The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – March 10-16, 1864

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

Ulysses S. Grant, Lieutenant-General, USA  (Library of Congress)

Ulysses S. Grant, Lieutenant-General, USA (Library of Congress)

The Union plan

McPherson (2, including quotes) describes Grant’s plan this way: Noting that Union armies in the past have “acted independently and without concert, like a balky team, no two ever pulling together,” General Grant will have his major armies move along several fronts in coordination to prevent the Confederates from reinforcing each other.

General Meade is to stick closely to Lee no matter where that Southern general goes, while General Sherman tackles Johnston’s Army of Tennessee in Georgia, “to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.”

Meade and Sherman outnumber their opponents two to one, but Grant also plans to move auxiliary forces (each commanded by a political general Grant cannot get rid of) in support.

General Banks will attack Mobile, Alabama, once he finishes his impending expedition up the Red River.

In Virginia, General Butler will advance up the James River to threaten Richmond and cut the railroad between Petersburg and Richmond.

And in the meantime, US troops in the Shenandoah Valley under General Franz Sigel will keep Southern troops there busy and cut Lee’s communication lines.

US President Lincoln likes the plan and approves it, but problems soon arise.

Jefferson Davis and his generals in 1861, (left to right) Leonidas Polk, John B. Magruder, Thomas J. Simmons, George N. Hollins, Benjamin McCulloch, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, P. G. T. Beauregard, Sterling Price, Joseph E. Johnston, and William J. Hardee.  (Smithsonian by way of here)

Jefferson Davis and his generals in 1861, (left to right) Leonidas Polk, John B. Magruder, Thomas J. Simmons, George N. Hollins, Benjamin McCulloch, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, P. G. T. Beauregard, Sterling Price, Joseph E. Johnston, and William J. Hardee. (Smithsonian)

The Southern plan

The Confederate armies have no general-in-chief like Grant.

At the end of February this year, CS President Davis did make General Braxton Bragg his military adviser/chief of staff – a post once held by Robert E. Lee – but Bragg seems to have focused on administration rather than military planning.

Such an administrative approach was needed at a time when the Confederate economy was down the drain, citizens were complaining about many things, including corruption, and the new country had just lost Vicksburg and the Mississippi River.

However, it was a problem for troops in the field, as Jordan and Pryor (source 3) described in another context: “There was no lack of courage, but clearly an absence of concert and of sustained movement.”

Davis, a former US war secretary and graduate of West Point, likely made the key military decisions himself, but the decentralized structure of the Confederate army made coordination and follow-through difficult. His tendency to have favorites also hurt (Bragg himself was the chief example of this).

Per source 22,

President Jefferson Davis proclaimed his strategy to be one of “offensive-defensive.” The strategy in fact was one of defending all resources, stockpiling supplies and taking the offensive when the supply situation warranted or the opportunity was provided by the enemy. With the exception of a few notable offensive forays his strategy would evolve into one of passive defense…a defensive strategy of Jomini’s, which has been labeled the space and time defense.

In the space and time strategy the defending forces will execute a retrograde movement drawing the attacking forces with them. The mission of this movement is to continually lengthen the attacking forces lines of communications. In the military sense time means the simultaneous movement or attack of two or more forces in two or more separate locations. The defender will employ simultaneous raids or attacks against the attackers line of communications. The initial mission of these raids and attacks would be to disrupt these lines but not to cut them. The goal of the defender is to force the attacker to guard as much of his lines of communications as possible, thereby reducing the man power of the main attacking force. This strategy does not call for large armies such as the Army of Nothern [sic] Virginia or the Army of Tennessee. If the defending commander had 40,000 troops, his dispositions could be 25,000 in the main defensive force, with the remainder being allotted to three or even four raiding units.

This indeed seems close to what actually happened on many battlefields, often successfully.

