This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Nov. 26 1861

Eleven days ago Captain Charles Wilkes committed the most famous act of his career: his USS San Jacinto waited until Her Majesty's mail packet Trent left Havana, Cuba. Once they were in international waters Wilkes had ordered the ship to heave to, under threat of arms, and had removed four passengers, the Confederate commissioners to London and Paris, Mason and Slide, and their secretaries. Tonight, having dropped the prisoners into confinement on an island in Boston Harbor, Wilkes was guest of honor at a huge banquet in Boston. Tomorrow the Trent would dock in London and the story of her voyage made known. The reaction would be quite different there.

Wednesday Nov. 26 1862

United States President Abraham Lincoln went on a little boat ride down the Potomac River today. His destination was a place called Belle Plain, and his hosts were Gen. Ambrose Burnside and, indirectly, the men of the Army of the Potomac, who were concentrating rapidly now near Fredericksburg. Discussions revolved around the exact battle plan. In Richmond, meanwhile, Jefferson Davis was writing imploring letters to the governors of his Confederate States. His major concern was manpower, both the enrolling of new conscripts and getting them to where they were needed with the armies, and “restoring to the army” those who had voted with their feet and gone home. He also discussed the need for additional supplies.

Thursday Nov. 26 1863

A major battle had just been fought and won yesterday on Missionary Ridge, and normal custom would be for the victors to rest, reorganize, gather and tend the wounded and bury the dead, while Gen. Braxton Bragg led the Army of Tennessee a short distance away to do the same. U.S. Grant was not a big believer in custom, though, so he sent Sherman and Thomas on a major pursuit of the retreating Confederate army. It was to Bragg’s great good fortune that his rear-guard was under the command of the outstanding Gen. Pat Cleburne. At Ringgold, Ga., he turned and fought a short but severe action. Persistence was shown by both sides and other fights occurred at Chickamauga Station, Pea Vine Valley, and Pigeon Hill, Tenn, and Graysville, Ga. In the end the Federals were held off and the Southern retreat protected.

Saturday Nov. 26 1864

Abraham Lincoln's original proclamation ordering a day of thanksgiving had been a somber document, full of religious references and imploring the people to give thanks to God for the blessings He had showered on America even in the midst of a bitter war. It did not take long at all for the usual American tendency to turn from the religious to the secular to assert itself. A soldier near Gen. Sherman’s headquarters at Oconee River, Ga., wrote in his diary that “Thanksgiving Day was very generally observed in the army, the troops scorning chickens in the plenitude of turkeys with which they had supplied themselves...The soldiers gave thanks and were merry as only soldiers can be...Many obtain a delicious sirup made from sorghum, which is cultivated on all the plantations. There was nothing heard of ‘hard tack’”

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