The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – February 3-9, 1864

I didn't take this picture but did see Spanish moss growing beside and even over rural roads in Hinds County, Mississippi.  (Natalie Maynor)

I didn’t take this picture but did see Spanish moss growing beside and even over rural roads in Hinds County, Mississippi. (Natalie Maynor)

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

There seem to be as many different versions of the Meridian, Mississippi, campaign as there are reports.

I have included those from my usual sources, in as close to chronological order as possible, labeling the source when there might be confusion or discrepancy.

Since CS General Stephen Lee had the gift of conciseness, I’m also including the highlights of his report, taken from source 21, at the end of the day’s report where applicable.

The Meridian campaign has a personal meaning for me this week, as battles were fought in Bolton Depot, Clinton and near Jackson – that’s the specific part of Mississippi I lived in for several months in 2007-2008.

As a stranger, I didn’t know the history until now – it makes the war more real to me, as I can imagine shadows in blue and gray contesting every foot of ground along those roads and in the woods and fields.

By contrast, in the north the Civil War is publicly seen more in terms of monuments and memorial plaques than as part of the land itself – the Revolutionary War still claims that primal “it happened right here” sense up here.

I think this is a key point in why I initially found it difficult to “see” the Civil War back in 2011.

But, north and south, personal memories are long and undimmed.

February 3

Military events: The Meridian campaign begins as US General William Sherman sets out eastward from Vicksburg. (15) The campaign unfolds quickly, as the reports of General Stephen Lee (21) show: “On the evening of February 3d, Federal infantry commenced crossing Big Black river at the railroad bridge, and at Messenger’s ferry (which they always kept picketed strongly), distant from Vicksburg twelve or fifteen miles, and rapidly drove in our pickets on the two roads leading towards Clinton.”

February 4

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

US soldiers had crossed the Big Black from the opposite direction back in May 1863.  (Source)

US soldiers had crossed the Big Black from the opposite direction back in May 1863. (Source)

Military events: Meridian campaign: Sherman reaches the Big Black River, advancing in two columns. There is skirmishing at Liverpool Heights, Champion Hill, Bolton Depot and Edward’s Ferry. (15) General Stephen Lee (21): “Early on the morning of the 4th, there was severe skirmishing on both of the roads; the enemy deploying his force in the open country, and steadily driving back the brigades of Adams and Starke in their front, their troops being in full view.”

Atlantic blockade: “The pursuit of blockade-runners was a constant activity, not as well-remembered as many battles but more important in the course of the war than many of them. On this day the steamer “Nutfield” tried to run the gauntlet into New River Inlet, N.C. Lt. Commander Roe, though, was vigilant aboard the USS Secaucus and chased her till she ran aground. Unable to refloat her, Roe offloaded the cargo of quinine and rifles, and burned her to the waterline. The quinine in particular was of incalculable importance, far more so than a few muskets more or less. Quinine was the only treatment available for malaria for men on both sides. Ignorance of proper dosage, combined with the fact that there often just wasn’t enough to go around, resulted in men getting just enough quinine to get them back on their feet, but not enough to cure them.” (7, including quote)

Sherman and his men, possibly traveling along the line of modern Route 80, were lucky the Pearl wasn't in flood just then.  (USGS)

Sherman and his men, possibly traveling along the line of modern Route 80 (click to enlarge), were lucky the Pearl wasn’t in flood just then. (National Weather Service)

February 5

Military events: Meridian campaign: Confederate cavalry clash with Sherman’s advancing forces at Baker’s Creek, Clinton and near Jackson. (15) General Stephen Lee (21): “On the 5th the cavalry was steadily pushed back to Jackson, where it arrived about dark, passing out on the road towards Canton, to enable General Loring’s infantry division to cross Pearl river from Canton, moving towards Morton on the Jackson and Meridian railroad; Ferguson’s brigade, moving on the road from Clinton towards Madison station, on the railroad from Jackson to Canton, to more completely cover Loring’s march. A regiment was sent to keep in front of the enemy, in case he moved towards Brandon and across Pearl river. As soon as it was ascertained that Sherman was crossing at Jackson, Adams, Starke and Ferguson were crossed over Pearl river — Ferguson placing himself in front of the enemy, and Jackson, with his two brigades, moving on his flank at Brandon and Pelahatchie stations. At the same time, Ross was ordered to abandon the Yazoo country and join his command operating against Sherman. Jackson did his work well, forcing the enemy to abandon all foraging and confine his march to one road.”

February 6

Battles: Virginia operations: On February 6 and 7, there’s fighting on the Rapidan River at Morton’s, Raccoon and Robertson’s fords.

