Category Archives: Military

Forrest Raids Western Tennessee

December 10, 1862 – Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest received orders to wreak havoc on Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal supply lines in western Tennessee.

Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee inched southward into Mississippi, hoping to capture Vicksburg. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate Army of Mississippi blocked the Federals, but Pemberton feared he lacked the manpower to keep them blocked. He called on General Joseph E. Johnston, the new overall Western Theater commander, for reinforcements.

Johnston initially tried pulling troops from General Theophilus H. Holmes’s Trans-Mississippi Department. When Holmes refused to help, Johnston turned to General Braxton Bragg, whose Army of Tennessee was stationed at Murfreesboro. Although Bragg had limited resources, he agreed to detach Forrest’s cavalry, currently about 40 miles south of Nashville at Columbia.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Forrest was to “throw his command rapidly over the Tennessee River and precipitate it upon the enemy’s lines, break up railroads, burn bridges, destroy depots, capture hospitals and guards, and harass him generally.” His troop brigade moved out on the 11th, consisting of four regiments and a four-gun battery totaling 2,100 men from Tennessee and Alabama.

Forrest sought to destroy parts of the Mississippi Central Railroad running to the Federal supply base at Jackson, Tennessee, and the Mobile & Ohio Railroad running through Jackson north to Columbus, Kentucky. This would at least slow Grant’s advance toward Vicksburg, and at most force him to pull out of Mississippi.

Forrest’s troopers cut telegraph lines as they headed to Jackson. On the 15th, Brigadier General Jeremiah C. Sullivan, commanding the Federal District of Jackson, reported, “Forrest is crossing (the) Tennessee (River) at Clifton.” This was correct, as the Confederates crossed using two flatboats. Forrest sunk the boats in a nearby creek so they could be retrieved and used again on their return trip.

The next day, Sullivan dispatched 700 troops and two guns under Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll to intercept Forrest at Lexington, 28 miles east. Ingersoll’s men were from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Unionist Tennessee, but only 200 were veterans.

Ingersoll deployed pickets along Beech Creek, five miles east of Lexington, and awaited Forrest’s approach. He also deployed his artillery and ordered his men to burn the bridges spanning the creek on the State and Lower roads leading into the town. But for some reason the Federals left the bridge on the Lower road, south of Lexington, intact.

At dawn on the 18th, Major Otto Funke led Federal troops down the State road and attacked Forrest’s encampment. The Confederates quickly sprang to action, trading fire with the Federals and holding them in place while the bulk of Forrest’s brigade worked around Funke’s right to the Lower road. The Confederates crossed the intact bridge and routed Federals under Colonel Isaac R. Hawkins.

Ingersoll tried rallying the Federals, but by that time the Confederates enfiladed him and drove his men back to their guns. The Federals repelled three charges, but the fourth broke their line and sent them fleeing in a rout. The Confederates captured the two guns and 150 men, including Ingersoll. Forrest’s men acknowledged the Federals’ valor in standing up to their charges before finally breaking.

In addition to the men taken prisoner, the Federal sustained 17 casualties while Forrest lost 35. Federals who escaped fled to Jackson and warned Sullivan that Forrest was coming with 10,000 men. Sullivan really outnumbered Forrest four-to-one, but Forrest’s troopers soon spread terror throughout the Federal garrisons in western Tennessee.

The Confederates next approached Jackson, where they destroyed sections of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad eight miles north of town, and the Mississippi Central south. This caused supply delays for the men of both Grant’s and Major General William S. Rosecrans’s armies.

On the 20th, Forrest split his command in two and seized both Humboldt and Trenton, inflicting 50 casualties at Humboldt. Forrest’s troopers also began wrecking a 60-mile section of the Mobile & Ohio linking Jackson and Union City near the Kentucky border. Meanwhile, Sullivan deployed his Federals in a feeble pursuit, and Forrest paroled the 1,200 Federals he had taken prisoner since his raid began.

