The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – December 1-7, 1864

View of Nashville from the State Capitol, around the time of Hood's encampment against the city.  (Library of Congress)

View of Nashville from the State Capitol, around the time of Hood’s encampment against the city. Note the covered guns; this was probably done to keep powder dry during bad weather. (Library of Congress)

Here is a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week. (Edit: I found a couple of new sources, 31 and 32, in the list below, for the Wilmington expedition and have added a bit of information for that after this post was first published. Of note, these included a lot of information and sometimes led to even more reports of things I missed in the first edition of this week’s post. They are going in now.)

CS General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee has gained control of Franklin, Tennessee, but US General Schofield’s force has escaped and is nearing safety in Nashville, where US General George Thomas has the whole Department of the Cumberland (two infantry corps, a detachment of the US Army of the Tennessee, district troops, and a corps of cavalry).

The weather is still very cold and miserable – probably the reason why both sides will dig in this week and, to General Grant’s surprise and frustration, wait.

December 1

Military events: North Carolina operations/Blockade: The USS Rhode Island catches the British steamer Vixen attempting to run the blockade off Cape Fear. Its cargo includes weapons. (32)

Tennessee operations/Nashville: Despite his men’s exhaustion and injuries, and the loss of so many generals and regimental commanders, General Hood orders the army to pursue the retreating Federal forces, sending Forrest’s cavalry out ahead of his infantry. Despite heavy skirmishing between Union and Confederate cavalry, General Schofield and his men reach Nashville’s defensive lines before night. Hood stops for the night about six miles from the city. (3, 25)

Per source 32 (I haven’t covered Brown Water Navy operations so this is just diving into the middle of it, actually not a bad idea considering the gunboats’ contribution in this month’s battle at Nashville):

In order to cope with the powerful rifled batteries erected by Confederates along the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, Rear Admiral Lee [US Admiral S. P. Lee was third cousin to Robert E. Lee; when asked about it, he said, “When I find the word Virginia in my commission I will join the Confederacy”], commanding the Mississippi Squadron, strengthened the forces of Lieutenant Commander Fitch with ironclads U.S.S. Neosho and U.S.S. Carondelet. Major General Thomas, responsible for halting General Hood’s advance at Nashville, wired Major General Halleck this date: “I have two ironclads here, with several gunboats, and Commander Fitch assures me that Hood can neither cross the Cumberland or blockade it. I therefore think it best to wait here until Wilson can equip all his cavalry.” In the coming battle, as in the whole Tennessee campaign, the Mississippi Squadron played a key role in covering Union armies, engaging shore batteries in support of troop movements, and insuring river lines of supply.

 

Samuel Phillips Lee, some 20 years before he became a US admiral.  (Source)

Samuel Phillips Lee, some 20 years before he became a US admiral. (Source)

December 2

Military events: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: The Pitch Landing expedition begins. Per source 32:

Per source 32:

Joint Army-Navy expedition, including sailors from U.S.S. Chicopee, Commander Harrell, captured and burned a large quantity of Confederate supplies and equipment near Pitch Landing, on the Chowan River, North Carolina. In addition, a quantity of cotton and over $17,000 in Confederate money and bonds were brought off.

South Carolina operations/Blockade: Per source 32:

U.S.S. Pequot, Lieutenant Commander Braine sighted blockade running steamer Ella off the coast of South Carolina and pursued her for nearly seven hours before darkness halted the chase.

Tennessee operations/Nashville: Forrest’s cavalry advances to about three miles from Nashville. When the infantry comes up around midday, Forrest starts destroying railroads and telegraph lines between Nashville and Murfreesboro, as well as the guardhouses protecting them. General Grant, in Virginia, tells Washington that General Thomas should attack Hood. (3, 6)

I don't know that this was the bridge, but the illustration gives you a nice feel for that beautiful area.  (Source)

I don’t know that this was the bridge Lt. Kennard had in mind, but the illustration gives you a nice feel for that area. It must have been a beautiful ride. (Source)

December 3

Military events: Georgia operations/Savannah: Per source 32:

As Union pressure on Savannah increased, the Squadron under Captain W.W. Hunter, CSN, played an increasing role in the defense of the city and the important railway above it. This date Hunter wrote Lieutenant Joel S. Kennard, C.S.S. Macon: “The Charleston and Savannah Railway Bridge at the Savannah River is a very important point to defend, and, should it become necessary, endeavor to be in position there to defend it. In order to do so, and also to patrol the Savannah River, watch carefully the state of the river, and do not be caught aground or be cut off from the position at the bridge.”

