This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday Dec. 11 1861

The blockade was bad, and was beginning to cause serious shortages for businesses in Charleston, South Carolina. Equally bad for business was the fact that the Federals had landed on Hilton Head Island out in Charleston Harbor, and it was clearly evident that a major assault would be made upon the city one of these days. The final offense to the retail community came today as a horrible fire blazed across the business section of the town, east of King Street and as far as the Cooper River. A great many stores and offices were damaged or destroyed. The cause of the fire was never determined.

Thursday Dec. 11 1862

After long delays, the pontoon bridges had arrived and today were put to use. Five bridges were projected, up and down the Rappahannock. The one directly in front of the town was making no progress: every time the engineers went to put it together they were driven off by gunfire from Confederate sharpshooters in the buildings at the riverfront. Burnside ordered the cannons to demolish the buildings, but the sharpshooters used the rubble for cover. Finally a Federal unit crossed the river in boats, far enough upstream to be out of range, and marched down and cleared out the marksmen. After this the central bridge was completed, and the Federal occupation of the mostly-deserted city began.

Friday Dec. 11 1863

Those who had expected a quick Federal takeover of Charleston, S.C. at this time of year four years ago, were quite astonished that four years later it still had not succeeded. While there were many reasons for this lapse, including flawed Federal attacks and sometimes-brilliant Confederate defenses, one of the major reasons was the presence of Ft. Sumter as a Southern stronghold in Charleston Harbor. The ongoing project of the moment was to pound it with sufficient artillery fire as to reduce it back to the sand from whence it came. Today was one of the rare occasions on which some of the defenders were harmed: one of the 200-plus shells fired at the battered old hulk hit a Confederate ammunition magazine. An immense explosion ensued which killed 11 Confederate soldiers and wounded another 41. Still, no hint of surrender was given, and the shelling was concluded for the year.

Sunday Dec. 11 1864

Commanding the Union Navy brigade on the Broad River in South Carolina was an officer named Preble. He wrote today of a new and horrifying weapon being used against his men: “It is a conical ball in shape, like an ordinary bullet. ..The base of the ball separates from the conical end and has a leaden..plunger. The explosion of the charge drives the base up so as to flatten a thin disk of metal between it..and the leaden plunger is driven against the fulminate (in the nose) and it explodes the ball...” Commander Preble found this weapon disturbing, and in his report he sounded a note heard before, and would be heard again: “It seems to me that use of such a missile is an unnecessary addition to the barbarities of war.”

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