This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Dec. 3 1861

Abraham Lincoln's fame today is certainly not based on his thoughts in the field of economic abstraction, but he did tackle the subject in, of all places, his State of the Union message to Congress this year. “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital,” he wrote. “Capital is only the fruit of Labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Capital has its rights which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.” Some later thinkers have actually tried to make Lincoln out to be a sort of proto-Marxist on the basis of this address. “The struggle of today, is not altogether for today--it is for a vast future also,” he concluded. Little did he know how right he would turn out to be.

Wednesday Dec. 3 1862

It was a day made up primarily of scattered skirmishes in both Eastern and Western theaters of the war. The Army of the Potomac was either in winter camps guarding the perimeter of Washington, D.C., or else perched on the bluffs across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Va. Further west was an attack on a Union supply train on Hardin Pike near Nashville, Tenn., and a few shots exchanged near Moorefield, western (but not yet West) Virginia. In Mississippi, more action was going on, as was to be expected considering that Ulysses S. Grant was leading an army through the countryside. Fighting broke out at Prophet, Free Bridges, Spring Dale and Oakland, all on or near the Yocknapatalfa River.

Thursday Dec. 3 1863

Running a naval blockade, especially in the maze of waterways, islands, canals, marshes and areas which are some combination of all of the above like Charleston Harbor, is not as easy as it may seem. Admiral John Dahlgren laid down some ground rules today. Four monitor-class ships were assigned the duty, with two to be in use each night. One was to operate far up the channel of the harbor, where it could keep an eye on Ft. Sumter and Ft. Moultrie, as well as watch for commercial shipping trying to sneak out, and at the same time watch for and defend against aggressive vessels such as torpedo boats, picket boats and, oh yes, floating mines. The second ship was to lay further out to keep an eye on the first, and go to its aid if necessary. Finally, Dahlgren added, just in case the captains might forget, their duties included “taking care at the same time not to get aground, and also to change the position when the weather appears to render it unsafe.”

Saturday Dec. 3 1864

Gen. George H. Thomas had been holding Nashville, Tennessee for some time now, and his forces had just been augmented by those of Gen. John Schofield. On the way to link up with Thomas, Schofield had inadvertently done wonders to boost the Union's chances, by engaging in the Battle of Franklin, in which the Confederate forces had been hurled at Union defenders in repeated charges, resulting in tremendous casualties and the irreplaceable loss of six generals. Hood could not attack; against the Nashville fortifications it would have been suicidal. All he could do was proclaim that Thomas and Schofield were trapped, and send Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry on harassing raids. Thomas, meanwhile, was being prodded from Washington to go on the attack himself.

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