Forrest’s men captured Union City, which Forrest made his headquarters. From there, they rode north into Kentucky and destroyed track on the Mobile & Ohio within 10 miles of Columbus. The troopers encountered minimal opposition as they wrecked so much track that the railroad could not be used for the rest of the war.

On Christmas Eve, Forrest reported to Bragg that his men had killed or captured 1,300 Federals, “including 4 colonels, 4 majors, 10 captains, and 23 lieutenants.” During that time, his brigade lost just 22 men. Forrest wrote, “My men have all behaved well in action, and as soon as rested a little you will hear from me in another quarter.”

Forrest’s troopers moved southeast from Union City on Christmas Day. They wrecked track on the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad while trying to get back to the Tennessee River and finish the raid. However, Forrest was blocked by the flooded Obion River and other streams beyond the railroad. In addition, Federal gunboats patrolled the major waterways, Sullivan’s men had burned many bridges that Forrest could have used, and Federal forces were closing in.

Grant telegraphed Washington, “I have Forrest in a tight place. My troops are moving on him from three directions, and I hope with success.” However, Forrest’s troopers dodged Colonel John W. Fuller’s 3rd Brigade and rode to McLemoresville, east of the Mobile & Ohio. Panic spread throughout Federal installations along the Mississippi River from Columbus to Memphis that Forrest would strike them next.

By the 30th, Forrest was camped at Red Mound near Parker’s Store, between Memphis and Nashville. He planned to retrieve the sunken flatboats and re-cross the Tennessee River to end the raid. However, a Federal brigade led by Colonel Cyrus L. Dunham was closing in from Clarksville, seven miles north. When Forrest learned of this, he resolved to stay and fight it out.

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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. 243, 245; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 65-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 237, 239-42, 246; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 298; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 270-71, 436, 557, 781

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Jefferson Davis Travels to Tennessee

December 8, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis planned to leave Richmond and inspect the Confederate military situation in Tennessee and Mississippi.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Davis informed General Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg, Virginia, that he intended to personally inspect the Western Theater on the 8th:

“In Tennessee and Mississippi the disparity between our armies and those of the enemy is so great as to fill me with apprehension. I propose to go out there immediately, with the hope that something may be done to bring out men not heretofore in service, and to arouse all classes to united and desperate resistance. God may bless us, as in other cases seemingly as desperate, with success over our imperious foe. I have been very anxious to visit you, but feeble health and constant labor have caused me to delay until necessity hurries me in the opposite direction.”

Despite battling illness, Davis wanted to see things for himself in the West. He also wanted to silence critics who said he was not devoting enough attention to that theater of operations. Fearful that his departure from Richmond might panic residents into thinking the Confederate government was abandoning the capital, Davis left with just one armed guard along with Custis Lee and his nephew, Joe Davis.

The train brought Davis west through Lynchburg and Wytheville before stopping at Knoxville, headquarters of Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederate Department of East Tennessee. Davis delivered a speech in which he called “the Toryism (i.e., Unionism) of East Tennessee greatly exaggerated.” After meeting with Smith, Davis reboarded the train and continued to Chattanooga, arriving there that night.

Davis met with General Joseph E. Johnston, the newly appointed commander of the Western Theater. Johnston again insisted that Davis pull troops from the Trans-Mississippi Department to reinforce Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Army of Mississippi defending Vicksburg. This frustrated Davis, who again insisted that Johnston pull troops from General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee to help Pemberton.

Davis traveled 90 miles to Murfreesboro on the 11th to meet with Bragg and inspect his army there. A huge crowd serenaded Davis, who announced that Richmond would stay safe, Tennessee would be reclaimed, and foreign nations would ultimately recognize Confederate independence.

At Bragg’s headquarters, Davis approved one of Johnston’s recommendations by promoting John Hunt Morgan to brigadier general for his recent successes raiding Federal lines. General William J. Hardee had urged Davis to make Morgan a major general, but Davis said, “I do not wish to give my boys all their sugar plums at once.”