North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Pitch Landing expedition continues. (31)

North Carolina operations/Blockade: Per source 32:

Early in the morning, 3 December, U.S.S. Emma, Acting Lieutenant Thomas Dunn, sighted Ella steering for the western bar of the Cape Fear River, and, attempting to intercept her, forced the runner aground near the light at Bald Head Point. Ships of the blockading squadron shelled the grounded Ella for two days before a boarding party commanded by Acting Ensign Isaac S. Sampson burned Ella on 5 December.

Tennessee operations/Murfreesboro: Forrest’s cavalry continues its rampage, with guardhouses along the way each surrendering after intense fighting and Confederate artillery barrages. (3)

Tennessee operations/Nashville: Per source 32 for December 3-4:

U.S.S. Moose, Lieutenant Commander Fitch, U.S.S. Carondelet, Acting Master Charles W. Miller, U.S.S. Fairplay, Acting Master George J. Groves, U.S.S. Reindeer, Acting Lieutenant Henry A. Glassford, and U.S.S. Silver Lake, Acting Master Joseph C. Coyle, engaged field batteries on the Cumberland River near Bell’s Mills, Tennessee, silenced them, and recaptured three transports taken by the Confederates the preceding day. Fitch and his gunboats, employed protecting Major General Thomas’ right flank before Nashville, had started downriver on the night of 2 December after hearing that Confederate troops under Major General Forrest had erected a battery on the river at Bell’s Mills. Fitch succeeded in surprising the batteries and a sharp engagement ensued. With visibility severely limited by darkness, smoke, and steam, small paddle-wheelers Moose and Reindeer and stern-wheeler Silver Lake nevertheless drove the Southern gunners from the bank. Carondelet and Fairplay passed below the batteries and after a short battle recaptured the three transports Prairie State, Prima Donna, and Magnet and many of the prisoners taken earlier from the transports. In addition, Fitch was able to return to Nashville with valuable intelligence on the composition and strength of Southern forces opposing Thomas’ right flank, information which was to prove vital in the coming battle for Nashville.

December 4

Battles: Georgia operations/Sherman’s march to the sea: The Battle of Waynesborough.

Military events: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Pitch Landing expedition continues. (31)

A blockhouse guarding the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad in 1864.  (Library of Congress)

A blockhouse guarding the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad in 1864. (Library of Congress)

Tennessee operations/Murfreesboro: Forrest’s cavalry continues its rampage, with the last guardhouse surrendering in the morning. (3)

December 5

Military events: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Pitch Landing expedition continues. (31)

Tennessee operations/Murfreesboro: Forrest sets out for Murfreesboro, capturing and burning two blockhouses along the way. Hood has already sent an infantry division against Murfreesboro but it must fall back after encountering a strong US force; Hood then orders these soldiers to join Forrest, who camps for the night three miles from Murfreesboro. The infantry can’t rendezvous with him until the morning of the 6th. (3)

Tennessee operations/Nashville: General Grant wants General Thomas to attack Hood. (6)

December 6

Battles: Tennessee operations: The Third Battle of Murfreesboro begins. (Note that sources 11 and 25 say it begins on the 5th.) (3)

Georgia operations/Sherman’s march to the sea: The battle of Tulfinny Crossroads. US Marines face Citadel Cadets (PDF). And per source 32, for December 5-9:

The naval landing force under Commander Preble participated in heavy fighting around Tulifinny Crossroads, Georgia, while Federal troops attempted to cut the Savannah-Charleston Railway and join with the advancing forces of General Sherman. The Naval Brigade was withdrawn from Boyd’s Landing, Broad River, on 5 December, and while Union gunboats, made a feint against the Coosawwatchie River fortifications, soldiers and sailors landed up the nearby Tulifinny River. During the next four days, the versatile naval brigade participated in a series of nearly continuous heavy actions, though plagued by rain and swampy terrain. Union forces advanced close enough to the strategic railway to shell it but failed to destroy it.

