Here is a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week. General Sherman is marching through South Carolina and US troops are moving toward Wilmington, the Confederacy’s last major open port.
We still won’t hear much from CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is busy organizing and deploying his command in Mississippi and northern Alabama. As bitter as the news from the Carolinas is, Forrest has his own problems to deal with. There are still over 20,000 US cavalry on the north bank of the Tennessee River under US General James Wilson. Other Federal forces are gathering in Memphis, Tennessee; Vicksburg, Mississippi; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. US General Edward Canby is collecting a large infantry force in the Mobile, Alabama, area. Another “army of invasion” is forming in Pensacola, Florida. (8, including quote) Finally, US cavalry will conduct a brief expedition into Alabama this week.
Battles: North Carolina operations: “Union advance on Fort Anderson, on the west side of the Cape Fear River.” (32, including quote)
South Carolina operations/Columbia: Per source 29, “Lead units of William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the West reached the Congaree River, across from the South Carolina capital of Columbia. P.G.T. Beauregard wired Robert E. Lee that Columbia’s fall could not be prevented, then abandoned the city. General Wade Hampton’s Confederates looted Columbia to feed the troops since it was assumed the Federals would pillage the city anyway.” Per source 33:
2. Gervais Street Bridge
At dawn on February 16, 1865, Union troops occupied the banks of the Congaree River opposite Columbia. Finding that the bridge had been burned by retreating Confederates, Union cannons began to shell the city. At about 9 a.m., Sherman arrived on this site and ordered the artillery battery of Capt. Francis DeGress to fire on the railway station and the granite State House under construction. Today, stars mark the exterior walls of the State House where the cannon balls struck.
3. Camp Sorghum
With the Gervais Street Bridge burned, Sherman sent his troops north to the only other bridge on the Broad River. Along the way the troops found the remains of Camp Sorghum, a prisoner of war camp where 1,300 to 1,400 Federal officers had been held without shelter in an open field. In December 1864 the remaining POWs were moved to the grounds of the “Lunatic Asylum” in Columbia (State Hospital). When Sherman’s XVth Corps passed by the site of Camp Sorghum, many soldiers were angered by the remaining evidence of the sufferings their fellow soldiers had endured.
4. Saluda Mill (Columbia Mill)
About noon on February 16, 1865, Sherman’s troops reached the Saluda Mill. The Saluda Manufacturing Company, chartered in 1834, was once one of the largest textile mills in the world and one of the oldest in South Carolina. The mill’s original investors built a four-story granite structure with a dam that covered the Saluda River. In 1855, Col. James G. Gibbs of Columbia bought the property and renamed the factory The Columbia Cotton Mill. Eighty looms and thousands of spindles were operated by up to 1,000 workers, mostly women and slaves, turning out goods for the war effort. Union troops burned the building and destroyed the dam after crossing the Saluda River. The ruins are protected by the Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens.
5. Saluda River Bridge
The Confederates had burned this covered bridge over the Saluda River to impede the Union troops advance to the Broad River Bridge. By mid afternoon on February 16, 1865, Gen. Logan’s XVth Corps had laid a pontoon bridge and crossed the river under the protection of Union sharp shooters on the top floor of the Saluda Mill. The remains of the granite bridge abutments and supporting pier foundations can be seen from the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden footbridge.
6. Broad River Crossing
Just as the Union troops reached the Broad River Bridge at this site, the Confederates fired the bridge, which had already been covered with rosin, tar and turpentine. The bridge burned so fast than not even all the retreating Confederate cavalry could cross. Union troops waited until dark to cross the flooded river in pouring rain.
Tennessee operations: “Attacks on garrisons at Sweetwater and Athens. The Nashville suburbs are under attack by small bands of Confederate cavalry, raiding homes on the Murfreesboro and Nolensville Pikes, robbing residents, and taking prisoners.” (24, including quote)
Militry events: South Carolina operations/Charleston: Per source 29, “As Federals threatened both Columbia and Wilmington, North Carolina, Charleston became isolated on the Atlantic coast. General William Hardee gathered all the supplies he could after determining that Charleston must be abandoned.”
Battles: South Carolina operations/Columbia: Per source 33:
At about 3 a.m. on February 17, 1865, a brigade under the command of Colonel George Stone was ferried across the [Broad] river and provided protection for the laying of a pontoon bridge.
7. Columbia Surrendered
At 10 a.m. on February 17, 1865, Columbia Mayor Goodwyn met Colonel Stone at this site to surrender the city. The Mayor received assurances that the city would be unharmed except for some public government buildings. Stone’s men then marched into the city of about 14,000 women, children and old men as Sherman and the rest of his occupying force crossed over the pontoon bridge and followed. That night all of the business and much of the residential area of the city was burned.
