Here’s a look at what was happening in the Civil War and the Lincoln assassination conspiracy, 150 years ago this week.
Mississippi and Alabama
CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest suspects a Federal move against Selma, Alabama, is going to happen soon. He will move his headquarters this week to be ready for whatever happens. Forrest has CS General Roddey and his men closely watching US General James Wilson’s three cavalry divisions on the northern bank of the Tennessee River. (3)
General Grant has indeed told General George Thomas to take 5,000 men for a demonstration against Tuscaloosa and Selma, Alabama, but Generals Wilson and Thomas have talked Grant out it by pointing out (correctly) that this will give Forrest exactly the break he needs to go on the offensive. (8) Wilson has over 20,000 cavalrymen on the Tennessee River; Thomas, back in Nashville, has the Army of the Ohio. Forrest has far fewer than 10,000 men, after the departure of the Army of Tennessee. And still Grant has agreed not to give the Wizard of the Saddle any opening whatsoever in the Deep South while things are touch-and-go in the Eastern Theater.
In the meantime, per source 3, “[d]uring this period – from the first of January to the middle of March – …numerous hostile demonstrations [have] taken place upon the outskirts of the territory intrusted to General Forrest, and as many counter movements on his side [are] made; but in each instance the enemy recoil[s] without a collision.”
Meanwhile, in the Carolinas…
Sherman is on the move. And per source 27:
23-25 Rear Admiral Dahlgren dispatched a squadron from Charleston, commanded by Captain Henry S. Stellwagen in the U.S.S. Pawnee, to capture and occupy Georgetown, South Carolina, in order to establish a line of communications with General Sherman’s army advancing from Columbia, South Carolina, to Fayetteville, North Carolina. Fort White, guarding the entrance to Winyah Bay leading to Georgetown, was evacuated upon the approach of the naval squadron and was occupied by a detachment of Marines on the 23rd. The following day Stellwagen sent Ensign Allen K. Noyes with the U.S.S. Catalpa and Mingoe up the Peedee River to accept the surrender of the evacuated city of Georgetown. Noyes led a small party ashore and received the surrender of the city from civil authorities while a group of his seamen climbed to the city hall dome and ran up the Stars and Stripes. This action was presently challenged by a group of Confederate horsemen. More sailors were landed. A skirmish ensued in which the bluejackets drove off the mounted guerrillas. Subsequently, the city was garrisoned by five companies of Marines who were in turn relieved by the soldiers on 1 March.
Lincoln assassination conspiracy
Sadly, US President Lincoln only has about seven more weeks of life left.
Also in late February, John Wilkes Booth apparently first meets George Atzerodt. John Surratt (PDF) has kept in touch with Atzerodt, who is supposed to ferry the conspirators across the Potomac after Lincoln is kidnapped (as is the nominal plan at this stage of things). However, Atzerodt’s habitual drunkenness has Surratt worried that Atzerodt will give the conspiracy away. Surratt therefore has moved him to rooms in Washington, where Booth meets him and tells him not to drink so much. (23)
Finally, as we will see below on the 25th, someone unrelated to the conspiracy is executed for an attempt at “irregular warfare,” as Kauffman calls it. The incident certainly underlines the risks for all concerned with Booth’s incessant plotting without action.
Military events: South Carolina operations: CS General Joe Johnston assumes command of the Army of Tennessee at Charlotte, telling General Lee that there are too few forces to face Sherman. Johnston suggests joining forces with General Braxton Bragg in North Carolina. (5, 29) However, as source 27 points out:
In December the ships of the powerful Federal Navy, now in such numbers that they could attack anywhere along the coast when needed, had made it possible for Sherman “to march to the sea” with confidence, since they gave him any part of the coast he chose as a base. Now [US Admiral] Dahlgren’s warships provided the general with unlimited logistic support, rapid reinforcement, and the defensive line of their massed guns to fall back on if he was defeated. Easing and speeding his progress to the North, the fleet therefore helped to bring the cruel war more quickly to an end. From Savannah to Wilmington the whole Southern sea coast with its irreplaceable defenses, heavy coastal cannon that could not be moved, and superior means of communication-swiftly fell. Although it was not clear to General Lee at the time, the accelerated speed with which the solders were able to move inevitably forecast the frustration of his plan to send part of his veterans to join the Confederate Army in North Carolina in an attempt to crush Sherman while still holding the Petersburg-Richmond lines with the remainder.
Alabama operations: CS General P. G. T. Beauregard to General Robert E. Lee: “General Roddey reports from near Moulton, Ala., that enemy at Huntsville is reported collecting supplied for an early move on Selma via Tuscaloosa. Timbers are being delivered at Decatur for railroad bridge. Fourth Army Corps, Wood’s, is encamped about Huntsville. Force there and at Stevenson estimated at 10,000 to 18,000 infantry.” (31)
Other: John Yates Beall is executed at Fort Columbus (now Fort Jay) in New York Harbor near Manhattan for attempting to steal a gunboat on Lake Erie and use it to rescue Confederate prisoners on Johnson Island. Per Wikipedia, any connection between Beall and Booth is pure legend. (23)
Military events: Virginia operations/Shenandoah Valley: With two cavalry divisions, US General Phil Sheridan advances up the valley to Staunton from Winchester.
Virginia operations/Richmond: Per source 27,
Commodore Tucker and his 350 Confederate sailors from Charleston arrived safely in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he received orders to have Lieutenant James H. Rochelle’s naval detachment join his and to proceed to Richmond with the entire Naval Brigade. From Richmond the brigade was sent on to Drewry’s Bluff on the James River to garrison the formidable Confederate batteries positioned there. Tucker commanded the naval forces ashore while Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes commanded the James River Squadron. These two commands, through the course of the long war, had successfully protected Richmond from attack via the James River. General Lee desperately needed staunch fighters more than ever before. With his supply line from Europe cut, hunger, privation, sickness, and desertion steadily shrank his army. Meanwhile, General Grant’s army increased as ships poured in supplies to his City Point base in preparation for the spring offensive.
Military events: Virginia operations/Shenandoah Valley: Sheridan sends General George Custer’s division across the North Ford of the Shenandoah River. They meet about CS General George Rosser and some 300 Confederate cavalrymen. In the face of overwhelming Federal strength, Rosser tries to delay Custer by burning a bridge but is pushed back. Custer arrives in Staunton and is joined by the rest of Sheridan’s force on the 29th.
Military events: General Forrest transfers his headquarters to West-Point, on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. (3)
Other: “Richmond newspapers admit that guns and stores are being removed from the city in case evacuation becomes necessary. The Richmond Examiner reports what the New York Times will call the ‘Wild Skedaddle of the Rebel Congress.’ So many members have now left the city, the legislature is finding it difficult to raise a quorum. Jefferson Davis urges everyone to stay and defend the city, which he says ‘has become the symbol of the Confederacy.'” (24, including quote)
However, per source 27, the Richmond Daily Examiner editorializes:
We cannot help thinking that ‘our friends, the enemy,’ are a little premature in assuming the South to be at their feet. There are Southern armies of magnitude in the field, and Richmond, the capitol, is more impregnable at this hour than it has been at any period of the war.
(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.
(13) A Brief Naval Chronology of the Civil War (1861-65), US Naval History and Heritage Command.
(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.)
(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