The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – March 31-April 6, 1864

(Library of Congress)

(Library of Congress)

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

As mentioned earlier, General Banks’ Red River campaign is unfolding (and falling apart) throughout this time. Apart from the few major battles, I can’t really devote the space to everything that was happening and going wrong there – please refer to the sources below for that. It’s also covered extensively in The Longest Day, if you happen to have that reference book.

Meanwhile, Kentucky is at the boiling point when it comes to African American military service. On February 29, 1864,

Union authorities, completely ignoring the remonstrances of of the legislature against the use of Negro troops, ordered James B. Fry, United States Provost Marshal General, to cause the immediate enrollment of all male Negroes in Kentucky between eighteen and forty-five years of age. This order was issued February 29, and five days later General Burbridge ordered all impressed Negroes [slavery was still legal in Kentucky, since the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to Confederate states] released from their work and sent home to their owners so that the enrollment might be accurate.

— “The Military History of Kentucky,” WPA (1939)

The former slaves would be free upon the end of their military service, and the former owners would receive $300 per man.

As the massacre at Jackson, Louisiana, in August 1863 had shown, black soldiers faced risks that white soldiers generally did not. There was plenty of hate on the loose during the war.

Governor  Thomas Bramlette, Kentucky.  (Wikipedia)

Governor Thomas Bramlette, Kentucky. (Wikipedia)

However, certainly these new orders in Kentucky regarding must have added to the volatility – the previous week Kentucky’s governor, a former senator and a newspaper editor recommended by the state’s attorney general had called on President Lincoln to discuss the matter.

And then the spark called Nathan Bedford Forrest arrived.

This is not to exonerate him (and we’re still a week away from that “great tragedy,” as Wyeth called it. I’m just mentioning it because the other sources don’t. (I found it incidentally in a former source, The L&N Railroad in the Civil War, by Dan Lee, 2011.)

It is also worth noting that Kentucky’s “Gov. Bramlette …, former Sen. Archibald Dixon …, and Albert G. Hodges, editor of Frankfort, Ky., Commonwealth, presented by Atty. Gen. Bates” had gone to US President Lincoln to complain about the enlistment of black Kentuckians. (4, including quote) That’s a high-powered delegation. Lincoln made an impromptu speech to them, which was later written down as a letter. It’s now one of the most widely quoted of Lincoln’s works, and well worth reading.

March 31

Battles: “As the greening of the leaves moved northward at a steady pace, the armies of North and South prepared to do likewise and resume campaigning. On this day however, only preliminary skirmishing was conducted. A scuffle at Natchitoches, La., was considered part of the Red River Campaign. Other actions occurred at Palatka, Fla., Spring Island, S.C., Arkadelphia, Ark., and greater metropolitan Forks of Beaver, in eastern Kentucky.” (7, including quote)

Military events: In Tennessee, US General Sherman notes in his memoirs (source 16) that

About the end of March, therefore, the three army commanders and myself were together at Chattanooga. We had nothing like a council of war, but conversed freely and frankly on all matters of interest then in progress or impending. We all knew that, as soon as the spring was fairly open, we should have to move directly against our antagonist, General Jos. E. Johnston, then securely intrenched at Dalton, thirty miles distant; and the purpose of our conference at the time was to ascertain our own resources, and to distribute to each part of the army its appropriate share of work. We discussed every possible contingency likely to arise, and I simply instructed each army commander to make immediate preparations for a hard campaign, regulating the distribution of supplies that were coming up by rail from Nashville as equitably as possible. We also agreed on some subordinate changes in the organization of the three separate armies which were destined to take the field….

(Image:  Matthew Brady, via Wikipedia)

Sherman in 1864. (Image: Matthew Brady, via Wikipedia)

April 1

Military events: At Fortress Monroe, General Grant meets with General Benjamin F. Butler to discuss the spring campaign. (6)

April 3

Battles: Raleigh, Tennessee (PDF), part of Forrest’s Second West Tennessee Raid. US troops again set out after Forrest and is forced to withdraw back to Memphis. (13)

Red River Campaign/Camden Expedition: Battle of Elkin’s Ferry begins. (5) More information.

Military events: Forrest’s Second West Tennessee Raid. CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s furloughed Kentucky troops report for duty at Trenton, Tennessee, and are sent out in the direction of Columbus and Paducah, not only to pick up those 140 horses the Yankee papers said Forrest missed in Paducah but also to gather in supplies and provide a diversion for a move Forrest is planning on Fort Pillow, whose horses he very badly needs. (8)

In the meantime, per Wyeth, Major Lionel Booth, USA, in charge of the 6th US Negro Artillery at Fort Pillow, writes to his general,

Everything is quiet within a radius of thirty or forty miles around, and I do not think any apprehensions need be felt or fears entertained in reference to this place being attacked or even threatened; I think it perfectly safe.

