Tag Archives: Jefferson Davis

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

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Hood Replaces Johnston

July 17, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis gambled by replacing General Joseph E. Johnston as commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee with the untried Lieutenant General John Bell Hood.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since the Georgia campaign began in early May, Johnston had relinquished Dalton, Resaca, Adairsville, Allatoona, Kingston, Rome, Kennesaw Mountain, and the Chattahoochee River. His Confederates were now within three miles of Atlanta, and he offered no specific plan on how (or if) he intended to put up a fight before Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals descended upon this vital industrial and transportation center.

Davis had sent his top military advisor, General Braxton Bragg, to inspect Johnston’s army and provide a recommendation regarding the command. Bragg reported that Johnston did not seem willing to defend Atlanta and recommended his youngest corps commander, Hood, to replace him.

His patience nearly exhausted, Davis telegraphed Johnston on the 16th: “… I wish to hear from you as to present situation, and your plan of operations so specifically as will enable me to anticipate events.” Johnston vaguely responded:

“As the enemy has double our numbers we must be on the defensive. My plan of operations must, therefore, depend upon that of the enemy. It is mainly to watch for an opportunity to fight to advantage. We are trying to put Atlanta in condition to be held for a day or two by the Georgia militia, that army movements may be freer and wider.”

Johnston’s message directly conflicted with Bragg’s report, which (erroneously) concluded that the opposing armies were roughly the same size. Davis and Johnston had resented each other for three years, ever since Johnston accused Davis of passing him over in the order of ranking among the top Confederate generals. Also, Johnston’s close relationship with Davis’s political opponents did not go unnoticed.

Davis had been deeply disturbed when Johnston gave up Vicksburg without a fight, and now he saw the same pattern emerging with Atlanta. To Johnston, maintaining the strength and morale of the army was worth more than risking a destructive battle over a city or landmark. This fundamental disagreement between Davis and Johnston had finally come to a head.

A courier delivered a message to Johnston on the night of the 17th, as he discussed fortifying Atlanta with his chief engineer. The message came from Davis via Adjutant General Samuel Cooper:

“Lieutenant General J.B. Hood has been commissioned to the temporary rank of General under the late law of Congress. I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that as you have failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.”

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

Hood received a message notifying him that he now commanded the Army of Tennessee at 11 p.m. He also received a message from Secretary of War James A. Seddon:

“You are charged with a great trust. You will, I know, test to the utmost your capacities to discharge it. Be wary no less than bold. It may yet be practicable to cut the communication of the enemy or find or make an opportunity of equal encounter whether he moves east or west. God be with you.”

When he received these messages, Hood shared them with Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart, one of the army’s corps commanders. The two generals traveled to Johnston’s headquarters in the early morning, where Hood pleaded with Johnston, “Pocket that dispatch, leave me in command of my corps and fight the battle for Atlanta.” Johnston refused to stay on.

Hood and Stewart then joined with the other corps commander, Lieutenant General William Hardee, to send a joint wire to Davis asking him to suspend his order “until the fate of Atlanta is decided.” Davis replied, “The order has been executed, and I cannot suspend it without making the case worse than it was before the order was issued.”

Johnston had been deeply beloved by the army, and when news spread of his removal, many officers and men gathered at his headquarters to bid “Old Joe” farewell. Johnston removed his hat, and his troops did the same as they passed. Some men wept; others broke ranks to shake his hand. Johnston went to Macon, leaving behind a farewell address:

“I cannot leave this noble army without expressing my admiration of the high military qualities it has displayed… The enemy has never attacked but to be repulsed and severely punished… No longer your leader, I will still watch your career, and will rejoice in your victories. To one and all I offer assurances of my friendship, and bid an affectionate farewell.”

Johnston had a less sentimental response to Davis’s order removing him from command:

“Your dispatch of yesterday received and obeyed. Sherman’s army is much stronger compared with that of Tennessee than Grant’s compared with that of Northern Virginia. Yet the enemy has been compelled to advance much more slowly to the vicinity of Atlanta than to that of Richmond and Petersburg, and has penetrated deeper into Virginia than into Georgia. Confident language by a military commander is not usually regarded as evidence of competency.”

