This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Nov. 21, 1861

An early round of personnel rearrangements took place in Jefferson Davis' official family today. LeRoy Pope Walker had had the post of Secretary of War since the government was formed. In the opinion of later historians he did not do too badly it it, but even more than other government jobs at the top level, any decision he made was liable to anger far more people than it pleased. Walker therefore departed the job today, apparently either by his own request or at least mutual consent. His replacement was Judah Benjamin, regarded by all as a brilliant man. It was felt he would be better able to cope with the pressure of the office.

Friday Nov. 21, 1862

It was no doubt coincidence but today saw another change in the occupant of the office of Confederate Secretary of War. This time the mantle fell upon James A. Seddon, a prominent Richmond attorney. The longest-lasting occupant of the position, Seddon is also highly regarded for his abilities in the job. A former member of the United States House of Representatives, he had to leave his present post in the Confederate House of Representatives to take the cabinet position. He was said in appearance to look anything but warlike, which proves that the talents of a secretary of war are not the same as those of a general in the field.

Saturday Nov. 21, 1863

The Union armies that had been bottled up in Chattanooga since the battle of Chickamauga had reached its disastrous conclusion were about to be idle no longer. U. S. Grant was on the scene and settling the last details of the breakout battle with his commanders. Sherman was to engage in a complicated movement requiring not one but two crossings of the Tennessee River to get to the Confederate right flank. Thomas was to strike the center, a formation known as Missionary Ridge. Hooker, who was doing much better since his reassignment to the west, was to move into the valley below Lookout Mountain then attack the Confederate left.

Monday Nov. 21, 1864

No one knows how the story got started. Somehow it began to be said that a Mrs. Lydia Bixby had sent all five of her sons to fight for the Union cause, and that all five had died in battle. The word got as far as Abraham Lincoln, and he felt obliged to write to her today. "I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming," it began. The only problem was that the report was wrong. Two of Mrs. Bixby's sons had indeed been killed, but two of the others had apparently deserted and the last was alive and doing well and would be honorably discharged. The original manuscript of the "Bixby letter" has never been found.

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