Category Archives: Tennessee

The Johnsonville Raid

November 1, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry moved south up the Tennessee River on two captured Federal transports to disrupt Federal river traffic en route to Johnsonville.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Forrest loaded his troopers onto the ships Undine and Venus, making them a makeshift navy or a “cavalry afloat.” His artillerists remained on shore, pulling their guns along the riverbank. Their objective was Johnsonville, named for Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson and the site of a large Federal supply depot holding stocked warehouses, wagon trains, and transport ships. Most of these supplies were earmarked for Major General George H. Thomas’s Federals at Nashville and Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals in Georgia.

The Federal gunboats U.S.S. Key West and Tawah encountered the captured vessels on the 2nd. They ran the Venus aground and damaged the Undine, which the Confederates burned to prevent recapture. Forrest lost 11 men (two killed and nine wounded) and two guns from the Venus. Undaunted, he challenged the gunboats to another fight, and when they declined, he continued toward Johnsonville. Forrest reported:

“The wharf at Johnsonville was lined with transports and gun-boats. An immense warehouse presented itself and was represented as being stored with the most valuable supplies, while several acres of the shore were covered with every description of army stores.”

The Confederates placed artillery directly opposite Johnsonville around 3 p.m. on the 4th and began shelling the barges being unloaded and the gunboats protecting them. Four gunboats were disabled, including the Key West, Tawah, and Elfin. The naval commander, Lieutenant Edward King, declared, “Johnsonville can only be saved by a large force of iron-clads.” He hurriedly burned many steamers and barges to prevent their capture.

Forrest’s men then turned on the land installations, and within two hours, all the abundant Federal stores, warehouses, and wagon trains were set on fire. Johnsonville was left in ruins.

The Federal base commander estimated damage at $2.2 million, not including the gunboats lost. Forrest estimated the damage at $6.7 million, including the gunboats. All told, the Johnsonville raid resulted in the Federal loss of four gunboats, 14 steamers, 17 barges, 33 guns, 150 men, and over 75,000 tons of supplies. Forrest’s Confederates had disrupted Federal supply lines around Nashville and diverted Federal troops from other areas to stop the threat.

This was an embarrassment to Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, the new commander of the Mississippi River Squadron. Federal officials censured the officers at Johnsonville, especially King. The colonel of the 43rd Wisconsin criticized King’s decision to burn the ships, stating, “I do not think there was the most remote necessity of burning either the transports or gun-boats, as the enemy had made no demonstration to cross whatever, nor could they have crossed and captured them under our fire.”

Thomas ordered Major General John Schofield to lead XXIII Corps to Johnsonville. Schofield arrived at Nashville ahead of his men and reported to Thomas that he had “been very seriously delayed the past three days by small runoffs, slippery tracks, bunching of the trains 10 and 20 together, and telegraphic communication imperfect from the storm blocking road, so we could not get any trains around.”

Schofield led the men he had available–two brigades–to start bolstering the Johnsonville garrison. Thomas reported to Sherman that the garrison commander “is hard at work, and says in a short time he will be able to make a successful fight against any attack the enemy may make on him.” Thomas could not pinpoint where Forrest went, but “with General Schofield and his command there, in addition to the force already in place, I have no fear of the enemy getting possession of the town.”

Sherman, the overall military division commander, fumed, “… that devil Forrest was down about Johnsonville and was making havoc among the gun-boats and transports.” Believing that General P.G.T. Beauregard had assumed overall Confederate command in the region, Sherman directed Thomas, “I would not advise you to send too large a force to Johnsonville, as they cannot be anything but Forrest’s cavalry there. Send some heavier guns and some re-enforcements, but keep your main force in hand till Beauregard develops his plans.”

Major General Jacob D. Cox, serving under Schofield, later wrote that when Schofield reached Johnsonville, “he soon saw the real state of affairs, and advised Thomas that the two brigades were enough.” He reported this to Thomas, who replied, “I would rather have you and the greater part of your force at Pulaski, as I want you to take personal charge of the troops there, as my attention may be called frequently to other points.”

In accordance with Thomas’s direction, Schofield turned to gathering the bulk of his force at Pulaski. Meanwhile, Forrest was on his way to Corinth, Mississippi, to link with General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee.

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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; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 482-83; 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 12992-3023; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517-18; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592-93; 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. 220-21

Hood’s Tennessee Campaign Begins

October 22, 1864 – General John Bell Hood led his Confederate Army of Tennessee out of Gadsden, Alabama, intending to move north and redeem both Tennessee and Kentucky for the Confederacy.

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

Hood planned to move 30 miles northwest to Guntersville on the Tennessee River. He would cross that waterway there and then push north. General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Military Division of the West over Hood, allowed Hood to commandeer Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry for the campaign. But Forrest was at Jackson, Tennessee, and Hood did not wait for him to join the army before moving out.

The plan was quickly compromised when the Confederates found Guntersville too heavily defended by Federals to penetrate, and the Tennessee too high to cross there. Hood therefore redirected his army toward Decatur, 45 miles west.

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal forces that had pursued Hood into Alabama, thought that Hood was still at Gadsden. He had received permission to stop chasing Hood and instead march through Georgia to the Atlantic coast. Sherman left the job of dealing with Hood to Major General George H. Thomas, who commanded a portion of his Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

Sherman notified Thomas that the Confederates might be trying to implement the plan that President Jefferson Davis had recently described in a public speech. He warned Thomas that Hood “may go on to perfect Davis’ plan for invading Tennessee and Kentucky to make me let go of Atlanta. I adhere to my former plan, provided always you can defend the line of the Tennessee. Decatur and Chattanooga must be held to the death.”

Believing that Beauregard had replaced Hood as Confederate army commander, Sherman explained that he would leave a force for Thomas to defend important Tennessee cities such as “Nashville, Murfreesborough, Pulaski, and Columbia.” Thomas was to remain on the defensive “unless you know that Beauregard follows me south. If Beauregard attempts Tennessee it will be from the direction of Decatur.”

Meanwhile, the Federal XV Corps under Major General Peter J. Osterhaus moved toward Gadsden to try learning Hood’s intentions. Skirmishing occurred on the 25th as the Confederates headed west, resulting in the capture of some prisoners. Osterhaus reported:

“The information received, however, from those who fell into our hands and from the citizens was not very definite in regard to General Hood’s movements. All agreed that his army had left Gadsden and moved in a western direction. The exact whereabouts could not be ascertained. Rumor placed them near the Tennessee River.”

Based on this vague information, Sherman informed Thomas that if Hood went to Guntersville, Sherman’s Federals will “be after it.” If Hood continued west toward Decatur, “I must leave it to you for the present and push for the heart of Georgia.” Thomas told Sherman that based on reports from Brigadier General Robert Granger, commanding the Federal District of Northern Alabama, “Hood’s army is threatening to cross the Tennessee River at various places between Guntersville and Decatur.”

On the 26th, Hood’s Confederates arrived outside Decatur and found it too heavily guarded to force a river crossing. Hood therefore redirected his men toward Courtland, another 20 miles west. General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana in which Hood was operating, directed Forrest to join Hood’s army. Hood felt that being detoured to the west actually worked to his advantage because it brought him closer to joining forces with Forrest. However, Forrest was caught up in his own operations and was delayed in linking with Hood.

Hood arrived at Courtland the next day, where his engineers informed him that they did not have enough pontoons to span the river. This forced Hood to continue moving west to Tuscumbia, another 25 miles downriver, where he hoped to use a partially demolished railroad bridge to get his army across the Tennessee. The vital element of speed was lost, and the delays gave the Federals time to build defenses.

Beauregard met with Hood near Courtland. He expressed dismay that Hood had moved west without notifying him, and also that he had not yet crossed the river. Hood blamed Forrest for this, reporting, “As I had not a sufficient cavalry force without his to protect my trains in Tennessee, I was compelled to delay the crossing and move farther down the river to meet him.”

Still unaware of Hood’s exact intentions, Sherman led his Federals back toward Atlanta on the 28th. He notified Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that he would prepare “to carry into effect my original plan” of marching to the sea. In the meantime, “I will await a few days to hear what head he (Hood) makes about Decatur, and may yet turn to Tennessee; but it would be a great pity to take a step backward. I think it would be better even to let him ravage the State of Tennessee, provided he does not gobble up too many of our troops.”

In another update, Sherman told Halleck that he was “pushing my preparations for the march through Georgia.” He then asked Halleck to send reinforcements to Thomas so Sherman’s Federals would not have to return to Tennessee. Sherman wrote, “I do not want to go back myself with the whole army, as that is what the enemy wants.” Privately, Sherman said of Hood, “Damn him! If he will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations. Let him go north, my business is down south.”

Sherman continued preparing to march away from Hood as October ended. He dispatched IV and XXIII corps to reinforce Thomas, which he believed “would enable General Thomas to defend the railroad from Chattanooga back, including Nashville and Decatur, and give him an army with which he could successfully cope with Hood should the latter cross the Tennessee northward.” Sherman reorganized his remaining four corps into two wings:

  • XIV Corps under Major General Jefferson C. Davis and XX Corps under Major General Alpheus Williams, formerly part of the Army of the Cumberland, would now be the Army of Georgia, led by Major General Henry W. Slocum.
  • XV Corps under Osterhaus and XVII Corps under Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., remained the Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard.

Meanwhile, Hood’s Confederates continued having problems crossing the Tennessee due to high water and strong Federal defenses. They finally crossed at Tuscumbia and drove Federal cavalry out of Florence. Tuscumbia would be Hood’s headquarters and supply base for the Tennessee incursion. Hood then informed Beauregard that his men lacked food, shoes, and other necessities. This message shocked Beauregard, who thought that Hood would not have begun this campaign without first gathering the necessary supplies. He scrambled to establish a railroad supply line to Tuscumbia.

On the last day of October, Major General David S. Stanley, commanding the Federal IV Corps, received confirmation that the Confederates were crossing the Tennessee at Florence. Stanley’s troops were at Athens, 40 miles east of Hood. Stanley began moving his Federals to Pulaski, Tennessee, where he expected Hood to attack.

As Stanley’s men left, Granger received alarming (but false) reports that the Confederates were targeting Athens. Stanley gave Granger permission to abandon the garrison there if he felt threatened, and he did so. However, as Stanley later reported, “Athens was evacuated on false rumors. At 4 p.m., the same afternoon, by General R.S. Granger’s order, a very considerable amount of public property was destroyed, although no enemy had shown themselves between Elk River and the Tennessee.”

Not only was Hood poised to thrust into Tennessee, but Forrest’s Confederates were threatening vital Federal shipping on the Tennessee at Johnsonville. Sherman later wrote, “There is no doubt that the month of October closed to us looking decided squally; but, somehow, I was sustained in the belief that in a very few days the tide would turn.”

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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 21106; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 478-82; 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 12970-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 514-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 587, 590-91; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-34

Sherman Stops Pursuing Hood

October 21, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals stopped pursuing General John Bell Hood’s Confederates in Alabama, and Hood announced his intention to force Sherman out of Georgia by targeting Federal supply bases and troops in Tennessee.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Hood ended his raid on Sherman’s supply line in northern Georgia and led his Confederate Army of Tennessee west into Alabama. Hood informed his superiors at Richmond that he would move north across the Tennessee River and enter the state of Tennessee, where he would cut supply lines and destroy the Federal army under Major General George H. Thomas.

From there, Hood’s Confederates would regain the capital of Nashville and then continue north into Kentucky. Sherman then “would be forced to go on board ship, and, after a long detour by water and land, repair to the defense of Kentucky and Ohio.” And if Sherman instead went to Petersburg to reinforce the Federals under Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Hood would move east to reinforce the Confederates there under General Robert E. Lee.