Davis reviewed the Army of Tennessee over the next two days and was pleased to see that the men were not as demoralized as feared. He then met with Bragg and his top commanders. Without consulting Johnston, Davis directed Bragg to transfer Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s 9,000-man division to Pemberton.

Bragg protested that this would render him unable to take the offensive in Middle Tennessee. And with Morgan raiding near Kentucky and Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry in western Tennessee, Bragg could not hope to regain Nashville. In fact, it might encourage Major General William S. Rosecrans to attack Murfreesboro since he had 65,000 Federals near Nashville and another 35,000 guarding supply lines to Louisville.

Davis countered that Pemberton needed the men more because Major General Ulysses S. Grant was threatening Vicksburg. He told Bragg, “Fight if you can and fall back beyond the Tennessee.” Both Bragg and Johnston continued protesting, but since the Mississippi River was more important than Middle Tennessee, they complied. Back at Chattanooga on Sunday the 14th, Davis reported to Secretary of War James A. Seddon at Richmond:

“Returned to this place from Murfreesboro last night. Found the troops there in good condition and fine spirits. Enemy is kept close to Nashville, and indicates only defensive purposes. Cavalry expeditions are projected to break up railroad communications between Louisville and Nashville, and between Memphis and Grant’s army. Johnston will go immediately to Mississippi, and will, with the least delay, reinforce Pemberton by sending a division, say 8,000 men, from the troops in this quarter…”

Davis left Chattanooga on the 16th to inspect Pemberton’s forces in the president’s home state of Mississippi.

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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. 241; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 798; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 5-10; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 239; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 294-96; 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. 575-76; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 85-88, 90; 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), Q462

The Battle of Prairie Grove

December 7, 1862 – Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederates attacked Brigadier General Francis J. Herron’s Federals about 12 miles southwest of Fayetteville, Arkansas, sparking a confusing but brutal 12-hour battle.

General Francis J. Herron | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Herron led two divisions of 6,000 men and 30 guns to reinforce Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s 5,000-man division isolated at Cane Hill. Hindman had hoped to attack and destroy Blunt before Herron arrived, but when he learned that Herron was coming up fast, he decided to bypass Blunt, attack Herron first, and then turn back on Blunt. Hindman’s Army of the Trans-Mississippi consisted of 11,300 poorly equipped men and 22 guns.

Herron’s Federals reached Fayetteville, about 20 miles from Blunt, before dawn on the 7th. Hindman dispatched a small cavalry force under Colonel J.C. Monroe to keep Blunt occupied while the rest of the Confederates moved around Blunt’s flank to confront Herron. As Herron’s men continued marching toward Blunt, they were met by Confederate artillery near Illinois Creek, 12 miles down the road. Hindman’s army stood in line of battle at the village of Prairie Grove, between Herron and Blunt.

Hindman ordered an attack, led by Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s cavalry and William C. Quantrill’s partisans. Herron, fearing that Hindman had destroyed Blunt’s force, directed his men to stand firm. But the Federals, exhausted from marching nearly 100 miles in three days, began falling back. Hindman did not capitalize on this early advantage; he instead ordered his men to take defensive positions and wait for Herron to attack.

General James G. Blunt | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As both sides settled into defenses and traded artillery fire, Blunt heard the guns and realized that Hindman had outflanked him. “My God, they’re in our rear!” he exclaimed as he wheeled his troops around and hurried to Herron’s aid.

On the battlefield, Herron guessed that since the Confederates had stopped their advance, their numbers must be small. He therefore ordered an attack; the Federals charged twice but could not make headway. Hindman responded with a charge of his own, but Federal artillery beat it back.

Blunt’s Federals began arriving on the scene around 4 p.m., pouring enfilade fire into Hindman’s flank. Brigadier General J.O. “Jo” Shelby’s Confederate cavalry counterattacked, preventing Blunt from breaking the line. Nightfall ended the fighting.

