The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – November 17-23, 1864

"Bummers."  Source.

“Bummers.” Source.

Here is a look at events during the Civil War 150 years ago. Sherman had camped out on the first night of his March to the Sea, November 16-17, near Lithonia, Georgia, noting (15):

Stone Mountain, a mass of granite, was in plain view, cut out in clear outline against the blue sky; the whole horizon was lurid with the bonfires of rail-ties, and groups of men all night were carrying the heated rails to the nearest trees, and bending them around the trunks. Colonel Poe had provided tools for ripping up the rails and twisting them when hot; but the best and easiest way is the one I have described, of heating the middle of the iron-rails on bonfires made of the cross-ties, and then winding them around a telegraph-pole or the trunk of some convenient sapling. I attached much importance to this destruction of the railroad, gave it my own personal attention, and made reiterated orders to others on the subject.

From his memoirs, he spent this week mostly conversing with people, particularly African Americans, along the way and disapproving of the destruction and pillaging he had promised his superiors he would wreak in Georgia.

Anyway, with General Sherman now beyond communication until December, General Grant left field HQ at City Point, Virginia, to visit his family in New Jersey on the 17th. By week’s end he was in Washington, for General Hood was now on the move. (6)

As for John Wilkes Booth, he is back home in Washington but will soon travel to New York and then to Philadelphia for a quick visit with his sister before he heads back to New York next week to act with his two brothers, Junius Jr., and Edwin at the Winter Garden – the only time all three of the famous actors will ever appear onstage together. The play? Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (John Wilkes will play Mark Antony). (24)

General John Bell Hood (Wikipedia)

General John Bell Hood, CSA

I have better sources for General Hood’s movements, including a new source that lists Civil War battles in Alabama. This is nice, even though Hood moved into Tennessee, because a lot of these smaller skirmishes are rather vaguely mentioned, if at all, in my regular sources. Another new source fills in details of Hood’s advance this week.

Note that I am taking both these news sources at their word and haven’t verified them independently. With that caveat, this is really fascinating because most of the histories I have read focus on Sherman’s ongoing March to the Sea. However, if you read the Union dispatches (starting here) as Hood moves out on the 21st, with an eye to the action instead of foreknowledge of how it all eventually turned out, things are intense and the fog of war is thick (thanks in large part to CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest). US General Thomas, in Nashville, has no idea where Hood will strike. (30)

But at the beginning of the week, the weather was cold and rainy, and the roads were pure mud. CS General Hood’s Army of Tennessee, almost 30,000 men, was camped on both sides of the Tennessee River near Florence, Alabama. Forrest had sent his 3,000-man force’s extra baggage and artillery and its disabled horses to Vernon, Mississippi. He also sent sent Generals Chalmers and Buford to Florence, while he went by rail to Tuscumbia to confer with the Confederate army’s top officer, General Beauregard. Big plans were afoot to force Sherman to turn away from Savannah and back towards Hood.

I'm not sure why the "Harper's Weekly" cartoonist drew this African American with Native American garb.  (Library of Congress)

I’m not sure why the “Harper’s Weekly” cartoonist drew this African American with Native American garb. (Library of Congress)

November 17

Military events: Georgia operations/Sherman’s March to the Sea. Per General Sherman (15):

The next day we passed through the handsome town of Covington, the soldiers closing up their ranks, the color-bearers unfurling their flags, and the bands striking up patriotic airs. The white people came out of their houses to behold the sight, spite of their deep hatred of the invaders, and the negroes were simply frantic with joy. Whenever they heard my name, they clustered about my horse, shouted and prayed in their peculiar style, which had a natural eloquence that would have moved a stone. I have witnessed hundreds, if not thousands, of such scenes; and can now see a poor girl, in the very ecstasy of the Methodist “shout,” hugging the banner of one of the regiments, and jumping up to the “feet of Jesus.”

