Category Archives: Military

Forrest Raids Memphis

August 21, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest led his Confederate cavalry on a daring raid while Federal forces were out trying to hunt him down.

After the Battle of Tupelo in July, the Federals had regrouped and renewed their efforts to destroy Forrest’s command, which threatened Federal supply lines in Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Major General Cadwallader C. Washburn, the new Federal department commander at Memphis, announced that Major General Andrew J. Smith’s new Federal force would “whip the combined force of the enemy this side of Georgia and east of the Mississippi.”

Washburn informed his superior, Major General William T. Sherman, that Smith would renew his hunt for Forrest “as soon as possible… Forrest’s forces were near Okolona a week since. (Brigadier General James R.) Chalmers in command. Forrest not been able to resume command by reason of wound in fight with Smith (last month). I have a report today that he died of lockjaw some days ago.” The report was wrong.

Gen A.J. Smith | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Smith led about 18,000 Federals on another expedition in search of Forrest in early August. They entered northern Mississippi and crossed the Tallahatchie River, and Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson’s Federal cavalry seized Oxford, an important town on the Mississippi Central Railroad. Forrest directed Chalmers to “contest every inch of ground” as he led a division to oppose Grierson at Oxford.

Grierson fell back to Smith’s main force, which was building a bridge across the Tallahatchie. Rain delayed their operations for a week, during which time Forrest assembled a Confederate force at Oxford. While Chalmers held Smith off with 3,000 men, Forrest planned to lead 2,000 troopers north to raid the Federal headquarters at Memphis.

Forrest knew that Sherman had ordered Washburn to assign most of his men to Smith’s expedition, which meant that the Memphis garrison was weak. Forrest did not intend to capture Memphis, but rather he sought to capture the Federal commanders there, free imprisoned Confederates, and relieve Federal pressure in northern Mississippi.

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

Forrest did not tell his men that they were going to Memphis, but as they crossed the Tallahatchie on the 19th, rumors quickly spread that Memphis was their objective. They stopped the next evening at Hernando, just 25 miles from the city. Forrest resumed the advance around midnight, relying on the element of surprise. He stopped at 3 a.m. to deliver final instructions, and the Confederates used the dense fog to gallop into Memphis just before dawn.

The raiders failed to free the prisoners at Irving Block Prison. They also did not capture any of the Federal commanders. Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, the former Memphis commander, was not there; Brigadier General R.P. Buckland held Fort Pickering; and Washburn escaped in his night clothes to join Buckland. Forrest did take Washburn’s uniform, but he later returned it.

Forrest ordered a withdrawal at 9 a.m., and the Confederates fell back along the same route they had taken north. They cut telegraph wires while seizing 500 prisoners and a large amount of horses and supplies. Hurlbut, who had been criticized for failing to stop Forrest, later said, “There it goes again! They superseded me with Washburn because I could not keep Forrest out of West Tennessee, and Washburn cannot keep him out of his own bedroom!”

The Confederates did not achieve their first two objectives, but they did achieve the third: Smith ordered his Federals to withdraw from northern Mississippi when he learned of Forrest’s raid. The troops vindictively destroyed Oxford before leaving; a reporter noted, “Where once stood a handsome little country town now only remain the blackened skeletons of houses, and smouldering ruins.”

Rumors that Forrest would return to Memphis caused a citywide panic. Washburn responded by strengthening the garrison at Fort Pickering and arranging for the navy to send him gunboats. Although the rumors proved false, Washburn’s inspector general later said, “The whole town was stampeded” in “the most disgraceful affair I have ever seen.”

Sherman tried putting a positive spin on this Federal embarrassment, telegraphing Washburn, “If you get the chance, send word to Forrest that I admire his dash but not his judgment. The oftener he runs his head against Memphis the better.” However, Forrest remained at large, where he could disrupt Sherman’s supply lines into Georgia and keep Federal forces in Tennessee and Mississippi on high alert.

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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. 449; 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 10745-55, 10766-870; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 480, 485, 489; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 558-59

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The Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad

August 18, 1864 – Fighting broke out southwest of the Petersburg siege lines when Federals tried moving beyond the Confederates’ flank to sever the Weldon Railroad.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, knew that General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, had sent part of his force to the Shenandoah Valley. Grant also knew that Lee had reinforced the Confederate defenses in front of Richmond, north of the James River. Based on this, Grant guessed that Lee’s defense line outside Petersburg was weak and vulnerable to attack.

