December 1864


Major General John A. Schofield’s Federals withdrew from Franklin, Tennessee to join with Major General George H. Thomas’s forces in Nashville. Despite such terrible Confederate losses after yesterday’s Battle of Franklin, Confederate General John Bell Hood pursued Schofield. Hood wired Richmond proclaiming a great Confederate victory, but it soon became clear the battle was a terrible defeat. Federals claimed to have captured 33 battle flags, 22 of which were documented.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln appointed James Speed to become the new attorney general. Speed was the brother of Lincoln’s longtime friend Joshua Speed of New Salem, Illinois. Speed would replace Edward Bates, who had resigned last month.


John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee began approaching the Federal lines outside Nashville. Federal General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant wired George Thomas at Nashville.

Major General Grenville M. Dodge was given command of the Department of Missouri, replacing Major General William S. Rosecrans. Like previous commanders, Rosecrans had been unable to effectively administer the department due to the contentious political factions in Missouri.


John Bell Hood’s Confederates dug trenches in front of Federal defenses outside Nashville. Federal officials urged George Thomas to attack, but he waited for reinforcements to arrive.

In Georgia, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the West began advancing toward Savannah on the Atlantic Coast.


In Georgia, General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry fought Federal cavalry led by Judson Kilpatrick at Waynesboro until dismounted Federals finally drove Wheeler off.


The second session of the Thirty-eighth U.S. Congress assembled in Washington. The Radical Republican majority in the House of Representatives barred elected legislators from Arkansas and Louisiana from taking their seats. The southerners had been sent to Washington according to the terms of President Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction issued in December 1863.


President Jefferson Davis and his wife attended a “starvation party” in which no refreshments were served due to food shortages. Davis had already sold his horses and slaves to raise money, and his wife had sold their carriage and team. Davis and other leaders were beginning to acknowledge that the Confederacy was dying.


President Lincoln submitted his annual message to Congress.

Lincoln nominated political rival and former Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase of Ohio to replace Roger B. Taney as U.S. chief justice.

Ulysses S. Grant issued orders to George Thomas at Nashville.


Ulysses S. Grant informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that if George H. Thomas did not attack immediately, Thomas should be removed from command.

Troops, supplies, and ships began gathering at Fort Monroe, Virginia in preparation for an expedition to Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Fisher was the last major Confederate seaport open to blockade-runners. Major General Benjamin F. Butler commanded the army, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter commanded the navy.


Ulysses S. Grant informed U.S. Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “If Thomas has not struck yet, he ought to be ordered to hand over his command to Schofield.” Halleck replied that the decision to remove Thomas was Grant’s. Grant again ordered Thomas to attack, but Thomas answered his cavalry would not be ready until 11 December.


Ulysses S. Grant prepared an order replacing George H. Thomas with John A. Schofield, but suspended the order when Thomas informed him he would attack the Confederates outside Nashville tomorrow.

10 DEC

A driving snowstorm struck Nashville, preventing George H. Thomas from launching his attack on Confederate positions.

The vanguard of William T. Sherman’s Federals reached Savannah, Georgia, where Confederate defenders flooded surrounding rice fields and held strong entrenchments.

President Lincoln appointed Major General William F. Smith and Henry Stanbery as special commissioners to investigate civil and military affairs on and west of the Mississippi River.

11 DEC

In Georgia, Federals began rebuilding the bridge leading to Fort McAllister, which guarded the Ogeechee River.

Signal station overlooking the Ogeechee River from Fort McAllister | Image Credit:

Signal station overlooking the Ogeechee River from Fort McAllister | Image Credit:

Ulysses S. Grant again urged George H. Thomas to attack. Thomas replied he would attack when the weather improved.

12 DEC

George H. Thomas informed Henry W. Halleck that his Federals were poised to attack as soon as the sleet melted because it was nearly impossible to advance on the icy ground.

President Lincoln wrote to General E.R.S. Canby, commanding Federals in the Gulf region, explaining that seizing cotton from Confederates was “a worthy object to again get Louisiana into proper practical relations with the nation…”

William Sherman positioned Federals between the Ogeechee and Savannah rivers, and Admiral John A. Dahlgren’s Federal naval fleet awaited contact with Sherman while moving along the coast.

13 DEC

Ulysses S. Grant ordered General John Logan to go to Nashville and replace George H. Thomas as Federal commander if Thomas had not attacked by the time Logan arrived. Grant then prepared to leave Virginia and go to Nashville himself.

William Sherman’s Federals captured Fort McAllister guarding the Ogeechee River outside Savannah. This enabled Sherman to link with the Federal naval fleet on the Atlantic and reestablish contact with Washington. This made the fall of Savannah inevitable.

14 DEC

George H. Thomas wired Federal officials that the weather had improved, and he would attack the Confederates tomorrow.

