This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday Aug. 21 1861

The section of the First Amendment dealing with “freedom of the press” took quite a beating during the Civil War, both from the public at large and from government efforts. Last Friday the U.S. government had brought charges of “alleged pro-Southernism” against several New York newspapers, filed in circuit court. The allegedly wicked writings, though, were already in print and heading for circulation. This was corrected today as copies of the New York Journal of Commerce, Daily News, Day Book, and Freeman’s Journal, as well as the Brooklyn Eagle, were confiscated in Philadelphia.

Thursday Aug. 21 1862

There were several persons during the course of the War for Southern Independence who so raised the ire of the Confederate government that special orders were issued concerning them. The subjects of this displeasure were regular members of the United States Army, but had behaved in such a fashion as to fall outside the rules. Today Jefferson Davis issued such an order, in reference to Brig. Gen. John W. Phelps and Maj. Gen. David Hunter. Davis believed they were engaged in organizing escaped slaves into regiments for service in the Union Army. According to the terms of Davis’ order they were to “be treated as outlaws, and if captured should be held as felons” rather than treated under the protocol of prisoners of war.

Friday Aug. 21 1863

One of the most tragic acts of the Civil War period occurred today when a band of “Confederate” marauders led by William Clarke Quantrill sacked the town of Lawrence, Kansas. The 450-man band, some of whom were regular Confederate soldiers, some Missouri guerillas, and others simple outlaws, claimed they were acting in revenge for depredations committed on Southern sympathizers in the Kansas-Missouri region. They systematically hunted down every male over the age of 14 that they could find, eventually killing some 150. They then burned buildings and other property valued at about 1 1/2 million dollars, and rode out of town. Some women managed to save their husbands and sons by hiding them in outbuildings, closets, under floors or in fields of tall crops.

Sunday Aug. 21 1864

The bane of Federal efforts in West Tennessee was a barely-literate former livestock and slave trader, self-taught in the arts of war, who had made himself into one of the great cavalry commanders of all time. Nathan Bedford Forrest rode into Union-held Memphis Tennessee early this morning and raised some hell. He occupied the city for most of the day and came very close to capturing two Federal generals--S.A. Hurlburt, and C.C. Washburn. Actually, aside from confiscating some supplies and setting the military into an uproar, Forrest’s 2000 men accomplished nothing before leaving later the same day. The effect of the raid, however, was to cause the supply column led by Gen. A.J. Smith to be ordered back to help guard the town. This allowed Forrest a free hand in raiding Gen. Sherman’s supply lines, which was exactly what he was after.

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