Tag Archives: Ulysses S. Grant

Nashville: Hood Weakens as Thomas Prepares

December 5, 1864 – General John Bell Hood further weakened his Confederate Army of Tennessee by detaching a force to capture Murfreesboro. Meanwhile, Major General George H. Thomas continued preparing to attack Hood south of Nashville.

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

Hood’s Confederates sat behind defenses about two miles below Nashville. They faced Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland, reinforced by Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps from the Army of the Tennessee, and Major General John Schofield’s XXIII Corps from the Army of the Ohio. Thomas had over 50,000 troops on a 10-mile line. Hood could barely muster 24,000 men along four miles.

Hood requested reinforcements from the Trans-Mississippi Department. He also asked for Major General John C. Breckinridge’s 3,000-man division at Wytheville, Virginia, to take on the Federals at Knoxville. He then weakened his already depleted army even further by dispatching Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest to capture the Federal garrison at Murfreesboro, 30 miles southeast. Forrest’s command included two cavalry divisions under Brigadier Generals Abraham Buford and William H. Jackson, and an infantry division under Major General William Bate. Forrest reported:

“On the morning of the 5th, I moved, as ordered, toward Murfreesborough. At La Vergne I formed a junction with Major-General Bate, who had been ordered to report to me with his division for the purpose of operating against Murfreesborough. I ordered Brigadier-General Jackson to send a brigade across to the Wilkinson pike, and moving on both pikes the enemy was driven into his works at Murfreesborough. After ordering General Buford to picket from the Nashville and Murfreesborough to the Lebanon pikes on the left, and Jackson to picket on the right to the Salem pike, I encamped for the night.”

The next day, Federal gunboats steamed down the Cumberland River to attack Forrest’s shore batteries at Bell’s Mill. The U.S.S. Neosho exchanged fire from 20 to 30 yards, sustaining over 100 hits but eventually driving the Confederates off. Federal Quartermaster John Ditzenback earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for braving the fire to reattach the U.S. flag to the Neosho’s mast after it was shot down.

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

On the 7th, Forrest approached Murfreesboro and discovered that the Federal garrison was much stronger than expected. He planned for the infantry to hold the Federals in place while the cavalry swept around and attacked from the rear. However, according to Forrest, the infantry “from some cause which I cannot explain, made a shameful retreat, losing two pieces of artillery.”

The cavalry finally came up to halt the Federal advance, but Forrest lost about 200 prisoners and 14 guns in the engagement. Before he could renew the effort to capture Murfreesboro, Hood recalled the infantry to Nashville in preparation for battle against Thomas.

Hoping to gather as many men as possible before taking Thomas on, Hood wrote to the Confederate commander at Corinth, Mississippi, “Send forward at once all men belonging to this army in proper detachments, with officers to preserve discipline and prevent straggling on the march.” Hood then wrote Thomas asking for an informal prisoner exchange. But Thomas replied, “I have to state that, although I have had quite a large number of prisoners from your army, they have all been sent North, and consequently are now beyond my control.”

Meanwhile, Thomas’s superiors were growing increasingly impatient with his refusal to attack Hood. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, wanted Thomas to attack immediately, but Thomas argued that he needed to wait until Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry was strong enough to match Forrest’s. Grant feared that Forrest might lead Hood’s army in a swing around Thomas into Kentucky and possibly even Ohio. He wrote Thomas on the 5th:

“Is there not danger of Forrest moving down the Cumberland to where he can cross it? It seems to me whilst you should be getting up your cavalry as rapidly as possible to look after Forrest, Hood should be attacked where he is. Time strengthens him, in all probability, as much as it does you.”

Thomas responded:

“If I can perfect my arrangements, I shall move against the advanced position of the enemy on the 7th instant. If an expedition could be started from Memphis against the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, and thus cut off Hood’s means of supply, he will run the risk of losing his whole army, if I am successful in pushing him back.”

The next day, Grant ordered Thomas, “Attack Hood at once, and wait no longer for a remount of your cavalry. There is great danger of delay resulting in a campaign back to the Ohio River.” Thomas answered, “I will make the necessary dispositions and attack Hood at once, agreeably to your order, though I believe it will be hazardous with the small force of cavalry now at my service.”

This response annoyed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who wrote Grant on the 7th, “Thomas seems unwilling to attack because it is hazardous, as if all war was anything but hazardous. If he waits for Wilson to get ready, Gabriel will be blowing his last horn.”

