February 1864


U.S. President Abraham Lincoln ordered a military draft of 500,000 men to begin on 10 March in accordance with the Enrollment Act of 1863. The draftees were to serve for three years or the war’s duration, whichever was shorter. Lincoln also directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to retrieve black colonists from San Domingo if they sought to return to the U.S.; this indicated that Lincoln’s plan to deport blacks from the U.S. was failing.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill reviving the military rank of lieutenant general, with the obvious intention to fill the post with General Ulysses S. Grant.

Confederate forces under Major General George Pickett left Kinston, North Carolina to reclaim the important Federal base at New Berne. When the Federals fell back into strong inner defenses, Pickett decided against an attack and withdrew.


In Mississippi, Major General William T. Sherman led about 26,000 Federals out of Vicksburg to destroy railroads and attack the scattered 20,000-man Confederate Army of Mississippi under General Leonidas Polk around Meridian.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis submitted a message to Congress requesting legislation to address the “discontent, disaffection, and disloyalty” among those enjoying “quiet and safety at home.” He called suspending the writ of habeas corpus a “sharp remedy” needed to stop spying, deserting, associating with the enemy, and holding disloyal public assemblies. Davis noted the necessity of more stringent measures due to the increased Federal campaign of destruction, looting, and pillaging. There was growing southern discontent with the Davis administration’s handling of the war effort.


William T. Sherman’s Federals occupied the Mississippi capital at Jackson amidst heavy skirmishing.


President Davis responded to public pressure and approved a law prohibiting importation of luxury goods. Blockade runners had tended to import luxury items such as gold and jewelry instead of wartime necessities because luxury items were more profitable. Davis ordered the seizure of half the cotton, tobacco, sugar, molasses, and rice leaving Confederate ports. These new regulations caused widespread protest and resentment, and due to lack of enforcement resources, they went largely ignored.


President Davis informed General Robert E. Lee that Federals were “in force” on the Chickahominy River. This news, coupled with Confederate General George Pickett’s failure to reclaim New Berne, caused temporary panic in Richmond that was ultimately unfounded.


Radical Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts presented a petition from the Women’s Loyal National League containing 100,000 signatures urging passage of a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. The original signature goal had been one million, but the number obtained was impressive nonetheless. The petition was referred to Sumner’s new committee overseeing affairs of former slaves.

Major General John M. Schofield, former commander in Missouri, superseded Major General John G. Foster in command of the Federal Department of the Ohio.

President Lincoln posed for photographs, one of which was later used for the five-dollar bill.

This evening, a loud music show covered the escape of six colonels, six lieutenant colonels, seven majors, 32 captains, and 58 lieutenants from Libby Prison in Richmond. Colonel Thomas Rose of the 77th Pennsylvania had cut a hole in the prison floor and tunneled beneath the prison grounds to beyond the prison fence. Rose and 47 others were eventually recaptured, and two others died while trying to cross waterways. But 59 reached Federal lines, making this the largest and most sensational prison escape of the war.

10 FEB

In Washington this evening, a fire broke out in the presidential stables between the White House and the Treasury building. President Lincoln tried rescuing the horses and ponies inside, but he was restrained by bodyguards. Among the seven animals killed was a pony that had belonged to Lincoln’s son Willie, who had died in 1862. A coachman who had been fired by Mrs. Lincoln was charged with arson. Lincoln requested that Congress appropriate funds to rebuild the stable.

The Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Florida disembarked from Brest, France and eluded U.S.S. Kearsarge.

11 FEB

President Davis notified General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, that William T. Sherman’s Federal advance “should be met before he reaches the Gulf and establishes a base to which supplies and reinforcements may be sent by sea.” Davis was unaware that Sherman had no plans to advance to the Gulf of Mexico.

Major H.W. Gilmor’s Confederate raiders attacked the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad near Kearneysville, West Virginia, throwing a train off the tracks and robbing the passengers and crew.

14 FEB

William T. Sherman’s Federals captured Meridian, as General Leonidas Polk’s Confederates withdrew without a fight. As the Federals destroyed the area, Sherman reported, “For five days 10,000 men worked hard and with a will in that work of destruction… Meridian, with its depots, store-houses, arsenals, hospitals, offices, hotels and cantonments no longer exists.” Sherman’s brutal expedition included the destruction of 115 miles of railroad, 61 bridges, and 20 locomotives while encountering minimal opposition from Confederate cavalry.

President Lincoln met with General Judson Kilpatrick to discuss potential operations in Virginia.

