This Day in the Civil War

Saturday March 8 1862

It is rare that any one conflict can be rightly regarded as the “last of an era”, but one such occurred today in waters off Hampton Roads., Va. The CSS Virginia had been rebuilt from the burned-out hulk of the USS Merrimack. It was underpowered and unmaneuverable, but it was covered with thick iron plates, making it the first of its kind in the world. The ship rampaged among the wooden Union ships today and wreaked havoc. The USS Cumberland was rammed and badly damaged, eventually going down fighting. USS Congress was badly damaged, run aground and her crew captured after surrender. Only the damaged USS Minnesota was left, albeit also aground, when the Virginia withdrew, expecting to return tomorrow to finish her off. Out west, the battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., came to an end as the Confederate forces withdrew. One man, Gen., Curtis, wrote to his brother “The scene is silent and sad--the vulture and the wolf now have the dominion and the dead friends and foes sleep in the same lonely grave.”

Sunday March 8 1863

Gen. E. H. Stoughton was on a mission: the capture of the pesky Confederate cavalry raider Capt. John S. Mosby. It had been a long hard chase, however, and tonight Stoughton and his men slept gratefully in comfortable beds in Fairfax Court House, Va. They slept so well, and with so few guards, that Moseby and his men were able to creep quietly into town and right into the headquarters garrison. There they woke Stoughton and, at gunpoint, asked him what his mission was. He answered that his mission was to capture Moseby, and the man with the gun told he had succeeded because he WAS Moseby. Stoughton and party were allowed to dress before being marched off to Confederate lines as prisoners of war. They spent some time in that condition before being exchanged, but the rest of Moseby’s loot, including 58 horses “of high quality”, arms, ammunition and other equipment, were cheerfully retained by Confederate authorities.

Tuesday March 8 1864

A rather scruffy-looking major general, accompanied by a small boy, tried to check into the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. today. As the Willard was the classiest hotel in town, the clerk almost told the officer they had no vacancies, until he noticed that the signature in the register said “U.S. Grant & Son, Galena, Illinois”. A room was promptly found, and Grant sent word to President Lincoln that he had arrived. Lincoln invited Grant to meet him at the White House that evening, neglecting to tell him that this was the night of the weekly Open House, when the “best people” of the town would attend. Grant, still in his battered battle uniform, was quite a shock to citizenry accustomed to the smooth-talking, ornately dressed McClellan and Joe Hooker. He was so short that Lincoln asked him to stand on a sofa in the East Room so everyone could get a look at him. Grant did, but was mortified.

Wednesday March 8 1865

The mighty army of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman continued its seemingly-inexorable march, crossing today from South into North Carolina. The progress of the Federal campaign did not go completely unopposed, however. U.S. Gen. Jacob D. Cox had a force near New Bern, N.C., that was hit today by elements of Braxton Bragg’s once-proud Army of Tennessee. This army, barely a ghost of its former glory after its mismanagement last year at Franklin and Knoxville, still had fighting spirit, and for once a bit of luck. They hit a Federal regiment near Kinston, N.C., which was new to the field and inexperienced. The green troops broke and were overwhelmed, but more experienced forces took their place and Bragg was repulsed.

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