Tag Archives: Samuel P. Lee

Federals Stalled in Tennessee

December 21, 1864 – Major General George H. Thomas’s Federals struggled to pursue and destroy the rapidly disintegrating General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee as it retreated south toward Alabama.

The Confederates were in full retreat after their major defeat outside Nashville, fleeing south toward Columbia. Thomas, commanding the victorious Federal Army of the Cumberland, ordered a pursuit to destroy Hood’s army. The infantry had to wait for pontoon bridges to be built so they could move their supply trains over the Harpeth River, but Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry did not.

Gen J.H. Wilson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Wilson’s horsemen chased the Confederates down the Franklin Pike on the 17th and ran into a hastily assembled Confederate rear guard at Winstead Hill. The Confederates put up a stubborn fight against superior numbers, holding the Federals off long enough for the rest of Hood’s army to retreat through Franklin. One of Hood’s corps commanders, Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee, was wounded in the foot during the action, and was replaced by Major General Carter L. Stevenson.

The next day, Hood stopped his troops at Columbia and prepared to make a stand on the Duck River. If he could not hold Columbia, any Confederate hope to reclaim Tennessee would be lost. Meanwhile, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry rode west from Murfreesboro to rejoin Hood’s army. Forrest got into a heated argument with Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham, one of Hood’s corps commanders, over which command would cross the Duck River first. Reports vary as to who won, and by nightfall both Cheatham’s and Forrest’s men were across.

To the north, Wilson’s Federals discovered that the Confederates had destroyed the bridges over Rutherford Creek, and heavy rain made the waterway too swollen to cross. They spent the next few days building a makeshift pontoon bridge out of felled trees and railroad abutments so they could continue their pursuit. The rest of Thomas’s army remained bogged down by the rain, mud, snow, and ice, as well as a lack of a supply train.

The bulk of Hood’s army crossed the Duck River on the 19th. A rear guard skirmished with the Federals along Rutherford Creek as cold rain turned into sleet and then snow. Hood still contemplated holding Columbia, but Forrest advised him, “If we are unable to hold the state, we should at once evacuate it.” Hood determined that his army was in no condition to put up another fight, so he issued orders to abandon Columbia and fall back to the Tennessee River. The Confederates moved out around 3 p.m., with Forrest’s troopers covering the withdrawal. Tennessee was lost.

The next day, the Federal pontoon train arrived, and Thomas directed Major General John Schofield, commanding XXIII Corps, to build a bridge over Rutherford Creek “so that the artillery and trains can cross.” Thomas intended to use his pontoon train to “throw bridges over Duck River early in the morning.” If the Federals could get across the Duck by the end of the 21st, Thomas was “hopeful that the greater part of Hood’s army may be captured, as he cannot possibly get his trains and troops across the Tennessee River before we can overtake him.”

However, the Federal engineer in charge of bridge construction informed Thomas on the 21st:

“I regret to say it will be utterly impossible to finish the bridge today. We are making but slow progress, on account of the high water and the mass of wreck and iron in the stream, which it is next to impossible to remove. Our ropes freeze and stiffen, and the men are scarcely able to hold themselves on the scaffolding on account of the ice. We cannot possibly cross the bridge before tomorrow noon, unless the water falls and weather moderates.”

This left the Federal army stationary between Rutherford Creek and the Duck River. Without their supply train, the Federals had to forage for food, but Wilson’s cavalry had already picked the area clean. On top of this, Thomas started getting messages from Washington expressing renewed dissatisfaction with his perceived slowness in chasing down Hood’s Confederates. Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck wrote:

“Permit me, General, to urge the vast importance of a hot pursuit of Hood’s army. Every possible sacrifice should be made, and your men for a few days will submit to any hardship and privation to accomplish the great result. If you can capture or destroy Hood’s army Sherman can entirely crush out the rebel military force in all the Southern States. He begins a new campaign about the 1st of January, which will have the most important results, if Hood’s army can now be used up. A most vigorous pursuit on your part is therefore of vital importance to Sherman’s plans. No sacrifice must be spared to attain so important an object.”

