The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – March 30 to April 5, 1864

That's Main Street, Northport, in the upper right and Tuscaloosa in the foreground.  A man died this week, 150 years ago, defending the bridge that used to be where that railroad now crosses.  (Library of Congress)

That’s Main Street, Northport, in the upper right and Tuscaloosa in the foreground. A man died this week, 150 years ago, defending the bridge that used to be where that railroad now crosses. (Library of Congress)

Here’s a look back at events in the Civil War and the Lincoln assassination conspiracy 150 years ago this week. US President Lincoln is still at General Grant’s headquarters in City Point, and the big news is, Grant is finally moving on Petersburg and Richmond!

However, for me, a circle centered in Alabama closes this week, not in southern Alabama where Union troops were assaulting Mobile in 1865, but in the northern part of the state.

When I moved to Northport, Alabama, in 1999, I read a marker near the local church on Main Street that said they had rung the tocsin here when General Croxton came through to burn the university in Tuscaloosa across the river. Another marker described how a few young men from the home guard had contested the bridge – I will not say foolishly, although they were facing a brigade of hardened cavalry veterans – and one of them had lost his life there at the bridge. There are more details here.

I knew so little about the war then and also felt abashed that I just did not understand what had happened here. Now I do see it, at least a little better – as a human event that still resonates today, not as something from the past that has been dried up, folded, and put away because it’s over now. We all need to see the war that way, I think.

Well, thanks to YouTube we’ll hear a tocsin alarm rung this week. Perhaps they rang it in a similar fashion on Northport as US cavalry rode down Main Street in Northport, Alabama one April day in 1865.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA (left).  General James H. Wilson, USA (right).

General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA (left). General James H. Wilson, USA (right).

March 30

Battles: Alabama operations/Mobile: The battle of Spanish Fort continues.

Military events: Virginia operations/Siege of Petersburg: Some of US General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry units clash with Confederates north of Dinwiddie Court House. General Lee has shifted 6,000 men under General George Pickett to Five Forks, bringing the defense up to 10,600. (16)

Alabama operations/Wilson’s raid: General Wilson arrives at Montevallo, where he sends General Croxton’s brigade to Tuscaloosa to burn the university and military stores there. Meanwhile one of Wilson’s divisions has encountered Forrest’s forces just north of Montevallo and has driven the Confederate cavalry back through town. The Federals start destroying four area iron furnaces, a rolling-mill, and five collieries. (3)

Lincoln conspiracy: O’Laughlen talks with Arnold about getting out. Booth owes O’Laughlen $500, so they head to Washington on the next train out and meet Atzerodt in the B&O station. Atzerodt tells them that Booth wants to resurrect their plan. The president will be at Ford’s Theater that night and Booth wants to abduct him. It’s not true, Booth tells them when they rush over to the National Hotel. The plot is finished. John Surrat has gone to Richmond, Booth says (actually Surratt has fled to Canada and will not return), and Lincoln is out of town. Booth says he’s going back on the stage to resume his career. Arnold knows better, and he’s worried because of the incriminating letter he wrote last week. (21)

March 31

Battles: Virginia operations/Siege of Petersburg: White Oak Road and Dinwiddie Court House.

Alabama operations/Mobile: The battle of Spanish Fort continues.

Military events: Virginia operations/Siege of Petersburg: Lee tells Pickett to hold Five Forks at all costs and orders counterstrikes against the Union forces. There is heavy fighting all day, and opposing lines are only a few hundred yards apart at nightfall. Sheridan isn’t sure he can hold Dinwiddie Court House and Grant sends the Fifth Corps in against the Confederates facing Sheridan. (16) Lee tells CS President Davis that Richmond may fall. Davis sends his wife and family to Charlotte, North Carolina. (34) US Secretary of War Stanton tells Lincoln to stay at the front a few more days, saying, “A pause by the army now would do harm; if you are on the ground there will be no pause.” (4)
 

He's watching you, men.  Keep going!  (National Archives)

He’s watching you, men. Keep going! (National Archives)

Alabama operations/Wilson’s raid: General Wilson arrives at Montevallo with two more US divisions. Confederates attack and are driven back southward toward Randolph, where they are reinforced and take a stand at Six Mile Creek. They are driven back slowly in heavy fighting while other Confederate forces rally near Randolph. Forrest and his escort arrive in the area. Being Forrest, he immediately charges US forces in the area and drives those nearby back. He then learns that Wilson is already south of him, driving Confederates back toward Selma. Knowing that he can’t do much where he is, with only 75 men, he takes a detour and rejoins his forces at around 10 p.m. as they are holding off Wilson near Randolph. Both sides are done fighting for the night, but they remain in confrontation. Overnight, Forrest uses the telegraph to deploy his forces as best he can. Wilson intercepts the messages and learns that his enemies are scattered and there is only a small force in front of him. (3)

April 1

Battles: Alabama operations/Mobile: The battle of Spanish Fort continues.

