The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – December 8-14, 1864

A train yard in Nashville around the time of Hood's encampment.  State capitol is in the background.  (Library of Congress)

A train yard in Nashville around the time of Hood’s encampment. State capitol is in the background. (Library of Congress)

Here is a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week. A US general and a US marshal are very, very unhappy campers.

And at Nashville, CS General John Bell Hood, with some 20,000 men, is threatening US General George Thomas, who is holding the city with 55,000 men.

We won’t hear much about CS General Forrest and his cavalry this week. Hood has kept them picketing Murfreesboro and nearby points. They also are busy destroying railroads in the area and capturing supplies meant for Federal troops. (3, 25)

As for John Wilkes Booth, Kauffman (24) doesn’t give a specific date for it, but “one day in December” while Booth is in New York, he meets an old friend, a character actor named Samuel Knapp Chester.

Chester will eventually become one of the government’s key witnesses during the assassination conspiracy trial in 1865. Booth tells him during this first meeting, which might have happened this week, “They [some people Booth had just been talking with] are laughing at me about a speculation but I have a greater speculation than they know that they won’t laugh at.”

Sam Chester.  (Source)

Sam Chester might possibly have stopped the Lincoln assassination, but John Wilkes Booth bullied him into silence.

Chester is a rather passive man and doesn’t follow it up. Over the next couple of weeks Booth will have several talks with him and even write him, giving him more hints, though he won’t tell Chester the details of the plot until Christmas.

December 8

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

Military events: Tennessee operations/Nashville: A strong winter storm hits the area. Both sides must stop digging in. General Grant officially tells General Halleck to issue orders relieving General Thomas in Nashville, but then changes his mind later in the day. (6, 25)

North Carolina operations/Wilmington: First expedition. Per source 32:

Rear Admiral Porter wrote to Lieutenant Commander Watmough, senior officer off New Inlet, North Carolina, regarding the’ plan to explode a vessel laden with powder off Fort Fisher: “I propose running a vessel drawing 8 1/2 feet (as near to Fort Fisher as possible) with 350 tons of powder, and exploding her by running her upon the outside and opposite Fort Fisher. My calculations are that the explosion will wind up Fort Fisher and the works along the beach, and that we can open fire with the vessels without damage.” Major General Butler had suggested the powder ship late in November, and Porter, anxious to get the long-delayed Wilmington attack underway, agreed to attempt this unlikely means of reducing the fort before the landing.

December 9

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

North Carolina operations/Wilmington: First campaign: The Rainbow Bluff Expedition.

George, you're not out there posing on your horse again, are you?  - General Grant

George, you’re not out there posing on your horse again, are you? – General Grant

Military events: Tennessee operations/Nashville: Thomas to Grant (1):

NASHVILLE, December 9, 1864-1 p.m.

Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT,

City Point, Va.:

Your dispatch of 8.30 p.m. of the 8th is just received. I had nearly completed my preparations to attack the enemy tomorrow morning, but a terrible storm of freezing rain had come today, which will make it impossible for our men to fight to any advantage. I am, therefore, compelled to wait of the storm to break and make the attack immediately after. Admiral Lee is patrolling the river above and below the city,and I believe will be able to prevent the enemy from crossing. There is no doubt but that Hood’s forces are considerably scattered along the river with the view of attempting a crossing, but it has been impossible for me to organize and equip the troops for an attack at an earlier time. Major-General Halleck informs me that you are very much dissatisfied with my delay in attacking. I can only say I have done all in my power to prepare, and if you should deem it necessary to relieve me I shall submit without a murmur.


Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, Commanding.

Grant to Thomas (1) – these are only a couple of the telegrams exchanged around this time, as General Grant was hoppin’ mad…poor General Thomas!:

CITY POINT, VA., December 9, 1864-7.30 p.m.

Major-General THOMAS,

Nashville, Tenn.:

Your dispatch of 1 p.m. received. I have as much confidence in your conducting a battle rightly as I have in any other officer; but it has seemed to me that you have been slow, and I have had no explanation of affairs to convince me otherwise. Receiving your dispatch of 2 p.m. from General Halleck, before I did the one to me, I telegraphed to suspend the order relieving you until we should hear further. I hope most sincerely that there will be no necessity of repeating the orders, and that the facts will show that you have been right all the time.



December 10

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

North Carolina operations/Wilmington: First campaign. Skirmish at Mosely Ford. (1, 31)

Military events: Georgia operations/Savannah: Sherman reaches the outskirts of Savannah but finds 10,000 men, commanded by CS General William J. Hardee, entrenched in good positions, waiting for him. Hardee has also ordered the surrounding rice fields flooded, leaving only narrow avenues to approach the city. Sherman, unable to link up with the US Navy for supplies, sends cavalry to take Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee river so he can reach the navy ships that way (6).

