This week is probably the most famous one in the Civil War because Gettysburg happened and Vicksburg surrendered.
I’m not a historian and so can’t weigh in believably on the repercussions of these two major events, but I would like to tell you about a a third event – very small – that happened in Tennessee.
It highlights a major nonmilitary problem in the Confederacy that would eventually thwart Jefferson Davis’s last hope in the late spring of 1865.
A Fiery Tennessee Woman
This week, as General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA, rode through the town of Cowan, Tennessee, while helping to cover the Army of Tennessee’s retreat in the face of a strong advance by General Rosecrans and the US Army of the Cumberland, a local woman, who was berating all the men in gray, accosted him.
“You great big cowardly rascal,” she yelled at the general, “why don’t you turn and fight like a man, instead of running like a cur? I wish old Forrest was here, he’d make you fight!”
General Forrest, unable to hold back laughter, put spurs to his horse and fled the scene. Later on, when relating the story, he always said that he’d rather have taken on a battery than that fiery woman. (4, 16, 17)
The thing is, most CS citizens were like her, not like the generals and the former US War Secretary in Richmond who could all intellectualize the problem and take the long view.
Even if there had been time and if he had been inclined to do so, Forrest couldn’t have explained to the woman, in a way she would understand, President Davis’s excellent strategy for fighting a militarily superior force: attack when you can and withdraw when you must, to fight some other day when the odds are more in your favor.
She couldn’t see that. This was her home, d**n it, and the Yankees were coming! Stand and fight, you cowardly curs!
What on Earth did that woman think later on, as the US occupation of Cowan and other parts of Tennessee took hold, when she also heard the news about Gettysburg and Vicksburg?
A Nation of Individuals
The CSA, like the nation it had broken away from, was the sum of the many individual choices of its citizens. In fact, after March 11, 1861, its national government was weaker than that of the USA.
Even as General Lee was facing hard facts this week on the battlefield, things were getting real for thousands of people back home in East Tennessee and Mississippi.
Unlike Lee – yet – most of these folks could not retreat to fight again another day. They just had to accept that they were back in the USA again; it was here to stay; and all they could do was get on with their lives as best they could.
Many individuals, facing hard times, making individual choices to live, as difficult as that was going to be for a while … .
In the final days of the war, a desperate Jefferson Davis would call on such people to rise up as guerrillas and carry on the struggle. Few, if any, responded.
Our angry lady in a small Tennessee town this week is a highlight in the complex thread of events and people that would lead to that immense silence after the last war cry of the former President of the Confederacy in 1865.
Battles: Gettysburg: CS General A. P. Hill’s two divisions meet US General John Buford’s cavalry outside of town. Buford’s men, armed with rapid-fire carbines, dismount and slow the Confederate advance long enough for the US I Corps to arrive. Now realizing they’re facing the Army of the Potomac, Hill’s men reorganize and get ready to fight again. Two more divisions, from General Ewell’s corps, are approaching from the north. General Lee arrives around noon and tries to prevent the fighting from escalating into a full-scale battle. However, events have taken on a life of their own. (29) In Washington, President Lincoln camps out at the War Department with Secretary Stanton and General Halleck. (19)
Military events: Siege of Vicksburg: CS General Joseph Johnston finally sets out from Jackson to relieve Vicksburg. (11) General Grant explodes another mine under Vicksburg’s defenses. (7)
Tennessee operations/Tullahoma campaign: Bragg’s Army of Tennessee is falling back toward Chattanooga, part of it passing the Elk River near Decard. CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry are to cover the army from the northeast and stop US General Rosecrans’s men from cutting the Confederates off by seizing the Cumberland Pass. Forrest drives off several units of US cavalry and holds the pass. (4)
Morgan’s Great Raid: Having made sure that Knoxville is safe, CS General John Hunt Morgan now begins his raid north. (2)
Battles: Gettysburg. (Requires Flash, but there is a link to a text-only version.)
Siege of Port Hudson: Confederates attack and set fire to the Union supply center at Springfield Landing. (25)
Military events: Siege of Vicksburg (11): CS General Pemberton, in Vicksburg, calls a meeting of his generals. There is little food left, and even that will run out in a few days. No one wants to give up, but is it right to prolong the suffering of soldiers and civilians? Pemberton wants to try to break out and meet Johnston’s forces. “This is my only hope of saving myself from shame and disgrace,” he tells them. The generals, however, vote for surrender. Pemberton agrees, saying that he will surrender the army on July 4th. The generals protest that it will be humiliating to do this on America’s greatest holiday, but Pemberton reminds them that he’s from the North and knows the North’s “national vanity”:
I know we can get better terms from them on the Fourth of July than on any other day of the year. We must sacrifice our pride to these considerations.
