Civil War Daily Gazette

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

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‘How the Negroe’s Skulls Cracked’ – the Battle of the Crater

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July 30, 1864 (Saturday) “We are tunneling and Grant is also,” wrote James Albright in his diary entry for July 20th, “and some mines may be sprung any day, and many souls blown into eternity.” The battery to which James Albright belonged was planted near the center of the main Petersburg line. The line itself was manned by a division under the command of Bushrod Johnson. General Lee had shifted most of the rest of his army across the James River to the north, expecting an assault to come in that direction. But two divisions under P.G.T. Beauregard remained, with a third, under William Mahone on their right. “Just at sunrise as I had stepped up on the step of the breastwork I heard a tremendous dull report and at the same time felt the earth shake beneath me,” wrote William Russell, a sergeant in the 26th Virginia of Johnson’s Division. “I immediately looked down to our left and to my sorrow I saw an awful scene, which I never witnessed before.” “The astonishing effect… Read More

‘No, General. The Order is Final.’ – Meade Changes Burnside’s Plans at the Last Possible Moment

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July 29, 1864 (Friday) “The mine was prepared and ready for the powder to be put in on the 23rd of July,” testified Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants of the 48th Pennsylvania, “and the enemy was trying to find me out all the time; but I could not get powder to put in, or permission to put it in, until the 28th or 29th.” The mine tunneling toward and then under the Confederate works at Petersburg was complete. All that now needed to be done was to set the fuses, ignite the powder and explode the works. But there were delays and strange obstacles. For instance, the fuses that Pleasants finally received were cut up into small lengths. He had no idea why that might be, but assumed that they came from Fortress Monroe. “They sent just whatever they had,” he allowed. “It hardly ever happens that they require fuze for that distance.” That distance was over 500 feet – the length of the lateral shaft, which made its way to a series of rooms, running… Read More

Beat Their Brains Out – the Battle of Ezra Church

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July 28, 1864 (Thursday) The day previous, John Bell Hood had received the news. Sherman had sent his cavalry to swing around Atlanta and cut off his rail links to the south. There was probably no way that the Federal armies could encircle the city, but for this to have all the dreaded effects of a siege, they didn’t have to. To track down the Yankee troopers, Hood dispatched Joe Wheeler, who divided his number and galloped forward in pursuit. In the end, Wheeler’s effort would prove a Southern success. But before this was known, the threat before Hood grew even more serious. Near dawn on this date, word came in the the Union Army of the Tennessee, which had held Sherman’s left since the battle, was on the move. Hood quickly surmised that it had withdrawn to slide to the Union right to reinforce George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland for a coming attack. This was, he knew, to hit the railroad junction at East Point, southwest of the city. But if Hood’s forces… Read More

Let the Cavalry Cut Loose – Grant to Draw Lee Away from Petersburg

Capture of four 20 lb Parrotts at Deep Bottom by William Waud

July 27, 1864 (Wednesday) Word had it that General Robert E. Lee was going to attack, attempting to throw General Grant on the defensive so that the Confederates might detach troops for service near Atlanta. In an attempt to stop this before it started, Grant had a plan. I had other objects in view, however, besides keeping Lee where he was. The mine was constructed and ready to be exploded, and I wanted to take that occasion to carry Petersburg if I could. It was the object, therefore, to get as many of Lee’s troops away from the south side of the James River as possible. Accordingly, on the 26th, we commenced a movement with Hancock’s corps and Sheridan’s cavalry to the north side by the way of Deep Bottom, where Butler had a pontoon bridge laid. The plan, in the main, was to let the cavalry cut loose and, joining with Kautz’s cavalry of the Army of the James, get by Lee’s lines and destroy as much as they could of the Virginia Central… Read More

Explode the Mine Just Before Daylight – Burnside’s Plan

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July 26, 1864 (Tuesday) It had taken nearly a month, but the 510 foot mine shaft excavated under the Confederate lines south of Petersburg was complete. But it was no easy task. Undertaken by the 48th Pennsylvania, it was overseen by Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants. “The great difficulty I had,” recalled Pleasants, “was to dispose of the material got out of the mine. I found it impossible to get any assistance from anybody; I had to do all the work myself. I had to remove all the earth in old cracker boxes. I got pieces of hickory and nailed on the boxes in which we received our crackers, and then iron-cladded them with hoops of iron taken from old beef and pork barrels.” Pleasants could not understand why nobody would allow him to use the proper mining tools. Many of the men in his regiment had been miners in Pennsylvania before the war. The only officer who seemed to look upon the idea favorably was Ambrose Burnside, but even he couldn’t get them what they… Read More

Grant to Replace Meade to Protect Pennsylvania?