Grant replied that if Thomas did not attack immediately, “I would recommend superseding him by Schofield, leaving Thomas subordinate.” Grant explained further in a message to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck: “There is no better man to repel an attack than Thomas, but I fear he is too cautious to ever take the initiative,” However, Grant wrote, “If Thomas has not struck yet, he ought to be ordered to hand over his command to Schofield.”

Halleck replied that if Grant wanted Thomas gone, “give the order. No one here will, I think, interfere.” But then Halleck added, “The responsibility, however, will be yours, as no one here, so far as I am informed, wishes General Thomas’ removal.” This gave Grant pause, and he wrote, “I would not say relieve him until I hear further from him.”

This impasse, as well as Hood’s weak siege of Thomas’s army, would continue as temperatures around Nashville plummeted to below freezing.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 556; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 498-500; 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 14236-46, 14260-70, 14318-28, 14348-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 529-30; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-08; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 123, 125-26; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86

Opposing Armies Gather Outside Nashville

December 1, 1864 – Following the Battle of Franklin, the Federals fell back to Nashville as planned, and General John Bell Hood’s demoralized Confederate Army of Tennessee followed.

Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio at Franklin, proceeded with his original plan to withdraw to Nashville, 18 miles north, and join forces with Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland. Thomas, the overall commander, was getting supplies from the Cumberland River, and Major General Andrew J. Smith’s 13,000-man XVI Corps was on its way from Missouri to reinforce him.

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Thomas forced a semicircular defensive line south of Nashville, with both flanks on the Cumberland. Schofield’s seven-mile train began arriving in Nashville on the morning of the 1st, and his XXIII Corps took up the eastern sector of Thomas’s line. The rest of the line was manned by Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps until Smith’s corps arrived. Thomas also had support from the gunboats U.S.S. Neosho and Carondelet. Having been under Federal military occupation since early 1862, Nashville was one of the most heavily fortified cities in the Western Hemisphere.

Thomas preferred to stay put and let Hood’s Confederates attack him, at least until he could get Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry in fighting shape. Thomas telegraphed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I have two ironclads here, with several gunboats, and Commander Fitch assures me that Hood can neither cross the Cumberland or blockade it. I therefore think it best to wait here until Wilson can equip all his cavalry.”

Hood reported to Richmond that he had won a great victory at Franklin, but it soon became apparent that he had shattered his army. He sustained more losses than “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg, and those who survived were badly disheartened. Nevertheless, Hood tended to his dead and wounded on the morning of the 1st and issued orders to pursue Schofield to the gates of Nashville.

Hood had no more than 24,000 men to take on Thomas, who would have about 53,000 once they all arrived. Hood could either try to lay siege to Thomas’s superior army, or he could bypass it altogether by moving north around Nashville into Kentucky, and then possibly even to Ohio. Hood chose the former.

The Confederates positioned themselves on the Brentwood Hills south of Nashville. Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps held the left (west) flank, Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps held the center, and Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps held the right. Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry monitored both flanks. The Confederates also began building defenses to guard against attacks from Knoxville, Murfreesboro, or Chattanooga.

Hood could stretch his line no more than four miles, while Thomas’s stretched 10 miles. Moreover, Thomas’s Federals held all eight roads leading into Nashville from the south. But if Hood retreated now, he risked pushing his already demoralized army to the brink of mutiny. Hood therefore hoped to bide his time and wait for reinforcements from the Trans-Mississippi. To his benefit, Thomas was not quite ready to fight; this made Federal officials in Washington nervous.

President Abraham Lincoln feared that Hood might skirt around Thomas and raid the North, mimicking Jubal Early’s raid on Washington in July. This prompted Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to write Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, “The President feels solicitous about the disposition of General Thomas to lay in fortifications for an indefinite period. This looks like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing and let the rebels raid the country. The President wishes you to consider the matter.”

Grant quickly wired Thomas: “If Hood is permitted to remain quietly about Nashville, you will lose all the road back to Chattanooga, and possibly have to abandon the line of the Tennessee. Should he attack you it is all well, but if he does not you should attack him before he fortifies.”

