This Day in the Civil War

Friday, April 12 1861

In the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, lay the United States installation of Fort Sumter, Maj. Robert Anderson commanding. His position was difficult, as South Carolina was no longer a member of the United States. The Carolinians had refused to allow supplies to go to the fort, and Anderson was prepared to evacuate by April 15. Evacuation was not what was wanted, though, and at 4:30 a.m. a shot was fired from a signal gun, and the Charleston artillery opened fire on an enemy fort. Who fired the signal, or the first shot, is not known to this day, as several claimed the title. Civil war was underway.

Saturday, April 12 1862

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was high in the confidence of President Lincoln, and it was good ideas like one he came up with today that kept it that way. Welles announced today an absolute embargo on the export of anthracite coal. Confederate and other blockade-runners were buying exported American anthracite in Caribbean ports. The alternative, bituminous coal, burned with heavy black smoke which could be seen at great distance at sea. Anthracite coal, on the other hand, not only contained much more heat per given volume, but burned very cleanly with just a little white smoke.

Sunday, April 12 1863

Over and over for three years Abraham Lincoln had implored his generals to attack the enemy. Their notion of the way to do that, based on what they had learned at West Point, was to take the attack to the enemy’s capital. Lincoln’s idea was to attack the enemy’s armies, primarily that of Robert E. Lee. Today Gen. Joseph Hooker sent his new plan to his commander in chief. It consisted of an end run around Lee to attack....Richmond.

Tuesday, April 12 1864

A small trading post, 50 miles from Memphis, Tenn., was guarded by a Union installation named Fort Pillow. It was attacked today by 1500 Confederate cavalry commanded by Nathan Bedford Forrest. Despite aid from the gunboat USS New Era, the 557 Union defenders were quickly overwhelmed. About half of the Union soldiers were black, and almost none of them survived. In an action which remains controversial to this day, Forrest claimed that the black troops continued firing after the fort’s commander had offered to surrender, and that his men were infuriated by their treachery. Other accounts claimed that men who had thrown down their guns, and were even trying to run for the woods or river, were slaughtered. The latter version was the one believed from this time forth by black Union troops.

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