The Army of Tennessee now belonged to John Bell Hood, a talented officer who had lost the use of an arm at Gettysburg and a leg at Chickamauga. According to the Richmond Whig, Hood was “young, dashing, and lucky, the army and the people all have confidence in his ability and inclination to fight, and will look to him to drive back Sherman and save Atlanta.”

Hood was known as an aggressive fighter, as the Richmond Examiner opined that Hood’s “appointment has but one meaning, and that is to give battle to the foe.” However, this could play right into the Federals’ hands since Sherman had hoped to draw the Confederates out into an open fight ever since the campaign began. Many fellow officers believed Hood was not yet ready to command an entire army. Nevertheless, he now had 48,750 effectives to keep the Federals out of Atlanta.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 176-77; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 80-81, 90; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20826-35, 20854, 20920-29; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 437; 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 8787-840, 8852-72, 9855-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 470-71; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 368-69, 400-01; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 540-41; 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. 752-53; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 324-25

Jefferson Davis Discusses Peace

July 16, 1864 – Two Federal operatives were permitted to go to Richmond to negotiate a possible peace with President Jefferson Davis.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

While Federal and Confederate agents discussed peace at Niagara Falls, a more clandestine meeting took place in Richmond for the same purpose. Colonel James F. Jaquess of the 78th Illinois Infantry and New York merchant James R. Gilmore were allowed through the Federal lines by President Abraham Lincoln to discuss the possibility of ending the war with Confederate officials in Richmond.

The Federals had no official authority, “but were fully possessed of the views of the United States government, relative to an adjustment of the differences existing between the North and the South.” They sought to learn specifically what terms the Confederates wanted for peace.

Judge Robert Ould, the Confederate commissioner for prisoner exchange, met the two men and escorted them to the Confederate capital, where they stayed at the Spotswood Hotel on the night of the 16th. The next day, they met with Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin. President Davis joined them at the State Department that night, where they discussed the terms.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Davis said that the war could end “In a very simple way. Withdraw your armies from our territory, and peace will come of itself.” When the Federals suggested that the Confederates could return to the Union under Lincoln’s amnesty program, Davis said:

“Amnesty, sir, applies to criminals. We have committed no crime… At your door lies all the misery and crime of this war… We are fighting for INDEPENDENCE and that, or extermination, we will have… You may ‘emancipate’ every negro in the Confederacy, but we will be free. We will govern ourselves…if we have to see every Southern plantation sacked, and every Southern city in flames.”

Gilmore proposed a ceasefire while a popular referendum was held on the matter. Davis said that this would result in southern defeat because northerners outnumbered southerners. He said, “That the majority shall decide it, you mean. We seceded to rid ourselves of the rule of the majority, and this would subject us to it again.” Gilmore declared that the issue involved simply “Union or Disunion,” and Davis countered that it involved “Independence or Subjugation.” Davis explained:

“I tried in all my power to avert this war. I saw it coming, and for 12 years I worked night and day to prevent it, but I could not. And now it must go on till the last man of this generation falls in his tracks, and his children seize his musket and fight his battle, unless you acknowledge our right to self-government… We are fighting for independence–and that, or extermination, we will have.”

When Jaquess and Gilmore mentioned slavery, Davis argued that it was not an “essential element… only a means of bringing other conflicting elements to an earlier culmination.” Davis also maintained that he had no authority over slavery because it was a state, not a national, issue. He concluded, “Say to Mr. Lincoln, from me, that I shall at any time be pleased to receive proposals for peace on the basis of our independence. It will be useless to approach me with any other.” With this, the meeting ended and the Federals were sent back north.

Lincoln allowed an edited version of this meeting to be published in the Boston Evening Transcript. This convinced many northerners, including the Copperheads working with Confederate agents to negotiate a peace, that the Confederate government would not accept any peace terms except those that granted their independence. Lincoln summed up his interpretation of this by stating that Davis–

“… does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He cannot voluntarily reaccept the Union; we cannot voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war, and decided by victory.”

