This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday July 16 1861

It was the largest army ever assembled by the United States of America. Some 1400 officers, many with field experience in the prewar Army but many lacking this background, marched 30,000 men out of the filthy, stinking training camps they had been residing in around the perimeter of Washington D.C. Unfortunately very little of the men’s training had been in marching or water conservation. They hiked awhile, got tired and sat down, or wandered off to pick blackberries. Nearly everyone drank up the contents of their canteens in the first hours of the march, then were vexed that there was no place to refill them. Knapsacks got heavier with every step, and equipment by the ton was dropped along the roadside.

Wednesday July 16 1862

It was a long strange trip they had been on, but Confederate Commissioners Mason and Slidell were finally in position to begin the mission they had been sent on: representing the Confederate States of America to the ruling powers of Europe. Commissioner Slidell, whose assignment was Paris, met today with Napoleon III. He presented his case: The South had cotton, which France wanted. If France would just be so kind as to offer formal diplomatic recognition of the new nation, cotton in vast quantities could again cross the Atlantic. Oh yes, there was just one other matter where the French could offer assistance, namely breaking the pesky Federal blockade of Southern ports. Despite Slidell’s best presentation, Napoleon declined.

Thursday July 16 1863

It is seldom noted, but the first naval battle between ships of the United States and Japan occurred today, and in connection with the American Civil War. The USS Wyoming was searching for the feared Confederate commerce raider Alabama. She pulled in to dock at Yokohama unaware that the authorities had just ordered every foreigner to leave Japan immediately. In addition, foreign ships were forbidden to use the Straits of Shimonoseki. Wyoming’s captain, David Stockton McDougal, objected to this and sailed into the straits. There he faced most of the Japanese navy, as well as shore batteries. In a fierce fight, several junks were sunk and some batteries destroyed. McDougal won, at the cost of five dead, six wounded and some damage to the ships. A larger international fleet later forced the Japanese to retract the expulsion orders and reopen the straits.

Saturday July 16 1864

Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston’s assignment was straightforward, if not exactly simple: keep Gen. William T. Sherman’s army out of as much of Georgia as possible, and most definitely out of Atlanta. Unfortunately Johnston’s notion of how to accomplish this had so far consisted of retreating every time Sherman got close to him. (Sherman’s habit of maneuvering to flank Johnston’s line contributed a lot to this tendency.) Jefferson Davis was beginning to despair of Johnston’s ability to win, and telegraphed him today demanding to know, specifically, his plans. Johnston could only reply that his plan “...must therefore depend upon that of the enemy. It is mainly to watch for a opportunity to fight to advantage. We are trying to put Atlanta in condition to be held for a day or two by the Georgia militia, that army movements may be freer and wider.” The unemployment line loomed.

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