Maj Gen Gouverneur Warren | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grant dispatched Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps from the Army of the Potomac to cut the Confederates’ Weldon supply line running from Petersburg to Wilmington, and to divert attention from the Federal expedition north of the James. This was the first major Federal attempt since the Battle of the Crater to disrupt the Confederate siege lines at Petersburg.

When President Abraham Lincoln learned of Grant’s plan, he sent him an encouraging message: “I have seen your despatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.” Grant laughed upon reading this dispatch and told his staff, “The president has more nerve than any of his advisers.”

Warren’s Federals set out at 4 a.m. on the 18th, marching through rain and mud before arriving at Globe Tavern five hours later. They were about four miles south of Petersburg, and three miles south of the Confederate defenses. A division began wrecking the railroad while Brigadier General Romeyn B. Ayres’s division turned north to face any Confederate attempt to stop the operation. Ayres’s men struggled to maneuver in the dense woods and oppressive heat. Brigadier General Samuel W. Crawford’s division came up to support Ayres’s right.

Operations of Aug 18-19 | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Petersburg defenses while Lee was north of the James, called upon Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps to confront the Federals. Hill dispatched two brigades under Major General Henry Heth and another brigade under Major General Robert F. Hoke. Fighting began under heavy rain.

The Confederates initially drove Ayres and Crawford back toward Globe Tavern, but the Federals were reinforced by Brigadier General Lysander Cutler’s division on Ayres’s left. They regrouped and advanced, and by nightfall they regained their original positions. Warren notified Crawford, “You have done very well indeed in getting forward through that difficult country. Make yourself as strong as you can and hold on. I will try and re-enforce you…”

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, dispatched reinforcements from IX and II corps and ordered Warren to hold the railroad “at all hazards.” The Federals lost 836 men (544 killed or wounded, and 292 missing) in the action on the 18th.

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

The Confederates were reinforced by Major General Rooney Lee’s cavalry division and Major General William Mahone’s infantry division. Beauregard wrote Lee at 8 a.m. on the 19th, “I will endeavor to-day to dislodge him with four brigades of our infantry and the division of cavalry you have promised. Result would be more certain with a stronger force of infantry.”

Skirmishing took place throughout the 19th as the heavy rain continued. Mahone’s Confederates approached Crawford’s division on the Federal right, concealed by the woods, and launched a fierce attack at 4:15 p.m. The Federals wavered to the point that two brigades nearly surrendered, and Crawford was almost captured trying to rally his men. Meanwhile, Heth attacked the Federal center and left, but Ayres’s men repelled him.

The arrival of Federal reinforcements enabled Warren to stabilize his position in vicious hand-to-hand combat. He lost another 2,900 men (382 killed or wounded and 2,518 missing or captured), but he ordered an “advance at daylight in every direction.”

The Confederates pulled back for the night, and Warren fell back a mile down the Weldon line. The Federals maintained control of the railroad; now only two other lines could feed Richmond and Petersburg: the South Side and the Richmond & Danville railroads.

Beauregard wrote on the 20th, “General Hill reports enemy still occupying part of railroad where he is fortifying. Am endeavoring to make necessary arrangements to dislodge him to-day, if practicable… Every available man who can be spared from (the Petersburg) trenches has been withdrawn. Shall try attack in the morning with all the force I can spare.”

Warren, who initially planned to advance, now reconsidered after seeing the carnage from the previous day’s fight. He wrote Meade, “I do not think with our present force we can hold a line across where I established the picket-line yesterday.” Skirmishing erupted throughout the 20th, as the Federals continued wrecking the railroad while pulling out of the underbrush and forming a new line two miles to the rear that connected to the Jerusalem Plank Road.

President Jefferson Davis expressed concern about the Federal presence on the railroad. Beauregard wrote that night, “Expect to attack early in the morning. No available force shall be left behind.” He hoped to follow up his success on the 19th with a complete victory, but the only force he could muster was Hill’s two divisions and a few more brigades under Heth and Mahone.

The Confederates launched an intense artillery barrage before renewing their assaults at 9 a.m. With ranks three-deep, Mahone struck the Federal left while Heth hit the center, but they could not dislodge the entrenched Federals from the railroad. Hill finally called off the attack, and the Confederates returned to their original siege lines, thus acknowledging they had permanently lost the Weldon Railroad as a supply line.

