Here is a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week.
It’s a harsh winter, as one Maine veteran in the Army of the Potomac notes at Petersburg, Virginia (18):
The weather has been very cold for a long time, much more so than I ever knew it be before [or] since I’ve been a soldier.
That’s a Maine man, complaining about Virginia weather!
And meanwhile, General Sherman is advancing through South Carolina, headed for Columbia.
On an astronomical note, contrary to rumor, there was a full moon in February 1865; it happened on the 10th.
Lincoln assassination conspiracy
Per Kauffman (23), John Wilkes Booth went to New York City and back to Washington DC again a few times in February 1865. Sometimes it was family business, but not much is known about all the trips. Booth introduced John Surratt to his family in New York. He also met Samuel Chester in New York several times. Chester gave him his money back and refused to have anything to do with the plot, but Booth kept after him.
Booth traveled more frequently to southern Maryland during this period; that probably was on affairs connected to the conspiracy. He also was busy in Washington, where Sam Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, and John Surratt would meet in his room.
Military events: South Carolina operations: “U.S.S. Pawnee, Commander George B. Balch, U.S.S. Sonoma, Lieutenant Commander Thomas S. Fillebrown, and U.S.S. Daffodil, Acting Master William H. Mallard, engaged Confederate bat-teries on Togodo Creek, neat the North Edisto River, South Carolina. Pawnee took ten hits and the other ships two each, but the naval bombardment successfully silenced the Southern emplacements. The action was one of several attacks along the coast that helped to clear the way and keep the South’s defenses disrupted while General Sherman’s army advanced northward. With assurance of aid from the sea when needed, Sherman could travel light and fast. On this date he was matching toward Orangeburg, on the north side of the Edisto River, and would capture it on the 12th.” (27, including quote)
CS President Davis and General Lee agree to pardon any deserters if they return to units within 30 days. (29)
Battles: South Carolina operations: Branchville. Per source 24, “Gen. Sherman’s forces capture Branchville, South Carolina, thus isolating both Augusta and Charleston. Richmond newspapers announce that the evacuation of Charleston is underway as one of Sherman’s columns moves toward that city, and the other presses toward Columbia. Charleston residents destroy tons of their own munitions along the waterfront, but to everyone’s surprise, Sherman chooses not to attack the city.”
North Carolina operations. Per source 27:
U.S.S. Shawmut, Lieutenant Commander J.G. Walker, engaged Confederate batteries on the east bank of the Cape Fear River while U.S.S. Huron, Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, bombarded Fort Anderson. Fleet attacks were building up preliminary to full naval support of General Schofield’s advance on Wilmington. Schofield planned to outflank General Hoke’s defense force by marching from Fort Fisher up the outer bank and, with the aid of pontoons to be landed by the Navy on the coast side, cross Myrtle Sound to the mainland of the peninsula behind the Confederate lines. From the Cape Fear River and the sea coast the Navy was to contain the defenders in their trenches by shore bombardment.
Rear Admiral Porter issued an operations plan for the move up the Cape Fear River which revealed the high degree to which naval gunfire support doctrine had been developed during the Civil War: “The object will be to get the gunboats in the rear of their intrenchments and cover the advance of our troops. When our troops are coming up, the gunboats run close in and shell the enemy in front of them, so as to enable the troops to turn their flanks, if possible. . . . As the army come up, your fire will have to be very rapid, taking care not to fire into our own men. . . . Put yourself in full communication with the general commanding on shore, and conform in all things to his wishes. . . .”
To the 16 gunboats in the Cape Fear River Porter issued an operation plan for an attack on Fort Anderson that was to coincide with the naval bombardment of General Hoke’s flanks and the launching of Schofield’s turning movement. The gunboats were directed to make a bows-on approach, to minimize the target presented Southern gunners, while the monitor U.S.S. Montauk would lay down a covering fire from close in. When the fort’s fire should slacken, the light-hulled gunboats were to close and drive the gunners from their positions with grapeshot and canister. With the enemy’s battery thus silenced, the fleet would shift to carefully aimed point fire to dismount the guns. So swiftly had the build up of force been effected by sea that only two weeks after the meeting between Porter and General Grant on board U.S.S. Malvern, which shaped the Union strategy, an irresistible juggernaut was already being forged.
Virginia operations/Petersburg: “The Army of the Potomac reports two days of intense fighting with Lee’s forces near Petersburg. Around 800 Union troops are listed as killed, wounded, or missing; the number of Confederate casualties is estimated to be about the same.” (24, including quote)
Military events: On or around this date, “[t]he Confederate Navy [begins] its last attempt to gain control of the James River and thus force the withdrawal of General Grant’s army by cutting its communications at City Point.” (27, including quote) It’s a good time for it with Grant in Washington and due to testify in front of the US Congress.
Other: The Lincolns and General Grant see a play at Ford’s Theater. (23) Per source 4, it was US President Lincoln and Generals Grant and Burnside, and a local newspaper reported “The audience welcomed the distinguished visitors with the most vociferous cheering, the orchestra struck up ‘Hail to the Chief,’ and for some moments the performance on the stage was altogether suspended. The President and General Grant remained until the close of the programme.”