North Carolina operations: Fighting continues at Fort Anderson. Skirmish near Smithville. (32) Per source 27:
As the combined operation to capture Willington [sic] vigorously got underway, ships of Rear Admiral Porter’s fleet helped to ferry General Schofield’s two divisions from Fort Fisher to Smith-ville, on the west bank of the Cape Fear River. Fort Anderson, the initial objective for the two commanders, lay on the west bank mid-way between the mouth of the river and Wilmington. On the morning of the 17th, Major General Jacob D. Cox led 8,000 troops north from Smithville. In support of the army advance on the Confederate defenses, the monitor Montauk, Lieutenant Commander Edward E. Stone, and four gunboats heavily bombarded Fort Anderson and successfully silenced its twelve guns. Unable to obtain other monitors for the attack (see 3 February), Porter resorted to subterfuge and, as he had on the Mississippi River (see 25 February 1863), improvised a bogus monitor from a scow, timber, and canvas. Old Bogey”, as she was quickly nicknamed by the sailors, had been towed to the head of the bombardment line, where she succeeded in drawing heavy fire from the defending Southerners.
Military events: South Carolina operations: Charleston is evacuated. (5) Per source 27:
During the night [February 17-18], Forts Moultrie, Sumter, Johnson, Beauregard, and Castle Pinckney were abandoned as the Confederates marched northward to join the beleaguered forces of General Lee. The Southern ironclads Palmetto State, Chicora, and Charleston were fired and blown up prior to the withdrawal, but C.S.S. Columbia, the largest of the ironclads at Charleston, was found aground and abandoned near Fort Moultrie and was eventually salvaged.
Lieutenant Commander J. S. Barnes later wrote that the occupation forces also captured several “David” torpedo boats, one of which had damaged U.S.S. New Ironsides off Charleston on 5 October 1863. She was subsequently taken to the Naval Academy, Barnes wrote, “where she is preserved as one of the relics of the war. These vessels were built of boiler iron, and were of the shape known as “cigar shape.” They presented but a very small target above the surface, but were usually clumsy and dangerous craft in a seaway. Under full steam they could attain a speed of seven knots per hour.”
Battles: North Carolina operations: US bombardment of Fort Anderson. Per source 27:
The big guns of Rear Admiral Porter’s fleet in the Cape Fear River silenced the Confederate batteries at Fort Anderson. Under a relentless hail of fire from the ships and with Union troops investing the fort from two sides, the Southerners evacuated their defensive position and fell back to Town Creek. Simultaneously, the Confederates dug in at Sugar Loaf Hill on the east bank of the river, adjacent to Fort Anderson, withdrew to Fort Strong, a complex of fortifications comprising several batteries some three miles south of Wilmington. The combined Army-Navy movement was now pushing irresistibly toward the city.
Military events: South Pacific operations: Per source 27:
C.S.S. Shenandoah, Lieutenant Waddell, having completed repairs at Melbourne, Australia, got underway before daybreak and steamed out of Port Philip Bay to resume her career on the high seas. As soon as the cruiser discharged her pilot and entered international waters, more than 40 stowaways who had come on board late the previous night appeared on deck. Shenandoah’s log recorded: “Forty-two men found on board; thirty-six shipped as sailors and six enlisted as marines.” This represented a net gain when balanced against the desertions induced by gold from the American consul. However, Shenandoah paid a considerable price for the three week stay in Melbourne. Waddell later wrote in his memoirs: “The delay of the Shenandoah had operated against us in the South Pacific. The whaling fleet of that ocean had received warning and had either suspended its fishing in that region or had taken shelter in the neighboring ports. The presence of the Shenandoah in the South Pacific,” however, he added, “dispersed the whaling fleet of that sea, though no captures were made there.”
Virginia operations: Admiral Raphael Semmes assumes command of the James River Squadron. (27)
South Carolina operations: Charleston surrenders. (5) Per source 27:
Upon orders to evacuate Charleston, Commodore John R. Tucker scuttled the ironclads Palmetto State, Charleston and Chicora, took charge of the remaining sailors in the area, and set out by train for Wilmington to join the naval detachment that had previously proceeded there under Lieutenant Rochelle (see 13 February). Tucker’s detachment got as far as Whiteville, about 50 miles west of Wilmington, where he learned that Union troops had cut the rail line be-tween the two cities and that the evacuation of Wilmington was imminent. After unsuccessfully trying to obtain rail transportation for his detachment, which he pointed out was “unused to marching,” Tucker set out across country on a 125 mile march to Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Reconstruction: Per source 29, “The Senate blocked a vote on admitting the reconstructed state of Louisiana to the U.S. Those blocking the vote were mainly Radical Republicans who sought to impose a more punitive reconstruction plan on the southern states instead of President Lincoln’s moderate policy.”
