Civil War Daily Gazette

A Day-By-Day Accounting of the Conflict, 150 Years Later

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The Unchangeable Determination to Conquer or Die

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February 28, 1865 (Tuesday) Through the harsh winter, General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had experienced a hemorrhage of desertions. At its peak, scores, even hundreds of men were putting the war behind them. While Lee prescribed more executions for those caught in the act, he also hoped to stem the tide. Following the failure of the Hampton Roads peace conference, it became clear to many Southerners that the Federals were more than willing to see this to the bitterest of ends; that only full and unconditional surrender would be accepted. As far as their new country was concerned, there was nothing left to lose. There came then a new movement of reaffirmation, with entire regiments pledging themselves once more to the cause. The tide of deserters was never stopped, but perhaps these pledges, these resolutions and oaths resworn, were enough to keep those who remained fast in the trenches. Often the thought handed down to the men was that the differences between North and South were irreconcilable. There could never be hope of peace… Read More

‘My Orders Were to Destroy…’ – Dispatches from Sheridan’s March

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February 27, 1865 (Monday) From General Philip Sheridan’s Report: On the morning of February 27, 1865, we marched from Winchester up the Valley pike, with live days’ rations in haversacks, and fifteen days’ rations of coffee, sugar, and salt in wagons, thirty pounds of forage on each horse, one wagon for division headquarters, eight ambulances, and our ammunition train; no other wagons, except a pontoon train of eight boats, were permitted to accompany the command. My orders were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad, the James River Canal, capture Lynchburg if practicable, and then join Major-General Sherman wherever he might be found in North Carolina, or return to Winchester; but in joining General Sherman I must be governed by the position of affairs after the capture of Lynchburg. The command was in fine condition, but the weather was very bad, as the spring thaw, with heavy rains, bad already come on. The valley and surrounding mountains were covered with snow which was fast disappearing, putting all the streams nearly past fording. On our first day’s… Read More

The Ill-Prepared Jubal Early Prepares for Battle

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February 26, 1865 (Sunday) The Shenandoah Valley was a desolate place through this long, harsh winter. Jubal Early remained in command, but his command, like the supplies, forage and hope, was dwindled to a shadow of its former self. General Lee had stationed Early in the Valley with a small command trusting that the Federals would believe it to be much larger than in truth. Some of his troops had been sent back to Lee, while others were shuffled off into West Virginia and southwest Virginia. Other companies were dispersed for the season. This left Early with two small brigades, a smaller battalion, and a dozen or so pieces of artillery – about 1,600 men. They encamped themselves near Fisherville, a small railroad town between Staunton and Waynesboro. The late February thaw had commenced, and with that came rumors that the enemy was preparing to move. Early had sent north pickets to New Market and even beyond the Federal lines. Crossing swollen streams and fords, they gleaned these rumors to be true. Philip Sheridan was… Read More

Johnston Back in Command – Feeling Hopeless

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February 25, 1865 (Saturday) Joe Johnston was not meant to be a savior. He had served better than most through the war, but had lost command of both the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862 and the Army of Tennessee in 1864. Now, with P.G.T. Beauregard about to collapse from exhaustion, he was placed in command of the troops scattered throughout the Carolinas. On the 22nd, Johnston was ordered south, and told by General Lee to “concentrate all available forces and drive back Sherman.” Replying from North Carolina on the same day, Johnston plainly stated: “It is too late to expect me to concentrate troops capable of drivign back Sherman.” Still, he followed ordered and found himself in Charlotte, North Carolina on this date. When he arrived, he took a tally of his forces available for this potential concentration. Under General William Hardee was 8,000 at Cheraw, South Carolina, seventy-five miles southeast of Charlotte. Braxton Bragg had, perhaps, 5,000 which had been holding Fort Anderson and Wilmington. Once those fell, they retreated 100 miles north… Read More

Lee Complains of Desertions and Prepares to Evacuate Richmond

Confederate deserters crossing Union lines.

February 24, 1865 (Friday) Corrispondance, as was so often the case between two parties, cross in the sending. Such was the case with Confederate Secretary of War John Breckinridge and General Robert E. Lee. Breckinridge started by asking Lee plainly if preparations should be made to evacuate Richmond. Lee had spoken openly about the possible necessity for weeks now. With the spring campaign season stirring, it couldn’t hurt to ask. Before Lee received Breckinridge’s question, he wrote to the Secretary with an equally pressing issue: desertion. “I regret to be obliged to call your attention to the alarming number of desertions that are now occuring in the army. Since the 12th instant they amount in two divisions of Hill’s corps, those of Wilcox and Heth, to about 400. There are a good many from otehr commands. The desertions are chiefly from the North Carolina regiments, and especially those from the western part of that State. “It seems that the men are influenced very much by the representations of their friends at home, who appear to… Read More

