This Day in the Civil War

Thursday May 9 1861

In the initial wave of martial enthusiasm that swept both North and South, volunteers were enlisted in great numbers, but for very short terms. It was assumed that very few battles would be needed to either quash the rebellion or ensure Confederate independence (depending on your viewpoint and preference). Wiser heads began to prevail, and today President Davis quietly signed a measure providing that all future enlistments would be “for the duration of the war” rather than a prescribed period of time.

Friday May 9 1862

The Confederacy was forced today to abandon the defense of Norfolk, Va., including the navy base there and the navy and army supply depots. Although there was no battle, the loss of the Norfolk yards was a heavy blow to the South. It was not only essential for the defense of southern Virginia and North Carolina, it was the home port of the pioneering ironclad CSS Merrimack. Retreating forces attempted to destroy what they could not carry, but much was left for the invading Federals.

Saturday, May 9 1863

Traffic control was becoming a problem in Wilmington, North Carolina, as it was becoming the port-of-choice for blockade runners. The Northern blockade of southern ports was a vital project throughout the war, and it was having an effect. Charleston was by this time very nearly useless, as blockaders captured nearly everything heading in or out. New Orleans, thanks to Farragut, was now lost entirely.

Monday May 9 1864

Operations near Spotsylvania Court House consisted mostly of sparring and bluster as both sides tried to set up the most advantageous lines for the coming battle. Union cavalryman Phil Sheridan went on a ride towards Richmond, pulling Jeb Stuart along with him. And Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, while inspecting an artillery line, was told by his men that sharpshooters were in the area. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance,” he said confidently, according to legend anyway. Seconds later a bullet pierced his left eye, killing him instantly. He was the highest-ranking Union officer killed in battle.

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