Eastern Tennessee: The Bean’s Station Engagement

December 14, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederates attacked a Federal detachment in the hopes of gaining more foraging ground for winter.

After Longstreet abandoned his siege of Knoxville, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio, had dispatched 4,000 cavalry troopers under Brigadier General James M. Shackelford to pursue him. When that proved ineffective, Burnside dispatched Major General John G. Parke’s IX Corps to join the pursuit.

(During this time, Burnside’s request to be removed as army commander was finally granted; he had long since grown tired of the intense criticism about his leadership. He was replaced by Major General John G. Foster.)

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Longstreet continued his withdrawal from Knoxville under Federal pursuit, reaching Rogersville in northeastern Tennessee on the 9th. There his Confederates stopped to rest and gather supplies. Longstreet also took the time to file charges against several of his staff officers who questioned his conduct during the Knoxville campaign.

Meanwhile, Parke’s Federals headed out from Knoxville to Rutledge. From there, Shackelford led a combined force of 4,000 cavalry and infantry in search of Longstreet. Shackelford periodically clashed with Confederate cavalry along the Holston River over the next few days, particularly around Bean’s Station, south of the Holston.

After receiving word that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals had returned to Chattanooga, Longstreet wrote President Jefferson Davis, “I presume that the enemy’s force now in East Tennessee will amount to about 27,000. Mine should reach 20,000.” He originally had just 15,000, but General Robert Ransom’s Confederates in West Virginia were moving south to join him. Longstreet continued:

“We are in some distress for want of shoes and other clothing, and are in want of horseshoes, and are a little short on ammunition; yet I dislike to move farther east unless my troops are really necessary at some other point. The season is so far advanced that I can scarcely hope to get shoes in time to accomplish much, and I dislike to venture out at so late a period without shoes.”

Longstreet hoped to last the winter by living off the forage south of the Holston River. To do so, he needed to drive the pursuing Federal force away, “or force him to come out and fight us.” But the Federals seemed content to remain at Bean’s Station. Longstreet resolved to assume the offensive, reversing his withdrawal by moving southwest on the road from Rogersville to Rutledge.

Shackelford had been observing Confederate movements and expected an attack, but he only expected a cavalry attack, not one from both cavalry and infantry. The Confederates cooked three days’ rations on the night of the 13th and moved out before dawn the next morning on a 16-mile forced march. The men moved through pouring rain that turned the roads to mud.

Shackelford reported to Parke at Rutledge, “The patrols on the roads to the river saw nor heard nothing of the enemy.” But when the Confederates approached around 2 p.m., skirmishing began and Shackelford wrote, “I am thoroughly satisfied that Longstreet’s command is in our front, and I think his cavalry is moving down the river.” Shackelford was right.

Longstreet sent four cavalry brigades under Major General William T. Martin down the Holston to get behind the Federal right and rear at Bean’s Station while the infantry and artillery kept the front occupied. Two cavalry brigades under Brigadier General William “Grumble” Jones would move around the Federal left and cut their line of retreat to Rutledge.

Shackelford had just 5,000 men to face Longstreet’s 12,000, but the Federals had Spencer repeating rifles that helped even the odds. Shackelford positioned his men on a defensive line between Clinch Mountain to the north and Big Ridge to the south. Both sides began trading artillery fire as two Confederate infantry brigades advanced.

The Confederates were stopped by the deadly artillery fire at least twice, but they resumed their advance after each time. When Longstreet saw the Federal line waver, he sent in Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson’s division. The Federals fell back but then held firm once more. Longstreet then committed Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division. This finally broke the Federal line and sent the enemy in retreat.

Casualties were remarkably low for such a violent engagement, with both sides losing less than 200 men. Longstreet claimed victory, but he soon learned that it was not the complete victory he hoped for. Martin’s cavalry was blocked from the Federal rear by enemy troopers, and Jones’s cavalry was held up capturing a wagon train. Consequently, the line of retreat to Rutledge remained open for the Federals to escape.

When Parke learned of the engagement, he sent his forces at Rutledge forward to support Shackelford. He reported to Foster at Knoxville, “The fight will probably be renewed tomorrow. If this division of infantry cannot hold them in check, I will fall back on the road to Knoxville.” The Federals set up defenses between Bean’s Station and Rutledge as Parke sent the rest of IX Corps forward to support them. Action would continue.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 352; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382-83; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 51, 420-21


The Status Quo in Northern Virginia

December 12, 1863 – The Federal Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia returned to their respective camps, as Major General George G. Meade waited to be removed from command.

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

After Meade withdrew from Mine Run and led his army back across the Rapidan River, he expected to be relieved as army commander. But, as he wrote his wife on the 3rd, “Two days have now elapsed since I officially announced the return of the army, and yet not a word or line has been vouchsafed me from Washington. I am somewhat at a loss to know what the silence of the authorities means.”