The Federals did not pursue, which frustrated Grant: “It seems to me that when the enemy comes out of his works and attacks and is repulsed he ought to be followed vigorously to the last minute with every man. Holding the line is of no importance whilst troops are operating in front of it.” In the four-day engagement, the Federals sustained 4,455 total casualties (198 killed, 1,105 wounded, and 3,152 missing) out of about 20,000 effectives, while the Confederates lost some 1,600 from about 14,000.

Without the railroad, the Confederates had to get supplies from Wilmington by unloading them from the railroad at Stony Creek and taking them by wagon train up the Boydton Plank Road running northeast into Petersburg. Even so, a Confederate staff officer optimistically noted, “Whilst we are inconvenienced, no material harm is done us.” After receiving reports of the fight at Globe Tavern, Grant quickly ordered Federal infantry and cavalry to strike the important Confederate supply line at Reams’s Station between Globe Tavern and Stony Creek.

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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 22242; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 99-104; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 448-49; 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 11445-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 487-88; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7881-94; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 556-59; 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. 776; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 577-79, 812-13

The Shenandoah Valley: Sheridan Falls Back

August 16, 1864 – Elements of Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal Army of the Shenandoah scored an impressive victory, but Sheridan came under heavy criticism for withdrawing nonetheless.

Federal Major General Philip Sheridan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Sheridan decided to fall back toward Winchester upon learning that a Confederate force under Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson had arrived at Front Royal to reinforce Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley. Sheridan dispatched cavalry under Brigadier General Wesley Merritt to hold Anderson’s men at bay while the rest of the Federal army retreated.

Confederates led by Brigadier General William C. Wickham drove the Federal pickets back before coming upon one of Merritt’s dismounted brigades under Brigadier General Thomas C. Devin at Cedarville. A saber duel ensued until the Confederates fell back across the Shenandoah River.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General William T. Wofford’s Confederate brigade on Guard Hill was assaulted by Federal horsemen led by Brigadier General George A. Custer. The Federals used their Spencer repeating rifles to drive the Confederates off in retreat. Merritt reported:

“The enemy advanced boldly, wading the river, and were allowed to approach within short carbine range, when a murderous volley was poured into their solid ranks, while the whole command charged. The enemy were thrown into the wildest confusion.”

This decisive Federal victory resulted in the capture of two battle flags and hundreds of prisoners. It also revealed that Confederates were at Front Royal in force, thus validating Sheridan’s decision to withdraw. Merritt’s Federals served as the rear guard and fell back with the main army. Northerners starving for a decisive victory heaped enormous criticism upon Sheridan for withdrawing.

As Sheridan fell back, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, reiterated his orders to destroy anything in his path that might be useful to the Confederates. Grant also instructed Sheridan to arrest citizens of Loudoun County known to support Colonel John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans. Sheridan issued orders to his cavalry:

“In compliance with instructions of the lieutenant-general commanding, you will make the necessary arrangements and give the necessary orders for the destruction of the wheat and hay south of a line from Millwood to Winchester and Petticoat Gap. You will seize all mules, horses, and cattle that may be useful to our army. Loyal citizens can bring in their claims against the Government for this necessary destruction. No houses will be burned, and officers in charge of this delicate, but necessary, duty must inform the people that the object is to make this Valley untenable for the raiding parties of the rebel army.”

The Confederates under Early and Anderson joined forces to pursue the Federals, with skirmishing around Winchester, Opequon Creek, and Berryville. Anderson clashed inconclusively with Federal cavalry at Summit Point on the 21st. Early tried moving into the Federal rear, resulting in heavy skirmishing. Sheridan later wrote, “A sharp and obstinate skirmish with a heavy picket-line of the Sixth Corps grew out of this manoeuvre, and resulted very much in our favor, but the quick withdrawal of the Confederates left no opportunity for a general engagement.”

Sheridan then notified Washington on the 22nd, “My position at best being a very bad one, and, as there is much depending on this army, I fell back and took a new position in front of Halltown, without loss or opposition.” The two forces fought at Smithfield Crossing over a four-day period from the 25th to the 29th, as Sheridan fell back to Halltown under the protection of Federal guns at Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights.

