Category Archives: Military

The St. Albans Raid

October 19, 1864 – Raiders targeted a Vermont town just over the Canadian border in what became the northernmost Confederate attack on Federal soil.

Bennett H. Young | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederate government had authorized Lieutenant Bennett H. Young and 20 of his fellow escaped or exchanged prisoners of war to attack Federal towns from Canada. It was hoped that this would divert Federal attention from other theaters of war and inspire Confederate sympathizers to rise up against Federal authority in the North.

Over the course of several days, Young and his raiders arrived at the town of St. Albans, about 20 miles from Canada. Posing as vacationers and hunters, they were given lodging at various town hotels and boardinghouses. The raiders planned to burn the town and, if possible, rob the banks before attacking similar towns along the border.

They gathered on the village green at 3 p.m. on the 19th, where Young announced that he was seizing the town on behalf of the Confederacy. Residents ignored him, thinking it was a joke, until the raiders fired their pistols. Some people resisted, resulting in the killing of one resident (ironically a Confederate sympathizer) and the wounding of another.

Instead of burning the town first, the raiders broke off into groups of threes and robbed the town’s three banks. Armed villagers soon began firing at the raiders from the buildings ringing the square, wounding three. The Confederates burned several buildings with Greek fire, but no substantial damage was done. They then raced off to Canada with $200,000 from the banks.

A Federal captain on furlough quickly organized a civilian posse to hunt down Young and his men, who had broken off into small groups. The posse captured a few of these groups, but since they were in Canada, Canadian officials quickly took charge of the prisoners. Ultimately Young and 12 of his men were apprehended by Canadian authorities, and about $75,000 was recovered.

Federal officials requested that Canada extradite the raiders to the U.S. However, the Canadians put the men on trial and, after ruling that they were soldiers acting under orders, they were released on bond. They were never tried in the U.S. The St. Albans raid caused a sensation in the press, but it did nothing to divert Federal attention or inspire Confederate sympathizers.

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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. 477; 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 12292-302; Fowler, Robert H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 651; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 510-11; Klein, Frederic S., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 780; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 585-86; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 60-61

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The Battle of Cedar Creek

October 19, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederates launched one more desperate attack against Major General Philip Sheridan’s numerically superior but unsuspecting Federal army in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Sheridan had left his army to attend a conference at Washington. He no longer considered Early a serious threat after defeating him at Winchester and Fisher’s Hill in September. The Federals were encamped along the east bank of Cedar Creek, above the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Their line ran north to south and consisted of three infantry corps:

  • VI Corps under Major General Horatio G. Wright, commanding the army in Sheridan’s absence, held the right (north) flank.
  • XIX Corps under Brigadier General William H. Emory held the center.
  • VIII Corps (also known as the Army of West Virginia) under Brigadier General George Crook held the left (south) flank.

Early had received reinforcements and regrouped his Army of the Valley. However, his men were short on supplies because Sheridan’s Federals had laid waste to the Valley. Early could have fallen back to replenish his supplies, but he instead decided to launch a bold attack on the unsuspecting Federals.

Through the night of the 18th and early morning of the 19th, Major General John B. Gordon led three Confederate divisions northeast around Massanutten Mountain and over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. This placed them within striking distance of Crook’s unsuspecting Federals on the left. Meanwhile, two supporting divisions took positions on Gordon’s left, poised to hit Emory in the center.

At 5 a.m., the Confederates attacked through the fog between Cedar Creek and Middletown. Many Federals were still asleep when the attack began, and their lines soon disintegrated as Gordon’s forces swept through their camps. Captain Henry A. du Pont, heading Crook’s artillery, saved nine of his 16 guns and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for staving off complete disaster.

As the sun rose and the fog lifted, Emory shifted his XIX Corps to meet Gordon’s advance. This left a bridge over Cedar Creek open, enabling Major General Gabriel Wharton’s supporting Confederate division to cross and attack. Intense fighting took place near the Belle Grove plantation, where the Federals held their ground long enough for their supply wagons to withdraw and VI Corps to prepare defenses to the north.

The Confederates under both Wharton and Major General Joseph B. Kershaw crashed into VI Corps, which put up a fierce resistance and made brief stands as they slowly withdrew northwest toward Middletown. Early opted to concentrate most of his force against this position instead of destroying VIII and XIX corps. Meanwhile, hungry Confederates stopped to loot captured camps.