The Confederates held their ground, but the weather turned bitter cold, the troops lacked ammunition for a second day of fighting, and the animals lacked forage to survive. Thus, Hindman ordered a withdrawal back toward Van Buren during the night. Men wrapped blankets around wagon wheels so the Federals could not hear the retreat. Thousands of soldiers, who had been reluctantly conscripted into the Confederate army, deserted along the way.

About 10,000 men on each side participated in the battle. The Federals sustained 1,251 casualties (175 killed, 813 wounded, and 263 missing), 918 of which were Herron’s. The Confederates lost 1,317 (164 killed, 817 wounded, and 336 missing).

The fight was a tactical draw, but the Confederate withdrawal made it a Federal strategic victory. Herron reported, “The fighting was desperate beyond description,” and accurately predicted, “I think this section is rid of Hindman.” This battle ended Confederate hopes of regaining Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, or the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The next morning, Hindman sent a request to Blunt under a flag of truce for his men to collect the wounded and bury the dead. Hindman asked for a 36-hour armistice, but Blunt believed this was a ruse to cover a Confederate escape and countered with just six hours. Hindman agreed; his army was already withdrawing, so six hours still gave him a day’s march ahead of his pursuers.

Both Confederates and Federals came out to the battlefield, along with nearby relatives of those in both armies. Some of the wounded had frozen to death, and hogs feasted on some of the corpses. Federal burial parties noticed that many Confederates had frozen to death without suffering any wounds. They also noticed that some Confederates had removed the bullets from the cartridges to fire blanks; this indicated that they had served against their will.

The Federals accused Marmaduke’s Confederates of taking weapons off the dead, prompting Blunt to end the truce and order those responsible captured as prisoners of war. But by that time, most of Hindman’s troops were well on their way to Van Buren, 45 miles south.

Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Army of the Frontier over Herron and Blunt, soon arrived on the scene and censured Blunt for not falling back to link with Herron’s reinforcements rushing his way. Schofield also censured Herron for attacking with troops so exhausted that many died of fatigue and exposure instead of combat.

Both the Lincoln and Davis administrations began attaching less importance to actions west of the Mississippi after this battle. President Jefferson Davis had asked General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department over Hindman, to send reinforcements to Vicksburg just before the battle occurred. The casualties sustained during the fight and the desertions afterward meant that Holmes had no reinforcements to spare.

The Confederate high command later sent Hindman east and replaced him with Major General Sterling Price, a Missourian who had long sought to reclaim his state for the Confederacy. Holmes was reassigned from department command to just the District of Arkansas within the department.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 89; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 238; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 11, 49-50; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 236-37; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 151-52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 293; 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. 668; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 358; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 599-600; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 292-93

A Race in Northwestern Arkansas

December 6, 1862 – Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s Federals were isolated in northwestern Arkansas, and the race was on to see whether reinforcements or the Confederates could reach him first.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As December began, Major General Thomas C. Hindman was preparing to move his Confederate army north to join forces with Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke near Cane Hill, Arkansas. The combined force would then attack Blunt’s Federals before the rest of the Army of the Frontier could hurry from Springfield, Missouri, to reinforce them.

Blunt’s force was stationed at Cane Hill, about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville. His immediate superior, Major General John Schofield, was on the sick list, so command passed up to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri from St. Louis. The Federal commander at Springfield was Brigadier General Francis J. Herron, who recently resumed command from General James Totten.

General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department from Little Rock, initially supported Hindman’s plan to strike Blunt. But then he suddenly reconsidered. The men exchanged cables on the 1st, with Hindman stating, “With the infantry and artillery alone I can defeat the Union force at Cane Hill.” By sending cavalry around both the Federal flanks, Hindman “hoped to destroy them. I urge upon you to leave me to my discretion in the matter. I will not trifle with the great interests entrusted to me.”

Holmes answered, “If your army is destroyed or demoralized, ruin to us will follow.” He urged Hindman to either stay put until he could better organize his army or advance into the Indian Territory. Hindman insisted that he must “push right up at once and try to regain what has been lost.”