I remember, when riding around by a by-street in Covington, to avoid the crowd that followed the marching column, that some one brought me an invitation to dine with a sister of Sam. Anderson, who was a cadet at West Point with me; but the messenger reached me after we had passed the main part of the town. I asked to be excused, and rode on to a place designated for camp, at the crossing of the Ulcofauhachee River, about four miles to the east of the town. Here we made our bivouac, and I walked up to a plantation-house close by, where were assembled many negroes, among them an old, gray-haired man, of as fine a head as I ever saw. I asked him if he understood about the war and its progress. He said he did; that he had been looking for the “angel of the Lord” ever since he was knee-high, and, though we professed to be fighting for the Union, he supposed that slavery was the cause, and that our success was to be his freedom. I asked him if all the negro slaves comprehended this fact, and he said they surely did. I then explained to him that we wanted the slaves to remain where they were, and not to load us down with useless mouths, which would eat up the food needed for our fighting men; that our success was their assured freedom; that we could receive a few of their young, hearty men as pioneers; but that, if they followed us in swarms of old and young, feeble and helpless, it would simply load us down and cripple us in our great task. I think Major Henry Hitchcock was with me on that occasion, and made a note of the conversation, and I believe that old man spread this message to the slaves, which was carried from mouth to mouth, to the very end of our journey, and that it in part saved us from the great danger we incurred of swelling our numbers so that famine would have attended our progress. It was at this very plantation that a soldier passed me with a ham on his musket, a jug of sorghum-molasses under his arm, and a big piece of honey in his hand, from which he was eating, and, catching my eye, he remarked sotto voce and carelessly to a comrade, “Forage liberally on the country,” quoting from my general orders. On this occasion, as on many others that fell under my personal observation, I reproved the man, explained that foraging must be limited to the regular parties properly detailed, and that all provisions thus obtained must be delivered to the regular commissaries, to be fairly distributed to the men who kept their ranks.

Alabama/Tennessee operations: General Forrest is placed in command of General Hood’s cavalry. His orders are to prepare for field operations and a departure on the 21st. (3)

November 18

Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: CS General Buford arrives at Florence. (3)

General Edward Hatch.

General Edward Hatch, USA.

November 19

Battles: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Butler’s Creek/Shoal Creek. It’s a little uncertain what happened in this area today, other than a lot of fighting. Per source (3) A brigade of Confederate foragers under General Buford meets a brigade of US foragers near Butler’s Creek, and they begin skirmishing. The noise eventually attracts some of William Hicks Jackson’s men who join in. The US foragers are driven off across Shoal Creek.

One of the new sources (28) says this happened from November 17th through the 19th. It also mentions fighting around Shoal Creek on October 31st, November 5-9, and from the 16th to the 20th. It sounds like the Hood’s army and US forces in the area were in close proximity here, and the sporadic fighting only ended after Hood moved out for Franklin on the 21st.

However, per another new source (30), “[US General Edward] Hatch [US cavalry commander] finally struck back at Forrest’s command on the 19th of November in a battle on Butler Creek in Wayne County, Tennessee. The battle proved inconclusive and Hatch withdrew toward Lawrenceburg with Forrest in hot pursuit.”

General Frank Crawford Armstrong, CSA

General Frank Crawford Armstrong, CSA

And, per Wyeth, source (8):

…a foraging detachment of the Kentuckians [a force recently recruited to Forrest’s command] came in collision with a brigade of Union cavalry under Colonel Datus Coon, of Hatch’s division, which pounced upon the Confederates so vigorously that the latter gave way, abandoning to the Union troopers one or two wagons from General Buford’s headquarters train. By a rapid and successful movement on the part of General Frank C. Armstrong, of Jackson’s division, who was near enough to hear the fighting, and with characteristic alacrity marching towards it, the Federals were caught between Armstrong’s brigade and Buford’s men, who had rallied so promptly after the first flurry of surprise, and so roughly handled was the Federal brigade that it sought safety in flight…

Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: Forrest sends Generals Buford and Chalmers in the same direction as General William Hicks Jackson’s division, on the Lawrenceburg road some 10-15 miles from Florence. They are to go no further than Prewett’s Mill. Besides foraging, they are to send out scouts toward Pulaski, Tennessee, to see what the Federals are up to. Fighting breaks out when Buford’s foragers encounter US foragers at Butler’s Creek. (3)

November 20

Military events: Georgia operations/Sherman’s March to the Sea: Per General Sherman (15):

On the 20th of November I was still with the Fourteenth Corps, near Eatonton Factory, waiting to hear of the Twentieth Corps; and on the 21st we camped near the house of a man named Mann; the next day, about 4 p.m., General Davis had halted his head of column on a wooded ridge, overlooking an extensive slope of cultivated country, about ten miles short of Milledgeville, and was deploying his troops for camp when I got up. There was a high, raw wind blowing, and I asked him why he had chosen so cold and bleak a position. He explained that he had accomplished his full distance for the day, and had there an abundance of wood and water. He explained further that his advance-guard was a mile or so ahead; so I rode on, asking him to let his rear division, as it came up, move some distance ahead into the depression or valley beyond. Riding on some distance to the border of a plantation, I turned out of the main road into a cluster of wild-plum bushes, that broke the force of the cold November wind, dismounted, and instructed the staff to pick out the place for our camp.