March 10

Military events: President Lincoln puts General Grant in charge of all US armies. Grant is invited to attend dinner on the 12th with the President and “nearly all, if not the entire number of Major and Brigadier-Generals” (4). Grant accepts the invitation to dinner, but after a quick visit to General Meade to establish his headquarters in the field (not in Washington), he will instead head back to Nashville to give Sherman orders and probably (sources don’t say) communicate with Banks on the eve of the Red River campaign. (4, including quote; 6)

How do the soldiers in the Army of the Potomac react to Grant’s first appearance?

Zouaves looked cool - of course they camped near the general.  (Wikipedia)

US Zouaves looked cool – of course they camped near the general. (Wikipedia)

Cannot tell; for there is no crowd. A small fight between two negroes [sic] would call out twice as many as have come to see General Grant make his first appearance in the Army of the Potomac! Did General Meade turn out the Hawkins Zouaves, encamped at his headquarters, to receive him? Was the finest band in the Army detailed to honor him with “Hail to the Chief” and “The Star-Spangled Banner”? Not at all. A very few officers, and as many men, came, took a hasty glance, and have now gone back to their quarters, most of them shaking their heads, and some saying “Big thing.” The only noticeable remarks I heard were one from a soldier, and one from an officer of the 6th Cavalry. “I guess he has got something hefty in his head, by the way it has settled into his body. At any rate, I would like to swap my pipe for his cigar. He smokes like a judge of the weed.”

— E. W. Locke, Three years in camp and hospital

Private Silas A. Shirley of Co. H, 16th Mississippi, knew how to be cool, too.  (Library of Congress)

Private Silas A. Shirley of Co. H, 16th Mississippi, CSA, was cool, too. (Library of Congress)

Something hefty, indeed! General Sherman, who saw him in Nashville on the 17th said Grant “very busy in winding up all matters of business, in transferring his command to me, and in preparing for what was manifest would be the great and closing campaign of our civil war.”

I have read that Grant planned to end the war this year by November. The best laid plans….

Louisiana operations: The Red River campaign begins (note: This was one messed-up campaign, and dates vary. I’m generally using those that at least two sources agree on, as well as a lot of quotes from Civil War Interactive for consistency and, frankly, because he’s a snappy writer!). (20)

March 12

Military events: President Lincoln issues General Orders 98: General Halleck is relieved (at his own request) as General in Chief of Army, and Grant is assigned to command Armies of United States. Halleck is assigned to duty in Washington as Chief of Staff (this way, Grant will have pretty much free rein in the field). General Sherman is put in charge of the Division of Mississippi. General James McPherson (no relation to source #2’s author, he says) is assigned to command of Department and Army of Tennessee. Grant will also eventually see to it (by April, when much of the dead wood in the Union command chain has been cleared out) that General Phil Sheridan is put in charge of the Army of the Potomac cavalry, thus having all his best officers in key positions as the spring and summer campaign season opens. (23)

Louisiana operations/Red River campaign: “[US] Admiral David D. Porter prepared two naval expeditions today, and led one of them. He ordered the gunboats Eastport, Essex, Ozark, Osage and Neosho, along with four wooden steamships, to proceed up the Red River. Admiral Porter himself took several ironclads, and three wooden paddle-wheelers on a trip up the Atchafalaya River toward Simmesport, where Federal troops were to be landing.” (7, including quote) Two black US regiments leave Port Hudson, Mississippi, for Alexandria, Louisiana. They are intended to be “diggers and drudges,” not combat troops. (17)

Emancipation: Two black civil rights activists from New Orleans meet with President Lincoln. They are Jean Baptiste Roudanez, an engineer, and Arnold Bertonneau, formerly a captain in the 2nd Regiment of the Corps d’Afrique. They bring a petition, signed by more a thousand men, requesting the freedom to vote in Louisiana. Lincoln is noncommittal. (17)

