This Day in the Civil War

Friday Sept. 20 1861

For eight days the Confederates of Sterling Price had had a small Federal unit, the “Irish Guard” under Col. James A. Mulligan, surrounded and besieged in Lexington, Mo. Mulligan, hopelessly outnumbered, refused to surrender because he was expecting a relief column to be sent by James Fremont from St. Louis. Fremont, being locked in battle with political enemy Charles Blair Jr., never showed. Price forced the issue today in one of the few Civil War battles settled by hemp. Frontal assaults on the college buildings having failed before, Price’s men today took large round bales of hemp, wetted them down, and rolled the bales forward for protection from Federal fire. It worked. Mulligan surrendered.

Saturday Sept. 20, 1862

There are those who excuse George McClellan’s restraint in the Battle of Antietam on the grounds that he had to hold back substantial reserves as the last defense of Washington in case of a disaster on the field. Today, though, the battle had been over for two days, Lee’s army had its back against the flooded Potomac River and was attempting to move his divisions across it to retreat back to Virginia. McClellan was still facing him, the reserves were still there, and all Little Mac did was send some cavalry to harass him, and kept the reserves in reserve and sat in Sharpsburg. Others noticed this inaction as well: Antietam was McClellan’s last battle.

Sunday Sept. 20, 1863

Union and Confederate forces were lined up at the conclusion of the fighting yesterday, knew where each other were and knew that today would settle the matter. The fighting was essentially toe to toe from one end to the other until, due to a mistaken order, Union troops right in the center under Thomas J. Wood were pulled out of position. In the Confederate center were the forces of James Longstreet, who lost no time exploiting this opening. The Union line nearly dissolved, except for Gen. George Henry Thomas. Gathering his men on a rise called Snodgrass Hill they formed a defensive line that held all afternoon, getting for Thomas the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga.” After dark, under orders, Thomas withdrew to rejoin the rest of the Union army in Chattanooga. Braxton Bragg had won his battle.

Tuesday Sept. 20 1864

Phil Sheridan finally had Jubal Early’s Cavalry force on the run in the Shenandoah Valley. Following the Battle of Winchester yesterday, Early was moving “up” the valley, which due to the direction the river flows, meant moving South. The pursuit lasted through Middleton, Va., passing through Strasburg until they reached a spot called Fisher’s Hill. There Early’s men stopped. In response, Sheridan ordered his men, who were still north of the town, to halt and begin to entrench. In the early days of the war it would have been unheard of for proud cavaliers of the Cavalry to dig ditches to fight in, but there had been some changes made.

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