This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday Nov. 27 1861

The mail packet Trent docked in London today after a voyage from Havana. It had not been a usual trip. She had picked up six passengers in Havana, who had made their way from Richmond through the Union blockade: commissioners Slide, Mason, their wives and their secretaries. They had then been stopped in the Bahama Passage by the USS San Jacinto and compelled under threat of arms to give up the four males in the party. Such an offense against Her Majesty's ship outraged all of London. Eight thousand troops were immediately dispatched for Canada to fortify the border, and orders went to the shipyards for construction of new warships. Queen Victoria was not amused.

Thursday Nov. 27 1862

Abraham Lincoln and his general of the Army of the Potomac continued their conference at Aquia Creek, Va. today. This was going to be Burnside’s first battle since he had been assigned to replace George McClellan, and Lincoln was already getting vexed with him for moving too slowly. To assist, Lincoln had brought along a battle plan: the army would split in pieces, cross the Rappahannock far up and downstream from Fredericksburg, and attack the forces of Robert E. Lee from the sides and rear. Burnside turned the plan down flat. He had resolved to take the entire army straight across the river, through the town, and up the hill behind, known as Marye’s Heights.

Friday Nov. 27 1863

The Mine Run Campaign was, in a way, the last gasp of a string of events that had started at Gettysburg, when the Army of Northern Virginia had withdrawn at their own pace from the field. U.S. Gen. George Meade had first been hailed as the savior of the Union, but his failure to follow and crush Lee’s forces soon made him the target of intense pressure from Lincoln. Thus the continued pursuit in this venture when most armies were already in winter camp. Meade was heading for a small valley called Mine Run. Lee knew this and fortified it heavily. U.S. Gen. William Henry French’s corps was vital to Meade’s attack, but they took the wrong road and ran into Jubal Early’s men, which occupied most of the day. Meade later blamed French’s mistake for the failure of the entire project.

Sunday Nov. 27 1864

It was an ideal target: the steamer Greyhound was heading up the James River from Bermuda Hundred. It was the headquarters ship of Gen. Benjamin Butler, one of the most hated men in the Confederacy, and he had just taken aboard several other high Union commanders, including Adm. David D. Porter. After steaming five or six miles, the unexpected occurred. “The furnace door blew open,” Butler wrote, “and scattered coals throughout the room.” Porter suspected immediately the source: a Confederate “coal torpedo.” These metal devices were stuffed with explosive, then machined and painted to look like a lump of coal. Porter sounded almost envious when he said “In devices for blowing up vessels the Confederates were far ahead of us, putting Yankee ingenuity to shame.” Although no one was killed, managing to get ashore or to other ships, the Greyhound was destroyed.

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