Battles: North Carolina operations: Fort Anderson is evacuated. (32) “Following the evacuation of Fort Anderson, Rear Admiral Porter’s gunboats steamed seven miles up the Cape Fear River to the Big Island shallows and the piling obstructions and engaged Fort Strong’s five guns. Ship’s boats swept the river for mines ahead of the fleet’s advance.” (27, including quote)
Mississippi/Alabama operations: US cavalry expedition from Eastport, Mississippi, to Russellville, Alabama, begins. (31)
Battles: Mississippi/Alabama operations: US cavalry expedition from Eastport, Mississippi, to Russellville, Alabama, continues. (31)
Military events: Alabama operations: CS General Roddey leaves Mount Hope to confer with General Forrest in Tuscaloosa. (31)
North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Per source 27:
On the night of the 20th, the Confederates released 200 floating torpedoes, which were -avoided with great difficulty and kept the boat crews engaged in sweeping throughout the hours of darkness. Although many of the gunboats safely swept up torpedoes with their nets, U.S.S. Osceola, Commander]. M. B. Clita, received hull damage and lost a paddle wheel box by an explosion. Another torpedo destroyed a boat from U.S.S. Shawmut, inflicting four casualties. The next day, 21 February, one of Porter’s officers wrote that “Old Bogey”, the make-shift monitor fashioned by the Admiral to deceive the defenders (see 16-17 February), had taken part in the action: “Johnny Reb let off his torpedoes without effect on it, and the old thing sailed across the river and grounded in the flank and rear of the enemy’s lines on the eastern bank, whereupon they fell back in the night. She now occupies the most advanced position of the line, and Battery Lee has been banging away at her, and probably wondering why she does not answer. Last night after half a days fighting, the rebs sent down about 50 [sic] torpedoes; but although “Old Bogey” took no notice of them, they kept the rest of us pretty lively as long as the ebb tide ran”.
Lincoln assassination conspiracy: Sam Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen move to another boarding house room in Washington. Their only visitor is John Wilkes Booth, who comes four to five times a week and leaves messages for O’Laughlen to meet him at a nearby stable. (23; Kauffman says that most of the actual plotting of the conspiracy happened in stables)
Other: Missouri: US President Lincoln is concerned that “destruction of property and life is rampant every where.” (4)
Battles: Tennessee operations: “Skirmishes near Greeneville as 4,000 Confederate troops advance from Knoxville, reportedly to raid the Virginia and Tennessee railroad.” (24, including quote)
Mississippi/Alabama operations: Russellville, Alabama. US cavalry take the town briefly and capture CS Colonel Frank Windes, one of General Roddey’s officers. (31)
Military events: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: CS General Braxton Bragg orders the evacuation of Wilmington. (29)
Meanwhile near Wilmington, per source 27:
The gunboat fleet of Rear Admiral Porter closed Fort Strong and opened rapid fire “all along the enemy’s line” to support the Army attack ashore as it had throughout the soldiers” steady march up both banks of the Cape Fear River.
Virginia operations: “The siege at Petersburg continued. Ulysses S. Grant refused to allow the French consul at Richmond to pass through U.S. lines to Washington, and he planned a cav. expedition for Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan.” (6, including quote)
Battles: Tennessee operations: Skirmishes near Greeneville continue. (24)
Mississippi/Alabama operations: Russellville, Alabama. US cavalry heads back to Eastport. Colonel Windes escapes. (31)
Military events: North Carolina operations/Wilmington: Per source 27:
22 February, the defenders evacuated the fort and Porter’s ships steamed up to Wilmington, which earlier in the day had been occupied by General Terry’s men after General Bragg had ordered the evacuation of the now defenseless city. The same day the Admiral wrote Secretary Welles: “I have the honor to inform you that Wilmington has been evacuated and is in possession of our troops. . . . I had the pleasure of placing the flag on Fort Strong, and at 12 o’clock noon today shall fire a salute of thirty-five guns this being the anniversary of Washington’s birthday.” As Raphael Semmes later wrote: “. . . . we had lost our last blockade-running port. Our ports were now all hermetically sealed The anaconda had, at last, wound his fatal folds around us.”
…In Richmond, Confederate War Department clerk J.B. Jones wrote in his diary: “To-day is the anniversary of the birth of Washington, and of the inauguration of Davis; but I heir of no holiday. Not much is doing, however, in the departments; simply a waiting for calamities, which come with stunning rapidity. The next news, I suppose, will be the evacuation of Wilmington! Then Raleigh may tremble. Unless there is a speedy turn in the tide of affairs, confusion will reign supreme and universally.” Material suffering and the unwavering pressure of Union armies ashore and Federal ships afloat destroyed Southern hopes. In the Union’s strength at sea the Confederacy faced a doubled disadvantage. Not only did the fleet provide the North with massed artillery, great mobility, easy concentration, and surprise in attack, but it also provided a safe fortress to which the soldiers ashore could retreat as had been most recently shown during General Butler’s amphibious failure at Fort Fisher as 1864 ended.
Casualties during the Union advance on Wilmington were about 1,150 on both sides. (32)
“General Robert E. Lee appoints Joe Johnston as commander of the only other effective fighting force in what remains of the Confederate States of America, in North Carolina.” (5, including quote)
Emancipation: Tennessee: Voters approve a new state constitution that, among other things, abolishes slavery. (5)
(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