The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – January 12-18, 1865

Men, you are to capture that mauve fort in a dramatic fight.  -Admiral Porter, USA (citation needed)

Men, you are to capture that big mauve fort in a dramatic fight. -Admiral Porter, USA (citation needed)

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

History remembers well the events in the eastern theater – and there will be a dramatic fight in North Carolina this week – but we can’t overlook the tense standoff along the Tennessee River in the western theater, where Federal cavalry under US General James Wilson is skirmishing constantly with CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry along the borders of the territory in Alabama and Mississippi.

Wilson has about 22,000 men (3) in middle Tennessee, collected at points along Gravelly Springs and Waterloo, along the north bank of the Tennessee River, where they can easily cross into either Alabama or Mississippi once General Grant, who planning a campaign against Mobile, gives the word. Forrest has about 10,000 men scattered over Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, many of them on furlough and the rest recuperating in Okolona, Mississippi, after the recent disastrous campaign under General John Bell Hood.

Yes, William Jackson Palmer is a good man to have on your side.

Yes, William Jackson Palmer is a good man to have on your side.

Rebel scouts are watching the Yankees, who are holding back with some difficulty. Jordan and Pryor (3) say:

…from the first of January until the middle of March – with the cares of reorganization, numerous hostile demonstrations had taken place upon the outskirts of the territory intrusted to General Forrest, and as many counter movements on his side were made; but in each instance the enemy recoiled without a collision.

Meanwhile, US cavalry commander William Palmer is still in Forrest’s territory on the southern side of the Tennessee River…and still in a fighting mood. This week Palmer will engage in an action that eventually earns him a Medal of Honor.

Also, every time I check the calendar at the Lincoln Log (4), it saddens me to see how time is running out for the president of the United States. I really dislike having to deal with the Lincoln conspirators here, but that ugly tragedy is inextricably associated with, though completely different from, the ending months of the Civil War. And this week, per Kauffman (24), John Wilkes Booth is refining his plans, which still apparently involve kidnapping US President Lincoln and holding him hostage for the release of Confederate prisoners. (As I’ve mentioned, there are some very detailed accounts of the conspirators’ movements during the first four months of the year, but Kauffman has done intensive research and reports that many dates are vague. While he certainly doesn’t contradict other writers, experience tells me that uncertainty about dates is a very common historical finding, so for that reason as well as for consistency, I’ll rely on him for these timeline reports unless it’s necessary to give an event that is vital but undated by Kauffman. Be aware that some of the links you will visit may say different things from what you’ve read here.)

Booth plans to use Dave Herold as an “all-purpose utility man,” in Kauffman’s words. Sam Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen will do the kidnapping. Tom Harbin and John Surratt will cover the route to Richmond.

Fort Fisher was huge, and very sturdily built.  This is just one section of the massive structure...after an intense heavy bombardment.  (Library of Congress)

Fort Fisher was huge, and very sturdily built. This is just one individual unit of the massive structure…after an intense bombardment. (Library of Congress)

January 12

Military events: General Forrest establishes his headquarters at Verona, Mississippi. (3)

North Carolina operations/Fort Fisher: “‘The great armada,’ as Colonel Lamb described Rear Admiral Porter’s fleet, got underway from Beaufort, North Carolina, where a rendezvous had been made with 8,000 Union troops under the command of Major General Terry. The fleet, up to that time the largest American force to be assembled under one command, proceeded along the Carolina coast northeast of Wilmington and arrived off Fort Fisher the same night. Preparations were made for commencing a naval bombardment the following morning and for the amphibious landing of 10,000 soldiers, sailors, and Marines.” (29, including quote)

CS President Davis writes to his brother-inlaw, General Richard Taylor, commander of the Department of Alabama and Mississippi, that (31):

“(William T.) Sherman’s campaign has produced bad effect on our people, success against his future operations is needful to reanimate public confidence. (General William) Hardee requires more aid than (General Robert E.) Lee can give him, and (General John Bell) Hood’s army is the only source to which we can now look.” Davis said Taylor should keep some troops to hold Major General George H. Thomas at bay, but the main part of the western forces should be sent “to look after Sherman.”