Grant sent another message urging Thomas to “move out of Nashville with all your army and force the enemy to retire or fight upon ground of your own choosing.” Grant wrote that after the Battle of Franklin, “we should have taken the offensive against the enemy where he was.” But Grant warned Thomas, “You will now suffer incalculable injury upon your railroads if Hood is not speedily disposed of. Put forth, therefore, every possible exertion to attain this end. Should you get him to retreating, give him no peace.”

Thomas replied that with the arrival of Schofield and A.J. Smith, he now had “infantry enough to assume the offensive, if I had more cavalry, and will take the field anyhow as soon as the remainder of General McCook’s division of cavalry reaches here, which I hope it will do in two or three days.” Thomas explained that he needed more cavalry to match Forrest’s “at least 12,000” horsemen, though Forrest really only had about 6,000. Thomas planned to attack Hood in four days, adding, “I earnestly hope, however, that in a few more days I shall be able to give him a fight.”

Thomas shared a report with Halleck stating that Hood’s army was strongest southwest of Nashville. He wrote, “That would be by far the most advantageous position he could take for us, as his line of communication would be more exposed with him in that position than in any other.” Thomas calmed fears that Hood might bypass him and raid the North, stating, “The iron-clads and gun-boats are so disposed as to prevent Hood from crossing the (Cumberland) river…”

Meanwhile, Hood dispatched Forrest’s cavalry to probe Thomas’s line for weaknesses and raid Federal shipping on the Cumberland. The Confederates captured the troop transports Magnet, Prairie State, and Prima Donna near Bell’s Mill. In retaliation, a squadron of Federal gunboats steamed down the river, shelled the Confederate shore batteries into submission, and reclaimed the transports and prisoners.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 553; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21161-71; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 496-97; 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 13348-58, 14288-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 527-29; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 190-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 604-05; 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. 812; 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. 221; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20, 22, 120-21, 123; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 284-86

The 1864 Elections: Aftermath

November 10, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech to serenaders after his reelection was confirmed.

Although all returns had not yet been received on the 9th, word spread throughout North and South that Lincoln had most likely won a second presidential term. Republicans and National Unionists rejoiced; George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary:

Laus Deo! The crisis has been past, and the most momentous popular election ever held since ballots were invented has decided against treason and disunion… The American people can be trusted to take care of the national honor.”

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, wrote his wife that the army vote totaled 13,500 for Lincoln and 5,500 for the beloved former army commander George B. McClellan. Meade also stirred up a minor controversy when it was reported that he did not vote himself. He wrote:

“It is probable that some zealous partisan has watched to see what I did. I cannot but be flattered that so much importance is attached to my action, particularly as nearly all other general officers, including Grant, did the same–that is, not vote.”

News of the election reached the Confederacy on the 10th, with an article published in the Richmond Dispatch:

“A well-known citizen of Fredericksburg, who entered the enemy’s lines below Richmond yesterday under flag of truce, was informed by a Yankee officer that Lincoln’s re-election was, beyond a doubt, a fact accomplished… They said Lincoln had been re-elected, and that we might prepare ourselves for four more years of war. Few of our people will be disappointed by the result of this election, since it is only what we have all expected. Had Lincoln allowed himself to have been beaten, he must have been either a fool or a patriot, neither of which his warmest friend nor bitterest foe has ever suspected him of being.”

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the night of the 10th, Lincoln responded to a massive celebration on the White House lawn, speaking from a second floor window. Unlike the impromptu address that Lincoln delivered in the early hours after election night, this evening the president read from a manuscript. The president said:

“It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies…

“We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forgo, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us… Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.

“But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility.

“But the rebellion continues; and now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.

“While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result… And now, let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skillful commanders.”

As he turned from the window, Lincoln told his secretary John Hay, “Not very graceful, but I am growing old enough not to care much for the manner of doing things.”

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, congratulated Lincoln: “The election having passed off quietly, no bloodshed or riot throughout the land, is a victory worth more to the country than a battle won.” Grant later assured Lincoln, “All the troops now in the North will be hurried to the field.”

In his cabinet meeting, Lincoln revealed the sealed document he had asked his officers to sign without reading on August 23. This was Lincoln’s acknowledgement that he would likely lose the election, along with a pledge to help the new president-elect between the election and inauguration.

