The American Civil War, day by day - Page 78 - Politics | PoFo

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November 29, Sunday

Longstreet intends to take Fort Sanders at Knoxville by bayonet charge. He assigns the attack to McLaws’ three brigades and instructs one of Jenkins’ brigades to provide support on the left. Then he issues orders that no one fire except the sharpshooters in the newly captured rifle pits—and they are to “pick off every head that might appear above the parapets until the fort is carried.” So carefully is this order observed, that “not a gun was loaded in three brigades.” It is a morning made raw by rain and snow, and the ground is frozen and rime-covered. The attackers wade theough the waist-deep creek whose banks hide them from the defenders and await the signal to advance. They are about 120 yards from the fort. A few rounds from signal guns launch the charge.

As the Confederates run forward yelling, the Federal guns and muskets open fire at point-blank range. The attackers are coming from such a short distance that there is no need to take aim. Suddenly the leaders of the charge begin falling to the ground and cursing. The Federals have strung telegraph wire knee-high among the stumps left when the approaches to the fort were cleared; it is perhaps the first use of wire entanglements during the war. Cries of “Halt!” come from the Confederate officers, but the men can’t stop. Pressed on from behind, they stumble; more men push forward, and fall “amid the dead and dying.” The wires are quickly cleared away, and the line of attackers leap into the ditch. As it turns out, the ditch is on the average eight feet deep; once in it the men are confronted by an almost vertical, ice-covered wall rising sixteen feet before them. They are trapped. A murderous fire pours down on the attackers, and men fall by the scores. There is no way anyone can dig footholds in the wall under that fire. Some soldiers leap onto the shoulders of their comrades and try to reach the top of the wall. Those who make it are instantly shot down. Lieutenant Samuel L. Benjamin, the Federal artillery commander in the fort, had instructed his men to prepare fifty cannon shells with three-second fuses. Now the defenders light the fuses and toss the shells over the parapet among the attackers. It is a massacre. A few attackers get to the top long enough to plant their battle flags. One young officer, Adjutant T.W. Cummings of the 16th Georgia, climbs through an embrasure and is immediately dragged inside. He endears himself to his captors by demanding their surrender before he was marched away. For awhile Confederate soldiers continue to mill helplessly in the ditch and at the base of the wall, unable to advance and unwilling to retreat through the furious Federal fire that is raking the open fields. Finally some begin to slip away. Others surrender. Inside the fort, one weary Irish prisoner takes out his pipe, reaches for a light, and says wryly to his captured mates: “Bedad, boys, General Longstreet said we would be in Knoxville for breakfast this morning; and so some of us are!”

After about twenty minutes of fighting, Longstreet approaches to within 500 yards of the fort and observes a disaster in the making as he will later report: “I saw some of the men straggling back, and heard that the troops could not pass the ditch for want of ladders and other means. Almost at the same moment I saw that the men were beginning to retire in considerable numbers, and very soon the column broke up entirely and fell back in confusion.” The Confederate commander calls a halt to the slaughter. By the time the firing dies down, his men have suffered heavy losses—813 casualties in those few bloody minutes—and have done little damage to the enemy. Burnside’s casualties in the fort total eight dead and five wounded. It is “Fredericksburg reversed.”

The field in front of the fort is littered with dead and wounded, and immediately after the battle Burnside offers Longstreet a truce so he can gather up his casualties. Longstreet gratefully accepts. Then the Confederate general pulls his force together and begins to assess his situation. But just half an hour after the repulse a courier brings a message from President Davis about Chattanooga. Knowing that Grant will be sending reinforcements after the defeat of Bragg, there is little to do but to eventually retreat toward Virginia.

When General Grant returns to Chattanooga, Tennessee, this night, he finds to his disgust that those reinforcements under Granger are still there—the corps commander is reluctant to go, having decided for himself that the relief of Burnside at Knoxville is a very bad move to make. Grant gives command of the expedition to Sherman; the relief force will consist of the Army of the Tennessee plus Granger’s corps. Granger himself will be transferred to the Department of the Gulf, where he will serve for the rest of the war. Then Grant sets down on paper his plans for the rescue of Knoxville, and he takes pains to see that a copy “in some way or other” falls into Longstreet’s hands. If Longstreet understands that an overwhelming force is about to descend on him, he might depart without further bloodshed.

