This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday May 8 1861

The relations between the government(s) and the media in the days of the Civil War were just about as pleasant and peaceful as they are today. After printing an editorial a couple of days ago suggesting that the south needed “a dictator” to win its war for independence, the Richmond Examiner promised today not to publish any information on military movements or activities, lest it give help to the enemy. This promise lasted approximately as long as it took the ink to dry, and indeed the paper was as good a source of war news in Washington as it was in Richmond.

Thursday May 8 1862

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time as Robert Schenck took his 6000 men (detached from Gen. Fremont’s command) into a battle today at McDowell, or Bull Pasture Mountain, in western Virginia. Unfortunately, he soon discovered that he was up against 10,000 Confederates under Stonewall Jackson, and retreating seemed like an even better idea. Jackson’s men pursued as far as Franklin, Va. They were already getting the name of “foot cavalry” for their speed of movement.

Friday May 8 1863

All during the Civil War the draft laws of the United States had applied only to citizens, thereby leaving alien residents exempt. (Aliens served, of course, and in large numbers, but they were all volunteers.) Today Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation announcing that henceforth the draft would be extended to include any non-citizen who had applied for citizenship. The impulse to serve was not universal, and many citizenship papers were hastily withdrawn.

Sunday May 8 1864

Skirmishing and establishment of lines continued around Spotsylvania Court House today, with the Confederate forces getting into position first. They were therefore in position when G.K. Warren’s corps arrived, thinking that they were moving around the Confederate right flank. A fight ensued. Two of Lee’s three corps had inexperienced commanders today as Longstreet had been severely wounded on Friday and A.P. Hill called in sick today.

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