The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – December 15-21, 1864

Here is a look at some of the events that happened this momentous week in the Civil War.

By week’s end, the North breathed a big sigh of relief that it wouldn’t be invaded by Hood’s Army of Tennessee after all. The South just sighed – General John Bell Hood’s once-great army could not now come to Richmond’s relief.

And the role of US Colored Troops at the Battle of Nashville still remains “somewhat of a vague and untold story” today.

December 15

Battles: Tennessee operations/Nashville: The battle of Nashville begins.

Georgia operations/Savannah: Per source 32:

[From December 14th through the 21st] Union gunboats supporting General Sherman aided in the capture of Forts Beaulieu and Rose-dew in Ossabaw Sound, Georgia, the outer defenses of Savannah. Wooden steamer U.S.S. Winona, Lieutenant Commander Dana, U.S.S. Sonoma, Lieutenant Commander Scott, and mortar gunboats shelled the forts until they were abandoned by the defenders on 21 December. Winona’s log recorded on that date: “At 10:05 saw the American Ensign flying on Fort Beaulieu. Ships cheered; captain left in the gig and proceeded up to the fort.”

Military events: Tennessee operations/Nashville: Confederate batteries downriver from Nashville are driven off by Federal cavalry. US General Logan (who is on his way to replace General Thomas in Nashville and now in Louisville, Kentucky) and General Grant (also on his way to Nashville and now in Washington) stop where they are when they hear news of fighting at Nashville. (25, 33)

December 16

Battles: Tennessee operations/Nashville: The battle of Nashville ends. The Confederates have lost, but it has been a hard-fought battle (and will be a hard-fought retreat, as we will see). This day, the USCT 13th Regiment is the only Union regiment to reach the Confederate line on Peach Orchard (Overton) Hill. Per the online 13th USCT history:

On December 16, 1864, the Second Colored Brigade participated in a decisive Union assault on Overton Hill (Peach Orchard Hill). During the assault the Thirteenth Regiment anchored the middle of a sustained charge into what would be later called a charge into hell itself. While attacking head-on without support or even a covering artillery bombardment the confederate forces were able to concentrate their fire on the lone 13th Regiment. Many federal infantrymen trapped on the slopes beneath the works watched in amazement as the 13th made straight for the line of blazing breastworks. While sustaining heavy casualties they kept charging Overton Hill.

Several sergeants had the colors, and one man jumped on top of the parapet and furiously shook his flag in the Rebels’ faces. Five separate color-bearers were killed. One after the other, seized a fallen flag, with the colored ladies of Murfreesboro, embroiled in the cloth attempting to plant the flag on the breastworks. After observing the fall of five separate color bearers of the Thirteenth Regiment, confederate General Holtzclaw wrote, “they came only to die”. This confederate commander was so impressed by the valor of these black soldiers that he formally cited their bravery in his battle report, almost an unheard-of circumstance involving a Southern general.

It wasn’t until I was almost done with this week’s and next week’s timelines that I learned that the Battle of Nashville was a milestone as big as Fort Wagner in the history of African-American military service during the Civil War. The fallen men of the 13th and other USCT troops got a memorial at the Nashville National Cemetery…in 2003.


North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Per source 32:

[From the 16th to the 17th] Acting Master Charles A. Pettit, U.S.S. Monticello, performed a dangerous reconnaissance off New Inlet, North Carolina, removing several Confederate torpedoes and their firing apparatus near the base of Fort Caswell. Pettit’s expedition was part of the extensive Union preparations for the bombardment and assault on Fort Fisher and the defenses of Wilmington planned for late December.


Confederate torpedoes, photographed at Charleston, CS, in April 1865.  (Library of Congress)

Confederate torpedoes, photographed at Charleston, CS, in April 1865. (Library of Congress)


Military events: Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: After the battle, in cold, driving rain, C. S. General John Bell Hood’s army withdraws overnight toward Franklin, pursued by US cavalry under General James H. Wilson. CS General S. D. Lee’s forces are the rearguard and hold the Federal horsemen off. (33, 34) Per source 34:

“It must have been a strange, heart-sickening sight to the bewildered women and children lining the gates and porches and windows, as we passed by, to see us so soon retracing our steps, in such a plight. Gazing silently at us, a jostling herd of haggard men, equally silent ourselves, they stood, as column after column went by. What were their thoughts, their feelings? The rain still poured in torrents upon us, more dogged in its pitiless pursuit than the enemy. It still beat us down, as it had been doing day and night, day and night, ever since the day of our defeat, until the drops felt like heavy shot upon our heads. No sound save its merciless pour, and the slushy tramp of that miserable multitude hurriedly wading with bent forms and straining eyes through the freezing mud, and the demonical howl of the ferocious wind.”

– The Civil War Memoir of Phillip Daingerfield Stephenson, D.D., page 340, by P.D. Stephenson, formerly of the 5th Company, Washington Artillery, C.S.A., 1894

“The Winter of 1864-5 was the coldest that had been known for many years. The ground was frozen and rough, and our soldiers were poorly clad, while many, yes, very many, were entirely barefooted… Even the keen, cutting air that whistled through our tattered clothes and over our poorly covered heads, seemed to lash us in its fury.”

– Co. Aytch, page 241, by Sam Watkins, formerly of Co. H, 1st Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A.