When Holmes suggested that the army might be better off reinforcing Vicksburg, Hindman replied, “If this is done, Arkansas is lost. Holding Vicksburg won’t save a foot of it. Whenever the enemy gets south of the Boston Mountains, and establishes himself, he can press you down to Louisiana or into Texas without difficulty.” Hindman also argued that sending his men east would cause mass desertions. Holmes finally relented, writing, “Use your discretion and good luck to you.”

Hindman proceeded to prepare his Army of the Trans-Mississippi to march 75 miles north from the Arkansas River to attack Blunt’s 5,000 Federals. Hindman’s force numbered 11,300 men with 22 guns. Hindman was confident that he could easily defeat the enemy, but for his assault to succeed, he needed total secrecy. He also needed support on his left flank, which he hoped would be provided by Colonel Douglas H. Cooper and his band of Natives and whites in the Indian Territory.

Unfortunately for Hindman, Cooper’s force had largely disbanded after its defeat at Old Fort Wayne in November. Cooper notified Hindman, “The Indians are not inclined to venture much alone, they need white support.” Cooper could only send 400 men under Brigadier General Stand Watie to support the offensive.

Hindman also could not rely on the element of surprise, as Blunt received word on the 3rd that Confederates were coming to attack him. Although scouts had erroneously guessed that 25,000 men were just 25 miles away (only 11,300 were almost 75 miles away), the alarm had sounded that an attack of some sort was imminent.

General James G. Blunt | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Blunt hurriedly wired Totten for help, unaware that Herron had taken back his command in southwestern Missouri. He next wired Curtis for help, and then he telegraphed Colonel M. LaRue Harrison, commanding the 1st Arkansas (U.S.) Cavalry, directing him to guard the Telegraph road to facilitate Herron’s line of march. Blunt then resolved to stay and fight, ordering his men to build defenses and guard all approaches to Cane Hill.

Curtis received Blunt’s dispatch and feared he was too isolated to hold his ground. Curtis wrote, “You are too far in advance for support and supplies. Had better fall back to meet Herron’s reinforcements…” Curtis also ordered Herron to support Blunt in northwestern Arkansas, over 100 miles away. A race began to determine whether Hindman or Herron would reach Blunt first.

Herron told Blunt that he would have his men in motion by noon on the 3rd, but Blunt was so far away “that it may be necessary for you to fall back a short distance, but I will do my best to make that unnecessary.” Blunt refused to fall back, confident he could repulse any Confederate attack at least until Herron came up with his reinforcements.

As Hindman led his force through the Boston Mountains, the highest in the Ozark chain, he issued a proclamation to his men:

“Remember that the enemy you engage has no feeling of mercy or kindness toward you. His ranks are made up of Pin Indians, free negroes, Southern tories, Kansas jayhawkers, and hired Dutch cut-throats. These bloody ruffians have invaded your country; stolen and destroyed your property; murdered your neighbors; outraged your women; driven your children from their homes, and defiled the graves of your kindred. If each man of you will do what I have here urged upon you, we will utterly destroy them. We can do this; we must do it; our country will be ruined if we fail. A just God will strengthen our arms and give us a glorious victory.”

Herron led two divisions totaling 6,000 Federals and 30 guns into Arkansas the next day, marching along Pea Ridge’s granite slopes. The men reached Fayetteville on the night of the 6th. They had marched an incredible 110 miles through extreme cold in just three days.

Blunt closely watched the road from Van Buren, which he expected Hindman to use. He did not guard the Cove Creek road to the east, which Blunt believed the Confederates would be foolish to use because it would expose their supply lines to Federal destruction.

Hindman’s Confederates continued advancing on the 6th, clearing Federal pickets in their front and pushing Federal cavalry off Reed’s Mountain. Hindman planned to advance up the Van Buren road just as Blunt guessed and attack the next morning. However, scouts notified him that Herron’s reinforcements were approaching, and a frontal assault would only push Blunt back into Herron.

