This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Jan. 2 1862

The first New Year’s holiday of the War had come and gone, and both sides were frustrated and in states of confusion. In the North, Gen. George McClellan had bullied and backstabbed his way to command of the Army of the Potomac, and indeed was turning it from an undisciplined, untrained mob into something more resembling an army. Unfortunately he was unwilling to put them to use in anything resembling a battle, and had then come down with typhoid fever, rendering him incapacitated for weeks. In the South, some of the initial patriotic fervor was wearing a little thin. Newspapers such as the Memphis, Tenn., “Argus” were noting that the Confederate armies were taking huge numbers of men out of productive work, and they weren’t doing any fighting either. Plus, taxes were too high.

Friday Jan. 2 1863

The Battle of Stones River, or Murfreesboro, had been going on since Tuesday and showed no signs of being over yet. Confederate Gen. John C. Breckenridge’s “Orphan Brigade” did the major part of the fighting today, taking, after heavy battle, a small hill on the north side of the river. They held it only briefly, though, being pushed off with heavy losses. This allowed overall commander Bragg to wire to Jefferson Davis in Richmond that they had won a great victory. The early winter sunset called a halt to action, with both sides hoping desperately that their opponents would withdraw, which was the usual way of figuring out who won Civil War battles.

Saturday Jan. 2 1864

The inactivity that had marked the end of last year was still continuing into this one. A major reason for this was a massive cold front which had come down visit from Canada, and subjected such Southern towns as Cairo, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee, to temperatures far below freezing. All the way to the Gulf of Mexico thermometers and people were subjected to uncommon frigidity. The only military action that was even proposed was a plan put forth by US Naval Secretary Gideon Welles for a joint Army-Navy attack on Wilmington, North Carolina. This notion made it as far as the desk of Secretary of War Stanton, who sent it to Major Gen. Halleck. Halleck vetoed the whole idea on the grounds that all the armies were busy or too far away, and therefore, he could not provide manpower for the project.

Monday, Jan. 2 1865

One would like to think that after all this time, the United States high command would have figured out that Gen. Benjamin Butler had only one real talent, administrating occupied Southern cities. As an engineer he was a disaster, and as a fighting commander he was a catastrophe to his own men. Admiral David D. Porter, who had commanded the naval arm of the attack on Wilmington, wrote a private letter to General of the Armies U.S. Grant, saying that the attack was perfectly feasible under another Army commander. Grant promised swift action. Ben Butler was, unfortunately, given another job, in engineering this time. He was handed a huge corps of black laborers and allowed to use them to dig a canal through a bight of the James River, to bypass some heavily defended cliffs below Richmond and permit a naval attack. Time would tell.

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