By 10 a.m., the Confederates had captured over 1,300 prisoners, 18 cannon, and several battle flags. But Early disregarded Gordon’s advice to continue pressing the attack, instead ordering a halt to regroup. Gordon later wrote, “My heart went into my boots. Visions of the fatal halt on the first day at Gettysburg, and of the whole day’s hesitation to permit an assault on Grant’s exposed flank on the 6th of May in the Wilderness rose before me.”

Sheridan, asleep 15 miles away, woke to the sound of battle at 6 a.m. He began moving toward the fight two hours later, when the sound became “an unceasing roar.” Sheridan hurried from Winchester and arrived on the scene around 10:30 a.m., where he found thousands of demoralized Federal troops in retreat. Sheridan rode through the men, waving his hat and shouting, “Turn back! Turn back! Face the other way!” When the soldiers cheered him, Sheridan yelled, “God damn you! Don’t cheer me, fight! We will lick them out of their boots!”

“Sheridan’s Ride” | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The troops were revitalized by this spectacular display of battlefield leadership. A VI Corps soldier later wrote, “Such a scene as his presence and such emotion as it awoke cannot be realized but once in a century.” The Federals stabilized their wavering lines north of Middletown, after having been pushed back four miles. At 3 p.m., Early finally allowed Gordon to follow up his morning attack. But by that time, the strengthened Federal lines held firm against the lesser Confederate assaults.

Sheridan counterattacked at 4 p.m. The reorganized VI and XIX corps led the effort, while Crook’s VIII Corps was in reserve. The Federals turned Gordon’s left, which crumbled the rest of Early’s line. Brigadier General George A. Custer led a Federal cavalry attack on Early’s rear; panic-stricken Confederates feared that this would block their escape across Cedar Creek. Confederate Major General Stephen D. Ramseur fell mortally wounded as his division tried making a stand before being forced to fall back.

Federal cavalry attacks by Custer and Brigadier General Wesley Merritt turned the Confederate withdrawal into a rout as Early’s men fell back four miles to Fisher’s Hill. They were forced to leave all their captured guns and supplies behind. Custer celebrated the dramatic Federal victory by hoisting “Little Phil” Sheridan off the ground and dancing with joy.

The Federals suffered 5,665 casualties (644 killed, 3,430 wounded, and 1,591 missing) out of about 30,000, while Confederate losses were estimated at 2,910 (320 killed, 1,540 wounded, and 1,050 missing) from roughly 18,000. Early reported to his superior, General Robert E. Lee at Petersburg:

“I found it impossible to rally the troops, they would not listen to entreaties, threats, or appeals of any kind… The rout was as thorough and disgraceful as ever happened to our army… It is mortifying to me, General, to have to make these explanations of my reverses. They are due to no want of effort on my part, though it may be that I have not the capacity or judgment to prevent them. If you think that the interests of the service would be promoted by a change of commanders, I beg you will have no hesitation.”

Early chastised his men for their conduct in this battle, writing in part, “Many of you, including some commissioned officers, yielded to a disgraceful propensity for plunder… Subsequently those who had remained at their post, seeing their ranks thinned by the absence of the plunderer… yielded to a needless panic and fled the field in confusion.” He later summed up the battle: “The Yankees got whipped and we got scared.”

Lee decided not to replace Early, who led his forces to New Market to regroup and possibly confront Sheridan once more. But after being routed three times within a month, the Confederates could no longer contend with the Federals’ superior size, supply, and armament. The troops gradually dispersed, and the Federals gained permanent control of the Valley and its vital resources.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, ordered a 100-gun salute fired into the Confederate defenses at Petersburg in celebration. People serenaded President Abraham Lincoln at the White House, where Lincoln proposed three cheers for “all our noble commanders and the soldiers and sailors…”

Lincoln then wrote to Sheridan, “With great pleasure, I tender to you and your brave army the thanks of the nation and my own personal admiration and gratitude for the month’s operations in the Shenandoah Valley, and especially for the splendid work of October 19.” The Chicago Tribune stated, “The nation rings with praises of Phil Sheridan.”

Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana traveled to Sheridan’s headquarters and woke him up late on the night of the 23rd to award him the rank of major general in the regular army. Sheridan also received a commendation from the adjutant general “for the personal gallantry, military skill, and just confidence in the courage and patriotism of his troops… whereby, under the blessing of Providence, his routed army was reorganized, a great national disaster averted, and a brilliant victory achieved.”

