The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – December 17-23, 1862

Here is a look at events in the Civil War this week in December 1862.

"The Battle of Goldsborough," E. P. Forbes.  (Son of the South)

“The Battle of Goldsborough,” E. P. Forbes. (Son of the South)

December 17

Battles: Foster’s Raid/Goldsborough Expedition. Battle of Goldsborough Bridge. (14)

Military events: Tennessee operations: CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his brigade, with Freeman’s Battery, meet a Federal force, about 8 miles from Lexington, Tennessee. The Confederates win the resulting fight, although “[t]he artillery of the enemy was bravely handled and fought; the men stood stoutly to their guns; many fell at their post; and the remainder only yielded when the Confederates were directly upon them and further resistance useless.” (4) Meanwhile, CS General Bragg begins to hear rumors that US General Rosecrans plans to withdraw from Nashville into Kentucky, and this jibes with the news of General Lee’s victory at Fredericksburg. (18)

Other: General Grant issues General Order No. 11, expelling all Jews from the Department of the Tennessee. General Halleck will order him to revoke it on January 4, 1863. (8)

A cavalry corps (not Forrest's) ammunition train between 1861 and 1864.  (Library of Congress)

A cavalry corps (not Forrest’s) ammunition train between 1861 and 1864. (Library of Congress)

December 18

Military events: Tennessee operations: General Forrest and his men reach Jackson, Tennessee, in the afternoon, driving back Union pickets and taking over their defensive works. Word reaches them that Federal troops are converging on Forrest from the north and south by rail, while local citizens also report that heavy reinforcements have arrived. Forrest sends out two units, each to take a different rail line overnight, capturing trains and breaking up the road. By now, Forrest has added an artillery gun to his battery, his men have plenty of ammunition and firearms, and he is now carrying a 25-wagon train [in these early days of US railroads, “train” commonly referred to a line of supply wagons rather than rail cars]. (4)

Grant’s First Vicksburg Campaign: In preparation for his assault on Vicksburg, General Grant reorganizes his forces into four corps under John McLernand (the 13th Corps – US President Lincoln, who had been finagling an independent command for McLernand for political reasons, now orders him to comply when he complains about this assignment). General William Sherman commands the 15th corps, Stephen Hurlbut the 16th, and James McPherson, who reportedly is not related to the McPherson of Source #2 below, gets the 17th. (6)

December 19

Military events: Tennessee operations: Each of the units that General Forrest sent out the previous night has succeeded. Forrest, in the meantime, has seized the station nearest to him. Approaching rail lines are now too damaged to allow troop transport. His brigade now reunited, Forrest heads out for the Federal lines near Jackson, deploying his force to hide his numbers since he is outnumbered about 8 to 1. (4)

Gran't's supply depot in Virginia, later in the war.  Van Dorn's raid in 1862 is said to have done $1,500,000 - that's 1862 dollars!  (Library of Congress)

Grant’s supply depot in Virginia, later in the war. It’s unclear how this compares in size to the one in Holly Springs, but Van Dorn’s raid in 1862 is said to have cost Grant $1,500,000, and that’s 1862 dollars! (Library of Congress)

December 20

Battles: Holly Springs, Mississippi. CS General Earl Van Dorn destroys Grant’s huge federal supply depot and captures 1500 prisoners. (6)

Military events: Tennessee operations: Starting at sunrise, skirmishes break out between General Forrest’s men and Union units near Jackson, Tennessee. These go on all day (it isn’t clear from the source whether this was on the 19th or 20th, actually; both days were full of action). Late in the afternoon, Forrest quietly withdraws his main force from Jackson to Spring Creek, while having drums sounded as if a large infantry force is awaiting them. Around 8 p.m., the remainder of his forces join him at the the new location. More rail bridges are burned and the town of Humboldt is captured after a brief battle. Forrest now heads for and captures Trenton, leaving the Fourth Alabama to guard Spring Creek. The Alabamans fend off a Union attack and then, during the night, move out as ordered to rejoin Forrest at Trenton. (4)

