The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – January 20-26, 1864

General William Sooy Smith, USA  (Wikipedia)

General William Sooy Smith, USA (Wikipedia)

Yes, General Sherman again. I’ve also got a big question about him this week.

I’ve run into some conflicting date information from various credible Net sources on Sherman’s Meridian (MS) campaign and US General William Sooy Smith’s activities related to that. There seems to be conviction in some quarters that Smith was active around Meridian on January 25th and that CS General Forrest defeated him there.

I’m going to ignore this for two reasons. First, John Wyeth (source 9) doesn’t say that, and he rode with Forrest. His is a very partisan account, of course, but it’s also very detailed and with plenty of date references, and my two other Forrest references back it up. I’m not sure what General Smith was doing this week, but General Forrest was busy organizing his new command and establishing headquarters in Oxford (see the 25th, below).

General Sherman (Library of Congress)

General Sherman (Library of Congress)

Second, this January timing for that fighting contradicts General Sherman’s own account of what he was doing at this time 150 years ago, per source 19:

I took the cars for Cairo, Illinois, which I reached January 3d, a very cold and bitter day. The ice was forming fast, and there was great danger that the Mississippi River, would become closed to navigation. Admiral Porter, who was at Cairo, gave me a small gunboat (the Juliet), with which I went up to Paducah, to inspect that place, garrisoned by a small force; commanded by Colonel S. G. Hicks, Fortieth Illinois, who had been with me and was severely wounded at Shiloh. Returning to Cairo, we started down the Mississippi River, which was full of floating ice. With the utmost difficulty we made our way through it, for hours floating in the midst of immense cakes, that chafed and ground our boat so that at times we were in danger of sinking. But about the 10th of January we reached Memphis, where I found General Hurlbut, and explained to him my purpose to collect from his garrisons and those of McPherson about twenty thousand men, with which in February to march out from Vicksburg as far as Meridian, break up the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, and also the one leading from Vicksburg to Selma, Alabama. I instructed him to select two good divisions, and to be ready with them to go along. At Memphis I found Brigadier-General W. Sooy Smith, with a force of about twenty-five hundred cavalry, which he had by General Grant’s orders brought across from Middle Tennessee, to assist in our general purpose, as well as to punish the rebel General Forrest, who had been most active in harassing our garrisons in West Tennessee and Mississippi. After staying a couple of days at Memphis, we continued on in the gunboat Silver Cloud to Vicksburg, where I found General McPherson, and, giving him similar orders, instructed him to send out spies to ascertain and bring back timely information of the strength and location of the enemy. The winter continued so severe that the river at Vicksburg was full of floating ice, but in the Silver Cloud we breasted it manfully, and got back to Memphis by the 20th. A chief part of the enterprise was to destroy the rebel cavalry commanded by General Forrest, who were a constant threat to our railway communications in Middle Tennessee, and I committed this task to Brigadier-General W. Sooy Smith.

"Want!" - W. T. Sherman.  (USACE)

“Want!” – W. T. Sherman. (USACE)

I just don’t see the January activity happening around Meridian. However, I’m only sitting on the sidelines, putting a few jigsaw puzzle pieces together. If you know more about this, don’t hesitate to send me an email or comment below. And as always, thanks for your interest!

January 22

Other: “In a major shake-up of military commands in the western areas of the Union, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans was appointed military governor of the Department of the Missouri. Missouri was something of a booby prize for Union generals being kicked upstairs out of combat command. This territory, although no longer under attack by official “Confederate” military forces, was riddled with militia units which had started out as “home guards” but in too many cases degenerated into bands of armed thugs. In addition, it had its own mini-civil war going on between different factions of Union supporters. The former officer, Maj. Gen. J. M. Schofield, fared no better than his numerous predecessors had at managing the mess. He would shortly be reassigned to the larger but calmer Department of the Ohio.” (7, including quote)

Other: The Raleigh Standard in North Carolina protests the Confederacy’s conscription law.

Workers at Alma Plantation, False River, Louisiana, in 1934.  (Library of Congress)

Workers at Alma Plantation, False River, Louisiana, in 1934. (Library of Congress)

January 23

Emancipation: “President Lincoln announced today a plan [actually it was a letter to a planter] which would allow slaveowners in Union territory to manumit their slaves, then re-hire them as free laborers to get plantations and farms back into production. He urged the military commanders of the various departments and territories to support the system and publicize it in their areas. This was just the latest in a succession of plans (what might today be called “trial balloons”) which Lincoln proposed in an attempt to solve the ‘Negro problem.’ Lincoln, like nearly all whites including ardent abolitionists, found it inconceivable that black and white could ever live as equals. The buyout plan did not fly and was quietly abandoned.” (7, including quote) He also gave the son and brother-in-law of Congressman Clay (KY) permits to put their plantations into cultivation under system of free hired labor and protection of US military authority. (4)

