This Day in the Civil War

Friday Sept. 13 1861

Lexington, Missouri, although not a large town, nonetheless boasted an institution of higher education, known as Masonic College. It was on the grounds of this school that Union troops were making a terrible mess, frantically digging trenches to hold off an expected assault by the Confederate and Missouri State Guard forces of Gen. Sterling Price. The 2800 Federals, known as Mulligan’s Irish Guard, thought that if they could just hold out a few more days, the 38,000 reinforcements Gen. Fremont had promised them would have time to arrive from St. Louis. Fremont, unfortunately, had not even started them marching yet.

Saturday Sept. 13 1862

Three cigars found in an unusual place today, a meadow just outside Frederick, Maryland. Wrapped around the stray stogies was an interesting piece of paper, describing in explicit detail the plans of Gen. Robert E. Lee for the Confederate invasion of the North. The astonished enlisted men who found them turned the papers over to their superiors, who rushed them to Gen. George McClellan. With the greatest intelligence coup of the War in his hands, McClellan rushed to do....absolutely nothing. He suspected the plans were a ruse to trick him out of position.

Sunday Sept. 13 1863

Rodney, Mississippi, would have seemed to have been one of the safer places in the Deep South for a group of Union men to be. In fact, it seemed so safe and secure that Acting Master Walter E. H. Fentress was agreeable when a group of his crewmen came to him with a request. The USS Rattler, on which they served, was not so large and impressive a vessel as to carry a clergyman, and they felt themselves in need of spiritual guidance. Fentress therefore granted permission for such men who wished to go ashore and attend services this Sabbath at the local church. Alas, whatever prayers they made went unanswered. A group of Confederate cavalry interrupted the service, captured the seamen, and hustled them off for a restful stay in prisoner-of-war camp.

Tuesday Sept. 13 1864

The Battle of Mobile Bay was over, but as in all such conflicts, the end of the shooting merely signified the beginning of a lengthy cleanup operation. The one in this case was particularly tricky, since the bay had been extensively loaded with “water torpedoes”, what would in later years be called floating mines. Admiral Farragut chose, for reasons unknown, to have the cleanup of the main channel done by crews in small boats, rather than blowing them up at long-distance with the cannons of the gunboats. His objective may have been to conserve ammunition. In any case, as he wrote to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles today, that over one hundred such mines had been dismantled and sunk. “This part of the channel is now believed to be clear....though beyond doubt many more were originally anchored here.” He was quite right about that part: overlooked mines would break free from their anchor chains, float downriver, and cause trouble for Union and civilian ships for months to come.

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