This Day in the Civil War

Friday Dec. 6 1861

The saying “an army travels on its stomach” is usually attributed to Napoleon, but the truth of it was probably known by every commander since the dawn of time. The Army of the Potomac was stationed in the north of Virginia, so it made more sense to let the enemy's countryside provide the army's supplies. Brig. Gen. George G. Meade led a foraging expedition through the area of Dranesville, Va. today. He was an excellent choice for such a mission: during his one break from a lifelong army career he had been employed as a surveyor for a railroad. The area the road was to be built in was just the area this foraging party was covering.

Saturday Dec. 6 1862

Not all the actions of the Civil War took part between the forces of the Union and the Confederacy. Out on the western frontier the original Americans were not short of grievances with the white settlers who had been overtaking their land for hundreds of years now. With the withdrawal of every available soldier for duty in the East, the opportunity to correct some of these offenses took hold in some people's minds. The Sioux confined to a reservation in southwestern Minnesota were severely short of food and left the reservation to get some. Things soon got out of hand and it turned into a massacre over a period of several weeks. The number of dead is estimated at 400-600 whites. After the Sioux were defeated, 1000 were arrested. Today Abraham Lincoln signed orders for the execution, by hanging, of 19 believed to be ringleaders.

Sunday Dec. 6 1863

Like many accidents, the tragedy of the USS Weehawken today resulted from a number of causes taken together, none of which by themselves would necessarily have been fatal. The ship, under command of Commander Duncan, was patrolling Charleston Harbor. First, the ship was heavily overloaded with extra ammunition, the weight of which caused the vessel to ride unusually low in the water. Secondly, an inlet called a hawse pipe, along with a watertight hatch next to it, were left open when by usual practice they should have been dogged shut. Finally, a combination of a wind and a strong ebb tide cause a wave to wash up over the bow of the ship. Water poured into the open pipe and hatch, and the ship sank almost instantly. Some two dozen officers and men were drowned.

Tuesday Dec. 6 1864

Roger Taney, long-time Chief Justice of the United States, had died last month, and it was past time for his replacement to be named. To the surprise of many, Abraham Lincoln today named his former Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to the post. The surprise was due to the fact that there had been more than one argument and dispute between the two during the time that Chase had been in the president's cabinet. Despite this, Lincoln said he had nothing but the highest respect for Chase's abilities, and felt he would be an asset to the Supreme Court during the difficult days of Reconstruction that were coming soon. This was not entirely altruism on Lincoln's part: Chase had also been a perennial presidential candidate, and this job would keep him out of political involvement.

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