January 24

Battles: Skirmish at Tazewell, Tennessee. (15)

“The major fronts were all quiet on this day. Some Union pickets failed to remain alert near Love’s Hill, Tenn., and were captured. Operations and skirmishes occurred near Nachez, Miss. and Tazewell, Tenn. A Federal expedition left today on a trip up the James River in Virginia.” (7, including quote)

Military events: General Grant orders General John Logan to make a reconnaissance in northern Alabama. (6)

Colonel Jeffrey Forrest (source 9, below)

Colonel Jeffrey Forrest, CSA (Source 9, below)

January 25

Military events: The reorganization of CS General Forrest’s new cavalry command is completed: The four brigades are led by General R. V. Richardson (First Brigade, 1500 men), Colonel Robert McCulloch (Second Brigade, 1200 men), Colonel Tyree Bell (Third Brigade, 2000 men) and Colonel Jeffrey Forrest, the general’s younger brother (Fourth Brigade, 1000 men). General Forrest establishes headquarters in Oxford, Mississippi, in light of rumors of a Federal move northward from Vicksburg, while the second and fourth brigades are withdrawn to the south bank of the Tallahatchie River in and around Panola, Mississippi, under General James R. Chalmers. (3, 9) Chalmers had commanded cavalry in northern Mississippi until Forrest’s arrival, and also was a favorite of General Bragg. He and Forrest mix together about as well as water and oil. (8)

Other: “Cpl. Lucius W. Barber, member of Co. D of the 15th Illinois Vol. Inf., took advantage of a slow day in at Camp Cowan, Miss., to write a letter home. ‘A good many of the boys were engaged in making keepsakes out of ‘Pemberton Oak’…the wood being gotten out of the tree under which Pemberton and Grant sat when the final terms of the surrender of Vicksburg were agreed upon. There was not a root or branch remaining…'” (7, including quote; Corporal Barber was probably wittily referencing this “Pemberton Oak,” dating from the Revolutionary War, which still stands)

January 26

Battles: Athens, Alabama. (5)

A three-day skirmish between US and CS cavalry starts at Kelly’s Ford, Tennessee. Other Tennessee cavalry skirmishing happens at Flat Creek and Muddy Creek. (15)

Unidentified US cavalryman.  (Library of Congress)

Unidentified US cavalryman. (Library of Congress)

January 27

Battles: Skirmish at Kelly’s Ford, Virginia, between US and CS cavalry. (15)

Tennessee operations: Cavalry skirmishing at McNutt’s Bridge and Fair Gardens. (15)

Military events: On the eve of the Meridian campaign, General Sherman sets out for Vicksburg, having met with and explained the game plan to General William Sooy Smith, per source 19:

General Hurlbut had in his command about seven thousand five hundred cavalry, scattered from Columbus, Kentucky, to Corinth, Mississippi, and we proposed to make up an aggregate cavalry force of about seven thousand “effective,” out of these and the twenty-five hundred which General Smith had brought with him from Middle Tennessee. With this force General Smith was ordered to move from Memphis straight for Meridian, Mississippi, and to start by February 1st. I explained to him personally the nature of Forrest as a man, and of his peculiar force; told him that in his route he was sure to encounter Forrest, who always attacked with a vehemence for which he must be prepared, and that, after he had repelled the first attack, he must in turn assume the most determined offensive, overwhelm him and utterly destroy his whole force. I knew that Forrest could not have more than four thousand cavalry, and my own movement would give employment to every other man of the rebel army not immediately present with him, so that he (General Smith) might safely act on the hypothesis I have stated.

Unidentified CS cavalryman.  (Library of Congress)

Unidentified CS cavalryman. (Library of Congress)

January 28

Battles: Tennessee operations: Cavalry skirmishes at Fain’s Island, Indian Creek, Island Ford and Swann’s Island. (15)

Military events: Virginia/West Virginia operations: Rosser’s Raid begins as:

…a Confederate raiding force, composed of Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Rosser’s cavalry infantry brigade, and a battery of artillery, abandoned its camp near New Market, Virginia, angling westward toward the Allegheny Mountains. Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, commanding the Valley District, accompanied the column of raiders on a foraging and cattle-stealing operation.

January 29

Military events: Virginia/West Virginia operations: Rosser’s raiders enter Moorefield, West Virginia. (18) Intelligence reaches them that a railroad Federal supply train is headed south from New Creek to Petersburg. (15)

Shots are fired at the steamer Sir William Wallace as it heads down the Mississippi, carrying northern goods bound for New Orleans. (5)


(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 Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion…, Richard Miller Devens (1866).

(18) Rosser’s Raid.

(19) Memoirs of W. T. ShermanThe Meridian Campaign.

Categories: American Civil War

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: