Tag Archives: Benjamin F. Butler

The Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

May 16, 1864 – General P.G.T. Beauregard launched an attack on Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federals as they timidly approached Richmond from the south.

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

Butler’s 16,000 Federals from the Army of the James faced 18,000 Confederates under Beauregard at Drewry’s Bluff, which guarded the approach to the Confederate capital. Butler issued orders to attack at 6 a.m. but Beauregard planned to attack sooner, and he developed an intricate plan of action:

  • Major General Robert Ransom, Jr.’s division would attack the Federal right, manned by XVIII Corps under Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith
  • Major General Robert F. Hoke’s division would attack the Federal left, manned by X Corps under Major General Quincy A. Gillmore
  • Major General W.H.C. Whiting’s two brigades would move north from Petersburg and cut off the Federal retreat

Butler’s army would then be either destroyed or at least forced to fall back from the Confederate capital and the vital Richmond & Petersburg Railroad. At 4:30 a.m., Ransom’s men began moving through heavy fog and slammed into Smith’s corps. The Confederates routed a brigade and captured 400 men including its commander, Brigadier General Charles Heckman. The Federal right flank bent but did not break. Ransom’s attack soon stalled.

On the Federal left, Gillmore did not receive Butler’s order for a 6 a.m. attack until 6:20. As he prepared to obey, Hoke’s Confederates appeared in the distance, led by the brigades of Brigadier General Johnson Hagood and Major General Bushrod R. Johnson. Hagood and Johnson hit the Federal center and captured some artillery, but the Federals held firm as the Confederate attack became disjointed in the fog.

The wire entanglements that the Federals had strung between the lines also lessened the force of the enemy assaults. A Federal officer asserted that the Confederates were “being piled in heaps over the telegraph wire.” A Confederate taken prisoner called the entanglements “a devilish contrivance which none but a Yankee could devise.”

The rest of Hoke’s division struck the Federal left but made no progress. Meanwhile, Butler ordered Gillmore to send reinforcements to the right, and then he ordered Smith to abandon the right altogether and fall back. To the south, Whiting’s Confederates met a single Federal division at Port Walthall Junction and halted, as Whiting feared that more Federals were coming. Butler received word that Confederates were in his rear, adding to the general confusion among the Federals. He issued orders to Gillmore:

“You must fall back, press to right, and get in rear of Smith’s corps. He will try and hold his ground until you get in his rear and clear the road to the intrenchments (at Bermuda Hundred), so that we may get behind the defenses. Push vigorously.”

The Federals fell back in driving rain about a mile before reforming their line at Half Way House around 2 p.m. About two hours later, after receiving word that Confederates from Richmond were crossing the James to confront him, Butler ordered a retreat to the Federal entrenchments at Bermuda Hundred. As he reported, “The troops have been on incessant duty for five days, three of which were in a rainstorm. I retired at leisure to within my own lines.”

Beauregard had driven Butler away from Richmond and the railroad, but he could not destroy Butler’s army. Beauregard accused Ransom, despite his successful initial attack, of lacking the aggression needed to finish the Federals off. Nevertheless, the Federals returned to the peninsula where Beauregard could seal the neck with a token force and ensure that Butler could not threaten Richmond or Petersburg anymore.

When Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, learned of this defeat, he remarked that Butler’s army was “as completely shut off from further operations directly against Richmond as if it had been in a bottle strongly corked.” This ended Butler’s failed campaign to cut the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad. Butler would also be no help to the Army of the Potomac, which was sustaining enormous losses against the Confederates in northern Virginia.

The Federals sustained 4,160 casualties (390 killed, 2,380 wounded and 1,390 missing) at Drewry’s Bluff, while the Confederates lost 2,506 (355 killed, 1,941 wounded and 210 missing). The Confederates came upon Bermuda Hundred the next day and built defenses of their own to keep the Federals and “Beast” Butler caged on the peninsula. Now three of Grant’s four offensives in Virginia had met with failure, and the fourth (the Army of the Potomac) tottered on destruction.

