The American Civil War 150th Anniversary: June 9-15, 1864

Here’s a look at events that were happening in the Civil War this week, 150 years ago. As noted last week, there will be two Confederate generals named Lee mentioned. “Lee” always refers to Robert E. Lee, and S. D. Lee, who was distantly related to the more well-known general, will always be identified by his initials.

Grant Sherman Forrest

If you’ve got them, both sources 2 and 8 have detailed insider reports from the Confederate side of the Battle of Brice’s Cross-Roads. It happened on the 10th, but this year’s reenactment of that and the battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg will be on the 13th, if you are in the neighborhood. As the Mississippi 150 people note:

This three-day reenactment of the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads and Tupelo/Harrisburg will feature Union and Confederate re-enactors portraying the events surrounding one of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s (CSA) tactical victories. However, during the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads and the Battle of Tupelo, Union forces successfully protected Major General’s William T. Sherman’s critical supply line during his “march to the sea” in 1864. Efforts by the United States Colored Troops (USCT) were critical to the success of Union effort in keeping Confederate forces at bay.

"Rather die freemen than live to be slaves" - From the 3rd United States Colored Troops regimental flag.  (Library of Congress)

“Rather die freemen than live to be slaves” – From the 3rd United States Colored Troops regimental flag. (Library of Congress)

By June 1864, the many separate black US Army units had been incorporated into a single entity: the US Colored Troops. Even today, their historic contributions aren’t usually mentioned clearly in the general accounts, and you have to track down the information elsewhere.

At Brice’s Cross-Roads, US Colonel Edward Bouton (who was white) commanded the Third Brigade (who were all black) – two infantry regiments, and Battery B of the 2nd Colored Light Artillery.

Some of the artillerists, as they were called then, had been at Fort Pillow. (21) Yes, as they faced General Forrest and his men once again this week, I imagine revenge and self-preservation may have been a tad higher on their priority lists than keeping Sherman’s lines open.

Sadly, this aspect of the battle has been overlooked.

Anyway, per source 2, page 477:

As the negro [sic] soldiery broke, after their last stand, they were seen generally to tear something from their uniform and throw it away, which subsequently proved to have been a badge on which was printed “REMEMBER FORT PILLOW,” while at the same time their officers (white) threw off their shoulder-straps or insignia of rank.

— Thomas Jordan and J. P. Pryor in The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry

At Brice’s Cross-Roads, Wyeth (source 8), who rode with Forrest and did an in-depth look at the Fort Pillow tragedy, says that the US infantry took the heaviest cavalry, and that after an intense fight “the colored troops, believing that no quarter would be shown them, scattered in all directions, taking to the woods and bottoms for safety.”

Why has no one made a movie about this?

Signal tower on the line before Petersburg, 1864.  (Library of Congress)

Signal tower on the line before Petersburg, 1864. (Library of Congress)

June 9

Battles: Virginia operations (Butler): First Battle of Petersburg.

Military events: Mississippi operations: CS Colonel Rucker joins Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest, S. D. Lee and Abraham Buford at Booneville. US General Samuel Sturgis is at Stubb’s, nine miles from Brice’s Cross-Roads. “It ha[s] been raining four or five days incessantly, and consequently the streams, brim full, [a]re unfordable, the bridges generally swept away, and the roads scarcely practicable.” (3, including quote; 8)

Other: “Crowds of people who had been in attendance at the National Union Party Convention in Baltimore yesterday took trains today to Washington to congratulate the party’s nominee–the incumbent President Abraham Lincoln. They did not, however rush to gladhand with the incumbent Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin, as he had been quietly sacked and replaced by Andrew Johnson of Tennessee.

Hand-to-hand combat at Brice's Cross-Roads.  (Wyeth, source 8)

Hand-to-hand combat at Brice’s Cross-Roads. (Wyeth, source 8)

“Johnson’s main attraction was that he was that he had stuck with the Union despite the secession of the state that elected him. Possibly Lincoln, a native of Kentucky, felt that another border-state man, one who like himself had family on both sides of the war, would be more likely to promote reconciliation rather than revenge once the conflict was finally ended.” (7, including quote)

June 10

Battles: Mississippi operations: Brice’s Cross-Roads.