The Federals formed a strong defensive line that Sheridan hoped Early would attack. An observer for Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton reported, “The line runs along a commanding ridge which overlooks a broad valley beyond, and is a position of great natural strength. The intervals to the left and right, connecting the rivers, say a mile each, are not so strong, but the enemy could hardly succeed in a flank movement.”

The Confederates initially pushed back VI Corps in heavy fighting, but the Federal line was quickly restored and Early found no weaknesses in the Federal position. Although Early could not break the Federal line, the Federals had once again left the Valley.

Believing Sheridan to be just as timid as his predecessors, Early decided to cross the Potomac River once more. He left a small force in the Federals’ front and moved another into Maryland at Williamsport. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, noted Early’s success in pushing Sheridan back, but added, “It will have little or no effect upon Grant’s operations, or prevent re-enforcements being sent to him.”

Based on Early’s estimate that Sheridan’s army numbered about 30,000 men, Lee wrote that “if Sheridan’s force is as large as you suppose, I do not know that you could operate to advantage north of the Potomac.” Lee also stated that he was “in great need of his troops, and if they can be spared from the Valley, or cannot operate to advantage there,” he would take back Anderson’s force. Early therefore abandoned plans to reenter Maryland and instead fell back to Bunker Hill.

Meanwhile, Grant estimated that he had inflicted 10,000 casualties on Lee’s army over the past two weeks and informed Sheridan, “I now think it likely that all troops will be ordered back from the valley except what they believe to be the minimum number to detain you. My reason for supposing this is based upon the fact that yielding up the Weldon road seems to be a blow to the enemy he cannot stand.”

Sheridan interpreted Early’s withdrawal as a validation of Grant’s message, and he told one of his commanders, “The indications are that they will fall back perhaps out of the Valley… their projected campaign is a failure.” Merritt’s cavalry pursued the Confederates on the 28th, pushing them back to Smithville before Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s forces held them off. Skirmishing continued as Sheridan began realizing that Early had no intentions of leaving the Valley.

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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. 447-51; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 486-91; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 104-08; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 558-59, 561; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293, 677-79

The Battle of Deep Bottom Run

August 14, 1864 – Federal forces moved north of the James River to attack the supposedly weakened Confederate defenses outside Richmond.

Federal siege operations resumed after the Battle of the Crater. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, wanted to court-martial Major General Ambrose E. Burnside for his role in the Crater fiasco. But Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, instead placed Burnside on “extended leave,” never to return to active duty. Major General John G. Parke took over Burnside’s IX Corps.

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

Meanwhile, Grant continued the slow extension of his siege line southwest of Petersburg while avoiding any direct confrontations. President Jefferson Davis told General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under siege, “It is thought idle to attack your entrenchments but feasible to starve you out.”

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding the Federal Army of the James pinned down at Bermuda Hundred, devised a plan to break his men out by building a canal across Dutch Gap, a 174-yard-wide neck of land in a bend in the James River. This would allow ships to bypass five miles of Confederate batteries and water impediments at Trent’s Reach and Drewry’s Bluff, thereby giving the Federals a clear shot at Richmond.

Federal troops, including many black soldiers, began digging under enemy artillery and sniper fire. Grant had little faith that the canal would work, but he let Butler go on with it because he was a troublesome political general, and this would keep him busy. The brutal project lasted until the end of the year, and the canal was not officially completed until the war ended. After the war, the Dutch Gap Canal became a useful shipping channel on the James.

As Butler’s men worked, Grant received word that Lee had weakened his army by sending reinforcements to Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. Grant was told “that it was understood that three divisions of infantry went to Early in the first part of the week. Great secrecy was observed in the movement, and the troops were taken through the city mostly in the night.”

Learning that the troops were from Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s corps stationed north of the James, Grant reported, “The enemy has sent north two if not three divisions of infantry, twenty-three pieces of artillery, and one division of cavalry.” Believing that Lee had sent Anderson’s entire corps, Grant estimated that no more than 8,500 Confederates remained in front of Richmond. But Lee had really sent just one infantry and one cavalry division, leaving the Richmond defenses more heavily guarded than Grant anticipated.

