This Day in the War: 02/04/11

Tuesday, Feb. 4 1862

Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin was not a happy man. His responsibilities were wide-ranging, and little was going well in any of them. He issued today a ruling listing severe penalties for speculating in commodities that were in short supply. Prices were skyrocketing for many items, particularly saltpeter, which was needed for the manufacture of gunpowder. (John Harrolson had not yet started his project to collect the contents of chamberpots, which would make him immortal in song.) Benjamin also appealed to troops who had enlisted for short terms right after Fort Sumter; their enlistments were beginning to expire just as the need for manpower was increasing.

Wednesday, Feb. 4 1863

A problem was arising with the Navy’s new ironclad ships: communications from them. Wooden ships had masts; they communicated with a code of flags of different shapes and colors which could be seen from a long distance when high on the mast. Ironclads, although a technological innovation of great significance, had a small problem: they had no masts to fly these flags from. Today Adm. Samuel DuPont had a brainstorm. He wrote to his Army counterpart, Maj. Gen. David Hunter, suggesting that the Navy adopt the Army Signal Corps system, which used just a few flags but which were waved back and forth in a coded system. An amazing thing then occurred: Hunter promptly agreed. The two made arrangements to have Navy men attend Signal Corps school to learn the codes.

Thursday, Feb. 4 1864

The pursuit of blockade-runners was a constant activity, not as well-remembered as many battles but more important in the course of the war than many of them. On this day the steamer Nutfield tried to run the gauntlet into New River Inlet, N.C. Lt. Commander Roe, though, was vigilant aboard the USS Secaucus and chased her till she ran aground. Unable to refloat her, Roe offloaded the cargo of quinine and rifles, and burned her to the waterline. The quinine in particular was of incalculable importance, far more so than a few muskets more or less. Quinine was the only treatment available for malaria for men on both sides. Ignorance of proper dosage, combined with the fact that there often just wasn’t enough to go around, resulted in men getting just enough quinine to get them back on their feet, but not enough to cure them.

Saturday, Feb. 4 1865

As the implacable progress of Sherman proceeded northward, the weather began to dry out and he was able to regularize his lines. Slocum managed to get the rest of his men across the flooded Savannah River, which helped straighten out the lines. Slocum was now into higher, less swampy terrain, which allowed faster progress. As on the march through Georgia, Sherman’s men burned, looted, or destroyed any public structure they came across. Private homes, although normally relieved of any livestock, foodstuffs, or items of value that couldn’t be hidden in time, were, by order, not to be destroyed unless the occupants of the house fired on the Union troops.

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