The afternoon was unusually raw and cold. My orderly was at hand with his invariable saddle-bags, which contained a change of under-clothing, my maps, a flask of whiskey, and bunch of cigars. Taking a drink and lighting a cigar, I walked to a row of negro-huts close by, entered one and found a soldier or two warming themselves by a wood-fire. I took their place by the fire, intending to wait there till our wagons had got up, and a camp made for the night. I was talking to the old negro woman, when some one came and explained to me that, if I would come farther down the road, I could find a better place. So I started on foot, and found on the main road a good double-hewed-log house, in one room of which Colonel Poe, Dr. Moore, and others, had started a fire. I sent back orders to the “plum-bushes” to bring our horses and saddles up to this house, and an orderly to conduct our headquarter wagons to the same place. In looking around the room, I saw a small box, like a candle-box, marked “Howell Cobb,” and, on inquiring of a negro, found that we were at the plantation of General Howell Cobb, of Georgia, one of the leading rebels of the South, then a general in the Southern army, and who had been Secretary of the United States Treasury in Mr. Buchanan’s time. Of course, we confiscated his property, and found it rich in corn, beans, pea-nuts, and sorghum-molasses. Extensive fields were all round the house; I sent word back to General David to explain whose plantation it was, and instructed him to spare nothing. That night huge bonfires consumed the fence-rails, kept our soldiers warm, and the teamsters and men, as well as the slaves, carried off an immense quantity of corn and provisions of all sorts.

In due season the headquarter wagons came up, and we got supper. After supper I sat on a chair astride, with my back to a good fire, musing, and became conscious that an old negro, with a tallow-candle in his hand, was scanning my face closely. I inquired, “What do you want, old man!” He answered, “Dey say you is Massa Sherman.” I answered that such was the case, and inquired what he wanted. He only wanted to look at me, and kept muttering, “Dis nigger can’t sleep dis night.” I asked him why he trembled so, and he said that he wanted to be sure that we were in fact “Yankees,” for on a former occasion some rebel cavalry had put on light-blue overcoats, personating Yankee troops, and many of the negroes were deceived thereby, himself among the number had shown them sympathy, and had in consequence been unmercifully beaten therefor. This time he wanted to be certain before committing himself; so I told him to go out on the porch, from which he could see the whole horizon lit up with camp-fires, and he could then judge whether he had ever seen any thing like it before. The old man became convinced that the “Yankees” had come at last, about whom he had been dreaming all his life; and some of the staff officers gave him a strong drink of whiskey, which set his tongue going. Lieutenant Spelling, who commanded my escort, was a Georgian, and recognized in this old negro a favorite slave of his uncle, who resided about six miles off; but the old slave did not at first recognize his young master in our uniform. One of my staff-officers asked him what had become of his young master, George. He did not know, only that he had gone off to the war, and he supposed him killed, as a matter of course. His attention was then drawn to Spelling’s face, when he fell on his knees and thanked God that he had found his young master alive and along with the Yankees. Spelling inquired all about his uncle and the family, asked my permission to go and pay his uncle a visit, which I granted, of course, and the next morning he described to me his visit. The uncle was not cordial, by any means, to find his nephew in the ranks of the host that was desolating the land, and Spelling came back, having exchanged his tired horse for a fresher one out of his uncle’s stables, explaining that surely some of the “bummers” would have got the horse had he not.

November 21

Military events: Alabama/Tennessee operations: General Hood moves out for Franklin, Tennessee, with a goal to maneuver through US armies camped at Pulaski and Nashville, Tennessee, via a series of quick marches. (29) However, the weather soon turns cold. At Butler’s Creek there are icicles 2 feet long! In spite of this, the troops average 13-16 miles a day. (30) The arrival of US reinforcements to Pulaski are delayed by sabotaged railroads. (1) Hood’s army is moving in three columns, with General Benjamin Franklin Cheatham in charge of the right, General Stephen D. Lee in the center, and General Alexander P. Stewart on the left. Forrest’s cavalry is screening their movements so effectively that US commanders cannot tell where Hood is going. (31)

November 22

Battles: Georgia operations/Sherman’s March to the Sea: Griswoldville. Georgia militia take on Sherman’s battle-hardened veterans, with predictable results.