Grant assigned three units to confront the Confederates north of the James:

  • Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps from the Army of the Potomac
  • Major General James B. Birney’s X Corps from the Army of the James
  • Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s cavalry division

Their target was Deep Bottom Run, 10 miles southeast of Richmond. Birney and Gregg crossed the James at Bermuda Hundred on the night of the 13th. Hancock’s men were loaded on transports to trick the Confederates into thinking they were going to Washington. They would then be brought back to reinforce Birney and Gregg. Grant explained to Meade:

“If the enemy are reduced as much in numbers as we have reason to believe they are, Hancock’s movements tomorrow may lead to almost the entire abandonment of Petersburg. Have this watched as closely as you can, and if you find this view realized, take such advantage of it as you deem best.”

The Federals landed at Deep Bottom at 9 a.m. on the 14th. Birney’s corps was to demonstrate against the Confederate right (south) flank, while Hancock tried turning the enemy left. Gregg’s cavalry would be to Hancock’s right, ready to ride into Richmond if an opening appeared.

The Federals advanced slowly in the summer heat, giving the Confederates time to bring up more men and guns to the earthworks. The attackers approached the Confederate defenses around midday and immediately realized they were stronger than expected. The Federals were forced to fall back.

Although the Federals north of the James were unsuccessful, Lee had done exactly what Grant wanted him to do–pull troops from south of the James to reinforce the northern sector. Grant therefore directed Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps to try extending the Federal line to Globe Tavern, south and west of the weakened Petersburg defenses. North of the James, Hancock ordered Birney to link with his left. Many of Birney’s men fell out of line during the exhausting night march.

On the 15th, Hancock’s Federals struggled through the Tidewater woods, and Birney’s men took until 6 p.m. to adjust to the rough terrain, making it too late to attack that day. The next morning, the Federals attacked and pushed their way to within seven miles of Richmond. Birney’s troops penetrated the Confederate line at Fussell’s Mill, but neither Birney nor Hancock realized the line was broken due to the heavy foliage. Confederates under Major General Charles W. Field soon surged forward to plug the gap and hold the Federals off.

Both sides observed a ceasefire to collect their dead and wounded on the 17th, during which time Confederate gunboats on the James River prevented the Federals from renewing their assaults. The Confederates counterattacked Hancock’s lines on the 18th but were repelled. The opposing forces spent the next two days entrenching and skirmishing. Grant withdrew the Federals from above the James on the 20th, ending the fighting at Deep Bottom Run.

The Federals sustained 2,901 casualties, while the Confederates lost about 1,000. Grant did not achieve the breakthrough he hoped, but he prevented Lee from sending any more reinforcements to the Shenandoah Valley. Hancock’s corps was worn out, and he reported that his men did not conduct themselves well in this operation. The troops would be shifted southwest to join in the second of Grant’s two-pronged assault, involving Warren’s Federals below Petersburg.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95, 98-99, 104, 112; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 447-48; 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 11279-89, 11434-55, 11500-10; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 485-87; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7869, 7881, 7918; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 554-56; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 617-18; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 231-32; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 812-13

The C.S.S. Tallahassee Raid

August 10, 1864 – A Confederate commerce raider embarked on a mission to attack Federal shipping on the North Atlantic coast, which spread panic among coastal residents.

Confederate Commander John T. Wood, grandson of former General and President Zachary Taylor, led the blockade runner C.S.S. Tallahassee out of New Inlet at Wilmington, North Carolina. The vessel left port during the night and evaded two blockaders to raid Federal shipping.

C.S.S. Tallahassee | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Tallahassee arrived off the New Jersey coast on the 10th and captured six prizes. Wood burned five of the vessels and bonded the sixth, the Carroll, to take all the captured crewmen to New York. Federal Admiral Hiram Paulding at the Brooklyn Navy Yard reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “Pirate off Sandy Hook capturing and burning.”

Welles responded by dispatching three ships from New York to hunt down the Tallahassee. Soon vessels from Boston, Philadelphia, and Hampton Roads were also dispatched. Meanwhile, Wood captured merchant vessels carrying lumber and coal off the New York coast. Panic spread throughout New York and New England, and New York’s Board of Underwriters demanded that Welles do more to stop the Tallahassee’s raid.

By the 15th, the Tallahassee had moved up to the New England coast, continuing to capture and burn Federal ships. Wood next took his raider to British-controlled Halifax, Nova Scotia, to buy coal. The U.S. consul at Nova Scotia, Mortimer M. Jackson, protested the Tallahassee’s arrival, but the lieutenant governor at Halifax observed British neutrality law by granting Wood 24 hours to collect only enough coal to return him to a Confederate port. Wood was granted a 12-hour extension to repair his broken mast.