The port of Savannah in 1864, before Sherman's arrival.  (Source)

The port of Savannah in 1864, before Sherman’s arrival. (Source)

Per source 32 for December 10-12:

C.S.S. Macon, Lieutenant Kennard, C.S.S. Sampson, Lieutenant William W. Carnes, and C.S.S. Resolute, Acting Master’s Mate William D. Oliveira, under Flag Officer Hunter, took Union shore batteries under fire at Tweedside on the Savannah River. Hunter attempted to run his gunboats downriver to join in the defense of Savannah, but was unable to pass the strong Federal batteries. Resolute was disabled in this exchange of fire, 12 December, and was abandoned and captured. Recognizing that he could not get his remaining two vessels to Savannah, and having destroyed the railroad bridge over the Savannah River which he had been defending, Hunter took advantage of unusually high water to move upstream to Augusta.

Ward Hill Lamon (source)

How sad that the president didn’t listen to Ward Hill Lamon’s frank but wise advice, though it’s true Lamon’s statement about Sumner was cruel.

Other: Ward Hill Lamon, marshal of the city of Washington, DC, resigns, telling President Lincoln:

I regret that you do not appreciate what I have repeatedly said to you in regard to the proper police arrangements connected with your household and your own personal safety. You are in danger. I have nothing to ask, and I flatter myself that you will at least believe that I am honest. If, however, you have been impressed differently, do me and the country the justice to dispose at once of all suspected officers, and accept my resignation of the marshalship, which is hereby tendered. I will give you further reasons which have impelled me to this course. Tonight, as you have done on several previous occasions, you went unattended to the theatre. When I say unattended, I mean that you went alone with Charles Sumner and a foreign minister, neither of whom could defend himself against an assault from any able-bodied woman in this city. And you know, or ought to know, that your life is sought after, and will be taken unless you and your friends are cautious for you have many enemies within our lines. You certainly know that I have provided men at your mansion to perform all necessary police duty, and I am always ready myself to perform any duty that will properly conduce to your interest or your safety.

God knows that I am unselfish in this matter; and I do think that I have played low comedy long enough, and at my time of life I think I ought at least to attempt to play star engagements

December 11

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

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

December 12

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

December 13

Battles: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: First campaign. Skirmishing at Southwest Creek Bridge. (31)

Georgia operations/Sherman’s march to the sea: Second Battle of Fort McAllister.

Part of Fort McAllister after the battle.  Note the US gunboats in the background.  (Library of Congress)

Part of Fort McAllister after the battle. Note the US gunboats in the background. (Library of Congress – original photo has flaw marks)


Military events: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: First campaign: US troops leave Hampton Roads for Fort Fisher, the Confederacy’s largest earthen fort. Fort Fisher guards the South’s only open Atlantic port. They are to rendezvous with a US naval fleet of 64 warships at a point 25 miles east of the Cape Fear River. When he hears of the Federal troop movement, General Lee sends a division to the fort. (1, 29) Per source 32:

The Union fleet massed for the bombardment of Fort Fisher departed Hampton Roads for Wilmington. Wooden double-ender U.S.S. Sassacus, Lieutenant Commander John L. Davis, was assigned the duty of towing the powder ship Louisiana to Beaufort, North Carolina, where she was to take on more powder Army transports carrying the invasion force commanded by Major General Butler left Hampton Roads at approximately the same time as the supporting naval group.

Tennessee operations/Nashville: US General John Logan is sent to relieve General Thomas if US forces in Nashville haven’t attacked Hood’s army yet. Grant himself sets out for Nashville by way of Washington. (6, 25)

"Bulldog" Grant also posed for this picture at his Virginia headquarters this August.  Library of Congress

“Have I got to do everything in this army myself?”

Other: Raphael Semmes, former commander of the CSS Alabama, crosses the Mississippi River on his secret return back to the Confederacy. (32)

December 14

Battles: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: First campaign. Skirmishing at Southwest Creek Bridge. (31)

Georgia operations/Savannah: US gunboats start shelling Savannah’s outer defenses, Forts Beaulieu and Rose-dew. (32)

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

Foreseeing the fall of Savannah, Secretary Mallory wrote Flag Officer Hunter, commanding the naval squadron at that city:” Should the enemy get and hold Savannah, and you can do no further service there, you are expected to dispose of your squadron to the greatest injury to him and the greatest benefit to our country. If necessary to leave Savannah, your vessels, except the Georgia, may fight their way to Charleston. Under no circumstances should they be destroyed until every proper effort to save them shall have been exhausted.” Three days later, Captain S. S. Lee, CSN, addressed a similar letter to Hunter: ”Under any circumstances, it is better for the vessels, for the Navy, for our cause and country, that these vessels should fall in the conflict of battle, taking all the risks of defeat and triumph, than that they should be tamely surrendered to the enemy or destroyed by their own officers.”




(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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