The American Civil War, day by day - Page 103 - Politics | PoFo

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January 16, Monday

Even as the Federals celebrate their victory, Fort Fisher claims still more victims. A group of New York soldiers bedded down last night on a soft, comfortable patch of sod that happened to be the roof of the fort’s main powder magazine. Around dawn, two tipsy sailors, carrying torches and looking for souvenirs, enter the magazine. Almost at once tons of gunpowder explode. When the dust settles, some 25 are killed, 66 wounded, and 13 missing for 104 casualties.

Meanwhile, Fort Caswell, North Carolina, and defensive positions at Smithville and Reeves’ Point are blown up and abandoned by Confederates. Elsewhere, there are operations until the 22nd about Waynesville, Missouri; a Union expedition from Brashear City to Whisky Bayou, Louisiana; and Federal scouting until mid-February about Franklin, Tennessee.

President Davis, informed of the fall of Fort Fisher, urges General Bragg at Wilmington to retake it if possible. By a vote of 14 to 2 the Confederate Senate passes a resolution that it is the judgment of Congress that General Robert E. Lee should be assigned General-in-Chief of the Armies of the Confederacy and that Beauregard should command the army in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and J.E. Johnston the Army of Tennessee. Many have long favored the move.
January 17, Tuesday

News of the Union victory at Fort Fisher spreads throughout the nations. At Richmond and Petersburg the siege goes on. Confederates desperately try to find enough troops to defend all the major threatened points, but it is impossible. The Federals slowly but steadily increase the pressure.

President Davis tells South Carolina Governor A.G. Magrath at Charleston, “I am fully alive to the importance of successful resistance to Sherman’s advance, and have called on the Governor of Georgia to give all the aid he can furnish.”
January 18, Wednesday

General Sherman transfers command of Savannah and the area around it to Major General Foster and the Department of the South. Action includes a small affair near Lovettsville, Virginia; a skirmish at Clarksville, Arkansas; a two-day Union expedition from Napoleonville to Grand River, Louisiana; and a five-day Federal scout from Warrensburg to the Snibar Hills, Missouri.

Francis Preston Blair, Sr., reports to President Lincoln about his talk on the 12th with President Davis in Richmond. Blair shows the President the Confederate leader’s letter in which Davis speaks of negotiations between the two nations. The elderly politician tells Lincoln in detail of his conversation with Davis and submits a lengthy report in which he outlines the plan for peace, coupled with the conquest of Mexico. President Lincoln gives him a letter saying Blair might tell Mr. Davis “that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue, ready to receive any agent whom he, or any other influential person now resisting national authority, may informally send to me, with the view of securing peace to the people of our one common country.” Thus the difference—for Lincoln, “one common country” and for Davis two separate countries.

In Richmond President Davis is still beating the bushes for troops to oppose Sherman and again urges General Lee to extend his command to include that of all the armies of the Confederacy, plus the immediate command of the Army of Northern Virginia.
January 19, Thursday

Sherman’s plan moving north from Savannah is to keep the enemy confused about where he is headed. As they did through Georgia, his troops will march in two columns. His left wing—the XIV and XX Corps, led by the hard-bitten Major General Henry W. Slocum (currently bogged down thanks to the heavy rains)—will travel northwest to threaten Augusta. The devout but soldierly Major General Oliver O. Howard will take the right wing, consisting of XV Corps and XVII Corps, northeast toward Charleston. But the Federals’ real objective is Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, 130 miles due north of Savannah. Sherman’s men feel much more vindictive toward South Carolina than they had toward Georgia. To the army, South Carolina is the birthplace of the rebellion.

As Sherman is about to move, the rains arrive. The area is inundated, and there are days when even Sherman wonders if the pessimists have been right about his chances of making a winter march through the Carolinas. The downpour that coincides with Sherman’s planned departure is the heaviest in twenty years, and the roads on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River—the first of several major rivers to be crossed between Savannah and Goldsborough—are said to be “navigable in boats.” For almost two weeks, the left wing is stopped in its tracks. The experience of one regiment from New York is typical. First, its soldiers have to move their camp back from the rising river to avoid being drowned. Then, on the 28th, the men march several miles to a river crossing, find the bridge washed out, return to camp, go back and attempt to make a new bridge, have to give up and camp again not far from where they began. The next day, they try a different crossing—a causeway that runs through a swamp, with a bridged creek running through it. They fight off a brief attack by Confederate cavalry, then go on to examine the causeway only to find it covered with water in many places, the only guide over the flooded road the posts and railing on each side of the causeway. When they reach the creek they find the bridge gone, whereupon they are ordered back to their starting point.

