This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Aug. 20 1861

The Federal government was beginning to put together the team that would prosecute the war to reunify the country. Yesterday had seen the promotion of George H. Thomas to brigadier general, and the recall of Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck from California to Washington. Thomas, a Virginian, chose to stay with his nation over his state, at considerable personal cost as much of his family never spoke to him again. Halleck, it was correctly assumed, would be named to overall command. Finally, today one George B. McClellan, major general, was named commander of both the Department of the Potomac and the army of the same name.

Wednesday Aug. 20 1862

One year later George McClellan was still in command of the Army of the Potomac, although he was not leading them into any great number of battles. One who was fighting today was Gen. John Pope, albeit not very well. His Army of Virginia (one of the few Union armies named after a piece of land rather than a body of water) was skirmishing with Robert E. Lee’s men and coming out on the losing end most of the time. McClellan set his men in motion today from the Peninsula to Aquia Creek to be in a position to help Pope out. As he feared Pope was something of a up and coming star, he was not in any great hurry to assist the competition.

Thursday Aug. 20, 1863

When a vote was taken to decide if Tennessee would leave the Union, the outcome was very close. The eastern part of the state had been heavily against secession, but that did not mean the Federal effort to reclaim them was going to be easy. Today Gen. William Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland were nearing the Tennessee River as they slowly closed in on Chattanooga. Their target, Gen. Braxton Bragg, was sending increasingly hysterical telegrams to President Davis demanding reinforcements. By his calculations his 40,000 troops were facing 60,000 with Rosecrans and another 30,000 to arrive shortly under Burnside.

Saturday Aug. 20 1864

The USS Pontoosuc sailed into Halifax, Nova Scotia today confident that they would find and capture the CSS Tallahassee. This Confederate commerce raider had been threatening shipping on the vital New York-London routes in the North Atlantic. To the chagrin of the Northerners they discovered they had missed their prey by a mere seven hours, as she had sailed the night before. Lt. Commander Stevens, commanding Pontoosuc, went ashore to consult the US consulate. The consul reported that they were under the impression that Tallahassee was headed for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, so Stevens headed in that direction. In fact the raider, short of fuel, was headed home to Wilmington, N.C. She captured one more prize, the brig Roan.

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