Thomas’s response reflected his annoyance with his superiors:

“General Hood’s army is being pursued as rapidly and as vigorously as it is possible for one army to pursue another. We cannot control the elements, and, you must remember, that to resist Hood’s advance into Tennessee I had to reorganize and almost thoroughly equip the force now under my command… I am doing all in my power to crush Hood’s army, and, if it be possible, will destroy it; but pursuing an enemy through an exhausted country, over mud roads, completely sogged with heavy rains, is no child’s play, and cannot be accomplished as quickly as thought of.

“Although my progress may appear slow, I feel assured that Hood’s army can be driven from Tennessee, and eventually driven to the wall, by the force under my command; but too much must not be expected of troops which have to be reorganized, especially when they have the task of destroying a force in a winter campaign which was able to make an obstinate resistance to twice its numbers in spring and summer. In conclusion, I can safely state that this army is willing to submit to any sacrifice to oust Hood’s army, or to strike any other blow which would contribute to the destruction of the rebellion.”

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, tried positive reinforcement to nudge Thomas:

“You have the congratulations of the public for the energy with which you are pushing Hood. If you succeed in destroying Hood’s army, there will be but one army left to the so-called Confederacy capable of doing us harm. I will take care of that and try to draw the sting from it, so that in the spring we shall have easy sailing.”

But Thomas could do little to speed up the pursuit as his men languished in the mud and ice. Federal units that were able to cross the Duck River ran into Forrest’s rear guard, which protected Hood’s retreat toward Pulaski. Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commanding the Federal gunboat squadron on the Tennessee River, tried moving downstream to block Hood’s presumed crossing point at Chickasaw, Alabama. But the water level at Muscle Shoals was too low to pass, and Lee had to withdraw. Thus, it seemed that Hood would escape destruction for now.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 719; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21190; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 505-07; 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 14836-46, 14885-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 534, 536; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 612; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144; Wikipedia: The Battle of Nashville, Stephen D. Lee

The Johnsonville Raid

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

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Brooksher, William R. and Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 399; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 482-83; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12992-3023; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517-18; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592-93; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 220-21

The Sinking of the C.S.S. Albemarle

October 28, 1864 – A young Federal officer led a daring raid to destroy the most dangerous Confederate vessel in North Carolina.

The Confederate ironclad ram C.S.S. Albemarle had protected the Roanoke River and Plymouth from Federals throughout the summer. During that time, Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commanding the Federal North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, developed a plan to destroy the Albemarle and take back control of the Roanoke. The plan was entrusted to 21-year-old Lieutenant William B. Cushing.

Lt. William B. Cushing | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Cushing planned to fit two steam launches with a 12-pound howitzer in each bow, along with a lanyard-controlled torpedo tied to a 14-foot spar. The launches would boldly steam up to the Albemarle and sink her by detonating the torpedoes. One of the launches was lost at sea, but Cushing intended to execute his plan with his remaining launch.

A bold reconnaissance revealed that the Albemarle was moored at Plymouth, giving Cushing the information he needed to proceed. However, the U.S.S. Southfield, which had been destroyed by the Albemarle and then converted into a Confederate patrol vessel, needed to be bypassed first. Cushing tied a cutter to his launch, and the force aboard the cutter “was to dash aboard the Southfield at the first hail and prevent any rocket from being ignited.”

Cushing and 14 men left the Federal blockading squadron on the night of the 26th, but their launch ran aground upon reaching the Roanoke River. The crew spent the night freeing the vessel, forcing Cushing to postpone the attack until the following evening.