Sheridan became a northern hero, and “Sheridan’s Ride” from Winchester to the battlefield became a famous poem by Thomas Buchanan Read. The Federal victory at Cedar Creek stopped any future Confederate threat to Washington, which enabled the Federals to devote more resources to the siege of Petersburg and Richmond. This victory greatly boosted northern morale as well as Lincoln’s chances for victory in the upcoming election.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 182; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 518, 540; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 476-77; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 11915-35, 11959-2002; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 511; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8000; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 679-80; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144-58; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 585-86; 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. 779-80; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 121, 677-79

The Shenandoah Valley: Early Plans to Attack

October 18, 1864 – Major General Philip Sheridan went to attend a conference in Washington, while Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederates prepared to launch a surprise attack on Sheridan’s army.

Federal Maj Gen Philip Sheridan and Confederate Lt Gen Jubal Early | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As the Federal Army of the Shenandoah withdrew to Woodstock, Sheridan’s cavalry, commanded by Major General Alfred T.A. Torbert, fought rear guard actions against Early’s Confederate troopers. Disapproving Torbert’s order not to confront the Confederates, Sheridan directed him, “Either whip the enemy or get whipped yourself.”

Torbert complied, ordering two of his divisions under Brigadier Generals Wesley Merritt and George A. Custer to turn and face the opposing Confederate divisions led by Brigadier Generals Lunsford Lomax and Thomas L. Rosser (a former West Point classmate of Custer’s). Merritt pushed back Lomax’s undersized force on the left, while Custer’s 2,500 troopers took on Rosser’s 3,500 posted on hills along the south bank of Tom’s Brook, near Woodstock.

As Merritt continued pushing Lomax back, Custer traded artillery fire in Rosser’s front while shifting his men to attack the Confederate left. The unsuspecting Confederates immediately broke; according to Custer:

“The enemy, seeing his flank turned and his retreat cut off, broke in the utmost confusion and sought safety in headlong flight. The pursuit was kept up at a gallop by the entire command for a distance of nearly two miles, where a brigade of the enemy was formed to check our farther advance.”

With Rosser’s force broken, Lomax’s soon broke and ran as well. The Federals took some 300 prisoners and 11 guns (or 36 total since September 19th) as the Confederates fled 26 miles back to Early’s lines north of New Market. Federals nicknamed this fight the “Woodstock Races” as a response to the “Buckland Races” that Major General Jeb Stuart had inflicted on Custer the previous year. Custer wrote triumphantly:

“Never since the opening of this war had there been witnessed such a complete and decisive overthrow of the enemy’s cavalry. The pursuit was kept up vigorously for nearly twenty miles, and only relinquished then from the complete exhaustion of our horses and the dispersion of our panic-stricken enemies.”

Despite having his cavalry routed, Early still intended to take the offensive against Sheridan. He wrote to General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, explaining his intentions and stating, “I think I can defeat his infantry and thwart his movements…” However, Early acknowledged that he might have trouble obtaining supplies now that the Federals had laid waste to much of the upper Valley.

Meanwhile, Sheridan’s forces continued falling back northward “down” the Valley, closer to their supply lines. They crossed Cedar Creek on the 10th, just north of Strasburg. The Federals set up strong positions on either side of the Valley Turnpike, unaware that Early planned to attack. Sheridan even detached Major General Horatio G. Wright’s crack VI Corps to return to the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg.

By the 13th, Early’s Confederates had advanced to Fisher’s Hill, about five miles south of Sheridan. Despite being reinforced by Major General Joseph B. Kershaw’s infantry division, Early’s Army of the Valley was still outnumbered two-to-one. Nevertheless, a part of his force advanced and drove off Federal skirmishers before returning to Fisher’s Hill. More probing on both sides took place over the next two days.

Sheridan reacted to these probes by recalling Wright’s corps, which had stopped at Ashby’s Gap. Sheridan planned to attack Early on the 14th, but the Confederates had fallen back to strong positions on Fisher’s Hill, so Sheridan instead put Wright in command of his army and accepted a summons by Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck to come to Washington for a strategy conference.

