“Damn the Torpedoes!”

Today in History, August 5, 1864:

“Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!!”

The Battle of Mobile Bay. During the Civil War, Confederate “blockade runners” (Rhett Butler types) kept the South in vital supplies by running past the Union Navy blockade from Cuba to ports like Mobile Bay, Alabama.

US Navy Admiral David Glasgow Farragut was tasked with closing this last Confederate source of supplies. His fleet had to fight past the Confederate fleet of ironclads and two forts that guarded the bay. As the battle progressed, the Union fleet began to fragment, until Farragut rallied his sailors with famous admonition, winning the battle.

Mobile would remain in Confederate hands, but access to it was cut off for the duration. Farragut was the adopted son of US Naval Officer David Porter, who also raised his biological sons, famous Naval officers David Dixon Porter, and William Porter. One family played such a vital role in the glory of the US Navy. Can you imagine being a part of it?

New Orleans Race Riots…Democrats Murder Republicans

Today in History, July 30, 1866:

The New Orleans Riot. NOLA had been under Union control for most of the Civil War, although deep South in geography and sentiments. In 1864, a state convention of mostly Confederate sympathies had tried to enforce “Black Codes” to limit the rights of Freedmen.

Now that the war was over, “Radical” Republicans were holding a state convention in The Mechanic’s Institute in New Orleans in hopes of gaining control of the legislature.

A group of black Union veterans formed and marched to the Institute in support of the Republicans, where they were attacked by an armed group of former Confederates, including some authorities (the Mayor and others were Democrat former Confederates). 34-35 black and 3 white Republicans were killed.

Other similar riots in the South occurred, convincing enough voters that more stringent Reconstruction policies were needed.

In November Republicans would sweep into both houses of Congress by 77%. The next year they would force through the Fourteenth Amendment protecting citizenship rights and equal protections over the protests of Democrats in Congress. Before it could be ratified, the Reconstruction Acts were passed…requiring former states to ratify if before they could be represented in Congress.

“Steady, men….steady! ChaaaaAAAaaRRGE!!”

Today in History, July 1:

A day for important battles.

1863 – The Union and the Confederates first clash at The Battle of Gettysburg, and both send reinforcements. The first day went badly for the Union, but the largest battle in North America had three more days to go, and would become a major turning point in the Civil War.

1898 – The Battle of San Juan Hill becomes a major victory for the US in the Spanish-American War as the US Army’s Fifth Corps takes the heights over Santiago de Cuba. It also set the stage for Colonel Theodore Roosevelt to become President as he became famous for leading his Rough Riders up Kettle Hill (not San Juan).

1916 – The Battle of the Somme in France; after a week’s bombardment with over 250,000 shells, the British launch an attack into no-man’s land. The Germans had retained many machine guns despite the bombardment, and the British soldiers were slaughtered. With 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded in one day, it was one of the worst defeats for the British military’s history.

1942 – The Battle of El Alamein; In North Africa Erwin Rommel’s army had routed the British and their allies, driving them back so quickly that they had to leave much of their equipment behind. But on today’s date the British Army, resupplied by Americans and reorganized, turned the tide back on Rommel at El Alamein.

You Must First Catch the Rabbit…

Today in History, May 19, 1863:

The Siege of Vicksburg continues.

After two failed assaults, the Union troops and the Union Navy settle in for an extended siege.

After 44 days, during which Vicksburg would be compared to a “Prairie Dog Town”, with most of the population living underground, the Vicksburg newspaper, “The Daily Citizen” was reduced to printing it’s media on used wallpaper,

By day 44, the paper printed, “[T]he great Ulysses—the Yankee Generalissimo, surnamed Grant—has expressed his intention of dining in Vicksburg on Saturday next, and celebrating the 4th of July by a grand dinner and so forth. When asked if he would invite Gen. Jo Johnston to join he said. ‘No! for fear there will be a row at the table.’ Ulysses must get into the city before he dines in it. The way to cook rabbit is ‘first catch the rabbit.’ &c.” A week later, the Union troops had taken over the paper, having taken Vicksburg, and added and addendum, “Two days bring about great changes, The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg, Gen. Grant has ‘caught the rabbit;’ he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him. The ‘Citizen’ lives to see it. For the last time it appears on ‘Wall-paper.’ No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricasseed kitten—urge Southern warriors to such diet never-more.”

