The Red River Campaign Ends

May 20, 1864 – One of the greatest Federal military disasters of the war finally ended.

Federals under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, an engineer by trade, had been building a dam on the Red River in Louisiana for the past 10 days to raise the water level. This would enable Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s naval flotilla to pass through and get to Federal lines before Confederates on shore could destroy the vessels. The dam had burst on the 10th, but four ships got through, and work began on a stronger dam at the upper falls so the rest of Porter’s fleet could pass.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The new dam was breeched on the 11th, as thousands of Federal troops used ropes to pull the ironclads U.S.S. Carondelet, Mound City, and Pittsburgh over the upper falls. All three vessels, with their hatches battened down, made it through the rapids safely (the Mound City and Carondelet ran aground but were freed). Porter reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “The passage of these vessels was a beautiful sight, only to be realized when seen.”

The dam was then closed again to continue raising the water level. Over the next two days, the rest of Porter’s fleet successfully passed through the upper falls. Bailey and his workers then began building wing dams on the lower falls so that Porter could get his ships off the Red and onto the Mississippi River. Porter wrote Welles:

“The water had fallen so low that I had no hope or expectation of getting the vessels out this season, and as the army had made arrangements to evacuate the country I saw nothing before me but the destruction of the best part of the Mississippi squadron… Words are inadequate to express the admiration I feel for the abilities of Lieutenant Colonel Bailey. This is without doubt the best engineering feat ever performed… He has saved to the Union a valuable fleet, worth nearly $2,000,000…”

Bailey later received the thanks of Congress for saving the naval squadron.

As the ships began steaming down the Red, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf left Alexandria and continued its retreat, moving parallel with the fleet. The Federals resumed their pattern of destroying nearly every town they passed by burning Alexandria before leaving. A soldier wrote that “thousands of people, mostly women, children, and old men, were wringing their hands as they stood by the little piles of what was left of all their worldly possessions.” Reportedly only two houses remained standing in the town.

Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding Confederate forces in Louisiana, hoped to destroy Banks’s army before it could return to New Orleans. But being hopelessly outnumbered, Taylor had to wait for reinforcements from Arkansas to arrive. As he waited, he dispatched cavalry and other units to harass Banks’s Federals on their retreat.

On the 16th, the Federals found themselves blocked by a portion of Taylor’s force under Brigadier General Camille A. Polignac in an open prairie outside Mansura. A four-hour artillery duel erupted, after which Banks directed Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith’s Federals to attack. Taylor withdrew in the face of superior numbers, moving southwest while the Federals continued retreating southeast.

The Federal vanguard arrived at Simmesport on the Atchafalaya River, where Bailey’s Federals began building a makeshift bridge out of transports and riverboats so the Federals could cross the 600-yard-wide waterway. Around the same time, Porter’s flotilla finally reached the Mississippi River, ending its service in the Red River campaign.

Skirmishing resumed on the 17th, during which the main part of Banks’s army fell back to Yellow Bayou, about five miles from Simmesport. Bailey continued working on the bridge, leaving the Federals to fend Taylor’s Confederates off until they could get across to safety.

Taylor approached the Federals at Yellow Bayou with about 5,000 troops the next day. Banks responded by dispatching A.J. Smith and about 5,000 of his men to meet them. The Federals pushed the enemy skirmishers back before coming up to Taylor’s main line.

Both sides attacked and counterattacked over the next several hours, giving ground and taking it back, until a brushfire compelled both sides to disengage. In this brutal clash, the Federals sustained about 350 casualties while the Confederates lost 608. By the time the fight ended, the bridge spanning the Atchafalaya was ready.

The Federals crossed the river over the next two days, ending their failed Red River campaign. Since its beginning in March, Banks’s Federals had sustained 5,245 army and 300 naval casualties. They lost eight vessels (including three gunboats) and 28 guns. The seizure of 15,000 bales of cotton during the expedition did not make up for the losses or Banks’s failure to achieve his ultimate goal of capturing the vital cotton-producing city of Shreveport. One of Banks’s staff officers described the aftermath:

“Franklin quitted the department in disgust, Stone was replaced by Dwight as chief of staff, and Lee as chief of cavalry by Arnold; A.J. Smith departed more in anger than in sorrow; while between the admiral and the general commanding, recriminations were exchanged in language well up to the limits of ‘parliamentary’ privilege.”

