This Day in the Civil War

Monday May 20 1861

An act was committed on this day which, in later days, would no doubt set off a media frenzy of unprecedented proportions, not to mention a legal and constitutional crisis. At a prearranged time (in the middle of the afternoon) every U.S. Marshall in the North went to pay a visit on the local telegraph office. There the marshals confiscated every single telegram which had been sent for the past year. The intent was to ferret out spies or suspicious patterns of messages. The Constitutional rights to free speech and privacy traditionally take a beating during wartime.

Tuesday May 20 1862

President Abraham Lincoln today signed into law a piece of legislation that would affect the entire subsequent history of the United States. This was the Homestead Act, which offered 160 acres of land in the “unoccupied” West. The terms of the deal were that the recipient build a dwelling on the land and stay on it for five years, after which he would have title free and clear. Many soldiers wound up taking advantage of this act after the War.

Wednesday May 20 1863

No single big action took place today, so we will look at a summary of smaller ones. Jefferson Davis, who had been unpleasantly although not seriously ill for several weeks, was officially ruled by his doctor to be on the mend today. U.S. Grant decided frontal assault was not the way to take Vicksburg, and was meditating on alternatives. Admiral Farragut wrote to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that the ships he had available for the coming attack on Port Hudson were “...pretty well used up, but they must work as long as they can.”

Friday May 20 1864

Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey had rescued the waterborne side of the Red River Expedition earlier when he built a dam which raised the water level and allowed his ships to pass some rapids. Today he helped out the landborne army of Gen. Nathaniel Banks, rigging a bridge out of a large number of steamships anchored and lashed side-by-side. Once the armies passed over this walkway to the side of the river they were officially supposed to be on, the ill-fated Red River Expedition was officially over at last.

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