When Meade requested permission to come to Washington, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck replied, “You have my permission to visit Washington whenever you deem proper, reporting to the Adjutant-General at the War Department.” Although this was standard protocol, it seemed strange to Meade, as he explained in another letter to his wife: “I telegraphed General Halleck that I desired to visit Washington, but his reply was couched in such terms that, though it gave me permission to go, clearly intimated that my presence was not desired, so far as he was concerned.”

Meade decided not to go to Washington, but instead wait for his superiors to contact him. As the days passed, rumors trickled in and spread throughout the army that the administration was indeed working to replace him. Meade wrote his wife on the 11th, “I take it my supersedure is decided upon, and the only question is who is to succeed me.”

He forwarded the rumor that some officials were “very anxious to bring (Joseph) Hooker back,” but others were adamantly opposed. He mentioned another rumor that Lincoln was looking to compromise by choosing Army of the Cumberland commander George H. Thomas. At any rate, Meade wrote, “I will not go to Washington to be snubbed by these people. They may relieve me, but I will preserve my dignity.”

The next morning, an article appeared in John W. Forney’s Washington Daily Morning Chronicle stating that the administration would not replace Meade. This newspaper was widely distributed throughout the Army of the Potomac because of its unabashed support for the Lincoln administration.

When Meade read the article, he wrote his wife, “As this paper is edited by Forney, who is supposed to have confidential relations with the Administration, I presume this announcement may be considered semi-official.” At least one previous army commander had learned they were being removed from a newspaper, and now a commander learned that he was being retained from the same medium.

Meade then wrote Halleck, “I have already reported that in my judgment nothing more can be done this season.” However, the “present position of the army invites an advance from the enemy in case he deems one justifiable.” Explaining that the Confederates were in much better position to attack than the Federals, Meade continued, “I should not like to weaken myself… but would rather propose taking up the line of the Warrenton Railroad, holding in force the covering of the Rappahannock at the railroad bridge.”

This meant that the Federal army would fall back across the Rappahannock River and take up winter quarters. Also, since the enlistments of many men would soon expire, Meade proposed granting one-month furloughs to every man who pledged to reenlist.

Halleck finally responded five days later. He approved Meade’s plan to grant the furloughs, and “no objections are made to the change” of base. Halleck also stated that the administration had provided “no intimation in regard to future enterprises.” Meade issued orders to initiate the furlough program, which ultimately netted 18,000 pledges to stay in the army past their enlistment terms.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the Confederate side, Army of Northern Virginia commander General Robert E. Lee attended a series of conferences with President Jefferson Davis and other administration officials in Richmond. The meetings ended on the 21st, and rather than stay in town to spend Christmas with his wife and family, Lee returned to his headquarters at Orange Court House to set an example of duty to his men. Army chaplains reported a “high state of religious feeling throughout the army,” despite the sufferings among the troops due to lack of adequate food, clothing, or shelter.

In mid-month, Lee detached two infantry brigades and Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry brigade to confront Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federals raiding in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia. This new command was led by Major General Jubal Early. Just before Christmas, Lee wrote Early:

“I wish you to avail yourself to the present opportunity to collect and bring away everything that can be made useful to the army from those regions that are open to the enemy, using for this purpose both the cavalry and infantry under your command. I hear that in the lower (northern) valley, and particularly in the country on the South Branch of the Potomac, there are a good many cattle, sheep, horses, and hogs. Besides these, there is said to be a quantity of bacon, cloth, and leather, and all these supplies are accessible to and can be used by the enemy.

“You will buy from all who are willing to sell, and where you cannot buy, you must impress and give certificates to the owners. Of course you will not take what is necessary for the subsistence of the people… You will give out that your movement is intended as a military one against the enemy, and, of course, will do them all the harm you can.”

Thus, while Lee’s Confederates struggled to stay warm and fed through the winter, many of Meade’s Federals were going home to reunite with their families.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6581-93; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 447-48

The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

December 9, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln outlined a plan to bring the Confederate states back into the Union. This was part of his effort to exacerbate political dissension in the Confederacy while uniting the factions within his own Republican Party.

As the Confederacy seemed about to collapse, Federal politicians began considering how the post-war South should be administered. By this time, three clear plans had taken shape in Congress:

  • Democrats supported canceling the Emancipation Proclamation and offering general amnesty to all Confederates if they agreed to return to the Union; once returned, they could send representation to Congress and all would continue as it did before the war.
  • Conservative Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and offering conditional amnesty, with the Confederate states sending representation to Congress only after certain conditions were met, including accepting black freedom.
  • Radical Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and revoking the civil rights of those who supported the Confederacy; the states would be treated as conquered territories and brought back into the Union after several conditions were met, including accepting both black freedom and equality.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: histmag.org

As the leader of the conservative faction, Lincoln proclaimed, “Whereas it is now desired by some persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States, and to reinaugrate loyal State governments,” he offered a “full pardon” to those who “directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion” if they swore loyalty to the Union and promised to obey Federal laws.

