Here’s a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week. US General Phil Sheridan’s troops are in winter quarters in the Shenandoah Valley (and Sheridan has requested 50,000 pairs of mittens for them, per source 25, because it’s cold). General Thomas’s Army of the Ohio is also in winter quarters in Tennessee.
However, other US troops are in the field, and the Confederacy is fighting for its life. In Virginia, General Lee’s army around Richmond is in dire straits now that the port of Wilmington has been closed. Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory decides to relieve Lee via the James River.
CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest is still in Verona, resting and reorganizing his command, rehorsing his cavalry, and getting more artillery, as well as collecting up deserters from the demoralized Army of Tennessee. He probably is also aware that there is a promotion coming his way – the result of US Colonel Palmer’s attack on Hood’s pontoon train a few weeks ago.
Military events: General Lee requests that General Joseph Johnston be put in command of the combined armies of the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Southern Virginia. (25)
Other: John Wilkes Booth appears onstage as Romeo for a benefit performance and gets rave reviews. (24)
Military events: Virginia operations: “Secretary Mallory again wrote Flag Officer [John K.] Mitchell urging an immediate movement by the James River Squadron past the obstructions at Trent’s Reach and assault on General Grant’s base of operations at City Point. ‘You have an opportunity, I am convinced, rarely presented to a naval officer, and one which may lead to the most glorious results to your country.’ The same day Mitchell sent a telegram to General Lee, whose troops depended heavily on a successful completion of the attack, informing him that the squadron would attempt to pass the obstructions on the 22nd. ‘I have not time to visit you,’ he wrote, ‘and would therefore be glad to meet on board of the flagship or at Drewry’s Bluff any officer whom you could appoint to meet me, to give me your views and wishes as to my cooperation with the army down the river in the event of our being successful.'” (29, including quote)
South Carolina operations: Per General Sherman (15):
Having accomplished all that seemed necessary, on the 21st of January, with my entire headquarters, officers, clerks, orderlies, etc., with wagons and horses, I embarked in a steamer for Beaufort, South Carolina, touching at Hilton Head, to see General Foster. The weather was rainy and bad…
Lincoln assassination conspiracy: John Surratt invites Lou Weichmann along on a trip to Baltimore, where they stay at the Maltby House. Surratt meets Lewis Thornton Powell in Baltimore through an informal prisoner relief organization. (24)
Military events: Virginia operations: “Flag Officer Mitchell reported that he was unable to get underway to pass the obstructions at Trent’s Reach as he had planned because of heavy fog. Mitchell had also received no report from Boatswain Thomas Gauley, whom he had dispatched on the 21st to remove a number of Confederate torpedoes that had been placed in the channel near Howlett’s Landing. He wrote Major General George Pickett [yes, that George Pickett]: ‘Tomorrow night, if the weather is sufficiently clear for the pilots to see their way, our movement will be made, and I will be glad to have your cooperation as agreed upon for to-night.’ A successful downriver thrust by Mitchell’s squadron could spell disaster for the Union cause as General Grant would be deprived of his great water-supplied base at City Point and his armies would be divided by Confederate control of the James River.” (29, including quote)
General Hood reports the loss of his pontoon-train, eighty-three boats, one hundred and fifty wagons, and four hundred mules, due to inability of General Roddey to bring his troops from their home. I wish to substitute another brigade in its place, and put all the cavalry of this department under one commanding officer, Forrest.
Military events: CS General Richard Taylor takes command of the Army of Tennessee. (25) He will be reporting to General Beauregard.
South Carolina operations: General Sherman recalls (15):
[W]e reached Beaufort safely on the 23d, and found some of General Blair’s troops there. The pink of his corps (Seventeenth) was, however, up on the railroad about Pocotaligo, near the head of Broad River, to which their supplies were carried from Hilton Head by steamboats. General Hatch’s division (of General Foster’s command) was still at Coosawhatchie or Tullafinny, where the Charleston & Savannah Railroad crosses the river of that name. All the country between Beaufort and Pocotaligo was low alluvial land, cut up by an infinite number of salt-water sloughs and freshwater creeks, easily susceptible of defense by a small force; and why the enemy had allowed us to make a lodgment at Pocotaligo so easily I did not understand, unless it resulted from fear or ignorance…General W. J. Hardee commanded the Confederate forces in Charleston, with the Salkiehatchie River as his line of defense. It was also known that General Beauregard had come from the direction of Tennessee, and had assumed the general command of all the troops designed to resist our progress.
The heavy winter rains had begun early in January, rendered the roads execrable, and the Savannah River became so swollen that it filled its many channels, overflowing the vast extent of rice-fields that lay on the east bank. This flood delayed our departure two weeks; for it swept away our pontoon-bridge at Savannah, and came near drowning John E. Smith’s division of the Fifteenth Corps, with several heavy trains of wagons that were en route from Savannah to Pocotaligo by the old causeway.
