The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – December 29, 1864, to January 4, 1865

Part of the battlefield after the Battle of Nashville. (Library of Congress)

Part of the battlefield after the Battle of Nashville. (Library of Congress)

Here’s a look at the events that happened in the Civil War 150 years ago this week.

What will you do after the war?

CS General John Bell Hood has managed to bring what’s left of his Army of Tennessee to safety in Tuscumbia, Alabama, but the mood of all the Confederate soldiers is somber. CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest will go to Corinth, Mississippi, this week, and we’re not going to hear of him very much. However, a conversation Forrest has with Major Powhatan Ellis is significant.

Per Major Ellis (8):

I had at this time a conversation with General Forrest which impressed me very deeply. The turn which events soon took showed how thoroughly he grasped the situation and saw the inevitable end. He began the conversation by asking me what I intended to do when the war was over. I replied, “I do not exactly understand what you mean.”

He said: “To my mind it is evident that the end is not far off; it will only be a question of time as to when General Lee’s lines at Petersburg will be broken, for Grant is wearing him out; with unlimited resources of men and money, he must ultimately force Lee to leave Virginia or surrender. Lee’s army will never leave Virginia; they will not follow him out when the time comes, and that will end the war.”

General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Years ago, upon encountering General Forrest while researching these timelines, I quickly learned to start each week’s research by finding out what he had been up to. The man seems to have always been in the thick of the most important events in the Western Theater (Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee). Perhaps it was because he had the intelligence to accurately foresee future trends. In the last week of December 1864, he certainly foresaw the general outline of how this war would end.

And, Forrest being Forrest, he shared his opinion (scroll down) with his superior General Taylor, telling Taylor frankly that “The Army of Tennessee was badly defeated and is greatly demoralized, and to save it during the retreat from Nashville I was compelled almost to sacrifice my command. Aside from the killed, wounded, and captured of my command, many were sent to the rear with barefooted, lame, and unserviceable horses, who have taken advantage of all the confusion and disorder attending the hasty retreat of a beaten army, and are now scattered through the country or have gone to their homes.” Forrest offered to “visit the capital and urge upon the Department the adoption of such measures as will increase its efficiency and bring it under proper control and discipline.”

I don’t think they took him up on it.

“The hasty retreat of a beaten army…”

National Archives

(National Archives)

Anyway, I don’t know if the public, north or south, understood what Hood’s defeat meant for the war as well as General Forrest did, nor have I heard of reaction by any the Lincoln conspirators to the news of Hood’s defeat, who are also hearing bad news from Georgia. There certainly is an uptick in conspiracy activities, though, starting this week.

Finally, General Sherman is setting his sights on South Carolina, but is still unsure “whether I should take Charleston en route, or confine my whole attention to the incidental advantages of breaking up the railways of South and North Carolina, and the greater object of uniting my army with that of General Grant before Richmond.” (15) Much will depend on whether Grant can capture Fort Fisher and Wilmington, the last open Atlantic port of the Confederacy.

December 29

Military events: Mississippi/Alabama operations: General Forrest leaves a brigade to watch for enemy crossings of the Tennessee River and moves the rest of his force to Corinth, while Hood remains in Tuscumbia. (3, 8) [Edit, January 7, 2015: I missed the the following until today:] US General Thomas calls off the pursuit of Hood, but US cavalry under Colonel William Palmer start out from Decatur along the line of Hood’s retreat in Mississippi. He skirmishes with one of Forrest’s subordinates, General Philip Dale Roddey, at Leighton and drives Roddey’s brigade back to the mountains. (Source)

North Carolina operations: General Grant plans to send second expedition against Fort Fisher and Wilmington under the command of General Alfred Howe Terry. (6)

Naval operations: The CSS Shenandoah captures the bark Delphine in the Indian Ocean with cargo of rice. It’s the Shenandoah’s last capture of the year and ninth prize in eight weeks. (29)

The Union's "Stone Blockade" of Charleston Harbor wasn't very effective.  (Library of Congress)

The Union’s “Stone Blockade” off Charleston wasn’t very effective. (Library of Congress)