Without waiting for approval, Hood led his army to Gadsden on the 20th and notified General Richard Taylor that he had entered Taylor’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. Hood supplied his troops at Gadsden, asked Taylor for more supplies, and informed him, “I will move tomorrow for Guntersville on the Tennessee.”

Hood did not notify General P.G.T. Beauregard, his new superior. Beauregard remained at his Jacksonville, Alabama, headquarters, still expecting Hood to carry out his original plan of raiding Sherman’s supply line in northern Georgia and drawing him out into an open fight.

Meanwhile, Sherman already received approval to leave Hood for Thomas and turn south toward the sea. Sherman reported:

“I shall pursue him (Hood) as far as Gaylesville. The enemy will not venture toward Tennessee except around by Decatur. I propose to send the Fourth Corps back to General Thomas, and leave him, with that corps, the garrisons, and new troops, to defend the line of the Tennessee River; and with the rest I will push into the heart of Georgia and come out at Savannah, destroying all the railroads of the State.”

In another message, Sherman wrote:

“Hood will escape me. I want to prepare for my big raid. On the 1st of November I want nothing in Atlanta but what is necessary for war. Send all trash to the rear at once, and have on hand 30 days’ food and but little forage. I propose to abandon Atlanta, and the railroad back to Chattanooga, to sally forth to ruin Georgia and bring up on the seashore.”

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As Sherman reported, he stopped pursuing Hood’s Confederates at Gaylesville, 30 miles northeast of Gadsden, on the 21st. He was not sure where Hood was or what he intended to do, but now that the Confederate army was in Alabama, Sherman no longer cared. Thomas began concentrating the Federal forces in his department at Nashville to prepare for Hood’s possible incursion into Tennessee.

That same day, Beauregard finally learned that Hood and his army were at Gadsden, and he went there to discuss strategy. Hood unveiled his bold plan for “marching into Tennessee, with a hope to establish our line eventually in Kentucky.” The campaign would begin by crossing the Tennessee River at Guntersville, which would put his Confederates within striking distance of Sherman’s supply line running through Stevenson and Bridgeport. Hood would gather recruits as he moved north.

This new plan alarmed Beauregard, especially since Hood had begun executing it without first consulting him. But success depended on speed, and Beauregard had no alternate strategy. He had the authority to commandeer Hood’s army if he saw fit, but Beauregard feared that President Jefferson Davis would not support such a move. So Beauregard reluctantly approved.

Beauregard then consulted with Hood’s corps commanders. Hood later wrote that the commanders told Beauregard “we were not competent to offer pitched battle to Sherman, nor could we follow him south without causing our retrograde movement to be construed by the troops into a recurrence of retreat, which would entail desertions, and render the Army of little or no use in its opposition to the enemy’s march through Georgia.”

Beauregard added one stipulation to Hood’s offensive: his cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler had to stay in Georgia to oppose Sherman. Beauregard allowed Hood to have Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry instead, but Forrest was at Jackson, Tennessee, and it would take him time to ride down to join Hood’s army.

Hood requested three weeks’ rations and prepared to move northwest to Guntersville. Beauregard notified Davis of the altered strategy. When the campaign began on the 22nd, it was immediately apparent that it would not go according to plan.

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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 21035, 21045, 21106; 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 12914-35, 12956-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 510, 512; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 584, 586-87; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32-33

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

The Death of John Hunt Morgan

September 4, 1864 – A Federal private ended the life of one of the Confederacy’s most legendary raiders.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since escaping from Ohio State Penitentiary last year, Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan had raised a new cavalry command to raid his home state of Kentucky once more. Now commanding the Confederate Department of Southwestern Virginia, Morgan moved out from Wytheville in hopes of securing horses for the cavalry.