Tennessee operations/Tullahoma campaign: Forrest’s men and horses have been without food for almost 24 hours. He leads them to Cowan, Tennessee, hoping to find food and forage, but the town’s supplies have already been taken by retreating soldiers. After encountering an angry woman, Forrest leaves town and heads north with his men to secure another pass, through which CS General Hardee’s corps is moving. (4)
Morgan’s Great Raid: Morgan and 2400 men cross the Cumberland River and head north from Tennessee into Kentucky. They pass through Albany and Burkesville, skirmishing with US patrols. (2, 22)
Other: President Davis sends Vice President Stephens on a commission to Washington, under a flag of truce. (5)
Military events: Siege of Port Hudson: A countermine is set off near one of the Federal mines, which collapses but causes no casualties. (25)
Tennessee operations/Tullahoma campaign: Forrest divides his men, some of whom continue to hold the pass. There are numerous skirmishes throughout this time period, but Hardee’s corps does get through the pass. (4)
Morgan’s Great Raid: The Confederate raiders reach the newly constructed Federal defensive works at Tebb’s Bend on the Green River, manned by a detachment of Michigan infantry. Morgan decides to attack it. (2)
The siege of Vicksburg (11): CS General John Bowen, a friend of Ulysses Grant before the war, now so sick with dysentery that it’s all he can do to mount his horse, rides out of the city with an aide, holding a flag of truce.
For the first time in 47 days, the firing completely ceases.
General Bowen reaches General Grant’s tent, but Grant refuses to discuss terms of surrender. It’s unconditional surrender or nothing. Grant does send a note back to Pemberton indicating a willingness to meet with the Confederate commander at 3 p.m. The commander of the Vicksburg garrison agrees, and the two men meet at a spot about halfway between the two camps, as all the men in blue and gray look on.
Grant sticks to his demand for unconditional surrender, and Pemberton, angered, starts to leave, but General Bowen (who will die of his dysentery in ten days) manages to settle things down. Grant finally agrees to let his staff discuss terms with Pemberton’s staff, and when that’s done, tells Pemberton that he will offer his final terms that evening.
Back at their own camps, each commander calls a meeting of generals. It turns out that Pemberton was correct: Grant’s generals are overjoyed that the city will surrender on the Fourth of July and are also sympathetic to Pemberton’s request that his men not be sent to prison. That evening, Grant sends Pemberton his final terms, which include the offer of parole.
The meeting is over and Grant and his now 13-year-old son Fred are left alone in the tent. Fred said later:
I remained in the tent, sitting on my little cot and feeling restless, but scarcely knowing why. Father sat at his table writing. Presently a messenger handed father a note. He opened it, gave a sigh of relief, and said calmly : “Vicksburg has surrendered.” I was thus the first to hear the news officially announced of the fall of the Gibraltar of America … .
Battles: Gettysburg: General Lee remains in his defensive position on Seminary Ridge all day, hoping General Meade will attack. The US general instead congratulates his army, which leaves Lincoln “a good deal dissatisfied.”
When Meade does not attack, Lee orders a retreat to Virginia. The Army of the Potomac has lost 23,000 men, the Army of Northern Virginia close to 28,000. (19, 29)
Morgan’s Great Raid: Tebb’s Bend, Kentucky. Morgan’s loss here is a foreshadowing of things to come. (2)
Arkansas operation: US General Prentiss repulses an attack on Helena, Arkansas. (7)
Military events: Siege of Vicksburg: The city officially surrenders. (11)
Tennessee operations/Tullahoma campaign: No US forces are encountered, and Forrest and his men cross the Tennessee River to join the rest of the Army of Tennessee. “The army having now been withdrawn to the south side of the Tennessee and concentrated at Chattanooga, Forrest’s Division followed and went into cantonments near by, where, for the following fortnight, the conditions of the campaign or the inaction of the enemy, gave it opportunity to rest and refit … .”(4, including quote)
Other: President Lincoln responds (maybe) to CS Vice President Stephens commission (per source 5):
The request of A. H. Stephens is inadmissible. The customary agents and channels are adequate for all needful communication and conference between the United States forces and the insurgents.” [In the absence of the original, it is not certain that Lincoln composed or signed this, and that it was prepared on July 4, 1863 may be questioned.]
