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

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#15262254
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.
#15262340
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.”
#15262446
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.
#15262513
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.
#15262630
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.
#15262732
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.
#15262815
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.
#15262893
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.
#15262981
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.
#15263069
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.
#15263149
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.
#15263194
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.
#15263261
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.
#15263336
January 29, Sunday

Skirmishers at Robertsville, South Carolina; and near Harrodsburg, Kentucky, mark the day. There is an affair at Danville, Kentucky. There is considerable interest in just where and how Sherman will move when he gets rolling in South Carolina, and whether there really is any hope for the proposed conference between Federal and Confederate officials.
#15263430
January 30, Monday

President Lincoln issues a pass for the three Confederate commissioners to go through US military lines to Fort Monroe. Major General John Pope is assigned to command of the new Military Division of the Missouri, consisting of the combined Missouri and Kansas areas.

Skirmishing breaks out in La Fayette County, Missouri; near Lawtonville, South Carolina; and at Chaplintown, Kentucky. There is a scout to Long Bridge and Bottom’s Bridge, north of the James in Virginia; as well as an expedition from Thibodeaux to Lake Verrett and Bayou Plantation, Louisiana, both Union.
#15263514
January 31, Tuesday

With an outburst of enthusiasm from the gallery and the floor, the US House of Representatives passes by two thirds the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery. There are 119 in favor, 56 opposed, and 8 not voting to send the amendment, long since approved by the Senate, to the states for ratification. President Lincoln has vigorously backed the measure and has gone to great efforts to see it past the House, where it failed previously. There are reports of political deals involving Democrats who had been opposed to the amendment last year. The debate has been long and furious. Radicals such as Thad Stevens of Pennsylvania have declared that states cannot “return” to the Union, but have to be admitted as new states, a view opposed by the Administration. But at least on the abolition of slavery President Lincoln and the Radicals temporarily agree. The vote confirms what has been evident for a long time: one result of the war will be an end to slavery. Also, it puts on a constitutional level the Emancipation Proclamation of the President, which he has maintained was strictly a war measure.

President Davis recommends to the Confederate Senate, and it promptly approves, the appointment of General Robert E. Lee as General-in-Chief of the Confederates Armies. Lee continues primarily as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

In Washington President Lincoln issues instructions for Secretary of State Seward to go to Fort Monroe to confer with the Confederate commissioners “on the basis of my letter to F. P. Blair, Esq., on Jan. 18, 1865.” This means that the President is willing to confer on restoration of the national authority throughout all states, but will not back away from his position on slavery, and there can be no cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war and disbandment of hostile forces. Of course, he will only treat the problem as that of one nation, whereas President Davis would carry out discussions as between two nations.

Meanwhile, the Confederate commission crosses the lines outside Petersburg, is cheered heartily by the war-weary soldiers on both sides, and eventually appears at Grant’s headquarters at City Point. The commission is a distinguished group consisting of Vice President Alexander Stephens, Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell, and Senator Robert M.T. Hunter of Virginia. The Confederate commissioners had hoped to go to Washington, but they will be halted at Fort Monroe.

The last day of January has been important politically and socially, but on the military front there is only a Union expedition from Organza to New Roads, Louisiana, and a two-day expedition from Fort Pike to Bayou Bonfouca, Louisiana.

President Davis tells Lee of his attempt to bring Confederate troops from the Trans-Mississippi to defend against Sherman. Davis points out that Congress hasn’t adopted his manpower measures, and asks Lee for suggestions “in this, our hour of necessity....”
#15263578
February 1865

The fighting fronts have been relatively quiet for over a month, except for the fall of Fort Fisher. The abolition of slavery has been confirmed as a major mission of the North in prosecuting the war now that Congress has passed the 13th Amendment. It is quite probable that the amendment ending slavery will find fairly quick approval in most of the states. While abolition has been in the war aims for some time, it has moved out of military policy and more into domestic principles. A few in the North complain, but the climate has been prepared for the amendment. In some areas of the South the amendment’s passage possibly strengthens resistance, but at the same time the futility of that resistance becomes more and more evident.

Hopes of peace are sweeping across both lands and many yearn for the forthcoming negotiations, or something like them, to yield results. If that doesn’t work, then the Northern might will roll ahead, with Grant increasing pressure at Richmond and Petersburg, Sherman heading out from Savannah and Hilton Head into South Carolina, and the blockade much more effective now that primary ports are virtually sealed. In the West, Thomas or the Federal cavalry can clean out what weak resistance remains without much effort. Lee commands all the Southern armies now, but there isn’t very much to command outside of Virginia.

February 1, Wednesday

Before the rains came to Georgia, most of the XVII Corps of Sherman’s right wing, under Major General Francis P. Blair Jr., had moved by ship thirty miles up the coast to Beaufort, South Carolina. Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps followed by land and sea, and at the end of January, Howard’s wing reassembled at Pocotaligo, a village 35 miles inland. While the left wing continues to be bogged down in place, the right wing moves out through drenched terrain, crisscrossed with streams, that has become one continuous swamp—“Frog Heaven,” the soldiers call it. Sherman compares the swamp to a 4th of July political oration: “only knee deep, but spread all over creation.” In fact, the water is chest deep—and Sherman’s men often have to wade through it for miles. They make no effort to be quiet, but call out warnings and imprecations to one another as they struggle to extricate draft animals from the ooze. To add to the din, one regimental commander issues a whiskey ration to his grateful men “in view of the exposure.” As a result “such a wild scene of splashing and yelling and braying has rarely greeted mortal eyes and ears.” Confederate snipers are all about, and the Federal skirmishers watch each other closely; a wounded man will drown unless help reaches him quickly.

