Here’s a look at what was happening in the Civil War 150 years ago this week.
There was quite a chess game going on along Mississippi roads and in Mississippi woods and fields this week, with the players being Generals S. D. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA, on one side and Generals A. J. Smith and Joseph A. Mower, USA, on the other.
The Federals massively outnumbered the Confederates. S. D. Lee and Forrest adjusted their strategies accordingly and gave Smith and Mower quite a run. However, aware of the two failed US expeditions before him, A. J. Smith knew better than to let Forrest dictate the battle space. Smith would fight on ground of his own choosing.
The game played out in weather that was “so excessively warm and oppressive” (3), even the Southerners were dragging, particularly those who had just marched 46 miles up from Mobile under S. D. Lee to reinforce Forrest.
All combatants had to do their best, though. At stake was Sherman’s supply line for the ongoing Atlanta campaign.
Near Atlanta, in the meantime, General Sherman is planning to fake the Confederates out and cross the Chattahoochee River. In describing the activities of his men and officers, Sherman later says (15):
At this time Stoneman was very active on our extreme right, pretending to be searching the river below Turner’s Ferry for a crossing, and was watched closely by the enemy’s cavalry on the other side, McPherson, on the right, was equally demonstrative at and near Turner’s Ferry. Thomas faced substantially the intrenched tete-du-pont, and had his left on the Chattahoochee River, at Paice’s Ferry. Garrard’s cavalry was up at Roswell, and McCook’s small division of cavalry was intermediate, above Soap’s Creek. Meantime, also, the railroad-construction party was hard at work, repairing the railroad up to our camp at Vining’s Station…From the 10th to the 15th we were all busy in strengthening the several points for the proposed passage of the Chattahoochee, in increasing the number and capacity of the bridges, rearranging the garrisons to our rear, and in bringing forward supplies.
CS President Jefferson Davis is concerned about General Joe Johnston’s decisions and sends the much-hated General Braxton Bragg to Georgia on a fact-finding mission. Bragg talks mostly to General John Bell Hood, who wants to attack. Davis likes that, but General Robert E. Lee advises against it, saying that Hood is too aggressive: “All lion, none of the fox.” (2)
Things are fairly quiet in front of Petersburg, Virginia, except for the ongoing mine construction under CS defense works by US troops. Grant is concentrating more on CS General Jubal Early’s raid on Washington, DC, where US President Lincoln has asked (not ordered) Grant to come lead troops against Early.
Battles: Siege of Charleston, South Carolina: “The battles for Charleston, or at least her harbor, just kept on keeping on. Today the gunboats USS Lehigh and Montauk continued firing onto the banks of the Stono River at Confederate riflemen. They had been chased off Morris Island the day before but persisted in trying to hamper the Union disembarkation, and rebuild fortifications.” (7, including quote)
Mississippi operations, skirmish near Ripley. Six hundred of General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s men, under Colonel S. M. Hyams, skirmish with the advancing Federal column and fall back to Ripley. (3)
Military events: Mississippi operations: Colonel Hyams and his men fall back from Ripley to Ellistown, where they meet Bell’s Brigade, which has advanced from Tupelo. General S. D. Lee arrives in the area with some 800-900 infantry from Mobile. Forrest’s entire command prepares to move. (3)
Battles: Early’s raid on Washington: Battle of the Monocacy. The Federals lose but buy enough time for the reinforcements sent by Grant to reach Washington.
Georgia operations, skirmishing along the Chattahoochie River. Per Colonel W. Hays, USA (27):
On the morning of the 9th of July 1 was ordered to support with my regiment a forward movement of the skirmish line. I moved out at 6 a.m., and followed the skirmishers at close supporting distance. They, meeting a largely superior force of the enemy, were compelled to fall back. As soon as they had rallied behind my line I opened a fire upon the enemy, which checked his advance. There being no connection on my left, and the enemy coming around on my flank, I was forced to fall back about 200 yards, where I compelled the enemy to halt, and the Tenth Indiana joining me, he fell back to his old position. That night the rebels evacuated that side of the river. This contest, although only lasting fifteen or twenty minutes, was very severe.
