The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – January 27-February 2, 1864

In Stevensburg, Virginia, US General H. Judson Kilpatrick did have time to pose with local ladies and his staff.  (Library of Congress)

In Stevensburg, Virginia, US General H. Judson Kilpatrick did have time to pose with local ladies and his staff. (Library of Congress)

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

The winter of 1863-64 was a very restless time, compared to the previous winter, perhaps because of the fall of Vicksburg and the Union capture of Chattanooga and Knoxville.

If they could end the war over the winter, the reasoning might have gone, then the coming warm weather could be devoted to recovery – especially in farming – rather than another campaign season. A nice hope, but things didn’t turn out that way.

There was a lot happening in West Virginia at this time, but its description doesn’t lend itself to a link-based daily chronology format. I heartily recommend reading all the reports here (same as source 18, below).

Meanwhile, John A. Wyeth (source 9) insists that Generals Grant and Sherman were planning an expedition not only against Meridian, Mississippi, but further on towards Selma, Alabama. This is a different question than the one last week regarding dates of Sherman’s Meridian campaign.

Wyeth basically says Sherman’s object wasn’t just Meridian. He wanted to take Selma, too. Keeping in mind that Wyeth, as a member of Forrest’s cavalry in his youth, isn’t the most objective of sources, especially since his version of the campaign ultimately makes Forrest look extremely good.

However, he also has credibility. John A. Wyeth was highly educated and indeed established the first postgraduate medical school in the United States later in his life.

In any event, it’s interesting that Wyeth believes that:

The plan finally adopted was that General Sherman should concentrate at Vicksburg, during the month of January, 1864, an army of twenty thousand effective troops, and march thence at a given time eastward through Jackson, direct to Meridian, which point is near the Alabama State line and only a short distance west of Selma, To co-operate with this movement from Vicksburg, and to unite with it at Meridian, a large cavalry force was to proceed from Memphis in a direction a little east of south, traversing the State of Mississippi, destroying the Mobile and Ohio railroad from Corinth down to Meridian, at the same time spreading devastation in all that rich section of the South by burning the granaries, gin-houses, and all the cotton that could be found. They were to spread through the country as they passed a proclamation inviting the negroes [sic] to leave their masters and homes, and bring with them what live-stock they could and follow in the wake of the invading army. Uniting ultimately at Meridian, the combined army of invasion was to proceed at its leisure for the capture of Selma, the destruction of the arsenals and foundries there, and thence march to Mobile, which seaport they would open to the navies of the United States.

It’s a good plan, if that is indeed what Grant and Sherman intended. However, General Sherman in his memoirs, and other sources that I have found, report that Meridian was the primary goal.

I have no idea what the truth of the matter might be but mention it here as something to keep in mind when reading anything, particularly from sources 9 or 19, regarding the impending Meridian campaign, which indeed seems to have been one of the most misunderstood campaigns of the Civil War.

When not engaged in fledgling civil rights meetings, residents of the Treme section, bordering on Storyville and the French Quarter, were cooking up a new-fangled kind of music:  jazz.

When not engaged in fledgling civil rights meetings, residents of the Treme section, bordering on Storyville and the French Quarter, were cooking up a new-fangled kind of music: jazz. (Image source)

January 27

Emancipation: New Orleans: Some time in January this year, black men meet in Economy Hall to press for the right to vote. They decide to send two delegates, an engineer and a former officer in the Corps D’Afrique, to Washington with a petition asking for the right to vote. The two men will meet with US President Lincoln on March 12th. (20)

Meanwhile Lincoln and General Nathanial Banks are discussing other aspects of free elections in Louisiana. (4)

Military events/Other: East Tennessee operations: US newspapers publish reports of US General Foster’s correspondence with amnesty with CS General Longstreet. President Lincoln sends a telegram to Foster, who is headquartered in Knoxville, having replaced General Burnside there. The president asks if the reports are true; apparently they are at close to the truth.

