A no-frills day-by-day account of what was happening 150 years ago, this blog is intended to be a way that we can experience or remember the Civil War with more immediacy, in addition to understanding the flow of time as we live in it.
---A force of Federals under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler try a
half-hearted attack on Petersburg, Virginia, in an attempt to undermine Lee’s
position around Richmond.His 4,500 men
are beaten off by Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s 2,500 men.Butler decides not to try again.
---Gen. Sherman issues orders to his three
columns---McPherson, Thomas, and Schofield---to take three parallel routes
south with the aim of converging upon Marietta, where Joseph Johnston and Army
of Tennessee await them.
---A Union force strikes back at Mount Sterling, Kentucky,
and drives Morgan and his raiders out in a rout.
---The National Union Party, a coalition party of
Republicans and pro-war Democrats, convened in Balitmore yesterday.Today, by a large majority, they nominate
Abraham Lincoln for President.In an
unusual move, however, they do not re-nominate Vice President Hannibal Hamlin,
but Andrew Johnson of Tennessee (currently governor of Tennessee) for Vice
--Gen. Sherman strengthens his position on the Western and
Atlantic railroad, but feels restrained by the vast resources he must expend to
guard his ever-lengthening supply line.Still
smarting from large losses at the battles of Dallas, Ezra Church, and Pickett’s
Mill, the Federals use maneuver and the weight of numbers to outflank the
Rebels; in nearly every case, it has failed.
---Meanwhile, at Mount Sterling, Kentucky, far behind Union
lines, Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his Confederate raiders captures the Union
garrison there, and appropriate $18,000.00 from the local bank.
---Charles H. Lynch, of the 18th Connecticut Vol.
Infantry, writes in his diary of the campaign in the Valley with Gen. Hunter,
after the Battle of Piedmont:
June 8th. Again routed out
early. Into line on the march through town to continue our work of destruction.
Piling up ties, place the rails on top, set fire to the ties. When the rails
become hot in the center, they warp or bend, making them useless. The march out
of town, along the railroad, destroying it, makes very hard work for us, as we
put in a long day, and not very much food. We manage to pick up some corn meal
and a little flour, which we make into pan-cakes, called by the boys, ToeJam.
Some of the boys received bruises and jams in the work on the railroad. There
is much kicking over the hard work.
In camp tonight, talking over
the events of the day, wondering what the morrow has in store for us. Many
buildings and much property in town have been destroyed by fire, by order of
General Hunter. Many of the women look sad and do much weeping over the
destruction that is going on. We feel that the South brought on the war and the
State of Virginia is paying dear for her part. The loss of our good boys brings
us many sad hours. We cannot help think, and wonder who will be the next one to
give his life for our country.
---In Georgia, as part of Sherman’s campaign to take
Marietta on the way to Atlanta, Sergeant Alexander Downing, of the 11th
Iowa Infantry, writes in his journal:
Wednesday, 8th—We moved forward
early this morning, marching twelve miles to the little town of Ackworth, where
we went into camp. We are now with Sherman’s army, our corps being placed on
the left in front of Atlanta. Our front is about twenty-five miles north of the
city, while my division is back about ten miles farther. Sherman’s forces now
number about one hundred and fifty thousand men and it is thought that the
rebels under Johnston have seventy-five thousand. Our army, in the main, is
lying still today, though there is some skirmishing in the front. The rebels
have fallen back about ten miles. The health of our men is excellent; they are
in fine spirits and anxious for a fight.
Day 7:At last, a truce is called
between the two armies in order that burial teams may go out to bury the
stench-ridden corpses from the last several days of fighting.By this time, of course, most of the wounded
who had lain there for four days were dead.Northern newspapers will criticize Grant heavily for not making the
truce sooner, but they are unaware that it was mostly Lee’s reticence that
prevented an earlier truce.
Burying the dead at Cold Harbor, a year later
William P. Derby, of the 27th Massachusetts
Infantry, describes part of what he saw:
Four days of sun and rain, with
the severe heat of summer, had passed over our slain, and the air was laden
with insufferable putrescence. We breathed it in every breath, tasted it in the
food we ate and water we drank. What seemed intolerable to us, was doubly so to
the enemy, from their nearness to the dead, and from the fact that the
prevailing winds, wafting over the field, carried the fumes directly to them.
The granting of the truce was a necessity rather than a virtue.
The ground was strewn with
bloated and discolored forms, every feature so distorted that recognition from
this source was impossible. . . . Now and then some poor wounded one was found,
in all the horrors of a living death. For four long days and nights they had
remained upon that field, with ghastly wounds, without food, water or care, and
surrounded by remains exuding a stifling stench. Who can depict the terrible
sufferings of those long, long hours of horror . . . ? Nature gave but few the
endurance to bridge such an awful chasm, so that the work was chiefly with the
Long trenches were dug, in
which they were laid, side by side, with such winding-sheets as their blankets
afforded. . . . The utmost haste failed to entomb the immense mass of our
slain, before a signal-gun gave notice that the “truce had expired.” At the
next gun the dogs of war would be let loose upon any remaining on the field,
and hence our burial party hastily retired. A few moments later we were again
engaged in the deadly fray. Those comrades participating in the burial were so
overcome by the stench as to be unfit for duty for several days.