Military events: Red River campaign: “The gunboats of Admiral David D. Porter were hard at work today. Starting at Alexandria, La., they were engaged as troop transports for the army of Brig. Gen. Andrew Jackson Smith. One division, under Brig. Gen. T. Kirby Smith, was left behind; the rest were boated up to Grand Encore, La., to prepare for the attack on Shreveport. Once disembarked they still had to march overland to Nachitoches to join up with the forces of Gen. Banks.” (7, including quote)

Sheridan was one of the more colorful Union generals.  (Wikipedia)

Sheridan was one of the more colorful Union generals. (Wikipedia)

April 4

Battles: Red River Campaign/Camden Expedition: Battle of Elkin’s Ferry ends. (5)

Military events: Virginia operations: “Major General Philip Sheridan moves from command of an infantry division in the Army of the Cumberland to command cavalry in the Army of the Potomac.” (5, including quote)

Forrest’s Second West Tennessee Raid. Wyeth (who rode with Forrest) says, “The report of General Forrest, made from Jackson Tennessee, on April 4th, is worthy of reproduction in its entirety, for the reason that it not only shows how busily engaged he and his troops were in harassing the Federals and in gathering up recruits, but it gives some idea of the energy displayed in securing much-needed supplies supplies for the Confederate army. It shows, moreover, the clear conception in his mind of the plans and coming movements of the enemy.” I won’t reproduce it here, but you can read it in Official Records. About a week after writing this report, Forrest would be in charge and held responsible for during “one of the bleakest, saddest events of American military history.” Frankly, the affair at Jackson, Louisiana, the previous summer was pretty bleak and sad, too – it was investigated by the top generals of both sides and then basically let go. Few know of it today. But I digress.

April 6

Military events: General Sherman again:

I found the capacity of the railroads from Nashville forward to Decatur, and to Chattanooga, so small, especially in the number of locomotives and care, that it was clear that they were barely able to supply the daily wants of the armies then dependent on them, with no power of accumulating a surplus in advance. The cars were daily loaded down with men returning from furlough, with cattle, horses, etc.; and, by reason of the previous desolation of the country between Chattanooga and Knoxville, General Thomas had authorized the issue of provisions to the suffering inhabitants.

We could not attempt an advance into Georgia without food, ammunition, etc.; and ordinary prudence dictated that we should have an accumulation at the front, in case of interruption to the railway by the act of the enemy, or by common accident. Accordingly, on the 6th of April, I issued a general order, limiting the use of the railroad-cars to transporting only the essential articles of food, ammunition, and supplies for the army proper, forbidding any further issues to citizens, and cutting off all civil traffic; requiring the commanders of posts within thirty miles of Nashville to haul out their own stores in wagons; requiring all troops destined for the front to march, and all beef-cattle to be driven on their own legs. This was a great help, but of course it naturally raised a howl. Some of the poor Union people of East Tennessee appealed to President Lincoln, whose kind heart responded promptly to their request. He telegraphed me to know if I could not modify or repeal my orders; but I answered him that a great campaign was impending, on which the fate of the nation hung; that our railroads had but a limited capacity, and could not provide for the necessities of the army and of the people too; that one or the other must quit, and we could not until the army of Jos. Johnston was conquered, etc., etc. Mr. Lincoln seemed to acquiesce, and I advised the people to obtain and drive out cattle from Kentucky, and to haul out their supplies by the wagon-road from the same quarter, by way of Cumberland Gap. By these changes we nearly or quite doubled our daily accumulation of stores at the front, and yet even this was not found enough.

General Sherman is going to need all the supplies, and men, and gunpowder and other materiel he can get, because…

(Yes, gagreel1800 and his friends are probably reenacting the Army of Northern Virginia, not the Army of Tennessee, but the spirit and tactics, I’m sure, were the same in both armies.)


(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. Sherman

(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 and Camden Expedition, Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

(20) Red River Campaign and Camden Expedition, 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)

(24) An Unerring Fire: The Massacre at Fort Pillow. Richard Fuchs (2002)

(25) Black Artillerymen from the Civil War through World War I (PDF), Roger D. Cunningham.

Categories: American Civil War

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