Luce went on to become an admiral.

Luce went on to become an admiral.

January 13

Battles: North Carolina operations: The Second Battle of Fort Fisher begins. See source 29 for some details on the naval and amphibious landing portions of the battle.

Military events: General Hood resigns his command of the Army of Tennessee. (25)

Other: Well, this is also a military event, but it’s worth mentioning here as the inspiration for the eventual establishment of the US Naval War College. “Lieutenant Commander Stephen B. Luce, U.S.S. Pontiac, was ordered to report for duty with General W.T. Sherman. Pontiac steamed 40 miles up the Savannah River to protect the left wing of Sherman’s army which was crossing the river at Sister’s Ferry, Georgia, and cover its initial movements by water on the march north that would soon cause the fall of Charleston. Luce later credited his meeting with General Sherman as the beginning of his thinking which eventually resulted in the founding of the Naval War College. He said: ‘After hearing General Sherman’s clear exposition of the military situation, the scales seemed to fall from my eyes. It dawned on me that there were certain fundamental principles underlying military opera-tions, . . . principles of general application whether the operations were on land or at sea.'” (29, including quote)

January 14

Battles: Battle of Red Hill, Alabama. CS General Hylan B. Lyon barely escapes. I can find very little about this fight, which is odd since US Colonel Palmer earned one of those new-fangled Medals of Honor for it. The date may be off, too. According to this source (scroll down), Palmer’s cavalry had returned to Decatur after its January 1st raid on Hood’s pontoon-train. Then:

Upon its return [to Decatur], the command was ordered to Huntsville for rest, but on the night following its arrival, Colonel Palmer was directed to take all his available mounted men, and intercept the rebel General Lyon at Fort Deposit. Failing in this, Colonel Palmer crossed the river in pursuit, came up with Lyon on January 16th, surprised his camp before daylight, and routed his command, capturing his only piece of artillery, and ninety-six prisoners, which were brought off. Lyon himself was taken, but succeeded in making his escape, after shooting the sergeant who had him in charge – the only loss.

Palmer, per that source, continued to raise heck in the Cumberland Plateau region until he was promoted to general and moved up to a position with Gillem’s Division in Tennessee.

North Carolina operations. The Second Battle of Fort Fisher continues.

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: John Surratt, having just quit his new shipping job because he couldn’t take time off, rides down to Port Tobacco with Tom Harbin to buy three boats for escape after Lincoln is captured. There’s no evidence that they ever find more than one boat, which Surratt buys for $250 (half in advance). To row and steer it, they hire a local blockade runner, George Andrew Atzerodt, who gives up another job, ferrying a Confederate agent across the Potomac for a black market tobacco deal, to join them. (25)

January 15

Battles: North Carolina operations. The Second Battle of Fort Fisher ends. The lifeline of the Confederacy is severed as the port of Wilmington closes. Can Richmond, and Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, be supplied by the US-held James River?

Military events: South Carolina operations/Charleston: “At the request of Major General William T. Sherman, Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, issued orders to prepare for a combined naval and military demonstration before Charleston in order to draw attention from General Sherman’s march to the north. Before making the demonstration, it was necessary to locate and mark the numerous obstructions in the channel of Charleston harbor. Accordingly, this date orders were issued charging the commanders of the monitors with this duty. That evening, while searching for the Confederate obstructions, U.S.S. Patapsco, Lieutenant Commander Stephen P. Quackenbush, struck a torpedo (mine) near the entrance of the lower harbor and sank instantly with the loss of 64 officers and men, more than half her crew. She was the fourth monitor lost in the war, the second due to enemy torpedoes. Thereafter, only small boats and tugs were used in the search for obstructions and the objective of the joint expedition was changed to Bull’s Bay, a few miles northeast of Charleston.” (29, including quote)

