Here’s a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week.
Overall, it’s another slow week as troops rest and generals plan for the upcoming campaign season. In the eastern theater, however, CS Major John Mosby and his partisan rangers are quite active, raising havoc so successfully that the parts of Virginia where he operates will still be known as “Mosby’s Confederacy” in the 21st century.
Meanwhile, back on friendly ground in Mississippi, CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest is busy organizing the new recruits who flocked to him in West Tennessee into four brigades totaling some 5700 men (3). With “lackluster Leonidas Polk” in command now, Forrest is also negotiating more autonomy for himself as a behind-the-lines operator. (8, including quote).
On the Union side, Generals Grant and Sherman, “the Damon and Pythias of the Union hosts,” are making plans to split the eastern part of the Confederacy in two by sending Sherman into Alabama to capture Selma, with its foundries and arsenals, and the seaport of Mobile. (9, including quote) Note: This is the Southern version of Sherman’s planned mission – other sources, including 15, say that Sherman only intends to cut Confederate rail lines in Mississippi and hit the Confederate outpost at Meridian in order to strengthen US forces on the other side of the state at Vicksburg.
In any event, Sherman is actually under orders from Washington to cooperate with General Nathaniel Banks in New Orleans as he starts an expedition up the Red River to regain Arkansas and Missouri for the Union. However, Banks is slow to organize and the rivers are too low for boats right now, so there is time to use Sherman elsewhere.
In Richmond, Virginia, and Dalton, Georgia, CS President Davis and General Joseph Johnston are considering a January 2nd plea by General Patrick Cleburne to allow slaves to earn their freedom through military service.
In Virginia, CS General Robert E. Lee will complete and submit his report on 1863’s Gettysburg Campaign.
All was apparently quiet in the Army of the Potomac, for I couldn’t find anything in a quick online search. However, in Knoxville, US General Foster had riled up the Governor of Kentucky by requesting that troops raised for the defense of Kentucky instead be used for the defense of Knoxville. US President Lincoln solidly backed Foster, and that was that. (4)
Battles: Skirmish at Flint Hill, Virginia. (15)
Battles: Virginia operations, Warrenton: One of CS Major John Mosby’s units attacks Federal pickets, seizing many horses and most of the pickets, and causing much consternation throughout the US chain of command in the region. (1)
Military events: Siege of Charleston, South Carolina: US Admiral Dahlgren tells his fleet to be on the lookout for more Confederate torpedo ships as well as “one of another kind, which is nearly submerged and can be entirely so. It is intended to go under the bottoms of vessels and there operate.”
Other: In Washington, “yesterday Jefferson Davis had commuted the death sentence of a young private from Virginia. Today, although he could not have known of Davis’ gesture, Abraham Lincoln also set aside the ruling of a court-martial that a deserter be put to death, as military regulations prescribed. When asked for a reason, he could only reply wearily “because I am trying to evade the butchering business lately.” Under the regulations, all court-martial sentences of death had to be reviewed by the Commander in Chief, and Lincoln was notorious for commuting death sentences to terms of imprisonment, particularly in cases of desertion, most particularly if the offender was young. This infuriated many of Lincoln’s generals, who felt that the gesture undermined disciplinary efforts.” (7, including quote)
On the other side, General Forrest was also capable of commuting the death sentence for desertion, but his means were rather more dramatic, per source 9:
Taking advantage of the darkness of the night, about 20 malcontents slipped away and started full tilt for their native country [Tennessee]. They were arrested, brought back in a body, paraded through the camp as deserters, a court-martial was summoned, and they were tried and condemned to be shot. Whether Forrest, in order to exert a healthy influence upon the balance of his troops, had determined to make an example of these men, or whether he merely intended to frighten them for this offence, was known only to himself. In any event, they were condemned to be shot, placed in wagons, each one seated on a coffin, and in solemn fashion were driven to the place of execution. Before their open graves the sentence of execution was read, and they were given a few minutes for prayer. There was not one of them who was now convinced that his hour had come. Just as the prayer was ended and the soldiers were about to take their place to fire the fatal volley, Forrest rode to the spot and announced to the offenders that if they would promise to serve as faithful defenders of the Confederacy he would pardon them for this offence; but that if any further desertions or disobedience of orders occurred in his command he would not again show such leniency.
Military events: General Grant is in Barboursville, Kentucky, examining supply routes from Kentucky into East Tennessee. (6)
Indian Ocean operations: At sea, Captain Semmes of the CSS Alabama, seeking information about enemy operations, tells a British ship’s captain that his ship is the USS Dacotah and is searching for the Alabama. He is told, “It won’t do; the Alabama is a bigger ship than you, and they say she is iron plated besides.” (10)
In Arkansas, David Owen Dodd is hanged as a spy by Union forces. (7)
Battles/Military events: “There was little hostile action on any front today (with the exception of a very tiny skirmish at the equally tiny Terman’s Ferry, Ky.) but the rumors were vast and numerous. They were also mostly naval: in Washington, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles received a disturbing telegram from Admiral C.H. Bell in California. According to Bell, he had himself just received word that the Confederates were constructing a large new raider in an unexpected place, Vancouver, British Columbia. Welles’ agents had largely blocked Southern attempts to get ships in Europe, but had overlooked the Canadian option. In Richmond, Jefferson Davis was sending notice to commanders in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia that Admiral Farragut was preparing to attack Mobile.” (7)
Battles: Skirmish at Loudoun Heights. General J.E.B. Stuart warmly recommends Mosby for a promotion after this one. (1)
East Tennessee operations: Skirmish at Mossy Creek. (15)
Battles: East Tennessee operations: Skirmish at Mossy Creek continues and ends. (15)
Blockade operations. There were occasionally Confederate successes: “Yesterday saw the loss of the USS Iron Age in Lockwood’s Folly Inlet after she ran aground [and] was destroyed by shore batteries. Today saw the loss of two more ships of the Federal blockade in the same inlet. In this case they were chased by Confederate ships too close to shore, and also ran aground. They were then burned to the waterline.” (7) The gunboats were apparently in the area to check on the grounded blockade runner Bendigo.
(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.
(6) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(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.
(12) The Siege of Charleston, “The State.” (South Carolina)
(13) Friends of the Hunley.
(15) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.
(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