Combined with Major General Frederick Steele’s Camden expedition in Arkansas, the Federals lost over 8,000 men and 57 guns. General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, which included Louisiana and Arkansas, lost a total of about 4,275 men. The Confederates had also captured well over 1,000 supply wagons and 3,500 horses or mules. They prevented Major General William T. Sherman from receiving reinforcements for his Georgia offensive, and they stopped Banks from turning east to attack Mobile, Alabama, as Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had ordered him to do.

The only positive result for the Federals was that they somehow escaped complete destruction. The Confederates from Arkansas finally arrived to reinforce Taylor two days after the Federals had crossed the Atchafalaya. Unable to pursue any further, Taylor issued a congratulatory order to his men for their conduct during the campaign:

“Long will the accursed race remember the great river of Texas and Louisiana. The characteristic hue of its turbid waters has a darker tinge from the liberal admixture of Yankee blood. The cruel alligator and the ravenous garfish wax fat on rich food, and our native vulture holds high revelry over many a festering corpse.”

When Banks arrived at Simmesport, he was met by Major General Edward R.S. Canby, who informed him that his Department of the Gulf, as well as Steele’s Department of Arkansas, had been absorbed into Canby’s new Military Division of West Mississippi. Banks, who had presided over disasters in the Shenandoah Valley and Louisiana during the war, would now serve in an administrative capacity under a man three years his junior in date of rank.

Canby accompanied Banks on the last 100 miles of the retreat from Simmesport to Donaldsonville. Banks, a former House speaker and Massachusetts governor, would turn his attention back to political issues, mainly restoring Louisiana to the Union. Canby, whose jurisdiction extended from Missouri to Texas, and then east along the Gulf Coast to Florida, would eventually set his sights on capturing Mobile.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20649-57; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 619-20; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 404-08, 412; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 1757-86, 1792-802, 1820-30, 1840-918, 1928-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 431, 434, 436, 438-42; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 66, 68-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 496-501, 505; 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. 723; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 195; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23, 330; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 816; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 751, 846

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Northern Virginia: Race to the North Anna

May 20, 1864 – Major fighting between the Federal Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia stopped as Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant prepared to make another move.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant and Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Since Grant led the Federal army across the Rapidan River on the 4th, he had lost 36,065 killed, wounded, or missing in the Wilderness and around Spotsylvania Court House. Almost another 20,000 left the army due to illness, desertion, or enlistment expiration. Thus, the 122,000-man army that had begun this campaign was reduced to about 66,000 in less than three weeks.

For the Confederate army, General Robert E. Lee had lost over 20,000 men in the same timeframe from combat and illness. Though this was far less than Grant, Lee could ill afford such losses considering his army only numbered about 65,000 men when the campaign began. He now had closer to 40,000 troops, and even worse, his cavalry commander (Jeb Stuart) was killed, his top corps commander (James Longstreet) was put out of action, and his other two corps commanders (Richard Ewell and A.P. Hill) were gravely ill.

The Confederates had scored tactical victories in every engagement of the campaign thus far, but the Federals had secured the strategic advantage by gradually moving southeast after each contest and getting closer to Richmond. And if this became a war of attrition, the Federals would surely win.

After 12 days of the most intense fighting of the war at Spotsylvania, the 20th was relatively quiet, with the men on both sides remaining behind their fortifications for the most part. Lee reported to Secretary of War James A. Seddon, “The enemy has continued quiet to-day; he is taking ground toward our right and intrenching, but whether for attack or defense is not apparent.”

President Jefferson Davis wrote a long letter to Lee about the action on other fronts. Davis described how P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederates drove Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James away from Richmond and bottled him up at Bermuda Hundred. He also relayed news of John C. Breckinridge’s remarkable Confederate victory at New Market in the Shenandoah Valley. In response to Lee’s request for reinforcements, Davis replied that he could now have most of Breckinridge’s force, as well as 6,000 troops from Beauregard under Major Generals George Pickett and Robert F. Hoke.

Davis shared Beauregard’s idea that Lee “should fall back to the line of the Chickahominy, and that he (Beauregard) should move up with 15,000 men to unite with Breckinridge and fall upon the flank of Grant’s army, which it is presumed will be following yours, and after the success to be obtained there, he (Beauregard) should hasten back, reinforced by you, to attack Butler’s forces, after an absence of three, and not to exceed four, days.”