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: “Sometime in mid-January,” in Kauffman’s words, Booth changes his mind about the kidnapping, though it’s unclear whether he just changes the site or has, at least privately, decides on murder. He tells Arnold and O’Laughlen that Lincoln no longer follows the same route so why not kidnap him one night when he goes to Ford’s Theater. When they balk, Booth takes them to Ford’s and shows them how it’s set up to make a quick getaway. (24)


January 16

Military events: The Confederate Senate votes in favor of making General Lee Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate Army. US President Davis is in favor of this, and presses Lee over the coming days to accept the position. Lee resists, saying “with the addition of the immediate command of [the Army of Northern Virginia] I do not think I could accomplish any good…If I had the ability I would not have the time.” (25)

North Carolina operations: General Bragg orders the evacuation of the remaining Confederate positions at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

Emancipation: Sherman issues Special Field Order No. 15: “40 Acres and a Mule.” Per the order:

The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States…Whenever three respectable negroes, heads of families, shall desire to settle on land, and shall have selected for that purpose an island or a locality clearly defined, within the limits above designated, the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations will himself, or by such subordinate officer as he may appoint, give them a license to settle such island or district, and afford them such assistance as he can to enable them to establish a peaceable agricultural settlement. The three parties named will subdivide the land, under the supervision of the Inspector, among themselves and such others as may choose to settle near them, so that each family shall have a plot of not more than (40) forty acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel, with not more than 800 feet water front, in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection, until such time as they can protect themselves, or until Congress shall regulate their title. The Quartermaster may, on the requisition of the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, place at the disposal of the Inspector, one or more of the captured steamers, to ply between the settlements and one or more of the commercial points heretofore named in orders, to afford the settlers the opportunity to supply their necessary wants, and to sell the products of their land and labor.

January 17

Military events: In Mississippi, CS General P. G. T. Beauregard assumes temporary command of the Army of Tennessee, per source 25. However, this source says General Hood was removed from command on the 23rd. That is actually the day General Richard Taylor takes command, reporting to General Beauregard. (25)

January 18

Military events: Georgia/South Carolina operations: Per General Sherman (15):

Next . . .

Next . . .

On the 18th of January General Slocum was ordered to turn over the city of Savannah to General J. G. Foster, commanding the Department of the South, who proposed to retain his own headquarters at Hilton Head, and to occupy Savannah by General Grovers division of the Nineteenth Corps, just arrived from James River; and on the next day, viz., January 19th, I made the first general orders for the move.

These were substantially to group the right wing of the army at Pocotaligo, already held by the Seventeenth Corps, and the left wing and cavalry at or near Robertsville, in South Carolina. The army remained substantially the same as during the march from Atlanta, with the exception of a few changes in the commanders of brigades and divisions, the addition of some men who had joined from furlough, and the loss of others from the expiration of their term of service. My own personal staff remained the same, with the exception that General W. F. Barry had rejoined us at Savannah, perfectly recovered from his attack of erysipelas, and continued with us to the end of the war. Generals Easton and Beckwith remained at Savannah, in charge of their respective depots, with orders to follow and meet us by sea with supplies when we should reach the coast at Wilmington or Newbern, North Carolina.

Of course, I gave out with some ostentation, especially among the rebels, that we were going to Charleston or Augusta; but I had long before made up my mind to waste no time on either, further than to play off on their fears, thus to retain for their protection a force of the enemy which would otherwise concentrate in our front, and make the passage of some of the great rivers that crossed our route more difficult and bloody.

Other: Richmond: “J. B. Jones, a clerk in the Confederate War Department, wrote in his diary: “No war news. But blockade-running at Wilmington has ceased; and common calico, now at $25 per yard, will soon be $50. . . . Flour is $1250 per barrel, to-day.” (29, including quote)
An Atlanta scene, per the makers of Gone With The Wind:




(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 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. 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 War: January 1865.

(32) The American Civil War Photo Gallery.

(33) The Final Campaign. Talladega County American History & Genealogy Project

Categories: American Civil War

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