New Orleans Surrenders

Today in History, April 29, 1862:

The surrender of New Orleans.

The Confederacy was determined to protect the jewel of the South, it’s largest port and therefore source of supply from abroad.

They were convinced the attack would come from the north, and placed the bulk of their army forces and naval forces in Tennessee and Mississippi. This left New Orleans to be defended by about 3,000 militia and two forts below her on the River, Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Phillip.

Union Flag Officer David Farragut took his force of Union ships and tried to silence the forts, and failing that decided to run past the batteries in a fierce battle. By the 28th his fleet lay off the city on the Mississippi.

If you’ve ever been to the French Quarter and watched ships move by ABOVE you on the river, you’ll understand why the Confederate commander there told the mayor the battle was already lost and withdrew his forces.

The next day, the 29th, Farragut’s childhood home surrendered to him. David Farragut was adopted by Capt. David Porter after his mother died, and began his naval career at age 9. He would become the first Rear Admiral, the first Vice Admiral, and the first Admiral in the US Navy. His adoptive brothers, David Dixon Porter and William Porter would also be naval heroes that attained flag rank.

The capture of New Orleans by Union forces helped cut off the Confederacy from outside supply, and from their territories in the west.

Lincoln’s Assassin Killed

Today in History, April 26, 1865:

Union Army forces track down John Wilkes Booth 12 days after he assassinated President Lincoln.

In the meantime, he had been hidden by Confederates, treated by Doctor Samuel Mudd (your name is mud) and hidden in a barn on the Garrett farm in Virginia, where he was found. The barn was set afire and his associate surrendered.

Booth refused…a Union soldier, Boston Corbett, saw Booth inside the barn and fired his Colt revolver…causing a mortal wound to Booth.

Many Confederates saw Booth as a hero. However many Southerners wept openly at Lincoln’s death, and Confederate Generals, including Lee and Johnston, denounced Booth’s actions.

Fortunately, in the interim between his deed and his death, Booth was able to see news accounts that recorded his benefactor’s denunciation of his act. So when he died, he knew what he was.

“So. You’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this big war?” – A. Lincoln

Today in History, March 20, 1852:

“So…you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”

President Abraham Lincoln greets Harriett Beecher Stowe at the Presidential Mansion in 1862, ten years after her novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was first published.

I am amazed at the foresight and courage displayed by this woman, a school teacher turned author.

By her own admission, in the epilogue of the book, for the first part of her life, she knew of slavery, disapproved of it, but being a Northerner, it was distant and she felt that the problem would be resolved eventually on it’s own.

How many of today’s injustices do we see the same way? Between meeting some runaway slaves, becoming familiar with the Underground Railroad, and stories from her family and friends, and finally the Compromise of 1850 (in which the government promised to return runaway slaves in exchange for new limitations on slavery expansion), she became an avid abolitionist.

She wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin to illustrate the aspects of slavery that most did not understand at that time.

As slaves, a mother’s children were often sold off, never to be seen again.

Women were sold into prostitution, to be used until their value had diminished.

If a good and kindly “master” came on hard times, he might sell a good man “down the river” to cruel and harsh masters, as “Uncle Tom” was.

With her novel, Mrs. Stowe humanized the slavery issue, brought it home to people and chastised them for not living up to their Christian values.

The novel would become the best selling novel of the 19th century and would inspire abolitionist views amongst Americans. It was certainly far from the only cause of the Civil War…but the novel played it’s part in American History.

One has to wonder if this “little woman” had any idea of the importance her words would have. If you haven’t read (or listened to) this novel, you should.ance her words would have. If you haven’t read (or listened to) this novel, you should.