This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday Feb. 19 1862

In the wake of the capture of Ft. Donelson, Tenn., a few days ago, events were moving with great speed on the Western front. In fact, matters were moving faster than the bureaucracy could keep up with, and this led to some squabbling among the commanders. Gen. C. F. Smith led his men into Clarksville, Tenn., today to occupy the town and preserve order. Unfortunately Gen. Smith was under the command of Gen. U.S. “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, and Clarksville was in territory which was the responsibility of Gen. Don Carlos Buell. This was, to use technical military terminology, a no-no. Clerks scrambled to get matters straightened out, hopefully before either general got to Nashville, the next target.

Thursday, Feb. 19 1863

Admiral Samuel DuPont was in charge of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, based out of Port Royal, S.C. He was not a happy man today though, as evidenced by a letter he wrote to his superiors. After pointing out that nobody could get through the blockade by day anymore, he got a bit heated that he was being criticized because a few ships were still sneaking through at night. “A cordon of ships--some twenty-one miles moored together stem to stern--would do it easy,” he said somewhat tactlessly. He also had a low opinion of ship’s machinery coming out of American factories: “...the wear and tear and ceaseless breaking of American machinery compared with English or even French now, keep a portion of [the forty-some ships he had] always in here repairing. If I had not induced the Department to establish a floating machine shop, which I had seen the French have in China, the blockade would have been a total failure,” he said modestly.

Friday Feb. 19 1864

President Abraham Lincoln, for all his determination to secure the abolition of slavery, was in no way a believer in equal rights for blacks--in fact by modern standards he would be considered a thoroughgoing racist. In common with most whites of his time, he took for granted that the differences between blacks and whites were so great that it was inconceivable that they could ever live together in equality and peace. Today he wrote to the Governor of Massachusetts asking “if it is really true that Massachusetts wishes to afford a permanent home within her borders, for all, or even a large number of colored persons who will come to her.” Lincoln had proposed plan after plan for recolonization of blacks, to Africa, Cuba or Central America. Where he had gotten the notion that Massachusetts wished to turn itself into a black homeland is unknown.

Sunday Feb. 19 1865

As Gen. William T. Sherman’s men completed the demolition of Columbia's public buildings, mills, railroads, factories, and anything else that might be of use to the Confederate war effort, they prepared to depart for the next city to the north, Fayetteville. On the occasion a Federal major, George Nichols, wrote in his diary words which did not bode well for the spirit of reconciliation in America: “Columbia will have bitter cause to remember the visit of Sherman’s is not alone in the property that has been destroyed... It is in the crushing downfall of their inordinate vanity, their arrogant pride, that the rebels will feel the effects of the visit of our army. Their fancied, unapproachable, invincible security has been ruthlessly overthrown. ...they have lost their best blood here.”

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