concluded that the forces available were not enough to hold the area securely, and the men had withdrawn. His officers were so infuriated by this, as well as other troubles they had had with Bragg’s leadership, that they send a mass protest to Jefferson Davis. Davis responded today by assigning Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to proceed to the army’s camp and investigate the whole matter. Not only did Davis state publicly that there was a lack of confidence between Bragg and his officers which needed to be cleared up, his choice of Johnston to do the investigating sent a clear signal: Johnston and Bragg did not like each other even a little bit.

Thursday Jan. 21 1864

A little-discussed aspect of the United States during the War of the Rebellion was that the nation was divided into Departments by the army. Usually named after states, they did not necessarily follow existing state borders, and frequently contained more than one state. The Department of Ohio, for example, was immense, stretching from the western half of Pennsylvania to include all of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and for a time Missouri. Although departmental commanders did not have the full authority of martial law, they did have the responsibility to coordinate not just collection and assignment of state troop quotas but considerable influence over what would normally be “private sector” activities. For example, today in that same Dept. of Ohio an order was issued forbidding the distillation of whiskey. The reason given was a shortage of grain and the need to save what was available for food purposes.

Saturday Jan. 21 1865

U.S. Gen. William T. Sherman, when setting forth from Atlanta, had ordered his men to leave everything but weapons and ammunition behind, discouraging even the carrying of tents. The one group that could not be subjected to this rule, however, was his administrative staff. Reports still had to be made, documents kept, files maintained, and desks transported to do all this writing on. As the armies pulled out of Savannah today this staff again got special treatment. They got to leave by boat, headed for Beaufort, S.C., with a stop at Hilton Head Island. The soldiers, naturally, had to go by foot, and it was raining.

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