Military events: Atlanta campaign: Marietta operations. Per General Sherman (16):

On the 10th of June the whole combined army moved forward six miles, to “Big Shanty,” a station on the railroad, whence we had a good view of the enemy’s position, which embraced three prominent hills known as Kenesaw, Pine Mountain, and Lost Mountain. On each of these hills the enemy had signal-stations and fresh lines of parapets. Heavy masses of infantry could be distinctly seen with the naked eye, and it was manifest that Johnston had chosen his ground well, and with deliberation had prepared for battle; but his line was at least ten miles in extent—too long, in my judgment, to be held successfully by his force, then estimated at sixty thousand. As his position, however, gave him a perfect view over our field, we had to proceed with due caution.

— General William Sherman

June 11

Battles: Overland campaign (Sheridan): The battle of Trevilian Station begins. McPherson (2) calls this two-day battle, in which George Custer participated, the bloodiest cavalry action of the war.

John Breckingridge around 1850.

John Breckingridge around 1850.

Overland Campaign: Hunter’s Raid: US troops occupy Lexington, Virginia. (27) Hunter’s delay here allows CS General Jubal Early to join General John Breckinridge, the former Vice President of the United States until secession who had just been wounded at Cold Harbor but can now ride again, at Lynchburg. (7)

Kentucky operations: Morgan’s raid on Cynthiana begins.

Military events: Atlantic operations: The CSS Alabama arrives in Cherbourg, France. Captain Semmes request for repairs and overhaul is referred to Paris. Meanwhile, the US minister to France protests the presence of “so obnoxious and so notorious” a vessel and relays the poor condition of the Alabama to the USS Kearsarge, which is stationed off the coast of France to try to catch another Confederate raider. (5, 9)

Mississippi operations: At 1 a.m., Forrest orders pursuit of the scattered Federal forces. Rucker’s brigade advances and skirmishes with Federals near Stubbs’s at daylight. Later in the morning, some US soldiers rally on the far side of the flooded Hatchie Creek; however, Forrest and two regiments move up the creek, cross it easily and then take the Federal right flank. The Union men again scatter. At about 8 p.m., Confederates come upon two strong US battle lines drawn up near the town of Ripley. Forrest arrives and orders an advance while ordering Rucker to attack the Federal rear and Buford to hurry up with more men. After receiving heavy casualties, the blue line breaks. Buford pursues the Federals towards Salem; meanwhile, Forrest heads to Salem by another route to intercept the main body. However, Buford hits the Federals so hard, only stragglers reach Salem. Confederate troops scour the area and pick up discarded US gear until darkness ends the pursuit this day. The Federals have been driven more than 58 miles. Forrest collapses from exhaustion. (2, 8)

Atlanta campaign: Marietta operations. Per General Sherman (16):

[T]he Etowah bridge was done; the railroad was repaired up to our very skirmish line, close to the base of Kenesaw, and a loaded train of cars came to Big Shanty. The locomotive, detached, was run forward to a water-tank within the range of the enemy’s guns on Kenesaw, whence the enemy opened fire on the locomotive; but the engineer was not afraid, went on to the tank, got water, and returned safely to his train, answering the guns with the screams of his engine, heightened by the cheers and shouts of our men.

"Water tanks. Big Shanty. W & A.R.R.," A. R. Waud.  (Library of Congress)

“Water tanks. Big Shanty. W & A.R.R.,” A. R. Waud. (Library of Congress)

The rains continued to pour, and made our developments slow and dilatory, for there were no roads, and these had to be improvised by each division for its own supply train from the depot in Big Shanty to the camps. Meantime each army was deploying carefully before the enemy, intrenching every camp, ready as against a sally. The enemy’s cavalry was also busy in our rear, compelling us to detach cavalry all the way back as far as Resaca, and to strengthen all the infantry posts as far as Nashville. Besides, there was great danger, always in my mind, that Forrest would collect a heavy cavalry command in Mississippi, cross the Tennessee River, and break up our railroad below Nashville.

— General William Sherman

Virginia Military Institute after the raid.  (Source)

Virginia Military Institute after the raid. (Source)

June 12

Battles: Overland campaign (Sheridan): The battle of Trevilian Station ends.

Overland Campaign: Hunter’s Raid. Virginia Military Institute is burned. (27)

Kentucky operations: Morgan’s raid on Cynthiana ends.

