This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday Oct. 23 1861

In these early days of the War, the Confederacy found itself distressingly short of ships. Transport ships, warships, river vessels, ocean-going ships...there hadn’t been many to begin with, many of those had been destroyed by Union forces to prevent their capture, and in the end the South had not wound up with many. In hopes of making up some of the difference, the Confederate navy department had authorized the issuance of “letters of marque”, essentially allowing privately owned ships to act in the interests of Confederacy in attacking Union shipping. One such, the Savannah, had not been successful in her attack and had been captured. Her officers and men had been captured, and today went on trial in New York. The charge: piracy. Possible penalty: death by hanging.

Thursday Oct. 23 1862

In the Confederate view of the law, the essential unit of government in America was the state. This was, after all, the basis of their argument that the United States were a voluntary association of sovereign bodies, any of which could depart if such be their wish. What had not been considered was the practical fact that as a nation had been made up of states with different interests, so then were states made up of regions which themselves often had different interests. This was becoming a matter of concern to Jefferson Davis today as he wrote letters on the problem of the heavy concentration of Union supporters in eastern Tennessee. Also on his mind was the problem of western Virginia, which was so Union-minded that Federal troops operated there as liberators, with the full support of the vast majority of residents.

Friday Oct. 23 1863

Gen. Braxton Bragg led one of the finest armies ever raised in America, the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Unfortunately his command, not to mention his diplomatic, skills were not a match for the abilities of his men. In the aftermath of the battles around Chattanooga and Chickamauga Creek, victory had been followed by stalemate and siege, and the strain was apparently wearing on everyone. Gen. Leonidas Polk, corps commander in the Army of Tennessee and the only ordained bishop to reach general’s rank in either army, was the latest to fall afoul of the blaming and backbiting going on, to which, it must be said, he contributed not a little. Today he was relieved of his corps command by President Jefferson Davis, and reassigned to an administrative job in Mississippi. Gen. D. H. Hill had not too long ago met a similar fate.

Sunday Oct 23 1864

The battle scene was like a zoo, appropriately enough since that is what is built on the site today, in Kansas City, Mo. The Battle of Westport it was called at the time, and it put an end to Sterling Price’s last raid in the cause of helping Missouri cast off the Union yoke. He had received little support from Missourians in this effort, and today he battled to the end. A fierce charge around Price’s left flank led to a four-hour battle, followed by Pleasanton’s cavalry attack on the Confederate horse, which broke and fled the field. Pleasanton regrouped and charged into the Confederate rear, and organization collapsed. Those who could, saving themselves and what comrades they could, set out to make their way to Arkansas by any means possible, or were captured. This was the last major battle west of the Mississippi River.

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