This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday July 17 1861

Armies were on the move today. The main Federal force, under McDowell, was a disorganized shambles, dropping valuable equipment and supplies along the roadside because they proved too heavy to carry on the march. Fortunately for them, at the end of the march to Fairfax Court House they discovered more supplies, left behind by the Rebel army for similar reasons. Confederate commander P.G.T. Beauregard was nervous about being outnumbered, but Jefferson Davis reassured him that reinforcements, under Joseph E. Johnston, were on the way. Why was this so? Because Union Gen. “Granny” Patterson, who was supposed to keep Johnston’s men tied up in the Shenandoah, had retreated to Charles Town instead. Johnston and army hopped a train for a place called Manassas Junction.

Thursday July 17 1862

Did you ever wonder why, to this day, some of your bills will have a line on them telling you not to send payment in the form of cash, coins, “or stamps”? Who on earth would pay their bills with stamps?, you might say. It was indeed once the custom, as on this day President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill authorizing the use of postage stamps as legal tender. The reason was the extreme shortage of small coins, as the copper, silver and other metals which would have been used to make them was diverted into the war effort. Money came in a riotous confusion of denominations and issuers anyway, as “Illinois money” might be accepted in Ohio, or accepted at a discount, or not accepted at all. Paper stickers to prepay for postage was a relatively new custom anyway but at least people were used to it.

Friday July 17 1863

It wasn’t called Oklahoma yet anyway. The only major battle fought in was was just known as “Indian Territory” took place today. On the Union side was the command of Gen. James G. Blount. His men proceeded to Elk Creek, in the vicinity of the hamlet of Honey Springs, and took on the foe. The Confederates, under the direction of Gen. Douglas H. Cooper, fought bravely for as long as they could, but were finally compelled to withdraw due to a lack of ammunition. Interestingly enough, a good number of the Union troops were black, and a high percentage of the forces in gray were themselves Indians. Both sides tried to recruit Native Americans during the Civil War, with the Confederates having an easier time of it due to longstanding Native grievances with Washington. They did not take well to traditional army discipline, although they made superb light cavalry.

Sunday July 17 1864

The long-expected axe fell on the career of Joseph Eggleston Johnston today. His tenure as head of the Army (and Department) of Tennessee had been one of continual decline, retreat, desertion and despair. Johnston had been in many ways one of the great Confederate generals since the days of First Bull Run, but his talents were not up to taking on William Tecumseh Sherman. What had finally sunk Johnston’s job was the fateful act of telling the truth to his Commander in Chief: that it was not possible for him to prevent Sherman from taking Atlanta, Ga. Davis wrote today that “ you failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from command...” Appointed to replace him was what was left of Gen. John Bell Hood.

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