The launch moved eight miles up the Roanoke in the darkness of the 27th and 28th. The crew had placed a tarpaulin over the vessel’s engine to muffle the sound. The Federals advanced close to the riverbank, undetected by Confederate pickets. They passed the Southfield unnoticed, but a guard aboard the Albemarle spotted the launch and called out to it. Cushing reported:

“Just as I was sheering in close to the wharf a hail came sharp and quick from the ironclad, in an instant repeated. I at once directed the cutter to cast off and go down to capture the guard left in our rear (i.e., the Southfield), and ordering all steam, sent the launch at the dark mountain of iron in front of us. A heavy fire at once opened upon us, not only from the ship, but from the men stationed on the shore, but this did not disable us and we neared them rapidly.”

The Confederates onshore started a fire to reveal the launch. The fire also revealed to Cushing that the Albemarle was surrounded by protective logs. Undaunted, Cushing approached the ironclad at full speed, firing the howitzer as he advanced. He directed the launch up over the slimy logs, thrust the spar below the Albemarle, and jerked the lanyard. This detonated the torpedo and sank the ship.

Explosion of C.S.S. Albemarle | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The blast also sank the launch, forcing the Federals to abandon ship and swim for it. Two men drowned and 11 were captured; only Cushing and one other man escaped. Cushing separated from the other man and hid on the riverbank until morning. He then stole a Confederate boat, rowed back down the Roanoke, and was rescued by the U.S.S. Valley City. The Federals fired celebratory rockets from their ships as news spread of the Albemarle’s demise. In his official report, Cushing wrote:

“The most of our party were captured, some were drowned, and only one escaped besides myself, and he in another direction… Completely exhausted, I managed to reach the shore… While hiding a few feet from the path, two of the Albemarle’s officers passed, and I judged from their conversation that the ship was destroyed.”

This was one of the most daring exploits of the war. Cushing was later promoted to lieutenant commander and given the thanks of Congress. The destruction of the Albemarle enabled Federal naval forces to once again try to regain control of the Roanoke and the important city of Plymouth.

The day after the Albemarle was destroyed, Commander William H. Macomb assembled a squadron of seven Federal vessels to recapture Plymouth. Six ships went up the Roanoke, while the Valley City went up the Middle River to reach a point upstream from Plymouth. The ships on the Roanoke were stopped by obstructions that Confederates had placed in the water near the Southfield. They backed down the river and instead followed the Valley City up the Middle.

After negotiating the sharp bends in the Middle throughout the 30th, Macomb’s squadron approached Plymouth the next day. The Confederates defending the town were not only without the Albemarle, but their garrison had been stripped when Major General Robert F. Hoke’s division was transferred to Petersburg. Both sides exchanged artillery fire (the U.S.S. Commodore Hull was seriously damaged) until a magazine exploded, forcing the Confederates to abandon the town.

Federals from the U.S.S. Wyalusing seized Fort Williams, taking 37 prisoners and 22 guns. Two Federal vessels moved upstream and destroyed two Confederate ironclads under construction. Both Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and Rear Admiral David D. Porter, the new commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, expressed gratitude for Macomb’s actions. The destruction of the Albemarle enabled Federals to regain control of Plymouth, the Roanoke River, and Albemarle Sound.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 97; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 199-200; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 476, 479-82; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12470-80; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 514-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 589-91; 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. 185; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 5; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83

The Siege of Petersburg Begins

June 20, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, announced to his subordinates, “I have determined to try to envelop Petersburg.”

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

The Federal Army of the Potomac and XVIII Corps of the Army of the James had been unable to penetrate the Confederate defenses east of Petersburg after four days of costly fighting. Grant therefore resolved to duplicate his siege of Vicksburg by starving Petersburg into submission. Since Petersburg was Richmond’s main source of supply from the south, it was hoped that the fall of Petersburg would topple Richmond as well.

The 110,000 Federals were opposed by no more than 50,000 Confederates from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Department of Southern Virginia and North Carolina. Lee officially absorbed Beauregard’s department into his army on the 19th.

Lee had to prevent the Federals from seizing any more ground that could force him to fall back to Richmond. The capital had to be protected from any potential surprise attack, and all railroads had to continue functioning to supply the defenders. Therefore, Lee’s men began constructing an east-facing defense line that stretched 22 miles from Richmond to Petersburg.