Lincoln’s victory did not stop Federal officials from persecuting political enemies. In Kentucky, a state that George B. McClellan easily won, authorities arrested three of his top supporters for alleged disloyalty. Among them was Lieutenant Governor Richard Jacob, who was banished to the Confederacy. An elector for McClellan and the editor of the Louisville Journal were also apprehended. Lincoln pardoned the latter two and lifted Jacob’s banishment in February 1865.

A Washington newspaper reported on the 17th that Lincoln told a Maryland committee that he was gratified at the election results, which confirmed “the policy he had pursued would be the best and the only one that could save the country.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11632, 11640; 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 13122-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 519; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 595-98; 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), Q464

The 1864 Elections

November 8, 1864 – Abraham Lincoln won reelection, thus ensuring that the war to destroy the Confederacy and reunite the Union would continue.

The presidential election pitted the incumbent Lincoln, who pledged to prosecute the war until the Union was restored and slavery abolished, against Democrat George B. McClellan, his former general-in-chief. McClellan had alienated the peace wing of his party by pledging to prosecute the war until the Union was restored, but he was willing to negotiate with the southern states on all other questions, including slavery.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Election Day in Washington was rainy and gray. Government officials had been furloughed to go home and vote, leaving the capital empty and quiet. Prominent banker Henry D. Cooke observed that “the streets wear a quiet Sunday air–in the Department building(s), the empty corridors respond with hollow echoes to the foot fall of the solitary visitor; the hotels are almost tenantless, and the street cars drone lazily along the half-filled seats.”

The Lincoln administration also furloughed soldiers and sailors with the expectation that they would vote for Lincoln. As a result, over 150,000 soldiers and sailors in the Federal military cast ballots for who they wanted as their commander-in-chief. Lincoln even allowed party officials to use a boat on the Mississippi River to collect ballots from the crews of gunboats patrolling the waterway.

Lincoln and his fellow National Unionists were optimistic about their chances, but they expected the election to be close. The president told correspondent Noah Brooks, “I am just enough of a politician to know that there was not much doubt about the result of the Baltimore convention (which nominated Lincoln for reelection), but about this thing I am very far from being certain. I wish I were certain.”

Around 7 p.m., Lincoln and his secretary John Hay walked to the War Department to get the results from the telegraph office, but most results were delayed by storms. The initial messages trickling in indicated larger Republican majorities than expected. To Lincoln’s surprise, he won Philadelphia by 10,000 votes and Baltimore by 15,000. Regarding Maryland, Lincoln remarked, “All Hail, Free Maryland. That is superb!” Results from Boston showed Lincoln ahead by 5,000 votes.

As the night wore on, Lincoln passed the time between messages by reading funny stories from humorist Petroleum V. Nasby. This irritated Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, as Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana recalled:

“The idea that when the safety of the republic was thus as issue, when the control of an empire was to be determined by a few figures brought in by the telegraph, the leader, the man most deeply concerned, not merely for himself but for his country, could turn aside to read such balderdash and to laugh at such frivolous jests was, to his mind, repugnant, even damnable. He could not understand, apparently, that it was by the relief which these jests afforded to the strain of mind under which Lincoln had so long been living, and to the natural gloom of a melancholy and desponding temperament–this was Mr. Lincoln’s prevailing characteristic–that the safety and sanity of his intelligence were maintained and preserved.”

By midnight, dispatches indicated that Lincoln had won Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and all the New England states. Results from New York and Illinois would not come for another two days, but even without them, it was clear that Lincoln had won handily. Those on hand congratulated him, and he simply replied that he was “glad to be relieved of all suspense.”

A band serenaded the War Department at 2:30 a.m., and when Lincoln returned to the White House, a crowd had gathered and demanded a speech. Lincoln said:

“If I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one, but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people’s resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity. I earnestly believe that the consequences of this day’s work… will be to the lasting advantage, if not to the very salvation, of the country.”

The Lincoln-Johnson ticket ultimately won 55 percent of the popular vote, or 400,000 more votes than the ticket of McClellan and anti-war Democrat George H. Pendleton. Lincoln won the Electoral College 212 to 21, with McClellan carrying only New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky. Soldiers voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, 116,887 to 33,748; Lincoln won eight of every 10 soldier votes in the western armies and seven of every 10 in McClellan’s old Army of the Potomac. This indicated that despite their love for McClellan, they wanted to finish the job they had been sent to do.