(Library of Congress)

(Library of Congress)

Military events: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Pitch Landing expedition continues. (31)

Other: US President Lincoln delivers the annual speech we would call today the State of the Union. It will be his last one.

December 6

Battles: Tennessee operations: The Third Battle of Murfreesboro ends. (Note that source 11 says it ends on the 7th.) (3)

Military events: Tennessee operations/Nashville: Per source 32:

U.S.S. Neosho, Acting Lieutenant Howard, with Lieutenant Commander Fitch embarked, with the three small steamers U.S.S. Fairplay, Silver Lake, and Moose and several army transports in company, moved down the Cumberland River from Nashville and engaged Confederate batteries near Bell’s Mills, Tennessee. With ironclad Neosho in the lead and lightly protected ships to the rear, Fitch steamed slowly up and single-handedly engaged the Southern artillery. As the gallant officer reported later: ”I had also great faith in the endurance of the Neosho, and therefore chose this position [directly in front of the main Confederate battery] as the most favorable one to test her strength and at the same time use canister and grape at 20 to 30 yards range. Our fire was slow and deliberate, but soon had the effect to scatter the enemy’s sharpshooters and infantry, but owing to the elevated position of the batteries directly over us we could do but little injury. The enemy’s fire was terrific, and in a very few minutes everything perishable on our decks was completely demolished.” After holding his position for about two and a half hours, Fitch withdrew upstream, and aware that his lighter-armed vessels would not survive a passage of the batteries, returned with them to Nashville. During this fierce action, Quartermaster John Ditzenback, seeing Neosho’s ensign shot away by the concentrated Southern fire, coolly left the pilot house, and, despite the deadly shot raking Neosho’s decks, took the flag which was drooping over the wheelhouse and made it fast to the stump of the highest mast remaining. For this courageous act Ditzenback was awarded the Medal of Honor. Later in the day, Fitch in the Neosho joined by Carondelet again engaged the batteries, and, choosing a different firing position disabled some of the Confederate guns. Attesting to the endurance of Neosho under fire, Fitch was able to report to Rear Admiral Lee: “During the day the Neosho was struck over a hundred times, but received no injury whatever.”

 

"The United States monitor 'Neosho' engaging three Rebel batteries on the Cumberland, below Nashville, Dec. 6, 1864" / sketched by Adam Rohe.

“The United States monitor ‘Neosho’ engaging three Rebel batteries on the Cumberland, below Nashville, Dec. 6, 1864.” (Library of Congress/Adam Rohe)

North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Pitch Landing expedition ends. (31) General Grant tells General Butler (32):

Major General Grant wrote Major General Butler regarding the objectives of the proposed joint expedition against Wilmington, one of the most ambitious of the war: “The first object of the expedition under General Weitzel is to close the port of Wilmington. If successful in this, the second will be to capture Wilmington itself. . . . The object of the expedition will be gained by effecting a landing on the mainland between Cape Fear River and the Atlantic north of the north entrance to the river, then the troops should intrench themselves, and by cooperating with the Navy effect a reduction and capture of those places. These in our hands, the Navy could enter the harbor and the port of Wilmington would be sealed.”

December 7

Battles: Virginia operations/Siege of Petersburg: The Stony Creek Raid begins.

Military events: Tennessee operations/Murfreesboro: Confederate cavalry take positions around the city while Hood recalls the infantry division. (3)

Tennessee operations/Nashville: General Grant tells Secretary of War Stanton that it may be necessary to replace General Thomas in command at Nashville. (6)
 

Stanton, Thomas, and Grant.  President Lincoln wisely stayed out of this.

Stanton, Thomas, and Grant. President Lincoln wisely stayed out of this.

 
 


 
Sources:

(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) The Wilmington Campaign (Wikipedia)

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

(31) Wilmington, Fort Fisher, and the Lifeline of the Confederacy. North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial.

(32) Naval History of the Civil War. History Central.



Categories: American Civil War

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