The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – November 3-9, 1864


Whoever wore this ribbon in 1864 was very happy at this week's election results.  (Library of Congress)

Whoever wore this ribbon in 1864 was very happy at this week’s election results. (Library of Congress)

Here’s a look back at events in the Civil War 150 years ago.

General Grant will open secret talks this week with a Confederate agent concerning CSA prisoners held in the North.

I wonder just how widespread talk was about prisoner releases and exchanges around this time in 1864. Certainly John Wilkes Booth, on his way back to Washington DC from Canada, was promoting his conspiracy, per source 27, as a kidnapping of the US president in exchange for Confederate prisoners.

One wonders what Booth would have done if McClellan had won this week’s election…

In Tennessee, Confederate cavalry commander General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s brief reign as an admiral on the Big Sandy River comes to an end this week. He wreaks terrible destruction on a US supply depot but then must face another opponent – wet and cold weather that has made the Tennessee River flood and has turned roads into almost impenetrable mud.

And in Georgia, General Sherman is getting ready to march to the sea by way of Savannah (15):

Our railroads and telegraph had been repaired, and I deliberately prepared for the march to Savannah, distant three hundred miles from Atlanta. All the sick and wounded men had been sent back by rail to Chattanooga; all our wagon-trains had been carefully overhauled and loaded, so as to be ready to start on an hour’s notice, and there was no serious enemy in our front.

November 3

Military events: Forrest’s campaign to the Kentucky border: Forrest makes a reconnaissance of the Federal depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee. He identifies good positions and deploys his artillery. Meanwhile, on the Big Sandy, five US gunboats show up and (3)…

For a time the Undine took part in the conflict, and also two of the gunboats from Johnsonville; but the former having been struck as many as three times, and being within close range of the gunboats, both from above and below, her crew, far better accustomed to the headlong charge and unhampered warfare of the trooper or dismounted rifle man, than to be cooped up in the narrow gun-room of a ship-of-war, became demoralized, and turning the bow of their vessel hurriedly to the bank, set her on fire, and made off for their horses as fast as they could scamper, fonder of the trooper’s saddle than ever before. And thus terminated the short lived operations of Forrest’s Cavalry afloat.

November 4

Battles: Forrest’s campaign to the Kentucky border: The battle of Johnsonville.

Of note, that exchange of gunfire the following day was a lot uglier than this video shows.

November 5

Military events: Great Lakes naval operations: “The Confederate Naval assault on the Great Lakes entered its second phase today. The primary agent of this attack force was one John Y. Beall, who held the rating of Master in the Confederate States Navy. Beall had participated in a plot back in September to take over the USS Michigan, the gunboat in charge of guarding the prisoner-of-war camp on Lake Erie. That plot had fallen apart when some of the conspirators were arrested, but Beall was back for another round. This time he and a Southern sympathizer, Dr. James Bates, bought a steamer in Canada and tried to devise ways to use it to take over the ‘Michigan’ again, with the intention of using the ship’s guns to shell lakeside cities. Once again the Union sentries were alert, and they never got close enough to the ‘Michigan’ to set the plan in motion. Eventually, out of money, they had to take their proposed attack ship back to Canada and sell it to pay off their creditors.” (7, including quote)

Members of the 2nd US Colored Light Artillery at the Johnsonville Depot, one month after Forrest's attack.  (Library of Congress)

Members of, possibly, Meig’s Battery, 2nd US Colored Light Artillery, on duty at the Johnsonville Depot, one month after Forrest’s attack. (Library of Congress)

Tennessee operations: Forrest’s campaign to the Kentucky border: Before leaving to rendezvous with CS General Hood, Forrest returns to the river opposite Johnsonville. Jordan & Pryor’s description (3) of what happened next is extremely offensive, but such racist characterization needs also to be remembered during this sesquicentennial, and so does the courage of those USCT troops. It shows through this blindly malevolent piece of text like sunshine appearing from behind a stormy cloud:

Riding back to the river early on the morning of the 5th, the Confederate General had the satisfaction to see that naught remained opposite of the opulent depot of yesterday but the isolated redoubt, gloomily surmounting and guarding with its wide-mouthed guns broad heaps of ashes and charred, smoking debris. Nothing was left unconsumed ; neither gunboats, transport, or barge had escaped; the railroad depot, filled with supplies, and the warehouses and other buildings of the depot had ceased to be, as well as the large piles of stores that, on noon of the day before, had covered several acres of the surrounding slope.