Democrats made the biggest gains in the major cities, and counties with large Irish and German-American populations. Their base continued to consist mostly of unskilled laborers, immigrant Catholics, border state slaveholders, and anti-war dissidents. Republicans won using the same successful formula from 1860–harnessing the voting power of native-born farmers, high-skilled workers, city professionals, young voters, abolitionists, and New Englanders.

Military victories at Mobile Bay, Atlanta, and the Shenandoah Valley contributed to Lincoln’s reelection. Radical Republican John C. Fremont’s withdrawal from the race also played a part, as did McClellan’s repudiation of his own party’s anti-war stance. McClellan did not express disappointment in defeat. Instead he wrote, “For my country’s sake I deplore the result…” and announced he would retire from the U.S. army.

In addition to Lincoln’s victory, Republicans or Unionists maintained strong majorities in both the House of Representatives (149 to 42) and the Senate (42 to 10). This further ensured that Lincoln’s policies would continue for at least another two years. On the state level, Republicans or Unionists won the governorships and legislatures in every northern state except the three that Lincoln lost (New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky).

Lincoln had the ability to influence the election with military furloughs, martial law, and suspension of habeas corpus. Charles Dana said that all “the power and influence of the War Department, then something enormous from the vast expenditure and extensive relations of the war, was employed to secure the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.” Yet despite all these resources at hand, Lincoln could only garner a 10 percent margin of victory in an election that excluded all southern states. On the flipside, even if the Confederate states had been allowed to vote, and all 81 electoral votes in those states went to McClellan, he still would have lost to Lincoln by over 100 votes.

Soldiers voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, but ballots were not cast in secret and it was tacitly understood that Democratic military officers who criticized Lincoln could lose their commissions. Curiously, the soldier vote went strongly for McClellan in Kentucky (3,068 to 1,205), where Federal authorities did not supervise the polls. McClellan also soundly won that state’s total popular vote, 61,478 to 26,592. Lincoln lost his home county in Illinois (Sangamon), and all its neighboring counties. Most big cities favored McClellan, with New York City and Detroit voting three-to-one against Lincoln.

However, the soldier vote in favor of Lincoln proved the difference in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Indiana, and Illinois. Lincoln won the key state of New York by just 7,000 votes, and he won the states with the most electoral votes (New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio) by just 86,407 out of 1,774,131 ballots cast, or a margin of less than five percent. Missouri also went strongly for Lincoln, where Federal officials required voters to swear allegiance to the U.S. before casting ballots.

For Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln’s victory meant that he could take more military risks without fear of political consequences. These included more aggressive action against the Confederacy and the removal of incompetent political commanders. For most southerners, Lincoln’s reelection was no surprise, and it confirmed their belief that northerners supported the Federal subjugation of the South.

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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. 507-08; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 183-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 543; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19810-26; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 484; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11582, 11603-25; 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 13096-137, 15248-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 518; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592, 594; 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. 804-05; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333-34, 353; 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), Q464

Prelude to the 1864 Federal Elections

November 7, 1864 – By November, most pundits believed that President Abraham Lincoln and his Republican party would win the upcoming elections. However, the Republicans were not taking any chances.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

In the presidential election, Lincoln ran for reelection on a “National Union” party ticket that included both Republicans and some War Democrats in a united front. Lincoln’s running mate was Andrew Johnson, the Democratic war governor of Tennessee who had been the only southern U.S. senator not to leave Congress when his state seceded.

Lincoln’s opponent was George B. McClellan, the popular former general-in-chief whom Lincoln had fired. McClellan had alienated political allies by repudiating his own party’s platform that called for peace at any cost, including southern independence and continuation of slavery.

The Republican-dominated National Unionists played up the recent military victories as reasons to reelect Lincoln. At a Cincinnati theater, prominent actor James E. Murdoch recited T. Buchanan Read’s latest poem celebrating Major General Philip Sheridan’s victory at Cedar Creek. Titled “Sheridan’s Ride,” it caused a sensation, and Republicans quickly used the poem to fuel their campaigns:

“Up from the South, at break of day

“Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay…

“But there is a road from Winchester town

“A good, broad highway leading down…

“Still sprang from these swift hoofs, thundering south

“The dust like smoke from the cannon’s mouth

“Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster

“Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster…”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton urged Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant not to provoke a major battle at Richmond or Petersburg out of fear that a military defeat could cost Lincoln the election. Similarly, it was suggested that Major General William T. Sherman wait until after the election to begin his march from Atlanta to the sea.