Sherman cannot count on receiving regular supplies until he reaches a new base, so he is traveling with an unusually large number of wagons—about 2,500. Since he dares not leave wounded men behind in hostile country, he has also brought 600 ambulances. The wagons and ambulances, added to the army’s 68 guns, make up a train 25 miles long that churn the mud of the roads into a deep, heavy broth. Captain George Ward Nichols, Sherman’s aide-de-camp, describes what often happens: “A wagon, painfully toiling along the road, suddenly careens; the wheels are submerged in a quicksand; every effort of the mules or horses to pull out only buries the unfortunate vehicle deeper in the mire, and very soon the animals have dug for themselves a pit, out of which many are never extricated alive.” One or two wagons stuck this way shows that the road must be corduroyed. Corduroying is “detestable work.” Logs have to be cut from the surrounding forests, trimmed, flattened on one side, and laid across the road to provide a solid surface for the animals and wagons. Saplings are then fitted between the logs. The men who have been chosen to serve as pioneers struggle for hours in the rain, knee-deep in the swamp. Corduroying is not only arduous; it can be dangerous. One campaigner notes in his diary that in a single day two men in his unit were killed by falling trees and a third “tried to lose an axe in his foot.”

The speed of the Federal advance under these daunting circumstances stuns the Confederates. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it happen,” General Hardee will say later. And perhaps the ultimate accolade is delivered by a Confederate prisoner. If Sherman’s men were sent to hell, he comments sourly to one of his captors, “they’d corduroy it and march on.”


Union soldiers operate against Amerinds about Fort Boise, Idaho Territory for most of February. A minor skirmish occurs in McLemore’s Cove, Georgia, and a Federal scout probes from Warrensburg to Wagon Knob, Tabo Creek, and other spots in Missouri. The Union Navy makes a foray against Southern salt works at St. Andrews Bay, Florida.

Illinois becomes the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. President Lincoln signs a resolution submitting the amendment to the states even though his signature isn’t required. Later he responds to a serenade, “The occasion was one of congratulation to the country and to the whole world.” Now the task is to get the amendment approved. The President announces the Illinois legislature’s approval and thinks “this measure was a very fitting if not an indispensable adjunct to the winding up of the great difficulty ... this amendment is a King’s cure for all the evils. (Applause) It winds the whole thing up.”


Early in the day a cipher to General Grant at City Point, Virginia, from Lincoln reads, “Let nothing which is transpiring, change, hinder, or delay your Military movements, or plans.” By this the President means that the forthcoming conference with Confederate leaders or other possible peace overtures shouldn’t interfere with the military phase of the war.

The conference itself, however, has a problem getting underway. The Confederate commissioners have instructions from President Davis not to meet anyone unless it is expressly understood that they represent an independent nation. President Lincoln, on the other hand, has made it clear that no such understanding is acceptable. He had, after all, taken the country to war four years ago on the principle that the Union is indissoluble; from the Northern point of view there is no Confederate nation, merely a section of the Union that is in rebellion. The three commissioners struggle to find some compromise wording acceptable to both presidents, but nothing suffices: Every proposal is rejected by the Administration in Washington, where the negotiations are being overseen by the dour Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. It seems that the Confederates will have to return to Washington.

When the three Southerners had appeared on his doorstep, Grant gave them comfortable accommodations and the run of City Point; several relaxed and friendly conversations have taken place. Grant thinks the Southerners sincere, and when it appears that their undertaking is about to founder, he decides to lend a hand. Keeping in mind that he is a military officer dabbling in political affairs, Grant sends a careful message to Stanton expressing regret that President Lincoln cannot meet in person with the Confederate trio. The message is intended, of course, for the President, and Lincoln responds at once: If Grant wants him, he will come. “Say to the gentlemen,” he wires, “I will meet them personally at Fortress Monroe as soon as I can get there.”


President Davis, with considerable reluctance, accepts the resignation of Secretary of War James A. Seddon, long the subject of much criticism and controversy. A Virginia delegation in the Confederate Congress has even called for relieving all the Cabinet. Davis defends the right of the President to choose his own advisors.
#15263660
February 2, Thursday

Sherman’s right wing is on the Salkehatchie River. The rivers and swamps are as much obstacles to the Federal advance into South Carolina as the Confederate cavalry and other troops trying vainly to block the way. Severe skirmishing takes place at Lawtonville, Barker’s Mill, on Whippy Swamp, Duck Branch near Loper’s Cross Roads, and Rivers’ and Broxton’s bridges on the Salkehatchie. There is a skirmish on St. John’s River, Florida. Operations against Amerinds last until the 18th on the North Platte River in Colorado and Nebraska territories, after Amerinds attack the Overland Stage Station at Julesburg, Colorado Territory.

Rhode Island and Michigan join Illinois in ratifying the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery.

President Lincoln leaves Washington for Hampton Roads, Virginia, where the three Confederate commissioners are already gathered. In the evening the President arrives at Fort Monroe and boards River Queen, where Secretary of State William H. Seward already has his headquarters.
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