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References
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 409-10; 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 5522-42, 5561-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 440; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 503-04; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 614; 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. 723; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 57-58, 227-28, 837

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The James River: Drewry’s Bluff

May 15, 1864 – Opposing armies assembled at Drewry’s Bluff, about five miles from Richmond on the James River, and both commanders planned to attack.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding the Federal Army of the James, had landed at Bermuda Hundred, 15 miles southeast of Richmond and seven miles northeast of Petersburg. He opted not to attack either city, but instead to destroy the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad connecting them. There were only 2,000 Confederates initially on hand to oppose the Federals, but Butler’s hesitant advance gave reinforcements time to arrive.

After being repulsed by a much smaller force at Swift Creek, Butler ordered yet another withdrawal back to his entrenchments across the peninsula neck at Bermuda Hundred. As the Federals fell back, General P.G.T. Beauregard arrived from Weldon, North Carolina, to take personal command of Confederate forces. Beauregard replaced his second-in-command, Major General George Pickett, who was on the verge of collapse from the stress of the Federal threat.

Five Confederate brigades under Major General Robert F. Hoke soon arrived, along with a brigade from the Charleston defenses. This gave Beauregard about 20,000 troops, still less than Butler’s 33,000-man army. However, Butler had done little to capitalize on his numerical advantage since landing on the 5th, having merely skirmished at Port Walthall and Swift Creek, and torn up some railroad track and telegraph lines.

When Butler finally set his sights on Richmond, Beauregard anticipated it and strengthened Confederate defenses at Drewry’s Bluff and Fort Darling, which guarded the approach to the capital on the south bank of the James River. Beauregard dispatched seven brigades under Hoke in hopes of luring Butler out into an open battle.

Butler moved out of his defenses once more on the 12th, a week after landing. This time the force numbered about 16,000 Federals. They marched west and then turned north at the railroad. The next day, they pushed Hoke’s Confederates from the outer works at Drewry’s Bluff back into the main defense line. However, Butler ordered his men to stop and dig trenches. Not only was the Federals’ advance delayed, but they could expect no support from Federal warships on the James because the water was too shallow.

Sensing Butler’s incompetence, Beauregard prepared to counterattack. He devised a characteristically grandiose strategy that called for:

  • General Robert E. Lee pulling back toward Richmond and transferring 10,000 men from the Army of Northern Virginia to reinforce Beauregard
  • Beauregard using the reinforcements to destroy Butler
  • Beauregard moving north to join forces with Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac

President Jefferson Davis visited Beauregard at Drewry’s Bluff on the 14th and explained that Lee had no reinforcements to spare. Moreover, Davis did not want Lee to fall back any closer to Richmond, and Beauregard did not need any more men to destroy the Federals under Butler’s timid leadership. Instead, Davis issued orders transferring all available troops from South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to reinforce the Confederates at Drewry’s Bluff.

Beauregard organized his 10 brigades into three divisions under Major Generals Robert F. Hoke and Robert Ransom, Jr., and Brigadier General Alexander Colquitt. Leaving just a small force to guard Petersburg, Beauregard planned to attack Butler’s right on the 18th and push him back to Bermuda Hundred. When his superiors urged him to attack sooner, Beauregard moved the assault up two days.

By the 14th, Butler had assembled his army in front of Drewry’s Bluff, with Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith’s XVIII Corps on the right and Major General Quincy A. Gillmore’s X Corps on the left. To prevent a preemptive Confederate attack, the Federals strung telegraph wire between tree stumps to impede an enemy advance. This was the first use of wire entanglements in Virginia (it had been done at Knoxville last year).

Butler planned to attack the next day, but “Baldy” Smith warned him against it, so he postponed the attack and strengthened his defenses. This gave Beauregard ample time to prepare for his own attack.

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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. 403, 406; 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 5387-97, 5455-503; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 434, 437-39; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 499-502; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 536-37; 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. 723; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 57-58, 227-28, 739

The James River Campaign Begins

May 4, 1864 – Another front opened in Virginia, as Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federal Army of the James boarded transports at Yorktown to move up the James River.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Butler had assembled a force of about 33,000 men in two corps on the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James rivers. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, assigned Butler to advance up the James and cut the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad, which would prevent men and supplies from reaching General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia from south of Richmond.

The Federal transports were to drop Butler’s army off at Bermuda Hundred, a peninsula formed by the James and Appomattox rivers, 18 miles southeast of Richmond. From there, the Federals were to advance 10 miles west to the railroad. On the night of the 4th, the transports steamed around the tip of the Virginia Peninsula and entered the James.

The Richmond authorities quickly learned that a fleet of about 200 enemy ships was moving up the James, which included ironclad escorts and transports conveying at least 30,000 troops. The warships cleared the torpedoes and other obstructions in the river for the transports to get through safely. This advance coincided with Grant’s in northern Virginia, thus placing the Confederate capital under serious threat from both the north and south.

One of Butler’s divisions disembarked at City Point, about nine miles northeast of Petersburg, while the rest of the fleet continued upriver. After passing the mouth of the Appomattox River, Butler’s other five divisions unloaded at the Bermuda Hundred plantation landing. Federal cavalry rode out to threaten the Weldon Railroad outside Petersburg.

Panicked Confederate officials called on General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Department of Southern Virginia and North Carolina, to send troops to stop the Federals before they advanced any further. Beauregard, 65 miles south of Petersburg at Weldon, North Carolina, answered that he was “indisposed” (i.e., too sick to leave) and deferred to his second-in-command, Major General George Pickett.

Pickett hurried troops to guard the railroads at Petersburg. Fewer than 5,000 men (3,000 at Richmond and 2,000 at Petersburg) faced Butler’s 33,000 Federals, and many of these were government clerks being hastily armed. This was the easiest opportunity the Federals ever had to seize Richmond, Petersburg, or both.

By the 6th, the Federals had advanced to within 15 miles of Richmond to the northwest and seven miles of Petersburg to the southwest. But instead of cutting the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad as ordered, Butler directed his men to build entrenchments across the peninsula neck at Bermuda Hundred. He then sent a brigade to probe ahead, but the troops ran up against just 600 hastily assembled Confederate defenders and fell back.

The Confederates had been reinforced to about 2,700 men by next morning. Led by Major General Bushrod R. Johnson, these troops guarded the railroad near Port Walthall Junction. Butler deployed a force of about 8,000 Federals, and after a two-hour fight, the Federals pushed Johnson’s flank back while destroying a quarter-mile section of the track and telegraph line.

The Federals sustained just 289 casualties, but Butler recalled the troops at nightfall as he planned to advance with an even bigger force the next day. The Federals began deriding Butler’s “stationary advance.” Pickett directed Johnson to withdraw south behind Swift Run Creek; this better protected Petersburg, but it left a larger portion of the railroad vulnerable to destruction.

As Butler spent the 8th slowly preparing his advance, Beauregard reported that he would be well enough to take the field again soon (“The water has improved my health.”). In the meantime, Confederate reinforcements continued arriving at Petersburg and Richmond to strengthen the defenses.

The next day, Butler sent 14,000 men from Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith’s XVIII Corps toward Petersburg to destroy the railroad, but they soon ran into the Confederate defenses on the southern bank of Swift Run Creek. Johnson deployed a Confederate brigade to conduct a reconnaissance in force, but it was quickly driven back at Arrowhead Church. The Federals then approached Johnson’s main line, but their half-hearted assault was repulsed.

Major General Robert Ransom, Jr. ordered his Confederates to reconnoiter the Federal positions on the 10th, and they inadvertently came across a Federal regiment behind the lines destroying the railroad at Chester Station. Ransom’s men pushed the regiment back, but Federal reinforcements arrived to stem the tide. Both sides fell back to end the minor engagement.

