This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Sept. 26 1861

It is difficult to imagine in these later days when errors and misdeeds are atoned for by plea bargains and talk-show appearances, but attitudes were different in 19th century America. Today was observed, in the North, a “day of humiliation, fasting and prayer” by declaration of Abraham Lincoln. The Bible was a more prominent part of public life in those times, and it is mentioned many times in that book that the Lord will look with added favor on a nation which “humbles itself before Him.” However, it was not a day of rest in the Confederacy, which resulting in fights and skirmishes in Fort Thorn, New Mexico Territory; Hunter’s Farm, near Belmont, Missouri; and at the mouth of the Muddy River in Kentucky.

Friday Sept. 26, 1862

Samuel duPont--yes, he was one of the Delaware duPont’s, of munitions-making and later chemical manufacturing fame--was no young puppy. In 40 years in the Navy he had risen recently to the rank of rear admiral--but he was no opponent of innovation as long-serving officers sometimes were. He proved this today by inventing a concept which would prove exceedingly useful in blockade operations: a floating fuel depot. He ordered a large “coal hulk” to be fitted with a hoist. When full, the ship would hold 1000 tons of coal. With the hoist, it was vastly easier for other ships to simply pull up to this vessel for refueling. The first of these ships went into service today off the coast of Charleston, S. C., greatly increasing efficiency for both the blockade and the several campaigns of attack on the harbor and town.

Saturday Sept. 26, 1863

The governors, not to mention the generals, of the Confederate states on the west side of the Mississippi River had long felt they were being treated like unwanted stepchildren by the government in Richmond. When they requested guns, supplies, or manpower, they were more likely to be asked to send these items East for the defense of the capital, rather than have them sent out for the defense of the hinterlands. Now that Vicksburg had fallen and the Mississippi River was in Union hands the situation was becoming grim in the extreme. Gen. E. Kirby Smith tried his hand at firebrand speechwriting today when he issued the following to the populace of the Trans-Mississippi: “Your homes are in peril...You should contest the advance of the enemy, thicket, gully and stream; harass his rear and cut off his supplies.” The inclination, not to mention ability, of civilian farmers to follow this advice was questionable.

Monday Sept. 26 1864

Richmond, Virginia, lies on the James River. This is a wide waterway, easily navigated in most seasons--a virtual highway to the heart of the Confederate government. This point did not escape the Union military, and several attempts to use the river for attack had reached at least the planning stage. This point was well known to the Confederates as well though, and they had taken the precaution of fortifying a number of bluffs to prevent such a naval assault. Today began an effort to bypass these defenses. Union military--primarily black refugees and freed slaves known as “contraband” making up the majority of the workforce--started work on a canal. The Confederates were sufficiently worried about this to consider using gunboats to drive off the canal diggers.

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