In the Mine Run Campaign in Virginia, the Army of Northern Virginia spadework continues as across the run the Army of the Potomac reconnoiters. Action breaks out at Parker’s Store and New Hope Church as Meade, preparing an assault, seeks for a weak spot in Lee’s defensive line. Meade is determined to try for a breakthrough, if one of his corps commanders can only find him a weak spot in the gray defenses. Come night, when Sedgwick and Warren report that they have found what he wants on both flanks of the position, he issues instructions for an attack in the morning. Sedgwick is to open with his artillery at 7 am on the right, attracting the enemy’s attention in that direction, and Warren will launch an assault one hour later at the far end of the line, supported by French, who will feint at the rebel center, and by Newton, who will mass in his rear to help exploit the breakthrough. Similarly, Sykes is to move up in close support of Sedgwick, whose bombardment is to be followed by an assault designed to shatter the Confederate left. With both flanks crumpled and no reserve on hand to shore them up, Lee should fall back in disarray and the blue reserves will hurry forward to complete his discomfort and destruction.

Skirmishing occurs also at Brentsville and near Jonesville, Virginia, and at Bloomfield, Missouri.

President Lincoln is reported much better following his bout with a mild form of smallpox.
November 30, Monday

As Meade has ordered, so attempted; at Mine Run, Virginia, “Uncle John” Segdwick opens on schedule at 7 am with all his artillery, while down the line the soldiers assigned to the assault grow tenser by the minute as the time draws near for them to go forward. Whatever the generals back at headquarters might be thinking, the men themselves, crouched in the brush and peering out across the slashings at the icy creek which they will have to cross to get within reach of the butternut infantry—dug in along the ridge to await their coming and probably smiling in anticipation as they fondle their rifles or stand by their double-shotted cannon—do not like any part of the prospect now before them. For one thing, a man even lightly hit, out there in the clearing where no stretcher can get to him, will probably die in this penetrating cold. For another, they judge that their deaths will be purposeless, for they don’t believe that the assault can possibly succeed. Waiting for the guns to stop their firing, some of the soldiers pass the time by writing their names and addresses on bits of paper or chips of wood, which they fasten inside their clothes; “Killed in action, Nov. 30, 1863,” a few of the gloomier or more cynical ones among them add. However, just as the artillery leaves off roaring and they are about to step forward into chaos, a message arrives from army headquarters: “Suspend the attack until further orders.” Later they find out why. On the far left, after discovering by daylight that the rebel defenses have been greatly strengthened overnight, Warren sent word that the assault he had deemed feasible yesterday would be suicidal today. Meade rode down to see for himself, found he agreed with the revised assessment, and canceled the attack, both left and right. Grinning, the reprieved troops discard their improvised dogtags and think higher than ever of Warren, who they are convinced has done as solid a service, in avoiding disaster here today, as he performed five months ago at Little Round Top or last month at Bristoe Station. What he has done, they realize, takes a special kind of courage, and they are grateful not only to him but also to the commander who sustained him.

Glad as the bluecoats are, they are more fortunate than they know. The expected assault not having been launched against his entrenchments, Lee is summoned to the far right by Wade Hampton, who, recovered from his Gettysburg wounds and returned to duty, has discovered an opening for a blow at the Union left, not unlike the one Hooker received in May on his opposing flank, a few miles to the east. Looking the situation over, Lee likes what he sees, but decides to wait before taking advantage of it. He feels sure that Meade will attack, sooner or later, and he doesn’t want to pass up the near certainty of another Fredericksburg, even if it means postponing a chance for another Chancellorsville.

Skirmishing does continue along the Mine Run lines and at Racoon Ford, as well as at Licking Run Bridge, Virginia.

Elsewhere, action includes affairs at Charleston and Yankeetown, Tennessee; and skirmishes at Salyersville, Kentucky; and Port Hudson and Vermillion Bayou, Louisiana. Federal troops move into Fort Esperanza in Matagorda Bay, Texas. Confederates evacuated last night, after skirmishing and siege operations.

In northwest Georgia, Bragg gathers together his defeated army and Grant solidifies his position around Chattanooga. General Sherman’s men are exhausted, undernourished, and short of equipment. Nevertheless, they set out on a grueling 85-mile march to reach Knoxville, Tennessee, before Burnside runs out of supplies. From Richmond, General Samuel Cooper wires Bragg at Dalton, Georgia, “ ... Your request to be relieved has been submitted to the President, who, upon your representation, directs me to notify you that you are relieved from command, which you will transfer to Lieutenant-General Hardee....”
December 1863

As the principal fighting of the fall ends, the military and political leaders and the citizens of both sides can take a quieter look at things as they are and are likely to be. On the military fronts the balance has tipped toward the Federal side. In Virginia Meade’s Mine Run Campaign has failed but he still threatens Lee. At Charleston the fantastic bombardment of Fort Sumter has not achieved its purpose but it still continues. At Knoxville Federals are holding against Longstreet and it is clear that Confederates will soon have to give up their siege. At Chattanooga Grant begins building a base for future operations into Georgia in the face of an embittered and tangled Confederate command setup that offers little hope for anything more than continued defense. In the West operations are on a much smaller scale, with Confederates mounting only guerrilla and hit-and-run operations. Many ask whether the South can hold out long enough to exhaust the North or win the daydream of foreign recognition. Politics comes to the fore in the North; 1864 is a presidential election year. The people of both sides look back over the bloody events of 1863 and forward to an uncertain 1864.