No horses were taken, but Morgan’s new, undisciplined raiders found time to rob at least two banks and loot Mount Sterling. Confederate authorities scheduled an inquiry to look into this matter, but before it convened, Morgan learned that Federal troopers were patrolling Bull’s Gap. Despite being ordered not to move, Morgan led 2,000 men into eastern Tennessee to intercept them.

The Confederates arrived at Greeneville on the 3rd, where Morgan set up headquarters at the mansion of Catherine Williams. Scouts warned him that Federal troopers were nearby, but he disregarded the reports. In fact, a Federal force under Alvan Gillem was just 18 miles away when Gillem received word that Morgan’s troopers were at Greeneville. Gillem reported, “I immediately resolved not to wait for him but to endeavor to surprise and attack his forces in detail before they could be concentrated.”

The Federals arrived outside Greeneville near dawn the next morning and pushed the Confederate pickets back. Since the people of Greeneville had mixed sympathies, somebody might have told the Federals that Morgan was at the Williams mansion. They rode into town and surrounded that residence.

Morgan and Captain James T. Rogers hurried out of the mansion before the Federals arrived. Rogers recalled, “He handed me one of his pistols, and said that he wished me to assist him in making his escape. I told him it was almost useless, as we were entirely surrounded. He replied, saying that we must do it if possible.” Morgan said, “The Yankees will never take me prisoner again.”

Morgan and Rogers separated, with Morgan meeting up with a brown-clad soldier whom he thought was a comrade. But the soldier was Federal Private Andrew J. Campbell, who demanded his surrender. No Confederates saw Morgan again until he was brought out into the street, dead. Rogers later acknowledged that the Federals preferred to take Morgan dead rather than alive, but he wrote, “If General Morgan surrendered before he was shot I do not know it.” Private Campbell later reported:

“I, in a loud tone, ordered him to halt, but instead of obeying he started into a run. I then repeated the order, and at the same time brought my gun to my shoulder so as to cover him, when seeing that he still disregarded me, I deliberately aimed at and shot him. He dropped in his tracks and died in a few minutes. But I did not know at that time, nor even had the least idea of, who it was I had shot.”

Basil W. Duke, one of Morgan’s longtime lieutenants (though not with Morgan at the time of his death), wrote after the war:

“His friends have always believed that he was murdered after his surrender. Certain representations by the parties who killed him, their ruffianly character and the brutality with which they treated his body, induced the belief; and it was notorious that his death, if again captured, had been sworn. His slayers broke down the paling around the garden, dragged him through and, while he was tossing his arms in his dying agonies, threw him across a mule and paraded his body about the town, shouting and screaming in savage exaltation.

“Thus, on the 4th of September 1864, in a little village of east Tennessee, fell this almost unequaled partisan leader. But not only was the light of genius extinguished then and a heroic spirit lost to earth–as kindly and as noble a heart as was ever warned by the constant presence of generous emotions was stilled by a ruffian’s bullet.”

But Morgan’s exploits would live on in poems and folklore.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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 12480-500; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 566-67

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

The Fort Pillow Controversy

April 12, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry attacked the Federal garrison at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River, and a controversy ensued over whether black troops were killed after surrendering.

Forrest’s troopers descended on Fort Pillow as part of their raid on Federal outposts and supply lines in western Tennessee. Forrest also sought to avenge Federal depredations being committed in the region; several men suspected of aiding the Confederacy were held without charges, and one of Forrest’s officers had been tortured and murdered.

The fort was a large earthwork on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, about 40 land miles north of Memphis. Held by Federal forces since June 1862, the fort protected a nearby trading post, and it was garrisoned by 557 Federal troops under Major Lionel F. Booth. Of these troops, 262 were newly recruited former slaves, and the rest were mostly Tennessee Unionists (whom Forrest’s Tennesseans considered traitors). The Federal tinclad gunboat U.S.S. New Era patrolled the Mississippi riverfront behind the garrison.