Outside Petersburg, the Confederate line anchored on the Appomattox River to the north; it extended south and then west below the city to the Jerusalem Plank Road. Within this line, the Confederates defended three railroads needed for supplies:

  • The Richmond & Petersburg, which connected the two cities;
  • The South Side, which ran west to the Shenandoah Valley;
  • The Weldon, which ran south to North Carolina.

Federals began entrenching, and siege warfare soon replaced the open combat that had characterized this campaign since it began in early May. The Federal line east of Petersburg mirrored that of the Confederates. Grant sought to extend this line all the way around Petersburg until it reached the Appomattox River west of town, but for now he could only stretch it to the Jerusalem Plank Road, southeast of town.

Meanwhile, Grant endured heavy criticism in the North for incurring such a terrible loss of men in this campaign. Many noted that George B. McClellan had gotten much closer to Richmond two years before while losing far fewer men. Members of Congress began calling Grant a failure, and First Lady Mary Lincoln said more than once, “He is a butcher, and is not fit to be the head of an army.” All this prompted President Abraham Lincoln to calm his own “anxiety” by traveling to Grant’s headquarters at City Point on the James River to meet with him in person.

Lincoln left the Washington Navy Yard aboard the steamer Baltimore on the night of the 20th. He was joined by his son Tad and Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox. The Baltimore reached City Point the next morning, 16 hours later. According to Colonel Horace Porter of Grant’s staff:

“As the boat neared the shore, the general and several of us who were with him at the time walked down to the wharf, in order that the general-in-chief might meet his distinguished visitor and extend a greeting to him as soon as the boat made the landing. As our party stepped aboard, the President came down from the upper deck, where he had been standing, to the after gangway, and reaching out his long, angular arm, he wrung General Grant’s hand vigorously, and held it in his for some time, while he uttered in rapid words his congratulations and expressions of appreciation of the great task which had been accomplished since he and the general had parted in Washington.”

Lincoln told Grant, “I just thought I would jump aboard a boat and come down and see you. I don’t expect I can do any good, and in fact I’m afraid I may do harm, but I’ll put myself under your orders and if you find me doing anything wrong just send me right away.”

The men went into the after-cabin of the steamer, where Grant told Lincoln, “You will never hear of me farther than Richmond than now, till I have taken it. I am just as sure of going into Richmond as I am of any future event. It may take a long summer day, as they say in the rebel papers, but I will do it.” Lincoln replied, “I cannot pretend to advise, but I do sincerely hope that all may be accomplished with as little bloodshed as possible.”

The men had lunch, and then Grant escorted Lincoln out to inspect the troops in the new Petersburg siege lines. The men rode on horseback, and as Porter recalled of Lincoln:

“Like most men who had been brought up in the West, he had good command of a horse, but it must be acknowledged that in appearance he was not a very dashing rider. On this occasion, by the time he had reached the troops he was completely covered with dust, and the black color of his clothes had changed to Confederate gray. As he had no straps, his trousers gradually worked up above his ankles, and gave him the appearance of a country farmer riding into town wearing his Sunday clothes.”

The men inspected white troops, and then Lincoln accepted Grant’s suggestion to visit the black troops. Porter wrote that the black men were almost hysterical with excitement upon seeing “the liberator of their race”:

“Always impressionable, the enthusiasm of the blacks now knew no limits. They cheered, laughed, cried, sang hymns of praise, and shouted in their negro dialect, ‘God bress Massa Linkum!’ ‘De Lord save Fader Abraham!’ ‘De day ob jubilee am come, shuah…’ The President rode with bared head; the tears had started to his eyes, and his voice was so broken by emotion that he could scarcely articulate the words of thanks and congratulation which he tried to speak to the humble and devoted men through whose ranks he rode. The scene was affecting in the extreme, and no one could have witnessed it unmoved.”

Lincoln met with Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac. He also conversed with Grant and his staff that night. The next morning, the president met with Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding the part of his Army of the James trapped at Bermuda Hundred. Lincoln also visited with Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. After inspecting the naval squadron, Lincoln returned to Washington, satisfied that Grant had matters well in hand.

