This Day in the Civil War

Saturday Jan. 18 1862

U.S. Gen. George Thomas had faced the same agonizing choice as Robert E. Lee at the outbreak of the Civil War. Both Virginians, they had had to choose between their state and the nation they had sworn to defend. Thomas had stayed with the Union, and today was living up to his nickname of “Old Slow Trot” as he neared the Confederate troops under Brig. Gen. George B. Crittenden in Kentucky. Crittenden had made a number of mistakes: aside from the matter of entering Kentucky in the first place, which under law was a neutral state, he had placed his forces in such a way that they had their backs against the Cumberland River. His most drastic mistake, however, was lack of proper intelligence: he didn’t know Thomas was approaching.

Sunday Jan. 18 1863

It is well known that the Confederate States of America suffered from financial instability for almost its entire period of existence, from initial difficulties in printing paper money and minting coinage, to catastrophic inflation later in the War. What is less well known is that the Union was not without its own monetary mismanagement problems. Abraham Lincoln had just signed a Congressional resolution to take care of one serious problem: payment of soldiers. Part of this was simple disorganization, as many regiments had been recruited as state forces and were supposed to be paid by their state governments. As units were coordinated under Federal control the responsibility shifted. The upshot of the problem was that many had not been paid in months, including funds they had ordered withheld and sent to support their families back home, and disgruntlement and desertion was on the rise. Inflation was striking as well.

Monday Jan. 18 1864

In the days of the original popular votes in the Southern states to secede from the Union, there had been definite sectional divisions of opinion in many states. The coastal part of Virginia, for example was strongly secessionist, while the western mountain regions felt so strongly the other way that the state of West Virginia eventually resulted. Similar sentiments existed in western North Carolina, northwestern Georgia and eastern Tennessee, and it was beginning to cause serious problems for the Confederacy, especially since the draft laws had been extended and strengthened. Draft-dodging was a problem even in the face of patrols to seek them out, along with deserters. Now open public meetings were beginning to be held to protest the draft.

Wednesday Jan. 18 1865

Very, very quietly did the peace missions go back and forth between Richmond and Washington. No press conferences were held, no photographs were taken, and there is no record of any argument over the shape of the table, largely because the negotiations consisted primarily of letters between Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln. They were carried, however, by Francis Preston Blair, Sr., whose behind-the-scenes efforts throughout the course of the War are little-studied or appreciated even to this day. Today Blair, who had returned from one such trip on Monday, was headed back to see Davis again, with another letter. The one he had just brought back to Lincoln had held Davis’ offer to begin formal peace talks “between our two nations.” The one Lincoln wrote for Blair to carry today turned that offer down flat. Lincoln proposed instead to talk about peace as it pertained “to our one common country.” After spending four years of blood and pain upholding the principle that secession simply could not occur, Lincoln was not about to back down now.

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