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150 Years Ago: Wednesday, November 12, 1862

In Louisville, Kentucky, a feverish Charles Freeman is discharged from Union service due to “sexual incompatibility.” When admitted to the hospital yesterday the staff discovered that Charles was actually a female; only males are allowed to serve in the military. Mary Scaberry, who had enlisted during the summer as a private in the 52nd Ohio Infantry, is just 17 years old. She will be treated for the fever and then sent back home.

The Army of the Potomac and the people of the United States are still dealing with the news of U.S. General George B. McClellan’s removal from command on November 5. With McClellan now in Trenton, New Jersey per U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s orders, General Ambrose E. Burnside is busy assuming command and making plans for a campaign that can be executed quickly. Burnside was intimately involved with McClellan in working on the next move against C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee and his formidable Army of Virginia. Though Burnside was reluctant to take the command, he now faces pressure from U.S. President Lincoln to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Lincoln expects to see and approve a plan from Burnside as soon as possible; it’s not an easy demand to meet.

From his headquarters in Virginia, General Lee knows that Burnside will be pressured by the Lincoln administration and the citizens of the Union to push forward and end the war. He is pleased to hear from one of his key generals, Lieutenant-General Thomas J. Jackson, that he is ready to move his troops at any time. Lee writes to Jackson, unsure of Burnside’s next move:

“He has as yet given no indications of his further movement or direction southward. Whether he will cross the Rappahannock or proceed to Fredericksburg I cannot tell. It is easier for you to determine what damage you can inflict on him from where you are. If you can accomplish nothing but maintain control of the Valley, in the apparent and probable need of all our forces southward the force under you is too far from the scene of action. If an advance towards Fredericksburg is discovered, it is plain that you cannot delay any longer, and you must be prepared to move at any time. General (JEB) Stuart has been directed to watch the enemy closely, but you know the difficulty of determining first movements.”

It’s been a very long day for U.S. Major General William T. Sherman, but he takes up the pen once again at 11pm from his headquarters in Union-occupied Memphis, Tennessee and writes a long letter to Judge John Swayne. Part of Swayne’s job is to enforce U.S. Federal law before State or Local laws, especially when it comes to the issue of slavery. Sherman expresses his displeasure to Swayne as he feels he is not following Federal law, as slaves captured by the U.S. military are to be “forever free of servitude.” Swayne is not enforcing this in his courtroom and Sherman takes it upon himself to make a legal argument as to why this needs to change. Sherman, having no legal training, does this because it’s his duty to enforce Federal law. He is not the type of person who can just look the other way, even though he does not have a personal issue against the institution of slavery. Even if it’s a matter outside of the military, Sherman will stand up and let his voice be heard if he feels certain actions weaken the Union cause and what his men in the field are fighting for.

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