The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – February 2-8, 1865

Here’s a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week. Union and Confederate negotiators sat down to the peace table this week at Hampton Roads, but could not come to an agreement.

There isn’t much going on in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy yet, though Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen do meet John Surratt in John Wilkes Booth’s room at the National Hotel some time in early February. They still don’t know there are other conspirators. (24)

The Confederate naval jack of the "CSS Beaufort" is now in the New York State Military Museum.  (Source)

The Confederate naval jack of the “CSS Beaufort” is now in the New York State Military Museum. (Source)

February 2

Military events: “Having failed to pass the obstructions at Trent’s Reach in order to attack the Union supply base at City Point, Flag Officer Mitchell confronted another kind of difficulty in maintaining communications with his own capital, Richmond. In the bitter cold the James River began to freeze over and the ice threatened Wilton Bridge. This date, Mitchell ordered C.S.S. Beaufort, Lieutenant Joseph W. Alexander, to break up the ice near the bridge and remain near it “to insure its safety.” Two days later, Mitchell noted that C.S.S. Torpedo was of special importance because ‘she is now the only boat in connection with the Beaufort (that is crippled) that we can use to protect the Wilton Bridge from ice and to keep open our communication with the city.'” (29, including quote)

February 3

Battles: South Carolina operations: Rivers Bridge. See also the National Park Service’s website for “These Honored Dead: The Battle of Rivers Bridge and Civil War Combat Casualties.” Per General Sherman, however (15):

On the 3d the Seventeenth Corps was opposite Rivers’s Bridge, and the Fifteenth approached Beaufort’s Bridge. The Salkiehatchie was still over its banks, and presented a most formidable obstacle. The enemy appeared in some force on the opposite bank, had cut away all the bridges which spanned the many deep channels of the swollen river, and the only available passage seemed to be along the narrow causeways which constituted the common roads. At Rivers’s Bridge Generals Mower and Giles A. Smith led, their heads of column through this swamp, the water up to their shoulders, crossed over to the pine-land, turned upon the rebel brigade which defended the passage, and routed it in utter disorder. It was in this attack that General Wager Swayne lost his leg, and he had to be conveyed back to Pocotaligo. Still, the loss of life was very small, in proportion to the advantages gained, for the enemy at once abandoned the whole line of the Salkiehatchie, and the Fifteenth Corps passed over at Beaufort’s Bridge, without opposition.

The "USS Shawmut" was one of the few Nipsic-class vessels.  (Source)

The “USS Shawmut” was one of the few Nipsic-class vessels. (Source)

North Carolina operations: Action at Fort Anderson. This quote from source 29 is rather extensive but it provides good background:

To speed the collapse of the faltering South, another giant thrust gathered from the sea off Wilmington. During the lull before the planned spring assault on Richmond when the road conditions improved, General Grant came down to confer with Rear Admiral Porter, his old Vicksburg shipmate. The General had spent several hours on board the flagship Malvern on 28 January where plans took shape for the push into North Carolina up the Cape Fear River as Sherman marched inland parallel to the coast. When Grant returned to Virginia he quickly dispatched General Schofield by sea with an army which, with the big guns of the fleet, would be large enough to push on to Wilmington. This date [February 3], Porter, in U.S.S. Shawmut preparing for the campaign, engaged Fort Anderson to test the strength of the Confederate defenses on the west bank of the Cape Fear which guarded the approach to Wilmington.

From City Point, Virginia, General Grant requested the Navy to keep two or three vessels patrol-ling between Cape Henry and the Cape Fear River during the transit of General Schofield’s Twenty-Third Army Corps. The Corps was embarking from Annapolis, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, for North Carolina to participate in the attack on Wilmington. “It is barely possible,” Grant wrote, “for one of the enemy’s privateers to be met on that route and do us great injury.” Two steamers were stationed as requested to protect the troop transports.

Currier & Ives view of the action the "USS Montauk" was in later in February 1865.  (Source)

Currier & Ives view of action that the “USS Montauk” engaged in during February 1865. (Source)

In anticipation of the movement on Wilmington, Porter wrote Dahlgren requesting that the monitors lie had dispatched to Charleston after the fall of Fort Fisher be returned for duty on the Cape Fear River. Although each squadron commander wanted the sturdy warships to spearhead his own efforts, Dahlgren prevailed in his belief that his problem was the greater before the heavily fortified Charleston harbor. Thus Porter had to plan on the services of only U.S.S. Montauk, the lone monitor he had retained.

Monitors, with their big guns and massive armor, appealed more to naval and military commanders for fighting forts than they did to many of their crews. An officer on board U.S.S. Canonicus had written earlier: “I will never again go to sea in a monitor. I have suffered more in mind and body since this affair commenced than I will suffer again if I can help it. No glory, no promotion can ever pay for it.”

Brigadier General John P. Hatch, one of General Sherman’s subordinates, turned to Dahlgren for naval assistance: “If you can spare a tug or two launches, to cruise in upper Broad River during the stay of this command near here [Pocotaligo, South Carolina], it would be of service to us. Night before last three of our boats were stolen, and I fear some scamps in the vicinity of Boyd’s Neck or Bee’s Creek are preparing to attempt to capture sonic of our transports.

Peace: The Hampton Roads Conference. The movie Lincoln apparently took liberties in its portrayal of this failed peace conference.

