This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Dec. 10 1861

The United States Navy was lacking in many areas of ships and supplies, but one thing it had was some aggressive ship commanders. One such, Lt. James W. A. Nicholson, was in command of the USS Isaac Smith, and he and his crew pulled a slick maneuver today. Nicholson proceeded carefully up the Ashepoo River in South Carolina until he got to Otter Island. Upon this land there had been built a small fort by the Confederates, but at this time it had been deserted. Nicholson landed part of his crew there and took possession of it. The Navy men managed to hang onto it until regular Army reinforcements could be brought in, and it remained in Federal hands.

Wednesday Dec. 10 1862

The Army of the Potomac was making its final preparations today for the assault across the Rappahannock River tomorrow. Rations were being cooked, weapons checked, ammunition issued. Most importantly, the pontoon rafts which would be used to build temporary bridges across the waterway were checked over and readied. The men on the bluffs of Falmouth were not the only ones contributing to this threat to the Army of Northern Virginia. As far south as North Carolina operations were being carried out against roads, railroads and supply lines which might be used to reinforce Lee, Longstreet and the other southerners. Unfortunately the problems of communication and scheduling led to many of these attacks, particularly the one against the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad, being carried out days or a week after the battle of Fredericksburg was already over.

Thursday Dec. 10 1863

In this day and age, when the President of the United States undergoes a mandatory physical once a year with the results widely reported in the public press, it is difficult to remember just how recently such candor about the Presidential person has developed. Even in the 1940’s a president could serve most of four terms and not have much of the public aware that he was confined to a wheelchair; in the 1860’s it was not difficult at all to hide an executive affliction from common knowledge. President Abraham Lincoln was becoming more active today, to the great relief of his family and staff. He had suffered for several weeks from an attack of varioloid. The symptoms and suffering were approximately those of adult measles or chickenpox, much worse than those of childhood particularly in the days before aspirin. The disease, in fact, was a mild form of smallpox.

Saturday Dec. 10 1864

The march from Atlanta to the Sea was so nearly over that the men with Gen. William T. Sherman could smell the salty ocean air--but they weren’t quite there yet. With a mere 18,000 men to defend Savannah, Gen. William Hardee was forced to be creative. The area around the city was a prime rice-growing area, and Hardee put even the land to work for him by flooding the already-harvested rice paddies. This creative tactic, besides causing no harm to agricultural land, had the profound effect of forcing Sherman’s men to keep to the roadways instead of being able to just march across the open countryside as they had been in the habit of doing. Although Sherman’s men were well-supplied, the horses were in need of forage which was waiting for them on Union Navy ships offshore. Between the horses and their hay, however, waited one more obstacle: Ft. McAllister, on the Ogeechee River.

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