Those excluded from the pardons included high-ranking Confederates, officers who relinquished U.S. military commissions to join the Confederacy, and those who treated Federal soldiers “otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war.” Those receiving a pardon would have all their property rights restored, “except as to slaves.” The decree also included Lincoln’s proposed policy on converting slavery into free labor in the South:

“Any provision which may be adopted… in relation to the freed people (by the new state governments), which shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, provide for their education, and which may yet be consistent, as a temporary arrangement, with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class, will not be objected to by the national Executive.”

Lincoln’s proclamation also included what became known as the “Ten Percent Plan,” which proposed that if 10 percent of a state’s registered voters (according to the 1860 census) swore loyalty to the Union and recognized the “permanent freedom of slaves,” then those voters could form a new government and send Federal representation to Washington. It would then be for Congress to decide whether to seat those new representatives in the House and Senate.

This marked a significant political shift for Lincoln. When the war began, he argued that the rebellion consisted of a small minority who did not represent the majority of southern sentiment. But by proposing the “Ten Percent Plan,” he acknowledged that 90 percent of every Confederate state constituency most likely wanted no part of reunion. As such, harsher measures would be needed to bring their states back into the Union and ensure that their leaders would be loyal.

Democrats were the plan’s loudest critics. They argued that it violated the Constitution’s guarantee that each state have a republican form of government since 10 percent of a state’s voters would be dictating how the remaining 90 percent should be governed. They also noted that since no Confederate state would likely have a 10 percent loyalty rate, that percentage would be made up of former slaves and northerners migrating to the states. Moreover, forcing people to swear allegiance to the government violated the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that government “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The pro-Democrat New York World pointed out that “By setting up… State governments, representing one-tenth of the voters, in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina,” the Lincoln administration “could control as many electoral votes as may be needed to turn the scale” in next year’s presidential election. Democratic New York Governor Horatio Seymour argued that this plan would give 70,000 voters in the southern states just as many votes in the Electoral College as 16 million voters in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

But this proclamation was not intended to satisfy the minority Democrats; it was intended to appease both Radicals and conservatives within the Republican Party. Radicals supported the demands that Confederates swear loyalty to the Union and acknowledge the end of slavery. Conservatives supported the “Ten Percent Plan” because it undermined Radical ideas to reorganize southern states as conquered territories.

Radicals favored disqualifying anybody with Confederate sympathies from voting, along with any southern professional who lacked Union sympathies. Radicals also insisted that all slaves should be immediately freed without compensation to slaveholders, and that newly freed slaves should be allowed to vote in some cases. They also argued that Congress, not the president, had the constitutional authority to restore the Union.

Conservatives argued that most southerners owned no slaves and had not voted to secede, and thus should not be penalized for merely fighting to defend their homes. Lincoln saw revoking emancipation as a “cruel and an astounding breach of faith,” but he also saw no reason to further punish the South since both sides had been so terribly punished by the war itself.

Behind the conflict between Radicals and conservatives was a growing conflict between Lincoln and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. While Lincoln was largely viewed as the conservative leader of the Republican Party, Chase aspired to replace him as president in 1864, and thus he was supported by most Radicals.

However, some Radicals voiced support for Lincoln’s plan, including influential Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner said that Lincoln’s proclamation gave him “great satisfaction” because it touched upon “his idea of proper reconstruction without insisting on the adoption of his peculiar theories.” And Joseph Medill, editor of the pro-Radical Chicago Tribune, wrote that the “political future begins to look clear,” and stated that this decree proved there was only one politician “in whom the nation more and more confides–Abraham Lincoln.”

Newspapers critical of Lincoln’s proclamation included the New York Journal of Commerce, which called it a “ukase from the chambers of an autocrat,” and the Chicago Times, which contended that Lincoln was either “insane with fanaticism, or a traitor who glories in his country’s shame.”

However, the pro-Democrat New York World praised the decree because it canceled out the “abolition plan of Senator (Charles) Sumner” (i.e., the Radical plan to immediately free all slaves and punish all Confederates). The influential Blair family, representing the conservative Republicans, also commended it because it canceled “Sumner’s and Chase’s territorial project.”