Meanwhile, Jackson notified Welles of the Tallahassee’s presence. They then alerted the U.S.S. Pontoosuc, commanded by Lieutenant Commander George A. Stevens at Eastport, Maine, that the Confederate vessel was nearby. Wood loaded the Tallahassee with 120 tons of coal and steamed out of Halifax on the night of the 19th. The Pontoosuc arrived there the next morning, seven hours too late to catch the commerce raider.

Stevens took the Pontoosuc north, thinking that Wood was headed for St. Lawrence. But Wood was actually headed back south to Wilmington. The rigid enforcement of neutrality laws in Nova Scotia prevented him from continuing his raid.

The Tallahassee ran the blockade and returned to Wilmington over the night of the 25th and 26th. She fired her way through the blockaders and anchored on the Cape Fear River, under the Confederate guns at Fort Fisher. During the raid, Wood had captured 33 prizes, burning 26 and bonding or releasing seven. This boosted southern morale, which had been shaken by the recent defeat at Mobile Bay. The Federal Navy Department came under intense criticism for allowing the Tallahassee to wreak such havoc in the North Atlantic.

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References

Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 741; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 445-50; 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 10641-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 482, 484-88, 490; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 554-55; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 200

The City Point Explosion

August 9, 1864 – An explosion aboard an ammunition ship nearly killed Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at his headquarters on the James River.

City Point was situated on the south side of the James in Virginia. It served as the main supply depot for the Federal Armies of the Potomac and the James, as well as headquarters for Grant, the overall Federal commander. On the morning of the 9th, Grant returned to City Point from Washington. That same morning, John Maxwell and R.K. Dillard of the Confederate Torpedo Corps slipped through the Federal lines. According to Maxwell’s report:

“We reached there before daybreak on the 9th of August last, with a small amount of provisions, having traveled mostly by night and crawled upon our knees to pass the east picket-line. Requesting my companion to remain behind about half a mile I approached cautiously the wharf, with my machine and powder covered by a small box. Finding the captain had come ashore from a barge then at the wharf, I seized the occasion to hurry forward with my box. Being halted by one of the wharf sentinels I succeeded in passing him by representing that the captain had ordered me to convey the box on board. Hailing a man from the barge I put the machine in motion and gave it in his charge. He carried it aboard. The magazine contained about 12 pounds of powder.”

The wooden candle box that Maxwell handed the Federal worker contained a “horological torpedo,” or a time-bomb. The box and device were placed on a ship holding 20,000 artillery projectiles.

Grant was sitting in front of his tent while George Sharpe, his head of espionage, explained his plans to capture suspected Confederate spies within the army. According to Colonel Horace Porter of Grant’s staff:

“He had just left the general when, at 20 minutes to 12, a terrific explosion shook the earth, accompanied by a sound which vividly recalled the Petersburg mine, still fresh in the memory of every one present. Then there rained down upon the party a terrific shower of shells, bullets, boards, and fragments of timber. The general was surrounded by splinters and various kinds of ammunition, but fortunately was not touched by any of the missiles.”

The City Point explosion | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The gunpowder ignited the projectiles and caused destruction within a quarter-mile radius. The blast killed 43 men, including one of Grant’s orderlies, and wounded 126. Grant reported the explosion to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck:

“Five minutes ago an ordnance boat exploded, carrying lumber, grape, canister, and all kinds of shot over this point. Every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and fragments of shell. I do not know yet what the casualties are beyond my own headquarters. Colonel (Orville) Babcock is slightly wounded in hand and 1 mounted orderly is killed and 2 or 3 wounded and several horses killed. The damage at the wharf must be considerable both in life and property. As soon as the smoke clears away I will ascertain and telegraph you.”

Porter recalled:

“Much damage was done to the wharf, the boat was entirely destroyed, all the laborers employed on it were killed, and a number of men and horses near the landing were fatally injured… The general was the only one of the party who remained unmoved; he did not even leave his seat to run to the bluff with the others to see what had happened.”