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21709-27; 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 9749-801; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 541-42; 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. 766-68

Georgia: Davis Contemplates a Command Change

July 12, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis grew exceedingly impatient with General Joseph E. Johnston’s constant retreats and began considering replacing him as commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Johnston withdrew his Confederates southeastward, across the Chattahoochee River, to a line in front of Peachtree Creek. They were now just three miles from Atlanta, a city second in its value to the Confederacy only to Richmond. As they constructed defenses, Johnston telegraphed the War Department, “I strongly recommend the distribution of the U.S. prisoners, now at Andersonville, immediately.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

This message alarmed Davis because Andersonville prison camp was near Americus, over 100 miles south of Atlanta. Davis interpreted this to mean that Johnston would abandon Atlanta without a fight, something the president found unacceptable. Davis began strongly considering removing Johnston as commander, but the list of generals who could replace him was short.

One possible candidate was Lieutenant General John Bell Hood, who currently commanded a corps in Johnston’s army. Davis sought advice from General Robert E. Lee at Petersburg: “Genl. Johnston has failed and there are strong indications that he will abandon Atlanta… It seems necessary to relieve him at once. Who should succeed him? What think you of Hood for the position?”

Lee responded in cipher: “I regret the fact stated. It is a bad time to relieve the commander of an army situated as that of Tenne. We may lose Atlanta and the army too. Hood is a bold fighter. I am doubtful as to other qualities necessary.”

In a follow-up message, Lee wrote, “It is a grievous thing. Still if necessary it ought to be done. I know nothing of the necessity. I had hoped that Johnston was strong enough to deliver battle…” Expanding on his assessment of Hood, Lee stated, “Hood is a good fighter, very industrious on the battlefield, careless off, and I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested upon him. I have a very high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness and zeal.”

Unable to fully endorse Hood as a replacement for Johnston, Lee suggested considering another corps commander in Johnston’s army: “General (William) Hardee has more experience in managing an army. May God give you wisdom to decide in this momentous matter.” Davis replied, “It is a sad alternative, but the case seems hopeless in present hands. The means are surely adequate if properly employed, especially the cavalry is ample.”

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

While Davis and Lee exchanged messages, Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg was on his way from Richmond to personally inspect Johnston’s army on Davis’s behalf. Choosing Bragg for this mission was unfortunate because he was almost universally disliked by nearly every officer and man in the Army of Tennessee, including Johnston. This would make it difficult for Bragg to gather information and render an objective opinion.

Bragg arrived on the 13th and sent a troubling initial assessment to the president: “Our army all south of the Chattahoochee, and indications seem to favor an entire evacuation of this place.” After a few more hours of investigating, Bragg wrote, “Our army is sadly depleted, and now reports 10,000 less than the return of 10th June. I find but little encouraging.”

Bragg met with Hood, who offered his opinion of what had happened so far, his ideas on how best to take the offensive, and his assessment of Johnston’s leadership. Bragg also met with Johnston, assuring the commander that the meetings were unofficial. The men worked together in “ascertaining the position of his army, its condition and strength, and in obtaining from him such information as he could give in regard to the enemy.” Bragg reported:

“I have made General Johnston two visits, and been received courteously and kindly. He has not sought my advice, and it was not volunteered. I cannot learn that he has any more plan for the future than he has had in the past. It is expected that he will await the enemy on a line some three miles from here, and the impression prevails that he is now more inclined to fight. The enemy is very cautious, and intrenches immediately on taking a new position. His force, like our own, is greatly reduced by the hard campaign. His infantry now very little over 60,000. The morale of our army is still reported good.”

In another message, Bragg wrote that it seemed Johnston would continue doing what he had done the past two months, which was to “await the enemy’s approach and be governed, as heretofore, by the development in our front.” Bragg reported that in Atlanta, “All valuable stores and machinery have been removed, and most of the citizens able to go have left with their effects… Position, numbers, and morale are now with the enemy.”

