The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – December 23-29, 1863

Here’s a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week.

But first, this.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet
The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound
The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn
The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Henry Wadsworth Longsfellow

December 23

Military Events: West Tennessee operations: With some 2000 US cavalry in the area and Federal infantry picketed along the Memphis-Charleston railroad, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, withdrawing south, decides to put out forces to cover his wagon train and cattle as they cross the Hatchie River. A brigade composed of a thousand new recruits (with only 300 firearms among them) marches out to cross the Hatchie, while two battalions are sent toward Jack’s Creek to oppose Federal troops during Forrest’s crossing and then rejoin the main body. (3)

Captain Nathan Boone, C.S.A., leader of Nathan Bedford Forrest's personal escort.  (9)

Captain Nathan Boone, C.S.A., leader of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s personal escort. (9)

December 24

Military Events: West Tennessee operations: Forrest’s men, artillery, 40-wagon trail and herd of stock move south, first thing in the morning. Forrest himself follows them at around 6 p.m. In the meantime, some of his outlying troops skirmish “spiritedly” with Federal cavalry south of Mifflin, about 15 miles south of Jackson, Tennessee, and then eventually withdraw to rejoin Forrest the next morning. The less successful thousand-man brigade of raw, mostly unarmed Confederate recruits collapses in panic when they meet US forces near Miller’s Farmhouse in the Bolivar area. Those who remain fall back on the Hatchie River crossing, where they are reinforced and make a stand, and the Federals withdraw south of Miller’s Farmhouse, 4-5 miles away. That evening, when Forrest joins these men on the south bank of the Hatchie (it will take over a day for all of his 3000 men and huge herd of beef and hogs to cross), he orders them to move forward during the night to establish a point just south of Miller’s where Forrest will make his headquarters. In the meantime, he sends his personal escort out for a reconnaissance in force near the US soldiers. The escort instead attacks, scattering the Federals. (3)

Far East operations: In the Straits of Malacca, the CSS Alabama captures and burns the ship Texas Star, along with its cargo of rice. “She was sailing under the name of Marta Ban and flew British colors. Semmes [captain of the Alabama] noted, however, that this ‘sale’ was not a bonafide transaction, and hence the destruction was legal.” (10, including quote)

December 25

Military Events: West Tennessee operations: Upon learning that Federal troops have been deployed along the route he followed northward when journeying from Mississippi into Tennessee, Forrest decides to do the unexpected and heads west toward Memphis by way of US-occupied Sommerville, Tennessee. Splitting his force to surprise the Yankees in Sommerville, the men head out on Christmas afternoon. (3)

Other: To Bayard Taylor: “I think a good lecture or two on “Serfs, Serfdom, and Emancipation in Russia” would be both interesting and valuable. Could not you get up such a thing? Yours truly A. LINCOLN.” (4) A little background here and here.

Russian peasants in the late 19th century, eating a meal in a wheat field.  (Library of Congress)

Russian peasants in the late 19th century, eating a meal in a wheat field. (Library of Congress)

December 26

Military Events: West Tennessee operations: One part of Forrest’s army (still with only 300 arms, far fewer than the number of men) engages Federal troops in a skirmish intended to distract them from the presence of Forrest in their rear. General Forrest is still at some distance, but on hearing the gunfire, hurries to the scene. However, the horses are exhausted and only about half of his 300-man force arrives in time to do anything. The two groups are outnumbered, but the other Confederate commander leads his unarmed men “ostentatiously” over the crest of a hill toward the Federals as the armed soldiers fire a fierce volley. Forrest simultaneously attacks, and the Federals break and withdraw, abandoning some firearms, ammunition and supplies that the Southerners desperately need. The main force arrives and Forrest sends a 700-man group (only 50 of them armed) out to make a demonstration against Memphis (they will end up just four miles from the panicked city before eventually turning and rejoing the army). His main army then heads south, toward La Grange, Tennessee. (3)

Far East operations: “…ships Sonora and Highlander, both in ballast and at anchor at the western entrance of the Straits of Malacca, were burned. Semmes notes: ‘They were monster ships, both of them, being eleven or twelve hundred tons burden.’ One of the masters told the commerce raider: ‘Well, Captain Semmes, I have been expecting every day for the last three years to fall in with you, and here I am at last. . .. The fact is, I have had constant visions of the Alabama, by night and by day; she has been chasing me in my sleep, and riding me like a night-mare, and now that it is all over, I feel quite relieved.'” (10, including quote)

December 27

Military Events: West Tennessee operations: After winning a skirmish, by 4 p.m. Forrest’s force is on the south bank of the Wolf River on the way to La Grange. The general continues south after sending out more detachments out to distract the enemy, but this time pursuit is so heavy Forrest is finally forced into a fight on the road to Lafayette, in torrential rain, at around 10 p.m. It’s a fierce battle, but Forrest somehow manages to convince the US commander that CS General Stephen Lee is in the neighborhood and heading this way (untrue), and the Federals break off contact and withdraw to defend Lafayette. The Confederates now march south all night, skirmishing with other forces along the way, eventually crossing the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. (3, 9)

Other: CS General Joseph Johnston takes command of the Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia. (5)

General Samuel Sturgis.  (Wikipedia)

General Samuel Sturgis, U.S.A. (Wikipedia)

December 28

Military Events: East Tennessee operation: US General Samuel D. Sturgis, at Mossy Creek, Tennessee, receives a report that enemy cavalry were seen that day near Dandridge. Believing that CS General Longstreet has split his cavalry, Sturgis decides to confront and capture this part of it. (14)

West Tennessee operations: Forrest and his men are on safe ground in Mt. Pleasant, Mississippi, by daybreak, and they can continue on to Como, in Panola County, in short, slow marches.

Other: “On this date the Congress of the Confederacy faced up to the fact that the struggling new nation was basically broke, and also increasingly short of manpower. To correct the former, there was passed what was called the “tax in kind”, taking from every state one-tenth of all agricultural produce. To correct the manpower shortage, the system whereby a man could purchase a substitute to take his place in the army was abolished. This accomplished little as virtually every white man who could serve was either already doing so, engaged in vital industry or agriculture, or exercising passive resistance to the draft by taking to the hills if a recruiter entered the area.” (7, including quote)

December 29

Battles East Tennessee operations: Mossy Creek. (17) In the aftermath of this Union victory, Longstreet seriously considers moving out of East Tennessee, going so far as to ask for his old command back, which General Robert E. Lee refuses to support. (17)

Military Events: West Tennessee operations: Forrest is reinforced by General Chalmers on the way to Como. (3)


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

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

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

(4) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(5) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(6)  Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.

(7) Civil War Interactive.

(8) Born to Battle: Grant and Forrest: Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga: The Campaigns That Doomed the Confederacy, Jack Hurst (2012).

(9) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).

(10) Captain Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama, US Naval Historical Center.

(11) This Week in the Civil War.

(12) The Siege of Charleston, “The State.” (South Carolina)

(13) Friends of the Hunley.

(14) CWSAC Battle Summaries

(15) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.

(16) A Brief Naval Chronology of the Civil War (1861-65).

(17) The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee, Earl J. Hess (2012) [Note: The dating is difficult to follow in this source, though it’s excellent for details…Barb]

Categories: American Civil War

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