President Davis, Generals Hardee and Beauregard try urgently to scrape together an army that can stop Sherman. The nearest Confederate force north of Savannah comprises 8,000 men under General Hardee at Port Royal Sound, South Carolina. Hardee also has a 3,000-man division of state militia defending Charleston. Farther up the coast, General Braxton Bragg, recently dispatched from Richmond, commands a force of about 6,500 at Wilmington. General D.H. Hill, headquartered at Augusta, blocks Sherman’s inland route with three divisions of General Wheeler’s roving cavalry and about 1,400 Georgia militia, who are prohibited by law from leaving their home state. Beauregard hopes to augment this inadequate force with troops from the Army of Tennessee, which is licking its wounds at Tupelo, Mississippi. Of the 40,000 tough veterans that Hood had led into battle at Nashville, fewer than half remain. Hood himself, broken in spirit, has been relieved of command at his own request. Still, this is the most potent Confederate force in the field other than the Army of Northern Virginia, and 11,000 of its men are ordered east by rail to Augusta. In addition, General Lee reluctantly parts with the redoubtable Wade Hampton—now promoted to lieutenant general—sending him to his native South Carolina with a division of his cavalry under Major General Matthew C. Butler. Even if Beauregard can assemble every available soldier in the region, however, he will have fewer than 30,000 men. Sherman, once Schofield joins him, will command more than 70,000.

A skirmish occurs at Corinth, Mississippi; and there is a Federal reconnaissance around Myrtle Sound, North Carolina; Federal scouting from Donaldsonville, Louisiana; and a four-day Union expedition from Memphis, Tennessee, to Marion, Arkansas.

General Lee rather reluctantly tells President Davis he will “undertake any service to which you think proper to assign me,” but he feels, if named General-in-Chief, “I must state that with the addition of the immediate command of this army I do not think I could accomplish any good.” He adds, “If I had the ability I would not have the time.” However, pressure continues on Davis to appoint Lee.

President Lincoln has a more personal problem—or his wife does, which comes to the same thing. Their son Robert, just out of college, wants to enter the army despite strenuous objections by his mother, who has grown sick with fear of what might happen to him there. As a result, Lincoln has worked out a compromise that might satisfy them both, depending on Grant’s response to a proposal made to him: “Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President, but only a friend. My son, now in his twenty-second year, having graduated from Harvard, wishes to see something of the war before it ends. I do not wish to put him in the ranks, nor yet to give him a commission to which those who have already served long are better entitled, and better qualified to hold. Could he, without embarrassment to you or detriment to the service, go into your military family with some nominal rank, I, and not the public, furnishing his necessary means? If no, say so without the least hesitation, because I am as anxious, and as deeply interested that you shall not be encumbered, as you can be yourself.” Grant replies that he will be glad to have the young man on his staff as an assistant adjutant, his rank to be that of captain and his pay to come from the government, not his father. Lincoln is glad to have the difficult matter settled, but it comes hard for him that he has had to settle it this way, knowing as he does that he has drafted into the shot-torn ranks of the nation’s armies hundreds of thousands of other sons whose mothers love and fear for them as much as Mary Lincoln does for hers.
January 20, Friday

As the four Federal corps under Sherman, plus Kilpatrick’s cavalry, get under way or prepare to move into South Carolina against very light opposition, there is a reconnaissance from Pocotaligo to the Salkehatchie River, South Carolina. Slocum’s left wing is held up by heavy rain at Savannah. All troops aren’t in motion until February 1st, Sherman will later report, but preliminary movements are now well advanced. In Kansas, at Point of Rocks or Nine Mile Bridge near Fort Larned, there is a skirmish.

