This Day in the Civil War

Sunday, March 9 1862

The name is wrong and the outcome was indecisive, but the battle between “The Monitor and the Merrimac” at Hampton Roads, Va, on this day changed the future of naval warfare forever. The USS Monitor, built from the keel up from a design rejected by Napoleon, battled the CSS Virginia, which was a metal-plated reconstruction of the partly-burnt ship USS Merrimac. The “Virginia” had arrived the day before and wreaked havoc on the wooden Union ships. Up against another ironclad her defects became more obvious, primarily that her steam engine was not powerful enough to propel the weight of her iron plating. Although she arrived a day late, and had been laughed at as the “cheese-box on a raft”, the Monitor would be only the first of a new class of fighting ships. The days of wooden ships was over.

Monday, March 9 1863

While most of the time the War of Southern Secession was a seemingly endless succession of battles, bitterness and bloodshed, there were nevertheless moments of frivolity. U.S. Grant had one such moment today when he sent a “Quaker” gunboat down the river in front of Vicksburg. The understandably nervous citizenry poured a rain of shot at this vessel, but did not sink her. She was made of logs, with stacked barrels for smokestacks. Other barrels which had formerly contained rations, primarily pork, had black circles painted on their lids to make them resemble mortars. Silly as the project might sound, the time would come when real gunboats would need to run the Vicksburg gauntlet, and trickery could come in handy.

Wednesday, March 9 1864

The rank of lieutenant general had not been in use in the US Army in some time. In fact, the only man in American history to have held the distinction had been George Washington, and it had been retired so that no lesser man, who might dishonor it, should hold it. Today it was revived by act of Congress. A ceremony was held in Washington wherein President Abraham Lincoln, with the entire Cabinet in attendance, awarded a commission of this rank to Ulysses Simpson “Sam” Grant. Speeches were made, although both Lincoln and Grant spoke only briefly. Grant then promptly left town, in order to conduct a conference with Gen. Meade. Others could hold parties and parades, but Sam Grant had work to do.

Thursday, March 9 1865

This day did not start off well for Gen. Judson Kilpatrick of the US Cavalry. He and his men were resting in Monroe’s Crossroads, North Carolina, thinking that they were perfectly safe. Instead they were utterly astonished to be attacked by Wade Hampton and Joe Wheeler’s combined cavalry. Kilpatrick was obliged to flee, without even his trousers according to some accounts. Kilpatrick made much in his official report of the fact that his regimental flag was not taken during the attack. He was not quite so specific as to how it was saved--the lady with whom he had been sharing the bed concealed it under her nightgown. When the Federals rallied, got themselves organized, and got “Kill-Cavalry” some pants, they won the day’s fight handily.

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