This Day in the Civil War

Thursday Dec. 12 1861

The armies may have mostly settled into winter camps around the countryside by now, but mere bad weather was not enough to put a halt to the activities of the U.S. Navy. The blockade effort continued to be strengthened as the number of ships available to be put on patrol continued to be increased. Actual military efforts were today concentrated on the Ashepoo River area. Ships carrying sailors and Marines steamed in and out of the main base which had been established in Port Royal Sound. The purpose of the venture was to locate any concentrations of Confederate forces, and beyond that, to allow captains and navigators to familiarize themselves with the tricky and complicated inlets of the coastline.

Friday Dec. 12 1862

The first part of the battle had started yesterday, as the Federal troops under Gen. Ambrose Burnside had struggled to build pontoon bridges to transport their men across the Rappahannock River while under fire from Confederate sharpshooters. After repeated failures the effort had finally succeeded and Union troops moved to establish their beachhead before night fell. When morning came it was hard to tell--a thick fog had risen from the river overnight and filled the valley, lasting until noon. Troops continued to move in the limited visibility, but slowly, and when the fog finally broke up it was far too late in the day to launch an assault. The major activity on the Union side was to move as many men as possible as far up the hill as possible. Looking down on the action, Lee sent orders to Stonewall Jackson, guarding another ford farther downstream, to rejoin the main force.

Saturday Dec. 12 1863

Smoke still rose this morning from the charred wood that until yesterday had been a large salt works in St. Andrew’s Bay, Florida. Acting Master W.R. Browne of the USS Restless, along with two other ships, had found the outpost and launched an attack on it. Artillery fire hit one of the houses of the workers, and wind had spread the flames until nearly the whole compound was incinerated. Brown wrote in his report, “It was in fact a complete village...employing many hands and 16 ox and mule teams constantly to haul salt to Eufaula Sound and from thence conveyed to Montgomery, at which place it is selling at fabulous prices--$40 and $50 per bushel.” The operation included 22 large steam boilers and 300 kettles averaging 200 gallons each, used to evaporate sea water to harvest the salt. The 2000 bushels found were returned to the sea from whence they had come.

Monday Dec. 12 1864

Four Union Army corps’ under Gen. William T. Sherman had marched from Atlanta to the Sea--almost. They were on the outskirts of Savannah, and out in the Atlantic awaited the Navy vessels carrying their new supply source. The only thing standing in the way was an installation called Fort McAllister, and the only way to reach it was over the 1000-foot long King’s Bridge over the Ogeechee River. This, understandably, had been destroyed by the Confederate defenders of McAllister. Gen. Sherman had set his engineers to work on the problem, and they reported today that the rebuilding work was nearly completed. Preparations were therefore put underway to put it to the test. The assault on Ft. McAllister would take place in the morning.

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