This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Dec. 5 1861

Even with the severe shortage of vessels for the use of the U.S. Navy, which required the purchase of private ferryboats and the like for troop and supply transports, there were still some old wooden ships that were just plain useless for any sort of warfare. They were being put to use, however, as part of the “Stone Fleet”. They were loaded with rocks until they would barely float, then taken up into the inlets of Southern rivers as far as practicable and then sunk as impediments to blockade-runners. Flag Officer Samuel duPont had more of these than he knew what to do with at Savannah, Ga. “With Wassaw that city is more effectively closed than a bottle with wire over the cork. One good thing they did, I have not a doubt they were taken for men-of-war and led to giving up the Wassaw defenses.” DuPont decided to ship them to Capt. James Lardner at Charleston, to see if they might do the same there.

Friday Dec. 5 1862

The United States Naval Academy was no longer located “where the Severn meets the Sea”, having been moved North at the outbreak of the war. That the Severn River was heavily infested with Confederate ships was proven today by Comdr. E. A. Parker of the USS Mahaska and Lt. Blake of the USS General Putman. They sailed their little fleet up this waterway almost to Annapolis, Md., and along with their ship's boats did some damage. “Several fine boats” were taken and sunk, they reported. The small boats then ventured up even smaller branches of the river and bagged a schooner and two sloops, also destroyed. Finally they succeeded in capturing the schooners Seven Brothers and Galena, and these were now undergoing a change of management and flags.

Saturday Dec. 5 1863

It was a day of considerable activity for this late in the year, but each individual action was small and more or less incidental to armies being on the move. In Tennessee it was the corps of James Longstreet marching away from Knoxville and toward planned winter quarters in Greenville, Tenn. This led to skirmishes around the Clinch River, particularly at Walker's Ford. Other unpleasantness occurred at Raccoon Ford, Va., and Crab Gap, Tenn. Far to the east, another misfortune befell the U.S. Navy at Murrell’s Inlet, S.C. A party sent ashore in a small boat from the USS Perry was set upon and captured. An almost identical incident had befallen a party from the USS T. A. Ward a few days earlier.

Monday Dec. 5 1864

Gen. William T. Sherman had had episodes of nervous instability before in his life. A term as administrator of the huge Department of the Ohio had been so frustrating that he asked to be relieved, then suffered a nervous breakdown. He was now engaged in the campaign of his life, that history would call the March to the Sea. He was not, however, sleeping very well. One of his officers, Maj. Henry Hitchcock, wrote in his diary that he often saw Sherman come out of his tent late into the night, perhaps to walk around or just to sit by the fire. He was clad in a style perhaps best concealed by the dark of night: “Bare feet in slippers, red flannel drawers,” Hitchcock recorded, “..woolen shirt, old dressing gown with blue cloth (half-cloak) cape.” He had eccentricities of dress even in daytime: while riding on march he never wore boots, preferring low-cut shoes. He wore only one spur, never two.

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