Every effort was made to furlough soldiers so they could go home and vote. For states allowing absentee voting, election officials were sent to the armies to collect the soldiers’ ballots. Lincoln was confident that the troops would vote for him, even though most who had served under McClellan still revered him.

Two days before the election, Major General John A. Dix, commanding the military department that included New York, announced that Confederate agents from Canada planned to burn New York City on Election Day. That same day, the U.S. State Department issued a communiqué:

“Information has been received from the British provinces to the effect that there is a conspiracy on foot to set fire to the principal cities in the Northern States on the day of the Presidential election.”

New York Gov Horatio Seymour | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

New York Governor Horatio Seymour, an administration opponent, tried calming fears by stating, “There is no reason to doubt that the coming election will be conducted with the usual quiet and order.” Nevertheless, administration officials dispatched Major General Benjamin F. Butler and 7,000 Federal troops to New York City and the harbor forts to supervise the election process. The military presence may have served as a not-so-subtle persuasion for undecided voters to back the National Unionists.

Even without potential panic in New York, Lincoln’s reelection seemed assured before Election Day. On the 7th, James Russell Lowell published “The Next General Election” in the influential North American Review. He supported Lincoln and denounced Democrat attempts to reconcile with southerners. He called Lincoln “a long-headed and long-purposed man” who had “shown from the first the considerate wisdom of a practical statesman.”

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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. 507-08; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 183-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 543; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19810-26; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 483; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11582, 11603-25; 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 12044-54, 13096-137, 15248-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592, 594; 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. 780; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333-34, 353; 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), Loc 56359-62

Sherman Prepares to March to the Sea

November 6, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, having received formal authorization, finalized plans to advance his Federal armies through Georgia, from Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean.

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

Sherman explained his intentions to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander. Sherman wrote that his Federals would “act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negate (President Jefferson) Davis’ boasted threat” to cut them off from the rear. Sherman wrote:

“If we can march a well-appointed army right through his territory, it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist. This may not be war, but rather statesmanship… If the North can march an army right through the South, it is proof positive that the North can prevail.”

To ensure high morale and support for President Abraham Lincoln in the upcoming election, Federal paymasters visited all the camps before the troops moved out. Sherman informed Grant that he would begin moving after Lincoln’s victory, “which is assured.” Once in motion, “I will not attempt to send couriers back, but trust to the Richmond papers to keep you well advised.” Grant replied the next day, “Great good luck go with you. I believe you will be eminently successful, and at worst can only make a march less fruitful than is hoped for.”

On the 9th, Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 120 from his Kingston, Georgia, headquarters. These detailed the upcoming march. The army would consist of 60,000 infantrymen in two wings:

  • Major General Oliver O. Howard would lead XV and XVII corps (i.e., the Army of the Tennessee) on the right wing.
  • Major General Henry W. Slocum would lead XIV and XX corps (i.e., the Army of Georgia) on the left wing.

A cavalry division of 5,500 men under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick would also join the march, and artillery would be “reduced to the minimum, one gun per 1,000 men.”

Each regiment was assigned just one wagon for ammunition and other “essentials.” Sherman wrote, “The army will forage liberally on the country during the march,” taking food, horses, and other necessities from civilians as needed. If the people resisted, officers “should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless…” Sherman’s plan was loosely based on Grant’s march down the west bank of the Mississippi River to get into the rear of Vicksburg in 1863.

The next day, Federals began returning to Atlanta from various stations north of the city, particularly Kingston and Rome. They burned factories, foundries, mills, and warehouses as they left, and they destroyed the Western & Atlantic Railroad connecting Atlanta to Chattanooga. Sherman wrote, “My army stood detached and cut off from all communication with the rear.”

In Atlanta, the Federals destroyed anything that Sherman feared the Confederates could salvage for military purposes after his army left town. Churches and private homes were to be spared, but many of these burned as well. Sherman went to Marietta on the 13th and saw that his men had already destroyed most of that town. Sherman motioned to the troops still there and said:

“There are the men who do this. Set as many guards as you please, they will slip in and set fire. That Court House was put out–no use–dare say the whole town will burn, at least the business part. I never ordered burning of any dwelling–didn’t order this, but can’t be helped. I say Jeff. Davis burnt them.”