This was a very daring and (characteristically) elaborate plan by Beauregard. Davis was skeptical, not only because of the risk involved, but because it would involve Lee’s army retreating to the Chickahominy River. Davis wrote, “How far the morale of your army would be affected by a retrograde movement, no one can judge as well as yourself. It would certainly encourage the enemy.” Rather than reject the plan, Davis asked for Lee’s opinion:

“You are better informed than any other can be of the necessities of your position, at least as well informed as any other of the wants and dangers of the country in your rear, including the railroad and other lines of communication, and I cannot do better than to leave your judgment to reach its own conclusions.”

Davis then updated Lee on events in Georgia, including Joseph E. Johnston’s many retreats:

“I cannot judge of the circumstances which caused Genl Johnston to retire from Dalton to Calhoun. He may have been willing to allow the enemy to pass the (Rocky Face) Ridge and may prefer to fight him on the Etowah River. I hope the future will prove the wisdom of his course, and that we shall hereafter reap advantages that will compensate for the present disappointment.”

Meanwhile, Lee knew that Grant would not stay quiet for long. He called on Breckinridge to send every available man to Hanover Junction, an important railroad intersection just south of the North Anna River, which Lee guessed that Grant would target. Sure enough, Grant issued orders for another southeastern movement, around Lee’s right flank toward Hanover Junction.

Some Confederates began expressing frustration with the constant marching and fighting, having never before faced such a relentless enemy commander. One Confederate wrote, “We have met a man, this time, who either does not know when he is whipped, or who cares not if he loses his whole Army.”

Some Federals began expressing frustration as well. While they had initially been emboldened by Grant’s refusal to retreat, they now began noting that after every major confrontation, they were the ones to disengage and move to different ground, despite their superiority in manpower, armament, and supplies.

Hoping to force Lee into the open, Grant directed just one corps–Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s–to make the move. If Lee attacked this isolated force, Grant could then hit Lee’s vulnerable left flank at Spotsylvania with his remaining three corps. If Lee did not attack, Grant could still gain an advantage by Hancock reaching the North Anna ahead of the Confederates.

Lee learned of Hancock’s movement at 1 a.m. on the 21st and, unwilling to leave Spotsylvania yet, extended Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps to block the Telegraph Road, thinking that Hancock would be using this thoroughfare to push south. Ewell’s Confederates began moving toward the road at 4 a.m. At 9:30, Grant directed another corps–Major General Gouverneur Warren’s–to follow Hancock on a parallel route down the Telegraph Road, unaware that it was blocked.

When Grant learned of Ewell’s presence, he directed Warren to change direction and follow the same route that Hancock took. Hancock’s Federals moved through Guinea Station and reached Bowling Green at dawn. They then continued to Milford Station, where they encountered newly arrived Confederates under Pickett. Hancock, now aware that Lee’s army was being reinforced, halted until he could gauge the enemy’s strength.

With Confederates now at Milford Station, the Telegraph Road, and Spotsylvania, the Federal army was dangerously strung out in enemy territory. Grant therefore ordered his remaining two corps under Major Generals Horatio G. Wright and Ambrose E. Burnside to leave their trenches at Spotsylvania and join the rest of the army. Burnside’s Federals moved out first, heading down the Telegraph Road and then changing direction just as Warren did and moving toward Guinea Station instead. Wright followed Burnside.

Scouts informed Lee that the Federal trenches at Spotsylvania were empty, so Lee directed his remaining corps under Major Generals Richard H. Anderson and Jubal Early to move south to the North Anna River. The Confederates had the advantage of moving along interior roads and thus arrived there before the Federals. Not only did Grant fail to coax Lee into attacking Hancock, but he failed to be the first to reach the North Anna as well.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20305-12, 20404; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 412; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5129-39, 5591-601, 5658-78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 442-43; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7142-53; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126-30; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 506-07; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 551 | 709

The Shenandoah Valley: Sigel Ousted

May 19, 1864 – Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates began leaving the Shenandoah Valley, and Major General Franz Sigel was replaced as Federal commander in the region.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, congratulated Breckinridge for his resounding victory over Sigel’s Federals at the Battle of New Market: “I offer you the thanks of this army for the victory over General Sigel. Press him down the Valley, and if practicable follow him to Maryland.”

Lee and the Confederate high command hoped the Federals would repeat their two-year pattern of abandoning the Valley after a defeat. Lee therefore sent a second message to Breckinridge: “If you can follow Sigel into Maryland, you will do more good than by joining us. (But) if you cannot, and your command is not otherwise needed in the Valley or in your department, I desire you to prepare to join me.”

