This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Dec. 31 1861

The notion of the president as commander-in-chief was quite literal in these days as there was no military structure whose sole duty was strategic planning for the nation. Theoretically this was to be done by Gen. George McClellan by virtue of his title of "General in Chief" but in fact his sole interest was the Army of the Potomac. In addition he was not even doing much about that at the moment as he was quite ill. Lincoln took it upon himself to telegraph to de-facto western commander Gen. Henry Wager Halleck today to ask if perhaps he had given any thought to taking action aimed at reunifying the country.

Wednesday Dec. 31 1862

Everyone knew there was going to be a battle at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but neither side exactly wanted to start it. Today it began with both generals deciding to attack the enemy's right flank. In one of his better military moves, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg hit first and swept the Union troops back over a wide area. Union Gen. William Starke Rosecrans ended the short December day with a decision to make: should they stay and continue the fight or pull back along the open road and railroad line to Nashville? With Gen. George Thomas there the decision was clear. Orders went out to dig trenches. Off the coast of Cape Hatteras the USS Monitor rolled over and sank, taking the lives of four officers and twelve crewmen.

Thursday Dec. 31 1863

There was not much in the way of champagne-drinking, horn-tooting or other midnight revelry on New Year's Eve in the Confederate capital this year. What had seemed like a great idea at the time of the firing on Ft. Sumter, the plan to follow in the footsteps of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, was now looking more like a tumble into the outhouse. Even the Richmond Examiner was being so bold as to put it in a headline: "To-day closes the gloomiest year of our struggle." After Gettysburg, after the loss of the Mississippi, after the fall of Chattanooga, few saw much hope for improvement.

Saturday Dec. 31 1864

Little in the way of warfare marred the last day of they year, beyond some skirmishing in Sharpsburg (the one in Kentucky, not Maryland) and Russellville, Arkansas. Anyone with the wit to look around, though, saw that huge armies were poised to move into the Confederacy like boulders on top of mountains around a small valley. George Thomas in Nashville, William T. Sherman in Savannah and U. S. Grant in Petersburg were not going to just give up and go away, and no Confederate army was left in the field to make them do so.

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