Speculating on the corps commanders as possible replacements for Johnston, Bragg could not recommend Hardee, possibly due to personal differences. Bragg wrote that Hardee “generally favored the retiring policy” of Johnston. Hardee would simply “perpetuate the past and present policy which he (Johnston) has advised and now sustains.” Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart had recently replaced the beloved Leonidas Polk and was considered too inexperienced for army command. Only Hood remained.

Bragg argued that the only way to keep the Federals out of Atlanta was to take the offensive. He and Hood “agree in this opinion and look for success. We should drive the enemy from this side of the river, follow him down by an attack in flank, and force him to battle, at the same time throwing our cavalry on his communications.”

Bragg asserted that Hood had “been in favor of giving battle” since the campaign began without mentioning that Hood had urged Johnston not to attack on at least one occasion. In a letter, Hood complained that the army had “failed to give battle many miles north of our present position.” Bragg wrote:

“I do not believe the second in rank (Hardee) has the confidence of the army. If any change is made, Lieutenant-General Hood would give unlimited satisfaction, and my estimate of him, always high, has been raised by his conduct in this campaign. Do not understand me as proposing him as a man of genius, or a great general, but as far better in the present emergency than any one we have available.”

Hood persuaded Bragg to back him, even though Davis had already placed him at the top of the short list of replacements for Johnston. Bragg’s endorsement only reinforced what Davis may have already decided.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76-78, 80; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 436; 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 8743-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 469; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7787-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 537-38; 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. 752; 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), Q364

Georgia: Sherman Crosses the Chattahoochee

July 8, 1864 – Leading elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal forces began crossing the Chattahoochee River and getting ever closer to the vital railroad and industrial city of Atlanta.

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

General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee held strong defenses along the Chattahoochee, just eight miles northwest of Atlanta. President Jefferson Davis wrote Johnston that the army’s pattern of retreating made him “more apprehensive for the future.” Davis urged Johnston to hold firm on the north bank of the Chattahoochee, but he had no reinforcements to send.

Sherman, whose three Federal armies had forced Johnston to fall back southward from Marietta and Smyrna, observed the enemy positions from Vining’s Station and called them “the best line of field intrenchments I have ever seen.”

Sherman would not directly assault the Confederate defenses, having tried that and failed at Kennesaw Mountain. But neither would Sherman move against Johnston’s left flank as he had always done in the past either. Instead, Sherman would feint to the left and cross the Chattahoochee to Johnston’s right. According to Sherman’s plan:

  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland would demonstrate in the Confederates’ front, keeping them in their defenses.
  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, supported by Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry from the Army of the Ohio, would threaten Turner’s Ferry, downriver (southwest) from Johnston’s left.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio would cross the Chattahoochee at the mouth of Soap Creek, upriver (northeast) from Johnston’s right.
  • Federal cavalry would cross even farther upriver, near Roswell.

After two days of positioning and skirmishing, Sherman’s plan was ready for execution. McPherson and Stoneman began demonstrating against Turner’s Ferry on the afternoon of the 8th. Meanwhile, Schofield crossed the Chattahoochee at Pace’s Ferry, and Federal horsemen destroyed the textile factories at Roswell before crossing as well. The Federals secured high ground on Johnston’s right and began building a pontoon bridge that night.

The next morning, a group of Confederate congressmen visited Johnston and informed him that Davis expected the army to stop retreating and start fighting very soon. In fact, Davis had ordered Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg to come to Georgia and learn Johnston’s intentions. Specifically, Davis wanted to know if Johnston planned to give battle before Sherman reached Atlanta.

Johnston said to the congressmen, “You may tell Mr. Davis that it would be folly for me under the circumstances to risk a decisive engagement. My plan is to draw Sherman further and further from his base in the hope of weakening him and by cutting his army in two. That is my only hope of defeating him.”