Briggs’s guns were now ordered to be withdrawn; but as this was being done, a regiment of negroes [sic], emerging from their covert, displayed themselves upon the opposite bank in amusing, irate antics. Throwing off their coats, and shaking their clenched fists at the hated Confederates who had wrought the desolation around them, they hurled across the stream upon the morning air their whole arsenal of explosive, offensive epithets, oaths, and maledictions. Thereupon the section was halted and turned upon the absurdly frantic negroes, while Rucker’s veterans, bringing their far-reaching rifles down upon them, one volley and a salvo speedily dispersed the howling, capering crowd, who scampered away in the wildest confusion; but a number were left dead or wounded upon the river-bank. This drew a few shell [sic] from the redoubt, but the Confederates moving off unharmed, rejoined their comrades.

So much for Abe Lincoln’s notion that the sight of armed African American soldiers would break the Confederacy’s will.

November 6

Military events: Tennessee operations: Despite bad weather conditions, Forrest reaches Perryville and prepares to cross the Tennessee River, which is flooding. (3) Sherman to Grant (8):

That devil Forrest was down about Johnsonville, making havoc among gunboats and transports.

Other: “Ulysses S. Grant opened correspondence with C.S.A. Agent of Exchange Robert Ould about a plan to exchange C.S.A. cotton for goods to provide relief for prisoners held in the North.” (6, including quote)

Ould only agreed to negotiations after Grant promised no more POWs would be forced to have their picture taken with George Custer, USA. [citation needed]

Ould only agreed to negotiations after Grant promised no more POWs would be forced to have their picture taken with George Custer, USA. [citation needed]

November 7

Military events: Tennessee operations: Forrest’s force begins to cross the river, which has risen two feet in 24 hours, but runs into difficulties. (3)

Georgia operations: Grant to Sherman (15):

CITY POINT, VIRGINIA, November 7, 1864-10.30 P.M.
Major-General SHERMAN:

Your dispatch of this evening received. I see no present reason for changing your plan. Should any arise, you will see it, or if I do I will inform you. I think everything here is favorable now. Great good fortune attend you! I believe you will be eminently successful, and, at worst, can only make a march less fruitful of results than hoped for.

Other: The last session of the Second Confederate Congress convenes. (6) In his message to Congress, CS President Davis proposes “a radical modification in the theory of the law” regarding employment of slaves in the army or in other government service, saying:

The slave, however, bears another relation to the State – that of a person…Should he be retained in servitude, or should his emancipation be held out to him as a reward for faithful service, or should it be granted at once on the promise of such service…?

November 8

Military events: Tennessee operations: Forrest abandons the attempt to cross the Tennessee at Perryville and heads for Florence, Alabama, sending General Rucker to meet Hood at Mount Pleasant. General Chalmers is ordered to go to Iuka, Mississippi, by road. These roads are so bad that one artillery battery spends the entire day traveling 2-1/2 miles. (3)

Other: Abraham Lincoln is reelected. His new vice-president is Andrew Johnson, former military governor of Tennessee.

Accompanying this illustration in "Harper's Weekly," October 1864 were the Union lyrics to George Frederick Root's "Rally Around the Flag."

Accompanying this illustration in “Harper’s Weekly,” October 1864 was an election version of George Frederick Root’s “Rally Around the Flag.”




(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.

Categories: American Civil War

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