This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Feb. 20 1862

William Wallace Lincoln, known as “Willie” and 12 years of age, died today at the White House, of typhoid fever, which had first attacked him on Feb. 7. The health of the President’s son, interestingly enough, had parallels with that of many men in the armed services of North and South. In March of 1861 the boy had come down with measles; the same disease wreaked havoc on armies in the first year of the war. Even Robert E. Lee noted that the ailment was “mild in childhood but devastating in manhood,” and many died. Willie seemed to recover well from that attack, but typhoid was a disease of polluted water, and in Washington D.C. there was hardly any other kind to be had. The Lincolns were devastated, but they were not the only ones in mourning for a son; the casualty lists from the Battle of Fort Donelson were printed in the newspapers today.

Friday Feb. 20 1863

Difficult though it may be for us to believe today, when pennies are such a plague upon the land that nearly every store has a little dish into which the despised denomination can be thrown, small coins were greatly in demand in the days of the War. They were also in horribly short supply these days, as both the machinery to mint them and the ores from which they would normally be made were diverted to the war effort. Pennies in particular were in very short supply in the North. Merchants responded by printing and issuing what amounted to personal notes in denominations of one, two and three cents each.

Saturday Feb. 20 1864

There was fighting in the lands of, and waters around, Florida for as long as the War of Southern Independence lasted, but there was only one “official” battle, and it occurred on this day. Federal Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour had been ashore with some 5500 men on a campaign of destruction for about two weeks now. They had landed in Jacksonville and moved inland, tearing up railroads, wrecking dams and levees, and creating as much havoc as they could manage. They had done so with relative impunity--up till today. They were just approaching Olustee, Fla., when they were met by 5000 Confederates under command of Brig. Gen. Joseph Finnegan. Despite the slight Union edge in numbers, in the confusion of battle two units broke under fire--the 7th New Hampshire and the 8th U.S. Colored Troops--and the Federals were forced to withdraw back towards Jacksonville.

Monday Feb. 20 1865

Federal troops had made a successful landing at the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, in preparation for a march on Wilmington. The problem was that although they held the west bank of the river without opposition, their hold on the east side was not nearly so secure. The rebel forces were engaged in a furious project to manufacture and launch “torpedoes” into the waterway, sending some 200 of them during the night. Not really torpedoes in the modern sense of the word, these were more like waterproofed barrels loaded with gunpowder and equipped with triggering mechanisms designed to explode on contact. A few went astray and sent tree roots to prematurely meet their Maker, but most floated successfully into the Union naval forces. Several steamships were damaged severely and some smaller boats completely destroyed, but casualties from the effort were slight.

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