Despite the rift between the two Republican factions, Lincoln’s proclamation temporarily united the party by offering concessions to both sides. Lincoln also assured members of Congress that he would be willing to change the plan to suit future events if necessary. Furthermore, it threatened to disrupt Confederate politics by enticing some southerners to push for restoring the Union under this plan. This marked the first significant Federal step toward restoring the Union.



Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16790, 16807-33; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9950-71, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 563-64, 588-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 444-45; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 698, 709; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 618; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Message to Congress

December 8, 1863 – The first session of the Thirty-Eighth U.S. Congress assembled in Washington and received President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In this new Congress, Republicans held majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, Democrats had made substantial gains due to their victories in the mid-term elections of November 1862. Also, the Republicans were becoming increasingly split between the Radicals (those who sought harsh subjugation of the South) and the conservatives (those who sought a more conciliatory conquest of the South).

The first order of business in the House was to elect a new speaker, as the previous speaker, Republican Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania, had been voted out of office. The Radicals supported Schuyler Colfax, but the conservatives resisted; Lincoln led the conservatives in deeming Colfax “a little intriguer–plausible but not trustworthy.”

Lincoln and the conservatives looked for someone who could unify not only the Republican Party, but also ally with pro-war Democrats to form a “National Union” party dedicated to winning the war. As such, Lincoln supported Francis P. Blair, Jr., scion of the famous Blair political family (brother Montgomery Blair was Lincoln’s postmaster general). However, Blair had left politics to become a general in the Army of the Tennessee.

The conservatives next looked to Elihu Washburne of Illinois, but Washburne could not garner enough support in the House to make an effective run. Lincoln then sought a compromise by meeting with Colfax and having him pledge to stay neutral in the upcoming debates between the Radicals and conservatives. With Lincoln’s backing, Colfax became the House speaker.

Members quickly submitted resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery, and debate opened later this month. Congress approved a resolution thanking Major General Ulysses S. Grant for his recent military victories and creating a gold medal in his honor. Washburne introduced a bill reinstating the army rank of lieutenant general, which had previously been held only by George Washington and Winfield Scott (Scott’s was a brevet rank). Washburne, one of Grant’s biggest supporters, clearly had Grant in mind for this new rank.

President Lincoln’s annual message to Congress was read in both chambers on the 8th. The opening included summaries of the reports submitted by the cabinet officers. Lincoln stated that foreign relations were peaceful: “The efforts of disloyal citizens of the United States to involve us in foreign wars, to aid an inexcusable insurrection, have been unavailing.”

He heralded a recent treaty signed with Great Britain ending the African slave trade between the two nations: “That inhuman and odious traffic has been brought to an end.” After noting affairs in other countries, he turned to the territories. Although “Indian disturbances in New Mexico have not been entirely suppressed,” Native American relations seemed stable following last year’s Sioux uprising. Lincoln expressed support for negotiating treaties–

“… extinguishing the possessory rights of the Indians to large and valuable tracts of land. It is hoped that the effect of these treaties will result in the establishment of permanent friendly relations with such of these tribes as have been brought into frequent and bloody collision with our outlying settlements and emigrants.”

Turning to the northern home front, Lincoln stated that those “dark and doubtful days” of a year ago had given way to a more hopeful time. He explained:

“The rebel borders are pressed still farther back, and by the complete opening of the Mississippi the country dominated by the rebellion is divided into distinct parts, with no practical communication between them. Tennessee and Arkansas have been substantially cleared of insurgent control, and influential citizens in each, owners of slaves and advocates of slavery at the beginning of the rebellion, now declare openly for emancipation in their respective States. Of those States not included in the emancipation proclamation, Maryland, and Missouri, neither of which three years ago would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into new territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.”

The president reported:

“Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full 100,000 are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks; thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause, and supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men.”

Lincoln lauded the fact that, contrary to southern fears, “no servile insurrection, or tendency to violence or cruelty, has marked the measures of emancipation and arming the blacks.” Unlike the previous year’s message, Lincoln did not reiterate any support or plans for colonizing blacks outside the U.S. This indicated the administration’s shift from deportation to emancipation.

Lincoln asserted that the recent state elections were “highly encouraging” in terms of war policy. As such, “we have the new reckoning. The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union (i.e., Radicals, conservatives, and War Democrats) is past.”

He also announced that he would issue a proclamation related to bringing the Confederate states back into the Union, which he attached to his annual message. He provided a summary of this proclamation, which would be released to the public the next day. Lincoln concluded:

“Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the Army and Navy, who have thus far borne their harder part so nobly and well; and it may be esteemed fortunate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom more than to others the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.”

The president omitted several items that other politicians thought worth noting. He did not touch upon his establishment of the first national Thanksgiving holiday, he did not note the significance of completing construction on the U.S. Capitol dome, and he did not mention the important role blacks were playing in turning the tide of the war.