15 FEB

President Davis expressed concern that William T. Sherman’s Federals might next advance on either Mobile or Montgomery. However, Sherman had no plans to advance further than Meridian.

The Confederate Congress repealed the Partisan Ranger Act, ending the practice of independent southerners forming their own military units. The repeal was supported by General Robert E. Lee, who expressed concern about the increasing guerrilla warfare and lawlessness. Certain units, including those under John S. Mosby and Hanse McNeill, were exempted. Others continued operating anyway since the Confederacy had no resources to enforce the law.

16 FEB

President Davis requested advice on how to address military shortages.

17 FEB

C.S.S. Hunley, an experimental “semi-submersible,” rammed and sank U.S.S. Housatonic in Charleston Harbor. Housatonic became the first ship ever sunk by a submarine. However, the collision also destroyed Hunley, killing her crew. This innovative attack panicked the Federal blockading fleet, but submarines remained ineffective in warfare until the 20th century.

The Confederate Congress authorized suspending the writ of habeas corpus to prevent “disloyal” activities such as spying, deserting, associating with the enemy, and engaging in disloyal public assemblies. The president and secretary of war were the only two officials authorized to order arrests under the suspension.

The First Confederate Congress ended its fourth session amid growing discontent with President Jefferson Davis and his administration’s handling of the war effort.

President Davis moved to transfer troops from General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee to General Leonidas Polk’s army being threatened in Mississippi.

18 FEB

President Abraham Lincoln wrote to Massachusetts Governor John Andrew that if “it would be really true that Massachusetts wishes to afford a permanent home within her borders, for all, or even a large number of colored persons who will come to her, I shall be only too glad to know it…”

General William T. Sherman’s Federals continued their destruction of Meridian, Mississippi, as Federals supporting Sherman clashed with Confederates at Aberdeen.

19 FEB

In Washington, a committee led by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas issued a controversial pamphlet stating that President Lincoln’s reelection was “practically impossible” due to widespread opposition to his policies. Moreover, it stated that even if Lincoln was reelected, his “tendency toward compromise” would prolong the war and destroy “the dignity of the nation.” The circular’s authors endorsed Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to oppose Lincoln for the presidency. This threatened to split the Republican Party between Radicals favoring Chase and conservatives favoring Lincoln.

President Davis conferred with Admiral Franklin Buchanan on plans to defend against a potential Federal attack on Mobile, Alabama.

20 FEB

The Battle of Olustee occurred in Florida, as Brigadier General Joseph Finegan’s 5,000 Confederates confronted some 5,500 Federals under Brigadier General Truman Seymour in a pine forest west of Jacksonville. After heavy fighting until dark, the Federals broke in confusion and ultimately withdrew to Jacksonville. The Federals suffered 1,861 casualties, while the Confederates lost 934. This was the largest battle fought in Florida and one of the bloodiest of the war in terms of casualty percentage. Despite the defeat, the Federals maintained control of Jacksonville.

William T. Sherman’s Federals withdrew from Meridian due to Sherman’s concern that his supporting cavalry force under William Sooy Smith was in danger of Confederate attack. The Federals’ return to Vicksburg ended the Meridian campaign, and Confederates quickly began repairing the town.

21 FEB

William Sooy Smith’s Federal cavalry retreated toward Memphis after losing several skirmishes with Confederates under General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Smith had destroyed railroad facilities, cotton, and corn, and hundreds of former slaves joined his forces.

President Davis expressed concern about the growing Federal threats to Mississippi, northern Georgia, Charleston, eastern Tennessee, and northern Virginia.

22 FEB

The Battle of Okolona occurred as Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates attacked William Sooy Smith’s retreating Federals in northern Mississippi. The fight became a five-mile running Federal defeat, with a Federal counterattack preventing a rout and enabling Smith’s main force to return to Memphis. Despite the death of his brother, this was one of Forrest’s greatest victories.

Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase offered to resign over the “Pomeroy Circular,” a pamphlet issued by Kansas Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy three days ago that opposed President Lincoln’s reelection and endorsed Chase to replace him. This threatened to split the Republican Party during an election year, which delighted Democrats. In his letter of resignation, Chase denied having any prior knowledge of the circular, but evidence suggested that Chase had approved its distribution.

Voters elected a pro-U.S. government in Louisiana, with Michael Hahn becoming governor of the military-occupied state. The elections were held according to President Lincoln’s 10-percent plan (i.e., only men who had sworn allegiance to the U.S. could vote, with a minimum of 10 percent of eligible voters registering). Major General Nathaniel Banks, commander of the Federal Department of the Gulf, supervised the elections and helped elect Hahn and seven pro-U.S. “officers.” Banks did not allow black men to vote because most Louisiana slaves were not eligible for freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation.