Secretary of War Stanton reports to President Lincoln on his visit to Savannah and Fort Fisher.
January 21, Saturday

Federal troops carry out a two-day expedition from Brashear City to Bayou Sorrel, Louisiana. Sherman embarks with his entire headquarters from Savannah for Beaufort, South Carolina, pausing at Hilton Head. Sherman has tried to give out that his army is headed for Charleston or Augusta rather than Columbia. For the rest of the month Sherman reconnoiters in person and visits various units.
January 22, Sunday

Fighting again tapers off, with a skirmish on the Benton Road, near Little Rock, Arkansas, and a Federal expedition from Little Rock to Mount Elba, Arkansas, until February 4th. General Sherman and his staff are en route from Savannah to Beaufort, South Carolina.
January 23, Monday

President Davis signs an act providing for appointment of a General-in-Chief of Confederate Armies. Congress obviously has Lee in mind. Confederate Lieutenant General Richard Taylor assumes command of the Army of Tennessee (now reduced to about 17,700 men) after the resignation of John Bell Hood, so disastrously beaten at Nashville. However, Taylor will soon have little to command except a large area, as a main force of the Army of Tennessee is sent east to the Carolinas to try to halt Sherman. Even so, due to dissipation, desertion, and other causes, only about 5,000 reach Johnston, according to the general.

On the James River there is action at Fort Brady as eleven Confederate vessels try to pass obstructions and head downriver below Richmond to attack the weakened Union squadron. Four warships go aground and the move comes to naught. A Federal scout operates until the 27th from Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. A skirmish breaks out at Thompson’s Plantation, Louisiana.
January 24, Tuesday

The Congress of the Confederate States offers again to exchange prisoners with the Federals. This time General Grant accepts. His previous refusal to exchange prisoners had been intended to cut down further on Southern manpower. Nathan Bedford Forrest assumes command of the Confederate District of Mississippi, East Louisiana, and West Tennessee.

There are skirmishes at Fayetteville, Arkansas; Bayou Goula, Louisiana; and a Federal expedition from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to Eleven Points River, Arkansas.

President Lincoln wires Vice-President-elect Andrew Johnson at Nashville that he should be in Washington for inauguration March 4th.
January 25, Wednesday

Confederate cruiser Shenandoah reaches Melbourne, Australia, and later leaves for the northern Pacific to plague Federal fishing and whaling fleets. There is a reconnaissance by Sherman’s men from Pocotaligo to the Salkehatchie River, South Carolina, “to amuse the enemy,” as Sherman puts it. Skirmishing flares near Powhatan, Virginia, and near Simpsonville, Sherlby County, Kentucky. A Union expedition moves from Irish Bottom to Evans’ Island, Tennessee.
January 26, Thursday

Federal scouting increases—until the 31st from Pine Bluff toward Camden and Monticello, Arkansas; until February 4th from Plaquemine to The Park, Louisiana; and from Memphis into southeast Arkansas and northeastern Louisiana until February 11th. Skirmishing occurs near Pocotaligo, South Carolina, and Paint Rock, Alabama. Sherman continues to threaten Charleston although he doesn’t have any intention of attacking, but it is a useful means of diverting the enemy.
January 27, Friday

Minor military activities continue at Ennis’ Cross Roads, South Carolina. Elsewhere, skirmishing erupts at Elrod’s Tanyard in DeKalb County, Alabama, and a Union expedition operates from Fort Pinney to Kimball’s Plantation, Arkansas.

General Lee points out again to Richmond the “alarming frequency of desertion from this army.” He also says the “ration is too small for men who have to undergo so much exposure and labor as ours.” He believes the Commissary Department can do a better job.
January 28, Saturday

President Jefferson Davis names three commissioners to hold informal talks with Federal authorities. This has come about as a result of the visits of Francis Preston Blair, Sr., to Richmond and the other efforts looking toward a possible peace. The Southern commissioners are Vice-President Alexander Stephens, R.M.T. Hunter of Virginia, and former US Supreme Court justice John A. Campbell. Secretary of War Seddon recommends to Davis that General Lee be appointed General-in-Chief of all Confederate armies under the act of Congress approved five days ago.

In South Carolina a skirmish takes place on the Combahee River on Sherman’s front. Operations against Amerinds are carried out by Federals until February 9th on the upper Arkansas River, Kansas; Union scouts probe from Bayou Goula to Grand River, Louisiana, until February 7th; and an expedition until the 31st moves from Strawberry Plains to Clinch Mountain, Tennessee.
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