This Day in the Civil War

Sunday May 19 1861

Hampton Roads, Virginia, had been a small but thriving port city for coastal shipping and up and down the Rappahannock River before the outbreak of war. Things were thriving there again today, but the parcels in question were being delivered by airmail. Shore batteries had been installed by the Confederate forces, particularly at a little promontory called Stevens’ Point. Their targets were the ships of the very earliest days of the Union blockade. The blockaders were delivering quite a few airdrops of their own. Little damage was done on either side.

Monday May 19 1862

The war on both fronts, in the East and in the West, was in full swing today. In the West Union forces continued to make progress in the reconquest of the Mississippi River, although this “recapture” seldom extended more than a gunboat-shot inland from the shores of the waterway. They got as far as Searcy Landing, Arkansas today. In the East the war was going well enough for the Federals to make Jefferson Davis wish the capital had stayed in Mississippi. “We are uncertain of everything except that a battle must be close at hand,” he wrote to his wife.

Tuesday May 19 1863

Gen. U. S. Grant had conducted one of the great military campaigns of history in the last few weeks, winning battle after battle and sweeping all before him in the campaign to recapture Vicksburg. The forces of Gen. Pemberton had retreated into the city itself, and Grant, with Sherman’s corps to the north of town, McPherson holding the center, and McClernand covering the south, hoped to sweep into town today before entrenchments could be completed. This hope was in vain as the trenching work had been underway for some time. All attacks failed, with nearly 1000 Union casualties.

Thursday May 19 1864

Robert E. Lee had been fighting U.S. Grant at last, in the area around a structure called Spotsylvania Court House. He had beaten Grant at every turn, but for once he was facing a Union general who did not pull his army back across the Rappahannock after the first setback. In fact, Lee had a suspicion that Grant was using the same sort of flanking maneuver that Lee himself had won with so often before. He sent the corps of Jubal Early around to the right just to check, and sure enough there Grant’s men were. The fighting constituted the official end of the Battle of Spotsylvania when Early’s men fell back. Grant, it seemed, was heading for the Po River.

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