By the time Butler learned of this action, he received word from Washington that the Army of the Potomac had scored major victories in northern Virginia. He therefore pulled back from Swift Run Creek and returned to his west-facing Bermuda Hundred entrenchments. From there, he decided to forego Grant’s order to destroy the railroad in favor of a direct attack on Richmond, which he believed to be vulnerable. Butler also noted that Grant planned for the Armies of the Potomac and the James to link outside Richmond, and he wanted to be ready.

“Baldy” Smith and Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding X Corps, both informed Butler that Petersburg could be captured if they bridged the Appomattox and assaulted the city from the east. Butler rejected their suggestion, opting instead to turn north toward Richmond. Butler optimistically notified Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “We can hold out against the whole of Lee’s army. General Grant will not be troubled with any further reinforcements to Lee from Beauregard’s force.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-19, 28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 399-401, 403; 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 5300-20, 5329-39, 5348-58, 5378-427, 5455-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 428-31, 433; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 492-95; 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. 723; 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. 198; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 57-58, 227-28, 739

The Grand Federal Offensive Begins

April 29, 1864 – One part of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s overall offensive began as Federals advanced in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

From his headquarters at Culpeper Court House, Grant shared his overall plan with Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Grant would remain headquartered with Meade’s army, and, “So far as practicable, all the armies are to move together, and towards one common centre.”

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Gulf, was “instructed to turn over the guarding of the Red River to General (Frederick) Steele and the navy, to abandon Texas with the exception of the Rio Grande, and to concentrate all the force he can, not less than 25,000 men, to move on Mobile.”

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding three Federal armies, faced General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee in northern Georgia. Grant told Meade that Sherman “will move at the same time you do, or two or three days in advance, Jo. Johnston’s army being his objective point, and the heart of Georgia his ultimate aim.” If Banks and Sherman succeeded, they would join forces and operate in the Deep South.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, leading the 33,000-man Federal Army of the James from Fort Monroe, will “seize City Point, and operate against Richmond from the south side of the (James) river. His movement will be simultaneous with yours (i.e., Meade’s).”

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside who had been reunited with his beloved IX Corps at Annapolis, “will reinforce you. I will give him the defense of the road (Orange & Alexandria Railroad) from Bull Run as far south as we wish to hold it. This will enable you to collect all your strength about Brandy Station.” As for Meade:

“Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also. The only point upon which I am now in doubt is, whether it will be better to cross the Rapidan above or below him. Each plan presents great advantages over the other with corresponding objections. By crossing above, Lee is cut off from all chance of ignoring Richmond and going north on a raid. But if we take this route, all we do must be done whilst the rations we start with hold out. We separate from Butler so that he cannot be directed how to co-operate. By the other route Brandy Station can be used as a base of supplies until another is secured on the York or James rivers.”

Maj-Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The last major part of Grant’s overall plan involved Major General Franz Sigel’s Army of West Virginia. This consisted of Sigel’s main force in the Shenandoah Valley and Brigadier General George Crook’s Federals operating in West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley. According to Grant:

“Sigel collects all his available force in two columns, one, under (E.O.C.) Ord and (William W.) Averell, to start from Beverly, Virginia, and the other, under Crook, to start from Charleston on the Kanawha, to move against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Crook… will endeavor to get in about Saltville, and move east from there to join Ord. His force will be all cavalry, while Ord will have from 10 to 12,000 men of all arms.”

Grant initially planned for Sigel to stay in the northern part of the Shenandoah, guarding the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad against Confederate raiders. However, Sigel proposed moving up the Valley from Martinsburg to join forces with Crook at Staunton, after Crook wrecked the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. At Staunton, Sigel and Crook would wreck the Virginia Central Railroad. Grant responded on the 19th: “I approve your plan of operations. Make your preparations for executing it with all dispatch.”

Crook’s force of 6,155 men set out toward Dublin Station on the 29th, but the advance was slowed by pouring rain and the harsh terrain of West Virginia. Sigel led his portion of the army, consisting of 8,000 Federals, out of Winchester the next day. Meanwhile, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry would target the salt mines at Saltville and the lead mines at Wytheville.