While preparing to leave, Sheridan learned that Federals had intercepted and deciphered a message supposedly from Lieutenant General James Longstreet, who had recently recovered from wounds suffered at the Wilderness. The message was intended for Early: “Be ready to move as soon as my forces join you, and we will crush Sheridan.”

Sheridan believed this was a bluff, but as a precaution he called off a cavalry raid into the Blue Ridge and placed those men on his right flank. Wright assured Sheridan, “I shall hold on here until the enemy’s movements are developed, and shall only fear an attack on my right, which I shall make every precaution for guarding against and resisting.”

Before his train left, Sheridan warned Wright, “Look well to your ground and be well prepared. Get up everything that can be spared.” Sheridan left with his entire cavalry corps, assuring Wright that he would return in two days, “if not sooner.”

Sheridan conferred with Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in Washington on the 18th. Sheridan convinced them to approve his plan to take up defenses in the lower (northern) Valley and send VI and XIX corps back to the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg. He left the capital that day, traveling by train to Martinsburg and then by horse to Winchester, about 15 to 20 miles from his army.

Meanwhile, Confederates spied the Federal positions from atop the Shenandoah Peak and the Massanutten Mountain. They saw Sheridan’s three corps spread out along Cedar Creek’s east bank, not suspecting an attack. Being outnumbered, Early could not launch a frontal assault, but his officers informed him that the Federal left was vulnerable to a flank attack.

On the afternoon of the 18th, Early held a council of war and resolved to launch a full-scale attack at dawn. Major General John B. Gordon began the operation that night by leading three divisions around Massanutten Mountain and across the North Fork of the Shenandoah River so they could assault the Federal left in the morning. Early would then deploy Kershaw’s division to support Gordon and his fifth division with 40 guns under Major General Gabriel Wharton to hit the Federal center along the Valley Turnpike.

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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 20521-29; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 471-72; 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 11829-59, 11870-900; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 507-10; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7988; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 135, 139-41, 144, 151; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 581-82, 584-85; 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. 779; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677-79 | 491-92

Hood Leaves Georgia

October 17, 1864 – General John Bell Hood led his Confederate Army of Tennessee in a desperate attempt to pull the Federals out of Georgia while trying to regain Tennessee and Kentucky for the Confederacy.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Up to this time, Hood had directed his men to attack Major General William T. Sherman’s main Federal supply line, the Western & Atlantic Railroad, between Atlanta and Chattanooga. The Confederates moved east toward Resaca, hoping to force the Federals out of their defenses and into an open fight. But by the 12th, Sherman was still unsure of Hood’s location and intentions.

One of Hood’s corps under Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee descended on the lightly guarded Federal garrison at Resaca that day. The garrison commander, Colonel Clark R. Wever, deployed skirmishers to hold off the Confederates long enough to bring up some reinforcements, giving him about 1,200 men. But he was still hopelessly outnumbered.

Lee delivered a message to Wever through the lines on Hood’s behalf:

“Sir: I demand an immediate and unconditional surrender of the post and garrison under your command, and should this be acceded to, all white officers and soldiers will be paroled within a few days. If the place is carried by assault no prisoners will be taken.”

Wever replied, “Your communication of this date just received. In reply I have to state that I am somewhat surprised at the concluding paragraph, to the effect that ‘If this place is carried by assault no prisoners will be taken.’ In my opinion I can hold this post; if you want it come and take it.”

Hood had instructed Lee to attack the Resaca garrison only if he was sure that he could capture it “with small loss of life.” Lee opted not to attack, later reporting:

“The commanding officer refused to surrender, as he could have easily escaped from the forts with his forces, and crossed the Oostanaula river; I did not deem it prudent to assault the works, which were strong and well manned, believing that our loss would have been severe.”

Although the Confederates did not capture the Federal garrison, they succeeded in compelling all nearby Federals to concentrate there. This left the railroad to the north open for destruction. Hood’s men worked their way up the railroad, seizing Tunnel Hill along the way before arriving in front of the Federal garrison at Dalton on the 13th.

The Federal commander at Dalton, Colonel Lewis Johnson, was given the same surrender ultimatum as Wever. But for Johnson, the situation was more dangerous because not only was his garrison much smaller than Wever’s, but it was manned by black troops who would most likely be either killed or sent into slavery if captured. Johnson replied, “I cannot surrender the troops under my command, whatever the consequences may be.”