In the meantime, because of conflicting rumors about what US General Rosecrans is doing, General Bragg, at Murfreesboro, sends out riders who report back that US General George Thomas’s corps has arrived in Nashville, large stockpiles of supplies are in the city and Rosecrans’s entire army has been moved to the south bank of the Cumberland. Despite this news, Bragg remains convinced Rosecrans is going to withdraw and boasts to General Kirby Smith that he, Bragg, will be in Nashville soon. (18)

Grant’s First Vicksburg Campaign: General Sherman and the 15th Corps board transports at Memphis that will take them down the Mississippi to Chickasaw Bayou, but Grant calls off the supporting land campaign because raids by Van Dorn and Forrest have completely disrupted his supply line. (6) However, during the retreat Grant, seeing how well his army subsists by foraging and living off the land as they withdraw to West Tennessee, realizes that his army could have supported itself for at least two more months. He will remember this in the future. (3)

Railroad worker straightening out destroyed track in 1862-1863.  (Library of Congress)

Railroad worker straightening out destroyed track in 1862-1863. (Library of Congress)

December 21

Military events: Tennessee operations: General Forrest sets out from Trenton in the early morning, heading for Union City. Along the way he captures a Federal stockade and rolling stock, as well as destroying bridges and track for miles along the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. (4)

December 22

Military events: Tennessee operations: Word reaches General Forrest that some 10,000 Union troops are moving on him from the south, blocking his return across the Tennessee River. Regardless, Forrest continues to Union City, some 20 miles away, and takes it. He sends units out to wreak as much damage on the M&O line as possible. (4)

Meanwhile, CS General John Hunt Morgan, 3,900 cavalrymen and 7 artillery pieces move northward from Alexandria, Tennessee, to begin their second “Christmas” Kentucky raid, heading for lightly defended L&N trestles deep in Kentucky on Muldraugh Hill. (2)

December 23

Military events: Tennessee operations: General Forrest now turns back home. As he heads for the Paducah branch of the Obion River, between now and the 25th, he and various units sent out from the main force burn bridges and wreck track for miles around. Meanwhile a Union force of some 12,000 men has reached Trenton. (4)

Emancipation: CS President Jefferson Davis issues a general order proclaiming Benjamin Butler an “enemy of mankind” and authorizing his execution and that of commissioned officers in his service, if captured.

It’s rather surprising that Davis did this over half a year after the execution of William Mumford and a week after Butler had been relieved of command in New Orleans and had gone East (we shall hear more of Butler in time – the man tended to pop up unexpectedly all over the place during the Civil War, as McPherson notes).

Perhaps the real point of the order was what Davis tucked in at the very end. The order also requires that “all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to the laws of said States. . . . That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy.” (6)

The 54th “Glory” Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry, was still only a gleam in the eye of some Bay State politicians and abolitionists at this point. Perhaps Davis was responding to existing black regiments and the strong likelihood that more would form once the official Emancipation Proclamation kicked in on January 1st.

An African American soldier, some time between 1862 and 1865, by A. R. Waud.  (Library of Congress)

An African American soldier, some time between 1862 and 1865, by A. R. Waud. (Library of Congress)


(1)  The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

(2)  Morgan’s Raiders and The L&N Railroad in the Civil War, by Dan Lee (2011).

(3)  Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).

(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).

(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(6) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(7) Henry Halleck’s War: A Fresh Look at Lincoln’s Controversial General-In-Chief, by Curt Anders (1999).

(8) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.

(9)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.

(10) Civil War Home’s “The Eastern Theater: 2nd Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.

(11)  The Army of Northern Virginia in 1862, by William Allan (1892)

(12)  Conquest of the Lower Mississippi.

(13) The Strategy of Robert E. Lee, by J. J. Bowen (1914).

(14) (14) The Goldsboro Expedition.

(15) Rolling Ford – John Hunt Morgan’s Second Raid Into Kentucky.

(16) Civil War Interactive.

(17) Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, edited by J. Gregory Acken (1998).

(18) Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865, by Thomas Lawrence Connelly (1971)

(19) Those Damn Horse Soldiers, by George Walsh (2006).

Categories: American Civil War

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