Fort Pillow | Image Credit: FortWiki.com

A portion of Forrest’s command consisting of 1,500 horsemen under Brigadier General James R. Chalmers attacked the outposts at 5:30 a.m. on the 12th and surrounded the fort by 8 a.m. Federal artillery and the New Era’s guns could not be positioned to hit the Confederates, who took the high ground on the perimeter and killed Booth. Command passed to Major William F. Bradford.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Forrest arrived around 10 a.m. and directed an attack in which the Confederates captured the Federal barracks on the south side of the fort. The New Era steamed downriver to replenish her ammunition. Forrest’s aide, Captain Charles W. Anderson, stated that “it was perfectly apparent to any man endowed with the smallest amount of common sense that to all intents and purposes the fort was ours.”

When Forrest’s ammunition train arrived around 3 p.m., he sent a courier to Bradford under a flag of truce demanding surrender and warning, “Should my demand be refused, I cannot be responsible for the fate of your command.”

Bradford asked for one hour to consult with his officers. However, Forrest could see the New Era on the river and feared that she carried reinforcements. He gave Bradford just 20 minutes, stating, “If at the expiration of that time the fort is not surrendered, I shall assault it.” During the 20-minute ceasefire, Federal troops mocked the Confederates from the fort parapets. Confident he could hold the fort, Bradford finally replied, “I will not surrender.” Forrest attacked immediately.

The Confederates easily broke through the outer defenses, scaled the parapets, and drove the defenders down the bluff toward the river. The Federals tried fleeing to the gunboat, but it pulled back under the heavy Confederate fire. The fight soon degenerated into a panic, as Forrest and his officers tried stopping their men from wiping out the entire garrison.

In the end, all 557 Federals were killed, wounded, or captured (231 killed, 100 wounded, and 226 captured). Of those taken prisoner, 58 were black and 168 were white. The Confederates also captured six guns and 350 stands of small arms while losing just 100 men (14 killed and 86 wounded). Federal Acting Master William Ferguson, assigned to investigate Fort Pillow the day after it fell, reported:

“About 8 a.m. the enemy sent in a flag of truce with a proposal from General Forrest that he would put me in possession of the fort and the country around until 5 p.m. for the purpose of burying our dead and removing our wounded, whom he had no means of attending to. I agreed to the terms proposed…

“All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy with a furious and vindictive savageness which was never equaled by the most merciless of the Indian tribes… Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops…

“Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate…”

In his report, Forrest wrote:

“The victory was complete, and the loss of the enemy will never be known from the fact that large numbers ran into the river and were shot and drowned. The force was composed of about 500 negroes and 200 white soldiers (Tennessee Tories). The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards. There was in the fort a large number of citizens who had fled there to escape the conscript law. Most of these ran into the river and were drowned.

“The approximate loss was upward of 500 killed, but few of the officers escaping.

“It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners. We still hold the fort.”

Witnesses accused the Confederates of killing Federal soldiers–particularly the black soldiers–even after they surrendered. Survivors later testified at a congressional hearing that the Confederates shouted, “No quarter!” while shooting or bayoneting several men who had already laid down their arms. Northerners generally decried the “Fort Pillow Massacre,” viewing it as indicative of the atrocities that Confederates committed against black soldiers for fighting against them.

Forrest argued that the engagement could hardly be called a “massacre” since he had taken 226 prisoners, none of whom were seriously injured. He also maintained that some Federals picked up their weapons and resumed firing after they surrendered, and therefore suffered the consequences. Others claimed the high black casualty rate was due to their brave defense, as they were the last to flee.

Four of President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet members—Secretary of State William H. Seward, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles—publicly supported the execution of an equal number of Confederate prisoners of war in retaliation. But Major General William T. Sherman, overall commander in the region, recommended no vengeance, and Lincoln ultimately agreed. Forrest and his men were not called upon to testify in their own defense after the war. Nevertheless, black soldiers used the rallying cry, “Remember Fort Pillow!” for the rest of the conflict.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 167; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24, 25; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 187-89; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20657-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 392; 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 2298-338; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 417-19; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 108; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 484-85; 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. 190-91; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 277-78