This operation began ahead of Grant’s other offensives, and it would face intense Confederate opposition come May.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 166-67; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 730-31; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 391; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407-08; 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 5138-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 414-16, 419, 425-26; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 481-83; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 504-06, 788; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 180; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177-78; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 737; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 146, 739

The Virginia Peninsula: The Army of the James

April 28, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Major General Benjamin F. Butler and his new Federal army to begin moving up the Virginia Peninsula from Fort Monroe by May 5.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Grant’s idea of having all major Federal armies launch simultaneous offensives included mobilizing the forces on the peninsula between the York and James rivers. These troops were organized into the Army of the James, a force of about 33,000 men led by Butler. The army consisted of two wings:

  • Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith led XVIII Corps, or Butler’s right wing. Smith had come east with Grant from Chattanooga, having impressed Grant with his engineering prowess in opening the “cracker line.”
  • Major General Quincy A. Gillmore led X Corps, or Butler’s left wing. Gillmore and his troops had been transferred from the Department of the South after several failed attempts to capture Fort Sumter and Charleston.

On a visit to Butler’s headquarters at Fort Monroe in early April, Grant directed him, “When you are notified to move, take City Point with as much force as possible. Fortify, or rather intrench, at once, and concentrate all your troops for the field there as rapidly as you can.” Grant stated “that Richmond is to be your objective point, and that there is to be cooperation between your force and the Army of the Potomac.”

Grant notified Butler on the 28th, “If no unforeseen accident prevents, I will move from here on Wednesday, the 4th of May. Start your forces on the night of the 4th, so as to be as far up the James River as you can get by daylight the morning of the 5th, and push from that time with all your might for the accomplishment of the object before you.” Hoping to eventually link the Armies of the Potomac and the James for a drive on Richmond or Petersburg, Grant wrote:

“Could I be certain that you will be able to invest Richmond on the south side, so as to have your left resting on the James above the city, I would form the junction there. Circumstances may make this course advisable anyhow. I would say, therefore, use every exertion to secure footing as far up the south side of the river as you can, as soon as possible.”

If Confederates blocked his way, Butler was to “attack vigorously” to either capture Richmond or “at least detain as large a force there as possible.” Grant hoped that Butler could keep the Confederates in the area occupied so they could not reinforce General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, currently camped on the south bank of the Rapidan River.

Butler consulted with Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Butler wanted Lee’s vessels to transport troops up the James and Appomattox rivers and provide gunboat support. However, Lee told Butler that the ironclads could not move as far up the James as Butler needed because of shallow water, and the Appomattox could only support wooden ships. Nevertheless, Lee pledged “intelligent and hearty co-operation” wherever possible.

S.P. Lee informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that Butler expected him to assemble a fleet in four days, which was virtually impossible. Lee also explained that the Confederates had mined both rivers with torpedoes that could easily destroy the Federal ships. Welles wrote in his diary that Butler’s “scheme is not practical, yet it has the sanction of General Grant. It must, however, be a blind, intended to deceive the enemy, and to do this effectually he must first deceive our own people.” Welles continued:

“A somewhat formidable force has been gathered in General Butler’s department, and there is no doubt but that General B. himself fully believes he is to make a demonstration up James River. It may be that this is General Grant’s intention also, but if it is, I shall be likely to have my faith in him impaired. Certainly there have been no sufficient preparations for such a demonstration and the call upon the Navy is unreasonable.”

Navy officials were not the only ones doubting Butler’s probability for success. “Baldy” Smith distrusted Butler as army commander and persuaded Grant to install a staff officer to watch over Butler’s preparations. But Smith wrote disappointedly that the appointed officer “is very fixed in letting Butler have his own way with all minutia.”