December 1, Tuesday

In Virginia, by noon, with the Federals still immobile in his front, Lee changes his mind about waiting for an assault. “They must be attacked; they must be attacked,” he mutters. Accordingly, he prepares to go over to the offensive with an all-out assault on the flank Hampton has found dangling. Sidling Early’s men southward to fill the gap, in the evening Lee withdraws two of Hill’s divisions from the trenches and masses them south of the plank road, in the woods beyond the vulnerable enemy left, with orders to attack at dawn. Early is to hold the fortified line overlooking Mine Run, while Hill drives the blue mass northward across his front and into the icy toils of the Rapidan. This time there will be no escape for Meade, as there was for Hooker back in May, for there will be twelve solid hours of daylight for pressing the attack, not a bare two or three, as there was when Jackson struck in the late afternoon, under circumstances otherwise the same.

But across Mine Run, with supplies getting low and with the threat that a thaw will soften the crust of frozen mud without which no movement would be possible on the bottomless roads, Meade decides to withdraw the Army of the Potomac over the same routes by which it crossed the Rapidan, five days back, and entered this luckless woodland in the first place. So ordered, so done; the rearward movement begins shortly after sunset, and continues through the night.

A major command change is evolving in the Confederate army at Dalton, Georgia, south of Chattanooga. After Davis accepted General Braxton Bragg’s resignation, Bragg told Richmond he would relinquish his command on the 2nd. He then wrote Davis of the criticism against him by his generals and said, “The disaster admits of no palliation, and is justly disparaging to me as a commander.... I fear we both erred in the conclusion for me to retain command here after the clamor raised against me.” Bragg has at times proved himself an able soldier, but unable to work with his subordinates. For years to come the quarrels, charges, and countercharges will echo.

December opens with considerable, if not major, fighting. Fort Sumter is surviving another bombardment which began November 28th. At Maynardville, Tennessee, another fight marks the Knoxville Campaign; Longstreet is still besieging Burnside’s Federals, but knows Federal reinforcements are on the way. In Arkansas skirmishing takes place near Benton and Devall’s Bluff; in North Carolina at Cedar Point; in Virginia near Jonesville and at Jenning’s Farm near Ely’s Ford; in Kentucky at Salyersville, Mount Sterling, and Jackson; and in Mississippi at Ripley. Federals scout around Pulaski, Tennessee, and operate about Natchez, Mississippi, for ten days.

Suffering from typhoid, Belle Boyd, Confederate spy, is released from prison in Washington, sent to Richmond, and told to stay out of Union lines.
December 2, Wednesday

When the Confederate flankers at Mine Run, Virginia, go forward at first light they find the thickets empty, the Federals gone. Chagrined (for though he has inflicted 1,653 casualties at a cost of 629—which brings the total of his losses to 4,255 since Gettysburg, as compared to Meade’s 4,406—he had counted on a stunning victory, defensive or offensive), Lee orders his cavalry after them and follows with the infantry, marching as best he can through woods the bluecoats have set afire in their wake. It is no use; Meade’s headstart is substantial, and he is back across the Rapidan before he can be overtaken. In the Confederate ranks there is extreme regret at the lost opportunity, which will grow in estimation, as is usual in such cases, in direct ratio to its inaccessibility. Early and Hill come under heavy criticism for having allowed the enemy to steal away unnoticed. But Lee, as always, takes the blame on his own shoulders: shoulders on which he is now feeling the weight of his nearly 57 years. “I am too old to command this army,” he says sadly. “We should never have permitted those people to get away.”

Longstreet is now being threatened from the rear by fast-approaching Federal troops intent on breaking the siege of Knoxville. Still the guns bellow in Charleston Harbor against Fort Sumter. Elsewhere, fighting breaks out at Walker’s Ford on the Clinch River, and there is a Confederate descent on Salisbury and a skirmish at Philadelphia, Tennessee. In Arkansas Federals scout through the 7th from Waldron to Mount Ida, Caddo Gap, and Dallas.