With Sigel’s Federals retreating northward down the Valley, Breckinridge told Lee that he preferred to bring 2,500 men to Lee’s command in eastern Virginia rather than chase Sigel to Maryland. Lee answered, “Proceed with infantry to Hanover Junction by railroad. Cavalry, if available, can march.”

Breckinridge’s Confederates began heading east on the 19th. That same day, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, gladly accepted Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck’s suggestion to replace Sigel as head of the Federal Department of West Virginia. Grant had never been impressed with Sigel’s abilities, and his embarrassing defeat at New Market reinforced this assessment.

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General David Hunter replaced Sigel. When Hunter reached department headquarters near Strasburg, he sent Sigel north to command the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. Hunter was expected to move from Staunton to Lynchburg, wrecking the important Virginia Central Railroad. The Federals would be “living off the country” during the march, destroying anything useful to the Confederacy and driving Confederate forces out of the region. The pattern of regrouping for months before resuming the offensive in the Valley would be broken.

Meanwhile, the Federal force that was supposed to have reinforced Sigel, led by Brigadier General George Crook, reached Meadow Bluff after retreating 50 miles into West Virginia. The men had been tasked with wrecking the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, but Crook had ordered a withdrawal after receiving an incorrect report that Grant had been defeated at the Wilderness. Crook’s Federals were exhausted and low on supplies, but when Hunter took command, he ordered them to “move immediately on Staunton.”

Hunter introduced a brutal new policy to Valley residents after Confederate guerrillas shot up a Federal wagon train near Newtown: he sent a cavalry unit to burn down the house from where the shots came. The Federals declared that if these attacks continued, “the commanding general will cause to be burned every rebel house within five miles of the place at which the firing occurs.”

Prior to this order, both sides had a tacit understanding that the rights and property of civilians would be respected. But Hunter asserted that Confederate guerrillas were outlaws, and if they could not be caught, then those who aided and abetted them would suffer. This policy of retaliatory arson earned Hunter the nickname “Black Dave.”

Hunter’s newly renamed Army of the Shenandoah, about 8,500 strong, left its camps at Strasburg and Cedar Creek on the 26th, moving south up the Valley turnpike. Hunter’s orders from Halleck were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad “beyond the possibility of repair for weeks; then, either return to your original base or join Grant, via Gordonsville.”

Meanwhile, Brigadier General William E. “Grumble” Jones was assigned to command the new Confederate Department of Southwestern Virginia now that Breckinridge and his men had gone east. Jones took over Breckinridge’s old Department of Western Virginia, as well as eastern Tennessee. He had about 8,500 infantry and cavalry, and his main responsibilities were to protect Staunton’s warehouses and the crucial Virginia Central.

As Hunter moved south, Confederate cavalry under Brigadier General John D. Imboden felled trees to impede his advance. From New Market, Imboden reported that Hunter was heading for Strasburg, adding, “His cavalry outnumbers ours two to one, his infantry four to one, his artillery four to one. There is no point this side of Mount Crawford where I can successfully resist him.”

The Federals advanced through Woodstock, where, according to Hunter’s chief of staff, Colonel David H. Strother, Hunter was “evidently seeking an apology to burn something” by searching the town jail. Hunter found no prisoners but still planned to burn the town hotel until his aides talked him out of it. On the 30th, Hunter’s Federals returned to New Market and properly interred their dead comrades whom Confederates had only partially buried.

Farther west, Crook’s Federals began moving out of their camps on the Greenbrier River in the Alleghenies. Crook was to move east and join forces with Hunter, giving them a combined force of about 20,000 men. These Federal movements concerned Lee, who directed Jones to “get all the available forces you can and move at once to Imboden’s assistance to defend the Shenandoah Valley.” Action in the Valley would escalate as the enemy forces approached each other in June.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 409, 414; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5203-13, 5280-301, 5705-15, 6350-60; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 442-45; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24, 39, 41-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 506-07, 509; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376-77, 527-28, 584, 817

The Gold Hoax

May 18, 1864 – A forged presidential proclamation was sent to the press in an effort to drive up the price of gold. This caused an uproar throughout the North.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

At 4 a.m., the seven daily newspapers of New York City received an Associated Press dispatch supposedly from President Abraham Lincoln. It stated that May 26 would be set aside “as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer,” and it announced that “with a heavy heart, but an undiminished confidence in our cause,” another 400,000 men would be drafted into the army due to “the situation in Virginia, the disaster at Red River, the delay at Charleston, and the general state of the country.”