Opposition newspapers naturally criticized Lincoln’s message. However, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune declared that no message since George Washington’s had “given such general satisfaction.” The press would be even more vocal both for and against Lincoln when he issued his proclamation on restoring the Union the next day.



Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 429; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9939-50, 9994-10037, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 590; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 443-45; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 688; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

The Confederate Congress Assembles

December 7, 1863 – The fourth session of the First Confederate States Congress opened in Richmond.

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

The members of Congress assembled amid very trying times for the Confederacy. The armies had suffered many setbacks (especially in the West), the blockade was strangling the economy, and foreign nations had yet to recognize Confederate independence. President Jefferson Davis submitted his annual message to Congress, which was read to both chambers on the 8th. In his message, Davis declared:

“Grave reverses befell our arms soon after your departure from Richmond. Early in July, our strongholds at Vicksburgh and Port Hudson, together with their entire garrisons, capitulated to the combined land and naval forces of the enemy. The important interior position of Jackson next fell into their temporary possession. Our unsuccessful assault on the post at Helena was followed, at a later period, by the invasion of Arkansas; and the retreat of our army from Little Rock gave to the enemy the control of the important valley in which it is situated.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Despite this, Davis announced that Federal advances had “been checked,” and “the resolute spirit of the people soon overcame the despondency.” In particular, he applauded the ongoing efforts to maintain Charleston:

“The determined and successful defense of Charleston against the joint land and naval operations of the enemy, afforded an inspiring example of our ability to repel the attacks even of the iron-clad fleet, on which they chiefly rely…”

Trying to shine a positive light on the defeat at Gettysburg, Davis explained that General Robert E. Lee had been–

“… determined to meet the threatened advance on Richmond by forcing their armies to cross the Potomac and fight in defense of their own capital and homes. Transferring the battle-field to their own soil, he succeeded in compelling their rapid retreat from Virginia, and, in the hard-fought battle of Gettysburg, inflicted such severity of punishment as disabled them from early renewal of the campaign as originally projected.”

Davis congratulated the Army of Tennessee for its stunning victory at Chickamauga, which he called “one of the most brilliant and decisive victories of the war.” However, he lamented the subsequent defeat at Chattanooga:

“After a long and severe battle, in which great carnage was inflicted on him (the enemy), some of our troops inexplicably abandoned a position of great strength, and by a disorderly retreat compelled the commander to withdraw the forces elsewhere successful, and finally to retreat with his whole army to a position some 20 or 30 miles to the rear.”

Noting that the Confederacy had made no progress in obtaining foreign recognition, Davis accused Great Britain of duplicity because it declared neutrality but continued both trading with the United States and honoring the Federal blockade.

Davis addressed financial issues by proposing a restriction in the amount of Confederate paper money in circulation as a means to stem the widespread inflation and lower the cost of living. He also recommended tax increases to help finance the war effort.

Davis next reviewed the army’s condition:

“Though we have lost many of the best of our soldiers and most patriotic of our citizens–the sad and unavoidable result of the battles and toils of such a campaign as that which will render the year 1863 ever memorable in our annals, the army is believed to be, in all respects, in better condition than at any previous period of the war.”

The troops were “now veterans, familiar with danger, hardened by exposure, and confident in themselves and their officers.” According to Davis, the Confederate army “has not been equaled by any like number in the history of the war.” However, Davis acknowledged the growing problem of manpower shortages by stating that “no effort must be spared to add largely to our effective force as promptly as possible.” This should be done by–

“… putting an end to substitution, modifying the exemption law, restricting details, and placing in the ranks such of the able-bodied men now employed as wagoners, nurses, cooks, and other employees, as are doing service for which the negroes may be found competent.”

By replacing “not only enlisted cooks, but wagoners and other employees in the army, by negroes, it is hoped that the ranks of the army will be so strengthened for the ensuing campaign as to put at defiance the utmost efforts of the enemy.” As for the navy, Davis commended the sailors and seamen who did their best to defend the coast, from the James River to the Rio Grande.

Davis called attention to the Federal government’s “barbarous policy” of refusing to exchange prisoners of war (which was partly due to the Confederacy’s refusal to exchange black Federal troops), and the detention of Confederate troops in prison camps. Davis regretfully announced that the Confederacy would soon have to establish prison camps of their own to deal with the tens of thousands of prisoners that the Federals refused to exchange.

Davis condemned the Lincoln administration’s approval of mass destruction throughout the South:

“The frontier of our country bears witness to the alacrity and efficiency with which the general orders of the (Federals) have been executed in the devastation of farms, the destruction of the agricultural implements, the burning of the houses, and the plunder of everything movable.”