15 DEC

The Battle of Nashville occurred.

Ulysses S. Grant ordered William T. Sherman to bring his Federals north to help defeat General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg. Sherman furiously pleaded to continue operations against Savannah, and then proposed to advance northward to capture South and North Carolina before joining against Lee. Grant agreed to Sherman’s plan.

The U.S. Senate confirmed President Lincoln’s appointment of Salmon P. Chase as Supreme Court chief justice. Lincoln’s decision to nominate Chase was conciliatory to the Radical Republicans, and it was also a shrewd political move that permanently ended Chase’s presidential ambitions since the chief justice served for life.

16 DEC

The Battle of Nashville ended.

17 DEC

Confederate President Jefferson Davis informed General William Hardee, commanding Confederates in the Savannah area, that no reinforcements were available, and that Hardee should make arrangements “needful for the preservation of your Army.” Federals began surrounding Savannah, and William T. Sherman demanded Hardee’s surrender.

18 DEC

Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was with William Hardee in Savannah, urged him to evacuate the city before the Federals captured the northern escape routes across the Savannah River.

News spread of the Federal rout at Nashville, which effectively finished the Confederate Army of Tennessee as a fighting force.

A massive Federal fleet steamed from Fort Monroe, Virginia to conduct a joint army-navy assault on Fort Fisher, North Carolina.

President Lincoln met with members of Congress to determine how to restore the Confederate states to the Union once the war ended. The rift between Lincoln and the Radical Republicans in Congress widened.

President Davis wrote to Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon opposing Seddon’s plan to abolish conscription, arguing that the Confederacy had no time to experiment.

19 DEC

President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 300,000 more military volunteers to replace casualties.

Major General Philip Sheridan dispatched A.T.A. Torbert and 8,000 Federal cavalry on a four-day expedition along the Virginia Central Railroad to Gordonsville. Skirmishing occurred at Madison Court House, Liberty Mills, and Gordonsville as Confederates repulsed the Federal advance.

20 DEC

William Hardee’s Confederates evacuated Savannah across a pontoon bridge made of rice flats, just before the surrounding Federals closed the last escape route. About 10,000 troops were left, along with large quantities of cotton and artillery.

President Davis expressed grave concern to P.G.T. Beauregard that Federals could capture Fort Fisher and Wilmington in North Carolina.

21 DEC

William T. Sherman’s Federals entered Savannah unopposed. Mayor Richard Arnold surrendered the city, and most of the 20,000 weary residents approved the surrender.

The U.S. Congress enacted a measure creating the rank of vice-admiral in the U.S. Navy. Rear Admiral David G. Farragut was considered the first nominee for the new rank.

22 DEC

William T. Sherman wired a message to President Lincoln, “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

The fall of Savannah ended Sherman’s march to the sea, as Federal forces now bisected the South horizontally. Sherman’s Federals had advanced 275 miles through the southern heartland while sustaining less than 2,000 casualties. In the process, Sherman had destroyed large tracts of southern property and inflicted harsh depredations upon civilians that would never be forgotten.

23 DEC

The joint Federal army-navy force attacked Fort Fisher, North Carolina, which was the last Confederate seaport open to blockade runners. Army commander Benjamin F. Butler sent a scuttled ship filled with over 200 tons of explosives to destroy the Confederate fort, but the ship caused no damage.

24 DEC

In North Carolina, Federal naval forces launched a fierce bombardment on Fort Fisher in preparation for a Federal troop landing and attack.

President Davis wrote to General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi District, expressing great disappointment that Smith had not sent troops east to aid John Bell Hood in Tennessee. Davis requested more men once again.

25 DEC

In North Carolina, Federal troops landed north of Fort Fisher, but Confederate defenders forced them to withdraw back to their naval transports. After determining the campaign was too costly, the Federal fleet withdrew to Hampton Roads, Virginia.

President Lincoln released the text of William T. Sherman’s 22 December message to the public. Sherman was generally praised throughout the North, but some criticized him for allowing William Hardee’s Confederates to escape.

26 DEC

John Bell Hood’s battered Confederate Army of Tennessee began crossing the Tennessee River at Bainbridge, Tennessee.

28 DEC

President Lincoln asked Ulysses S. Grant about “what you now understand of the Wilmington (Fort Fisher) expedition, present & prospective.” Grant replied, “The Wilmington expedition has proven to be a gross and culpable failure… Who is to blame I hope will be known.”

30 DEC

Prominent U.S. statesman Francis Blair, Sr. wrote to Confederate President Davis requesting to visit Richmond and “explain the views I entertain in reference to the state of affairs of our Country.”

President Lincoln met with his cabinet to discuss the Fort Fisher fiasco and indicated he would soon remove Benjamin F. Butler as Army of the James commander.


Last Updated: 12/10/2014


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