This Day in the Civil War

Friday Nov. 8 1861

James M. Mason of Virginia and John Slidell of Louisiana were Confederate agents. They were by no means spies, but openly appointed by Jefferson Davis to lobby the cause of the Confederate States of America in the halls of London and Paris respectively. They had boarded the British mail ship Trent in Havana with their wives, children and secretaries. The US authorities knew of their mission but not their point of departure, so when Captain Charles Wilkes of the USS San Jacinto happened to dock in Havana at the same time, he was on his own. He waited for the Trent to leave harbor, followed, and on the high seas pulled alongside and forced them to stop. Mason, Slidell and their secretaries were removed, prompting outrage from the British captain.

Saturday Nov. 8 1862

US Gen. Benjamin Butler had had the unenviable job of administering the occupied city of New Orleans, where he had employed some creative, if unorthodox, methods to induce the population to comply with Union orders. Aside from padlocking some newspapers, and confiscating others to produce more Union-oriented journalism, Butler's most famous act was his “woman order”, stating that females who abused, disrespected or threw the contents of chamber pots on Union soldiers would be treated as common prostitutes rather than “ladies.” The last straw, though, was an order closing all breweries and distilleries in the town. He was sacked and replaced with Gen. Nathaniel Banks, who was told to worry about the campaign to reopen the Mississippi River, not the liquor market.

Sunday Nov. 8 1863

The late-fall campaign in northern Virginia continued today with much marching, although not much in the way of pitched battles. Gen. George Meade was maneuvering across the Rappahannock with no particular offensive objective in mind except to force Lee to keep on the move as well. There were skirmishes at Jeffersonton, the familiar territory of Brandy Station, Warrenton, Rixleyville, Culpepper Court House, and the extremely well-named Muddy Creek. Weather is not our friend in Virginia in November.

Tuesday Nov. 8 1864

This was Election Day, one of the few you can call "one of the most important elections in the history of the United States of America" without fear of exaggeration. The contestants were the Republican incumbent Abraham Lincoln, who had replaced his somewhat lackluster vice president Hannibal Hamlin with Tennessee Senator (and Democrat) Andrew Johnson in a symbolic gesture of unity, on one side. On the other was Gen. George McClellan, former commander of the Army of the Potomac, running with George H. Pendleton of Ohio. Extraordinary efforts were made to allow soldiers to vote, either by arranging leaves or actually casting ballots in the field, which one would expect to benefit McClellan as he had been a very popular commander. The soldier vote, however, went even stronger for Lincoln than the civilian vote did, and the Republican ticket was victorious. In the electoral vote, Lincoln took every state except Delaware, Kentucky and New Jersey.

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