This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday Aug. 7 1861

The town of Hampton, Va., a small village near Ft. Monroe, was burned to the ground today--by a Confederate general. John B. Magruder, known later as “Prince John” for his occasional theatrics, claimed that he had heard US Gen. Benjamin Butler planned to use the nearly-deserted town as housing for black laborers, which Magruder referred to as “escaped slaves” and Butler called “contraband of war.” Butler, claiming that Magruder had whipped up hysteria and had given the remaining residents only 15 minutes to flee the town, expressed outrage at the “wanton act.”

Thursday Aug. 7 1862

A reasonably heavyweight delegation--President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of State William Henry Seward and Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton--went out to the Navy Yard just outside Washington. There they saw the latest pride and joy of the military-industrial complex, a repeating cannon. This item, named “Rafael”, was exciting but impractical and did not see common use. Lincoln was something of a nut for mechanical marvels of any sort.

Friday Aug. 7 1863

Gen. Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard is not usually regarded as a pioneer of naval strategy, but he put in an odd request today. He was at Charleston, and he sent word back to his old command in Mobile, Ala., asking that the CSS H.L. Hunley be sent to his location. The Hunley was one of the world’s first attack submarines, 40 feet long, 3 1/2 feet wide and 4 ft. deep, powered by a crew turning a crank which rotated a propeller. The vessel had already sunk once, killing the hapless crew, but Beauregard was desperate for anything that might help break the Union blockade.

Sunday Aug. 7 1864

Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan formally received his new command today in Halltown, Va. Officially his new job was called the Middle Military Division. Its territory included West Virginia, Washington D.C., and the Susquehanna Valley. Unofficially, at this point he had only one task in front of him: catch, kill, or at least chase Jubal Early and his force of cavalry out of the area before they caused any further nuisance.

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