Here is a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week. US General Sherman occupies Atlanta, but CS President Jefferson Davis, General John Bell Hood, and General Nathan Bedford Forrest are not about to let him take his next planned step – a march to the sea, capturing the city of Savannah, Georgia – without a fight. As Sherman noted (15):
About this time we detected signs of activity on the part of the enemy. On the 21st Hood shifted his army across from the Mason road, at Lovejoy’s, to the West Point road, at Palmetto Station, and his cavalry appeared on the west side of the Chattahoochee, toward Powder Springs; thus, as it were, stepping aside, and opening wide the door for us to enter Central Georgia. I inferred, however, that his real purpose was to assume the offensive against our railroads, and on the 24th a heavy force of cavalry from Mississippi, under General Forrest, made its appearance at Athena, Alabama, and captured its garrison.
General Newton’s division (of the Fourth Corps), and Corse’s (of the Seventeenth), were sent back by rail, the former to Chattanooga, and the latter to Rome.
Also, reportedly, the scene of this week’s battle at Sulphur Creek Trestle, as well as nearby Swan Creek, and Owl Creek up in Tennessee, provided the setting for Ambrose Bierce’s emotionally powerful “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”
Battles: Shenandoah operations: The battle of Fisher’s Hill ends.
Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. CS General Roddey and his men join General Nathan Bedford Forrest at Shoal Creek near Florence, Alabama. The combined Confederate forces now head out for the Federal camp near Athens, Alabama. (3)
Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. Forrest’s men arrive at Athens around sunset and catch the Federals by surprise, per Jordan and Pryor (3). Per source 29, US troops catch the Confederates destroying a trestle (on the Nashville and Decatur line, per Jordan and Pryor) five miles south of Athens. Forrest and his men move toward Athens, gaining control of the town in the evening and thus forcing the Federals into Fort Henderson. Per sources of the 106th, 110th, and 111th US Colored Infantry and 2nd and 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, it’s a hard fight.
Other: At Macon, Georgia, President Davis gives what General Sherman terms “a very significant speech,” saying:
What, though misfortune has befallen our arms from Decatur to Jonesboro’, our cause is not lost. Sherman cannot keep up his long line of communication, and retreat sooner or later, he must. And when that day comes, the fate that befel the army of the French Empire and its retreat from Moscow will be reacted. Our cavalry and our people will harass and destroy his army as did the Cossacks that of Napoleon, and the Yankee General, like him will escape with only a body guard.
Battles: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. At Athens, Forrest launches an artillery barrage against the US troops in Fort Henderson, who surrender at around noon. Later more Union troops arrive. After a fight, they also surrender. Forrest moves north along the railroad, intending to destroying a vital trestle at Sulphur Creek that is heavily guarded. (29)
Battles: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. The battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle.
Military events: General Sherman to General Halleck (who is in Washington) (15):
Hood seems to be moving, as it were, to the Alabama line, leaving open the road to Mason, as also to Augusta; but his cavalry is busy on all our roads. A force, number estimated as high as eight thousand, are reported to have captured Athena, Alabama; and a regiment of three hundred and fifty men sent to its relief. I have sent Newton’s division up to Chattanooga in cars, and will send another division to Rome. If I were sure that Savannah would soon be in our possession, I should be tempted to march for Milledgeville and Augusta; but I must first secure what I have. Jeff. Davis is at Macon.
Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. Forrest sends General Buford to destroy the bridge at Elk River, six or seven miles away, where Federals reportedly are evacuating. Forrest heads toward Pulaski. (3)
Georgia operations: President Davis and General Hood confer at Palmetto, Georgia, around this time. They decide that Hood will move toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, in what will be called the Franklin-Nashville Campaign, threatening Sherman’s communication lines and drawing him onto ground that’s more favorable to Confederate troops. (30)
Virginia operations: “Richmond, Virginia, lies on the James River. This is a wide waterway, easily navigated in most seasons–a virtual highway to the heart of the Confederate government. This point did not escape the Union military, and several attempts to use the river for attack had reached at least the planning stage. This point was well known to the Confederates as well though, and they had taken the precaution of fortifying a number of bluffs to prevent such a naval assault. Today began an effort to bypass these defenses. Union military–primarily black refugees and freed slaves known as “contraband” making up the majority of the workforce–started work on a canal. The Confederates were sufficiently worried about this to consider using gunboats to drive off the canal diggers.” (7, including quote)
Grant to Sherman (15):
CITY POINT, VIRGINIA,September 26,1864-10 a.m.
Major-General SHERMAN, Atlanta It will be better to drive Forrest out of Middle Tennessee as a first step, and do any thing else you may feel your force sufficient for. When a movement is made on any part of the sea-coast, I will advise you. If Hood goes to the Alabama line, will it not be impossible for him to subsist his army? U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
Sherman to Grant:
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI IN THE FIELD, ATLANTA, GEORGIA, September 26, 1864.
GENERAL: I have your dispatch of today. I have already sent one division (Newton’s) to Chattanooga, and another (Corse’s) to Rome.
Our armies are much reduced, and if I send back any more, I will not be able to threaten Georgia much. There are men enough to the rear to whip Forrest, but they are necessarily scattered to defend the roads.
Can you expedite the sending to Nashville of the recruits that are in Indiana and Ohio? They could occupy the forts.
Hood is now on the West Point road, twenty-four miles south of this, and draws his supplies by that road. Jefferson Davis is there to-day, and superhuman efforts will be made to break my road.
Forrest is now lieutenant-general, and commands all the enemy’s cavalry.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General.
Battles: Price’s Missouri Expedition: The Battle of Fort Davidson.
Missouri operations: The Centralia Massacre and Battle.
Florida operations: The Battle of Marianna.
Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. Skirmish at Richland Creek near Pulaski, Tennessee. Outnumbered, per Jordan and Pryor (3), Forrest:
made a menace of an attack upon the southern and eastern faces ; pushing forward a strong skirmish line, he pressed it slowly but steadily up to within 400 yards of the Federal intrench- ments by nightfall in that quarter.” And after dark, a broad, long belt of camp-fires, by his orders, blazed on a ridge about a mile and a half from the threatened part of the Federal works. Maintaining his pickets close up to the enemy, and renewing the camp-fires about nine o’clock, the Confederates were quietly formed, and at ten o’clock, drew off by the road to the eastward, in the direction of Fayetteville, with the purpose of striking the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad at, and in the vicinity of, Tullahoma. That railroad was the main channel of supply and recruitment for Sherman’s army, then at Atlanta, Georgia, and Forrest’s object was to destroy as much of the track and as many of the bridges upon it as possible. The rain, however, began to pour down, and the night became soon so dark that the ordnance train could not be forced along over the miry, rugged roads of the country, and the command was halted for the night, after a short march of six or seven miles.
Battles: Virginia operations: Siege of Peterburg. The Fort Harrison, Peebles Farm and Darbytown Road offensive begins.
Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. Despite adverse weather and rugged topography, Forrest resumes his march toward the Nashville and Chattanooga line, camping five miles north of Fayetteville that evening. (3)
(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) Early’s Raid on Washington/Operations Against the B&O Railroad, Wikipedia.
(22) Siege of Petersburg, Wikipedia.
(24) James F. Epperson’s Siege of Petersburg site.
(25) Lee’s Bold Plan for Point Lookout, Jack E. Schairer (2008)
(26) Chattahoochee Creek Battle to Jonesboro. Tenth Kentucky Volunteer
(27) Michael W. Kauffman. American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Random House. New York. 2004.
(28) Price’s Missouri Raid. The Civil War in Missouri
(29) Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle. Wikipedia
(30) The Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Wikipedia
(31) Timeline 1864 (PDF). State of Tennessee
Categories: American Civil War