December 30

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: John Surratt gets a job with a Washington, DC, freight company that ships packages to US soldiers in the field. Anyone working for them knows the locations of Federal forces. (24)

December 31

Military events: Mississippi/Alabama operations: In Leighton, Alabama, US cavalry commander Colonel Palmer learns that General Hood passed through there three days earlier and is on his way to Columbus Mississippi. Palmer avoids General Roddey and sets off after Hood, moving “rapidly via LaGrange and Russellville and by the Cotton-gin road, and over[takes] [Hood]’s pontoon train, consisting of 200 wagons and 78 pontoon boats, when ten miles out from Russellville.” (Same source as for December 29th and January 1st, including quote)

South Carolina operations/Charleston: “Two launches from U.S.S. Wabash and Pawnee under the command of Acting Master’s Mates Albert F. Rich and William H. Fitzgerald ran aground and were captured in Charleston harbor by Confederate pickets. While on guard duty in the harbor, the two launches were driven aground close to Fort Sumter by a strong good tide and freshening wind. Rich later reported: ‘I made every attempt that lay in my power to work the boat off shore; but all my efforts proved unsuccessful. A total of 27 sailors were captured.'” (29, including quote)

Admiral Porter was a good man to have on your side.  (Library of Congress)

Admiral David D. Porter was a good man to have on your side. (Library of Congress)

January 1

Battles: Mississippi/Alabama operations: Per this source,

Having learned of a large supply train on its way to Tuscaloosa, Colonel Palmer started on the 1st of January (1865), toward Aberdeen, Miss., with a view of cutting it off, and succeeded in surprising it about 10 p.m. on the same evening, just over the line in Mississippi. The train consisted of 110 wagons and 500 mules, the former of with were burned and the latter sabered or shot. Returning via Toll-gate, Ala. and on the old military and Hackleburg roads, the enemy, under Roddy, Biffle, and Russell, was met near Russellville and along Bear Creek, whilst another force under Armstrong, was reported to be in pursuit of our forces. Evading the force in his front, by moving off to the right under cover of the darkness, Colonel Palmer pushed for Moulton, coming upon Russell when within twelve miles of Moulton, and near Thorn Hill, attacked him unexpectedly, utterly routing him, and capturing some prisoners, besides burning five wagons. The command then proceeded to Decatur without molestation, reaching the place on 6th of January, after a march of over 250 miles. One hundred and fifty prisoners were captured and nearly 1000 stands of arms destroyed. Colonel Palmer’s loss was 1 killed and 2 wounded.

Military events: Mississippi/Alabama operations: General Hood, unaware of Palmer’s attack, begins to shift his infantry force by rail to Tupelo, Mississippi. (3)

North Carolina operations: “Receiving General Grant’s 30 December notification of a renewed Army assault by sea on Fort Fisher with an ‘increased force and without the former commander [General Benjamin F. Butler]’, Rear Admiral Porter acted vigorously to set up a massive and overwhelming attack behind the fleet’s heavy guns. He directed that his 43 warships concentrated at Beaufort, North Carolina, and the 23 on station off the Cape Fear River send in their operations charts for corrections and on-load ‘every shell that can he carried’ for shore bombardment. Porter replied immediately to the Army commander-in-chief: ‘. . . thank God we are not to leave here with so easy a victory at hand. . . .’ He assured his old Vicksburg colleague that he would ‘work day and night to be ready.’ At Fort Fisher, mindful of General Lee’s message that the work must be held at all costs or the Army of Northern Virginia could not be supplied, Colonel William Lamb and his garrison readied themselves for the further attacks forecast by the sizeable Federal naval force which had remained off the Cape Fear River entrances since the first attempt to take the fort had been broken off.” (29, including quote)

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: Louis Thornton Powell leaves CS General John S. Mosby’s Rangers around this time. (30) Powell will sneak through Union lines at Alexandria, Virginia, and make his way first to Baltimore and eventually to Washington, where he will stay at Surratt’s Boardinghouse.

January 2

Military operations: South Carolina operations: Sherman to Grant (15):

Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT, City Point.

GENERAL: I have received, by the hands of General Barnard, your note of 26th and letter of 27th December.