Military events: Tennessee operations: Forrest’s generals Buford and William Hicks Jackson drive in Federal skirmishers and prepare to attack the 4,000-man US cavalry at Lawrenceburg. A line of battle opens up on the road to Pulaski. In the meantime, Chalmers, with Rucker’s Brigade, is at West-Point, a village on the Middle or Henryville Road, and is met by the Confederate infantry. (3) By 3 p.m., US General Thomas, the man Sherman has left in charge at Nashville, is in communication with General Schofield in Pulaski about the Confederate move. Thomas directs Schofield to fall back toward Nashville with two divisions, taking a position at Columbia, Tennessee. (8)

November 23

Battles: Tennessee operations: Lawrenceburg (PDF). Meanwhile, Forrest narrowly escapes death during some of the day’s heavy skirmishing elsewhere. Per source (31):

Forrest kept up the pressure and on November 23 heavy skirmishing occurred from Henryville to the outskirts of Mount Pleasant. At Fouche Springs (near present day Summertown) that evening, the Confederate cavalrymen raided one of Capron’s encampments, throwing them into chaos and capturing over 50 prisoners. Forrest came close to becoming a casualty as he mistakenly rode into a small group of Federals. One of his staff officers, Maj. John P. Strange, deflected the arm of a Union soldier who was aiming his pistol directly at Forrest’s chest at close range and the bullet narrowly missed. The survivors from Capron’s brigade fled toward Columbia.

That may have happened at a place Wyeth (8) calls “Fouch Springs” near Henryville, but I can’t find mention of the place anywhere else.

Military events: Georgia operations/Sherman’s March to the Sea: Per source (32):

The two wings advanced by separate routes, generally staying twenty miles to forty miles apart. The right wing headed for Macon, the left wing in the direction of Augusta, before the two commands turned and bypassed both cities. They now headed for the state capital at Milledgeville. Opposing Sherman’s advance was Confederate cavalry, about 8,000 strong, under Major General Joseph Wheeler and various units of Georgia militia under Gustavus W. Smith. Although William J. Hardee had overall command in Georgia, with his headquarters at Savannah, neither he nor Governor Joseph E. Brown could do anything to stop Sherman’s advance.

Per General Sherman (15):

we rode into Milledgeville, the capital of the State, whither the Twentieth Corps had preceded us; and during that day the left wing was all united, in and around Milledgeville. From the inhabitants we learned that some of Kilpatrick’s cavalry had preceded us by a couple of days, and that all of the right wing was at and near Gordon, twelve miles off, viz., the place where the branch railroad came to Milledgeville from the Mason & Savannah road. The first stage of the journey was, therefore, complete, and absolutely successful.

…orders were made for the total destruction of the arsenal and its contents, and of such public buildings as could be easily converted to hostile uses. But little or no damage was done to private property, and General Slocum, with my approval, spared several mills, and many thousands of bales of cotton, taking what he knew to be worthless bonds, that the cotton should not be used for the Confederacy. Meantime the right wing continued its movement along the railroad toward Savannah, tearing up the track and destroying its iron. At the Oconee was met a feeble resistance from Harry Wayne’s troops, but soon the pontoon-bridge was laid, and that wing crossed over. Gilpatrick’s cavalry was brought into Milledgeville, and crossed the Oconee by the bridge near the town; and on the 23d I made the general orders for the next stage of the march as far as Millen. These were, substantially, for the right wing to follow the Savannah Railroad, by roads on its south; the left wing was to move to Sandersville, by Davisboro’ and Louisville, while the cavalry was ordered by a circuit to the north, and to march rapidly for Millen, to rescue our prisoners of war confined there. The distance was about a hundred miles.

General Wheeler, with his division of rebel cavalry, had succeeded in getting ahead of us between Milledgeville and Augusta, and General P. J. Hardee had been dispatched by General Beauregard from Hood’s army to oppose our progress directly in front. He had, however, brought with him no troops, but relied on his influence with the Georgians (of whose State he was a native) to arouse the people, and with them to annihilate Sherman’s army!

General Grant meets with President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and General Halleck in Washington. (4, 6)

Tennessee operations: General Schofield’s other two division fall back from Pulaski to Columbia, Tennessee. (8)



(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) Siege of Petersburg, Wikipedia.

(22) Petersburg National Battlefield.

(23) James F. Epperson’s Siege of Petersburg site.

(24) Michael W. Kauffman. American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Random House. New York. 2004.

(25) The Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Wikipedia

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

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

(28) Civil war battles in Alabama list.

(29) Battle of Franklin (Wikipedia)

(30) General John Bell Hood’s Invasion of Tennessee, October 1864-January 1865/Wayne County Passage.

(31) Battle of Columbia (Wikipedia).

(32) Sherman’s March to the Sea. New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Categories: American Civil War

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