General Braxton Bragg turns over the command of the Army of Tennessee to Lieutenant General William Hardee at Dalton, Georgia. Bragg reminds the army of his two-year association with it and calls for support of the new commander. He advises President Davis that the army should assume the offensive. Many of Bragg’s chief officers are glad to see him go. Although the Confederates are losing a fine disciplinarian and a dedicated soldier, he is also a man under whom few can operate successfully.

Hardee, however, will be only temporarily in charge of the army that has been beaten back from Chattanooga. Directed to take over from Bragg, General Hardee replies as he did when offered the command two months ago. He appreciates “this expression of [the President’s] confidence,” he says, “but feeling my inability to serve the country successfully in this new sphere of duty, I respectively decline the command if designed to be permanent.”
December 3, Thursday

Sherman’s cavalry vanguard just makes the December 3rd deadline for reaching Knoxville, to discover that Longstreet has decamped upon learning of Sherman’s approach, moving his army east and north toward Greeneville, where he will later take up winter quarters at a position enabling him to move either to Virginia and Lee’s army, or to take offensive action in the West. The withdrawal marks the end of the fall campaign in Tennessee, a full-scale Federal victory.

In east Tennessee a skirmish occurs at Log Mountain; and elsewhere fighting breaks out at Saint Martinsville, Louisiana; Ellis’ Ford, Virginia; Greenville, Kentucky; and Wolf River Bridge near Moscow, Tennessee.
December 4, Friday

As Longstreet pulls out of Knoxville, under pressure from Federal reinforcements, and retreats eastward in Tennessee, skirmishing flares near Kingston and Loudon. Skirmishing also occurs at Niobrara, Nebraska Territory; Meadow Bluff, West Virginia; La Fayette, Tennessee; and Ripley, Mississippi. At Charleston, seven days of bombardment end after 1,307 rounds fired by the Union.

In Virginia, the Army of the Potomac settles into winter quarters above the Rapidan, around Culpeper and Brandy Station. Life on the north bank of the river, according to a homesick Federal colonel, is “miserably lazy. Hardly an order to carry, and the horses all eating their heads off. If one could only be at home, till one was wanted, and then be on the spot. But this is everywhere the way of war; lie still and lie still; then get up and maneuver and march hard; then a big battle; and then a lot more lie still.” Nor is the pace on the south bank any different. They have little to do. The weather doesn’t permit much drilling, nor of regular guard duty, so that picketing is the only military exercise constantly required.

As they had the last two winters, the opposing pickets begin to fraternize. In one instance, a Federal detail and its Confederate opposite strike a humane bargain. The Federals are using a deserted log hut for a post during the day and pulling back closer to camp at night. Confederate cavalry use the same hut at night, withdrawing at first light. The two sides run into each other one cold morning when the Confederates are slow to leave. Every man reaches for a weapon, but no one fires. Instead, they talk. The Confederates ask if the Federals will allow them a few moments to saddle up. That done, they can steal away, and the dual occupancy of the hut can continue as before. There is agreement all around, and just before the Confederates ride off, someone has another idea: Hereafter, until fighting resumes, each detail will leave a warm fire burning for its foe.

In the Confederate camps, shortages are acute. General Lee will spend the early months next year petitioning Richmond for food, for shoes, for warm clothes for his troops. In one dispatch he deplores “the wretched condition of the men, thousands of whom are barefooted, a great number partially shod, and nearly all without overcoats, blankets or warm clothing.” Such shortages, Lee advises, “are having a bad effect upon the men, both morally and physically.” Richmond, in this third winter of the war, is in poor shape to respond. Commodities are scarce and inflation is rampant in the Confederate capital. Coffee costs $10 a pount, Calico $10 a yard. Beans are sold for $60 a bushel, eggs $2 a dozen. One gold dollar will fetch $30 or more in Confederate paper. Citizens pool their resources and hold “starvation parties” that are marked by a certain desperate gaiety. “There seems to be for the first time a resolute determination to enjoy the brief hour, and never look beyond the day.”

