This Day in the Civil War

Thursday, March 6 1862

Union forces under Samuel Curtis had pushed all Confederate military out of Missouri. Sterling Price, head of the evicted forces, invited Gen. Earl Van Dorn to join with him to reverse this unpleasantness. Van Dorn was an interesting character, currently in the process of proving that he lacked talent for command at the army level. The dispute moved to the vicinity of Fayetteville, Ark, today, with both sides jockeying for position around Sugar Creek. Van Dorn decided against a frontal attack and used a night march to get around to the Federal rear, in a place called Pea Ridge.

Friday, March 6 1863

Keeping the soldiers supplied with food was a problem for both armies. In lieu of refrigeration, meat had to be either be stored on the hoof, causing problems of both feeding and waste disposal, or salted to preserve it. Canning technology existed, but shipping glass jars was impossible, so most vegetables were dried into flakes called “dessicated produce.” They were better known to the troops as “desecrated” food. A long-standing problem was slowly solving itself as time went on: getting the stuff cooked. There had been proposals in Washington to create essentially a mess corps, but the budget had been voted down by Congress. Such a corps might have paid for itself several times over both by preventing waste and improving nutrition and avoiding disease. Men were supposed to cook for themselves but had no idea how to do it. Cooking was “women’s work” which they had never been taught.

Sunday, March 6, 1864

In a new, and highly alarming, attempt at creating a devastating ramship, the torpedo boat CSS David was outfitted by the Confederate Navy with a long spar stretching off her front, with a bomb attached to the end. Today she drove up the North Edisto River near Charleston, in pursuit of the USS Memphis. David got within 50 feet before the Memphis' crew even noticed she was there. The crew began hysterically firing muskets, with no effect on the iron semi-submersible. The spar bomb hit hard, below the waterline--and didn’t go off. In two more attempts it never went off, and Memphis was undamaged. Confederate ingenuity in devising new and improvised weaponry was not, alas, matched by manufacturing capabilities of equal quality.

Monday, March 6 1865

An environmental impact study would have been advisable on this day before troops of Sherman’s forces in the town of Cheraw, N.C. decided to dispose of captured Confederate ammunition by throwing it in a ravine outside of town. There was in fact a huge amount of the stuff and officers were uncertain as to whether it was left behind in haste or whether there had been plans to use it to booby-trap buildings. It began to pile up in the ravine to a depth of four or five feet in places. Some men of the 15th Corps began playing around, setting fire to little cakes of powder they found on the ground some distance away. So much powder had been hauled that the flame followed a trail of it into the ravine, exploding the entire mass. One man was killed and several injured; it was considered quite fortunate that the explosion did not damage the railroad bridge over the ravine. The official report of the investigation was “unable to ascertain the names of the men who set fire to the powder.”

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