This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Dec. 17 1861

The first newspapers from London printed after the “Trent Affair” had exploded there, reached the former colonies in America today, and reactions were strong and immediate. Capt. Charles Wilkes, U.S. Navy, had stopped the British mail ship “Trent” on the high seas by force of arms, and had removed the Confederate commissioners Mason and Slidell, who now languished in a prison in Boston Harbor. To which the London Times commented: “By Capt. Wilkes let the Yankee breed be judged. Swagger and ferocity, built on a foundation of vulgarity and cowardice, these are the characteristics, and these are the most prominent marks by which his countrymen, generally speaking, are known all over the world.” In more diplomatic circles, Lord Russell was debating whether to demand an apology or just declare war.

Wednesday Dec. 17, 1862

It was called “Official Order No. 11” when it was issued by U.S. Grant from his headquarters office in Holly Spring, Mississippi. Everywhere else it was just called the “Jew Order”. Grant was infuriated by the hordes of sutlers, speculators, illicit cotton traders, smugglers and others who plagued his department along the Mississippi River. This order did not phrase matters quite that way however. “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within 24 hours.” While Grant in fact meant the illegal traders regardless of their religious preferences, the horrid phrasing of this order would haunt him for years, including all the way through his Presidency. This was also one of the incidents which renewed the rumors that Grant was far too fond of drink.

Thursday Dec. 17 1863

War is a cruel and evil thing, all scholars and most assuredly all participants agree. While it has elements of excitement and pageantry, such as inspired Robert E. Lee to once observe “It is good that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it,” most efforts over the centuries have been to impose rules and restraints on the worst of the cruelties and unnecessary destruction. Still, acts of gratuitous wickedness were not unknown, and one such occurred today. Lt. Commander Fitch, in charge of the USS “Moose”, sent landing parties ashore from his gunboat on Seven Mile Island and Palmyra, on the Tennessee River. There, acting on information from local informants, they sought out and destroyed a facility producing materiel which gave notable aid and comfort to Confederate guerilla and partisan bands operating in the area. Such is war, but it was nonetheless cruel that, nine days before Christmas, this treatment was given to their distilleries.

Saturday Dec. 17 1864

The shattered Army of Tennessee was still reeling in retreat from the devastating Battle of Nashville two days ago. Pursuing them was the Federal cavalry of James H. Wilson, along with some detachments of infantry. The flight was essentially along the Franklin Pike in the direction of Columbia, Tenn. Skirmishes broke out repeatedly , with one at Franklin, then another at Hollow Tree Gap, then at the West Harpeth River. Every time the Federals got close enough to be a serious threat, a rear-guard stood to fend them off to allow the rest to escape. Hood had lost most of his supply wagons as well as nearly all his artillery at Nashville, so mounting an offensive effort was impossible.

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