January 28

Military events/battles: Mississippi operations: “A gunboat expedition, accompanied by three regiments of Federal infantry, ascended the Yazoo river. On same date Federal cavalry moved from the direction of Vicksburg towards Mechanicsburg, on road to Yazoo City. This force was met by Ross, and defeated and driven back in numerous skirmishes from January 28th to February 5th, when they retired towards Vicksburg. One of these affairs is worthy of special mention. Two regiments, the Sixth and Ninth Texas, and two guns of King’s battery met and repulsed near Liverpool three Federal regiments of infantry twice, driving them to the gunboats — the Texans drawing their six-shooters and charging the enemy when they were within twenty paces.” (21, including quote)

Key West during the Civil War.  (Source)

Key West during the Civil War. (Source)

Florida operations: “There were occasions when the US Army felt the need for a ship that the US Navy did not feel the need to provide. Thus it came about that the Army procured some ships of their own, and one of them was busy off the southern shores today. It was a successful joint Army-Navy maneuver today as the US Army steamship ‘Western Metropolis’ captured the British blockade-runner “Rosita” off the southern coast of Florida near Key West. Thanks to the efforts of the Army crew, and two Navy officers, Acting Lt. Lewis W. Pennington and Acting Master Daniel S. Murphy, who chanced to be on board, the cargo was successfully confiscated. The cargo consisted of the goods that could be resold at the highest profit in the Southern cities suffering under the afflictions of war: liquor and cigars.” (7, including quote)

January 29

Military events/battles: Mississippi operations: Skirmishes on the road to Yazoo City continue. (Source 21 – see January 28 above)

January 30

Battles: Rosser’s Raid: Capture of wagon train at Medley, West Virginia. (18)

Mississippi operations: Skirmishes on the road to Yazoo City continue. (Source 21 – see January 28 above)

Military events: “This was the day on which several important Union departments officially changed hands. The Federal Department of Missouri was a black hole for Union commanders, into which they tended to disappear, never to be seen in high command again. The whole state, although officially “Union” throughout the war, was a hotbed of factionalism and political infighting. Today saw the departure of Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield. He was succeeded by Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, who had been found lacking in battlefield skills after Chickamauga and so was sent to administration. In addition, Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele assumed full command of the Department of Arkansas.” (7, including quote)

January 31

Military events/battles: Mississippi operations: Skirmishes on the road to Yazoo City continue. (Source 21 – see January 28 above)

Other: From this source:

Stevenson Ala.

Jan. 31, 1864

Dear Parents;

……..The duty we have to do here is very light. I think we are having the easiest times that we have had since we went to Sojer. The past few weeks has been very pleasant weather, sunshine all day long and nary a drop of rain.

I expect that we will catch it before long.

Our camp is on the bank of a large creek. Some of the citizens say that when the spring rains come the creek raises about 15 feet. As our shanties are about 10 feet above the creek level I suppose we will wake up some morning and have to swim for it. There are a lot of fish in the crek and I think that had I some line and a hook I might be able to catch a minney or two..If you could send me about 50 feet of line and some hooks I will send you half the fish I catch.

I am glad to hear that some of the boys around home are coming down to help us out. You don’t write if any of them enlisted in our outfit or not. If you see any more of them tell them not to let the ragged old flag that Col. Barnum carried home scare them because I don’t think the old Grey Backs will ever have a chance to riddle another as they did that one. I think we will see one more big battle in the spring and it will wind it all up for sure.

You write that Mrs. Deighton says she will sell two acres of hers on the hill and you think she will take $60.00 per acre. I think that is cheap enough. In fact I think you had better buy it even if you have to pay more than that for it.


Some of the men who followed Sherman to Meridian.  (Source)

Some of the men who followed Sherman to Meridian. (Source)

February 1

Military events/battles: Mississippi operations: Skirmishes on the road to Yazoo City continue. (Source 21 – see January 28 above)

Military events: President Lincoln orders the draft of 500,000 men to serve for three years. (6) Things certainly have changed: At the start of the war, the US had allowed enlistment periods of three, six or nine months. (7)

The Meridian campaign is supposed to begin with US General W. Sooy Smith moving south from Memphis. Per General Sherman (source 19):

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. 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.

However, General Smith is still awaiting a brigade and does not start. (9) In Vicksburg, Union spies give General Sherman good intelligence on CS General Polk’s disposition of forces throughout Missisippi. (19)

February 2

Battles: Rosser’s Raid: Skirmish at Patterson’s Creek. (18)

Mississippi operations: Skirmishes on the road to Yazoo City continue. (Source 21 – see January 28 above)

North Carolina operations: Capture and destruction of the USS Underwriter (what a name!) on the Neuse River, which is anchored in the Neuse River north of New Bern, North Carolina. (16)

Frank Leslie's image of the attack.  (Source)

Frank Leslie’s image of the attack. (Source – scroll down, left side bar)


(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.

(20) The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War. James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., 1995.

(21) “Sherman’s Meridian expedition and Sooy Smith’s raid to West point. A Review by General S. D. Lee,” in Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 8., Reverend J. William Jones, Ed.

Categories: American Civil War

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