The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – September 29 to October 5, 1864

Here is a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week.

As we will see below, early October 1864 saw an interesting exchange of correspondence between Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. Nominally about prisoner exchanges, it showed that the basic disagreement about slavery underlying this civil war had not weakened at all, not even after three and a half years of war and hundreds of thousands of deaths.

In those brief words written by a couple of battle-hardened American generals, we see that, even in the last quarter of 1864, the only things achieved among influential white Americans by the expenditure of so much blood, grief, and powder over the last three years was a hardening of their original positions.

And yet, thanks to the war and the political changes it expedited, some black Americans, particularly the young, now had at least nominal access to American society. All African Americans, free or in slavery, were watching events closely (31):

When war was begun between the North and the South, every slave on our plantation felt and knew that, though other issues were discussed, the primal one was that of slavery. Even the most ignorant members of my race on the remote plantations felt in their hearts, with a certainty that admitted of no doubt, that the freedom of the slaves would be the one great result of the war, if the Northern armies conquered. Every success of the Federal armies and every defeat of the Confederate forces was watched with the keenest and most intense interest. Often the slaves got knowledge of the results of great battles before the white people received it. This news was usually gotten from the coloured man who was sent to the post-office for the mail. In our case the post-office was about three miles from the plantation and the mail came once or twice a week. The man who was sent to the office would linger about the place long enough to get the drift of the conversation from the group of white people who naturally congregated there, after receiving their mail, to discuss the latest news. The mail-carrier on his way back to our master’s house would as naturally retail the news that he had secured among the slaves, and in this way they often heard of important events before the white people at the “big house,” as the master’s house was called.

General Grant, pictured here back in May, was at almost all of these battles.  (Library of Congress)

General Grant, pictured here bending over a bench in May 1864, was personally present (6) at almost all of the battles this week near Petersburg-Richmond. (Image: Library of Congress)

September 29

Battles: Virginia operations: Siege of Petersburg. The Fort Harrison, Peebles Farm and Darbytown Road offensive is ongoing all this week, with fighting at Wyatt’s, Peebles, and Pegram’s farms; Chappell House; Poplar Spring Church; Vaughan Road; Fort Harrison; and Chaffin’s farm/New Market Heights.

Military events: Tennessee operations: The Franklin-Nashville Campaign begins as CS General John Bell Hoods leaves Palmetto, Georgia, with 40,000 men to threaten Sherman’s supply line along the Western and Atlantic Railroad. Sherman sends General George Thomas to Nashville to raise all the troops in the state. (29)

Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest presses on toward the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. About 15 miles from Tullahoma, Tennessee, scouts bring news of two Federal forces on their way to intercept him at Tullahoma. Per Jordan and Pryor (3):

Thus anticipated, the Confederate Commander found it expedient to make a radical change in his plan of operations. His horses, now in great part unshod, were foot-sore, as well as greatly fatigued by excessive, prolonged hard service. It was still raining, moreover, and the Tennessee river was rising rapidly, while there were no means of ferriage available, except a few old flats at or near Florence. And besides, the enemy in the country were greatly his superior in numbers, even in cavalry. The situation was extremely precarious, and one indeed that required a large measure of coolness and judgment for extrication. Forrest, therefore, resolved to subdivide his command.

CS General Buford is sent to seize Huntsville, Alabama, if practicable and then to proceed to Decatur. At the same time, Forrest will hit the railroad at Spring Hill. Per Jordan and Pryor (3):

He had also received information, through citizens, that a vast amount of army-stores had been collected at Johnsonville, on the Tennessee river, the terminus of the Nash ville and North- Western Railroad, destined and essential for the Federal forces at Chattanooga and Atlanta. This depot, and the bridges on the railroad leading to it, it was likewise his purpose to destroy, if the condition of his horses, on reaching Spring Hill, would warrant him in undertaking it.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest (Library of Congress)

General Nathan Bedford Forrest (Library of Congress)

October 1

Battles: Virginia operations: First Battle of Saltville begins.

Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. Forrest reaches Spring Hill. He seizes the telegraph office and intercepts several military messages, including news that US General Steedman is advancing on Huntsville, Alabama, with a strong force. Forrest sends off some spurious messages about his movements and then wrecks the telegraph and moves off toward Columbia, wreaking more damage along the rail line on the way. There are skirmishes at various places throughout the day. Four Union blockhouses and large truss bridges are destroyed. However, he rains have flooded the Tennessee River. Buford has been unable to take Huntsville or destroy the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and some 15,000 Union troops are in the field after the raiders. Forrest decides to try to meet up with Buford. (3)

Virginia operations, Siege of Petersburg: CS General Lee to US General Grant (31):

With a view of alleviating the sufferings of our soldiers, I have the honor to propose an exchange of the prisoners of war belonging to the armies operating in Virginia, man for man, or upon the basis established by the cartel.

Tennessee operations: Franklin-Nashville Campaign. US Generals Kirkpatrick and Garrard intercept General Hood’s cavalry, but Sherman is still not sure where Hood is. (29)

Mrs. Greenhow had done prison time in 1862 for espionage.  (Source)

Mrs. Greenhow had done prison time in 1862 for espionage. (Source)

Other: “Mrs. Rose O’Neal Greenhow is a relatively famous person of the War years, about whom relatively little is known. She was arrested on many occasions over the course of the war years, on a number of charges or none at all. The actual offense of which she was suspected was espionage, but to try a woman on a capital charge would have brought on an uproar. She was deported several times to the South, and had finally gone on a mission to Europe. She was returning today when her ship, the British blockade runner Condor, ran aground while being pursued by the USS Niphon outside New Inlet, N.C. Carrying papers and a reputed $2000 in gold in a bag around her neck, she demanded to be put ashore in a small boat. The boat capsized in the surf and, pulled under by the gold, Mrs. Greenhow was drowned.” (7, including quote)

October 2

Battles: Virginia operations: The First Battle of Saltville continues.

Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. US forces from Nashville are after Forrest. Buford is heading for Florence, Alabama, so Forrest crosses to the south bank of the Duck River and harasses Federals in and around Columbia while his foragers collect food. (3)

CS President Davis gives General P.G.T. Beauregard command of the Department of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi (5)

Virginia operations, Siege of Petersburg: Grant to Lee (31):

I could not of a right accept your proposition further than to exchange those prisoners captured within the last three days, and who have not yet been delivered to the commanding General of Prisoners. Among those lost by the armies operating against Richmond were a number of colored troops. Before further negotiations are had upon the subject, I would ask if you propose delivering these men the same as white soldiers.

October 3

Battles: Virginia operations: The First Battle of Saltville ends/Saltville Massacre.

Tennessee operations: Franklin-Nashville Campaign. CS General Alexander Stewart captures Big Shanty, along the W&A line. (29)

Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. Forrest begins to evacuate his forces from Middle Tennessee. (3)

Georgia operations: Sherman heads out after CS General John Bell Hood, bound for Marietta. (15)

Virginia operations, Siege of Petersburg: Lee to Grant (31):

In my proposition of the 1st inst., to exchange the prisoners of war belonging to the armies operating in Virginia, I intended to include all captured soldiers of the United States, of whatever nation and color, under my control. Deserters from our service and negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange, and were not included in my proposition. If there are any such among those stated by you to have been captured around Richmond, they can not be returned.

(On October 20th, Grant would reply: “I shall always regret the necessity of retaliating for wrong done our soldiers, but regard it my duty to protect all persons received into the army of the United States, regardless of color or nationality; when acknowledged soldiers of the Government are captured, they must be treated as prisoners of war, or such treatment as they receive inflicted upon an equal number of prisoners held by us.”)

Unidentified African American soldier.  (Library of Congress)

Unidentified African American soldier. (Library of Congress)

October 4

Battles: Tennessee operations: Franklin-Nashville Campaign. CS General Alexander Stewart captures Acworth along the W&A line. (5, 29)

October 5

Battles: Tennessee operations: Franklin-Nashville Campaign. The Battle of Allatoona Pass. “An evangelist, P. P. Bliss, on hearing the story of this battle wrote a hymn, ‘Hold the Fort, For We Are Coming’ which was popular for decades after the war.” (7, including quote)

Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest’s September raid. Buford is at Florence. Forrest camps about seven miles away. (3) Per Wyeth (8), Buford arranges ferry service and the day is spent crossing troops and equipment over the flooded Tennessee River.

Georgia operations: General Sherman reaches Kenesaw Mountain. He says later (15):

Reaching Kenesaw Mountain about 8 a.m. of October 5th (a beautiful day), I had a superb view of the vast panorama to the north and west. To the southwest, about Dallas, could be seen the smoke of camp-fires, indicating the presence of a large force of the enemy, and the whole line of railroad from Big Shanty up to Allatoona (full fifteen miles) was marked by the fires of the burning railroad. We could plainly see the smoke of battle about, Allatoona, and hear the faint reverberation of the cannon.

From Kenesaw I ordered the Twenty-third Corps (General Cox) to march due west on the Burnt Hickory road, and to burn houses or piles of brush as it progressed, to indicate the head of column, hoping to interpose this corps between Hood’s main army at Dallas and the detachment then assailing Allatoona. The rest of the army was directed straight for Allatoona, northwest, distant eighteen miles. The signal-officer on Kenesaw reported that since daylight he had failed to obtain any answer to his call for Allatoona; but, while I was with him, he caught a faint glimpse of the tell-tale flag through an embrasure, and after much time he made out these letters-” C.,” “R.,” “S.,” “E.,” “H.,” “E.,” “R.,” and translated the message—”Corse is here.” It was a source of great relief, for it gave me the first assurance that General Corse had received his orders, and that the place was adequately garrisoned.

I watched with painful suspense the indications of the battle raging there, and was dreadfully impatient at the slow progress of the relieving column, whose advance was marked by the smokes which were made according to orders, but about 2 p.m. I noticed with satisfaction that the smoke of battle about Allatoona grew less and less, and ceased altogether about 4 p.m. For a time I attributed this result to the effect of General Cog’s march, but later in the afternoon the signal-flag announced the welcome tidings that the attack had been fairly repulsed, but that General Corse was wounded. The next day my aide, Colonel Dayton, received this characteristic dispatch:

ALLATOONA, GEORGIA, October 6, 1884-2 P.M.
Captain L. M. DAYTON, Aide-de-Camp:
I am short a cheek-bone and an ear, but am able to whip all h—l yet! My losses are very heavy. A force moving from Stilesboro’ to Kingston gives me some anxiety. Tell me where Sherman is.
JOHN M. CORSE, Brigadier-General.

Inasmuch as the, enemy had retreated southwest, and would probably next appear at Rome, I answered General Corse with orders to get back to Rome with his troops as quickly as possible.



(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) This Week in the Civil War.

(10) The Siege of Charleston, “The State.” (South Carolina)

(11) CWSAC Battle Summaries

(12) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.

(13) A Brief Naval Chronology of the Civil War (1861-65).

(14) The Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion…, Richard Miller Devens (1866).

(15) Memoirs of W. T. Sherman

(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.

(23) Petersburg National Battlefield.

(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) The Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Wikipedia

(30) Timeline 1864 (PDF). State of Tennessee

(31) Up From Slavery. Booker T. Washington.

(31) Jefferson Davis. The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.

Categories: American Civil War

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