Military events: Mississippi operations: Generals S. D. Lee and Forrest assess the Verona area for a good spot to make a stand against the advancing Federals. At around 3 p.m., the US troops are 6 miles south of New Albany, on the road to Pontotoc and Chesterville. Forrest and Lee send McCulloch’s brigade to Pontotoc and Rucker’s to the intersection of the roads from Pontotoc and Chesterville, 4 miles west of Tupelo. Roddey is ordered to Okolona. Buford’s division is sent to Ellistown. The Federals camp on the south bank of the Tallahatchie. (3)
Georgia operations, Atlanta campaign: Rousseau’s raid starts (27). Per General Sherman (15):
Of course, I expected every possible resistance in crossing the Chattahoochee River, and had made up my mind to feign on the right, but actually to cross over by the left. We had already secured a crossing place at Roswell, but one nearer was advisable; General Schofield had examined the river well, found a place just below the mouth of Soap’s Creek which he deemed advantageous, and was instructed to effect an early crossing there, and to intrench a good position on the other side, viz., the east bank. But, preliminary thereto, I had ordered General Rousseau, at Nashville, to collect, out of the scattered detachments of cavalry in Tennessee, a force of a couple of thousand men, to rendezvous at Decatur, Alabama, thence to make a rapid march for Opelika, to break up the railroad links between Georgia and Alabama, and then to make junction with me about Atlanta; or, if forced, to go on to Pensacola, or even to swing across to some of our posts in Mississippi. General Rousseau asked leave to command this expedition himself, to which I consented, and on the 6th of July he reported that he was all ready at Decatur, and I gave him orders to start. He moved promptly on the 9th, crossed the Coosa below the “Ten Islands” and the Tallapoosa below “Horseshoe Bend,” having passed through Talladega. He struck the railroad west of Opelika, tore it up for twenty miles, then turned north and came to Marietta on the 22d of July, whence he reported to me.
Rousseau wasn’t the only Union officer on the move in the vicinity of Atlanta that day. Per General Sherman (15):
Schofield effected his crossing at Soap’s Creek very handsomely on the 9th, capturing the small guard that was watching the crossing. By night he was on the high ground beyond, strongly intrenched, with two good pontoon-bridges finished, and was prepared, if necessary, for an assault by the whole Confederate army. The same day Garrard’s cavalry also crossed over at Roswell, drove away the cavalry-pickets, and held its ground till relieved by Newton’s division of Howard’s corps, which was sent up temporarily, till it in turn was relieved by Dodge’s corps (Sixteenth) of the Army of the Tennessee, which was the advance of the whole of that army.
Military events: Early’s raid on Washington: Lincoln to Grant (4):
“Cypher” War Department
Lieut. Gen. Grant Washington City,
City-Point, Va July 10—2.P.M. 1864
Your despatch to Gen. Halleck, referring to what I may think in the present emergency, is shown me. Gen. Halleck says we have absolutely no force here fit to go to the field. He thinks that with the hundred day-men, and invalids we have here, we can  defend Washington, and scarcely Baltimore. Besides these, there are about eight thousand not very reliable, under Howe  at Harper’s Ferry, with Hunter  approaching that point very slowly, with what number I suppose you know better than I. Wallace with some odds and ends, and part of what came up with Ricketts,  was so badly beaten yesterday at Monocacy, that what is left can attempt no more than to defend Baltimore. What we shall get in from Penn. & N.Y. will scarcely [be] worth counting, I fear. Now what I think is that you should provide to retain your hold where you are certainly, and bring the rest with you personally, and make a vigorous effort to destroy the enemie’s force in this vicinity. I think there is really a fair chance to do this if the movement is prompt. This is what I think, upon your suggestion, and is not an order A. LINCOLN
Grant to Lincoln:
I have sent from here a whole corps commanded by an excellent officer, besides over three thousand other troops. One Division of the Nineteenth Corps, six thousand strong is now on its way to Washington. One Steamer loaded with these troops having passed Ft. Monroe today. They will probably reach Washington tomorrow night. This force under [Horatio G.] Wright will be able to compete with the whole force with [Richard S.] Ewell.
Before more troops can be sent from here [David] Hunter will be able to join Wright in rear of the Enemy, with at least ten thousand men, besides a force sufficient to hold Maryland Heights.
I think on reflection it would have a bad effect for me to leave here, and with Genl [Edward O. C.] Ord at Baltimore and Hunter and Wright with the forces following the enemy up, could do no good
I have great faith that the enemy will never be able to get back with much of his force.
