This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday June 19 1861

All the border states had problems with sections of their territory which felt more closely aligned with the opposing side. In the case of Virginia the mountainous parts of the state, closest to Ohio, were strongly pro-Union and resolved to do something about it. Today Francis H. Pierpont was named “provisional governor of Federal Virginia.” A lawyer who had made a fortune in the railroad business, he had never before held public office. The territory was later admitted to the Union as West Virginia.

Thursday June 19 1862

Every war produces an arms race, and the American Civil War, coming as it did at a time of technological advancement anyway, was no exception. One such new nastiness was put to work in the James River today. Commander Maury of the Confederate States Navy was in charge of placing “electric mines” near Chaffin’s Bluff to deter Union ships. Explosive charges were to propel pieces of boiler plate through a watertight wooden barrel. The batteries that powered the detonators were borrowed from the University of Virginia.

Friday June 19 1863

Union and Confederate sharpshooters practiced their grim occupation of trying to blow each other’s heads off all day long. Therefore a rule came to exist between them that hostilities ended at sundown and a truce existed. The men would then holler back and forth with each other, this time exchanging ...jokes. One witness described later “Johny Reb and Jonathan Fed had many a set-to to see who could say the funniest things....ending with the warning cry, ‘going to shoot, Johnny.’”

Sunday June 19 1864

Captain Rafael Semmes and his latest and greatest ship, the CSS Alabama, had been the bane of Union shipping around the world. Finally in need of refit and resupply she had docked in Cherbourg, France. Today, the work was not yet done--but outside the harbor lurked the USS Kearsarge . Semmes loaded his guns and sailed out to meet her as crowds lined the shore to watch. Superior gunnery won the day--Alabama struck her colors just before sinking. Semmes and other survivors were rescued by the British yacht Deerhound.

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