Although his administration had always demanded that Confederate forces refrain from attacking civilians on northern soil, Davis stated, “These considerations have been powerless to allay the unchristian hate of those who, long accustomed to draw large profits from a union with us, cannot control the rage excited by the conviction that they have by their own folly destroyed the richest sources of their prosperity.”

There seemed no hope for a negotiated peace that would end the war with Confederate independence because the Federals “refuse to listen to proposals for the only peace possible between us… We now know that the only reliable hope for peace is in the vigor of our resistance.”

Regretting “the savage ferocity which still marks the conduct of the enemy in the prosecution of the war,” Davis stated that the Federals’ wrath had been particularly severe against “the unfortunate negroes” because they “forced into the ranks of their army every able-bodied (black) man that they could seize, and have either left the aged, the women, and the children to perish by starvation, or have gathered them into camps, where they have been wasted by a frightful mortality.”

Davis argued that the Federals treated blacks in the South “with aversion and neglect,” and “in all localities where the enemy have gained a temporary foothold, the negroes, who under our care increased six fold in number since their importation into the colonies of Great Britain, will have been reduced by mortality during the war to not more than one half their previous number.” This information was supposedly provided by “the negroes who succeeded in escaping from the enemy.”

While acknowledging that “The hope last year entertained of an early termination of the war has not been realized,” Davis stated, “The patriotism of the people has proved equal to every sacrifice demanded by their country’s need.” He concluded: “God has blessed us with success disproportionate to our means and, under his divine favor, our labors must at last be crowned with the reward due to men who have given all they possess to the righteous defense of their inalienable rights, their homes, and their altars.”

In his annual report, Secretary of War James A. Seddon acknowledged having suffered major defeats, particularly in Mississippi, as well as dwindling army manpower due to combat, capture, illness, and desertion. Seddon seconded Davis by urging Congress to repeal the Conscription Act provisions that allowed for exemptions and the purchase of substitutes.

In late December, Congress responded by repealing the provisions allowing draftees to hire substitutes. The practice had been corrupted to the point that substitutes often deserted the army and sold themselves multiple times to the highest bidders; some made as much as $6,000 ($300 in gold), or three years’ wages for a skilled laborer. Substitution had been an American military tradition before the war, but popular furor against the practice compelled Congress to end it after 20 months.

Davis also approved a measure modifying the vastly unpopular tax-in-kind to reduce waste and corruption by allowing cash payments equal to the tax fee at impressment prices. A bill introduced by Senator Robert W. Johnson of Arkansas limiting cabinet members to two-year terms did not pass; this was part of the growing effort in Congress to curtail Davis’s executive power.



Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 140; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 8565-77; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351-52; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 102-03, 742-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381, 386; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 443-46, 449; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 431-32, 603; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

Sherman “Rescues” Burnside at Knoxville

December 4, 1863 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals hurried from Chattanooga to aid the Federals at Knoxville, only to find that they were not in as desperate shape as anticipated.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, overall Federal commander in the Western Theater, had rushed Federals under Sherman on an 85-mile forced march to rescue Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio besieged in Knoxville. The siege had not been as destructive as the Confederates hoped, but by December it was starting to take its toll on the Federal defenders.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Sherman quickly assembled about 25,000 men from three different corps into a small army of relief. According to his orders, “The whole army will move direct on the enemy at Knoxville and fight them at the earliest moment.” Regarding ammunition, the men were to “use it with great prudence.” And, “If rations are not to be had, the men will cheerfully live on meal till their fellows in Knoxville are released from their imprisonment.”

The relief force arrived at the Hiwassee River on the 1st, poised to advance on Loudon and Knoxville the next day. Sherman wrote Grant, “Recollect that East Tennessee is my horror. That any military man should send a force into East Tennessee puzzles me. Burnside is there and must be relieved, but when relieved I want to get out, and he should come out too.”

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, commanding the Confederate siege force, remained at Knoxville despite failing to capture Fort Sanders outside town. Longstreet hoped to lure as many Federals as possible away from the recently defeated Army of Tennessee regrouping at Dalton, Georgia. A captured Federal messenger indicated that Sherman was on his way with six divisions, giving the Federals 10 total divisions against Longstreet’s three.

Longstreet held a council of war to consider his next move. The Confederates would need to leave Knoxville before Sherman arrived, but Longstreet was unsure where to go. The Davis administration wanted him to return to the demoralized Army of Tennessee, but his men would have to move through the forbidding terrain of eastern Tennessee in freezing cold, all the while avoiding Sherman’s Federals heading his way.