Smith also wrote Major General William B. Franklin, a corps commander in the Army of the Gulf, complaining that Butler would make the upcoming campaign “full of unnecessary risks and of the kind that may produce the most terrible disaster.” Despite the negativity among the Federal high command regarding this campaign, Butler notified Grant that it would begin on schedule and in accordance with Grant’s instructions.

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

Meanwhile, Confederate officials assigned General P.G.T. Beauregard to command the new Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. Beauregard had formerly commanded the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, which mainly consisted of defending Charleston Harbor. The department, formerly commanded by Major General George Pickett, had just 10,000 men to stop the Army of the James.

When Beauregard arrived in late April, he was told that the new Federal army on the Peninsula was led by Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, not Butler. Guessing that the Federals would target the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad south of the James River, Beauregard notified his superiors, “Every indication is that Burnside will attack Richmond via Petersburg. Are we prepared to resist him in that direction? Can the forces of this Department be concentrated in time? are questions worthy of immediate consideration by the War Department?”

If Beauregard could be reinforced, he asked, “could I not strike Burnside in rear from Petersburg, if he advanced on Richmond from Yorktown?” President Jefferson Davis urged Beauregard to place more emphasis on North Carolina: “The capture of Newbern, and the possession of the (Pamlico) Sound by our vessels, increased as they may be by the addition of others, will relieve the necessity for guarding the whole line of the railroad as proposed.”

Beauregard’s scouts reported that 60,000 Federals were on the Peninsula, and Pickett added that “50,000 are at Yorktown and Baltimore, 10,000 of whom are negroes. All or most of the troops reported at Portsmouth have gone to Yorktown. There are moving and landing troops at night… the enemy will either advance up the Peninsula or will move by transports down river to the James.”

On the 28th, Pickett passed along more accurate intelligence stating that the force numbered about 30,000 men and was led not by Burnside, but by “Baldy” Smith. Beauregard went to oversee operations in North Carolina, and Pickett was directed to reconnoiter around Suffolk and Portsmouth to gather more information about the impending Federal advance.

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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 2678-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 420; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 486-87; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 704, 788; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177

Grant Suspends Prisoner Exchange

April 1, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant issued “most emphatic” orders to take no action on agreeing to exchange prisoners of war without further notification. This initiated a grim new war policy.

On the last day of March, Robert Ould, Confederate commissioner of prisoner exchange, met with Major General Benjamin F. Butler, the Federal agent for prisoner exchange, at Fort Monroe, Virginia, to discuss ways to solve the problems with the exchange system.

A makeshift prisoner exchange cartel had been agreed upon in 1862, but it had virtually dissolved by the middle of 1863. The Federal victories at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and other locations resulted in the capture of tens of thousands of Confederates, and instead of shipping them to northern prison camps, they were paroled on the promise that they would not take up arms against the U.S. again until properly exchanged for Federal prisoners.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Grant was enraged when he discovered that many Confederates captured during the Battle of Chattanooga had violated their pledge and returned to the army without being exchanged. An effort was made to renew the cartel, but the Confederates initially refused to deal with Butler because the Confederate government had branded him a war criminal for his dictatorial rule over New Orleans in 1862.

The Confederates also refused to recognize black Federal soldiers as legitimate prisoners of war and would not exchange them. According to the Confederate War Bureau, “The enlistment of our slaves is a barbarity. No people… could tolerate… the use of savages (against them) … We cannot on any principle allow that our property can acquire adverse rights by virtue of a theft of it.”

In late 1863, the Confederates expressed willingness to negotiate the exchange of black prisoners who had been free before enlisting, but the Federal government refused to distinguish between free blacks and slaves in the military. Ould declared that the Confederates would “die in the last ditch” before “giving up the right to send slaves back to slavery as property recaptured.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton called this “a shameful dishonor… when (the Confederates) agree to exchange all alike there will be no difficulty.”

Four months later, Ould and Butler finally arranged to sit down together and try working out their differences. The men agreed that Butler would work with his superiors to address all the points of contention and then meet with Ould again.

