This Day in the War: 10/20/09

Sunday Oct. 20 1861

The slogan “loose lips sink ships” would not be coined until a much later war, but something like it should have been mentioned to military commanders in Washington at this time. Additionally, something along the lines of better border security would have been a good idea. A woman, whose identity is unknown, walked into the Confederate War Office in Richmond today, dropped off a parcel of papers, and walked back out. The papers included explicit descriptions of the plans for Banks’ forces’ advance on Manassas, as well as Burnside’s expedition into North Carolina and Butler’s into Louisiana. The lady had gathered this information at a dinner party in Washington D. C. several days earlier, where Gen. John A. Dix was one of the guests. Dix’s lip slipped.

Monday Oct. 20 1862

Either Abraham Lincoln was trying to keep too many people happy and feeling important, or he suffered a major brain cramp today. He issued orders to Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand, a big-shot politician from Illinois, to organize troops and lead them on an expedition to Vicksburg, Mississippi. What Lincoln seemed to forget was that he had just assigned Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to the same task. This was to lead to no end of conflicts, confusion and eventually hostility between Grant and McClernand, since each quite honestly believed himself to be the rightful commander of the project.

Tuesday Oct. 20 1863

At the beginning of the War the Confederacy, realizing that it simply did not have enough warships, had begun contracting to have new ones constructed, primarily in the great shipyards of Liverpool, England. Although technically in violation of British “neutrality”, much of this was winked at as contractors were making money hand over fist. Finally, though, the US representatives got through to foreign secretary Lord Russell to point out a coincidence: Two rams known as “294” and “295” were very close to being finished. At the same time huge numbers of Confederate naval officers seemed to be finding their way to English shores. How alarmed Lord Russell was at the threat of war with the United States if the ships were released is unknown, but today he put the final nail in the coffin: the ships were quietly seized by Her Majesty’s government. The “Laird rams”, as they were known, never saw Southern service.

Thursday Oct. 20 1864

Sterling Price had been fighting to liberate Missouri from Union hands since the beginning of the war. His final excursion had been going on for a month now, and was having no greater success than the previous ones, in large part because Missouri seemed to have no great desire for such liberation. Price expected to lead his army in and grow it by a flood of recruits. Since nearly every man in Missouri eligible for army service was already serving, on one side or the other, this did not occur. Today Price was in Lexington, on the banks of the Missouri River. He had Pleasanton’s heavy cavalry behind him, Andrew Jackson Smith’s infantry on his left and Samuel Curtis’ men up ahead. The river, on the right of his course, was the only direction from which shot and shell were not flying.

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