This Day in the War: 12/02/10

Monday Dec. 2 1861

The right of habeas corpus (Latin for “produce the body,” more or less) is one of those little Constitutional tidbits that people seldom think about until they find themselves rotting in jail, and the jailers under no obligation to ever let a judge decide whether one belong there or not. It is one of the cornerstones of the American legal system. In the earliest days of the War Abraham Lincoln had suspended the right in the corridor between Washington and New York, primarily to deal with secessionist elements in Baltimore. Today he authorized Gen. Henry Halleck to do the same in his jurisdiction in the Department of Missouri. This was of very dubious legality, as the Constitution requires that the Legislature, not the Executive, have this right of suspension. Congress did, later, give retroactive approval, setting what many in later years consider a deplorable precedent.

Tuesday Dec. 2 1862

Action in the Texas-Louisiana coastal regions was still in a rather tentative stage. Both sides were gathering information they knew they were going to need in the future. One such project was the trip of the Confederate steamship Queen of the Bay which was chugging slowly today around Corpus Christi Pass taking depth soundings. Captain H. Wilkes was going about this chore methodically when he was unexpectedly set upon by two smaller boats sent from the USS Sachem. Unprepared for attack and unable to escape, Wilkes took the drastic step of running his ship up on the beach. While the crew escaped, Wilkes fired the ship’s guns at the attackers, driving one away and the damaging the other. The damaged Union boat also wound up coming ashore and the crew, carrying an officer who had been wounded, had to march 30 miles overland to get back to another Union position where they were picked up.

Wednesday Dec. 2 1863

One of the primary duties for U.S. Navy ships operating along the Florida coast, along with watching for smugglers and blockade-runners, was keeping an eye out for salt works. Although some salt, in both South and North, was dug in mines where it had been deposited as ancient ocean beds evaporated, much more came from coastal operations. Sea water would be scooped into kettles and the water boiled off, or placed in shallow pans to evaporate. The USS Restless came upon such an operation today on Lake Ocala, Fla., that was producing an incredible 130 bushels of salt per day. Acting Master William R. Browne ordered the boilers destroyed, along with two flatboats and six ox carts, and had all the salt returned to the sea from whence it came. He also took 17 prisoners.

Friday Dec. 2 1864

If there was any command in the United States Army that chewed up and spit out commanders faster than the Army of the Potomac, it had to be the administrative duties in the Department of Missouri. General after general had been assigned to this post, and a few months later would be recalled, relieved, fired, or simply driven mad and beg for reassignment to a combat command. The problem was the intense and unremitting factionalism of local Missouri interests. They had been battling since long before the War, and would continue long afterwards. The latest victim was Gen. William Starke Rosecrans, an inept administrator anyway. He was replaced today by the unfortunate Gen. Grenville Dodge.

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