This Day in the Civil War

Monday Dec. 16 1861

In one of the odder political actions of the early days of the War, Ohio’s Democratic congressman Clement Vallandigham introduced a resolution on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The point of the resolution was to commend Captain Charles Wilkes of the USS San Jacinto for his actions in capturing the Confederate commissioners on the British mail ship “Trent.” The oddity comes from the fact that Vallandigham was a Peace Democrat, advocating negotiation or any other means to settle the dispute between North and South, short of war. Why he would wish to commend Wilkes’ hostile action--which had so infuriated the British that they were on the verge of war with the U.S. themselves--is unknown. The bill was referred to a committee for study and was never heard of again.

Tuesday Dec. 16 1862

In the aftermath of Fredericksburg, the defeated Union army completed its withdrawal across the pontoon bridges erected at such a tremendous cost just a few days earlier. Climbing back up the heights on their side of the river, and looking back at the heights opposite that they had tried six times to take, they proceeded on just as far as Falmouth and Stafford Heights. There the exhausted men stopped and set camp for the winter. The countryside was soon scoured of every piece of lumber, brick and anything which could be used to construct cabins or huts or at least fortify the flimsy tents for the winter. So much wood would be scavenged that trees died for miles around. When the spring rains of 1863 came, much valuable topsoil would wash away. The area would not recover its agricultural value for decades.

Wednesday Dec. 16 1863

There was a major shuffling of commanders in the Western Theater of the Confederate States of America today. At the headquarters of the Army of Tennessee, Lt. Gen. William Hardee was out, Gen. Joseph Eggleston Johnston was in. Hardee’s appointment had only been a temporary one, filling after Bragg’s departure, anyway. Johnston’s departure from Brandon, Miss., left a vacancy at the head of the Army of Mississippi, which was filled by Gen. Leonidas Polk. One promotion was noted on the Union side of the field: John Buford, cavalryman, received a long-overdue promotion to Major General. It is good that this honor was not delayed any further, as six hours after the papers arrived, Buford died of typhoid fever in Washington, D.C.

Friday Dec. 16 1864

Attack, Gen. George Thomas had been told for weeks. Go forth from Nashville and attack the Army of Tennessee, he was ordered. He had resisted until he felt his forces and supplies were sufficient, to the point where Gen. John “Black Jack” Logan was on a train today with orders to take over command from him. But yesterday the attack had come at last, and today it continued. First the right was pushed back. When they rallied and held, the Union cavalry swept around the Confederate left and threatened the rear of the lines. Finally the climax came, around three in the afternoon, as firing was almost continuous. The Confederate left could take no more and began withdrawing. The center soon followed, and finally the right wing was forced to follow. The Army of Tennessee effectively ceased to exist as a fighting force, and the threat to the Union hold on Kentucky and the Ohio River was ended.

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