In the field, Confederate soldiers find ways to take their minds off their stomachs. They organize snowball fights that are sometimes fought by entire brigades with colors flying, as if in true battle. And they concoct elaborate practical jokes. Some North Caolina pickets have been watching a house across the Rapidan that appears to be the headquarters of an enemy office of considerable rank. The North Caolinians set about making a so-called Quaker cannon. They find wagon wheels with a tongue attached, mount a huge hollow log on it, and provide themselves with a rammer and some large stones. At a signal, the Carolinians dash with their creation almost to the river, wheel it into position, and point it at the house opposite. With loud words of command they ram a stone into the log and seem about to demolish the Federal headquarters. “For a time there was considerable commotion on the other side. The picket line hurriedly reprared for action and the house was speedily emptied, the inmates not standing in any order in going, but making for the woods at once. Presently the joke was appreciated and, with much laughter, the lines resumed their status.”
December 5, Saturday

Fighting takes place at Walker’s Ford on Clinch River, Tennessee, as Longstreet continues toward Greeneville. Other action occurs at Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina; Raccoon Ford, Virginia; and Crab Gap, Tennessee; a Union scout operates from New Berne toward Kinston, North Carolina, and a reconnaissance by Federals from Rossville to Ringgold, Georgia. In other operations there is Federal reconnaissance through the 13th from Little Rock to Princeton, Arkansas; through the 25th from Norfolk, Virginia, to South Mills and Camden Court House, North Carolina; and scouts through the 10th from Columbia, Kentucky. Only sixty-one shells are fired in Charleston Harbor after the second great bombardment ended yesterday. A Federal small-boat expedition to Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina, fails.
December 6, Sunday

General William T. Sherman and his staff enter Knoxville, Tennessee, formally ending the siege of Burnside’s Federal troops. His troops are not far behind. Burnside and his men seem in much better shape than had been anticipated. On his arrival Sherman is taken to a local home where he and Burnside and their staff officers are treated to a roast turkey dinner—served, the fuming Sherman notes, “with clean tablecloth, dishes, knives, forks, spoons, etc.” Burnside cheerfully explains that the Tennesseans have been keeping his forces adequately supplied and that they have never been in any serious danger of starvation. The reports of Burnside’s plight had somehow been greatly exaggerated. Although Sherman is irate—and makes no secret of it—his arduous march has served its purpose. Perhaps Knoxville hadn’t been starving, but it had certainly been besieged. Now, having driven Longstreet away, Sherman and his men can make a leisurely march back to Chattanooga. Burnside, strengthened by Granger’s corps, will briefly pursue Longstreet into the eastern mountains of Tennessee, but then, much to the annoyance of Grant, give up the chase and return to Knoxville. Sherman is already starting to think about a Federal advance on the city of Atlanta in the spring.

Meanwhile, Longstreet’s Confederates are moving toward Greeneville, Tennessee. Fighting breaks out near Fayetteville and Clinch Mountain, Tennessee. Elsewhere a skirmish takes place on the Cheat River, West Virginia. In Charleston Harbor the monitor Weehawken sinks at her anchorage near Morris Island because of imperfect design.

Although President Davis shares Lee’s deep regret that General Meade wasn’t punished more severely for his temporary boldness, he doesn’t agree that Lee is responsible for the failure to do so. By now, though, he has it once again in mind to shift Lee to new fields, offering him command of the Army of Tennessee. Lee replies that he will of course go to Dalton, Georgia, if ordered, but “I have not that confidence either in my strength or ability as would lead me of my own option to undertake the command in question.” It is Lee’s suggestion that Beauregard is the logical choice for the post he vacated a year and a half ago; but Davis likes this no better than he does the notion, advanced by others, that Johnston is the best man for the job. He has small use for either candidate. Deferring the matter until he has had a chance to talk it over with Lee in person, he wires him to come to Richmond as soon as possible.
December 7, Monday

In Washington the first session of the 38th Congress convenes, and in Richmond the fourth session of the First Congress. President Davis in his message to Congress writes of the “grave reverses” of the past summer, but states the progress of the enemy “has been checked.” There has been no improvement in foreign relations; finances demand attention; no effort must be spared to augment the Army; it is regrettable that the enemy has refused to exchange prisoners of war; the Trans-Mississippi, virtually cut off from the rest of the Confederacy, has special problems. Davis concludes by condemning the “savage ferocity” of the Federals, and adds, “Nor has less unrelenting warfare been waged by these pretended friends of human rights and liberties against the unfortunate negroes.... The hope last year entertained of an early termination of the war has not been realized, ... [but] The patriotism of the people has proved equal to every sacrifice demanded by their country’s need.”

President Lincoln couples his announcement of General Sherman’s victory at Knoxville with a recommendation that the people gather informally in their churches to pay homage to the Almighty “for this great advancement of the national cause.”

