This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Oct. 24 1861

Famous in history and celebrated in song and movie is the famous “golden spike” which completed the railroad across America. In many ways just as significant, but nearly forgotten, was today’s completion of the first telegraph line to run all the way across the country. Western Union company had already constructed lines from the Pacific to Sacramento, and the one from the East had been through to Denver for some time. Today’s celebration was in honor of the final segment, from Sacramento to Denver. The first effort was fragile and frequently broken by wind, snow, ice, animals, Indians and other forces.

Friday Oct. 24 1862

Some fairly normal naval activities took place today, insofar as Captain Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama captured and burned a Northern-owned ship. The whaling vessel Lafayette met her fiery, and no doubt ill-smelling, end off the coast of Nova Scotia. For something completely different, Union Captain Winslow of the USS Baron de Kalb converted himself and several of his sailors into cavalrymen. They were chasing a small Confederate scouting party. Landing parties were sent but the Rebels had a considerable lead. Winslow went to a nearby farm and, according to his report, “impressed into service” several horses. After a chase of nine miles, the Southerners were chased down and captured.

Saturday Oct. 24 1863

After days of struggling with crutches, a bad leg and worse roads, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant finally reached Chattanooga, Tennessee. He conducted an inspection of the army (no doubt causing more pain to his leg, damaged by a fall of Grant’s horse in New Orleans some weeks before) and finally sat with his staff and generals to resolve the stalemate that had the army pinned in place by the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The first requirement was to get an adequate source of supply, and for this, after looking at maps, Grant approved the famous “Cracker Line.” This, while convoluted, was vastly more direct in bringing food and materiel in from bases in northern Alabama to Brown’s Ferry on the Tennessee River. The old supply line had run over a torturous mountain route and was frequently broken by Confederate cavalry and supplies seized.

Monday Oct. 24 1864

The Battle of Westport had been, by any measure, a thunderous Federal victory. The rag-tag army Gen. Sterling Price had led into Missouri in one last try to raise the state to rebellion had been under Federal pursuit for weeks now, and yesterday, surrounded on three sides with the Missouri River on the fourth, the Confederate lines had collapsed wholesale. This result had not been a complete shock to Price, since several days earlier he had started his supply train, loaded with quite a bit of loot, to head south for Arkansas while the main army headed further north, towards Kansas City, Mo. When night had fallen after the battle everyone who cold manage--including Price--had headed south as well. The Federal commanders fell to discussing plans among themselves and did not vigorously pursue at this time.

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