This Day in the Civil War

Wednesday Dec. 4 1861

One of the most brilliant political careers in United States history came to an untimely end today. John Cabell Breckinridge was 40 years old and a U.S. Senator representing Kentucky. This was a step down, as he had already been Vice President, under Buchanan, at the earliest age allowed by the Constitution, 35. Breckinridge was adamantly opposed to secession, and had worked tirelessly to prevent it, even remaining in Washington over the hot, humid summer to participate in the special session of Congress called to deal with the problem. Today the Senate voted, 36-0, to expel him from his seat. He was still a Kentuckian first, and when fighting broke out there last month he had accepted the post of commander of the (Confederate) 1st Kentucky Brigade. This unit would soon become known as the “Orphan Brigade”.

Thursday Dec. 4 1862

Gen. Joseph Eggleston had been one of the premier Confederate generals in the Eastern theater in the earliest days of the War. He had fought from Manassas (Bull Run) through every major battle up to Seven Pines, when he had been wounded. What hurt his career more than bullets were his continual difficulties with Jefferson Davis, and he had, after recuperating from his injuries, been reassigned to command in the West. He official took over his duties today as overall commander of the most critical part of the Confederate defenses. His area of responsibility covered Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and parts of North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana. His main task was to ride herd on Bragg in Tennessee and Pemberton at Vicksburg, Miss.

Friday Dec. 4 1863

Gen. James Longstreet and his corps had been detached from the Army of Northern Virginia and send West in a desperate move to shore up the defenses of Confederate Tennessee. It had been a valiant effort, but in the end it had been too little, too late. Their last assault had been on the ramparts of Fort Sanders at Knoxville, which they had taken but could not hold. With Grant's reinforcements on the way, Longstreet was now establishing winter quarters farther east and north, at a place called Greeneville. This was, in terms of travel time, about equidistant from potential battle sites in the west or in Virginia, enabling the force to be shifted to whichever area needed them most.

Sunday Dec. 4 1864

“Infrastructure interdiction” was not a military term in use at the time, but that was what Federal troops were engaged in around Waynesborough, Ga. today. They thought they were just tearing up railroad tracks, a tactic both sides had learned could wreak just as much harm on the enemy as outright battle could, with much less danger of the railroad tracks fighting back. Confederate Cavalry commander Joseph Wheeler took a dim view of this demolition, and launched an attack. The track-tearer-uppers had been provided with a guard force, and they repulsed the initial attack long enough for the cavalry (Federal) to ride to the rescue. Wheelers Confederates and Kilpatrick’s Federal horsemen battled back and forth for most of the day, charging and countercharging. Kilpatrick’s men finally shifted to dismounted tactics and the riders in gray were repulsed.

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