General George Stoneman, USA.  (Wikipedia)

General George Stoneman, USA. (Wikipedia)

December 17

Battles: Virginia operations: Stoneman’s Raid: Battle of Marion begins. (11)

Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Hollow Tree Gap (PDF) and Harpeth River (PDF).

Military events: Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Hood’s army is scattered from Brentwood to Franklin, the main body holding intact on the Franklin pike near Brentwood and heading for Columbia. Wilson’s cavalry continues the pursuit, but General Carter L. Stevenson, now in command of the rearguard after S. D. Lee was wounded, holds them off. (3, 33, 34)

December 18

Military events: Virginia operations: Stoneman’s Raid: Battle of Marion ends. (11)

Georgia operations: General Grant decides not to bring Sherman’s army to City Point by water because not enough boats are available. Instead, he will send Sherman northward through the Carolinas. (6)

North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Per source 32:

U.S.S. Louisiana, Commander Rhind, arrived off Fort Fisher, having that day been towed from Beaufort, North Carolina, by U.S.S. Sassacus, Lieutenant Commander J. L. Davis, in company with Rear Admiral Porter and his fleet. Louisiana had been loaded with powder and was to be blown up as near Fort Fisher as possible in the hope of reducing or substantially damaging that formidable Confederate work. The day before, Porter had sent detailed instructions to Commander Rhind, adding: “Great risks have to be run, and there are chances that you may lose your life in this adventure; but the risk is worth the running, when the importance of the object is to be considered and the fame to be gained by this novel undertaking, which is either to prove that forts on the water are useless or that rebels are proof against gunpowder. . . . I expect more good to our cause from a success in this instance than from an advance of all the armies in the field.” Rhind and his brave crew of volunteers proceeded in toward Fort Fisher towed by U.S.S.
Wilderness, Acting Master Henry Arey, but finding the swells too severe, turned back. Major General Butler, seeing the worsening weather at Beaufort, asked Porter to postpone the attempt until the sea was calm enough to land his troops with safety.

Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Hood’s retreat continues. US cavalry continues to skirmish with the Confederate rearguard, under Stevenson. CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry rejoins Hood at night. (3, 33)

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: John Wilkes Booth visits Dr. Samuel Mudd over the weekend again and buys a one-eyed horse from him that will prove unsatisfactory when Lewis Powell uses it to escape after attacking Secretary of State Seward in April 1865. (24)

The "Water Witch" back in 1851, when she flew under a US flag.

The “Water Witch” back in 1851, when she flew under a US flag.

December 19

Military events: Washington, DC: US President Lincoln issues a call for 300,000 volunteers. (4)

Georgia operations/Savannah: The CSS Water Witch, captured from the Union back in June, is destroyed by the Confederates to keep it out of Sherman’s hands. (32)

Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Hood’s retreat continues. US cavalry, now out of supplies, calls off the pursuit. Confederate artillery crosses the Duck River at Columbia and then burns the bridge. Forrest is put in charge of the rearguard, reinforced with an infantry division. They bivouac for the night at Columbia. Forrest is ordered to hold his position at Columbia as long as possible and then, if possible, withdraw to Florence, Alabama, by way of Pulaski, Tennessee. Thomas, having sent the pontoon bridge equipment toward Murfreesboro, must wait at the Duck River with his army until the equipment can return. (3, 33)

December 20

Battles: Virginia operations: Stoneman’s Raid. Saltville begins. (11)

Military events: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Per source 32:

Boats from U.S.S. Chicopee, Valley City, and Wyalusing under the command of Commander Macomb on an expedition to engage Confederate troops at Rainbow Bluff, North Carolina, were fired upon while dragging for torpedoes, seven miles below the Bluff. Macomb then put out skirmishers to clear the banks, but made only slow progress against the Southern force along the river. After the destruction of U.S.S. Otsego and Bazely (see 9 December), the Union gunboats moved laboriously up the tortuous river, dragging for torpedoes in small boats and being harassed by Confederate riflemen. As many as 40 torpedoes were found in some bends of the river. Union troops intending to operate with the gunboats were delayed. By the time they were ready to advance on Rainbow Bluff, the Confederate garrison there had been strongly reinforced. Torpedoes in the river, batteries along the banks below that point, and the difficulty of navigating the river forced abandonment of the operation. The wrecks of Otsego and Bazely were destroyed to prevent their falling into Confederate hands on 25 December. The expedition got back to Plymouth three days later.

South Carolina operations: Per source 32:

[On the 20th and 21st] Boat expedition under the command of Acting Master Pennell, U.S.S. Ethan Allen, carried out a reconnaisance of the Altamaha River, South Carolina, engaging Confederate pickets and bringing off prisoners and horses.

Georgia operations/Savannah: Overnight, Confederate forces evacuate the city and enter South Carolina. (6)

Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Forrest holds Columbia with 3,000 cavalry, 1,600 infantry, and eight artillery pieces. He is facing roughly 10,000 US cavalry and up to 30,000 infantry. (3)

December 21

Military events: Georgia operations/Savannah: Flag Officer W. W. Hunter, CSA, blows up the Confederate Savannah Naval Squadron to prevent it falling into Sherman’s hands. (13)

Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Some Federal forces manage to cross the Duck River, forcing Forrest out of Columbia. Forrest takes the road to Pulaski, Tennessee. (3)



(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.

(33) The Battle of Nashville. Wikipedia.

(34) From Nashville to Tuscumbia: A Brief Account of Hood’s Retreat. David Fraley and O.C. Hood

Categories: American Civil War

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