Battles: Virginia operations: The James River expedition continues. (27)
North Carolina operations: Engagement at Sugar Loaf. (32)
South Carolina operations: “President Davis urged General William Hardee to concentrate his Confederate forces to make at stand against William T. Sherman’s Federals at Charleston, South Carolina. However, General P.G.T. Beauregard, overall Confederate commander in the region, recommended abandoning Charleston because the Confederacy could not afford to lose an army if a Federal attack succeeded.” (29, including quote)
Military events: “Ulysses S. Grant testified before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War about Butler’s failure to take Fort Fisher.” (6, including quote)
Battles: Virginia operations: The James River expedition continues.
North Carolina operations: Ongoing fighting at Sugar Loaf.
Other: Confederate blockade running. Per source 27:
The blockade runners Carolina, Dream, Chicora, Chameleon, and Owl, heavily laden with supplies desperately needed by General Lee’s army lay at anchor in Nassau harbor. During the day the five captains, including Lieutenant John Wilkinson and Commander John Maffitt, held a conference and formulated plans for running the blockade into Charleston. After putting to sea that night, the five ships separated and stood on different courses for the South Carolina port. Only Chicora, Master John Rains, Shipmaster, got through and became the last blockade runner to enter and leave Charleston prior to its evacuation during the night of 17 18 February [sic]. Two and a half months later Owl, Commander Maffitt, slipped past 16 Federal cruisers and entered the harbor at Galveston. After off-loading his cargo, Maffitt again evaded the blockaders and safely reached Havana on 9 May, where after coaling his ship he continued to give Union warships the slip on his return voyage to Nassau and ultimately to Liverpool (see 14 July)
Battles: Virginia operations: The James River expedition ends (27):
The results accomplished by this expedition were nothing, but I have thought it worthy of a place in history, because of the effort. Of the hardships of such a trip only those who have experienced them can judge, and I will not even attempt to paint those we encountered. Our flag waved in the James river two months after the events I have endeavored to describe, but of the hundred and one men who composed this expedition, fully seventy-five were in the Naval Hospital, in Richmond, suffering from the effects of their Winter march, on the sad day on which we turned our backs upon that city.
– W. F. Shippey, Richmond, VA. 1884
North Carolina operations: Ongoing fighting at Sugar Loaf.
Military events: South Carolina operations: Per source 27:
General Sherman’s on-rushing army approached the Congaree River, South Carolina. The soldiers would cross it on the 14th, heading for Columbia. With the fall of Columbia assured and with the supply route to Augusta, Georgia, already cut, General Hardee speeded up his prepara-tions to evacuate Charleston and to take the troops he brought from Savannah to North Carolina where he planned to join Generals Joseph E. Johnson and Beauregard. Since Charleston would have to be abandoned and the Confederate naval squadron there scuttled, Commodore John R. Tucker, detached 300 men and officers from C.S.S. Chicora, Palmetto State, and Charleston, as well as the Navy Yard, and dispatched them, under the command of Lieutenant James H. Rochelle, to assist in the final defense of Wilmington. This naval detachment was assigned to Major General Robert F. Hoke’s division which held the defensive line across the peninsula between Fort Fisher and Wilmington.
Emancipation: “A mass meeting takes place in Richmond with much discussion of the question of arming and freeing slaves, the point being that the white population is nearly exhausted, and the South must now make new sacrifices for independence. [NYT] An article on the same subject in the Richmond Whig quotes Gen. Forrest as being in favor of arming 200,000 black soldiers, but he also says he desires peace and is tired of scenes of blood.” (24, including quote; I found nothing exactly like this reported view from General Forrest in sources 3 and 8)
Other: General Grant is told that the government is having difficulty raising the money to pay the troops. (6)
Battles: North Carolina operations: “Union attempt to bypass Hoke’s Confederate line at Sugar Loaf fails.” (32, including quote)
Battles: Columbia. “In the early afternoon of February 15, 1865, Confederate troops under Gen. Matthew Butler advanced up State Road and fought Major Gen. John Logan’s XVth Corps at this site in the only major defense of Columbia. Confederate troops held their line of breastworks on the north side of the flooding creek but retreated when outflanked by Union troops. State Road was South Carolina’s first planned road from the coast to the mountains.” (33, including quote)
(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) The Sword of Lincoln, the Army of the Potomac. Jeffrey Wert (2005)
(19) Black Artillerymen from the Civil War through World War I (PDF), Roger D. Cunningham.
(20) Siege of Petersburg, Wikipedia.
(22) James F. Epperson’s Siege of Petersburg site.
(23) Michael W. Kauffman. American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Random House. New York. 2004.
(24) Timeline 1865. State of Tennessee
(25) Up From Slavery. Booker T. Washington
(26) Civil war battles in Alabama list.
(27) Naval History of the Civil War. History Central.
(28) 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 23, 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.)
(29) The Legacy of the Civil War: February 1865.
(31) The Final Campaign. Talladega County American History & Genealogy Project
(32) Wilmington, Fort Fisher, and the Lifeline of the Confederacy. North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial
Categories: American Civil War