Military events: Mississippi operations: General Sturgis reaches Collierville. (8)

Overland campaign: After nightfall, Grant’s troops begin withdrawing from Cold Harbor, heading for the north shore of the James River. (20)

June 13

Military events: Mississippi operations: A fragment of General Sturgis’s command reaches White’s Station. “It had taken them nine days to march from this point to Brice’s Cross-Roads. The return trip was made in sixty-four hours.” (8, including quote)

Overland campaign: US withdrawal from Cold Harbor continues. Lee learns of it, but hesitates to act until he knows where the Federals are going. He has cavalry out chasing US General Phillip Sheridan and has just sent out General Jubal Early’s Second Corps after US General David Hunter, who is threatening the vital railroad center at Lynchburg, having told Early (20):

We must destroy this Army of Grant’s before he gets to the James River. If he gets there it will become a siege, and then it will be a mere question of time.

— General Robert E. Lee

The USS Kearsarge in late 1864.  (Source)

The USS Kearsarge in late 1864. (Source)

June 14

Military events: Atlantic operations: The USS Kearsarge steams into Cherbourg’s harbor without anchoring and sends a message for the port authorities. It then returned to sea as a blockade. Captain Semmes sends a challenge, saying, “My intention is to fight the Kearsarge as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements. I hope they will not detain me more than until tomorrow evening, or after the morrow morning at furthest. I beg she will not depart before I am ready to go out.” Captured chronometers, gold, the ship’s pay rolls and ransom bonds are sent ashore. Magazines and shell rooms are overhauled and guns readied. (5; 9, including quote)

Overland campaign: US withdrawal from Cold Harbor continues. (20) US troops cross the James River on possibly the longest pontoon bridge in military history. (2) General Grant selects General Butler to lead the new campaign against Petersburg, augmenting his strength and telling him to take the same route he did in his failed attempt on the 9th. (26)

Overland Campaign: Hunter’s Raid: US troops leave Lexington, headed for Lynchburg. (27)

Atlanta campaign: Marietta operations: Per General Sherman (16):

I learned that General Sturgis had himself been defeated on the 10th of June, and had been driven by Forrest back into Memphis in considerable confusion. I expected that this would soon be followed by a general raid on all our roads in Tennessee. General G. J. Smith, with the two divisions of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Corps which had been with General Banks up Red River, had returned from that ill-fated expedition, and had been ordered to General Canby at New Orleans, who was making a diversion about Mobile; but, on hearing of General Sturgis’s defeat, I ordered General Smith to go out from Memphis and renew the offensive, so as to keep Forrest off our roads.

— General William Sherman

General Leonidas Polk, CSA.  (Library of Congress, via Wikipedia)

Leonidas Polk in uniform. (Library of Congress, via Wikipedia)

Also this day, CS General Polk is killed. Sherman again:

By the 14th the rain slackened, and we occupied a continuous line of ten miles, intrenched, conforming to the irregular position of the enemy, when I reconnoitred, with a view to make a break in their line between Kenesaw and Pine Mountain. When abreast of Pine Mountain I noticed a rebel battery on its crest, with a continuous line of fresh rifle-trench about half-way down the hill. Our skirmishers were at the time engaged in the woods about the base of this hill between the lines, and I estimated the distance to the battery on the crest at about eight hundred yards. Near it, in plain view, stood a group of the enemy, evidently observing us with glasses. General Howard, commanding the Fourth Corps, was near by, and I called his attention to this group, and ordered him to compel it to keep behind its cover. He replied that his orders from General Thomas were to spare artillery-ammunition. This was right, according to the general policy, but I explained to him that we must keep up the morale of a bold offensive, that he must use his artillery, force the enemy to remain on the timid defensive, and ordered him to cause a battery close by to fire three volleys. I continued to ride down our line, and soon heard, in quick succession, the three volleys. The next division in order was Geary’s, and I gave him similar orders. General Polk, in my opinion, was killed by the second volley fired from the first battery referred to.