Of Realism and Optimism in Confederate Richmond

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February 23, 1865 (Thursday) For the Southern command, this was not a day for optimism. Sherman’s army was steamrolling through South Carolina, slashing and consuming a swath before them. Wilmington, North Carolina had fallen, and there seemed to be nothing at all that could stop Sherman from uniting with Grant. But still, through this, General Lee was practical, if not somewhat optimistic. Writing to Jefferson Davis, Lee informed the president that he had “directed all the available troops in the Southern Dept to be concentrated, with a view to embarrass, if they can not arrest Shermans progress.” At the very least, Lee wanted the forces in the Carolinas to unite and stop Sherman from joining with General Schofield, who had just taken Wilmington. Lee believed that Sherman could be heading to the coast, where he would be supplied and even reinforced. If they could only keep him from receiving more sustenance, they might be able to get out of this alive. The Confederates in those reaches seemed to Lee to be “much scattered,” but he… Read More

Braxton Bragg Retreats Out of Wilmington

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February 22, 1865 (Wednesday) It had been a strange past few weeks for Braxton Bragg. With General Robert E. Lee elevated to the General-in-Chief of all the Confederates armies, his position as Davis’ military advisor was made more or less redundant. Through the second week of February, he was in Richmond turning over the office to Lee. With that business taken care of, he returned to his old department in North Carolina, arriving in Wilmington on the 21st. Much had changed since he left for Richmond – Fort Anderson’s fall being the deepest cut. “I find all our troops on this side [of] Cape Fear,” he wrote to the capital upon his arrival. “The enemy in force on the west, and our communications south cut. We are greatly out-numbered.” The greatest concern had in Richmond was not necessarily Wilmington, but it played a major role. It was wondered whether the troops under General Beauregard, retreating north from South Carolina, might still be able to pass through Wilmington. While the War Department was left for a… Read More

Davis: ‘We are Reduced to Choosing Whether the Negroes Shall Fight for or Against Us

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February 21, 1865 (Tuesday) The idea of forcing slaves to fight in the Confederate armies was one of the hottest debates in Richmond. The day previous, the House voted to allow slaves to be drafted as soldiers. Now it had to face the Senate and then the President. Jefferson Davis had already voiced his approval of the measure, though only as an absolute necessity. As things stood now, however, that time had come. At the end of December, the editor of the Mobile Register and Advertiser send Davis an editorial supporting this view, something that paper had expounded nice November of 1863. In it, the editor thought that Richmond should make “a permanent levy or draft of a certain proportion of the slave population.” Since there seemed to be no way to coax the “stragglers, skulkers and absentees” back into the armies, and since, as the paper suggested, the Union had “marshaled 200,000 of our slaves against us,” the slave population, it was proposed, should be tapped. Davis, in replying, agreed, saying that the article… Read More

Wilmington Poised to Fall

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February 20, 1865 (Monday) The day previous, Jacob Cox had lead two divisions against Fort Anderson, just south of Wilmington, North Carolina, causing the fort to be abandoned by the Confederates. Through that evening, he, with one division, gave chase. The Rebels made it across an unfordable creek, burning the bridge that spanned it. Then, from behind their embattlements, lobbed artillery shells into Cox’s lines with no effect but unsettlement. Someone had discovered a flatboat a mile below the old crossing, and Cox determined to use it come dawn. It was now dawn. He ordered General John Casement, commanding one of his three brigades, to ferry his and another brigade over in the scow, while the two remaining brigades held the original position, with one in reserve, at the old crossing and keep the enemy occupied. The lay of the land on the Confederate side of the creek dealt fortune to Cox. The Rebels had anchored their left upon a swamp, placing no pickets on its other side, figuring well that no attack could materialize… Read More

Another Confederate Fort is Abandoned

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February 19, 1865 (Sunday) After the victory at Nashville, General Jacob Cox, often the de facto commander of the Twenty-Third Corps, was given a leave of absence to visit his family in Ohio. In his words, he had “spent a week in a delightful visit with my family after two years of absence from them.” But at the end of January, this was cut short. Originally, the orders were for the corps to join the Army of the Potomac before Petersburg, but once Cox reached Washington, he found his division reassigned to Alexandria for the winter. Since the fall of Fort Fisher, General Sherman had his eye on nearby Wilmington as a base of operations once he burned his way through South Carolina. General John Schofield, Cox’ commander from the Army of the Ohio, was selected as the man for the job. By the end of January, both Grant and Schofield visited Fort Fisher and planned a new campaign. The Twenty-Third Corps would join them shortly, but two other corps would soon be formed. On… Read More

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