Here’s a look back at events in the Civil War 150th years ago this week. There will be a lot going on in many theaters.
In one of the 1864 battle zones that most of the general public overlooks, US General A. J. Smith is going to make another try at CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest, this time not allowing himself to be drawn beyond his supply line. Smith plans to rebuild the railroad from Memphis, Tennessee, to Holly Springs, Mississippi, where he will engage Forrest and move the US line forward into the state. (8)
Battles: Virginia operations, Siege of Petersburg: The first battle of Deep Bottom ends. Satisfied that Lee has been sufficiently distracted, Grant sets the date for the mine explosion and assault for the 30th. (23)
Georgia operations, Atlanta campaign: Battle of Ezra Church/Hood’s Third Sortie Per General Sherman (15):
Personally on the morning of the 28th I followed the movement, and rode to the extreme right, where we could hear some skirmishing and an occasional cannon-shot. As we approached the ground held by the Fifteenth Corps, a cannon-ball passed over my shoulder and killed the horse of an orderly behind; and seeing that this gun enfiladed the road by which we were riding, we turned out of it and rode down into a valley, where we left our horses and walked up to the hill held by Morgan L. Smith’s division of the Fifteenth Corps. Near a house I met Generals Howard and Logan, who explained that there was an intrenched battery to their front, with the appearance of a strong infantry support. I then walked up to the ridge, where I found General Morgan L. Smith. His men were deployed and engaged in rolling logs and fence-rails, preparing a hasty cover. From this ridge we could overlook the open fields near a meeting-house known as “Ezra Church,” close by the Poor-House. We could see the fresh earth of a parapet covering some guns (that fired an occasional shot), and there was also an appearance of activity beyond. General Smith was in the act of sending forward a regiment from, his right flank to feel the position of the enemy, when I explained to him and to Generals Logan and Howard that they must look out for General Jeff. C. Davis’s division, which was coming up from the direction of Turner’s Ferry.
As the skirmish-fire warmed up along the front of Blair’s corps, as well as along the Fifteenth Corps (Logan’s), I became convinced that Hood designed to attack this right flank, to prevent, if possible, the extension of our line in that direction. I regained my horse, and rode rapidly back to see that Davis’s division had been dispatched as ordered. I found General Davis in person, who was unwell, and had sent his division that morning early, under the command of his senior brigadier, Morgan; but, as I attached great importance to the movement, he mounted his horse, and rode away to overtake and to hurry forward the movement, so as to come up on the left rear of the enemy, during the expected battle.
By this time the sound of cannon and musketry denoted a severe battle as in progress, which began seriously at 11.30 a.m., and ended substantially by 4 p.m. It was a fierce attack by the enemy on our extreme right flank, well posted and partially covered. The most authentic account of the battle is given by General Logan, who commanded the Fifteenth Corps, in his official report to the Adjutant-General of the Army of the Tennessee, thus:
HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS
BEFORE ATLANTA, GEORGIA, July 29, 1864
Lieutenant-Colonel WILLIAM T. CLARK, Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Tennessee, present.
COLONEL: I have the honor to report that, in pursuance of orders, I moved my command into position on the right of the Seventeenth Corps, which was the extreme right of the army in the field, during the night of the 27th and morning of the 28th; and, while advancing in line of battle to a more favorable position, we were met by the rebel infantry of Hardee’s and Lee’s corps, who made a determined and desperate attack on us at 11 A.M. of the 28th (yesterday).
My lines were only protected by logs and rails, hastily thrown up in front of them.
The first onset was received and checked, and the battle commenced and lasted until about three o’clock in the evening. During that time six successive charges were made, which were six times gallantly repulsed, each time with fearful loss to the enemy.
Later in the evening my lines were several times assaulted vigorously, but each time with like result. The worst of the fighting occurred on General Harrow’s and Morgan L. Smith’s fronts, which formed the centre and right of the corps. The troops could not have displayed greater courage, nor greater determination not to give ground; had they shown less, they would have been driven from their position.