Skirmishing ensued as two Confederate corps came up to surround the fort. Johnson met with Hood and, after vainly protesting against Hood’s threat of no quarter, reported, “I surrendered the command as prisoners of war between 3 and 4 p.m. under conditions that the men were to be treated humanely, officers and white soldiers to be paroled, officers to retain their swords and such private property as they could carry.” Hood told Johnson that the black troops would be enslaved, despite Johnson’s protests and threats of Federal retaliation. Johnson wrote:

“Although assured by General Hood in person that the terms of the agreement should be strictly observed, my men, especially the colored soldiers, were immediately robbed and abused in a terrible manner. The treatment of the officers of my regiment exceeded anything in brutality I have ever witnessed, and a General Bate distinguished himself especially by meanness and beastly conduct.”

Some of the black troops were murdered, while the rest were sent into slavery, regardless of whether they had been slaves before joining the Federal army.

Meanwhile, the bulk of Sherman’s forces moved northeast from Rome to confront Hood. They reached Resaca on the 14th and then turned north toward Dalton. Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee was on the Federal left (west) while Major General David S. Stanley’s Army of the Cumberland was on the right. Major General Jacob D. Cox’s XXIII Corps from the Army of the Ohio was in reserve.

Howard intended to move through Snake Creek Gap on the 15th and turn Hood’s right. However, as Howard reported, “The enemy’s force was so small that a simple threat upon his right flank as if to turn it caused him to abandon the position and run over the ridge and through the gap.” The Federals pursued, slowed by felled trees in their path, until nightfall.

The Confederates fell back to La Fayette. Hood had succeeded in pulling Sherman out of Atlanta, but now two Federal forces opposed him from opposite directions: Sherman’s to the south and Major General George H. Thomas’s to the north. If Hood was going to fight Sherman as he told his superiors he would do, he needed to do it before Sherman and Thomas joined forces.

Hood called a council of war with his top commanders, who shocked him by voicing opposition to fighting a major battle. Hood contended that his “forward movement of 100 miles,” had given the troops “confidence, enthusiasm, and hope of victory.” Regardless, the “opinion was unanimous that although the army was much improved in spirit, it was not in a condition to risk battle against the numbers reported.”

The Confederates would not fight, but they could not stay where they were either. Therefore, Hood “conceived the plan of marching into Tennessee with a hope to establish our line eventually in Kentucky, and determined to make the campaign which followed, unless withheld by General (P.G.T.) Beauregard (his immediate superior) or the authorities at Richmond.” Hood hoped that this would force Sherman to leave Georgia and chase him down.

The Army of Tennessee moved west toward Gaylesville, across the Alabama state line. From there, Hood looked to establish a supply base at Gadsden before heading north into Tennessee. Hood did not know that Sherman had already received permission to destroy the railroad (which Hood did for him), halt the pursuit, and turn south for the Atlantic coast.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 475-76; 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 12862-72, 12925-35; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 509-10; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 584; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 29-32

Missouri: Price Rushes West

October 15, 1864 – Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates captured several towns while moving through Missouri, but Federal pursuers were closing in on them fast.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In September, Price had begun an expedition to free his home state from Federal rule. His Army of Missouri consisted of three cavalry divisions under Major General James F. Fagan and Brigadier Generals John S. Marmaduke and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby. Price initially planned to head northeast and capture St. Louis, but after learning that the city was heavily defended, Price instead rode to seize the state capital of Jefferson City.

Price’s troopers turned westward and moved along the Missouri River, passing through Washington, skirmishing with a token Federal force at Richwoods, and occupying Herman. The Confederates crossed the Osage River on the 6th and approached Jefferson City, but Price found the Federal defenses there too strong to attack. He continued west toward Boonville, with a Federal brigade under Brigadier General John B. Sanborn in pursuit.

Meanwhile, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri from St. Louis, deployed cavalry under Major General Alfred Pleasonton and XVI Corps under Major General Andrew J. Smith to pursue the Confederates. Smith’s corps had been slated to reinforce the Federals in Tennessee, but it was held back to deal with Price.

Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Federal Department of Kansas from Fort Leavenworth, mobilized a division of his Army of the Border under Major General James G. Blunt to move east into Missouri and confront Price. Kansas Governor Thomas Carney reluctantly gave Curtis a division of state militia to join Blunt after learning that Price was moving west toward his state.