A message soon came from the headquarters of Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, “Was that explosion at City Point? What was it?” The response:

“A barge laden with ordnance stores was accidentally blown up just now while lying at the wharf. There has been considerable destruction of property and loss of life. No officers were killed. The shock was terrific, and of course unlooked for. It is probable we shall never know how the accident occurred. One of your office wagon horses was killed. We are clearing away the ruins at the river.”

Maxwell reported:

“I may be permitted, captain, here to remark that in the enemy’s statement a party of ladies, it seems, were killed by this explosion. It is saddening to me to realize the fact that the terrible effects of war induce such consequence; but when I remember the ordeal to which our own women have been subjected, and the barbarities of the enemy’s crusade against us and them, my feelings are relieved by the reflection that while this catastrophe was not intended by us, it amounts only, in the providence of God, to just retaliation.”

Porter wrote:

“No one could surmise the cause of the explosion, and the general (Grant) appointed me president of a board of officers to investigate the matter. We spent several days in taking the testimony of all the people who were in sight of the occurrence, and used every possible means to probe the matter; but as all the men aboard the boat had been killed, we could obtain no satisfactory evidence. It was attributed by most of those present to the careless handling of the ammunition by the laborers who were engaged in unloading it; but there was a suspicion in the minds of many of us that it was the work of some emissaries of the enemy sent into the lines.”

Only after the war was it revealed that Confederate saboteurs had planted a bomb.

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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. 445; 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 11382-403; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 483; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 553-54; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 382-83; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 81-82; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 141-42

Mobile Bay: Federals Seize the Forts

August 8, 1864 – Confederates surrendered Fort Gaines at the entrance to Mobile Bay, apparently without authorization. This enabled the Federals to focus all their attention on capturing the last fort guarding the bay.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

After Rear Admiral David G. Farragut’s Federal naval fleet captured Mobile Bay, the Federals looked to capture the three Confederate forts at the bay’s entrance: Forts Powell, Gaines, and Morgan. Fort Powell was the smallest garrison, consisting of 18 guns and 140 men under Lieutenant Colonel James M. Williams. It guarded the secondary bay entrance west of the main channel.

Federal entry into the bay on the 5th made Fort Powell irrelevant. Colonel Charles D. Anderson, commanding the Confederates at Fort Gaines, directed Williams to “save your garrison when your fort is no longer tenable.” Williams destroyed his magazines and evacuated Fort Powell that night.

Anderson then telegraphed the ranking Confederate commander in the bay, Brigadier General Richard L. Page, stationed at Fort Morgan, regarding Fort Gaines: “The enemy are planting batteries in the sand-hills within easy range. If the fleet opens upon me from the other direction I cannot cover more than half of my men, but will do the best I can. My situation is critical.”

Page advised Anderson to “do your best and keep the men in good cheer.” On the 6th, Anderson reported that two Federal ironclads were bombarding his fort, and he consulted with several officers (none of whom were Page) on whether to surrender. The next morning, Anderson wrote to Farragut:

“Feeling my inability to maintain my present location longer than you may see fit to open upon me with the fleet, and feeling also the uselessness of entailing upon ourselves further destruction of life, I have the honor to propose the surrender of fort Gaines, its garrison, stores, &c.

“I trust to your magnanimity for obtaining honorable terms, which I respectfully request that you will transmit to me, and allow me sufficient time to consider them and return an answer.”

Page saw the boat leaving Fort Gaines delivering the message under a flag of truce and ordered Anderson, “Hold on to your fort.” Farragut received the message and consulted with Major General Gordon Granger, the army commander whose troops were closing in to lay siege to Gaines. The officers gave their terms to Anderson: “The unconditional surrender of yourself and the garrison of Fort Gaines, with all of the public property within its limits.”

As Anderson came aboard Farragut’s flagship to arrange the surrender, Page continued sending messages trying to stop the process. But Anderson did not acknowledge the messages, and on the 8th, he formally surrendered Fort Gaines to Granger. Granger reported, “I have the honor to report that the old flag now floats over Fort Gaines, the entire garrison having surrendered to the combined forces of the army and navy this morning at 8 o’clock.” The Federals seized 818 prisoners, 26 guns, and large amounts of ammunition and supplies.

Page reported, “At 9:30 o’clock the enemy’s flag was hoisted over Gaines, the evidence and the emblem of the consummation of the deed of dishonor and disgrace to its commander and garrison.” Page called the affair “painfully humiliating,” caused by Anderson’s “inexplicable and shameful” conduct. Anderson was sent to New Orleans as a prisoner of war, where the Confederate government was unable to try him for his disobedience.