Brigadier-Generals C. R. Woods, Harrow, and Morgan L. Smith, division commanders, are entitled to equal credit for gallant conduct and skill in repelling the assault. My thanks are due to Major-Generals Blair and Dodge for sending me reinforcements at a time when they were much needed. My losses were fifty killed, four hundred and forty-nine wounded, and seventy-three missing: aggregate, five hundred and seventy-two.
The division of General Harrow captured five battle-flags. There were about fifteen hundred or two thousand muskets left on the ground. One hundred and six prisoners were captured, exclusive of seventy-three wounded, who were sent to our hospital, and are being cared for by our surgeons. Five hundred and sixty-five rebels have up to this time been buried, and about two hundred are supposed to be yet unburied. A large number of their wounded were undoubtedly carried away in the night, as the enemy did not withdraw till near daylight. The enemy’s loss could not have been less than six or seven thousand men. A more detailed report will hereafter be made.
I am, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
JOHN A. LOGAN,
Major-General, commanding Fifteenth Army Corps.
General Howard, in transmitting this report, added:
I wish to express my high gratification with the conduct of the troops engaged. I never saw better conduct in battle. General Logan, though ill and much worn out, was indefatigable, and the success of the day is as much attributable to him as to any one man.
This was, of coarse, the first fight in which General Howard had commanded the Army of the Tennessee, and he evidently aimed to reconcile General Logan in his disappointment, and to gain the heart of his army, to which he was a stranger. He very properly left General Logan to fight his own corps, but exposed himself freely; and, after the firing had ceased, in the afternoon he walked the lines; the men, as reported to me, gathered about him in the most affectionate way, and he at once gained their respect and confidence. To this fact I at the time attached much importance, for it put me at ease as to the future conduct of that most important army.
At no instant of time did I feel the least uneasiness about the result on the 28th, but wanted to reap fuller results, hoping that Davis’s division would come up at the instant of defeat, and catch the enemy in flank; but the woods were dense, the roads obscure, and as usual this division got on the wrong road, and did not come into position until about dark. In like manner, I thought that Hood had greatly weakened his main lines inside of Atlanta, and accordingly sent repeated orders to Schofield and Thomas to make an attempt to break in; but both reported that they found the parapets very strong and full manned.
Our men were unusually encouraged by this day’s work, for they realized that we could compel Hood to come out from behind his fortified lines to attack us at a disadvantage.
Military events: Mississippi/Alabama operations: Of CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s force, now temporarily under General Chalmers while Forrest recovers from a foot wound and a bad case of boils, Colonel Roddey’s cavalry division is sent to northern Alabama to meet “a hostile expedition menacing the interior of Alabama” (not sure what US force this was); Colonel Mabry’s brigade is sent to Canton, Mississippi, to help repel a US force (again, ?); and “the other portions of the command [are] distributed with a view toward recuperation.” (3, including quote)
Virginia operations, Siege of Petersburg: US General Meade orders General Burnside to send in his white divisions first, not the black troops (USCTs) who have been drilling for this, when the mine is set off on July 30th. General Grant will later defend this move, saying that if the planned assault failed, he and Meade would have been accused of “shoving these people ahead to get killed because we did not care anything about them.” Burnside, apparently demoralized, loses control of the operation, and after drawing straws, an alcoholic is put in command for the assault. (2, 19)
Military events: Georgia operations, Atlanta campaign: General Sherman again (15):
The next morning the Fifteenth Corps wheeled forward to the left over the battle-field of the day before, and Davis’s division still farther prolonged the line, which reached nearly to the ever-to-be-remembered “Sandtown road.”
Then, by further thinning out Thomas’s line, which was well entrenched, I drew another division of Palmer’s corps (Baird’s) around to the right, to further strengthen that flank. I was impatient to hear from the cavalry raid, then four days out, and was watching for its effect, ready to make a bold push for the possession of East Point.
Shenandoah Valley operations: Early’s Raid: “First it was Antietam. The next year it was Gettysburg. The people of southern Maryland and Pennsylvania were learning to get very nervous as midsummer approached. Their misgivings were well-founded as Jubal Early and company crossed the Potomac today, continuing the excursion which had briefly threatened the very gates of Washington itself. Union cavalry was pursuing, and there was little opportunity for Early to commit much outrage. Folks were fearful nonetheless and those who could afford to, sought to be elsewhere for awhile.” (7, including quote)
Grant, who was not given to overstatement, later called this battle “the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war.”