This marked the beginning of Sherman’s legacy of destruction in the South. As the troops assembled in Atlanta for the southeastern movement, Sherman later recalled:

“The most extraordinary efforts had been made to purge this army of non-combatants and of sick men, for we knew well that there was to be no place of safety save with the army itself; our wagons were loaded with ammunition, provisions, and for age, and we could ill afford to haul even sick men in the ambulances, so that all on this exhibit may be assumed to have been able-bodied, experienced soldiers, well armed, well equipped and provided, as far as human foresight could, with all the essentials of life, strength, and vigorous action.”

Sherman allowed slaves who escaped from nearby masters to join the army if they worked as laborers or cooks. But he placed severe restrictions on this to prevent his troops from being bogged down by a mass slave exodus along the way.

The only real opposition to Sherman’s army was Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry at Jonesboro, south of Atlanta. Wheeler dispatched scouts on the night of the 13th, and they quickly confirmed rumors that Sherman would be heading southeast soon, possibly bound for Augusta or Savannah. Wheeler did not have enough men to stop the Federals, so all he could do was notify the garrison and militia commanders in Sherman’s supposed path and hope for reinforcements.

The next day, Sherman issued specific marching orders:

“The armies will begin the movement on Milledgeville and Gordon tomorrow, the 15th of November as follows: I. The Right Wing will move, via McDonough and Monticello, to Gordon. II. The Left Wing, General Slocum, will move, via Covington, Social Circle, and Madison, to Milledgeville, destroying the railroad in a most thorough manner from Yellow River to Madison. III. The cavalry, General Kilpatrick commanding, will move in concert with the Right Wing, feigning strong in the direction of Forsyth and Macon, but will cross the Ocmulgee on the pontoon bridge of General Howard. IV. Each column will aim to reach its destination–viz, Gordon and Milledgeville–on the seventh day’s march, and each army commander will on arrival communicate with the other wing and the commanding general, who will accompany the Left Wing.”

The wings would move along parallel routes, starting at 7 a.m. each morning and averaging about 15 miles per day. The wanton destruction of civilian property was prohibited, but officers were authorized to order retaliatory attacks against anyone resisting the advance. The Federals had 1.2 million rations, or 20 days’ worth, with orders to live off the land beyond that time.

Sherman reported that by the night of the 14th, the Federals about to leave Atlanta had–

“–leveled the great depot, round-house, and the machine-shops of the Georgia Railroad, and had applied fire to the wreck. One of these machine-shops had been used by the rebels as an arsenal, and in it were stored piles of shot and shell, some of which proved to be loaded, and that night was made hideous by the bursting of shells, whose fragments came uncomfortably near Judge Lyon’s house, in which I was quartered. The fire also reached the block of stores near the depot, and the heart of the city was in flames all night, but the fire did not reach the parts of Atlanta where the court-house was, or the great mass of dwelling-houses.”

The destruction continued through the night, with the long-anticipated march to begin the next morning.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 184-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 485-87; 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 13044-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 519-20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 594-96; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 45; 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), Q464

Sherman Plans to Leave Atlanta

November 2, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman prepared to lead his Federal forces southeast from Atlanta to the Atlantic coast, despite General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee disrupting his supply lines.

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

In October, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had authorized Sherman to strike out for the Atlantic in Georgia. But since then, Hood’s Confederates had moved west and were now threatening Sherman’s supply lines in Tennessee. Undaunted, Sherman went ahead with his plan, leaving Hood for Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

Sherman had dispatched elements of his armies under Thomas to defend Federal bases in Tennessee. Thomas was building up his force to defend against not only Hood but Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry. Sherman wrote Thomas on the 1st:

“The fact that Forrest is down about Johnsonville, while Hood, with his infantry, is still about Florence and Tuscumbia, gives you time for concentration. The supplies about Chattanooga are immense, and I will soon be independent of them; therefore I would not risk supplies coming in transit from Nashville to Chattanooga. In like manner we have large supplies in Nashville, and if they be well guarded, and Hood can’t get our supplies, he can’t stay in Tennessee long.”