However, when Butler conferred with Grant the next day, Butler said that “most emphatic verbal directions were received from the Lieutenant-General not to take any step by which another able-bodied man should be exchanged until further orders from him.”

On the 17th, Grant outlined a major policy change on the issue in a letter to Butler: “Until there is released to us an equal number of officers and men as were captured and paroled at Vicksburg and Port Hudson, not another Confederate prisoner of war will be paroled or exchanged.” Confederate officials had claimed that the troops had returned to the army prematurely due to a clerical error. Grant demanded proof, and he added another stipulation:

“No distinction whatever will be made in the exchange between white and colored prisoners, the only question being, were they, at the time of their capture, in the military service of the United States. If they were, the same terms as to treatment while prisoners and conditions of release and exchange must be exacted and had, in the case of colored soldiers as in the case of white soldiers.”

Grant further declared, “Non-acquiescence by the Confederate authorities in both or either of these propositions will be regarded as a refusal on their part to agree to the further exchange of prisoners, and will be so treated by us.” Grant elaborated on this policy in a second message to Butler the next day:

“It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. Every man we hold, when released on parole or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once either directly or indirectly. If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those caught they amount to no more than dead men. At this particular time to release all rebel prisoners North would insure (William T.) Sherman’s defeat and would compromise our safety here.”

This new policy deprived the Confederacy of desperately needed manpower by keeping captured soldiers in prison camps. It also provided an incentive for soldiers to avoid being captured. However, the policy condemned thousands of Federal soldiers to death because the Confederacy lacked the necessities to care for its own citizens, let alone prisoners of war. The Federal blockade and growing occupation of southern regions added to the Confederate shortages and indirectly harmed the prisoners even more.

General Robert E. Lee tried to personally appeal to Grant to reconsider, but Grant refused. Lee reported to President Jefferson Davis, “We have done everything in our power to mitigate the suffering of prisoners and there is no further responsibility on our part.”

This month, it was reported that Federals had captured 146,634 Confederate troops since the war began. In response to alleged mistreatment of Federal prisoners, the Federal government decreased the ration allotment to Confederate captives. On the 30th, Grant directed Butler “to receive all the sick and wounded the Confederate authorities may send you, but send no more in exchange.”

In the South, Andersonville prison camp in southwestern Georgia soon became notorious for its horrid living conditions. It held nearly 30,000 prisoners by this month, or nearly three times its capacity. Prison Commandant Henry Wirz received orders to set a “dead line” within 15 feet of the prison walls. Any prisoner crossing this line would be shot by guards.

Photographs of emaciated Federal troops recently released from Confederate prisons appeared in northern illustrated newspapers and sparked outrage. An article in the New York Times declared that this treatment should be expected from slaveholders “born to tyranny and reared to cruelty.” Both the Committee on the Conduct of the War and the U.S. Sanitary Commission published reports on the condition of Confederate prison camps based on accounts from released or escaped prisoners.

Stanton declared, “The enormity of the crime committed by the rebels cannot but fill with horror the civilized world… There appears to have been a deliberate system of savage and barbarous treatment.” However, Confederate prisoners languished in similar living conditions, even though the Federal government had the resources to provide better care.

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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 21524, 21597; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 393; 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 2766-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 420, 422; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 38; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 486; 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. 792, 797; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 604; 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), Q264

The New Department of the Gulf

November 8, 1862 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks received orders assigning him “to the command of the Department of the Gulf, including the State of Texas.” Banks would eventually replace the controversial Major General Benjamin F. Butler.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Butler had tyrannically ruled the department from his headquarters in New Orleans for six months. He had issued orders seizing private property, levying confiscatory taxes, censoring the press, and restricting freedom of movement, speech, and association. He also executed William B. Mumford for aiding the Confederate cause, leading President Jefferson Davis to brand him a war criminal.

