This Day in the Civil War

Monday, Feb. 3 1862

On this day President Abraham Lincoln wrote what may have been the most eloquent statement of his entire career. Never mind the Gettysburg Address, forget about the we have a triumph of the politician’s art. He had received a letter from the King of Siam. King Rama IV, in an outburst of enthusiasm, had offered to contribute trained war elephants to the Union cause. Rama waxed eloquent about the beasts’ uses in construction as well as warfare. Lincoln wrote, in a masterpiece of tact, that he was unable to accept the offer, as his nation was at such a latitude “as does not...favor the multiplication of the elephant.” The letter had actually arrived late in the Buchanan administration, but like other problems he had left it for Lincoln to deal with.

Tuesday, Feb. 3 1863

Cmdr. Ellet’s Queen of the West had missed the chance to ram and sink City of Vicksburg and gone on downriver. Today was more productive: below the mouth of the Red River she caught three Confederate vessels, one empty, one loaded with tons of canned pork and live hogs, and the third filled with molasses, sugar, flour and cotton. After the crews and passengers were taken off, Ellet ordered all three ships, along with their cargos, burned. It is left to the imagination of the reader to contemplate the stench that wafted downwind from this conflagration.

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1864

On this day 26,000 men under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman left Vicksburg, Miss., heading for Meridian, with the purpose of tearing up railroads and generally wreaking all the havoc that opportunity presented to them. They were supposed to be accompanied by 7600 cavalrymen under the command of Gen. William Sooy Smith, but the horsemen were late in arriving for march. Sherman was already of the opinion that cavalry was a low, slow and unreliable fighting force. Smith’s delay did little to help matters.

Friday, Feb. 3 1865

On this day the Hampton Roads Conference took place. This extraordinary meeting brought President Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward, representing the Federals, together with Alexander Stephens, John Campbell and R.M.T. Hunter to speak for the South. On a ship off Hampton Roads, off Ft. Monroe, Va., the southerners proposed a joint mission of the two countries against the French in Mexico. This, they argued, would give the fighting men a common enemy to tackle, reduce the hostility levels, and accomplish what the Mexican War of the 1840’s had set out to do. Lincoln rejected the plan almost out of hand. He denied utterly the notion that there were two countries.

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