This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday March 5 1862

The customs of the Shenandoah Valley are not those of most places. For one thing, to go “up” the valley means to go south. That is what Gen. Nathaniel Banks was doing this day, in charge of a Federal force headed from Harpers Ferry, Va., towards Winchester. The intended target: Gen. Thomas Jonathan Jackson. Since the battle of First Bull Run last May, he had become known as “Stonewall.” Gen. Banks had achieved his military career by joining the Republican Party at a very early stage of its development and winning the governor’s race in Massachusetts in 1858, while Stonewall had learned his skills at West Point. The differences in talent as well as training would show in this campaign.

Thursday, March 5 1863

Vicksburg was proving a much greater challenge to Union attackers than the forts upriver had been. Frontal assault was ruled out as suicidal, due to both odd twists in the geography of the Mississippi River and strong fortifications of the city on high bluffs. Grant decided that the best approach was to dig a canal. The river twisted in such a fashion that it formed a letter “U”, with Vicksburg at the far point of the curve. Dig a ditch across the top of the U, the logic went, and the river itself would scour it out and possibly even change the channel permanently. One factor which influenced his decision was that this canal was a pet project of that famous marine engineer Abraham Lincoln. Defenders lobbed shells periodically, some of which helped the excavation, some of which, blowing dirt back into the hole, did not.

Saturday, March 5 1864

Some nautical ingenuity was employed today by Commander John Taylor Wood, CSN. He led 15 men in a barge across Chesapeake Bay to Cherrystone Point, Va. This obscure locale held a Union telegraph station, which was promptly given new management, with the original telegraphers tied up outside. Woods and company then surprised two small steamers, whose occupants followed the telegraphers in being tied up and left ashore. They then wrecked the telegraph offices and some warehouses, sank one of the newly-acquired ships and sailed off in the other.

Sunday, March 5 1865

Sherman’s armies continued to make their way across the flooded PeeDee River. Yesterday, in honor of Inauguration Day, those who had already crossed and were waiting for their comrades celebrated by firing off gunshots, and misappropriating property. One wrote home: “One of the wealthiest citizens is a Mr. McFarland, whose interests in blockade running has, it is said, been very profitable for him. A liberal use has been made of his choice wines. Many a bumper was filled the health of Mr. Lincoln, and confusion to South Carolina.” Today those in Cheraw, S.C., turned to problems with storage of another commodity: gunpowder. “The Rebels are criminally careless in the way they leave it about,” Maj. George Nichols observed, “stored in all sorts of places and in all kinds of buildings. Either in their extreme haste they packed it into any place which was handy, or they were determined to blow up the town.”

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