This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday June 25 1861

Yesterday, inventor and early member of the military-industrial complex J.D. Mills of New York had demonstrated an awesome new machine for President Abraham Lincoln in the hayloft of Hall’s carriage shop. It was a single barreled gun, but mounted on a two-wheeled artillery carriage to support the ammunition loading mechanism. The operator simply turned a crank and the .58 caliber bullets, in special metal jackets, were fed in one after the other. Today it was demonstrated for three Cabinet members, five generals and the Governor of Connecticut. The commander of the Washington defenses, Gen. Joseph Mansfield, was an immediate convert and begged to get some of the devices. The military bureaucracy, however, was not so impressed and refused to order them. In practical terms they consumed so much ammunition at such a rate as to horrify supply officers.

Wednesday June 25 1862

It had been preceded by much planning and many maneuvers, but today U.S. Gen. George McClellan was ready to start his great push to Richmond. In the vicinity of the Chickahominy River in the tidewater of Virginia, the Army of the Potomac was ordered to begin moving forward. The left flank, commanded by Gen. Samuel Heintzelman, was ordered out first, in preparation for a general movement of the army. Heintzelman, however ran into men of Confederate Gen. Ben Huger. They fought ferociously enough to stall the entire advance, which was their job. Gen. Lee needed to stall the Federals long enough for Stonewall Jackson’s men to arrive from the Shenandoah Valley.

Thursday June 25 1863

It seemed like such a logical plan at the time: as the Army of Northern Virginia was moving north on the summer’s great invasion, they knew where they were going. It did not seem that important to have the crack cavalry of Gen. J.E. B. Stuart available to scout ahead; if cavalry were needed, there were other units with the various corps that could do the job. Stuart therefore was given permission to detach his force for another “ride-around” intended to loop entirely around the Army of the Potomac, harassing, alarming and confusing them along the way, while picking up any supplies they came across. It would prove to be a terrible mistake, because the Army of the Potomac was on the move as well.

Saturday June 25 1864

No one set out to construct a crater, of course, but today the digging began on what seemed like a brilliant plan to break through the defenses around Petersburg, the last stand of the Confederate armies in the Eastern Theater. The idea was simple: among the Union army were a great many men who in civilian life had been miners, ditchdiggers, and other experts in excavation. They would dig a tunnel underneath the lines which were far too lethal to come near at ground level. Things were almost as hazardous in the West, where, as one soldier put it in his diary, “Slowly but surely Sherman was weaving a web of fate which would place the rebel army in his power, but it was a fearful sacrifice.” The objective was called Kennesaw Mountain.

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