The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – January 26 to February 1, 1865

Spot quiz:  You have, at most, some 10,000 men, many of them unhorsed and exhausted after Hood's retreat from Tennessee, and you have to defend this territory from some 20,000 US cavalrymen.  You're Nathan Bedford Forrest.  What do you do? (Map source)

Spot quiz: You have, at most, some 10,000 men, many of them unhorsed and exhausted after Hood’s retreat from Tennessee, and you have to defend the territory shown in the above map from twenty-some thousand US cavalrymen. They’re backed up by the Army of the Ohio in Nashville, and more US troops are gathering in Memphis and Vicksburg to move against you. You’re Nathan Bedford Forrest. What do you do? (Map source)

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

In Pocotaligo, South Carolina, the weather has improved, and General Sherman is waiting for river flooding to subside before beginning his march through the state to Columbia. The Savannah River reportedly is almost three miles wide.(15)

We won’t hear much about CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest during the month of February. This week, he is at his headquarters in Verona, Mississippi, reorganizing his command and watching the movements of US cavalry posted on the north bank of the Tennessee River. (3) Forrest and his men are the only Confederate force standing in the Federals’ path from Tennessee to the coast, I believe, for the Army of Tennessee, now under CS Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Richard Taylor, is on its way by rail from Mississippi to South Carolina in order to reinforce CS Generals Hardee, Hampton, and Wheeler against Sherman. (15) Forrest’s scouts also report that “[o]ther expeditions for the invasion of his [Forrest’s] territory” are organizing in Memphis, Tennessee, and along the Mississippi River in the Vicksburg/Baton Rouge area. (8, including quote)

Abraham Lincoln, January 8, 1864.  (Library of Congress)

Abraham Lincoln, January 8, 1864. (Library of Congress)

Update on the Lincoln assassination conspiracy

In Washington, DC, Louis Weichmann has joined John Surratt at John’s mother’s boardinghouse. George Atzerodt will soon show up there, too. In addition to the boardinghouse on H Street, Mary Surratt still owns her family’s tavern in Surrattsville, Maryland, which is run by a former DC police officer named John Lloyd. John Wilkes Booth is staying at the National Hotel in Washingon, making occasional trips to and from New York City. Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen are also in town, sharing a hotel room. (24)

Booth has his henchman gathered around him, but they are not plotting together the way you usually imagine a conspiracy, per Kauffman, in source 24. In fact, at this point Arnold and O’Laughlen don’t even know anyone else is involved. I get the impression from Kauffman that Booth, while not crazy (except the sort of blood-simple craziness any murderer has), is playing some sort of game in his mind, using real people as pawns by misleading them as to his intentions and maneuvering them into incriminating actions so they can’t rat on him. For everybody, possibly even including Booth, the conspiracy, such as it is at this point, is all about kidnapping the president, not murdering him.

There are occasional, undated contacts with Confederate spies and runners from Richmond during this period. Kauffman says that Surratt’s Tavern and Mary Surratt’s boarding house are both Confederate safe houses. There may also be contacts with Confederate spies and supporters in New York – Kauffman mentions this and says, quite frankly, we just don’t know what the New York dimension to the conspiracy may involve.

For the next few weeks things will remain vague, but unfortunately the conspiracy isn’t going to go away…or be detected, despite a couple of close calls, until the final act and short, bitter coda.

On a brighter note, this week, 150 years ago, the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution went to the states for ratification.

Lincoln's signature on a joint resolution submitting the proposed 13th amendment to the "several states" for ratification.  (Source)

Lincoln’s signature on a joint resolution submitting the proposed 13th amendment to the “several states” for ratification. (Source)


Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

January 26

Battles: South Carolina operations/Combahee River: “U.S.S. Dai Ching, Lieutenant Commander James C. Chaplin, operating, on the right flank of General W. T. Sherman’s army in the Combahee River, ran aground while engaging Confederate batteries. After a 7 hour battle, and only after all her guns were out of operation, Dai Ching was abandoned and fired by her crew. The tug U.S.S. Clover, Acting Ensign Franklin S. Leach, which had been in company with Dai Ching, captured blockade running schooner Coquette with cargo of cotton.” (29, including quote)

Jefferson Davis and General Lee

Photograph of Jefferson Davis and painting of General Lee. (Library of Congress, for both)

January 31

Military events: CS General Robert E. Lee assumes command as General-in-Chief of the Confederate Army, eight days after the CS Congress nominated him for the position. (5)

Emancipation: The Senate had passed the 13th amendment to the US Constitution in 1864; today, the House passes it. The proposed amendment now goes to the White House.