Battles: Virginia operations: The battle of Trent’s Reach begins on the night of the 23rd-24th. Here is a slide presentation about the Richmond ironclads at Trent’s Reach. The attack fails when the heaviest Confederate ironclads run aground. (13)
Military events: South Carolina operations: Sherman sets out on his march through South Carolina, with naval support from the ships of the South Atlantic Blocking Squadron that are operating in nearby rivers. (15, 29). Per General Sherman:
On the 24th of January I started from Beaufort with a part of my staff, leaving the rest to follow at leisure, rode across the island to a pontoon-bridge that spanned the channel between it and the main-land, and thence rode by Garden’s Corners to a plantation not far from Pocotaligo, occupied by General Blair. There we found a house, with a majestic avenue of live-oaks, whose limbs had been cut away by the troops for firewood, and desolation marked one of those splendid South Carolina estates where the proprietors formerly had dispensed a hospitality that distinguished the old regime of that proud State. I slept on the floor of the house, but the night was so bitter cold that I got up by the fire several times, and when it burned low I rekindled it with an old mantel-clock and the wreck of a bedstead which stood in a corner of the room–the only act of vandalism that I recall done by myself personally during the war.
Mississippi/Alabama/Louisiana operations: Forrest assumes command of the Alabama, Tennessee, and East Louisiana. Over the next few weeks, he will reorganize his command, putting troops from Mississippi in Chalmers’ division, Alabamians and Kentuckians in Buford’s brigade, Tennessee troops under Bell, and Texans under W. H. Jackson. McCulloch’s Second Missouri is an independent regiment and moves with Forrest. (8)
Other: General Grant accepts Confederate requests to start a prisoner exchange. (6, 25)
“Lincoln writes to Vice President-elect Andrew Johnson regarding the necessity of Johnson’s presence in Washington, D. C. for the March 4 inaugural. Johnson, who is the Military Governor of Tennessee, wishes to remain in Tennessee until April 3, when the state will formally re-enter the Union. Lincoln replies that he has consulted with ‘[s]everal members of the Cabinet,’ and ‘it is our unanimous conclusion that it is unsafe for you to not be here on the fourth of March. Be sure to reach here by that time.'” (4, including quotes)
Military events: Virginia operations: General Lee turns to the people of Richmond (scroll down) to arm and equip a cavalry unit. (25)
South Carolina operations: Per General Sherman (15):
The next morning I rode to Pocotaligo, and thence reconnoitred our entire line down to Coosawhatchie. Pocotaligo Fort was on low, alluvial ground, and near it began the sandy pine-land which connected with the firm ground extending inland, constituting the chief reason for its capture at the very first stage of the campaign. Hatch’s division was ordered to that point from Coosawhatchie, and the whole of Howard’s right wing was brought near by, ready to start by the 1st of February. I also reconnoitred the point of the Salkiehatchie River, where the Charleston Railroad crossed it, found the bridge protected by a rebel battery on the farther side, and could see a few men about it; but the stream itself was absolutely impassable, for the whole bottom was overflowed by its swollen waters to the breadth of a full mile. Nevertheless, Force’s and Mower’s divisions of the Seventeenth Corps were kept active, seemingly with the intention to cross over in the direction of Charleston, and thus to keep up the delusion that that city was our immediate “objective.” Meantime, I had reports from General Slocum of the terrible difficulties he had encountered about Sister’s Ferry, where the Savannah River was reported nearly three miles wide, and it seemed for a time almost impossible for him to span it at all with his frail pontoons. About this time (January 25th), the weather cleared away bright and cold, and I inferred that the river would soon run down, and enable Slocum to pass the river before February 1st. One of the divisions of the Fifteenth Corps (Corse’s) had also been cut off by the loss of the pontoon-bridge at Savannah, so that General Slocum had with him, not only his own two corps, but Corse’s division and Kilpatrick’s cavalry, without which it was not prudent for me to inaugurate the campaign. We therefore rested quietly about Pocotaligo, collecting stores and making final preparations, until the 1st of February, when I learned that the cavalry and two divisions of the Twentieth Corps were fairly across the river, and then gave the necessary orders for the march northward.
General Forrest recalls General Bell, asking him to collect absentees from west Tennessee as he returns. (3)
Other: Georgia operations/Savannah: The Great Fire. Federals and Confederates blame each other, and the citizens are embittered. (25) Today, the Savannah Fire Department pins the blame (PDF) on “soldiers of the 20th U. S. Army Corps in an attempt to prevent the necessity of their remaining after the arrival of Sherman’s army.”
Battles: Tennessee operations: Athens (PDF).
Military events: Tennessee operations: The expedition (PDF) from Strawberry Plains to Clinch Mountain begins.
Peace negotiations: There have been ongoing feelers for a while, per various sources, but I decided to start including these today. “President Davis appoint[s] three envoys to negotiate peace with the U.S.: Vice President Alexander Stephens, former Confederate Secretary of State R.M.T. Hunter, and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell. Davis instruct[s] them, ‘In conformity with the letter of Mr. Lincoln [I think this is the letter of the 18th here, if you scroll down], of which the foregoing is a copy, you are requested to proceed to Washington City for informal conference with him upon the issues involved in the existing war, and for the purpose of securing peace to the two countries'” (25, including quote). More information.
(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.
(6) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(8) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).
(10) The Siege of Charleston, “The State.” (South Carolina)
(12) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.
(14) The Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion…, Richard Miller Devens (1866).
(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.
(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.
(33) The Final Campaign. Talladega County American History & Genealogy Project
(34) The Hampton Roads Conference. Wikipedia.
Categories: American Civil War