Price reached Boonville on the 9th, where he learned that not only were Pleasonton and Smith pursuing from the east, but 20,000 Federals under Curtis were heading his way from the west. Price resolved to continue heading west, and he issued a proclamation requesting that citizens join his army and “redeem” Missouri from Federal control.

The Boonville residents were initially supportive of Price’s efforts, and about 2,000 volunteers joined Price’s army. The divisions of Fagan and Marmaduke defeated Sanborn’s pursuing Federals outside Boonville on the 11th and sent them retreating across Saline Creek.

However, even with the new recruits, desertions and illness left Price with just 8,500 men, or 3,500 less than he had when the campaign started. And public opinion turned against the Confederates after they spent two days looting Boonville. This recklessness gave the Federals time to develop a strategy to destroy them.

Confederate partisans led by William “Bloody Bill” Anderson came to Boonville to reinforce Price, but Price was outraged by the scalps hanging from their bridles. With large numbers of Federal troops closing in from two directions, Price began looking to return to Arkansas. He and Anderson parted ways, with Anderson’s partisans going to raid towns north of the Missouri River.

Price dispatched troopers under Shelby and Brigadier General John B. Clark, Jr. to capture Glasgow, the supposed site of a large Federal arsenal. The 2,500 troopers placed the 750-man Federal garrison under siege and forced its surrender on the 15th. Elements of Shelby’s command also captured Paris that day. However, the Federals destroyed most of their stockpile before surrendering.

Another detached force of about 1,500 Confederates from Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson’s command and part of Shelby’s Iron Brigade captured Sedalia. Thompson stopped his men from looting the town; they only took arms, horses, and supplies before moving on to rejoin Price’s army. These victories boosted Confederate morale, but the time they spent occupying the towns gave the Federals more time to close in on them.

Price then captured Carrollton and burned Smithville before approaching Lexington. Rosecrans looked to trap Price between his force and Curtis’s, but many of the Kansas militia refused to cross the border into Missouri. Blunt had just about 2,000 men in his command when he approached Lexington, about 30 miles east of Kansas City. Shelby rode into his home town of Waverly to confront Blunt’s Kansans and Coloradans.

On the 19th, Price’s main force drove Blunt’s Federals westward, down the Independence Road out of Lexington, until darkness ended the fighting. Blunt was no match for Price, but he gained important information about Price’s strength.

Blunt’s Federals withdrew to defenses on the bank of the Little Blue River, east of Independence, on the 20th. Curtis urged Blunt to concentrate at Independence because “the Big Blue must be our main line for battle. We must pick our battle-ground where we can have united councils as well as a strong position.” Curtis reported:

“The country is rough and thickly timbered, and the streams bordered by precipitate banks, which render it generally impassable for cavalry and artillery. I divided the forces, distributing them so as to form a line more or less continuous, according to danger, from the Missouri River to the crossing of the Blue, near Hickman Mills, a distance of 15 or 16 miles.”

By the 20th, Price’s momentum had slowed and Missourians had not joined his army as he hoped. Pinned by the Missouri River on his right, Price now faced advances from Pleasonton’s Federal cavalry behind him, A.J. Smith’s infantry moving toward his left, and Blunt’s men in his front. But the Confederates continued forward, clashing with Blunt’s vanguard on the Little Blue and driving them toward Independence.

Price’s troopers captured Independence on the 21st, after Federals put up a strong resistance in the streets and houses. The Confederates camped that night west of Independence. Pleasonton’s cavalry attacked the Confederate rear guard at Independence the next day, pushing them westward out of town.

Meanwhile, Price learned that Curtis and Blunt blocked his path at Westport. Shelby’s Confederates flanked Blunt on the Big Blue, giving Price control of Byram’s Ford. Blunt withdrew to join Curtis’s main force, while Price used the ford to move his 500 supply wagons and 5,000 head of cattle southward.

As Price approached Westport, Curtis held a council of war in Kansas City’s Gillis House to ponder his next move. Curtis had initially planned to withdraw to Fort Leavenworth, but Blunt persuaded him to instead attack the Confederates in the morning. Price in turn planned to drive off Curtis in his front and then turn and drive off Pleasonton in his rear. Being outnumbered, this was a desperate gamble, but it was Price’s only hope of escaping Missouri without having his army destroyed.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 466, 469-71, 476-78; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12116-26, 12137-57, 12178-88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504-12; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 602-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 578-81, 583-87; 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. 787; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474

Mosby’s “Greenback” Raid

October 12, 1864 – Lieutenant Colonel John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans returned to the Shenandoah Valley and recovered a large sum from a captured train.

