This Day in the Civil War

Friday Feb. 14 1862

The Battle of Ft. Donelson continued today. Yesterday the combat had been primarily on land, as Gen. Grant’s forces attacked the Confederate stronghold. Reinforcements had arrived, and the fort held. Today the attack came from the waters of the Cumberland River. The Union gunboats USS Carondelet, St. Louis, Louisville and others blasted away at the artillery protecting the river. Those guns were on a bluff some height above the water, however, and survived with little damage. The gunboats on the other hand were not so lucky. The St. Louis and Louisville both suffered damage to their steering mechanisms and had to float away downstream. Iron plating had not yet come to the vessels on the rivers.

Saturday Feb. 14 1863

Things were not going smoothly on the Red River in Louisiana today. The Union warship Queen of the West started the day off right, capturing the Confederate vessel New Era No. 5. Alas, a few hours later she encountered some Rebel shore batteries, and was severely damaged and ran aground. The crew managed to escape by the possibly unique technique of floating to another Union ship on cotton bales. The Queen’s captain, Charles Ellet, ordered the rescue ship, DeSoto, to return to the New Era. He transferred his command to the captured ship and burned DeSoto. Ellet claimed in his report that the pilot of Queen of the West was disloyal, and had run the ship aground intentionally.

Sunday Feb. 14 1864

The lovely old town of Meridian Mississippi was well stocked with supplies, railroad connections and other assets at the beginning of today. By nightfall its destruction was well under way. Union troops under Gen. William T. Sherman’s command didn’t even have to fight their way into town--it was abandoned as Gen. Polk’s Confederate forces fell back. Sherman’s men had orders to reduce the town’s ability to support the Southern cause, and that they did. “...10,000 men worked that work of destruction,” Sherman wrote later. “Meridian, with its depots, store-houses, arsenals hospitals, offices, hotels and cantonments no longer exists.” It took five days. The Confederacy’s major fear was that Mobil, Alabama would be next.

Tuesday Feb. 14 1865

Gen. William T. Sherman was no longer interested in toying with the Southern high command on the subject of the target of his troops next assault. The Union forces were made up of four Army corps, which marched separately along parallel courses. This had enabled Sherman to direct their routes to suggest any number of destinations. As the mass of men crossed the Congaree River today, Sherman started steering a straight course for Columbia, South Carolina, the capital of the state. He wished to proceed, he said, “without wasting time or labor on Branchville or Charleston.” Charleston, which had spent every day since the attack on Ft. Sumter expecting to be assaulted, was simply disregarded as unimportant.

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