Refusing to retreat, Hindman instead planned to attack Herron first, hoping his Federals would be exhausted and not ready to fight. He would then turn and attack Blunt on Cane Hill. After midnight, Hindman directed his army to conduct a night march around Blunt on the Cove Creek road to an area south of Fayetteville around Prairie Grove.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 47, 49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 235-36; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150-51; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 599-600

Vicksburg: The Coffeeville Engagement

December 5, 1862 – Federal Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s overland advance toward Vicksburg included a cavalry engagement in central Mississippi.

Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By the beginning of the month, Grant had established his main supply base at Holly Springs, along the Mississippi Central Railroad. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederates had entrenched along the Tallahatchie River, north of Oxford.

Grant directed Colonel Theophilus L. Dickey to lead four cavalry regiments from XIII Corps to push the Confederates from their trenches and pursue them across the Tallahatchie toward Oxford. Grant’s remaining force began moving south out of Tennessee, along the Mississippi Central line. Skirmishing occurred north of Abbeville.

Assembling near the Tallahatchie River on the 2nd, Dickey’s troopers clashed with Major General Earl Van Dorn’s rear guard as it withdrew through the town and on through Oxford. Grant’s Federals soon occupied that town, and Grant directed Dickey to continue pursuing the enemy as far as possible.

Dickey split up his four regiments, but some accidentally met at Water Valley, below the Yocknapatalfa River, where they met heavy Confederate resistance on the 4th. Unaware of the enemy’s strength, Dickey decided to press on toward Coffeeville the next day.

The Federal troopers crossed the Otuckalofa River south of Water Valley on the morning of the 5th and moved down the Coffeeville road. Encountering Confederate skirmishers around 2 p.m., the Federals deployed in battle formation while firing their two cannon. The Confederates, consisting of Van Dorn’s rear guard, answered with six guns of their own and advanced to meet the enemy.

Dickey ordered a withdrawal, with his Federals stopping occasionally to exchange fire with the pursuing Confederates. The chase ended that evening, as night fell and the Federals took up strong defensive positions. The Federals sustained 116 casualties (10 killed, 63 wounded, and 43 captured), and the Confederates lost 50 (seven killed and 43 wounded).

The Federals returned to Oxford, but their overall expedition from the Tallahatchie River to Coffeeville resulted in the capture of 750 Confederates, 200 horses, four supply wagons, and $7,000 in Confederate currency. Federal forces continued probing southward this month.

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References

Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 234-35; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 148-49, 781

Fredericksburg: Confederates Strengthen Defenses

December 2, 1862 – Major General Ambrose E. Burnside proposed a plan to move his Federal Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock River, while General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia continued strengthening its defenses west of Fredericksburg.

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

As December began, Lee now had his entire army at his disposal, with Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps massing to Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s right. Jackson’s men had endured one of the most grueling marches of the war, moving 175 miles from Winchester to Fredericksburg in 12 days. Many men lacked adequate clothing or footwear; one in six were barefoot. Nevertheless, morale in the Confederate army was high.

Jackson complained about the army’s position to Lee. He argued that while the Confederates could easily repel the Federals when they tried crossing the river, nothing could be gained from such a victory. The Confederates could not counterattack from where they were, leaving them in a purely defensive posture while the Federals could regroup and try attacking again and again. As Jackson told Major General D.H. Hill, “We will whip the enemy but gain no fruits of victory.”

Lee rejected Jackson’s urgings to move to the North Anna River, where they had a better chance to counterattack. Lee reasoned that merely stopping Burnside’s superior army would be enough of a victory for the time being. He had 78,511 officers and men to face Burnside’s 116,683 Federals across the Rappahannock. This threatened to become the largest confrontation of the war to date.

Fredericksburg residents who had not already left town began rushing to do so. They took trains to Richmond and sent their slaves farther south to prevent either escape or Federal confiscation. On the 4th, skirmishing broke out between Federals and D.H. Hill’s men near Port Royal, about 20 miles downriver (east) from Fredericksburg. This marked the Confederates’ easternmost position.

