The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – December 22-28, 1864

December, 1864:  General Sherman enters Savannah, Georgia.  (Library of Congress)

December, 1864: General Sherman enters Savannah, Georgia. (Library of Congress)

Here’s a look at some of the things that happened this week 150 years ago in the Civil War. CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest fought long and hard to cover the retreat of General Hood and the Army of Tennessee…and they got away.

December 22

Military events: Georgia operations/Savannah: Sherman to Lincoln: “To his excellency President Lincoln. I beg to present you as a Christmas Gift the City of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

Sherman wrote the message at his HQ in Savannah.  It was taken to Fortress Monroe by ship and then telegraphed to Washington.  (Source)

Sherman wrote the message at his HQ in Savannah. It was taken to Fortress Monroe by ship and then telegraphed to Washington. (Source)

Lincoln to Sherman, per source 4:

Executive Mansion, Washington,
My dear General Sherman. Dec. 26, 1864.

Many, many, thanks for your Christmas-gift—the capture of Savannah.

When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that “nothing risked, nothing gained” I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. And, taking the work of Gen. Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages; but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole—Hood’s army—it brings those who sat in darkness, to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave Gen. Grant and yourself to decide.

Please make my grateful acknowledgments to your whole army, officers and men. Yours very truly A. LINCOLN.

Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest is retreating towards Florence, Alabama, by way of Pulaski, Tennessee, while Hood and the remainder of the Army of Tennessee are headed for Tuscumbia, Alabama. (3, 33)

Fort Fisher was big and well prepared.  It wouldn't fall easily.  (Image by Andres Arce)

Fort Fisher was big and well prepared. It wouldn’t fall easily. (Image by Andres Arce)

December 23

Battles: North Carolina operations: The First Battle of Fort Fisher begins. Per source 32:

After many days of delay because of heavy weather, powder ship U.S.S. Louisiana, Commander Rhind, towed by U.S.S. Wilderness late at night, anchored and was blown up 250 yards off Fort Fisher, North Carolina. After Rhind and his gallant crew set the fuzes and a fire in the stern, they escaped by small boat to Wilderness. Rear Admiral Porter and General Butler, who was waiting in Beaufort to land his troops the next morning and storm Fort Fisher, placed great hope in the exploding powder ship, hope that Dahlgren as an ordnance expert no doubt disdained. The clock mechanism failed to ignite the powder at the appointed time, 1:18 a.m., and after agonizing minutes of waiting, the fire set by Rhind in the stern of Louisiana reached the powder and a tremendous explosion occurred. Fort Fisher and its garrison, however, were not measurably affected, although the blast was heard many miles away; in fact, Colonel Lamb, the fort’s resolute commander, wrote in his diary: “A blockader got aground near the fort, set fire to herself and blew up.” It remained for the massed gunfire from ships of Porter’s huge fleet, the largest ever assembled up to that time under the American flag, to cover the landings and reduce the forts.

Military events: Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: US General Thomas finally gets his pontoon equipment and sets out from Nashville after General Hood. Forrest finds good ground along the Pulaski Road and takes a stand against his pursuers. (3, 33)

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: Dr. Samuel Mudd comes to Washington, where he introduces John Wilkes Booth to John Surratt. The three men have drinks in Booth’s hotel room. Louis Weichmann, who was with Surratt when Mudd and Booth came by, is also there. (24)

General William Hicks Jackson. CSA.  (Wikipedia)

General William Hicks Jackson. CSA. (Wikipedia)

December 24

Battles: North Carolina operations: The First Battle of Fort Fisher continues. US Admiral Porter arrives and begins shelling the fort.

Military events: Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Forrest resumes movement toward Pulaski and then stops and takes a stand again, south of Lynnville, so the supply wagons can pass safely. An artillery duel and intensive fighting take place, and Forrest eventually moves out and reaches Pulaski. The weather has made the road impassable for just about anything on wheels. The Confederates therefore destroy most of their ammunition and other wheeled stock. Forrest tells General William H. Jackson to make a stand at Pulaski as long as he can and then follow the rest of the Confederate cavalry toward Florence. Forrest stops at Anthony’s Hill, seven miles south of Pulaski. (3) Meanwhile, on the water, per source 32:

Rear Admiral Lee, commanding the Mississippi Squadron, arrived off Chickasaw, Alabama, in an attempt to cut off the retreat of Confederate General Hood’s army from Tennessee. At Chickasaw, U.S.S. Fairy, Acting Ensign Charles Swendson, with Lee embarked, destroyed a Confederate fort and magazine, but even this small, shallow-draft river boat was unable to go beyond Great Mussel Shoals on the Tennessee River because of low water.

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: John Wilkes Booth leaves Washington for New York City by the morning train. (24)

December 25

Battles: North Carolina operations: The First Battle of Fort Fisher continues.

Battles: Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Anthony’s Hill.

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: In New York City, Booth and Sam Chester go pubbing. Booth tells Chester, not very truthfully in terms of numbers:

This is the speculation that I am concerned in. There is an immense party connected with it – fifty to one hundred people. It is a conspiracy against the government.