Five dailies hesitated publishing the declaration out of suspicion that it could be a forgery. But two dailies–the New York World and the Journal of Commerce–published it, and it caused an immediate panic on Wall Street. The price of gold shot up 10 percent before traders began realizing that the proclamation might be bogus. Bulletins soon appeared denying the announcement’s validity, and the panic quickly subsided.

When news of this story and its impact reached Washington, it “angered Lincoln more than almost any other occurrence of the war period.” He directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to “take possession by military force” the offices of the two newspapers and the Independent Telegraph Company (which had allegedly wired the dispatch). Major General John A. Dix, commanding the Department of the East, was ordered to imprison all suspects in the scheme. Although he believed that many of the suspects were innocent, Dix reluctantly complied.

Journalist Adams S. Hill was apprehended on suspicions that he masterminded the “gold hoax” to discredit the Associated Press. Hill worked for the AP’s competitor, the Independent News Room, which used the Independent Telegraph Company for service because the AP monopolized the superior American Telegraph Company. Charges against Hill were dropped when the real perpetrator was revealed on the 20th.

Joseph Howard, Jr., city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, had concocted the plot after boasting that he would soon reap enormous profits in the stock market as a result. Howard immediately named one of his reporters, Francis A. Mallison, as a co-conspirator who wrote the declaration in Lincoln’s name and style. Howard also explained that the two newspapers and the Independent Telegraph Company had nothing to do with the scheme.

In reality, Lincoln had planned to issue a draft call as reported, but the outrage caused by the hoax forced him to delay the call for two months. The newspaper editors endured three days of jail, while Howard and Mallison were imprisoned at Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor.

The Lincoln administration was excoriated once again for suppressing free speech and the press. New York Governor Horatio Seymour, who had battled Lincoln on civil liberties the previous year, directed the district attorney to file suit against General Dix and the Federal government for unlawfully arresting and imprisoning citizens. Seymour declared:

“In the month of July last, when New York was a scene of violence, I gave warning that ‘the laws of the State must be enforced, its peace and order maintained, and the property of its citizens protected at every hazard.’ The laws were enforced at a fearful cost of blood and life. The declaration I then made was not intended merely for that occasion, or against any class of men. It is one of an enduring character, to be asserted at all times, and against all conditions of citizens without favor or distinction. Unless all are made to bow to the law, it will be respected by none. Unless all are made secure in their rights of person and property, none can be protected.

The court case was finally resolved in July, when a grand jury declined to press charges against Dix or his officers. The Federal government provided no compensation for the loss of business sustained by the suspension of the two newspapers, seizure of the telegraph offices, or the imprisonment of innocent people. Howard and Mallison were finally released from confinement after Reverend Henry Ward Beecher appealed to Lincoln for mercy.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19792-805; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10669-81; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7879-99; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 504; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 360; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 313-14, 372-73; 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), Q264

Spotsylvania: Federals Attack Again

May 18, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant directed his Federals to launch another attack in hopes of turning the flank of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant and Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Since the horrible battle on the 12th, both armies had shifted positions and skirmished without provoking a major confrontation. Grant, the overall Federal commander, sought to slide Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac to the left, or southeast, to try turning Lee’s right flank.

Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps had begun moving from its spot on the far right of the Federal line to the left, beside Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s IX Corps, on a line running roughly north to south. Major General Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps had followed Warren and took positions on Warren’s left, securing the high ground on Myers Hill after an all-day skirmish on the 14th.

Both Burnside’s corps and II Corps under Major General Winfield Scott Hancock held their positions in front of what was once the Mule Shoe salient of the Confederate line. Hancock now held the extreme Federal right. Heavy rain fell for several days, suspending any plans Grant had to renew his large-scale attacks.

The Federals had inflicted heavy damage on Lee’s army, but they had not scored any major advantages. The Confederates still held Spotsylvania Court House, including the vital intersection of the Virginia Central and the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac railroads. This enabled supplies to continue reaching the Confederate troops without interruption. Nevertheless, President Jefferson Davis asked Lee to better protect himself from enemy fire because “The country could not bear the loss of you…”

Lee did not immediately react to the new Federal threat to his right. As Wright’s corps got into position on the 14th, Lee left Spotsylvania Court House undefended. But the Federals were too exhausted to capitalize, and Lee finally directed Major General Richard H. Anderson’s First Corps to shift from the Confederate left to the right. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps now faced Hancock, with the men from Major General Jubal Early’s Third Corps and Anderson’s corps facing Burnside, Warren, and Wright.

