This Day in the Civil War

Friday Dec. 13 1861

Over in the western part of Virginia (which was still one state in these days) there is a high spot of land known as Buffalo Mountain. On this hill was a Confederate outpost known as Camp Allegheny. This was not an entirely comfortable place for them to be, as Western Virginia had voted strongly against secession and was full of Union supporters. In fact, just on the next hill over, known as Cheat Mountain, there was a whole camp of Union soldiers, under command of Brig. Gen. R. H. Milroy. Milroy and his men came one mountain over to pay a call on their secessionist neighbors, and a considerable battle ensued. The effort caused about as much damage to the attackers as to those they attacked: 137 Federal casualties to 146 for the Confederates. It did drive the boys in gray off Buffalo Mountain; they headed for Stanton. The Unionists returned to Cheat Mountain.

Saturday Dec. 13 1862

Again, like yesterday, fog rose from the Rappahannock in the night, not dispersing until midmorning. As soon as it did, the cannons exploded and the first wave of Union troops began the charge up the rise called Marye’s Heights. At the top waited the Army of Northern Virginia, which had had days to dig in and prepare. Longstreet’s men held the left, Stonewall Jackson’s the right, backed up on the lower elevation by J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. Every wave that marched up the hill was slaughtered and driven back, and then followed by another wave. This futility continued for five assaults before sunset, around 4:30 p.m. this time of year, and another one after dark. All met the same fate as the first. This is not to say the Federal attack did not wreak harm of its own, but the casualties were hugely lopsided: 12,635 killed, wounded or taken prisoner for the Union, out of some 114,000 men engaged, versus 5309 casualties for the Army of Northern Virginia’s force of 72,000. It was after this battle that Robert E. Lee made his famous remark, “I wish these people would go away and let us alone.”

Sunday Dec. 13 1863

This time of year most armies were in winter camp or heading for them. This did not, however, mean that complete peace prevailed upon the land. Action happened at Hurricane Bridge in West Virginia; Powell’s River near Stickleyville in Virginia, along with others at Strasburg and Germantown there. Ringgold, Ga., saw some action as Longstreet’s corps moved for winter camp, and just plain old random fights at Meriwether’s Ferry on Bayou Boeuf, Arkansas. What should have been a routine family visit in Washington was complicated by great hostility, although no gunfire: Mary Todd Lincoln received her sister for a visit at the White House. The complicating factor was that her sister, actually half-sister, Emily Todd Helm, was the widow of Gen. Ben Hardin Helm, general of the Confederate States of America. There were actually demands that Mrs. Helm swear the loyalty oath before being allowed to visit her relatives.

Tuesday Dec. 13 1864

The 1000-foot long King’s Bridge rebuilding job was finished, and the Union soldiers of Gen. William T. Sherman marched across it today on their way to attack the last barrier standing between them and the sea--Ft. McAllister. Sherman gave the assignment to his old corps, the 15th, now under Gen. W. B. Hazen. Sherman and his staff repaired to the top of an old rice mill to watch the action. As the blue-clad troops neared the fort, firing broke out and, to Sherman’s horror, the Union troops disappeared. After a few anxious moments they reappeared, having merely marched down into a swale. Soon thereafter they were seen waving the Stars and Stripes from the parapets of the fort. McAllister had fallen, and Union steamships could be seen offshore.

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