The meeting was interrupted by news that Schofield’s army had crossed the Chattahoochee. Johnston announced that this was good news because it meant that Sherman had finally divided his army, making him vulnerable to attack. But Johnston did not attack; he instead issued orders for the army to fall back across the river to meet the new threat to its right. Thus, Johnston abandoned the last major waterway in front of Atlanta.

Sherman reported that his Federals were the “undisputed masters of north and west of the Chattahoochee.” His armies had made remarkable gains into Georgia since beginning their campaign two months before. Sherman wired Washington, “We now commence the real game for Atlanta,” which was “too important a place in the hands of the enemy to be left undisturbed, with its magazines, stores, arsenals, workshops, foundries, &c., and more especially its railroads, which converged there from the four great cardinal points.”

By Sunday the 10th, the Confederates were behind defenses at Peachtree Creek, a westward-flowing tributary of the Chattahoochee just four miles from Atlanta. Panic swept through the city as residents hurrying to evacuate caused major traffic jams on southbound trains. Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown called for every able-bodied man in the state to take up arms. The city soon had 5,000 men between ages 16 and 55 defending Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Georgia Senator Benjamin Hill arrived at Richmond following his conference with Johnston on the 1st. Meeting with Davis in the residential office of the Executive Mansion, Hill imparted Johnston’s suggestion that Nathan Bedford Forrest or John Hunt Morgan wreak havoc on Sherman’s supply lines in Tennessee. Davis said that neither officer was available; Forrest was opposing Federals in northern Mississippi and Morgan was just coming off a failed raid.

Davis then showed Hill a dispatch from Johnston announcing that he had just withdrawn across the Chattahoochee. Hill, who had hoped to get Davis to support Johnston, now joined Davis in turning against him. Discussing a command change, Davis said he knew “how serious it was to change commanders in the presence of the enemy,” and he “would not do it if I could have any assurance that General Johnston would not surrender Atlanta without a battle.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76-80; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20826; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433-34; 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 8467-87, 8520-40, 8670-721, 8743-63; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 533-36; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 132-33, 305; 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. 751-52

Hunter Terrorizes the Shenandoah Valley

June 8, 1864 – Brigadier General George Crook’s Federals from West Virginia joined forces with Major General David Hunter’s Army of the Shenandoah and prepared to drive southward “up” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley from Staunton.

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The day after his victory at Piedmont, Hunter became the first Federal commander to lead a force into the key town of Staunton. From there, Hunter was to join forces with Crook and move south to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad at Lynchburg. Federal troops destroyed all warehouses, barns, mills, workshops, and railroad factories in their path. They then looted and pillaged Staunton and vicinity, causing seething resentment among Valley residents.

Upon learning of Piedmont, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, detached Major General John C. Breckinridge to return west and take the Valley back. However, Breckinridge had just 2,100 men in two brigades to reinforce the 4,000 Piedmont survivors in protecting the vital railroad junction at Lynchburg.

Meanwhile, Crook’s Federal Army of the Kanawha joined with Hunter, giving the combined force 18,000 men and 30 guns. Both Crook and his cavalry commander, Brigadier General William W. Averell, urged Hunter to continue south to Lynchburg as ordered, but Hunter opted to instead advance on Lexington to the southwest and then march through the Blue Ridge at the Peaks of Otter to get to Lynchburg.

Hunter’s new “Army of West Virginia” headed out of Staunton on the 10th. In response to harassment from Confederate partisans, Hunter directed his troops to live off the land, which included looting civilian homes and farms. Breckinridge reported that Hunter was moving up the Valley to either Lexington or Lynchburg, but his force was too small to stop the Federals.

President Jefferson Davis asked Lee to clear the Federals out of the Valley, but Lee said he could only do so by detaching an entire corps in the face of the opposing Army of the Potomac. Lee concluded, “If it is deemed prudent to hazard the defense of Richmond… I will do so.”

Crook’s Federals reached Lexington around 12 p.m. the next day and entered the town after driving off a small Confederate cavalry force. Hunter stopped to visit the grave of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson before ordering his men to burn the Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson had taught before the war. Hunter accused the school administrators of teaching a “treasonous” curriculum and sending cadets out to fight Federal troops at New Market. Hunter did not know that Lee had buried George Washington’s silver beneath VMI for protection.

