This Day in the War: 12/09/10

Monday Dec. 9 1861

There are few things a general hates more that a crowd of civilians hanging around, asking questions, and acting like it has the right to demand answers. That, essentially, is what the generals of the United States got today, as Congress passed legislation creating a body called the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Originally a creation of radical senators who were outraged by the disastrous Battle of Ball’s Bluff and determined to find someone to blame for the fiasco, it would last for the length of the War. Hundreds of witnesses would be summoned to testify before this body over the course of the war. In some cases this proved to be an immense waste of time, with the praise and censure issued more on political grounds than military, but there was also generated a huge amount of testimony which explained in greater detail than the Official Reports, the planning and execution of many operations.

Tuesday Dec. 9 1862

On the heights opposite Fredericksburg, Va., the Grand Divisions of the Army of the Potomac were being prepared for the strife to come. Orders were issued to the division commanders today to supply their men with 60 rounds of ammunition apiece, and to prepare three days’ supply of cooked-in-advance rations. Aside from these preparations there was little going on. The Confederate defenders had burned the bridges over the Rappahannock River, and the waterway was far too deep, not to mention cold, to wade across this time of year. Action had to wait on the arrival of pontoon bridges, which were on the way from Washington, but moving slowly.

Wednesday Dec. 9 1863

There was no question that racism was as rampant in the North as it ever was in the slaveholding south, and that certainly included a great many members of the United States military. There were few dedicated abolitionists like Robert Gould Shaw who were proud to command units of the United States Colored Troops, but many who found it mortifying. One of these latter was in command at Ft. Jackson, Louisiana, downriver from New Orleans. His loathing for this posting was translated into cruel and abusive treatment of the black soldiers under his command. Today they decided that this was behavior up with which they would no longer put, and they rose in mutiny. Other white officers at the installation managed to halt the uprising before blood was shed. This was not the first mutiny to happen at Ft. Jackson, but the last one was committed by Confederate troops after Farragut bypassed them to take New Orleans.

Friday Dec. 9 1864

U.S. General George H. Thomas did not get his nickname of “Old Slow Trot” for nothing. It was not his decision making or command in battle that was slow, as reflected in his other nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga” commemorating his solid defense during that battle which allowed the rest of the Union force to retreat to Chattanooga and safety. But he was not going to attack before he was ready, in this case Hood’s forces outside of Nashville. U.S. Grant had actually written out the orders relieving Thomas of command today and his replacement by Schofield. However, protocol required that Grant send this order through Gen. Halleck, while Halleck said it had to come straight from Grant. While this was being settled a heavy ice and sleet storm struck Nashville, making fighting impossible. Thomas’ career remained in the balance.

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