On the 17th, Grant learned from Confederate prisoners that Lee was shifting men from his left to his right flank to counter the Federal movement. Guessing that this made Lee’s left vulnerable, Grant ordered Wright’s Federals to countermarch from their position on the Federal left to the position they had held four days ago, on the right of Hancock’s troops.

Actions of May 17-18 | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Ewell’s Confederates held strong defensive positions, covered by artillery. And they would not be surprised like they had been on the 12th. The men under Wright and Hancock advanced slowly on the morning of the 18th, seizing the “Bloody Angle” of what had been the Mule Shoe salient. Around 8 a.m., Ewell ordered his 29 guns to open fire, and after sustaining about 2,000 casualties in two hours, the Federals fell back. A Federal officer recalled:

“Moments seemed like hours. Then the cheering ceased and dark masses of our men were seen through the openings in the uprising smoke returning as they went but with awfully suggestive gaps in their ranks. The assault had failed. Soon the smoke cleared away and disclosed the ground for long distances thickly strewn with our dead and dying men. It was an awfully grand spectacle, one often repeated around that ground which has been justly styled ‘Bloody Spotsylvania.’”

Colonel Theodore Lyman of Meade’s staff noticed a pattern emerging in this campaign:

“It is a rule that, when the Rebels halt, the first day gives them a good riflepit; the second, a regular infantry parapet with artillery in position; and the third a parapet with an abattis in front and entrenched batteries behind. Sometimes they put this three days’ work into the first 24 hours.”

Lee informed Secretary of War James A. Seddon, “The enemy opened his batteries at sunrise on a portion of Ewell’s line, attempted an assault, but failed. He was easily repulsed.” Meade wrote his wife after the engagement, “We found the enemy so strongly entrenched that even Grant thought it useless to knock our heads against a brick wall. We shall now try to maneuver again so as to draw the enemy out of his stronghold.” Lee reported the situation to Davis:

“(Grant’s) position is strongly entrenched, and we cannot attack it with any prospect of success without great loss of men which I wish to avoid if possible. The enemy’s artillery is superior in weight of metal and range to our own, and my object has been to engage him when in motion and under circumstances that will not cause us to suffer from this disadvantage. I think by this means he has suffered considerably in the several past combats, and that his progress has thus far been arrested. I shall continue to strike him wherever opportunity presents itself, but nothing at present indicates any purpose on his part to advance. Neither the strength of our army nor the condition of our animals will admit of any extensive movement with a view to drawing the enemy from his position. I think he is now waiting for reenforcements… The importance of this campaign to the administration of Mr. Lincoln and to General Grant leaves no doubt that every effort and every sacrifice will be made to secure its success.”

Later, Lee repeated his request for Davis to send him the troops currently guarding Richmond, adding, “The question is whether we shall fight the battle here or around Richmond. If the troops are obliged to be retained at Richmond I may be forced back.”

After this sharp Federal defeat, Grant returned to headquarters, where he received more bad news: the armies of Major Generals Franz Sigel and Benjamin F. Butler had also been defeated. Grant tried remaining optimistic, but he conceded:

“I thought the other day that they must feel pretty blue in Richmond over the reports of our victories; but as they are in direct telegraphic communication with the points at which the fighting took place, they were no doubt at the same time aware of our defeats, of which we have not learned till to-day; so probably they did not feel as badly as we imagined.”

Early on the 19th, Lee directed Ewell to conduct a reconnaissance in force to determine the location of the Federal right flank. Ewell dispatched two divisions that came up against Wright’s corps around the Harris farm, and vicious fighting ensued. Lee recalled the Confederates before they were caught in a full-scale battle while isolated from the rest of the army, but they did not disengage until 9 p.m., and many were captured after getting lost in the dark. The Confederates lost 900 killed, wounded, or missing.

This ended active operations around Spotsylvania Court House. Two weeks of constant marching and fighting, combined with enlistment expirations, had cut the Army of the Potomac nearly in half since the campaign began. Lee, having lost nearly 18,000 men in that same span, now had just about 40,000 troops left. He had also lost top lieutenants James Longstreet, Jeb Stuart, and A.P. Hill. Lee soon learned that Grant was maneuvering around his right flank once more, prompting him to shift his Confederates south toward the North Anna River.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 478; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 460; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 407, 409-10; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 440-41; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7094, 7118-29; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124-25, 130; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 238; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 501-02, 504-05; 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. 732; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 709

Georgia: From Adairsville to the Etowah

May 17, 1864 – General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee established positions around Adairsville after retreating southward from Resaca.