---Of the unauthorized meetings between soldiers of the two
sides, Major Theodore Lyman, a staff officer serving with Gen. Meade, recounts
Some extraordinary scenes
occurred during the armistice. Round one grave, where ten men were laid, there
was a great crowd of both sides. The Rebels were anxious to know who would be
next President. “Wall,” said one of our men, “I am in favor of Old Abe.” “He’s
a damned Abolitionist!” promptly exclaimed a grey-back. Upon which our man hit
his adversary between the eyes, and a general fisticuff ensued, only stopped by
officers rushing in.
---Gen. Grant, seeing that Gen. Hunter and Crook, now
combined in the Shenandoah Valley, has the potential to cross the Blue Ridge and
capture Charlottesville, thus threatening Lee’s rear, decides on a comprehensive
strategic shift.He send Sheridan with
two divisions of cavalry westward to strike at Charlottesville and the railroads
that supply Lee’s army.He also plans to
shift the Army of the Potomac southward, from his left flank, to end run Lee’s
men.Lee’s response is predictable:
first, he pulls Breckinridge’s division off the lines and sends him post-haste
to the Valley to stem the Union tide there; he also sends two divisions of
cavalry to chase Sheridan and keep him busy.
Day 6: Sporadic
fighting continues along the lines, in spite of Meade having sent Maj. Theo.
Lyman, of his staff, forward with a white flag to discuss a truce in order to
bury the dead.Both Meade and Lee are
suspicious of the motives of the other.Lee delays sending an answer for most of the day.He and Grant both dither, fearful of the
implications of the tradition that whoever asks for any kind of truce is
conceding the field as the loser.The
only significant combat is when Jubal Early probes forward toward the Union
lines, but is unable to deploy his troops in impassable swamps.
Day 5:The stalemate continues, as
both sides extend and strengthen their fortifications.All day, messages are passed back and forth
over the lines as the commanders of each army dickers with the other over the question
of a truce to care for the wounded.
Union Army camps at Cold Harbor
---Shenandoah Valley:Battle of
Virginia---As Maj. Gen. David Hunter (replacing the hapless Franz Sigel) pushes
south, up the Shenandoah Valley, he is opposed by very few Confederate
troops.There are only a small force of
mostly cavalry under Brig. Gen. John Imboden and assorted odds and ends.Gen. Lee orders Gen. Willliam “Grumble”
Jones, near Lynchburg, to march to Imboden’s aid.Grumble Jones was coming up from Lynchburg
with over 4,000 men, assuming command of the aggregate (about 5,500 men), and
decides to make a stand near Piedmont, as Hunter turns south from Port Republic
and heads toward Staunton.The
Southerners are in good positions on a ridge, with Imboden’s dismounted cavalry
holding the right flank at right angles to the main line, thus enabling
crossfire against any advancing force.Hunter sends forth Sullivan’s division of infantry against the Rebel
left flank, and the attack falters.The
Rebels counterattack, and a realignment of their lines leaves a gap on the
line.Col. William Ely of the 18th
Vermont spots the gap and acquires two howitzers to fire into it.The Union line goes forward and the
Confederates break.At a crucial moment,
while rallying his troops, Grumble Jones is shot through the head, dying
instantly.Brig. Gen. Vaughn takes
command of the Rebels, and Imboden holds a line for a while to prevent the
total destruction of the Rebel force.As
it is, Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel’s Union cavalry scoop up nearly 1,000
Confederates as prisoners.The way to
Staunton is now open.Union Victory.Losses:Union, 780;Confederate, 1,600.
Day 4: The fighting dies down into trench warfare, as
it had at Spotsylvania, except that the soldiers on both sides had become much
better at designing and building trench systems built to last.Union troops are far forward of their supply
trains, and so resort to using their hands and their bayonets to dig and build
Because the attacks by snipers are deadly and constant on
both sides, supplies have trouble moving up to the front lines.The soldiers suffer terribly from thirst and
hunger, and no relief from the filth of mud and dismembered bodies rotting in
the sun.The wounded suffer the most,
since the armies cannot go forward to retrieve them.
A highly idealized rendering of Cold Harbor
---Georgia:From poor calculations, Gen. Mansfield Lovell
tells his commander, Joseph Johnston, that the Federals under Sherman’s command
have lost as many as 45,000 casualties since they launched the campaign into
northern Georgia.In fact, the figures
come closer to only 10,000 Union casualties, but Johnston nevertheless becomes
convinced that he is prevailing, and that he need only follow the same
resist-and-fall-back delaying strategy to eventually stop Sherman.As the Federals regain control of Allatoona
and the railroad, thus securing their line of supply, the Confederates warily
pull back about ten miles, with their backs up against Kennesaw Mountain, the
most dominant eminence in the area, from whose peak one could easily see
Atlanta.Kennesaw is the key to
everything: most of the roads of any consequence meet there, and the railroad
curves around the mountain’s eastern shoulder.Sherman sets his sights on Marietta, which lies beyond Kennesaw.In the maneuvering of the two armies, small
fights erupt at Big Shanty and Acworth.