This Day in the Civil War

Sunday Jan. 19 1862

His superiors had told Gen. George Crittenden not to go north of the Cumberland River--and he had ignored them and moved his men anyway. This proved not to be a good idea at all, as he discovered when his forces were set upon by the troops of U.S. Gen. George Thomas. Thomas, who was still a year away from getting the title of the “Rock of Chickamauga”, was still operating under an earlier nickname, “Old Slow Trot.” He was far from speedy but implacable once prepared for an attack. They called it the Battle of Mill Springs. Crittenden’s fellow Gen. Felix Kirk Zollicoffer was also on the north side of the river and caught up in the fight as well. Zollicoffer’s habit of wearing a white raincoat proved most unfortunate, as he was shot dead in the altercation. Most of the Confederate troops escaped back across the Cumberland, but much equipment and supplies were left behind.

Monday Jan. 19 1863

Incredible as it may seem, U.S. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, even after watching the carnage of five futile attacks at Fredericksburg, Va. a month ago, still felt that an attack on the Army of Northern Virginia at that town was a winnable proposition. As no one had any better ideas, Burnside had finally persuaded Lincoln to let him try it. Therefore the Army of the Potomac was rousted out of their winter camps around Falmouth and set marching towards the U.S. Ford across the Rappahannock River. Today the first two of the three Grand Divisions into which the Army was divided neared the ford. The reorganization of the army from the Grand Division model into the smaller, more maneuverable corps structure was still some months away.

Tuesday Jan. 19 1864

Much is often made of the disadvantages the “agricultural, pastoral” south faced in fighting the “industrialized, technological” North during the Civil War. This should not be taken to extremes, however. The Confederacy certainly had manufacturing capabilities, and moreover had some very ingenious persons employed in the war effort to use creativity in weapons design. One such was nasty little item devised around this time: the “coal torpedo.” It was a hollow lump of cast iron, the hollow part of which was packed with gunpowder and sealed. This was then milled, ground and painted until it looked like a perfectly ordinary lump of coal. All that was required was for a passerby at a Union naval fueling station to drop this into a coal pile about to be loaded onto a ship. When the bomb was shoveled into the ship’s boiler it didn’t even need a fuse to turn it into a devastating explosive. Not enough were made to have much of an effect, although one would come close next year in City Point, Va.

Thursday Jan. 19 1865

The troops of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman had been in command of Savannah, Ga. and Beaufort, S. C., since just before Christmas. Songs were already written about the epic march that had gotten them “From Atlanta to the Sea”, but this was far from being the final goal of Sherman’s campaign. Today the marching orders went forth, at least for some groups of soldiers: time to head out. The campaign was now organized to move in “stages”, and the first forces left today with the initial goal of Goldsborough, N.C. Their orders were to be at that place no later than March 15, and not much earlier either. The movement by stages required coordination of all forces, with rapid progress by one just as dangerous as slow travel by another. It would not be easy to do this march in the dead of winter, even this far south.

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