November 1861 saw a turn in the weather for the worse and as was to become a norm in the American Civil War, the winter months saw little military activity. However, the suffering of the soldiers in the field increased and disease was as much an enemy for the soldier as was his opponent in the field.
November 1st: General McClellan, aged 35, took up his post as overall commander of the United States Army. General Frémont agreed to an exchange of prisoners in Missouri – but such action could only be carried out with the express support of the President.
November 2nd: General Frémont was formally relieved of his command and was replaced by General David Hunter.
November 3rd: Jefferson Davis and his senior army commanders disagreed on how the Confederacy should proceed. His major opponent was General Beauregard. Jefferson tried to bring onto his side commanders he felt shared his views such as General Robert E Lee.
November 4th: A Union naval force arrived at Port Royal Bar. An anchorage here gave the Unionists dominance along the whole coast of South Carolina and allowed the blockade to be better enforced.
November 6th: Jefferson Davis was elected to a six-year term as President of the Confederacy. Alexander Stephens was appointed Vice-President.
November 7th: A battle at Belmont, Missouri, left about 100 Unionist and 261 Confederate soldiers dead. Over 1000 men were reported as missing from both sides.
November 8th: Two Confederate commissioners (John Slidell and James Mason) joined a British ship, the ‘Trent’, in Havana en route to the UK. In international waters, the ‘USS San Jacinto’, forced the ‘Trent’ to heave to and surrender Slidell and Mason. Once this is done, the ‘Trent’ was allowed to continue with both men’s families on board – but not them.
November 12th: McClellan announced a major shake-up of the Union command structure. The Department of the West was split into three new departments – New Mexico, Kansas and Missouri. Previously one man had commanded all of these. Now, each new department had a new commander.
November 15th: Slidell and Mason were landed at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. Political bigwigs in Washington DC were quick to congratulate Captain Wilkes of the ‘USS San Jacinto’ with some even suggesting that the ‘Trent’ itself should have been taken in as well. However, once the celebrations died down it became apparent that Wilkes had acted as he did in international waters against a ship belonging to the world’s greatest naval power. There was a fear that the UK would be pushed into supporting the Confederacy as a result of this. Postmaster-General Blair and Senator Sumner of Massachusetts called for Slidell and Mason to be released with due speed.
November 19th: Davis called for the construction of a major rail network in the Confederacy to allow for the rapid movement of troops and supplies.
November 24th: Commissioners Slidell and Mason were moved to Massachusetts amid fears in Washington DC that the episode might lead to war between the UK and the North.
November 27th: News of what happened to the ‘Trent’ finally reached London and the outcry was immediate.
November 30th: The British Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell, wrote to the British ambassador in Washington that he, on behalf of the British government, was to express in the strongest terms Britain’s outrage over what happened to the ‘Trent’. Lyons was to demand the immediate release of Slidell and Mason and a formal apology from the Federal government. In a private letter, Russell told Lyons to give the Federal government 10 days before closing the embassy and cutting diplomatic relations. The Royal navy was put on alert and the Guards regiments were told to prepare to sail to Canada.