It was ultimately decided to stay outside Knoxville until Sherman was upon them, and then withdraw northeast toward the Virginia border. Sherman’s men entered Loudon on the 3rd. That night, Longstreet’s 15,000 Confederates began preparing to move northeast to Greeneville. From there they could continue to either operate in eastern Tennessee or move northeast to rejoin General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

By the morning of the 4th, neither Burnside nor Sherman were aware that Longstreet had abandoned Knoxville, as messages and prisoners taken indicated that the siege was still on. A Federal inspector general reported, “Longstreet is yet at Knoxville. He assaulted Burnside on Sunday and was badly whipped… Longstreet is evidently badly puzzled.”

Sherman’s Federals reached the Tennessee River, but it had swelled too high for a crossing. Without an engineer to build a bridge, Sherman sent his pioneers to take apart houses in Morganton to lay a makeshift span. By the night of the 4th, Sherman was approaching Knoxville just as the last of Longstreet’s men were leaving. Longstreet’s artillery chief, Colonel E. Porter Alexander, recalled, “About sundown it began to rain cats & dogs.” He continued:

“It was a hard night’s march. Not that the distance covered was great, but the killing feature is perpetual halting and moving, and halting and moving, inseparable from either night marching or bad roads, and at its maximum when both fall together. It was quite cold too, and the officers were obliged to relax discipline, and let the men burn fence rails at will, whenever a regular rest was made… In spite of the rain they seemed to have no trouble in starting fires… We marched all night, and until about 11 o’clock on Saturday (the 5th), when we camped at Blain’s Crossroads, 18 miles from Knoxville.”

The half-hearted Confederate siege of Knoxville was over, and while Longstreet remained in Tennessee, the Federals now virtually controlled the rest of the state. Burnside learned of Longstreet’s withdrawal late on the 4th and dispatched 4,000 Federal cavalry troopers under Brigadier General James Shackelford in a weak pursuit.

As Sherman’s Federals continued their forced march on the 5th, one of Burnside’s aides, Colonel James L. Van Buren, found Sherman and informed him that Longstreet had fled with Federal cavalry giving chase. Sherman responded by writing, “I am here, and can bring 25,000 men into Knoxville tomorrow; but Longstreet having retreated, I feel disposed to stop, for a stern chase is a long one. We are all hearty but tired.”

Sherman and his staff arrived in Knoxville the next day and met Burnside at his headquarters. Sherman, whose troops had hurried to rescue Burnside’s army, was enraged upon learning that Burnside had not been in as grave danger as had been earlier reported. According to Sherman, Burnside had “a fine lot of cattle, which did not look much like starvation.”

Burnside and his staff were “domiciled in a large, fine mansion, looking very comfortable.” When Burnside invited Sherman to dinner, Sherman noted the “regular dining table, with clean tablecloth, dishes, knives, forks, spoons, etc., etc. I had seen nothing of this kind in my field experience, and could not help exclaiming that I thought ‘they were starving.’”

Burnside explained that reports of starvation had been exaggerated; Longstreet had never fully invested Knoxville, thus allowing him to keep his army well supplied. Sherman later wrote, “Had I known of this, I should not have hurried my men so fast; but until I reached Knoxville I thought his troops there were actually in danger of starvation.”

The generals toured the Knoxville defenses, which Sherman deemed “a wonderful production for the short time allowed in their selection of ground and construction of work. It seemed to me that they were nearly impregnable.” Having “rescued” Burnside, Sherman wanted to return to Chattanooga, but he needed Burnside’s permission as the ranking officer. Burnside agreed and issued a written declaration:

“I desire to express to you and your command my most hearty thanks and gratitude for your promptness in coming to our relief during the siege of Knoxville, and I am satisfied your approach served to raise the siege. The emergency having passed, I do not deem, for the present, any other portion of your command but the (IV) corps of General (Gordon) Granger necessary for operations in this section… I deem it advisable that all the troops now here, save those commanded by General Granger, should return at once to within supporting distance of the forces in front of (Braxton) Bragg’s army. In behalf of my command, I desire again to thank you and your command for the kindness you have done us.”

Granger had resisted going to Knoxville in the first place, and now Sherman would leave him there. Granger protested to Grant to no avail. Grant wanted Sherman to stay in the region longer to eventually confront Longstreet, but when he received word that Sherman was returning to Chattanooga, he did not object. Sherman’s “army of relief” arrived back in Chattanooga on the 19th.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 349-50; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 862, 865-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 154-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 441-43; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 50-51, 420-21

From Frank Phelps, 10th Wisconsin

Letter from Sergeant Frank Phelps of the 10th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

Camp at Chattanooga, Tenn.

December 2, 1863

Wisconsin State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com


Again has the army of the Cumberland with Hooker’s and Grant’s brave boys routed and scattered Bragg’s Army while yet exulting over their dear bought victory, if you call it that, of Chickamauga. You have ere this seen detailed accounts of the fight, but yet it may be interesting to know what I saw and did in the fight though the latter part was very small.

