This Day in the Civil War

Friday Jan. 31 1862

Last Monday Abraham Lincoln had issued General War Order Number One. As seems suitable for the initial directive, Lincoln essentially had told his generals to get off their behinds and start doing something to bring the rebellious States back into the federal union. As this did not produce instant martial activity, he backed it up today with Special War Order Number One, which affected only the Army of the Potomac. As Gen. McClellan did not seem to have gotten the drift, Lincoln got very specific. McClellan was to go to “a point upon the Rail Road South Westward of what is known of [as] Manassas Junction,” to seize and occupy it. He was welcome to take an army with him if he liked.

Saturday Jan. 31 1863

In midwinter a haze often gathers over Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Out of the haze this morning came the shadowy forms of Confederate gunboats Chicora and Palmetto State. Their mission was to break the blockade strangling this major Southern port. Surprise and fierce gunfire wreaked havoc on the Federal ships. Mercedita was rammed, shelled, shot , run aground and surrendered (she later got back afloat and escaped.) Keystone State was the next target, taking shots in her boilers that killed 20 and wounded 20 more, most of the deaths being caused by scalding steam. Other Federal vessels were also damaged and the Confederates withdrew completely unscathed. It was announced abroad that the blockade was broken, but it was not. The Federals always had more ships

Sunday Jan. 31 1864

Ben Butler had not exactly endeared himself to the populace of New Orleans, but in many ways he had proven to be a ideal administrator of an occupied city. Aside from a fondness for lining his pockets with confiscated cotton and church bells, he had improved sanitation (probably averting a yellow fever epidemic in the process), kept the peace and averted outright bloodshed. His replacement, Gen. Nathaniel Banks, was not quite so adept at politics, so today he received some advice from a master of the art. Abraham Lincoln wrote that he was to prepare for elections. He could “adopt any rule which shall admit to vote any unquestionably loyal free state men and none others.” A loyalty oath was a required ticket to this dance.

Tuesday Jan. 31 1865

Two major actions took place in the capitals of the countries at war today. In Washington D.C. the House of Representatives passed, by the required two-thirds majority, the proposed Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment, which would outlaw slavery anywhere in the nation, had long since passed the Senate but had failed in the House repeatedly. There were rumors that political deals were made this time, perish the thought. Farther South, in Richmond an announcement was made that seemed just as inevitable. Robert E. Lee, long concerned only with the defenses of his beloved Virginia, was named today as commander of all the remaining armies of the Confederacy. Had such a position as General-in-Chief been filled far earlier, it might have made some impact on the outcome of the war.

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