Peace: At his headquarters in City Point, Virginia, General Grant meets with three informal Confederate peace emissaries. (6)

February 1

Military events: South Carolina operations/Carolinas Campaign: General Sherman hears that his XX Corps has crossed the Savannah River. He gives the word for over 60,000 men to march northward. He estimates enemy forces at some 40,000 men. (15) Per General Sherman:

[T]he only serious question that occurred to me was, would General Lee sit down in Richmond (besieged by General Grant), and permit us, almost unopposed, to pass through the States of South and North Carolina, cutting off and consuming the very supplies on which he depended to feed his army in Virginia, or would he make an effort to escape from General Grant, and endeavor to catch us inland somewhere between Columbia and Raleigh? I knew full well at the time that the broken fragments of Hood’s army (which had escaped from Tennessee) were being hurried rapidly across Georgia, by Augusta, to make junction in my front; estimating them at the maximum twenty-five thousand men, and Hardee’s, Wheeler’s, and Hampton’s forces at fifteen thousand, made forty thousand; which, if handled with spirit and energy, would constitute a formidable force, and might make the passage of such rivers as the Santee and Cape Fear a difficult undertaking. Therefore, I took all possible precautions, and arranged with Admiral Dahlgren and General Foster to watch our progress inland by all the means possible, and to provide for us points of security along the coast; as, at Bull’s Bay, Georgetown, and the mouth of Cape Fear River.

A train in the 1860s on the Neuse River Bridge, Wilmington & Goldsboro Railroad.  (Library of Congress)

A train in the 1860s on the Neuse River Bridge, Wilmington & Goldsboro Railroad. (Library of Congress)

Still, it was extremely desirable in one march to reach Goldsboro in the State of North Carolina (distant four hundred and twenty-five miles), a point of great convenience for ulterior operations, by reason of the two railroads which meet there, coming from the seacoast at Wilmington and Newbern. Before leaving Savannah I had sent to Newbern Colonel W. W. Wright, of the Engineers, with orders to look to these railroads, to collect rolling-stock, and to have the roads repaired out as far as possible in six weeks–the time estimated as necessary for us to march that distance.

The question of supplies remained still the one of vital importance, and I reasoned that we might safely rely on the country for a considerable quantity of forage and provisions, and that, if the worst came to the worst, we could live several months on the mules and horses of our trains. Nevertheless, time was equally material, and the moment I heard that General Slocum had finished his pontoon-bridge at Sister’s Ferry, and that Kilpatrick’s cavalry was over the river, I gave the general orders to march, and instructed all the columns to aim for the South Carolina Railroad to the west of Branchville, about Blackville and Midway.

Gulf operations/Florida: “[February] 1-4 A boat expedition from U.S.S. Midnight, Acting Master John C. Wells, landed and destroyed salt works “of 13,615 boiling capacity” at St. Andrews Bay, Florida. The making of salt from sea water became a major industry in Florida during the Civil War as salt was a critical commodity in the Confederate war effort. Large quantities were needed for preserving meat, fish, butter, and other perishable foods, as well as for curing hides. Federal warships continuously destroyed salt works along the coasts of Florida. The expedition led by Wells was the finale in the Union Navy’s effective restriction of this vital Confederate industry.” (29, including quote)

Emancipation: President Lincoln signs a Joint Resolution submitting the proposed 13th Amendment, which he terms ” a King’s cure for all the evils [of slavery],” to the states. The question arises, how many states should ratify it: three-fourths of the original Union states or three-fourths of the currently valid state legislatures? (The war’s end eventually settled the matter. On December 6, 1865, when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify it, it officially became the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. Of note, Mississippi rejected this amendment on December 5, 1865, and only ratified it in 1995 [not a typo]; however, the official paperwork wasn’t submitted to Washington until February 7, 2013.)

In a separate move, John Rock becomes the first black man admitted to the bar of the US Supreme Court. (31) It’s almost eight years after the Court’s Dred Scott v. Sandford decision.

John Rock.  (Wikipedia)

John Rock. (Wikipedia)

Peace: General Grant recommends that President Lincoln meet the Confederate peace emissaries, which Lincoln will do next week at Hampton Roads. (6)

The pen is not always mightier than the sword, but it certainly gets things rolling…

"I again desire to avail myself of your services in making a motion for my admission to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. We have now a great and good man for our Chief Justice, and with him I have no doubt my color will not be a bar to my admission. If any influence is needed Mr. Sumner who is always ready to do a good work will aid you. Will it be necessary to bring anything more than my certificate of admission to the bar here?"- John Rock, December 13, 1864.  (Source)

“I again desire to avail myself of your services in making a motion for my admission to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. We have now a great and good man for our Chief Justice, and with him I have no doubt my color will not be a bar to my admission. If any influence is needed Mr. Sumner who is always ready to do a good work will aid you. Will it be necessary to bring anything more than my certificate of admission to the bar here?”- John Rock, December 13, 1864. (Source)




(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

(34) The Hampton Roads Conference. Wikipedia.

Categories: American Civil War

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