I will commence away back to the first signs we got of an advance movement. On the 19th of last month we had orders for each man to have 100 rounds of ammunition. The usual amount we have to carry is only 40 rounds, so we knew something was up. The next day, we had orders to go on picket with two days’ rations. Well, we went out, when it commenced to rain and rained almost every hour we were out.

While we were on the lines, we were not very far apart, only a little creek between us. The rebs were very friendly, coming down on the bank to trade papers, canteens or anything they could get. I had a New York Tribune, which I exchanged for an Augusta paper. The next day I exchanged a Wis. State Journal for the Richmond News. They wanted to get playing cards the most. One fellow offered me Greenbacks or gold if I would get him some. He said they had to pay $12 per pack for them and they were good for nothing.

We were on two days, and at the station where we were, 27 rebels deserted and came over. We were relieved on the morning of the 22nd. That afternoon we received orders to be ready to move at 6 a.m. on the 23rd. We got ready and then the order was countermanded. We were not to leave camp, but to hold ourselves ready to move at a moment’s notice. At noon, we were ordered to move out into the rifle pits. The position of our brigade and division is on the extreme right, and we expected that we were going to make for Lookout Mountain, or that there would be a general advance. At one o’clock, our heavy guns from Fort Wood and all along the lines opened on the enemy.

Soon we heard skirmishing on the left. Then we understood the movement. After some heavy firing, our forces drove the rebels from their rifle pits. When we stopped for the night, we were not allowed to leave the works as the rebels might make a movement on our right. During the night, we were moved up to support a battery of 20-pound Parrotts. Just before daylight, we were ordered to leave half of the regiment there (which was only 30 men) and take the rest down to Louis battery. The rest of the brigade had moved out to the front.

The next morning we expected to have a fight, but it was still all along the lines. At 10 o’clock, there was some firing away off in Lookout Valley where Hooker had his camps. Pretty soon the firing became more general and the first thing we saw was our men charging up Lookout Mountain. It commenced to rain about noon and it was so foggy we could not see very well. At dark, we held the mountain. Our brigade had driven the rebels on this side and joined Hooker. We expected to go out and join the brigade during the night, but they could get no horses for the battery, so we had to stay.

The next morning was clear, but awful cold. The rebs had left Lookout Mountain and our forces had gone over through the valley toward Missionary Ridge. Hooker had got to Rossville, which place we made our stand on Monday. Left here is a large gap or pass between the two ridges. From this place Hooker could come up in the rear of the rebels on Mission Ridge. Sherman with Grant’s Western boys had gone up the river to where Chickamauga Creek empties into the river and crossed over, bagging about 100 rebs that were making rafts to float down the river to break our pontoon bridges. Here we took possession of a large knob on the north end of Mission Ridge, while Maj. Gen. Howard with the 11th Corps opened communications with Sherman from this way…

Soon I could see our line advance. Our brigade held the right, forward they went, but the hill was steep and high and the rebels were packed in their rifle pits. Our men come up within range when they fire and charge up with the bayonet. The rebels either retreat or surrender. After charging the rebels out of five lines of rifle pits, we reach the top of the hill and, almost at the same time, the batteries of the rebels stop firing. They have been firing on Sherman and Thomas as fast as guns could be worked. A cheer reaches us, and on the double quick do our men face towards Sherman and go to his relief.

The rebel center is broken. We have got all of their heavy guns and hold possession of all the ridge except where the railroad goes through. There the rebels have massed the remainder of their army. From that point they can rake the whole ridge with grape and canister. We can see 20 different guns open almost at the same instant. Guns that had been firing towards Sherman all the forenoon are now firing in the opposite direction. The roar of musketry and artillery is heavier than before; a huge column of smoke rises away over to our right. The rebels are burning their stores. Hooker is working there. Night comes on and the rebels hold their position on Tunnel Hill. Sherman had been repulsed three times, but the fourth time he was victorious and the rebels had to leave.

That night, all was still. Bragg’s Army had been defeated and driven from every position. Chickamauga had been avenged. That night our forces bivouacked in the rebel camp. The next morning our forces were in pursuit of the retreating rebels. At Ringold, Bragg tried to make another stand. He had chosen a good position, but our column, which went on our old road from Bridgeport, over the mountain to Trenton, came up in his rear, and joined onto Hooker. He was soon driven from there. Here our army had to stop on account of supplies. During the night our brigade started back and reached here the next afternoon. Bragg lost all of his artillery and about 15,000 prisoners. This is the first fight down in this section of the country that the old 10th was not in the front ranks. Our brigade was there and we would have been if we had officers, but one regiment had to be left back, and we were that lucky regiment…

Yours as ever,




Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 180-83