This Day in the Civil War

Friday July 12 1861

The Battle of Rich Mountain was not one of the shining moments for the Army of the Confederate States of America. Western Virginia should have been secure, but communities of pro-Unionists assured that this was not to be. Gen. Robert Selden Garnett--not to be confused with his better-known West Point classmate and cousin Richard Brooke Garnett--was one of the few who managed to escape with his dignity, his freedom and most of his men. They came down off the mountain into the valley of the Cheat River.

Saturday July 12 1862

Several things were different in New Orleans this year. For one, the town was under military occupation, with the commander of these forces, Gen. Benjamin Butler, being reviled as a tyrant, dis-respecter of women, and general spawn of Satan. For another, though, there was something absent from the town: the usual summertime epidemic of yellow fever. As it happened, Butler had ordered great improvements in public sanitation. In addition, he had, as a make-work project for the unemployed, required that ruts and holes in streets be filled in with dirt and sand. This removed so many puddles that the mosquitoes were unable to breed in their accustomed numbers, thereby reducing the disease rate immensely. As it was not known at this time that the insects were responsible for the sickness, Butler got no credit from anyone for the improvement.

Sunday July 12 1863

It had been eight days since the Army of Northern Virginia had begun to pull back from the fields around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but they were not yet back to the relative safety of their namesake state. The problem was the Potomac River. The days and weeks of frequent rains that had often plagued both armies during the campaign had driven the river to levels almost never seen in mid-July. Hopes were high on both sides: Lee hoping that the water would have fallen enough to allow a crossing tomorrow, and Lincoln, desperately pushing Meade to attack soon enough to prevent this, possibly bringing an end to war in the East. One of them would be doomed to disappointment.

Tuesday July 12 1864

Gen. Jubal Early, CSA, had accomplished what no other Confederate had pulled off during the entire war: attacking the enemy capital. After skirmishing in the suburbs of Silver Spring with the hastily thrown together defensive forces of Gen. Lew Wallace, Early had hoped to assault the seat of Federal power in the center of the city. After examining the area of Ft. Stevens and finding it inhabited by regulars of the Sixth Corps he changed his mind. Joining the regulars to view the situation was Abraham Lincoln. A young Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., was alarmed when bullets began to hit nearby. “Get down, you damn fool!” he shouted at his commander-in-chief. Lincoln obediently took cover.

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