March 13

Military events: “The Red River Expedition got seriously underway today as the ships of Admiral D. D. Porter landed Union troops at Simmesport. With the sun barely up, they began to sweep Confederate defenders before them. Simultaneously, gunboats under Phelps got as far up the Red River as the obstructions laid in the water so as to render the waterway impassable. The Union sailors cleared it that same day, and proceeded to bomb Ft. DeRussy.” (7, including quote)

Emancipation: President Lincoln congratulates the recently elected governor of Louisiana and writes “…whether some of the colored people may not be let in [to vote]—as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks…But this is only a suggestion, not to the public, but to you alone.” The suggestion was not taken up. (4) Unaware of Lincoln’s letter, Roudanez and Bertonneau meet with other influential people, including abolitionist Charles Sumner in Washington and William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass in Boston. (17)

March 14

Battles: Red River campaign: Fort DeRussy. “Ft. DeRussy, on the Red River, was one of the first stops of Admiral Porter’s expedition. His ships bombed from the river, Gen. Andrew Jackson Smith’s troops assaulted by land, and the fort was promptly surrendered. The Army-Navy cooperation yielded some surprising results. As Porter said in his report: ‘The rebels had depended on that point to stop any advance of army or navy into rebeldom. Large quantities of ammunition, best engineers and best troops sent there.'” (7, including quote)

Military events: Lincoln orders the draft of 200,000 more men. (4)

General Grant reaches Nashville and orders the IX Corps to Annapolis, Maryland, where General Burnside will assume its command. (6)

March 15

Military events: Louisiana operations/Red River campaign: “Moving men and vessels up the Red River, the Union Army arrives at Alexandria, LA.” (5, including quote) The operation is so far successful: Federals have gained control of south and central Louisiana. (20) “Celebrations for the capture of Ft. DeRussy, on the Red River, by the gunboats of Admiral Porter, were brief. Captured yesterday, the fort was being destroyed today by the ironclads USS Benton and Essex. Three of the remaining boats were headed upriver at the highest speed they could manage, in hopes of cutting off the Confederate boats before they could ready the rapids at Alexandria. The Rebels escaped by half an hour, with one ship burned to avoid capture.” (7, including quote)

West Tennessee/Kentucky operations: CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest begins a raid on West Tennessee. Per Pryor and Jordan (source 3):

…he had determined to make another inroad across the line of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad into West-Tennessee, and, if possible, into West Kentucky, to which he was incited by several motives:
1st. Buford’s Kentuckians were in pressing need of clothing and equipments [sic], and one third were on foot [this was a cavalry unit], while the horses of many of the rest were indifferent; he therefore desired to give that command an opportunity to refit in their own State;
2nd. The Tennesseans brought out in December were, also, for the most part, in great need of clothing, and had left their homes so suddenly as to make it important they, likewise, should be indulged in a brief visit to that region.

March 16

Military events: Arkansas operations: CS General Sterling Price is put in command of the District of Arkansas. (5)

North Carolina operations: “On Albermarle Sound, Union Navy operatives were becoming increasingly concerned about reports they were hearing of a new Confederate ship under construction up the Roanoke River. The newest information indicated that the ship would be a ram, and would be made with TWO layers of iron, upping the ante for the single-layered Monitor class. The reports, which were being received from spies and other agents across the remarkably porous border, claimed the CSS Albermarle was supposed to sail early next month.” (7, including quote)


Informal reenactment at Marc’s Place (? where or what that is) of the surrender of Fort DeRussy:


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

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

(10) This Week in the Civil War.

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

(12) CWSAC Battle Summaries

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

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

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

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

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

(18) A. Lincoln, A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009)

(19) Red River Campaign, Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

(20) Red River Campaign, Wikipedia.

(21) Red River Campaign, Civil War Trust.

(22) Confederate Strategy, Fort Tyler Association.

(23) The Sword of Lincoln, the Army of the Potomac. Jeffrey Wert (2005)

Categories: American Civil War


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