Virginia operations/Siege of Petersburg: Five Forks.
 

"Last stand of Picketts men. Battle of Five Forks"  A. R. Waud, Library of Congress

“Last stand of Pickett’s men. Battle of Five Forks” A. R. Waud, Library of Congress


 

Military events: Virginia operations/Siege of Petersburg: Davis to Lee: “The question is often asked ‘will we hold Richmond,’ to which my only answer is, if we can; it is purely a question of military power. The distrust is increasing, and embarrasses in many ways.” (34)

After winning the battle at Five Forks, Grant orders a general assault along the Petersburg lines for 4 a.m., April 2nd, preceded by a three-hour cannon barrage. (16)

Like this, but with 150 cannons, the sides reversed, in the dark, and lasting for three solid hours.
 


 

Alabama operations/Wilson’s raid: Wilson sends some of his men to keep outlying Confederate forces busy and moves on Selma with some 9,000 men. Facing him, Forrest only has about 1,500 men and must withdraw; he keeps in touch with his forces via telegraph and falls back slowly, fighting every inch of the way. By 4 p.m., they’ve reached a strong defensive position held by CS General Dan Adams, where they take a stand. Intense fighting occurs. By 5 p.m., Forrest and his escort are in hand-to-hand combat, in which Forrest has a close call but escapes, although wounded. He learns that his backup division received conflicting orders and is not in position to support Forrest and his men. Federals keep pressing forward and many Confederates break and run, but Forrest’s escort is armed with Spencer rifles and apparently the Union soldiers they are facing are outgunned. The escort and Forrest hold off the Federals until nightfall. Forrest sends his men toward Selma and sets off during the night to find his missing division. He learns it is bogged down (literally) in an area with bad streams crossing the road. He reorganizes his forces throughout the night and morning and heads for Selma. (3)

April 2

Battles: Alabama operations/Mobile: The battle of Spanish Fort continues. The battle of Fort Blakeley begins.

Virginia operations/Siege of Petersburg: Sutherland’s Station and Third Petersburg: With Lincoln watching, the Union breaks through the Confederate lines. Lee orders the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg. The Confederate Congress has already left. Davis is handed Lee’s note in church and calls a meeting of his cabinet. Each department head is responsible for packing his own records and must have them at the Richmond & Danville Depot this evening. Eight trains will leave for Danville and anyone not on them will be left in Richmond. They evacuate the city. (34)

The James River Squadron is scuttled. (25) Lee retreats with the Army of Northern Virginia overnight, heading toward Amelia Courthouse, with the plan of linking up with General Joe Johnston’s Army of Tennessee and going on the offensive. (36) As the Confederate soldiers leave Richmond, they burn tobacco warehouses, and most of the downtown business district is soon ablaze.

Per source 25:

Fifty of the sixty Midshipmen at the Confederate Naval Academy, under the command of Lieu-tenant William H. Parker, escorted the archives of the government and the specie and bullion of the treasury from Richmond to Danville. There, Midshipman Raphael Semmes, Junior, was detached from the escort corps and detailed to the staff of his father. The Midshipmen Corps continued to he entrusted with this select guard duty during subsequent moves of the archives and treasury to Charlotte, North Carolina; Washington, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; and finally to Abbeville, South Carolina.

Lincoln to Grant (4):

Head Quarters Armies of the United States,
City-Point,
Lieut. General Grant. April. 2. 8/15 P.M. 1865.

Allow me to tender to you, and all with you, the nations grateful thanks for this additional, and magnificent success. At your kind suggestion, I think I will visit you to-morrow. A. LINCOLN

Ruins of the Confederate States Naval Foundry at Selma.  (Alabama Department of Archives and History via Wikipedia)

Ruins of the Confederate States Naval Foundry at Selma. (Alabama Department of Archives and History via Wikipedia)

Alabama operations/Wilson’s raid: Battle of Selma.

Military events: Alabama operations/Wilson’s raid: Forrest arrives in Selma, where there is panic. General Richard Taylor is there, but leaves Forrest in command and heads for Demopolis on the last train out of Selma. After the battle of Selma, Forrest and hundreds of his men escape, while the remaining 2,700 wounded are captured by the Federals. Wilson destroys the city’s manufacturing equipment and facilities and burns most of the town. (3)

April 3

Battles: Alabama operations/Mobile: The battles of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakeley continue.

Virginia operations/Appomattox campaign: Namozine Church.