Now only Fort Morgan remained in Mobile Bay. Farragut, who had been friends with Page before the war, sent him a message: “To prevent the unnecessary sacrifice of human life, which must follow the opening of our batteries, we demand the unconditional surrender of Fort Morgan and its dependencies.” Page replied, “I am prepared to sacrifice life, and will only surrender when I have no means of defense.”

The Federals began assembling warships, land artillery, and Granger’s 3,000 troops to bombard Morgan into submission. The captured Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee was towed into a position where she could join in the bombardment of her former comrades. Farragut reported, “We are now tightening the cords around Fort Morgan. Page is as surly as a bull-dog, and says he will die in the last ditch. He says he can hold out six months, and that we can’t knock his fort down.”

By the 17th, all the Federal artillery was in position to lay siege to Fort Morgan. It consisted of 36 cannon and the guns of Farragut’s naval fleet. Page noted that “our brick walls were easily penetrable to the heavy missiles of the enemy, and that a systematic concentrated fire would soon breach them.”

Page ordered the destruction of his ammunition to prevent it from being exploded by Federal shells. During the five days of heavy bombardment, Granger’s troops inched their way to within 200 yards of the fort. A furious bombardment opened on the 22nd that “cut up the fort to such extent as to make the whole work a mere mass of debris.” Page, now with just two functioning guns, reported:

“My guns and powder had all been destroyed, my means of defense gone, the citadel, nearly the entire quartermaster stores, and a portion of the commissariat burned by the enemy’s shells, it was evident the fort could hold out but a few hours longer under a renewed bombardment. The only question was: Hold it for this time, gain the éclat, and sustain the loss of life from the falling of the walls, or save life and capitulate?”

At 6 a.m. on the 23rd, a white flag was raised over Fort Morgan as Page sent the Federals a message: “The further sacrifice of life being unnecessary, my sick and wounded suffering and exposed, humanity demands that I ask for terms of capitulation.” Farragut and Granger required unconditional surrender, “with all of the public property within its limit and in the same condition that it is now.”

However, the Confederates spiked their guns, troops destroyed their rifles, and officers broke their swords to render them useless to the Federals. Farragut angrily reported:

“The whole conduct of the officers of Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan presents such a striking contrast in moral principle that I can not fail to remark upon it. General Page and his officers, with a childish spitefulness, destroyed the guns which they had said they would defend to the last, but which they never defended at all, and threw away or broke those weapons which they had not the manliness to use against their enemies, for Fort Morgan never fired a gun after the commencement of the bombardment…”

The Federals took 400 prisoners, and now all the forts at the entrance to Mobile Bay were under their control. Farragut advised against continuing north to capture the city of Mobile itself because it was too heavily defended. Farragut’s men soon went to work clearing the floating mines (torpedoes) out of the bay. One of them exploded, killing five sailors and wounding nine. Nevertheless, the Federals had complete control of Mobile Bay, which was forever closed to blockade runners. Now only Wilmington, North Carolina, remained as a major functioning Confederate seaport.

As August ended, an exhausted Farragut asked Navy Secretary Gideon Welles for a sick leave:

“It is evident that the army has no men to spare for this place beyond those sufficient to keep up an alarm, and thereby make a diversion in favor of Gen. Sherman… Now, I dislike to make a show of attack unless I can do something more than make a menace, but so long as I am able I am willing to do the bidding of the Department to the best of my abilities. I fear, however, my health is giving way. I have been down in this Gulf and the Caribbean Sea nearly five years out of six, with the exception of the short time at home last fall, and the last six months have been a severe drain on me, and I want rest, if it is to be had.”

Meanwhile, the news of the spectacular Federal victory at Mobile Bay sparked massive celebrations throughout the North. One of Farragut’s New York neighbors informed him that his actions were “doing a great deal more than perhaps you dream of, in giving heart to the people here, and raising their confidence. Your victory has come at a most opportune moment, and will be attended by consequences of the most lasting and vital kind to the republic.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 177-78; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 445, 447, 449, 451; 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 10588-630; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 483-84, 489, 491; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 553; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 183-84; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 553, 556, 559; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 212; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 276