This Day in the Civil War

Saturday Aug. 24 1861

Even this early in the War it was obvious to the more realistic members of the Confederate government that their cause was unlikely to succeed without outside intervention. The most essential first step would be diplomatic recognition of the new nation. Even without that, though there were supplies, ships, munitions and goods of all sorts that the Confederacy did not have the means to produce. Today Jefferson Davis gave commissions to men who were to travel to Europe and lobby for the cause. You probably know the names of two of them: James M. Mason was to go to Great Britain and John Slidell was on his way to France. They would take the ship Trent and pass into fame. But there was a third: Pierre A. Rost was sent to the court of Spain, still considered a world power although slipping down in the rankings. Rost would take a different ship, arrive with no difficulties, accomplish nothing to speak of and fade into obscurity.

Sunday Aug. 24 1862

On May 15 a ship known unromantically as No. 209 was completed in the Laird Docks of Liverpool, the premier shipwrights of the world. For a few weeks she was known as the Enrica and her ownership was unclear. Last week she had sailed, innocent and unarmed, as a merchant vessel to the Azores. Another ship loaded with cannon, ammunition and other supplies had sailed, coincidentally, the same day. Today the two ships met off the Azores Islands and history was made. Several of the crew, and most of the stores, of the supply ship were transferred to Enrica, and she got a new name. As of today she was the CSS Alabama, commerce raider and terror of Union ship captains and insurance companies. A Confederate naval jack fluttered overhead. Federal agents in England had tried in vain to prevent the sale and the sailing.

Monday, Aug. 24 1863

John Singleton Mosby was in a class of Confederate fighter known as a “partisan ranger.” These men, sometimes official members of the military forces but often operating outside the command structure, had one basic assignment--to harass, annoy, disrupt communications, and generally make a pest of themselves. Mosby operated in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, ranging so far and wide that the area is known as “Mosby’s Confederacy” in many accounts. Today he was working behind the lines of Gen. Meade, who was camped along the Rappahannock River.

Wednesday Aug. 24 1864

The Union Army south of Petersburg was going about its assigned work today, which was destruction. The target of their demolition was the Weldon Railroad, one of the last remaining links capable of carrying supplies from the dwindling Confederacy to its capital city and defending army. Tracks were torn up; the ties were piled in heaps and set afire and the rails were laid on top of these until the intense heat caused them to warp and bend. (Rails were still made of iron in these times, not steel.) This would prevent their rapid reassembly in case the Southerners should reoccupy the area. Rumors were starting to go around that they might, indeed, be planning such a reoccupation.

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