Friday, November 16, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Saturday, Nov. 16, 1861

The misgivings about the Union’s arrest of Confederate diplomats Mason and Slidell have already begun. Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner, no friend of the Confederacy, is among those who urge their release. Sumner recognizes the damage the arrests will do the Union cause in the eyes of Europe.

As winter, with its impassable roads, approaches, both sides settle down for combat’s off-season. From Virginia to Missouri, scouting and foraging parties provide the only fireworks. Many shots are fired at elusive targets; few casualties result. Sickness takes more lives as soldiers shiver in the cold and rain, their tents and huts providing limited comfort. In these close quarters, farm boys who had built up few immunities to childhood diseases are vulnerable to illnesses carried into camp by city boys.

At his headquarters in Cairo, Illinois, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the District of Southeast Missouri, yearns for combat, but goes nowhere, awaiting arrival of the Department of the Missouri's new commander, Henry Halleck. (Unfortunately, the ever-cautious Halleck will offer the feisty Grant no encouragement.) For now, Grant busies himself with the never-ending paperwork. On this day, he will deal with prisoner exchange, safe conduct passes, and finances. Yawning ensues.

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