I herewith inclose to you a copy of a projet which I have this morning, in strict confidence, discussed with my immediate commanders.

I shall need, however, larger supplies of stores, especially grain. I will inclose to you, with this, letters from General Easton, quartermaster, and Colonel Beckwith, commissary of subsistence, setting forth what will be required, and trust you will forward them to Washington with your sanction, so that the necessary steps may be taken at once to enable me to carry out this plan on time.

I wrote you very fully on the 24th, and have nothing to add. Every thing here is quiet, and if I can get the necessary supplies in our wagons, shall be ready to start at the time indicated in my projet (January 15th). But, until those supplies are in hand, I can do nothing; after they are, I shall be ready to move with great rapidity.

I have heard of the affair at Cape Fear. It has turned out as you will remember I expected.

I have furnished General Easton a copy of the dispatch from the Secretary of War. He will retain possession of all cotton here, and ship it as fast as vessels can be had to New York.

I shall immediately send the Seventeenth Corps over to Port Royal, by boats, to be furnished by Admiral Dahlgren and General Foster (without interfering with General Easton’s vessels), to make a lodgment on the railroad at Pocotaligo.

General Barnard will remain with me a few days, and I send this by a staff-officer, who can return on one of the vessels of the supply-fleet. I suppose that, now that General Butler has got through with them, you can spare them to us.

My report of recent operations is nearly ready, and will be sent you in a day or two, as soon as some farther subordinate reports come in.

I am, with great respect, very truly, your friend,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General.

Pocotaligo, South Carolina, by T. R. Davis (Library of Congress)

Pocotaligo, South Carolina, by T. R. Davis (Library of Congress)

[Entirely confidential]

1. Right wing to move men and artillery by transports to head of Broad River and Beaufort; reestablish Port Royal Ferry, and mass the wing at or in the neighborhood of Pocotaligo.

Left wing and cavalry to work slowly across the causeway toward Hardeeville, to open a road by which wagons can reach their corps about Broad River; also, by a rapid movement of the left, to secure Sister’s Ferry, and Augusta road out to Robertsville.

In the mean time, all guns, shot, shell, cotton, etc., to be moved to a safe place, easy to guard, and provisions and wagons got ready for another swath, aiming to have our army in hand about the head of Broad River, say Pocotaligo, Robertsville, and Coosawhatchie, by the 15th January.

2. The whole army to move with loaded wagons by the roads leading in the direction of Columbia, which afford the best chance of forage and provisions. Howard to be at Pocotaligo by the 15th January, and Slocum to be at Robertsville, and Kilpatrick at or near Coosawhatchie about the same date. General Fosters troops to occupy Savannah, and gunboats to protect the rivers as soon as Howard gets Pocotaligo.

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General.

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: On or around this date, John Wilkes Booth again tries to enlist Sam Chester’s involvement in his plot. (24, 30)

January 3

Military events: Georgia/South Carolina operations: Sherman transfers part of his army from Savannah, Georgia, to Beaufort, South Carolina. (31)

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: John Surratt signs a quitclaim deed so the government can’t confiscate all the property of his mother, Mary Surratt, thinking it is his, if he is ever charged with treason. John Wilkes Booth has also signed such a deed, but the practice isn’t a common one among Confederate agents. (24)

January 4

Military events: North Carolina operations: General Grant fires General Butler and replaces him as commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina with General O. C. Ord. (6)

Gulf operations: Grant tells General Edward R. S. Canby to move against Mobile. (6)




(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) Timeline 1864 (PDF) and 1865. State of Tennessee

(26) Up From Slavery. Booker T. Washington

(27) Civil war battles in Alabama list.

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

(29) Naval History of the Civil War: December 1864 and January 1865. History Central.

(30) Arthur F. Loux. John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day. McFarland & Company. Jefferson, North Carolina. 2014. (Note: I have more confidence in Kauffman’s dates (source 24, above), but will use this to work in the other conspirators and events. Take these dates as general times of the month unless backed up by Kauffman.)

(31) The Legacy of the Civil: January 1865.

Categories: American Civil War

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