Hunter set up headquarters in the VMI superintendent’s home, the only building on campus not burned. He also directed his troops to burn Washington College and turn the main building into a horse stable. Outraged, Virginia Governor John Letcher publicly called on the citizens to oppose “the vandal hordes of Yankee invaders.” When Hunter learned of this, he ordered Letcher’s Lexington home burned for issuing “a violent and inflammatory proclamation… inciting the population of the country to rise and wage guerrilla warfare on my troops.”

The looting and destruction continued for three days, during which a Federal soldier wrote, “Many of the women look sad and do much weeping over the destruction that is going on. We feel that the South brought on the war and the State of Virginia is paying dear for her part.” But during this time, Hunter suffered two setbacks:

  • Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry, assigned to join him in the drive on Lynchburg, was stopped by Confederate horsemen under Major General Wade Hampton.
  • Confederate partisans led by Colonel John S. Mosby continuously raided Hunter’s supply lines, forcing him to wait at Lexington until all his cavalry could come up.

These setbacks gave Breckinridge more time to prepare defenses at Lynchburg.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

On the night of the 12th, Lee decided on a daring gamble. He would detach Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Second Corps from his army and send it west. These Confederates would absorb Breckinridge’s force, secure Lynchburg, and drive Hunter’s Federals out of the Valley. Early was to then move north “down” the Valley and cross the Potomac River into Maryland. From there, he would turn southeast and threaten Washington.

This would leave Lee’s Confederates dangerously outnumbered against the Army of the Potomac, but Lee hoped that Early’s offensive would compel Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to detach forces, or even withdraw the army altogether, to protect Washington. It may even provoke Grant into launching a hasty attack that could give Lee an opening to destroy his force.

Early received written orders to move out at 3 a.m. on the 13th. He was “to strike Hunter’s force in the rear, and, if possible, destroy it; then to move down the Valley, cross the Potomac near Leesburg in Loudon County, or at or above Harper’s Ferry… and threaten Washington City.”

Early was to leave with all three of his divisions (8,000 men) and an artillery battalion. Early renamed his corps the Army of the Valley and led it out of the Cold Harbor trenches on the morning of the 13th. The troops boarded trains and headed west to Lynchburg, just as Hunter’s Federals finally left Lexington.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 493-94; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 176; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20411; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 420-23, 425; 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 6359-69, 6398-408, 6522-41, 6561-91, 9314-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 451, 454-55; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7472-84; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 50-59; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 516, 519-20; 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. 738-39; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376-77, 454

The Battle of Trevilian Station

June 7, 1864 – Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry launched a raid intended to draw Confederate attention away from the Army of the Potomac’s impending crossing of the James River.

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

Major General George G. Meade’s Federal Army of the Potomac, with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant in overall command, continued facing off against General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in front of Cold Harbor, northeast of Richmond. Grant was planning to sidestep Lee to the south, across the James River, and he assigned Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps to create a diversion.

Sheridan’s troopers were to ride around Lee’s left (north) flank and link with Major General David Hunter’s Army of the Shenandoah at Charlottesville. This would draw Lee’s cavalry away from discovering the James crossing, while Hunter and Sheridan “break up the (Virginia Central) railroad connection between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley and Lynchburg.” The combined force was also to destroy the James River Canal.

Early on the 7th, Sheridan led 7,000 cavalrymen in two divisions north to New Castle Ferry on the Pamunkey River. The next day, Lee received word of Sheridan’s expedition and responded by dispatching two divisions of about 4,700 troopers and three batteries under Major Generals Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee (with Hampton in overall command) to oppose him. This left Lee with hardly any cavalry, but he believed that since Sheridan and Hunter were both on the move, Grant would stay put until their mission was completed.