Fighting is confined to Rutledge and Eagleville, Tennessee, and Independence, Mississippi. A four-day Federal scout operates in Hampshire, Hardy, Frederick, and Shenandoah counties of West Virginia.
December 8, Tuesday

President Lincoln issues his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, pardoning those who “directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion” if they take an oath to the Union. Exceptions include high-ranking military officers, members of the Confederate government, all who resigned commissions in the US Army and Navy to join the Confederacy, and those who treat Blacks or Whites “otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war.” If at least one tenth of the citizens who voted in the election of 1860 so wish, a state government will be recognized in any seceded state. Of course, said citizens must take an oath to support the United States, and slavery will be barred. Thus Lincoln makes a significant step toward reconstruction, and indicates his future course of moderation.

The President also writes a note of gratitude to Major General Grant for the victory at Chattanooga and Knoxville. Grant passes it on in a general order: “Understanding that your lodgment at Chattanooga and Knoxville is now secure, I wish to tender you, and all under your command, my more than thanks—my profoundest gratitude—for the skill, courage, and perseverance with which you and they, over so great difficulties, have effected that important objective. God bless you all.”

In Richmond President Davis, apprehensive over the military situation, asks General Lee to visit him. In the Confederate Congress Representative Henry S. Foote, of Mississippi, bitterly criticizes the President’s military and civil policy.

Federal cavalry under Averell operate until the 21st from New Creek, West Virginia, raiding railroads in southwestern Virginia. There are also demonstrations up the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and from the Kanawha Valley, West Virginia.

John C. Braine, leading a group of Confederate sympathizers, seizes the Northern merchant steamer Chesapeake off Cape Cod. Federal naval vessels pursue and Chesapeake will be captured on the 17th in Sambro Harbor, Novia Scotia.
December 9, Wednesday

Receiving today President Davis’s instructions for him to come to Richmond, Lee supposes a decision has been reached to send him to north Georgia as Bragg’s successor, despite his expressed reluctance to leave the Old Dominion and the army whose fame has grown with his own in the eighteen months since Davis placed him at its head. With Longstreet in east Tennessee, Ewell absent sick, and A.P. Hill as usual in poor health, the summons comes at what seems to Lee an unfortunate time, particularly since the latter two, even aside from their physical debility, have not fulfilled his expectations in their present corps commands. But orders are orders, he leaves at once.

Lincoln issues his annual message to Congress, read to both Houses by the clerks. He reports that for the most part foreign relations are peaceful and friendly; the territories are in satisfactory condition except for some Amerind difficulties; the Treasury balance as of July 1st is over $5,329,000 (2021 $110,060,345); the blockade has been increasingly effective. A year before, the President says, public opinion at home and abroad had not been satisfactory. “The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union is past,” he declares optimistically. The enemy has been pushed back, the Mississippi opened, and emancipation is having a favorable effect. Praising those fighting for the Union, Lincoln concludes that to them “the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.”

Major General John G. Foster supersedes Major General A.E. Burnside in command of the Department of the Ohio. Burnside, criticized for his handling of the Copperhead movement and for not supporting Rosecrans at Chickamauga, has for some time wanted to leave his departmental command.

A mutiny of Black troops at Fort Jackson, Louisiana, below New Orleans, is put down by Federal White officers. It has arisen over alleged mistreatment by one officer of his soldiers.

Skirmishes break out at Okolona, Mississippi; near Lewinsville, Virginia; and there is an affair at Cumberland Mountain on the road to Crossville, Tennessee. Scouting and skirmishing also occurs for several days around Bean’s Station, Tennessee, part of the waning Knoxville Campaign. Federals scout from Waldron down Dutch Creek, Arkansas, and from Houston, Missouri. As if to emphasize Lincoln’s message to Congress, a blockade runner, the English Minna, is taken off Charleston, just one of many captures during these months.
December 10, Thursday

In Richmond, Lee finds to his relief that no decision has been made regarding his transfer to the western theater. The President, in conference with his Cabinet on the matter of selecting a new leader for the army temporarily under Hardee, merely wants his ranking field commander there to share in the discussion. Lee’s reluctance having been honored to the extant that it has removed him from consideration for the post, the advisors find it difficult to agree on a second choice. Not only are they divided among themselves; Davis withholds approval of every candidate proposed. Some are all for Beauregard, for instance, but the Commander in Chief has even less confidence in the Creole than he has in Joe Johnston, who is being recommended warmly by the press, on the floor of Cogress, in letters from friends, and by Secretary of War James Seddon. While the Secretary admits that he has been disappointed by his fellow Virginian’s “absence of enterprise” in the recent Mississippi operations, he believes that “his military sagacity would not fail to recognize the exigencies of the time and position, and so direct all his thoughts and skill to an offensive campaign.” Davis is doubtful. He rather agrees with Benjamin, who protests that during his six-month tenure as Secretary of War he found in Johnston “tendencies to defensive strategy and a lack of knowledge of the environment.” Others present incline to the same view. On the evidence, Old Joe’s talent seems primarily for retreat: so much so, indeed, that if left to his own devices he might be expected to end up defending Key West, Florida, and complaining that he lacks transportation for a withdrawal to Cuba in the event that something threatens one of his flanks.