John S. Mosby | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal Army of the Shenandoah had cleared all organized Confederate resistance from the Valley following its victory at Fisher’s Hill in September. This left only raiders to wreak havoc on Sheridan’s supply lines, hoping to force him to fall back “down” the Valley to his supply base. Mosby was among the most prominent raiders in the region.

After reentering the Valley, Mosby and his 84 troopers hid near Winchester on the 13th, and then moved west after sundown. The Confederates stopped near Kearneysville, west of Harpers Ferry, and wrecked track on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad near Brown’s Crossing. They then waited for a train to approach.

Some time after 2 a.m., a westbound train derailed on the broken track and crashed into the bank. The conductor came out and promptly surrendered the train. Mosby called out, “Board her, boys!” and his men climbed aboard. They robbed the passengers and seized a satchel and a tin box from army paymasters that contained $173,000 in Federal greenbacks. The partisans pulled the passengers off the train before burning the cars and the locomotive.

Mosby’s troopers raced off into West Virginia, where they divided the loot into shares for each of the 84 men. Mosby refused to take a share, asserting that he was “fighting for glory, not for spoils.” His “greenback” raid temporarily halted traffic on the B&O Railroad and partially disrupted Sheridan’s main supply line. It also served as a forerunner to the famous train robberies that took place after the war.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 475; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 509; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 583; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 342

Forrest Prepares for a New Raid

October 10, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry troopers attacked Federal forces on the Tennessee River and prepared to launch a new raid on Federal supply transports in Tennessee.

Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Last month, Forrest and his men had tried disrupting Federal supply lines along the Tennessee River in northern Alabama and southeastern Tennessee. This was part of the Confederate effort to starve Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals into abandoning Georgia. However, a lack of ammunition and supplies forced Forrest to cut his raid short.

Forrest’s troopers reunited to attack the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad near Spring Hill, Tennessee. The Confederates then turned back south, wrecking track, destroying bridges, and capturing numerous blockhouses built to stop them along the way. They drove a Federal force out of Columbia and then continued southwest to Lawrenceburg. On the 5th, they returned to their starting point at Florence, Alabama, before finally stopping at Corinth, Mississippi.

In 13 days, Forrest’s command had inflicted about 3,360 casualties (including 2,360 captured), destroyed miles of railroad track and many blockhouses and bridges, and captured 800 horses, seven guns, some 2,000 small arms, and 50 wagons filled with much-needed supplies. The damage done to the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad would require six weeks to repair. The troopers sustained just 340 casualties (47 killed and 293 wounded).

However, Forrest did not accomplish his main goal, which was to force Sherman out of Georgia. Consequently, General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, ordered Forrest to lead 3,500 men on another raid. The new target would be Johnsonville, on the Tennessee River. This marked the terminus of the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, which Sherman’s Federals used extensively for supplies.

Meanwhile, the Federals sent an expedition up the Tennessee River to confront Forrest’s troopers. As Federal troops debarked their transports east of Corinth at Eastport, Forrest’s men used shore batteries to attack the squadron. The Confederates disabled the transports Aurora and Kenton, sending them drifting downriver. The gunboat Undine went after the disabled transports, while the gunboat Key West covered the troops as they crowded aboard the remaining transport, the City of Peking.

Forrest’s new raid began on the 19th, when his command left Corinth and headed northwest toward Jackson, Tennessee. Nine days later, the Confederates turned northeast, crossed the Big Sandy River, and arrived at Paris Landing on the Tennessee, about 30 miles north of Johnsonville near the Kentucky state line. The troopers quickly began obstructing the river to stop Federal traffic around Forts Heiman and Henry.

After setting up artillery on either end of a five-mile length of riverbank, the Confederates captured the transport Mazeppa, which carried a load of 9,000 pairs of shoes. The Confederates then attacked the gunboat Undine and the transports Venus and Cheeseman. They captured all these vessels as well, giving Forrest a makeshift “navy” with which to attack Johnsonville in early November.

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References

Brooksher, William R. and Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 399; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 465, 470, 473, 477, 481-82; 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 12573-619, 12982-3002; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504, 506, 508, 511, 515-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 577-78, 582, 585-86, 590-91