This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Oct. 31 1861

Gen. Winfield Scott had been a hero of the Mexican War, and had risen after that until he was not only the commander of the United States Army but almost the embodiment of it. It was nearly impossible to imagine anyone else at the head of the nation’s military in the worst crisis in its history. Today, however, Scott formally submitted his resignation to President Abraham Lincoln. As beloved as Scott was, he was also by now quite elderly, and so fat he was unable to mount his horse for parades without assistance. In addition, Scott felt the hot breath of one George McClellan on his neck. McClellan was young, vigorous and very ambitious, and felt Scott was no longer fit for command.

Friday Oct. 31 1862

For all the dedication of the Confederate States of America to a conservative approach to government and social structure, the military high command of the country was often surprisingly open to innovative approaches to weaponry and warfare. Some of this was by necessity, as the South lacked the massive industrial capacity that the North could gear up to produce conventional weapons. Today, for example the Congress of the Confederacy passed a bill authorizing two new divisions of the Navy Department. Brig. Gen. Gabriel J. Rains was placed in charge of the Torpedo Bureau, and Lt. Hunter Davidson was named to command the Naval Submarine Battery Service. The purpose of both bureaus was to investigate, organize and improve creative methods of “torpedo” warfare, what would today be described as mines.

Saturday Oct. 31 1863

As grim in many ways as the summer fighting season of 1863 had been for the Confederacy, the new nation still had plans for the future. In witness thereof, improvements were being made to the Confederate Naval Academy, where the new generation of Southern patriots could be trained in the arts of the sea. As important as academic classroom work was, in mathematics, navigation and the like, there is no way to learn about the sea without a ship to practice on. One was acquired today, and the CSS Patrick Henry was brought to her moorings at Drewry’s Bluff on the James River. Many of the dreams begun here would not come to fruition: the Patrick Henry would later be moved closer to Richmond for safety.

Monday Oct. 31 1864

Any parent who has ever fooled a stubborn child into following by turning one’s back and walking away from the brat, will understand the move Gen. John Bell Hood engaged in today. Arriving in Tuscumbia, Alabama, he began to vigorously fortify the place and send reinforcements across the Tennessee River to the town of Florence, who also gave every appearance of preparing to be attacked by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. It was well known to one and all that Sherman, having taken Atlanta long since, was gearing up for a large-scale march, most probably a campaign of destruction heading for the coast. Hood’s last chance to deter or at least delay Sherman was to sucker him into chasing Hood’s army. Sherman, however, was not buying this plan. He was already headed back for Atlanta.

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