Fighting flares in east Tennessee as Longstreet tries to gather his command in the Greeneville area. Skirmishing at Gatlinburg, Long Ford, Morristown, and Russellville mark the day. From Harpers Ferry, Federal cavalry operate on what will be called the West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee Railroad raid. In North Carolina a skirmish occurs at Hertford, and Federal naval and army forces destroy Confederate salt works in Choctawatchie Bay, Florida.

President Davis expresses concern over the disposition of troops for the Confederate armies.

President Lincoln, increasingly active, appears much improved in health.
December 11, Friday

This month, Fort Sumter’s beleaguered garrison has received an unaccustomed respite from bombardment. The men have busied themselves improving their defenses, and when time and weather permit, they have relaxed under the thin rays of the late autumn sun. As most of the walls of the fort are no longer standing, the garrison has used the debris to construct an intricate series of protective tunnels between the living quarters and storage rooms. Three of these rooms are powder magazines, and at about 9:30 am the small-arms magazine explodes, sending sheets of flame through the rubble-lined corridors, killing eleven men and wounding 41. No one know what started the inferno. There will be rumors that a candle ignited some whiskey fumes, which in turn set off the ammunition; or it may have been a spark from a soldier’s pipe. Whatever the cause, the fire rages out of control in the caverns. The men try to wall off the affected corridors, but the heat is so intense that their barricades virtually disintegrate. They can only allow the fire to burn itself out, and hope that the enemy won’t seize this chance to launch another attack.

As it happens, the Federals don’t react immediately. Because the fire is burning within the tunnels, lookouts on Morris Island see only thin wisps of smoke rising from Fort Sumter this morning. Eventually word does reach the Federal forces that something disastrous has occurred, and the guns on Morris Island open up. In a few hours more than 200 shells fall on the garrison. By midafternoon, however, the fire has been confined. The garrison’s commander, hoping to rebuild the morale of his stricken force, summons the band to the parapet, and the musicians strike up “Dixie.” As the music drifts across the water to Morris Island, the Federal gunners, in a rare display of sympathy between the opposing forces, suspends their bombardment and raise a cheer for Fort Sumter’s brave defenders.

The Federal West Virginia raid on railroads involves skirmishing at Big Sewell and Meadow Bluff. In Virginia skirmishing is at Marling’s Bottom Bridge. Federal scouts operate for three days from Waldron to Dallas, Arkansas, and for a week from Pulaski, Tennessee, to Florence, Alabama.

Confederate Secretary of War Seddon’s annual report admits serious defeats, especially in Mississippi, and reduced military effectiveness because of desertion, straggling, and absenteeism. He recommends repeal of the substitute and exemption provisions of the draft law.
December 12, Saturday

Federals successfully attack Gatewood’s, Lewisburg, and Greenbrier River, West Virginia, in the continuing cavalry raids on Confederate railroads. On the front southeast of Chattanooga there is a skirmish at La Fayette, Georgia, and in the Knoxville Campaign fighting at Cheek’s Cross Roads and Russellville. Action in Virginia flares at and near Strasburg and from Williamsburg to Charles City Court House.
December 13, Sunday

Skirmishing increases with action at Hurricane Bridge, West Virginia; Powell’s River near Stickleyville, Strasburg, and Germantown, Virginia; and in east Tennessee at Farley’s Mill and Dandridge’s Mill. Other fighting occurs at Ringgold, Georgia, and at Meriwether’s Ferry, Bayou Boeuf, Arkansas.

Emily Todd Helm, Mrs. Lincoln’s half sister and widow of slain Confederate General Helm, is visiting the White House.
December 14, Monday

General Longstreet attacks Federal troops at Bean’s Station, Tennessee. In a sharp engagement Federals under Brigadier General James M. Shackelford are driven back, then make a stand, only to withdraw tomorrow. Other fighting in the area includes the capture of a Union wagon train near Clinch Mountain Gap, and skirmishing at Granger’s Mill and near Morristown. In Georgia a Federal reconnaissance moves from Rossville to La Fayette. In Arkansas skirmishing breaks out at Caddo Mill; in West Virginia on Blue Sulphur Road near Meadow Bluff; and in Virginia near Catlett’s Station. For most of the rest of December there are miscellaneous cavalry affairs in Virginia.