Grant to Halleck:
Forces enough to defeat all that Early has with him should get in his rear south of him, and follow him up sharply, leaving him to go north, defending depots, towns, &c., with small garrisons and the militia. If the President thinks it advisable that I should go to Washington in person I can start in an hour after receiving notice, leaving everything here on the defensive.
Mississippi operations: Generals S. D. Lee and Forrest note that the Federal column appears headed for Okolona, so they move Buford’s and Chalmers’ divisions to Pontotoc, where the US troops are moving in three columns, each preceded by a cavalry unit. S. D. Lee and Forrest establish their headquarters in Okolona, and Buford and Chalmers begin constant skirmishing with the Yankees. Federal forces camp some four miles north of Pontotoc. (3)
Georgia operations, Atlanta campaign: CS General Joe Johnston pulls his troops back to consolidate his force at Peachtree Creek, about four miles from downtown Atlanta. There is panic in Atlanta and consternation in Richmond (2, 12).
Per General Sherman (15):
Johnston evacuated his trenches, crossed over the Chattahoochee, burned the railroad bridge and his pontoon and trestle bridges, and left us in full possession of the north or west bank – besides which, we had already secured possession of the two good crossings at Roswell and Soap’s Creek.
I have always thought Johnston neglected his opportunity there, for he had lain comparatively idle while we got control of both banks of the river above him.
Battles: Battle of Fort Stevens begins when Jubal Early reaches Washington’s suburbs. During the night, the reinforcements sent by General Grant – veteran troops from the US VI Corps – arrive to reinforce the Home Guards, clerks and convalescent soldiers who have been the US capital’s only defense. (17)
“Jubal Early’s Confederate forces did what no other Southern men accomplished during the entire War: he invaded at least the suburbs of Washington D.C. Silver Spring, MD, suffered the brunt of the attack, with particular attention to what might seem like an unusual military target, the home of the Postmaster General. Nearly forgotten today, Montgomery Blair was an immensely powerful man in the Washington of those times. Both in his own right and through several sons, sons-in-law and nephews he had fingers in a great number of pies, even to St. Louis Mo. Defending the city was Gen. Lew Wallace, better known today as the author of the novel “Ben-Hur”. He was not doing well with his cobbled-together army of cripples and new recruits, and was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Sixth Corps regulars from City Point, Va.” (7, including quote)
Lincoln to Grant:
“Cypher” United States Military Telegraph,
Lieut. Gen. Grant War Department, Washington,
City-Point, Va July 11. 1864 [8 A.M.]
Yours of 10:30 P.M. yesterday received, and very satisfactory. The enemy will learn of Wright’s arrival, and then the difficulty will be to unite Wright and Hunter, South of the enemy before he will recross the Potomac. Some firing between Rockville and here now. A. LINCOLN
Military events: Mississippi operations: S. D. Lee, now in overall command, sends dismounted cavalry out from Okolona to entrench at Prairie Mound. The US troops break camp at sunrise and move out cautiously and slowly, pushing back the S.D. Lee’s men until they reach a strong Confederate position at Pinson’s Hill, 2 miles south of Pontotoc, where the Federal advance stops at sunset. S. D. Lee orders Chalmers to keep up skirmishing and attempt to delay further advance on Okolona for two days, until the Confederates there are ready. (3)
Battles: Early’s raid on Washington: The Battle of Fort Stevens ends when Early realizes the city is now defended by veteran soldiers and withdraws. He later tells his staff officers:
We didn’t take Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln like Hell.
