The American Civil War 150th Anniversary: April and May, 1864, Catch-Up

Well, here we are! I’ll restart the timeline on Monday with May 25th because that’s when the Battle of New Hope Church began.

Let’s first take a quick look at the events that happened over April and most of May, 150 years ago this year. I’m only using Wikipedia and the Blue & Gray Trail (source 5 below) for dates and will have to fill in and perhaps correct some detail in future weekly posts for these two months. McPherson (source 2) is the source for other information (except as noted).

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

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

Grant’s Plan

Of greatest importance, perhaps, is that General Grant has been put in charge of the Federal armies and plans to end the war by November with simultaneous offenses in all theaters.

He will travel with the Army of the Potomac (General George Meade) and IX Corps (General Ambrose Burnside), taking on General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant has told Meade, “Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” Grant tells Sherman, in charge of the Military Division of the Mississippi, “to move against Johnston’s army, 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.”

Meanwhile, General Benjamin Butler and the Army of the James are to land on the Bermuda Hundred Peninsula of Virginia, between the James and Appomattox rivers, threatening Richmond and cutting the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad – Lee’s link to reinforcements. Meanwhile, General Franz Sigel will be active in the Shenandoah Valley, tying down Confederates and breaking their communications link there. West of the Mississippi River, General Nathaniel Banks will head to Mobile, Alabama, after the Red River Campaign in Arkansas and Texas winds down.

CS General Lee, possibly in 1864.  (Library of Congress)

CS General Lee, possibly in 1864. (Library of Congress)

Lincoln likes the plan, saying, “Those not skinning can hold a leg.”

So how did it all work out?

Here’s a look at some of the battles during April and May. It’s basically the list shown in Wikipedia, and I have linked those that are also mentioned in the Blue and Gray timeline, thinking that way to catch at least the major actions over these two months. There have been many.

April 1864

May 1-24, 1864

Things got busier this month, after the northern armies broke winter camp at the end of April.

  • May 5: Albemarle Sound, North Carolina
  • May 5–7: The Wilderness, Virginia. CS General James Longstreet rejoins General Lee.
  • May 6: The USS Commodore Jones is sunk on the James River by Confederate torpedoes.
  • May 6–7: Port Walthall Junction, Virginia
  • May 7–13: Rocky Face Ridge, Georgia
  • May 8–21: Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia
  • May 9: Swift Creek and Fort Clifton, Virginia
  • May 9: Sheridan’s raid on Richmond begins.
  • May 9: Cloyd’s Mountain, Virginia
  • May 10: Chester Station, Virginia
  • May 10: Cove Mountain, Virginia
  • May 11: Yellow Tavern, Virginia
  • May 12–16: Proctor’s Creek (Drewry’s Bluff), Virginia
  • May 13–15: Resaca, Georgia
  • May 15: New Market, Virginia
  • May 16: Mansura, Louisiana
  • May 17: Adairsville, Georgia
  • May 18: Yellow Bayou, Louisiana
  • May 18: Skirmish at Woodlands (Barnsley Gardens and Resort)
  • May 20: Ware Bottom Church and Howlett Line, Virginia
  • May 23–26: North Anna, Virginia
  • May 24: Wilson’s Wharf

The situation at day’s end on May 24th

As McPherson puts it, the “leg holders” Lincoln described have bungled their jobs. Banks got pummeled so badly by CS General Richard Taylor that as of the 24th, he is no shape for a campaign against Mobile. General Butler and his army are trapped on the peninsula between the James and the Appomattox. General Sigel was badly defeated at New Market; Generals Halleck and Grant prevail on Lincoln to remove him from command.

The fighting style is something new for both armies – relentless and unceasing. By the end of May, the Federals in the eastern theater will have lost some 44,000 men, the Confederates about 25,000 (of note, at the start of these campaigns US forces outnumbered the CS armies by about 2 to 1). Mental and physical exhaustion are taking a toll on everybody.

Grant hasn’t broken Lee’s lines at Spotsylvania. He and Lee are maneuvering northeast of Richmond, their armies in constant contact. Sheridan has gotten within 6 miles of the Capital of the Confederacy.

In one week, from May 5th through the 12th, 32,000 members of the Army of the Potomac have died. On the other side, the Army of Northern Virginia has seen 18,000 men killed, including 20 of Lee’s 57 commanders. CS General JEB Stuart is dead. Longstreet is out of action for five months with a shoulder wound. However, each army reinforces itself up to about half of those losses, and the fighting goes on and on.

On the high seas, the CSS Alabama captured and burned the Rockingham near the Cape Verde Islands on April 23rd. The ship’s gunpowder has deteriorated, however, and the Alabama needs repairs. Rumors of an upcoming visit to a European port are rife among the crew. (9)

After Fort Pillow, CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest returned to Mississippi and now has his headquarters at Tupelo. He is “closely occupied with means and measures for increasing the efficiency of his force.” (3, including quote)

Edit, May 24, 2014: How I could I have forgotten General Sherman! By today, 150 years ago, he had decided that CS General Joe Johnston’s position in Altoona Pass was too strong and it would be a better idea to sneak around the Confederate left flank and hit Dallas, Georgia. Unfortunately for Sherman, Johnston realized this was a good idea for the Yankees, too, and sent a force to intercept Sherman at New Hope Church – and that’s where the timeline will start again on Monday.

Thank you so much for your patience and ongoing interest.






(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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