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Following the engagement at Resaca, Johnston had fallen back south of the Oostanaula River in hopes of establishing a new defensive line at Calhoun. There was no good ground to defend, so Johnston continued withdrawing. When Johnston’s engineers informed him that they found suitable ground north of Adairsville, he ordered his army to concentrate there.

Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies followed the Confederates on three parallel roads. A portion of Major General Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps clashed with elements of Lieutenant General William Hardee’s Confederate corps about two miles north of Adairsville, but both sides pulled back before provoking a general engagement.

During this time, Johnston arrived at the proposed defense line and was disappointed to find that the ground was not as defensible as he had been led to believe. The hills on either flank were too far apart to use for artillery batteries. Johnston would have to stretch his line dangerously thin to link one hill to the other. Before he dealt another blow to army morale by ordering another withdrawal, he held a council of war with his three corps commanders that night.

Johnston noted that two roads ran south from Adairsville, and Sherman would most likely use both roads on his march. He therefore devised a plan in which Hardee’s corps would take the southern road to Kingston while Johnston led the corps of Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and John Bell Hood down the southeastern road to Cassville. Johnston guessed that Sherman would send a larger part of his force to Kingston, and while Hardee diverted him there, the remaining Confederates would attack the Federal left as it moved toward Cassville.

By the morning of the 18th, Johnston had abandoned Adairsville as planned. Just as he expected, Sherman sent most of his troops–Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee and most of Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland–toward Kingston, while Major General John Schofield’s smaller Army of the Ohio and one of Thomas’s corps headed for Cassville. Federal cavalry and Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis’s detached division moved southwest, where they destroyed the important manufacturing center of Rome.

Hardee’s corps reached Kingston and began moving east on the night of the 18th to join the other two Confederate corps at Cassville. As Johnston waited in ambush with Polk and Hood, he received messages from President Jefferson Davis expressing dissatisfaction with the withdrawals so far. Johnston’s retreat alarmed Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown enough to order the state militia to mobilize for defense.

The next morning, Hardee’s Confederates arrived to make up Johnston’s left flank, guarding the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Polk’s corps held the center at Cassville, and Hood’s corps made up the right. Johnston directed Hood to line his men at a right angle to Polk, east of the Adairsville-Cassville road. Hardee and Polk would attack the Federals in front while Hood advanced from the east to hit the Federal left flank. Johnston issued a proclamation to the troops to boost morale:

“You have displayed the highest qualities of the soldier–firmness in combat, patience under toil. By your courage and skill you have repulsed every assault of the enemy… You will now turn and march to meet his advancing columns. Fully confiding in the conduct of the officers, the courage of the soldiers, I lead you to battle… Cheered by the success of our brothers in Virginia and beyond the Mississippi, our efforts will equal theirs. Strengthened by His support, these efforts will be crowned with the like glories.”

The proclamation served its purpose. No longer would the army fall back from the enemy. Now it would finally turn and fight. A soldier in the 1st Tennessee recalled, “The soldiers were jubilant. We were going to whip and rout the Yankees.”

The bulk of Sherman’s armies arrived at Kingston that morning, found the place empty, and then shifted east to advance on Cassville. However, the Federals took different roads than Johnston expected, and as Hood shifted his men, they came across a Federal brigade that would have been on Hood’s flank and rear had he gotten into his assigned position.

After a brief skirmish, Hood fell back and reported to Johnston what happened. Ironically, the corps commander who had urged Johnston to fight the most had withdrawn from a fight. Johnston responded by directing his army to fall back onto a wooded ridge southeast of Cassville. Calling this position “the best that I saw occupied during the war,” Johnson hoped to lure Sherman into attacking on the 20th. However, the Federals came up and enfiladed the line with artillery, opening a brief cannonade just before nightfall.

Johnston met with his corps commanders, where Polk contended that if the Federals renewed their enfilade fire, an attack would break his line within an hour. Hood agreed and declared that the army should either fall back or go on the offensive. Johnston seriously considered attacking because he did not want to retreat again, especially after issuing his proclamation earlier that day.

But in the end, Johnston decided it would be most prudent to withdraw, and he issued orders for the army to fall back another 10 miles, across the Etowah River. Johnston’s chief of staff blamed Hood for the retreat and wrote, “I could not restrain my tears when I found we could not strike.”