Butler often targeted wealthy citizens while he and his cronies got rich on kickbacks from confiscated goods. When Butler imposed a temporary ban on liquor, his agents bought up as much as they could and sold it on the black market for a hefty profit. Butler used Federal warships to transports his goods, which hampered naval efficiency. U.S. Treasury agent George Denison knew about the malfeasance but refused to report Butler because, being an abolitionist, he supported Butler’s efforts to free slaves.

Butler also seized the assets of banks and foreign consulates as “contraband of war.” All immigrants were required to swear loyalty to the U.S. or face deportation. Business owners who did not pledge loyalty had their businesses closed. Churches not including prayers for the Federal cause were closed. Some, such as New Orleans Mayor John Monroe, refused to take a loyalty oath and were sent to prison. Others faced prison for deriding Federal soldiers or voicing support for the Confederacy.

The unprecedented taxes that Butler levied, especially on the wealthy class, led to massive corruption and bureaucracy within Butler’s department. But they also served a positive end by leading to improved sanitation in New Orleans. Consequently, the city was cleaner and healthier than ever before.

Like George B. McClellan and Don Carlos Buell, Butler was a Democrat whose political influence was needed for fellow Democrats to support the war. However, Butler was also popular among the Radical Republicans for his recruitment of blacks into the military and his recent order freeing all “slaves not known to be the slaves of loyal owners.”

Despite Butler’s popularity, President Abraham Lincoln decided to end his controversial reign. But Butler would not receive the news until next month. In taking over the department, Banks’s duties would be greatly expanded beyond Butler’s. Lincoln directed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to write Banks:

“The President regards the opening of the Mississippi River as the first and most important of all our military and naval operations, and it is hoped that you will not lose a moment in accomplishing it… if Vicksburg can be taken and the Mississippi (River) kept open it seems to me (they) will be about the most important fruits of the campaigns yet set in motion.”

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Banks would lead his army to Jackson, Mississippi, “and thus cut off all connection by rail between Northern Mississippi… and Atlanta… the chief military depot of the rebel armies in the West.” Banks would then return to Louisiana and “ascend with a naval and military force the Red River as far as it is navigable, and thus open an outlet for the sugar and cotton of Northern Louisiana. It is also suggested that, having Red River in our possession, it would form the best base for operations in Texas. These instructions are not intended to tie your hands or to hamper your operations in the slightest degree… and I need not assure you, general, that the Government has unlimited confidence not only in your judgment and discretion, but also in your energy and military promptness.”

Banks, the former U.S. Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, had an undistinguished military record. He was best known for his defeats in the Shenandoah Valley at the hands of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. In fact, he had lost so many supplies to the enemy that Confederates nicknamed him “Commissary” Banks.

As he prepared to move, Banks submitted an immense requisition for equipment and horses. The chief quartermaster told Lincoln that the order could not “be filled and got off within an hour short of two months.” Lincoln wrote Banks:

“I have just been overwhelmed and confounded… When you parted with me you had no such ideas in your mind… You must get back to something like the plan you had then or your expedition is a failure before you start. You must be off before Congress meets (in the first week of December)… Now, dear general, do not think this is an ill-natured letter; it is the very reverse. The simple publication of this requisition would ruin you.”

Banks responded by explaining that the large request “was drawn up by an officer who did not fully comprehend my instructions, and inadvertently approved by me without sufficient examination.” Nevertheless, Banks remained in New York preparing for his expedition past his Gulf Coast departure deadline.

Meanwhile, the Federal military occupation of New Orleans continued. A proclamation was issued that Federal congressional elections would be held in parts of the occupied regions of Louisiana. Rear Admiral David G. Farragut arrived in New Orleans, where he discovered a French admiral with two ships and a British Navy corvette defying the Federal blockade nearby. He wrote:

“I am still doing nothing, but waiting for the tide of events and doing all I can to hold what I have, & blockade Mobile. So soon as the river rises, we will have (Rear Admiral David) Porter down from above, who now commands the upper squadron, and then I shall probably go outside… We shall spoil unless we have a fight occasionally.”

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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. 233-34, 236; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 758-59, 761-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 229; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 286-87; 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. 157