Battles: Morgan’s Great Raid: Lebanon, Kentucky. Within hours of the fight, the first of what will be at least nine US cavalry regiments (in addition to parts of an artillery battery) to pursue Morgan’s Raiders arrives in Lebanon, but the Confederates have already left. (2)
Military events: Mississippi operations: General Sherman begins an advance toward Jackson and General Joe Johnston’s army. (7)
CS General Lewis Armistead dies in Pennsylvania of his wounds. (30) (I had wondered exactly what happened to him after watching Gettysburg.)
Other: Lincoln’s cabinet discusses CS Vice President Stephens’ request to come to Washington and meet with the US President. (5)
Military events: Morgan’s Great Raid: After an all-night ride, Morgan reaches reaches Bardstown, Kentucky, at 4 a.m., and after a little fighting overcomes the small garrison there. They move on to Bardstown Junction on the main Louisville and Nashville line. (2)
South Carolina operations: US Admiral Dupont is relieved of duty after failing to make headway against Charleston’s fortifications. He is replaced by John Dahlgren. (6) Dahlgren works well with General Quincy A. Gillmore, who is in charge of the US Department of the South and has made the reduction of Charleston his primary goal – not only is Fort Sumter there, but also the man currently in charge of the city’s military garrison is none other than General P. G. T. Beauregard, the very officer who oversaw the firing on Fort Sumter and its surrender in 1861. Dahlgren and Gillmore work out a plan in which US land and sea forces will seize Morris Island, which commands the inner harbor defenses. From Cummings Point on the northern tip of the island, they can reduce Fort Sumter. However, that area is protected by Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg. (21)
You can start channeling Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, et al, now.
Other: A special Lincoln cabinet meeting continues discussing CS Vice President Stephens’ requests and decides that he should communicate through prescribed military channels. (5)
Military events: Morgan’s Great Raid: “Lightning” Ellsworth gets busy on the telegraph line, but this time US commanders aren’t always deceived by his fake dispatches. Ellsworth does learn that a train is coming in. It is captured and the express car and passengers are robbed. The train is then allowed to back out. Martial law is declared in nearby Louisville, for fear of an attack, and General Ambrose Burnside orders his Louisville commander to “remove all public stores and cross the river to Jeffersonville.” (2)
Tennessee operations/Tullahoma Campaign: General Bragg completes his withdrawal to Chattanooga. (6)
President Lincoln gets word of the fall of Vicksburg (5):
Major-General Halleck: [July 7, 1863]
We have certain information that Vicksburg surrendered to General Grant on the 4th of July. Now, if General Meade can complete his work, so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee’s army, the rebellion will be over.
Yours, truly, A. LINCOLN.
(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.
(7) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(8)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.
(9) Henry Halleck’s War: A Fresh Look at Lincoln’s Controversial General-In-Chief, by Curt Anders
(10) Conquest of the Lower Mississippi. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(11) Under Siege: Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg, Andrea Warren (2009)
(13) Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, edited by J. Gregory Acken (1998).
(14) Mosby Heritage Area Association: Chronology of Mosby’s Life.
(15) Battle of Vicksburg. Civil War Home.
(17) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).
(18) Captain Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama, US Naval Historical Center.
(19) A. Lincoln, A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009)
(20) The Civil War and the Press. Sachsman et al., 2000.
(21) Fort Wagner and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Civil War Trust.
(22) Morgan’s Raid Timeline, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.
(23) The Siege of Vicksburg, Civil War Home.
(24) Siege of Vicksburg, Wikipedia.
(25) Siege of Port Hudson, Wikipedia.
(26) The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War. James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., 1995.
(28) Port Hudson Photo Album, Civil War Album.
(29) Gettysburg Campaign, Encyclopedia of Virginia.
(30) Gettysburg Campaign Timeline, Today in Civil War History.
(31) The Tullahoma Campaign, Campaign Journal. Middle Tennessee State University.
(32) The Tullahoma Campaign, The Beginning of the End for the Confederacy, Julian D. Alford (PDF)
Categories: American Civil War