They might have done more than scare him. During the day, Lincoln visited Fort Stevens and was standing on the battlements, in full view of Confederate sharpshooters, until a young army captain named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., (later a Supreme Court justice) hollered, “Get down, you damn fool, before you get shot!” The president obeyed the captain (17). This is mostly legendary, as far as I know, although Lincoln’s secretary made note of an incident on the 11th where “a soldier” roughly ordered Lincoln off the parapet. (4) Grant orders General Horatio Wright to pursue Early. (6)
Military events: Mississippi operations: Federal troops attack the Confederates at Pinson Hill and are rebuffed. At the same time, two Federal columns move out, on the Tupelo and Houston roads, respectively, but are stopped by CS forces. General S. D. Lee, in the meantime, gets word of an impending attack on Mobile and also hears from General Joe Johnston in Georgia that no reinforcements can be expected. After a discussion with Forrest and other officers, S. D. Lee decides to draw the Federals into an engagement. He tells all his troops to move toward Chalmers, who is four miles southeast of Pontotoc, overnight and heads there himself, accompanied by Forrest. (3)
Military events: Mississippi operations: The Federals southeast of Pontotoc show no signs of moving. Forrest reconnoiters and learns that the main US force has been moving toward Tupelo for several hours. He tells S. D. Lee of this and then goes after them with his escort and Mabry’s brigade, reaching the US rearguard and driving it into the main column in sharp fighting. The Federal troops keep moving, not slowing down to give S. D. Lee time to flank them, and reach a creek about 10 miles east of Pontotoc. There they stop and fight briefly and then head out for Tupelo after a short skirmish. S. D. Lee, Chalmers and Buford are delayed. Around 3 p.m., Rucker ambushes the column on the Tupelo road near the Camargo Cross Roads, but is driven back, outnumbered. Rucker joins up with Forrest at the Federal rear for ongoing skirmishing until dark. Parts of Buford’s division attack the head of the Federal column and are rebuffed but receive reinforcement. The Federals stop for the night in Harrisburg, with the Confederates bivouacked nearby. Per Jordan and Pryor (3):
It [Harrisburg] was well chosen for defense; and those strong, natural advantages, Major-General A. J. Smith immediately set his troops to improving, as far as practicable, during the night by breastworks made of rails and logs, and the materials of cabins and outhouses, torn down for that purpose, and covered with earth. This was discovered by General Forrest…Directing Colonel Mabry to throw forward skirmishers to within close proximity of the enemy, Forrest repaired to General [S. D.] Lee’s headquarters, and reported what he had ascertained. Hoping to be able to draw his adversary into an offensive movement in the morning, General [S. D.] Lee directed the immediate disposition of his for that contingency, and the erection of temporary infantry cover – of rails and fallen timber – on the line selected as best for receiving an attack.
Georgia operations, Atlanta campaign: Per General Sherman (15):
On the 13th I ordered McPherson, with the Fifteenth Corps, to move up to Roswell, to cross over, prepare good bridges, and to make a strong tete-du-pont on the farther side. Stoneman had been sent down to Campbellton, with orders to cross over and to threaten the railroad below Atlanta, if he could do so without too much risk; and General Blair, with the Seventeenth Corps, was to remain at Turner’s Ferry, demonstrating as much as possible, thus keeping up the feint below while we were actually crossing above. Thomas was also ordered to prepare his bridges at Powers’s and Paice’s Ferries. By crossing the Chattahoochee above the railroad bridge, we were better placed to cover our railroad and depots than below, though a movement across the river below the railroad, to the south of Atlanta, might have been more decisive. But we were already so far from home, and would be compelled to accept battle whenever offered, with the Chattahoochee to our rear, that it became imperative for me to take all prudential measures the case admitted of, and I therefore determined to pass the river above the railroad-bridge-McPherson on the left, Schofield in the centre, and Thomas on the right. On the 13th I reported to General Halleck as follows:
“All is well. I have now accumulated stores at Allatoona and Marietta, both fortified and garrisoned points. Have also three places at which to cross the Chattahoochee in our possession, and only await General Stoneman’s return from a trip down the river, to cross the army in force and move on Atlanta.
“Stoneman is now out two days, and had orders to be back on the fourth or fifth day at furthest.”
(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.
(6) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(8) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).
(10) The Siege of Charleston, “The State.” (South Carolina)
(12) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.
(14) The Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion…, Richard Miller Devens (1866).
(16) The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War. James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., 1995.
(17) A. Lincoln, A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009)
(18) Confederate Strategy, Fort Tyler Association.
(19) The Sword of Lincoln, the Army of the Potomac. Jeffrey Wert (2005)
(20) Black Artillerymen from the Civil War through World War I (PDF), Roger D. Cunningham.
(21) The Atlanta Campaign. New Georgia Encyclopedia.
(22) Early’s Raid on Washington/Operations Against the B&O Railroad, Wikipedia.
(23) Siege of Petersburg, Wikipedia.
(26) Lee’s Bold Plan for Point Lookout, Jack E. Schairer (2008)
(27) Chattahoochee Creek Battle to Jonesboro. Tenth Kentucky Volunteer
Categories: American Civil War