Sherman’s plan was to cut his Federals off from their supply base and live off the land as they marched to the coast. But he knew that both Hood and President Jefferson Davis planned to harass him from the rear; Davis had imprudently divulged as much on his speaking tour through Georgia. Sherman wrote Grant:

“As you foresaw, and as Jeff. Davis threatened, the enemy is now in the full tide of execution of his grand plan to destroy my communications and defeat this army. His infantry, about 30,000, with Wheeler’s and Roddey’s cavalry, from 7,000 to 10,000, are now in the neighborhood of Tuscumbia and Florence, and the water being low is able, to cross at will. Forrest seems to be scattered from Eastport to Jackson, Paris, and the lower Tennessee, and General Thomas reports the capture by him of a gunboat and five transports. General Thomas has near Athens and Pulaski Stanley’s corps, about 15,000 strong, and Schofield’s corps, 10,000, en route by rail, and has at least 20,000 to 25,000 men, with new regiments and conscripts arriving all the time; also Rosecrans promises the two divisions of Smith and Mower, belonging to me, but I doubt if they can reach Tennessee in less than 10 days.

“If I were to let go Atlanta and North Georgia and make for Hood, he would, as he did here, retreat to the southwest, leaving his militia, now assembling at Macon and Griffin, to occupy our conquests, and the work of last summer would be lost. I have retained about 50,000 good troops, and have sent back full 25,000, and having instructed General Thomas to hold defensively Nashville, Chattanooga, and Decatur, all strongly fortified and provisioned for a long siege.

“I will destroy all the railroads of Georgia and do as much substantial damage as is possible, reaching the sea-coast near one of the points hitherto indicated, trusting that General Thomas, with his present troops and the influx of new troops promised, will be able in a very few days to assume the offensive. Hood’s cavalry may do a good deal of damage, and I have sent Wilson back with all dismounted cavalry, retaining only about 4,500. This is the best I can do, and shall, therefore, when I can get to Atlanta the necessary stores, move as soon as possible.”

To Sherman’s dismay, Grant began reconsidering the whole plan. He wrote Sherman on the night of the 1st:

“Do you not think it advisable now that Hood has gone so far north to entirely settle him before starting on your proposed campaign? With Hood’s army destroyed you can go where you please with impunity. I believed, and still believe, that if you had started south whilst Hood was in the neighborhood of you he would have been forced to go after you. Now that he is so far away, he might look upon the chase as useless and go in one direction whilst you are pushing in the other. If you can see the chance for destroying Hood’s army, attend to that first and make your other move secondary.”

Grant’s reluctance came not only from rumors that the Confederates planned to isolate and destroy Sherman’s Federals in Georgia, but also from the Lincoln administration, which strongly suggested that no risky maneuvers should be attempted before the elections took place on the 8th. But Sherman tried reassuring Grant in a message he sent on the 2nd:

“If I could hope to overhaul Hood I would turn against him with my whole force. Then he retreats to the southwest, drawing me as a decoy from Georgia, which is his chief object. If he ventures north of the Tennessee I may turn in that direction and endeavor to get between him and his line of retreat, but thus far he has not gone above the Tennessee… No single army can catch him, and I am convinced the best results will result from defeating Jeff. Davis’ cherished plan of making me leave Georgia by maneuvering.”

Sherman offered to hold Decatur, Atlanta, and other points to chase down Hood, “but unless I let go Atlanta my force will not be equal to his.” In a final plea, Sherman sent a second message:

“If I turn back the whole effect of my campaign will be lost. By my movements I have thrown Beauregard well to the west, and Thomas will have ample time and sufficient troops to hold him until re-enforcements reach him from Missouri and recruits. We have now ample supplies at Chattanooga and Atlanta to stand a month’s interruption to our communications, and I don’t believe the Confederate army can reach our lines, save by cavalry raid, and Wilson will have cavalry enough to checkmate that. I am clearly of opinion that the best results will follow me in my contemplated movement through Georgia.”

Before these messages arrived at Grant’s headquarters, he had reconsidered his reconsideration. Sherman received Grant’s message that night:

“With the force, however, you have left with Thomas, he must be able to take care of Hood and destroy him. I do not really see that you can withdraw from where you are to follow Hood, without giving up all we have gained in territory. I say, then, go as you propose.”

This final, permanent authorization galvanized Sherman as he prepared for the march. He wrote, “Jeff. Davis will change his tune when he finds me advancing into the heart of Georgia instead of retreating, and I think it will have an immediate effect on your operations at Richmond.”

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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 13034-54; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-35