This Day in the Civil War

Thursday May 30 1861

United States Secretary of War Simon Cameron had received a letter from Gen. Butler posing a question: What was Butler supposed to do with such Negro slaves who came under his jurisdiction? This caused no end of correspondence, debate and hair-pulling in Washington, with everyone including Lincoln debating the subject. In the end Cameron decided to confirm what Butler was already doing--classify the ex-slaves as “contraband of war” and allow the military men to put them to work. The orders were sent to Butler today.

Friday May 30 1862

Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ had suffered nothing but humiliation at the hands of Stonewall Jackson, retreating constantly before his advance until his back was against the wall in Harpers Ferry. It would look like tactical brilliance, though, if the Union forces of Fremont and Halleck could sneak in behind Jackson and cut him off from the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson, being no fool, started to fall back today, fighting a nasty skirmish at Port Royal to keep his line of retreat open.

Saturday May 30 1863

The operation and organization of huge armies--raising, training, feeding, transporting, arming, sheltering, medicating, and even occasionally fighting them--was not a skill taught at West Point. Both sides went through several experiments with devising a workable system. Gen. Robert E. Lee announced his new arrangement today. The Army of Northern Virginia would henceforth consist of three corps, to be under the command of Lt. Gen. R.S. Ewell, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, and Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill.

Monday May 30 1864

The Army of the Potomac had started out the month north of the Rapidan River. Today they were across the Totopotomoy River and again facing Lee on the banks of the Chicahominy. (Eastern Virginia is a heavily-rivered area.) Lee had set his lines near Cold Harbor in hopes he could finally get Grant to attack a fortified position as his predecessors had so often done. There was much skirmishing as Grant’s men probed the lines, but no large-scale battle.

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