This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday Nov. 20 1861

Most discussion of the Civil War centers on the great battles of the Eastern Theater--Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg. Further contemplation brings to mind the Western Theater: Vicksburg, Island No. 10, Secessionville, Chickamauga. Way down the obscurity list are the battles of California. One such began today: Daniel Showalter and a band of 17 fellow Confederates incurred the wrath of Federal authorities in Southern California. They set out in pursuit, and the chase was on. It took over a week, but the Federals never gave up. The Showalter party was finally captured Nov. 29 at a place known as the Warner Ranch, southeast of Los Angeles.

Thursday Nov. 20 1862

The road to war had been a rocky one in Tennessee. The sentiment to leave the Union was not universal, with a distinct divide between the pro-Federal east and the pro-Confederate western part of the state. The decision having been made, however, it was evidently time to get organized to take part in the war which was swirling around them. In furtherance of this goal, there was formed the Army of Tennessee, which would prove to be one of the finest fighting forces on either side, although cursed with dubious leadership. The structure was changed today to consist of three corps, under Generals E. Kirby Smith, Leonidas Polk, and William Joseph Hardee. The overall command was held by Gen. Braxton Bragg, who was very popular with Jefferson Davis.

Friday Nov. 20 1863

At yesterday’s dedication ceremony of the new National Military Cemetery at Gettysburg, Edward Everett, the noted orator, had spoken for some two hours. He was followed by President Abraham Lincoln, who spoke for less than two minutes. The newspapermen in attendance, not all of whom had even been able to hear the President clearly, had been exceedingly lukewarm in their opinions of the talk. Today, however, it was Everett who sent Lincoln a letter of congratulations on his speech. Lincoln had better grasped “the central idea of the occasion,” he said. Lincoln, modestly, wrote back to Everett his thanks. “I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure.”

Sunday Nov. 20, 1864

The Confederacy was blessed with quite a number of creative boat designers. While in better times these gentlemen would probably have been turned away as deranged lunatics, desperate times led to consideration of desperate ideas. One such, the torpedo boat called St. Patrick by her designer and commander John P. Halligan, was completed in Selma, Ala., today and launched to take on the Union vessels infesting Mobile Bay. A writer who saw her described St. Patrick: “Length, about 30 feet; has water-tight compartments; can be sunk or raised as desired; is propelled by a very small engine; and will stow in 5 men. It has some arrangement of machinery that times the explosions of torpedoes, to enable the operators to retire to a safe distance.” One hopes the last note was accurate.

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