Saturday, May 7, 2011

May 6, 1861 (Monday): A Political Question

Glouchester Point Battery on York River, courtesy of

RICHMOND, May 6, 1861.

Major-General Lee, Commander-in-Chief:
    SIR: I desire to be informed as to the course to be pursued by me in the event of a ship of war of the United States attempting to pass the batteries on Gloucester Point when they shall be erected and in condition for service.
   Is the attempt to be resisted, or shall I await the institution of more decisive hostilities on the part of the United States authorities?
  This political question I desire to have decided, and ask your instructions on the subject.
      Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                WM. B. TALIAFERRO,
                                                  Colonel Volunteers, Commanding Gloucester Point.

It may seem strange, in retrospect, for a Virginia commander to be unsure one month after Fort Sumter as to whether to fire upon Union forces.  But there was, at this point, no formal declaration of hostilities and no formal rules of engagement.  In any case, there was an exchange of fire the following day with the Union vessel Yankee.  Taliaferro graduated from William & Mary and Harvard Law and went on to serve under Stonewall Jackson in the Valley.

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