This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Nov. 19 1861

Perhaps politicians should not be held liable by history for speeches they make on occasions like openings of sessions of Congress, but Jefferson Davis delivered a stirring tirade today in Richmond. In what amounted to a State of the Union address, the President discussed the recent harvest and food supply (good), the financial system (“hopeful” was his description), and recent Federal military operations (“barbarous” was the mildest term employed). He looked forward to improvements in the transportation system, complicated by the fact that railroads in different states were of different gauges. Finally, he said, “Liberty is always won where there exists the unconquerable will to be free.”

Wednesday Nov. 19 1862

Captain Raphael Semmes had made quite a name for himself as a commerce raider for the Confederacy in the waters of the Atlantic. From whaling ships in the icy North to cargo of all sorts farther south, if it flew a Federal flag and fell under his guns, he usually sent it to the bottom of the sea, after thoughtfully removing the crew. Every Union vessel knew to watch for the CSS Alabama, and great was the glee of Commander William Ronkendorff when his USS San Jacinto had caught up with her in Martinique. Unwilling to annoy the French by attacking in their waters, Ronkendorff stood offshore in blockade, waiting for Alabama to sail. But even in Martinique sometimes the gales of November came early. Under cover of the foul weather, Semmes and the Alabama got out today and escaped under Ronkendorff’s nose.

Wednesday Nov. 19 1863

It was the day of dedication for the new National Military Cemetery at Gettysburg. As was expected on such a solemn occasion, the greatest orator of the day, Edward Everett, was engaged to speak. He delivered a brilliant performance, declaiming for two hours on the history of war from ancient times to now. After he was done, the President of the United States rose to the podium. His voice, often described as thin and reedy, was not a match for Everett’s. Some in the crowd, unable to hear, pushed forward, or complained that Lincoln should speak louder. About the time they got within earshot, Lincoln sat down again. Newspaper reviews the next day were mixed. Lincoln, who had left a gravely ill child and very nervous wife back in Washington, and who was not feeling very well himself, headed at once for the train station and home.

Saturday Nov. 19 1864

Governor Joseph Brown of Georgia had been a thorn in the side of Jefferson Davis, or possibly a pain in another part of the anatomy, since almost the day of the founding of the Confederate States of America. Since under the Confederate constitution each state was a sovereign entity, no governor was really obligated to obey any orders from a central government, and Brown had made full use of this fact. If Jefferson Davis had requested troops, Brown sent few or none at all. Even muskets built in the state had been kept in warehouses “for militia use” rather than sent to the national armies. Now Brown had William Tecumseh Sherman’s 60,000 troops marching across his state destroying everything in its path. He looked around for help, and found none. Even his call for every able-bodied man in the state to come fight was ignored by those who wished to remain able-bodied.

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