Military events: Meridian campaign: Sherman and his men leave Jackson, heading for Meridian. They run into skirmishes at Barnett’s and Robertson’s fords. (15) Per Wyeth, CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest tells CS General Chalmers of a large US cavalry movement soon to occur at Collierville and directs Chalmers to send 20 men to his front to watch for it. (9)

Other: US President Lincoln tells a congressman, “This war is eating my life out. I have a strong impression that I shall not live to see the end.” (4)

February 7

Military events: Meridian campaign: On or around this date (per source 3), General Polk notifies General Forrest that a Federal column under Sherman has left Vicksburg while infantry are proceeding up the Yazoo River. Forest sends his brother Jeffrey and the Fourth Brigade to Grenada to observe. Forrest notifies Polk that he is also hearing from scouts and personal contacts that preparations are underway in Memphis for a large cavalry movement. (3)

John Hay.  (Wikipedia)

John Hay. (Wikipedia)

Florida operations: US forces enter Jacksonville. (5) Per source 23:

…[T]roops secured the town and began to send cavalry raiders inland to Lake City and Gainesville. Just behind the troops came John Hay, private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln. Hay began issuing loyalty oaths to residents in an effort to form a new, Republican state government in time to send delegates to the 1864 party convention. Under the president’s plan of reconstruction, a new state government could be formed when 10 percent of the state’s prewar voting population had taken a loyalty oath.

Virginia operations: “Gen. George Pickett, whose division had been decimated in the charge at Gettysburg, had exaggerated somewhat if he actually said that day “General Lee, I have no division.” What forces he had left were still fighting for the Confederacy. On this day he had just returned from a foray (unsuccessful) to New Berne, N.C. He was then informed by a letter from President Davis that he was to detach two brigades to come to the defense of Richmond. The populace was alarmed by rumors that the Union prisoners there were plotting to escape and pillage the town.” (7, including quote)

February 8

Military events: Meridian campaign: On or around this date, Confederate leaders get word that a 1600-man column of US infantry, accompanied by about 200 cavalry, an artillery battery and supply train have moved out from Memphis and are heading for Holly Springs. (3) Per Wyeth, Forrest notifies General Cholson, commander of the Mississippi state militia, of the move, adding “They will move in two columns, one by Panola to Grenada, the other by New Albany to Pontotoc, towards Okolona.” This, indeed, turns out to be their course. (9) Meanwhile, the brigade that US Sooy Smith has been delaying his expedition for arrives in Collierville. It had “left Union City, Tenn., January 22d, but was prevented from reaching Collierville until February 8th by the flooded condition of the difficult country, with its broad swamps and overflowing rivers.” It will take another three days for a pack-train to be set up for the expedition. (22, including quote)

"OK, we can go now."  (Actually this is from a different era.)

“OK, we can go now.” (Truth be told, this image is from a different place and era.)

February 9

Military events: Indian Ocean operations: The CSS Alabama arrives at the Comoro Islands, “a Mohammaden settlement near the coast of Africa…The relaxation left something to be desired: ‘There was no such thing as a glass of grog to be found in the whole town, and as for a fiddle, and Sal for a partner – all of which would have been a matter of course in civilized countries – there were no such luxuries to be thought of. [The crew on shore leave] found it a difficult matter to get through with the day, and were all down at the beach long before sunset – the hour appointed for their coming off – waiting for the approach of the welcome boat. I told Kell to let them go on shore as often as they pleased, but no one made a second application.” (10, including quote)

In Richmond, Virginia, 109 Union officers led by US Colonel Thomas Rose escape from Libby Prison on the banks of the James River – 48 are recaptured, 2 drown, and 59 reach Union lines. There is panic in Richmond. (5, 7)

Meridian campaign: Forrest says in a telegram to General Chalmers that he believes the cavalry preparations at Memphis are in cooperation with a move by Sherman towards Meridian and that this force heading to Holly Springs is just a feint. While Chalmers nonetheless deploys forces to meet the Holly Springs-bound force, General Forrest gives “orders to keep his force in hand to grapple with such a movement.” (3, including quote) General Stephen Lee (21): “On the night of the 9th, while in rear of the enemy, General Polk directed all the cavalry to move and get between Sherman and the Mobile and Ohio railroad on the south, to cover that road and permit troops to be sent to Mobile, as he believed Mobile to be Sherman’s destination and not Meridian.”

Per General Sherman, in his memoirs (19):

I never had the remotest idea of going to Mobile, but had purposely given out that idea to the people of the country, so as to deceive the enemy and to divert their attention. Many persons still insist that, because we did not go to Mobile on this occasion, I had failed; but in the following letter to General Banks, of January 31st, written from Vicksburg before starting for Meridian, it will be seen clearly that I indicated my intention to keep up the delusion of an attack on Mobile by land, whereas I promised him to be back to Vicksburg by the 1st of March, so as to cooperate with him in his contemplated attack on Shreveport

Other: Matthew Brady takes several photographs of President Lincoln, including the one that will later be used on the five-dollar bill. (4)

This one, I think.

This one. (Library of Congress)


(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.

(22) The Sooy Smith Expedition.

(23) Battle of Olustee.

Categories: American Civil War

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1 reply


  1. Digging into history | Chickasaw JournalChickasaw Journal

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