Military events: Richmond surrenders. Of note, per source 25:

General Lee, in his hardpressed and hurried evacuation of Richmond, neglected to apprise Commodore John R. Tucker, commanding the Confederate Naval Brigade at Drewry’s Bluff on the James River, of the projected evacuation of the capital. Tucker maintained his station until the 3rd when he saw the smoke from the burning ironclads and learned that Confederate troops were streaming out of Richmond. Tucker then joined the Naval Brigade to Major General Custis Lee’s division of Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell’s corps. The brigade participated in Ewell’s rear guard stand at Sailor’s Creek on 6 April which was intended to cover the westward retreat. The Naval Brigade was captured along with Ewell’s entire corps but was the last unit in the corps to surrender. Tucker tendered his sword to Lieutenant General J. Warren Keifer. Some years after the war, when Keifer had become a prominent member of Congress, he returned the sword to the ex-Confederate naval officer.

Alabama operations/Wilson’s raid: Forrest, on the Montgomery road, reaches Plantersville after a night of encounters with small bands of Federal soldiers and “bummers.” After a few hours of rest, he sets off for Marion at 3 p.m., meets US forces and briefly engages them, and then withdraws, still heading for Marion. (3) The tocsin sounds in Northport, Alabama:
 


 

Lincoln conspiracy: John Surratt vists his mother Mary’s boardinghouse briefly and then leaves for Canada. Booth is in Newport, Rhode Island, with his girlfriend. Upon hearing of the fall of Richmond, they leave for Boston on the next available train. (21)

April 4

Battles: Alabama operations/Mobile: The battles of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakeley continue.

Military events: Virginia operations/Appomattox campaign: General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia find no provisions at Amelia Court House. Wagons must be sent out for foraging and the army must wait a day before continuing. (36)

Alabama operations/Wilson’s Raid: After an all-night ride, Forrest reaches Marion at 10 a.m., where he finds his division waiting for him, with all the artillery and baggage that they brought from Mississippi intact. They rest for the next week. (3)

Other: From Danville, President Davis issues a proclamation, calling on the citizens of the Confederacy to “meet the foe with fresh defiance, with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.”

April 5

Battles: Alabama operations/Mobile: The battles of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakeley continue.

Virginia operations/Appomattox campaign: Jetersville/Amelia Springs.

Military events: Virginia operations/Appomattox campaign: Lee sets out for Appomattox Station, where a supply train is waiting. (36) Meanwhile, in Richmond President Lincoln sails (literally) into town, debarks at Rockett’s Point near Libby Prison, and walks to US General Weitzel’s headquarters, President Davis’s former home. There, he is shown into the office where he sits and remarks, “This must have been President Davis’s chair.” After lunch, he rides an ambulance through crowds to see various points of interest, stopping only at the Capitol, and returns to his ship at nightfall. (4)

Lincoln conspiracy: In Washington Secretary of State William Seward has a near fatal carriage accident. His jaw is broken in two places and his right arm is broken just below the shoulder. (21)
 

Jefferson Davis circa 1861.  (Library of Congress)

“Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points, important but not vital to our defense, with an army free to move from point to point and strike in detail the detachments and garrisons of the enemy, operating on the interior of our own country, where supplies are more accessible, and where the foe will be far removed from his own base and cut off from all succor in case of reverse, nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve. Let us but will it, and we are free; and who, in the light of the past, dare doubt your purpose in the future?”

 
 


 

Sources:

Front page image: Civil War Talk

(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) CWSAC Battle Summaries

(11) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.

(12) The Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion…, Richard Miller Devens (1866).

(13) Memoirs of W. T. Sherman

(14) The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War. James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., 1995.

(15) A. Lincoln, A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009)

(16) The Sword of Lincoln, the Army of the Potomac. Jeffrey Wert (2005)

(17) Black Artillerymen from the Civil War through World War I (PDF), Roger D. Cunningham.

(18) Siege of Petersburg, Wikipedia.

(19) Petersburg National Battlefield.

(20) James F. Epperson’s Siege of Petersburg site.

(21) Michael W. Kauffman. American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Random House. New York. 2004. (Note: I use this source heavily for details of the assassination; it is probably the best general-information book on the assassination out there. However, for balance, here is an informed review of its pros and cons, and much, much more.)

(22) Timeline 1865. State of Tennessee

(23) Up From Slavery. Booker T. Washington

(24) Civil war battles in Alabama list.

(25) Naval History of the Civil War. History Central.

(26) 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.)

(27) The Legacy of the Civil War: March 1865.

(28) The American Civil War Photo Gallery.

(29) The Final Campaign. Talladega County American History & Genealogy Project

(30) The Mobile Campaign: Battle of Fort Blakely and Spanish Fort. Blakeley State Park.

(31) Wilson’s Raid. Wikipedia.

(32) The Evacuation and Burning of Richmond, Virginia. (PDF)

(33) Capture of Jefferson Davis.

(34) Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond. James C. Clark. McFarland & Company. Jefferson, North Carolina. 1984.

(35) The Papers of Jefferson Davis, timeline. Rice University

(36) The Battle of Appomattox Court House. (Wikipedia)



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