This Day in the Civil War

Friday May 24 1861

Just weeks ago Elmer Ellsworth had become a hero when he led his “Fire Zouaves”, more formally known as the 11th New York, out of their firefighting stations into the Union Army and on to the defense of Washington. Today he became a martyr. In the first offense of the North the city of Alexandria, Va. was retaken. In the process Ellsworth ran into a hotel to tear a Confederate flag off its roof. The enraged innkeeper, James Jackson, shot and killed him, after which one of Ellsworth’s men shot Jackson. Songs were written about both men, notable more for their patriotic fervor than musical merit.

Saturday May 24 1862

Gen. Thomas Jackson’s plan was for his cavalry, under Turner Ashby, to catch and hold Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ Federal army until Jackson’s main force could arrive and destroy them. Banks was driving as hard as he could back to Williamsport. He was forced to abandon some supply wagons to save the rest. Ashby’s men stopped to plunder the wagons, allowing Banks to escape for that day. Jackson was not amused.

Sunday May 24 1863

After most of a month of almost constant battles, today seemed to be an occasion for everyone to pause for breath. Vicksburg was under siege but not attack; elsewhere in Mississippi Port Hudson was also isolated but intact. In Tennessee the Federals under Rosecrans tended their sick and wounded and regrouped; their opponents under Bragg scattered to Sparta, Wartrace and Tullahoma. The main hostilities were in Austin, Miss., which was burned by Federals irate that their boat had been fired upon.

Tuesday May 24 1864

You have probably slept since yesterday, but most of the combatants in the Battle of North Anna had been fighting since mid-afternoon the day before and things showed no sign of slowing down. The Union 2nd Corps under Hancock crossed the river at the Chesterfield Bridge. This left the union forces more divided than ever, due to a bend in the river and the shape of Lee’s lines. The Confederates remained on the defensive, though, rather than take advantage of the split.

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