The conference was held near Fortress Monroe, on the steamer "River Queen."  (Wikipedia)

The conference was held near Fortress Monroe, on the steamer “River Queen.” (Wikipedia)

February 4

Military events: Virginia operations/Siege of Petersburg: Lincoln tells Grant, through Secretary of War Stanton, that “nothing transpired, or transpiring with the three gentlemen from Richmond, is to cause any change hinderance [sic] or delay, of your military plans or operations.” (4) General Grant tells Stanton that he doesn’t want to begin final offensive operations at Petersburg until Schofield and Sherman are in place in North Carolina. Grant tells General Meade to move west of Petersburg on the 5th. (6)

February 5

Battles: Virginia operations, Siege of Petersburg: The battle of Hatcher’s Run begins. (5)

Military operations: General Grant completes arrangements to begin exchanging prisoners. (6) Of note, this completely undercuts John Wilkes Booth’s stated plan to kidnap President Lincoln to force the release of Confederate prisoners of war. (24)

South Carolina operations/Carolinas Campaign: Per General Sherman (15):

On the 5th of February I was at Beaufort’s Bridge, by which time General A. S. Williams had got up with five brigades’ of the Twentieth Corps; I also heard of General Kilpatrick’s being abreast of us, at Barnwell, and then gave orders for the march straight for the railroad at Midway. I still remained with the Fifteenth Corps, which, on the 6th of February, was five miles from Bamberg. As a matter of course, I expected severe resistance at this railroad, for its loss would sever all the communications of the enemy in Charleston with those in Augusta.


I am not sure where Sherman and his troops were on this 1880 map of the South Carolina Railroad, but presumably he was aiming for the junction of the two large branching lines.  Charleston is on the right at the coast.  The Army of Tennessee was coming in from August, Georgia, there at the western tip of the lower big branch.  (Source)

I am not sure where Sherman and his troops were on this 1880 map of the South Carolina Railroad, but presumably he was aiming for the junction of the two large branching lines. Charleston is on the right at the coast. The Army of Tennessee was coming in from Mississippi via Augusta, Georgia, there at the western tip of the lower big branch. Sherman’s goal, Columbia, South Carolina, is at the end of the lowermost branch of that small “V” on the right. (Source)

February 6

Battles: Virginia operations, Siege of Petersburg: The battle of Hatcher’s Run continues. Grant tells General Meade not to attack entrenched positions. (6)

February 7

Battles: Virginia operations, Siege of Petersburg: The battle of Hatcher’s Run ends.

Military events: General Sherman recalls (15):

Early on the 7th, in the midst of a rain-storm, we reached the railroad; almost unopposed, striking it at several points. General Howard told me a good story concerning this, which will bear repeating: He was with the Seventeenth Corps, marching straight for Midway, and when about five miles distant he began to deploy the leading division, so as to be ready for battle. Sitting on his horse by the road-side, while the deployment was making, he saw a man coming down the road, riding as hard as he could, and as he approached he recognized him as one of his own “foragers,” mounted on a white horse, with a rope bridle and a blanket for saddle. As he came near he called out, “Hurry up, general; we have got the railroad!” So, while we, the generals, were proceeding deliberately to prepare for a serious battle, a parcel of our foragers, in search of plunder, had got ahead and actually captured the South Carolina Railroad, a line of vital importance to the rebel Government.

As soon as we struck the railroad, details of men were set to work to tear up the rails, to burn the ties and twist the bars. This was a most important railroad, and I proposed to destroy it completely for fifty miles, partly to prevent a possibility of its restoration and partly to utilize the time necessary for General Slocum to get up.

The country thereabouts was very poor, but the inhabitants mostly remained at home. Indeed, they knew not where to go. The enemy’s cavalry had retreated before us, but his infantry was reported in some strength at Branchville, on the farther side of the Edisto; yet on the appearance of a mere squad of our men they burned their own bridges the very thing I wanted, for we had no use for them, and they had.

We all remained strung along this railroad…

Other: John C. Breckinridge, President Buchanan’s Vice President from 1857 to 1861 and the only US vice president to ever take up arms against the United States, becomes CS Secretary of War.

February 8

Military events: Virginia operations/Shenandoah Valley: Grant tells General Philip Sheridan to try to cut the Virginia Central Railroad and the James River Canal. (6) I’m not sure what James River Canal the people at the Grant Chronology are referring to, but here is a closer look at the James River during the war. And here is an 1852 map of the Virginia Central Railroad showing the connection between tidewater Virginia and the Ohio River at Big Sandy, Guyandotte and Point Pleasant:

The Virginia Central Railroad was still under construction when the Civil War erupted, but the builders had passed the hurdle of the Blue Ridge Mountains and pushed the line westward beyond Staunton.  (Library of Congress via Railroads of Virginia)

The Virginia Central Railroad was still under construction when the Civil War erupted, but the builders had passed the hurdle of the Blue Ridge Mountains and pushed the line westward beyond Staunton. (Library of Congress via Railroads of Virginia)

Meanwhile, “Robert E. Lee informed new Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge that his forces had fought for nearly 72 straight hours, including ‘the most inclement day of the winter – Some of the men have been without meat for three days, and all are suffering from reduced rations and scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail and sleet.’ Lee warned that unless reinforcements came, ‘you must not be surprised if calamity befalls us.'” (31, including quote)

Emancipation: “Martin Robinson [sic – his middle name was Robison] Delany, a writer, publisher, and physician, becomes the first African American to receive a regular army commission when President Abraham Lincoln promotes him to the rank of major in the U. S. Army.” (25, including quote) More information.

Major Martin R. Delany. (Wikipedia)

Major Martin R. Delany. (Wikipedia)

Here is a Juneteenth 2013 reading of Delany’s advice to freed slaves:




(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: February 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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