Burnside, who had left the troops in for hours after Grant had said to withdraw them, would never be assigned another command. (19, 23)
At least the Union mine engineering was well done. Here is what the mine tunnel looks like today:
Shenandoah Vally operations, Early’s Raid: General Early burns Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
Military events: Shenandoah Valley operations, Early’s raid: US President Lincoln and General Grant meet at Fortress Monroe to discuss the situation in the Shenandoah Valley and General Jubal Early. They agree to consolidate the four departments around Washington into one and to increase the US military presence in it, though there are disagreements about who will command that. (4, 19)
Battles: Shenandoah Valley operations, Early’s raid: Battle of Folck’s Mill.
Military events: Mississippi operations: General Forrest returns to Okolona but will not resume command for several days. In the meantime, scouts are bringing word of Federal troops gathering and making moves out of Memphis. (3)
CS General Chalmers to Colonel George Deas, Chief of Staff, Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana (3):
Headquarters Forrest’s Cavalry, Okolona, Mississippi, August 1, 1864.
Colonel: Our scouts report that the enemy is making preparations to move from Memphis, Vicksburg, and North- Alabama, at the same time, and, if successful, to concentrate at Selma.
There are now fourteen thousand infantry and cavalry assembled at Lagrange, and they are reported repairing the Mississippi Central Railroad. Three regiments of infantry and two of cavalry are reported moving from Decatur to Moulton, Alabama. The communication with Little Rock by White River is open, and the troops from Smith, reported as going up that river, have returned to Memphis. Some troops, number unknown, have been sent down the river toward Vicksburg. If the enemy moves in three columns, as expected, it will be impossible for us to meet him; and, after consultation, Major-General Forrest and I have concluded to recommend a consolidation of troops in this department to meet one column.
The northern column will be the largest; if we can defeat it, the others may be easily overtaken, and crushed. We have accumulated supplies at Grenada and Oxford, so that cavalry from Jackson can be well subsisted, should you think it advisable to move them there. We can subsist our force better upon this line than any other, and it is valuable to the Confederacy, therefore, more important to be defended. The column from Vicksburg could do but little damage before reaching Demopolis; and if we should defeat the enemy here, could, by means of the railroad, intercept him at Meridian, on that line.
The force moving from Decatur is, as yet, reported small, and ought to be checked by the reserves and other troops in Alabama. We beg leave, therefore, to suggest, for the consideration of the Major-General commanding the department, that the forces from below be concentrated with this command on this northern line. But should he disapprove, we still recommend a concentration of our whole force to meet one of the columns. We are preparing fortifications here, which, if manned by the whole force we had here before, may enable us to defeat the enemy.
Our effective force is 5,357, but we are very much crippled in officers. Both of my brigade commanders are wounded, also a brigade commander of General Buford’s Division, and most of the field officers of the command were either killed or wounded in the late engagement.
Georgia operations, Atlanta campaign: General Sherman says (15):
The month of August opened hot and sultry, but our position before Atlanta was healthy, with ample supply of wood, water, and provisions. The troops had become habituated to the slow and steady progress of the siege; the skirmish-lines were held close up to the enemy, were covered by rifle-trenches or logs, and kept up a continuous clatter of musketry. The mainlines were held farther back, adapted to the shape of the ground, with muskets loaded and stacked for instant use. The field-batteries were in select positions, covered by handsome parapets, and occasional shots from them gave life and animation to the scene. The men loitered about the trenches carelessly, or busied themselves in constructing ingenious huts out of the abundant timber, and seemed as snug, comfortable, and happy, as though they were at home. General Schofield was still on the extreme left, Thomas in the centre, and Howard on the right. Two divisions of the Fourteenth Corps (Baird’s and Jeff. C. Davis’s) were detached to the right rear, and held in reserve.