Hampton correctly guessed that Sheridan’s target was Trevilian Station, east of Charlottesville. Hampton’s men took a more direct route along the Virginia Central and got there first. Sheridan’s Federals struggled in the excessive heat and had to shoot several horses that broke down. President Jefferson Davis noted, “If our cavalry, concentrated, could meet that of the enemy, it would have moral as well as physical effects, which are desirable.”

On the 10th, Hampton placed his division three miles ahead of the Trevilian Station depot and Fitz Lee’s division near Louisa Court House, about five miles away. That night, Sheridan’s troopers camped near Clayton’s Store on the south bank of the North Anna River. The Federals noted large groups of Confederate scouts nearby, which indicated that an enemy force blocked their way up ahead. Sheridan prepared for battle.

Hampton learned from a spy that Sheridan would come from Clayton’s on two roads–one leading south to Trevilian and one leading southeast to Louisa. He deployed two brigades along the Trevilian road, with one brigade stationed behind breastworks protecting his left (west). Hampton then called on Fitz Lee to come up from Louisa and form on his right.

Action on 11 June | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On the right, Brigadier General George A. Custer’s Federal brigade clashed with Lee’s Confederates on the Louisa road. Lee disengaged to join Hampton, but Custer took a more direct road and moved around Hampton’s right before Lee got there. Custer’s Federals then reached the station in Hampton’s rear, seizing all of Hampton’s unguarded supplies and 800 of his horses left when the troopers dismounted to fight.

Hampton responded by sending the brigade on his left to confront Custer. Lee soon came up on Hampton’s right and dispatched a force to deal with Custer as well. Finding himself nearly surrounded, Custer pulled back and, as he reported, “From the nature of the ground and the character of the attacks that were made upon me, our lines resembled very nearly a circle.”

Custer pulled his colors from their staff and stuffed them into his coat before the Confederates could capture them. The Confederates closed in, regaining all their wagons and horses, and even capturing Custer’s headquarters wagon. But then Sheridan launched a strong assault in Hampton’s front and on Lee’s right flank. This forced the Confederates to withdraw and saved Custer’s command. By that time, both sides were short on ammunition and exhausted from fighting in the oppressive heat.

Hampton’s men fell back west and entrenched themselves on the road to Gordonsville. Lee’s troopers withdrew east toward Louisa. This gave the Federals control of Trevilian Station. Sheridan planned to renew the assault the next day, but he received word that Hunter “was marching toward Lynchburg, away from instead of toward me, thus making the junction of our commands beyond all reasonable probability.” Sheridan therefore resolved to end the raid and return to the Army of the Potomac.

The next day, the Federals destroyed Trevilian Station and wrecked railroad track to the east and west. Sheridan dispatched part of his force to reconnoiter the Confederate positions to the west, and around 3 p.m. they found Hampton’s men in an L-shaped defense line about two miles northwest of Trevilian. Fitz Lee’s troopers had joined with Hampton earlier that day.

Action on 12 Jun | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Federals, led by Brigadier General Alfred T.A. Torbert, assaulted the smaller part of the “L,” which ran north-south parallel to the railroad. But despite seven charges, the Federals could not break the Confederate line. Lee’s troopers on the larger part of the “L” then swung southeast to attack the Federal right. The Federals held their ground until fighting stopped around 10 p.m. Torbert withdrew during the night.

Sheridan began his withdrawal back to Cold Harbor the next day. He kept his pace deliberately slow to prevent Hampton from returning to the Army of Northern Virginia for as long as possible. The Federals sustained 1,007 casualties (102 killed, 470 wounded, and 435 missing) in the fighting, while the Confederates reportedly lost 831, including about 500 taken prisoner. These were the most casualties of any cavalry battle in the war.

Sheridan claimed victory over Hampton, but his Federals did not link with Hunter as ordered. Also, the Confederates quickly repaired all the damage done to the Virginia Central Railroad, and the supply line reopened within two weeks. Nevertheless, this engagement erased any remaining doubt that Federal cavalrymen were at least the equal of their southern counterparts.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 21-25; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 423; 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 6369-79, 6407-17; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 451-54; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7414-25; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 51-52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 516-17, 519-21; 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. 739; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 551, 763