This Day in the Civil War

Monday Nov. 11 1861

In an manner of speaking the United States Air Force should be counted as having been created today, albeit in a joint military-private venture. Professor Thaddeus Lowe was possibly the best-known aerialist in America in these days, and tireless in his efforts to prove to Union officials that his aircraft could serve valuable military functions. Today, near Fort Monroe, the newly invented “balloon-boat” G. W. Parke Custis set to sea, towed by the Navy steamer Coeur de Lion. As Lowe wrote, he had “..on board competent assistant aeronauts, together with my new gas generating apparatus which, although used for the first time, worked admirably. Proceeded to make observations accompanied in my ascensions by Gen. Sickles and others. We had a fine view of the enemy’s camp-fires...and saw the rebels constructing new batteries at Freestone Point.”

Tuesday Nov. 11 1862

Corporal Barber of the 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry was a great letter-writer, and many of his wartime missives have been preserved. Today he wrote describing his unit’s activities around Oxford, Mississippi: “We now kept shifting position and performing those uncertain movements so perplexing to a soldier... Restricted on our rations, all communications cut off...and surrounded by a relentless horde of rebel cavalry, our situation was anything but pleasant. The boys commenced an indiscriminate foraging with an avidity which knew no limits. In many places gold was found which the rebels had buried before leaving for the war to prevent its falling into the hands of the Yankees, but a little coaxing would induce the head darkey on the plantation to divulge its hiding place.”

Wednesday Nov. 11 1863

Gen. Benjamin Butler, USA, was one of the more colorful, not to say controversial, figures of the War. Not much of a combat commander, he had been shifted into administration, particularly of occupied cities. During his tenure in command of New Orleans, he had infuriated so many that his picture was pasted in the bottom of chamber pots. Finally he was replaced, not for irritating his subjects but for failing to sufficiently support the campaign up the Mississippi River. Today he got his new assignment, replacing Gen. John G. Foster in the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. He got off to a reasonably typical start, issuing an order forbidding the populace to harass citizens loyal to the Union with “opprobrious and threatening language.” Women, for once, were not singled out.

Friday Nov. 11 1864

Panama, at this point a province of Columbia, was a common transshipment point for cargoes going from Atlantic to Pacific. One such vessel, the merchant steamer Salvador, departed for California with such a cargo today. As soon as she was clear of Columbian territorial waters, the USS Lancaster swooped in and boarded her. This was, interestingly, at the request of the Salvador's captain. He had warned the Navy before leaving that he had information that some of his passengers were not what they claimed, but he had no proof. Captain Henry K. Davenport had no such concerns: he boarded the ship and searched the passenger’s baggage. In it he found a large stash of guns, ammunition, and a paper authorizing the bearer to seize a ship and convert it into a commerce raider. The passengers, led by Acting Ship’s Master Thomas E. Hogg, Confederate States Navy, were taken off and arrested.

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