The Confederates muffled the axles and wheels of their wagons as they began retreating at 2 a.m. on the 20th. They moved through Cartersville and crossed the Etowah the next morning. The troops entered defensive works that had been previously built by slaves.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 48, 50; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20791-99; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 409-11; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7061-71, 7080-100, 7126-46, 7168-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 440-42; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 503-05; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 305; 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. 746-47

The Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

May 16, 1864 – General P.G.T. Beauregard launched an attack on Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federals as they timidly approached Richmond from the south.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Butler’s 16,000 Federals from the Army of the James faced 18,000 Confederates under Beauregard at Drewry’s Bluff, which guarded the approach to the Confederate capital. Butler issued orders to attack at 6 a.m. but Beauregard planned to attack sooner, and he developed an intricate plan of action:

  • Major General Robert Ransom, Jr.’s division would attack the Federal right, manned by XVIII Corps under Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith
  • Major General Robert F. Hoke’s division would attack the Federal left, manned by X Corps under Major General Quincy A. Gillmore
  • Major General W.H.C. Whiting’s two brigades would move north from Petersburg and cut off the Federal retreat

Butler’s army would then be either destroyed or at least forced to fall back from the Confederate capital and the vital Richmond & Petersburg Railroad. At 4:30 a.m., Ransom’s men began moving through heavy fog and slammed into Smith’s corps. The Confederates routed a brigade and captured 400 men including its commander, Brigadier General Charles Heckman. The Federal right flank bent but did not break. Ransom’s attack soon stalled.

On the Federal left, Gillmore did not receive Butler’s order for a 6 a.m. attack until 6:20. As he prepared to obey, Hoke’s Confederates appeared in the distance, led by the brigades of Brigadier General Johnson Hagood and Major General Bushrod R. Johnson. Hagood and Johnson hit the Federal center and captured some artillery, but the Federals held firm as the Confederate attack became disjointed in the fog.

The wire entanglements that the Federals had strung between the lines also lessened the force of the enemy assaults. A Federal officer asserted that the Confederates were “being piled in heaps over the telegraph wire.” A Confederate taken prisoner called the entanglements “a devilish contrivance which none but a Yankee could devise.”

The rest of Hoke’s division struck the Federal left but made no progress. Meanwhile, Butler ordered Gillmore to send reinforcements to the right, and then he ordered Smith to abandon the right altogether and fall back. To the south, Whiting’s Confederates met a single Federal division at Port Walthall Junction and halted, as Whiting feared that more Federals were coming. Butler received word that Confederates were in his rear, adding to the general confusion among the Federals. He issued orders to Gillmore:

“You must fall back, press to right, and get in rear of Smith’s corps. He will try and hold his ground until you get in his rear and clear the road to the intrenchments (at Bermuda Hundred), so that we may get behind the defenses. Push vigorously.”

The Federals fell back in driving rain about a mile before reforming their line at Half Way House around 2 p.m. About two hours later, after receiving word that Confederates from Richmond were crossing the James to confront him, Butler ordered a retreat to the Federal entrenchments at Bermuda Hundred. As he reported, “The troops have been on incessant duty for five days, three of which were in a rainstorm. I retired at leisure to within my own lines.”

Beauregard had driven Butler away from Richmond and the railroad, but he could not destroy Butler’s army. Beauregard accused Ransom, despite his successful initial attack, of lacking the aggression needed to finish the Federals off. Nevertheless, the Federals returned to the peninsula where Beauregard could seal the neck with a token force and ensure that Butler could not threaten Richmond or Petersburg anymore.

When Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, learned of this defeat, he remarked that Butler’s army was “as completely shut off from further operations directly against Richmond as if it had been in a bottle strongly corked.” This ended Butler’s failed campaign to cut the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad. Butler would also be no help to the Army of the Potomac, which was sustaining enormous losses against the Confederates in northern Virginia.

The Federals sustained 4,160 casualties (390 killed, 2,380 wounded and 1,390 missing) at Drewry’s Bluff, while the Confederates lost 2,506 (355 killed, 1,941 wounded and 210 missing). The Confederates came upon Bermuda Hundred the next day and built defenses of their own to keep the Federals and “Beast” Butler caged on the peninsula. Now three of Grant’s four offensives in Virginia had met with failure, and the fourth (the Army of the Potomac) tottered on destruction.

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References
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 409-10; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5522-42, 5561-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 440; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 503-04; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 614; 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. 723; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 57-58, 227-28, 837