The next day, Grant wrote Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck at Washington. Grant preemptively asked Halleck to not detach any troops from Grant’s army to defend the capital because, “The siege of Richmond bids fair to be tedious, and in consequence of the very extended lines we must have, a much larger force will be necessary than would be required in ordinary sieges against the same force that now opposes us.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 19, 33-63; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 428-29; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10974-85; 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 9231-62, 9305-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 459; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7741; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 629; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 524-28; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 536-37; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 812

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

The Siege of Suffolk

April 11, 1863 – Confederate forces under Lieutenant General James Longstreet attacked the Federal garrison at Suffolk, Virginia, south of the James River.

Confederate Major General James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Longstreet had been assigned to command a new department consisting of part of his First Corps pulled from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Longstreet’s mission was to guard the region south of Richmond into North Carolina, gather foodstuffs for Lee’s army since war-torn northern Virginia lacked sufficient forage, and eliminate the Federal threat at Suffolk.

Longstreet’s force included 20,000 men in two divisions led by Major Generals George Pickett and John Bell Hood. Since the main objective was to supply Lee, Longstreet merely planned to demonstrate against Suffolk to distract the Federals from his main purpose. A division of IX Corps consisting of about 25,000 Federals under Major General John J. Peck garrisoned Suffolk, which was part of Major General John A. Dix’s Federal military department. Suffolk was heavily fortified.

Confederates and Federals traded shots from across the Nansemond River, as Longstreet extended his right flank southward to Dismal Swamp. Fighting intensified over the next few days as Acting Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commanding the Federal North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, dispatched a fleet of gunboats under Lieutenant William B. Cushing to support Peck. Lee informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “If Suffolk falls, Norfolk follows.”

The gunboats U.S.S. Mount Washington, Stepping Stones, and Commodore Barney came up the crooked, narrow Nansemond and traded fire with the Confederate guns near the Norfleet house, at the confluence of a western branch of the Nansemond and the main river. The vessels were converted ferryboats and tugs, and were not meant for such heavy combat. The Confederates inflicted heavy losses as a result, including grounding the Mount Washington until the Stepping Stones rescued her.

However, the gunboats responded with accurate fire of their own, joined by Federal land batteries and troops behind their fortifications. The artillery duel continued the next day, when the Federal gunboats and artillerists silenced several Confederate batteries at the Norfleet house and along the Nansemond. The duel ended and a standoff began, as Longstreet initiated a siege of Suffolk.

Silencing the Confederate batteries opened a path up the Nansemond to the Confederate garrison at Fort Huger on Hill’s Point. Longstreet directed Major General Samuel G. French to station five cannon and three infantry companies in the empty fort to oppose the approaching Federal gunboats.

On the morning of the 19th, the Stepping Stones suddenly appeared about 400 yards from the fort, commanded by Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson. The ship’s guns sent the defenders running for cover, and then 270 soldiers of the 8th Connecticut and the 89th New York landed, along with four boat howitzers. The Federals charged into the fort before the Confederates could react, capturing 137 men and all five guns, some of which had been taken from Harpers Ferry last September.

The Federals initially strengthened the fort but then evacuated two days later, allowing the Confederates to take it back. However, the fort no longer posed a threat to the Federal ships on the Nansemond. Longstreet called the defeat at Fort Huger “a serious disaster. The enemy succeeded in making a complete surprise.”

Two aides under Colonel Evander M. Law accused men of the 55th North Carolina, assigned to defend the fort, of cowardice. Colonel John K. Connally, the regiment’s commander, furiously denied the charge, and a double duel took place to clear the men’s name. Shots were fired, but nobody was hurt.

These minor operations kept the Federals occupied while Longstreet achieved two of his main objectives–protecting Richmond and foraging for the Army of Northern Virginia. Peck also achieved his main goal, which was to prevent the Confederates from capturing Suffolk. Longstreet continued his tentative siege on the town while his men continued foraging in the surrounding countryside.