Burnside met with his top commanders and shared his plan to cross the army at Skinker’s Neck, about 15 miles downstream from Fredericksburg. Burnside contended that the Confederates were not guarding that ford, and if the Federals could secure it, they could set up a supply base at Port Royal and enjoy gunboat support from the Potomac Flotilla. All but Major General Joseph Hooker supported the plan.

Burnside issued orders for the plan to proceed, unaware that Jackson’s corps had arrived and D.H. Hill now held both Port Royal and Skinker’s Neck. Hill’s Confederates waited in rifle pits supported by artillery to stop gunboats from moving upriver to aid the Federal army. The Confederates exchanged fire with the gunboats on the 4th and forced them to withdraw that night.

Federal infantry moved out on the morning of the 5th, marching through rain that turned to sleet and snow. As they struggled to advance through freezing winds, Burnside finally realized that the Confederate line extended from Fredericksburg to Port Royal. He now saw no alternative other than crossing the river directly in front of Fredericksburg in the hopes that Lee would not expect such a bold move.

Burnside’s Grand Division commanders (Major Generals Hooker, Edwin V. Sumner, and William B. Franklin) received orders on the 9th to supply their men with three days’ cooked rations and 60 rounds of ammunition. The pontoons would be brought up, and engineers would build six bridges across the river on the 11th. The troops would then cross, landing in front of and below Fredericksburg. They were not to stop to aid wounded comrades. Musicians were to be armed as well.

Burnside explained the plan to his commanders at a 12 p.m. council of war. He said that since Confederates were lined up all the way to Port Royal, Lee must have divided his forces, leaving him vulnerable at Fredericksburg. Burnside believed the town could be taken because Lee “did not expect us to cross here.” Once the Federals crossed the river, they could defeat the small portion of Lee’s army outside the town and then turn to defeat what Burnside thought was the main Confederate force downriver.

The commanders had reservations, but Burnside declared that “all the influence on the face of the earth” would not change his mind. They all finally agreed to the plan after five hours of discussion. When the Grand Division commanders imparted the orders to their subordinates, many openly questioned the plan. Major General Darius N. Couch told Sumner that it would not work, and when Burnside learned of this, he directed Sumner to “say to General Couch that he is mistaken.”

Burnside wired General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck late that night:

“I think now that the enemy will be more surprised by a crossing immediately in our front than in any other part of the river. The commanders of Grand Divisions coincide with me in this opinion, and I have accordingly ordered the movement… We hope to succeed.”

Burnside sought President Abraham Lincoln’s endorsement, writing Halleck, “The movement is so important that I feel anxious to be fortified by his approval. Please answer.” Lincoln did not respond.

West of Fredericksburg, Lee continued strengthening his defenses. This included building a road to connect all the troops on the various hills overlooking the town and installing telegraphic communications. President Jefferson Davis wrote Lee, “You will know best when it will be proper to make a masked movement to the rear, should circumstances require you to move nearer to Richmond.”

Burnside called a meeting with Sumner and all his corps and division commanders to confront those who opposed his plan. Many objected to the idea of crossing a river in the face of the enemy, entering a hostile town, and then charging up steep hills to attack defenses. Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, commanding a division in Couch’s corps, was particularly vocal.

Burnside singled out Hancock for his criticisms and demanded obedience. Hancock explained that his dissent was not personal and pledged to obey Burnside’s orders to the death. Couch then declared that he would put forth twice the effort he had ever given in combat before. Major General William French, commanding another division in Couch’s corps, broke the tension with some light humor.

Burnside reiterated that he had not wanted to be army commander, but since he was in charge, “Your duty is not to throw cold water, but to aid me loyally with your advice and hearty service.” Burnside explained that there was more to the plan than simply storming into the town and up the hills. Federal gunboats were firing on Confederates at Port Royal while Federal troops built a false road to Skinker’s Neck to deceive the Confederates into thinking they would cross there. All commanders agreed to do their duty as ordered.

