This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Nov. 7 1861

Port Royal Sound is today better known for suffering the assaults of golf balls being fired from Hilton Head Island. Flag Officer Samuel Du Pont had slightly different reasons for leading a large Federal fleet into these waters today, and vastly different missiles to propel. Steaming right in between Fort Beauregard on Bay Point and Fort Walker on Hilton Head, du Pont scattered the defending Confederate fleet (all four ships of it) and commenced shelling in both directions. The Southern ships were soon reduced to evacuating first the southern island (Hilton Head) and then the northern. The Federal ships’ guns proved extremely accurate, and the 12,000 troops under Gen. Thomas Sherman landed to take them over. This outpost was held for the rest of the war, and served as a valuable refueling stop for the Atlantic squadron and blockading fleet.

Friday Nov. 7, 1862

It was two days ago that Abraham Lincoln issued the order relieving George McClellan of command of the Army of the Potomac, but somehow it wasn't until 11:30 p.m. tonight that the officer carrying the order actually reached the general's headquarters in Rectorsville, Va. Although he wrote “I am sure that not the slightest expression of feeling was visible on my face”, all accounts report that he was utterly astonished, and bitterly hurt, by the rebuff. There was no upstairs for him to be kicked to, and his military career was over. The one person he seems not to have resented was his replacement, Gen. Ambrose Burnside. “Poor Burnside feels dreadfully, almost crazy,” Little Mac wrote. “I am sorry for him.” As well he should have been, since Burnside did not feel qualified for the job and had attempted to turn it down, finally accepting only as an obedience to an order of his commander-in-chief.

Saturday Nov. 7 1863

It came as something of a surprise to nearly everyone, but hostile action was not in fact over for the winter in Virginia quite yet. Gen. George Meade ordered his Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock River one more time, crossing at Rappahannock Station and Kelly's Ford. The passage, although unexpected, was not unopposed, and there were sharp fights at both sites. In response, Robert E. Lee began shifting his men to a line at the Rapidan River in interpose. Having the army closer to the capital was probably a relief to the citizenry of Richmond. Rumors were sweeping the city that a major escape plot was in the works which would free 13,000 Federal prisoners-of-war from the prison at Belle Isle. Some cannon were brought in to surround the the site.

Monday Nov. 7 1864

Under the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, the Legislative branch was to meet twice during their terms of office, which worked out to once a year. The Congress elected in 1862 therefore began work on their second session today. Jefferson Davis delivered a speech, the theme of which might well have been “don't worry, be happy.” He, incredibly, downplayed the recent loss of Atlanta to the forces of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, saying “There are no vital points on the preservation of which the continued existence of the Confederacy depends.” Then he raised the slightly controversial point of his speech: a suggestion that the Army be allowed to purchase slaves for work on the War, who when no longer needed would be freed. He stopped short of proposing that they be armed as soldiers, although hinting that he might if things got desperate enough.

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