President Lincoln announces that his wife’s half sister, Mrs. Ben Hardin Helm, has been granted amnesty after taking the oath to the Union, as provided by the presidential proclamation of December 8th.
December 15, Tuesday

Reverting to the proposal he made soon after the fall of Vicksburg, General Grant has sent Charles Dana to Washington to lay before his superiors a plan for holding the line of the Tennessee with a skeleton force while the rest of his troops move down the Mississippi to New Orleans, from which point they would move against Mobile and reduce it, then march through Alabama and across Georgia, living off the abundance of the Confederate heartland as they go. Meanwhile the Army of the Potomac would pin Lee down by taking the offensive, and in this connection he suggests that Meade be replaced by Sherman or Baldy Smith, who could better appreciate the need for coordinating the eastern and western efforts. Presently Dana wires Grant that he has explained the scheme to Lincoln, Stanton, and Halleck, all three of whom see considerable merit in it: aside, that is, from the risk to which it would expose the weakened Union center while the bulk of the troops from there are on the way downriver. That drawback makes it sound to them like something devised by McClellan, which plainly will not do. Besides, they want no more Chickamaugas, especially none that would be followed up by the victors, who presumably would do just that if they are given the second chance this seems to offer. In short—except for that part of it favoring Meade’s replacement by Smith, which all three chiefs applaud as an excellent idea, despite some misgivings about Baldy’s “disposition and personal character”—Grant’s proposal is turned down. Dana adds, though, that the trio welcomed his suggestions and said that they would like to hear more of them, if he has any more of them in mind.

Action is near Pulaski and Livingston, Tennessee, and at Sangster’s Station, Virginia.

Major General Jubal A. Early is assigned to the Shenandoah Valley District.
December 16, Wednesday

After a full week of discussion, General Johnston is favored by a majority of the conference in Richmond for command of the Army of Tennessee. The minority, though still unreconciled to his appointment, confesses that it has no one else to offer. According to the Secretary of War Seddon, “the President, after doubt and with misgivings to the end, chose him … not with exaltation on this score, but as the best on the whole to be obtained.” Davis wires Johnston at Meridian this same day, two weeks after Bragg was relieved, ordering him to turn over command of the Army of Mississippi to General Polk and proceed to Dalton, Georgia, to assume command of the Army of Tennessee.

Requested to inspect the Richmond defenses, Lee will stay on for another five days, during which time he is lionized by the public and invited by the House of Representatives to take what is infelicitously called “a seat on the floor.” A four-day extension of the visit would allow him to spend his first Christmas with his family since two years before the war, but he won’t have it so; he is thinking of his army on the Rapidan and the men there who are far from home as this gayest of holidays draws near.

Fighting includes a skirmish at Salem, Virginia—part of the railroad raiding; a demonstration on Fort Gibson, Indian Territory; skirmishes near Springfield, Missouri; Free Bridge, North Carolina; fighting at Upperville, Virginia; and at Rutledge, Tennessee. For the remainder of the month Federals operate from Fayetteville with fighting at Stroud’s Store and on the Buffalo River, Arkansas.

Brigadier General John Buford is named Federal major general a few hours before his death in Washington. Buford, who succumbs to typhoid, has had a brilliant career, particularly at Gettysburg.

A million-dollar fire destroys a regimental hospital, an arsenal, and a bakery at Yorktown, Virginia.
December 17, Thursday

President Lincoln forwards to Congress a plan by the Freedman’s Aid Society to set up a Federal Bureau of Emancipation to assist freed Blacks.

Skirmishing is confined to Sangster’s Station, Virginia, and Rodney, Mississippi. A Federal expedition operates from Washington to Chicoa Creek, North Carolina.
December 18, Friday

For some time Lincoln has been disturbed over relations between the Missouri state government and the military under General Schofield. In a letter to Secretary of War Stanton the President says he believes Schofield must be relieved from command of the Department of the Missouri, but promoted to major general at the same time. He suggests Rosecrans for the command post.

Minor fighting continues with action at Bean’s Station and Rutledge, Tennessee; Indiantown or Sandy Swamp, North Carolina; near Culpeper, Virginia; and at Sheldon’s Place near Barren Fort, Indian Territory. For the rest of the month there are scattered operations in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee, and for three days Federal scouts operate against guerrillas from Vienna to Middleburg, Virginia. The Richmond Dispatch calls for postponement of minor differences and criticisms of the Confederate government in view of “this decisive crisis in the national affairs.” Chaplains of Lee’s army meet at Orange Court House, where reports indicate a “high state of religious feeling throughout the army.”
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