Kentucky Governor Thomas Bramlette approved a law levying fines and imprisonment on anyone suspected of destroying property or encouraging destruction of property. This was intended to stop Confederate guerrilla attacks and silence pro-Confederate sentiment in the state. Military officers would enforce the law without civil trials.

A convention of Republicans from Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and conquered parts of Tennessee assembled in Louisville to demand immediate abolition of slavery and granting former slaves the right to vote. However, Republicans held limited political power in the region; the Lexington Observer and Reporter stated, “The truth is the people of Kentucky are more united in opposition to the policy of the (Lincoln) Administration than they ever have been heretofore.”

23 FEB

In northern Georgia, Major General George H. Thomas’s Federals attacked Confederates at Catoosa Station and Tunnel Hill in what became known as the “Demonstration on Dalton.” President Davis warned Joseph E. Johnston that “the demonstration in your front is probably a mask.”

President Lincoln held his weekly cabinet meeting without Treasury Secretary Chase. However, he did not yet accept Chase’s resignation, concluding that he could neutralize a potential rival by keeping Chase in the cabinet, thus preventing him from openly campaigning for the presidency.

In Richmond, a buyer’s panic occurred as the price of food and whiskey skyrocketed.

24 FEB

President Jefferson Davis appointed General Braxton Bragg, former commander of the Army of Tennessee, to command overall military operations. Despite Bragg’s defeat at Chattanooga last November, he still held Davis’s trust.

President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law containing several military provisions, such as: 1) offering slaveholders $300 for each slave who enlisted in the military; 2) increasing bounties for volunteers; 3) redefining draft quota credits; 4) increasing penalties for draft resistance; 5) subjecting blacks to the military draft; and 6) providing non-combat military positions to those objecting to war for religious reasons.

In Washington, Congress began debating on restoring Louisiana to the Union as a reconstructed state.

25 FEB

Major General John C. Breckinridge was given command of the Department of Western Virginia, replacing Major General Samuel Jones. Breckinridge, a former U.S. vice president, had been condemned in the North as a traitor and denounced in the South after being censured by Braxton Bragg for poor performance at Chattanooga.

In northern Georgia, Confederates repulsed a Federal probing attack in the Demonstration on Dalton. The Federals returned to the main army the next day.

President Lincoln ordered that all death sentences for deserters be commuted to imprisonment for the war’s duration.

26 FEB

Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals skirmished during their withdrawal after destroying Meridian, Mississippi. The cavalry portion of Sherman’s army returned to Memphis amid constant harassment from General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates.

The U.S. Senate passed the House bill reviving the military rank of lieutenant general.

27 FEB

The first Federal prisoners of war arrived at a new Confederate prison camp near Americus, Georgia. Food shortages in Richmond had prompted Confederate officials to create a new camp deeper in southern territory. Its official name was Camp Sumter, but it became known as Andersonville. The camp quickly became overcrowded with a severe lack of food, clothing, shelter, and health care. With few Confederate resources to care for them, disease and death ravaged Federal prisoners as the name “Andersonville” became notorious in the North.

In northern Georgia, a final skirmish ended the Demonstration on Dalton.

28 FEB

President Lincoln approved General Judson Kilpatrick’s plan to conduct a Federal cavalry raid on the Confederate capital at Richmond. The main force consisted of about 3,500 men under Kilpatrick and Colonel Ulric Dahlgren. They planned to invade Richmond at two points, distribute copies of Lincoln’s amnesty pledge, and liberate Federal prisoners of war. The force crossed the Rapidan River and skirmished at Ely’s Ford, while a separate cavalry unit under Brigadier General George A. Custer launched a diversionary raid in Albemarle County.

Federal Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas was sent west to address administrative issues in the Mississippi River Valley. Among the issues were increasing problems with handling freed slaves, restoring farms, and trading cotton and other contraband.

29 FEB

President Lincoln approved the bill restoring the lieutenant general rank. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s success in the Western Theater had prompted Congress to revive the rank so Lincoln could bestow it upon him. The bill had been sponsored by Congressman Elihu Washburne from Grant’s home town of Galena, Illinois. Only two men had ever before held such a rank: Winfield Scott (by brevet only) and George Washington.

In the Richmond raid, Judson Kilpatrick split his Federal command, keeping most troopers and sending Ulric Dahlgren’s detachment south. Confederates in Richmond learned of the Federal raid and began preparing defenses.


Last Updated: 11/20/2014


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