George Gordon Meade, man about town.

July 25, 1864 (Monday) Following Jubal Early’s raid to the suburbs of Washington, it was clear that something needed to be done to keep it from happening a second time. With that in mind, General Grant put pen to paper and jotted down a few suggestions for President Lincoln. He was convinced that one of the failures was that around Washington there were four different departments that oversaw military operations in the region. These were the Departments of Washington, West Virginia, Susquehanna (mostly central Pennsylvania), and the Middle Department (mostly the Shenandoah Valley). All four were mostly independent and in Grant’s mind, their autonomy was their downfall. As remedy, he had two suggestions. The first was that they all be combined into one department with one commander at their head. Grant thought that William Buel Franklin was the perfect choice, “because he was available and I know him to be capable and believe him to be trustworthy.” General Franklin had once been a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac. There, he helped instigate… Read More

My Line was at Once Broken and the Men Became Scattered – Union Defeat at Kernstown

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July 24, 1864 (Sunday) “On the reception of the foregoing information, I determined to attack the enemy at once; and early on the morning of the 24th, my whole force was put in motion for Winchester. The enemy, under [George] Crook, consisting of the ‘Army of West Virginia,’ [...] was found in position at Kernstown, on the same ground occupied by Shields, at the time of General Jackson’s fight with him on the 22d of March, 1862.” Union General George Crook had been informed by scouts that Jubal Early’s Confederates were marching en mass toward Winchester. He believed, however, that they were only cavalry; that the Rebel infantry had left the Shenandoah Valley. He was mistaken. Nevertheless, Crook advanced a division under Joseph Thoburn, leaving his two other divisions in camp north of Kernstown. They were fronted by Alfred Duffie’s cavalry, who took up positions on either side of the road leading south toward Strasburg. It was not long before the infantry arrived, taking Duffie’s place, while his cavalry covered the left and right flanks… Read More

‘My Force is Not Strong Enough’

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July 23, 1864 (Saturday) The pursuit of Jubal Early’s Confederates, who had raided to the gates of Washington, had come to an end. Chief of Staff Henry Halleck sent a message to General Grant near Petersburg to tell him the news. Horatio Wright, who had led the chase, had “left the enemy retreated on Front Royal and Strasburg.” It was up to Grant to decide whether they should remain near Washington to co-operate against the Rebels with another Federal army, under David Hunter, near Harpers Ferry. “In my opinion,” offered Halleck, “raids will be renews as soon as he leaves; but you are the judge whether or not a large enough movable force shall be kept here to prevent them.” Apparently, Halleck’s passive-aggressive assault upon Grant’s better judgment was a successful means of assailing the army’s highest ranking official. In reply, Grant reminded Halleck that he had told him to retain Wright until Jubal Early’s retreat “was fully assured.” He had even suggested that they attack the enemy. “You need not send any troops back… Read More

The Death of James McPherson

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July 22, 1864 (Friday) Union General James McPherson commanded the Army of the Tennessee, one of three Northern armies outside Atlanta. The left wing was his, and before dawn he received orders from William Tecumseh Sherman to set his command in motion. He was not to extend to his own left, but to withdraw Grenville Dodge’s entire Sixteenth Corps – a third of his number – east to Decatur. They were to fall upon the railroad like locusts, laying waste to all they could. Sherman’s plan was actually to completely withdraw McPherson’s army as soon as he railroad was gutted, and to fall in to the right of George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland. This would send McPherson from the extreme left to the extreme right of the Federal forces. But when dawn came, Sherman could see that the Confederate lines north of the town and before General Thomas’ army had been abandoned. For a time, Sherman believed this to mean that the entire Rebel army had evacuated Atlanta. It had always been a possibility,… Read More

‘I Want Him Pursued Vigorously’ – Sherman Launches Another Attack

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July 21, 1864 (Thursday) “During the night,” wrote General Sherman after the war, “I had full reports from all parts of our line, most of which was partially intrenched as against a sally, and finding that McPherson was stretching out too much on his left flank, I wrote him a note early in the morning not to extend so much by his left; for we had not troops enough to completely invest the place, and I intended to destroy utterly all parts of the Augusta Railroad to the east of Atlanta, then to withdraw from the left flank and add to the right.” The Army of Tennessee, commanded by James McPherson, had advanced toward Atlanta from Decatur in the east. But in his hesitation, McPherson’s success was limited. “I was in hopes you could have made a closer approach to Atlanta,” came the letter from General Sherman, “as I was satisfied you had a less force and more inferior works than will be revealed by daylight, if, as I suppose, Hood proposes to hold Atlanta… Read More

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