This Day in the War: 12/7/10

Saturday Dec. 7 1861
TRENT TURMOIL TIMES TWO

Communications technology not being, in 1861, quite what it is today, the word had not yet percolated through the U.S. Navy of all the havoc being caused by the USS San Jacinto”s capture of the British mail ship Trent on the high seas. The Trent had been carrying Confederate agents on their way to Europe, so there had been at least some semblance of justification in that case, but the level of outrage it sparked in Britain was not yet known to all. Today the USS Santiago de Cuba pulled exactly the same stunt in the mouth of the Rio Grande River. The British schooner Eugenia Smith was halted in international waters and searched. She proved to be carrying another Confederate purchasing agent, J. W. Zacharie from New Orleans. He was taken off and arrested. When this sort of thing had been done by the Royal Navy against American ships some time earlier it had contributed to the start of the War of 1812.

Sunday Dec. 7 1862
FEDERALS FIGHT FIERCELY AT FAYETTEVILLE

Battle occurred today about 12 miles south of Fayetteville, Ark., on the Illinois Creek. There were two prongs of Federal forces: one under James Blunt, that was the original target, and another column under Frances J. Herron, which had been ordered down to Blunt’s support in great haste from Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. Opposing them was Confederate Gen. Thomas C. Hindman. His original tactic had been to hit each group separately, before they could join together. The speed of march of Herron’s men surprised him, however, and in the end two nearly equal forces, about 10,000 men each in blue and grey, fought on a day of bitter winter weather. After incurring almost equal casualties, around 1200-1300 each, the end came with nightfall. The Confederate forces finally withdrew to seek shelter from the extreme cold, and the Union held control of northwest Arkansas.

Monday Dec. 7 1863
COMPETING CONGRESSES CONVENIENTLY CONVENE

As the Constitution of the Confederate States of America was essentially the same document as the one used by the United States (with some important modifications, of course) it was not surprising that many events, such as the opening of sessions of Congress, occurred at the same time. Such was the case today as legislative bodies were convened in both Richmond and Washington, D.C. In Richmond the report from the President was grim. Foreign relations had not improved, Jefferson Davis reported, which meant they basically didn’t exist. Finances were in dire straits, the prisoner-of-war exchange system remained in limbo, and the army had suffered “grave reverses”, but the level of patriotism remained high. In Washington, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles reported that the blockade was solid “commencing at Alexandria, Virginia, and terminating at the Rio Grande.”

Wednesday Dec. 7 1864
TENTATIVE THOMAS TAKING TESTY THREATS

Gen. George Thomas was not a flashy commander, nor is his name one of the famous ones remembered today. His fame as the “Rock of Chickamauga” was still remembered though, and he had been left in command of the Union forces in Nashville after William T. Sherman left on his March to the Sea. Unfortunately Sherman had taken such huge numbers of troops with him, particularly of cavalry, that Thomas was left in an untenable position. He could hold Nashville indefinitely, but the army of Gen. John Hood’s Confederates was camped on his doorstep. General of the Armies Ulysses S. Grant was sitting in Washington, sending daily telegrams to Thomas ordering him to attack Hood. Thomas simply did not feel that he was ready to do so as yet, but could not disobey a direct order. Grant was getting so annoyed at the delays that he told Secretary of War Stanton today that if Thomas did not get a move on shortly, he should be removed from command. Grant was getting pressure from overhead as well.

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