This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday, Jan. 29, 1862

Even in wartime, even close to enemy lines or in this case the enemy capital, life must go on, including the social aspects thereof. Lee’s House, at Occoquan, Virginia, south of Washington, was the scene of a small dance party being held by a group of Confederates this day. Showing a distinct lack of social graces, a party of Federal troops swooped down, quite without an invitation. A minor skirmish ensued, and the revelers were compelled to disperse. In the campaign against Hatteras Inlet, foul weather was still making it difficult to get ships over the bar into the bay. The good news was that the ship carrying the signal corps finally showed up. It had been missing for two weeks and was feared sunk by the storms.

Thursday, Jan. 29, 1863

Financing a new nation is never an easy prospect, and to have to finance a war of independence at the same time is even harder. Despite all resolve to the contrary, budget deficits may prove almost impossible to avoid. Thus it was for the Confederacy, whose Congress today authorized the borrowing of $15 million, a huge sum for the time. A foreign middleman, French financier Emile Erlanger, provided the funding. The deal, like many of the financial bailouts that kept the Confederate government solvent, was probably arranged by Secretary of War Judah Benjamin. After the war he would move to England and write a law textbook that was used for a generation. In the South he served so loyally he was never quite socially accepted, because he was a Jew.

Friday, Jan. 29, 1864

Blockade-running provided desperately needed resources to the Confederacy, and blockade runners were careful to keep funds on hand to pay off US Navy captains they might encounter on the seas. The amounts had to be considerable, since they were compensated to match. Lt. Cmdr James Chaplin, USN, was morally outraged by this, and wrote today to Admiral Dahlgren about the situation: “They are possession of the necessary funds to bribe, if possible, captors for their release. Such an offer was made to myself of some 800 pounds .” The British pound was then the hardest currency in the world, making the bribe worth some $4000 US, a not-inconsiderable amount to ill-paid Naval officers.

Sunday, Jan. 29, 1865

Gen. William T. Sherman left his headquarters staff on Hilton Head Island and rejoined his troops on the march. The wily Sherman had been careful to spread his forces out on several roads, intending to confuse any opposition about what town would be his initial destination. Today, though, he made for the interior of South Carolina. Communication arrived indicating that reinforcements were on the way from Gen. George Thomas’ army in Tennessee. It was a closely held secret that Thomas’ force was making for Wilmington. Sherman began to slack off the pretense that he was heading anywhere other than Columbia, South Carolina’s capital.

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