In a conversation with General Johnston, after the war, he explained that on that day he had ridden in person from Marietta to Pine Mountain, held by Bates’s division, and was accompanied by Generals Hardee and Polk. When on Pine Mountain, reconnoitring, quite a group of soldiers, belonging to the battery close by, clustered about him. He noticed the preparations of our battery to fire, and cautioned these men to scatter. They did so, and he likewise hurried behind the parapet, from which he had an equally good view of our position but General Polk, who was dignified and corpulent, walked back slowly, not wishing to appear too hurried or cautious in the presence of the men, and was struck across the breast by an unexploded shell, which killed him instantly. This is my memory of the conversation, and it is confirmed by Johnston himself in his “Narrative,” page 337, except that he calculated the distance of our battery at six hundred yards, and says that Polk was killed by the third shot; I know that our guns fired by volley, and believe that he was hit by a shot of the second volley. It has been asserted that I fired the gun which killed General Polk, and that I knew it was directed against that general. The fact is, at that distance we could not even tell that the group were officers at all; I was on horseback, a couple of hundred yards off, before my orders to fire were executed, had no idea that our shot had taken effect, and continued my ride down along the line to Schofield’s extreme flank, returning late in the evening to my head-quarters at Big Shanty, where I occupied an abandoned house. In a cotton-field back of that house was our signal-station, on the roof of an old gin-house. The signal-officer reported that by studying the enemy’s signals he had learned the key, and that he could read their signals. He explained to me that he had translated a signal about noon, from Pine Mountain to Marietta, “Send an ambulance for General Polk’s body;” and later in the day another, “Why don’t you send an ambulance for General Polk?” From this we inferred that General Polk had been killed, but how or where we knew not; and this inference was confirmed later in the same day by the report of some prisoners who had been captured.

— General William Sherman

Matthew Brady's photo outfit at Petersburg in 1864.  (Library of Congress)

Matthew Brady’s photo outfit at Petersburg in 1864. (Library of Congress)

June 15

Battles: Petersburg campaign. Second battle of Petersburg begins.

Military events: Overland campaign: US withdrawal from Cold Harbor continues. Grant establishes his headquarters at City Point, on a bluff overlooking the James and Appomattox rivers. (20)

Petersburg campaign: Lee sends an infantry division to Petersburg, where General P. G. T. Beauregard is bottling up US General Benjamin Butler on the Bermuda Hundred Peninsula with some 5,400 troops – coming at Beauregard now are Grant’s more than 100,000 men. (20) Beauregard digs in. (2)

Alabama/Mississippi operations: US Colonel Howe is ordered to remain at Decatur. General Sherman tells Secretary of War Stanton (1, 8):

I will have the matter of Sturgis critically examined, and, if he be at fault, he shall have no mercy at my hands. I cannot but believe he had troops enough. I know I would have been willing to attempt the same task with that force; but Forrest is the very devil, and I think he has got some of our troops under cower. I have two officers at Memphis that will fight all the time – A. J. Smith and Mower. The latter is a young brigadier of fine promise, and I commend him to your notice. I will order them to make up a force and go out and follow Forrest to the death, if it cost 10,000 lives and breaks the Treasury. There never will be peace in Tennessee till Forrest is dead.

— General William Sherman

Atlanta campaign: Marietta operations. Per General Sherman (16):

On the 15th we advanced our general lines, intending to attack at any weak point discovered between Kenesaw and Pine Mountain; but Pine Mountain was found to be abandoned, and Johnston had contracted his front somewhat, on a direct line, connecting Kenesaw with Lost Mountain. Thomas and Schofield thereby gained about two miles of most difficult, country, and McPherson’s left lapped well around the north end of Kenesaw. We captured a good many prisoners, among them a whole infantry regiment, the Fourteenth Alabama, three hundred and twenty strong.

— General William Sherman


"Petersburg, Va. Redoubt near Dunn's house in outer line of Confederate fortifications captured June 14, 1864, by Gen. William F. Smith"  (Library of Congress)

“Petersburg, Va. Redoubt near Dunn’s house in outer line of Confederate fortifications captured June 14, 1864, by Gen. William F. Smith” (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) 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) Confederate Strategy, Fort Tyler Association.

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

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

(22) The Atlanta Campaign. New Georgia Encyclopedia.

(23) The Overland Campaign. Civil War Trust.

(24) John Hunt Morgan. Encyclopedia of Alabama.

(25) Battle of Trevilian Station, Wikipedia.

(26) Siege of Petersburg, Wikipedia.

(27) Hunter’s Raid, Virginia Military Institute.

Categories: American Civil War

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