This Day in the Civil War

Friday May 31 1861

Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was nothing if not decisive. A few weeks ago he secured the St. Louis Arsenal against Confederate control by arresting the Confederate sympathizers guarding it, in the process setting off a riot that killed 30-some civilians. Today he and local politico Francis Blair took effective control of the city from Gen. William Harney, who they regarded as way too soft on Southern sympathizers if not an outright Confederate himself. They had quietly obtained Lincoln’s permission for this action.

Saturday May 31 1862

It looked like a prime opportunity: McClellan had split the Army of the Potomac, with three corps north of the Chickahominy River and two left on the south side. Gen. Joseph Johnston launched what was to be a crushing attack on the two at Seven Pines, or Fair Oaks. The attack was bungled, not starting at all until early afternoon, then done by separate units instead of as a whole. The separated Northerners, hearing the sound of gunfire, raced to their comrades aid. Johnston ended the day failed and severely wounded.

Sunday May 31 1863

Perkins Landing was no place for Union troops to be having breakfast today--they were up against the river, cut off from help, and surrounded by Confederates. To their relief and rescue, the USS Carondelet, Lt. Murphy at the helm, came steaming up, guns firing to drive off the attackers. Murphy had no means to remove the men, so he stayed in position to protect them until the troop transport Forest Queen arrived to take off the men and such of their supplies as they had room for.

Tuesday May 31 1864

It made for a lot of marching, considerable scuffling and skirmishing, but so far, no pitched battle as Union Gen. U. S. Grant tried and tried to find the right flank of Robert E. Lee’s army. His intent was to avoid pitched battle and let time, hunger and desertions defeat Lee for him. The stubborn refusal of the Confederate army to quit was keeping this plan from working quite as Grant had hoped it would.

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