This Day in the Civil War

Sunday July 14 1861

Horace Greeley is best known today for his travel advice (“Go west, young man! and grow up with the country!”) but today he was waxing eloquent with military suggestions. “FORWARD TO RICHMOND!” screamed the headlines in Greeley’s New York Tribune today. Gen. Irwin McDowell was supposed to be putting an end to this ludicrous secession matter, was the attitude. Towards this end he had been given the largest army by far ever assembled by the United States of America, some 35,000 strong. What the esteemed editor completely overlooked was the fact that this immense army had had so little training that it amounted to little more than an armed mob. Lincoln, with less excuse, felt the same way. When McDowell asked for more time for training, the President replied “You are green, it is true; but they are green also. You are all green alike.”

Monday July 14 1862

It was a dark day in the history of the United States Navy. A custom that had been carried down from the British sea forces, that had existed from time immemorial, that had carried sailors through thick, thin, boredom and seasickness, was no more. The forces of purity and temperance in the U.S. Congress managed to get through today a bill abolishing the rum ration. “...The spirit ration in the Navy of the United States shall forever cease` distilled spirituous liquors shall be admitted on board vessels of war, except as medical stores.” In an attempt to prevent mass desertions, the legislature magnanimously raised sailors pay five cents a day to compensate for the deprivation.

Tuesday July 14 1863

The prospect of a military draft had caused grumbles. When the lots were actually drawn yesterday the resentment had exploded into riots in New York City. Mobs ruled the streets, stores were looted and burned, and the police were utterly helpless. Today the rioting spread to other cities, including Boston, Portsmouth N.H., upstate New York and as far away as Wooster, Ohio. In New York the rage was beginning to focus on innocent blacks, who despite having no connection or control over the draft, were seen as the “reason” the war was being fought at all. The mob of mostly immigrant Irish workingmen began to target black neighborhoods, beating anyone on the street, and setting fires, even at a Negro church and orphanage. Later estimates had at least 100 people killed or wounded in the chaos, and property damage of well over $1.5 million in 1863 currency (probably closer to $10 million today)

Thursday July 14 1864

Fans of the great Confederate cavalry leader Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest are quick to note that he was only ever beaten in battle twice. If you know such a person you may wish to offer them a drink, or at least a black armband of mourning, because today was one of these occasions. It was the Battle of Tupelo, also known as the Battle of Harrisburg, Mississippi, and it may have gone badly because it was not Forrest’s style of combat at all. Opposing Gen. Andrew Jackson Smith had gotten his forces in possession of a ridgeline and dug in. Although it was far from a towering height, the usual rule still applied: it is better to have the higher ground than the lower. Forrest, on the left wing, did not coordinate well with Stephen D. Lee’s men on the right, and in any case neither wing could budge the Federals. As usual the attacking force got the worse end of the casualties, losing nearly twice as many men (1350 out of a force of 9500) as the Federals did (647 out of 14,000). Again as usual, the Union could replace the losses. The South could not.

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