Officers confirmed that everything was ready for the advance. An enormous Federal supply train assembled on Stafford Heights, ready to cross with the army and supply the men once they secured the town and drove the Confederates off.

A lady from Falmouth relayed to the Confederates that the Federals were collecting large quantities of rations and ammunition, indicating that they would be moving very soon. The Confederates placed artillery on the hills beyond Fredericksburg, and sharpshooters came up to fire on the engineers as soon as they started building the pontoon bridges. Lee’s telegraph network could relay orders to move his men to wherever needed.

That night, a Federal band set up on the banks of the Rappahannock and played music for both armies. Songs included “Hail, Columbia,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Yankee Doodle,” and even “Dixie.”

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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 17727; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 237-39; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 782; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 5-6, 25-26; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 234; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5018; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 39-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 292, 294; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 539

The Cane Hill Engagement

November 28, 1862 – Federals led by Brigadier General James G. Blunt attacked Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s small Confederate cavalry force in a skirmish in northwestern Arkansas.

General John S. Marmaduke | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Marmaduke had expected the Federals to advance from the northwest, but they came forward using the Fayetteville road to the northeast instead, which the Confederates had not guarded. The Federals quickly drove the pickets off and attacked Marmaduke’s unsuspecting flank.

The fight became a nine-hour running battle, with the Confederates being pushed back from position to position as Marmaduke scrambled to assemble a rear guard to protect his supply train. The Confederates retreated down the Van Buren road as their train hurried into the Boston Mountains.

Meanwhile, the chase scattered Blunt’s Federals, so he waited until they could be regrouped before resuming the offensive. Marmaduke continued falling back, with Blunt pursuing. As nightfall approached, the Federals ran into the Confederate rear guard, led by Colonel J.O. “Jo” Shelby’s “Iron Brigade,” which lay in ambush.

Shelby directed his men to form one column on each side of the road. The front line fired, raced to the rear to reload, and the next line fired to hold off the advancing enemy. This stopped the Federal pursuers and ended the engagement, enabling Marmaduke, his men, and his supply train to escape.

The Federals sustained 44 casualties (eight killed and 36 wounded), and the Confederates lost 80 (10 killed and 70 wounded or missing). During the night, Marmaduke fell back to Dripping Springs, eight miles north of Van Buren. This engagement shifted the initiative in Arkansas to the Federals.

Marmaduke sought to counterattack the next day, as Blunt took up headquarters at Cane Hill. The Federals were now over 100 miles from the rest of the Army of the Frontier and its support base at Springfield, Missouri. Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindman hurried a regiment and a wagon train of ammunition to reinforce Marmaduke.

In his official report written that night, Marmaduke urged Hindman to come up with all “celerity and secrecy” to join in an attack. Hindman replied:

“The crossing will be completed to-morrow, and the command will move on Monday (December 1) at daylight. I shall march moderately, not above 12 or 15 miles a day, if it can be helped, so as not to break the men down before the fight commences.”

Believing that Blunt would stay at Cane Hill until he came up, Hindman added, “To prevent as far as practicable rumors of the movement getting to the enemy, spread the report that Little Rock is threatened, and I am ordered there. This can be done, I hope, without disheartening your men.” Meanwhile, Blunt’s isolated force remained at Cane Hill.

Hindman’s Confederates began crossing the Arkansas River on the 29th. His superior, General Theophilus H. Holmes commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department, wrote him, “You must save the country if you can.” Hindman met with Marmaduke and his other commanders the following day. The Confederates only had enough ammunition for one day of fighting, so the attack needed to be quick and decisive. The leaders worked out a plan to divide the army into four columns, with one each attacking Blunt’s flanks, front, and rear.

In a sudden change of heart, Holmes warned Hindman, “You must not think of advancing in your present condition. You would lose your army. The enemy will either advance on you or for want of supplies will be obliged to return to Missouri.”

As the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi assembled near Van Buren, Blunt dispatched scouts to determine the enemy positions.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 233; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 290-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 552