This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday July 30 1861

He had asked once before and gotten no answer, so today Gen. Benjamin Butler wrote to Secretary of War Stanton again: what was he to do with the black refugees who had come into his camp at Ft. Monroe, Hampton Roads, Va? Under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Laws they were property, and he was legally obligated to return them to slavery in the South. His solution was to declare them “contraband of war” and put them to work building fortifications. This followed the law while still denying the slaves' services to the Rebellion, but a stamp of government approval would still be nice.

Wednesday July 30 1862

The citizens of New Orleans, in a last act of desperation as the Union forces closed in on the city, had donated every bit of brass they had to be melted down and made into cannons. Even the bells of local churches were taken down. Before they could be recast, the city fell, and military governor Benjamin Butler again confiscated the material as contraband of war. Today the bells were sold at auction in Boston, where he had shipped them.

Thursday July 30 1863

Ever since the Union army had started allowing the enlistment of Negro soldiers, there had been confusion as to their exact status. Paid less than white troops, the rumor was common that if they were captured they would be returned to slavery even if they were freemen. Abraham Lincoln ruled today that the Union would stand by all her troops, and if any were sold or enslaved due to their color there would be retaliatory punishment of Confederate POW’s.

Saturday July 30 1864

The 48th Pennsylvania regiment was made up primarily of men who had been coal miners in civilian life. As the siege of Petersburg dragged on, the idea arose to dig a tunnel under the Confederate lines. It was dug, and filled with gunpowder, and today the fuse was lit. The result was disaster...for the Union. The initial explosion killed some 280 Confederates, but the subsequent Battle of the Crater was mishandled and poorly led. Casualty totals were 1500 Confederates to 4000 Union killed. This does not include wounded or missing.

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