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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. 274; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 256-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 279-82; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 337; 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. 638-39; 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. 197; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 275, 534

Farragut Moves up the Mississippi

May 18, 1862 – The Federal naval squadron led by Flag Officer David G. Farragut tried following up its capture of New Orleans by pushing further up the Mississippi River. However, they met unexpected resistance.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As May began, Farragut sought to move upriver and ultimately join forces with the Federal Western Flotilla stationed above Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Farragut’s greatest obstacle would be Vicksburg, Mississippi, which was protected by batteries atop steep bluffs along the river. If the Federals captured Vicksburg, they would essentially cut the Confederacy off from the Trans-Mississippi and split it in two.

Before Farragut could take on the stronghold, he had to repair the ships that had been damaged in the operation against Forts Jackson and St. Philip. This gave the Confederates more time to strengthen their defenses. Farragut would be further handicapped by having a naval fleet more suited for the sea than a river. Nevertheless, he resolved to push as far upriver as he could.

The U.S.S. Iroquois, one of Farragut’s leading vessels headed by Commander James S. Palmer, steamed up the Mississippi and captured the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge on the 8th. Baton Rouge was defenseless against the Iroquois’s firepower, which would soon be backed by the rest of Farragut’s fleet. Federals also seized the local arsenal after a tense exchange with the city mayor.

Four days later, the Federal squadron captured Natchez, Mississippi, 280 river miles from New Orleans. The Iroquois along with the U.S.S. Oneida under Commander Samuel P. Lee remained at Natchez while Farragut led the rest of the fleet 80 miles upriver to Vicksburg. (Confederates later regained control of Natchez and nearly executed the man who had offered to deliver the mayor’s surrender. Only General P.G.T. Beauregard’s personal intervention saved the man’s life.)

The Federal vessels reconnoitered the Mississippi between Natchez and Vicksburg over the next week. The crew of the U.S.S. Calhoun captured the Confederate gunboat Corypheus at Bayou Bonfuca, Louisiana, and the Oneida bombarded Confederates stationed at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, before the fleet continued upriver.

The Federals approached Vicksburg around 11 a.m. on May 18. The stronghold was protected by artillery atop 200-foot-high bluffs, 8,000 Confederate troops, and a gunboat fleet. Commander Lee of the Oneida, acting on Farragut’s behalf for the navy and Major General Benjamin F. Butler for the army, dropped anchor at a bend in the river and dispatched a small boat under a flag of truce.

A Confederate boat met the Federals and received their message, which demanded “the surrender of Vicksburg and its defenses to the lawful authority of the United States, under which, private property and personal rights will be respected.” A Confederate gunner fired a cannonball across the bow of the ship that had delivered the surrender demand.

A messenger returned with military and civilian responses about five hours later. Brigadier General Martin L. Smith, commanding the Vicksburg garrison, wrote, “Regarding the surrender of the defenses, I have to reply that having been ordered here to hold these defenses, it is my intention to do so as long as in my power.” Vicksburg’s mayor explained that even though the military, and not city officials, had built the defenses, “neither the municipal authorities nor the citizens will ever consent to a surrender of the city.”

Colonel James L. Autrey, Vicksburg’s military governor, offered an even stronger response: “I have to state that Mississippians don’t know, and refuse to learn, how to surrender to any enemy. If Commodore Farragut or Brigadier-General Butler can teach them, let them come and try.” (Autrey added further inadvertent insult because Farragut was a captain and Butler was a major general.)

These answers, along with the extensive armament ringing the bluffs, prompted Lee to wait for Farragut’s arrival. When Farragut arrived, he was surprised to learn of such strong Confederate defiance, and he knew that he could not destroy their defenses by himself. He opted to return to New Orleans, leaving behind some ships to watch the city for the time being. The Federals would threaten Vicksburg again soon.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (18 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 167, 169-72; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 371, 380; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 149, 151-54; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17-18; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 211, 213; 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. 67