Booth tells Chester that they have been planning to capture the top government officials, including Lincoln. All Chester has to do is hold open the back door of Ford’s Theater. Chester says no. Booth threatens him and storms off. In the meantime, Booth’s other conspirators think they are going to kidnap the president on the road to the Soldiers Home. Booth will eventually get Chester, who is terrified of Booth, a job at Ford’s Theater. (24)

Albert D. Patrick and John H. Daily both served as cavalrymen with the US 13th Indiana.  (Source)

Albert D. Patrick and John H. Daily both served as cavalrymen with the US 13th Indiana. They fought at Nashville and pursued Hood this week. (Source)

December 26

Battles: North Carolina operations: The First Battle of Fort Fisher continues.

Battles: Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Sugar Creek. Per Jordan & Pryor, source 3:

…[A]t dawn the Federal cavalry was up again, and, in heavy mass, attacked Ross’s Brigade, now manifestly bent on a vigorous attempt to press forward over all obstacles, so as to strike Hood’s force before it might escape across the Tennessee. The road to the river was now filled with the debris of Hood’s army. His ordnance-train was still at Sugar creek, while the mules had been used to assist in drawing the pontoon-train to the river ; but having been returned, the ordnance-train was just on the point of moving. It was, therefore, necessary to make another resolute stand to secure that movement.

Accordingly, about sunrise, Reynolds’s and Field’s Brigades, of Walthall’s Division, were put in position some two hundred yards southward of the ford, across a narrow ravine, and upon a high ridge to the north of the creek and ravine, where they threw up cover with rails and other material at hand, while two other brigades (Featherston’s and Palmer’s) established in a strong position, half a mile further to the rear, which was also strengthened by logs, rails, and some old out-houses. Jackson’s brigades were grouped, Ross on the right and Armstrong on the left of the first line of infantry, and Chalmers was halted in a strong position, where the parallel road which he pursued crossed Sugar creek. Fortunately, a dense fog enveloped the position, and enabled the Confederates to remain concealed.

Hood would resign within a month.  Matthew Brady took this picture of him after the war.

Hood would resign in January 1865. Matthew Brady took this picture of him after the war. (Wikipedia)

About half-past eight a.m., the enemy’s cavalry were to be heard fording the creek, scarcely one hundred yards in front of the Confederate infantry, until several regiments had been crossed over and formed in line. The fog veiled their movements, but it was apparent that, apprehensive of a lurking danger, the enemy had dismounted and were advancing, with a part of their force, on foot, in front of the cavalry. Thus disposed, the Federals came within thirty paces of the breast works across their path, when, from behind it, a broad stream of rifle-balls, cleaving through the thick fog, spread confusion instantly through the Federal ranks, and, springing for ward, the infantry pressed their advantage with such vigor that the enemy, unable to recover and rally, were driven back through their horse-holders and among their cavalry, thus increasing the disorder. The creek was about saddle-skirt deep, and through it the Federal cavalry dashed rearward, without regard to any ford, and after them followed Walthall’s dauntless men, charging waist-deep through the icy water. Ross, charging at the same time up the east bank of the stream with about eighty men, rode over at least a regiment of the disordered enemy, capturing a number of men and horses. At the same time, Colonel Dillon, making a circuit with the Second Mississippi, of Armstrong’s Brigade, cross ed the creek above, struck the enemy on the other flank, driving them pell-mell up the defile for a mile, and killing and wounding many. Pursuit was now recalled, as at Anthony’s Hill, for fear of collision with the Federal infantry, but the position was held by the Confederate infantry until twelve o’clock, up to which, the enemy having made no demonstration upon the position, they were again put in movement for the river. The substantial results of this handsome affair were the capture of at least 150 horses and many overcoats, of great value to the men in weather so inclement. As many as one hundred officers and men were taken prisoners, and at least four hundred of the enemy and their horses were placed hors de combat. But the most valuable effect was, that it checked further close pressure upon the rear of Hood’s army by the Federal cavalry, who had now been punished so severely in men and horses, here and at Anthony’s Hill, as to be altogether unwilling to venture an other collision with their formidable adversary. In the mean time Chalmers, having been attacked in his position, repulsed his enemy handsomely, and charging in turn, captured some prisoners, thus checking the hostile movements in that direction also.

Federal forces called off the pursuit of Hood and the Army of Tennessee.

December 27

Battles: North Carolina operations: The First Battle of Fort Fisher ends. Despite having been ordered to lay siege to the fost if an attack fails, US General Benjamin Butler returns to Hampton Roads. (6)

General Grant.  (Library of Congress0

Again, do I have to do everything myself in this war?

Military events: Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Forrest crosses the Tennessee River. (3) US gunboats destroy two Confederate artillery guns near Florence, but the Tennessee River is so low, Federal boats can’t cut off Forrest’s retreat. (32)

December 28

Military events: North Carolina operations: Per source 4:

Lincoln to Grant: “If there is no objection, please tell me what you now understand of the Wilmington expedition, present & prospective.”

Grant to Lincoln: “The Wilmington expedition has proven a gross and culpable failure. Many of the troops are now back here. Delays and free talk of the object of the expedition enabled the enemy to move troops to Wilmington to defeat it. After the expedition sailed from Fort Monroe three days of fine weather was squandered, during which the enemy was without a force to protect himself. Who is to blame I hope will be known.”

Tennessee operations/Hood’s retreat: Hood crosses the Tennessee River near Bainbridge, Alabama. (33)

US and CS casualties during Hood’s retreat (PDF)





(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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