I thus awaited the effect of the cavalry movement against the railroad about Jonesboro, and had heard from General Garrard that Stoneman had gone on to Mason; during that day (August 1st) Colonel Brownlow, of a Tennessee cavalry regiment, came in to Marietta from General McCook, and reported that McCook’s whole division had been overwhelmed, defeated, and captured at Newnan. Of course, I was disturbed by this wild report, though I discredited it, but made all possible preparations to strengthen our guards along the railroad to the rear, on the theory that the force of cavalry which had defeated McCook would at once be on the railroad about Marietta. At the same time Garrard was ordered to occupy the trenches on our left, while Schofield’s whole army moved to the extreme right, and extended the line toward East Point. Thomas was also ordered still further to thin out his lines, so as to set free the other division (Johnson’s) of the Fourteenth Corps (Palmer’s), which was moved to the extreme right rear, and held in reserve ready to make a bold push from that flank to secure a footing on the Mason Railroad at or below East Point.
These changes were effected during the 2d and 3d days of August…
Battles: Alabama operations: Per the National Park Service, a combined Union naval force initiates operations to shut down blockade runners in Mobile Bay.
Georgia operations, Atlanta campaign, McCook’s raid: “Sherman’s army is doomed,” writes a Confederate war clerk. (12) On August 2 and 3, per General Sherman (15)
General McCook came in and reported the actual results of his cavalry expedition. He had crossed the Chattahoochee River below Campbellton, by his pontoon-bridge; had then marched rapidly across to the Mason Railroad at Lovejoy’s Station, where he had reason to expect General Stoneman; but, not hearing of him, he set to work, tore up two miles of track, burned two trains of cars, and cut away five miles of telegraph-wire. He also found the wagon-train belonging to the rebel army in Atlanta, burned five hundred wagons, killed eight hundred mules; and captured seventy-two officers and three hundred and fifty men. Finding his progress eastward, toward McDonough, barred by a superior force, he turned back to Newnan, where he found himself completely surrounded by infantry and cavalry. He had to drop his prisoners and fight his way out, losing about six hundred men in killed and captured, and then returned with the remainder to his position at Turner’s Ferry. This was bad enough, but not so bad as had been reported by Colonel Brownlow.
Military events: Virginia operations, Siege of Petersburg: General Grant requests a court of inquiry after the Battle of the Crater. (6)
Mississippi operations: Chalmers orders McCulloch’s Brigade from Tupelo to Oxford. (29)
Battles: Alabama operations, Mobile Bay operations continue. Around this time some Union forces land on Dauphin Island and lay siege to Fort Gaines, per the NPS.
Military events: Mississippi operations: General Forrest resumes command. Chalmers proceeds to Tupelo with his escort and Thrall’s Battery, meet McCulloch’s Brigade and head to Oxford. (3, 29)
Shenandoah Valley operations, Early’s Raid: US General Phil Sheridan is appointed to command cavalry forces in the new US military department.
Lincoln to Grant (4):
I have seen your despatch in which you say “I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instructions to put himself South of the enemy, and follow him to the death. Wherever the enemy goes, let our troops go also.” This, I think, is exactly right, as to how our forces should move. But please look over the despatches you may have receved from here, even since you made that order, and discover, if you can, that there is any idea in the head of any one here, of “putting our army South of the enemy” or of following him to the death” in any direction. I repeat to you it will neither be done nor attempted unless you watch it every day, and hour, and force it.
General Lee sees a chance here to recover the strategic initiative and sends an infantry and cavalry division to General Early. Grant decides to take advantage of Lee’s loss of manpower by unleashing a series of raids on both sides of the James River. (19)
This song was the North’s #1 hit for 1864 (2):
(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.
(25) James F. Epperson’s Siege of Petersburg site.
(26) Lee’s Bold Plan for Point Lookout, Jack E. Schairer (2008)
(27) Chattahoochee Creek Battle to Jonesboro. Tenth Kentucky Volunteer
(29) The Capture of Memphis. Southern Historical Society.
(31) Michael W. Kauffman. American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Random House. New York. 2004.
Categories: American Civil War