Civil War Daily Gazette

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

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‘I Fear Now It Will Be Impossible’ – Lee With Nowhere to Turn

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March 26, 1865 (Sunday) With the utter failure of the assault upon Fort Stedmen the day previous, General Robert E. Lee had now to consider what was best for his army. But first, he had to explain to President Jefferson Davis why he took the risk of an assault, and why it failed. “I have been unwilling to hazard any portion of the troops in an assault upon fortified positions,” explained Lee, “preferring to reserve their strength for the struggle which much soon commence, but I was induced to assume the offensive from the believe that the point assailed could be carried without much loss, and the hope that by the seizure of the redoubts in the rear of the enemy’s main line, I could sweep along his entrenchments to the south, so that if I could not cause their abandonment, General Grant would at least be obliged so to curtain his lines, that upon the approach of General Sherman, I might be able to hold our position with a portion of the troops, and… Read More

‘This Last Supreme Effort’ – Confederates Assault Fort Stedman

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March 25, 1865 (Saturday) Captain John F. Burch, 3rd Maryland Infantry: “At 4am I visited the picket-line and saw that the men were up. On visiting the line I did not notice anything unusual on the enemy’s lines. After visiting the right of the picket-line I returned to the left of that portion of the line in front of Fort Stedman and Battery 11, where the captain of the picket makes his headquarters. I had not returned but a few minutes when the man on lookout gave notice that the enemy were approaching. At that moment the men on the post fired their pieces . At the same time I ran around to the bomb-proof, which concealed the right of the line from my view. I had no proceeded far when I noticed the enemy had crossed the picket line and making for Fort Stedman. They demanded me to surrender, and fired a few shots at me. I ran down tot he left of the line. On coming near the bomb-proof I found they were… Read More

‘The Most Inviting Point for Attack’ – Lee Plans to Assault Grant

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March 24, 1865 (Friday) Since the early days of March, General Lee had become certain that he could not hold Petersburg come spring. He would have, claimed Jefferson Davis after the war, simply abandoned the city at once had not his horses been too weak to pull their burdens through the quagmire that passed for roads in and around the Confederate capital. As weeks drew on, Lee turned to corps commander John Gordon, whose troops – those of Richard Ewell’s Corps – held the right of the Army of Northern Virginia. Gordon had gained favor with the commanding general, rising in rank as those before him fell ill or were ushered off to other parts of the war. To Lee, at least according to Gordon, he gave three suggestions about the near future of the army. First, he suggested that they could meet with Grant and hope for the best terms he would give. Second, if they would not surrender, they must abandon the defenses of Petersburg and Richmond, march to North Carolina to defeat… Read More

‘I Can Do No More Than Annoy Him’ – Johnston Must Give Up

Cover of  George W. Nichols' diary.

March 23, 1865 (Thursday) Following the Battle of Bentonville, Joseph Johnston, commanding the Confederate forces, retreated across Mill Creek, into and through the town. Taking up positions a couple of miles beyond the crossing, Jo Wheeler’s cavalry held the bridge until the Federals came near to crossing. By that evening, Johnston’s army was near Smithfield. On the afternoon of this date, Johnston informed General Lee in Petersburg of the battle. “Troops of Tennessee army have fully disproved slanders that have been published against then,” he wrote, referring to John Bell Hood’s excuses for his defeat at Nashville. He also told of how Sherman’s army had moved to Goldsborough rather than to give chase. “Sherman’s course cannot be hindered by the small force I have,” Johnston warned Lee. “I can do no more than annoy him. I respectfully suggest that it is no longer a question of whether you leave present position; you have only to decide where to meet Sherman. I will be near him.” There was no question at all now. Johnston could not… Read More

Meade and Grant’s Cash-for-Guns Program a Hit with Deserting Confederates!

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March 22, 1865 (Wednesday) For some time now, a curious policy had been in place – paying the Rebel deserters for their arms. Meade had noticed in February that most who defected the Southern army did not throw down their muskets, but brought them over. “Can they be compensated for them,” asked Meade of Grant on February 21st. “My order does not contemplate payment for arms brought in by deserters,” came his timely reply. “I do not know, however, but it would be good policy to amend the order so as to make it an inducement for them to bring their arms with them.” A week and a half later, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton agreed: “There is no objection to your paying rebel deserters for their arms, horses, or anything they bring in, a full a fair price. That kind of trade will not injure the service.” Meade wished for the price to be fixed, because at this point, word had reached the Rebel lines that if they deserted with their arms, they would… Read More

Sherman’s Mistake at Bentonville

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March 21, 1865 (Tuesday) “The next day,” wrote General Sherman, “it began to rain again, and we remained quiet till about noon.” Sherman had placed Francis Blair’s Seventeenth Corps on the right, with Joseph Mower’s division holding the flank near Mill Creek. In his report, General Mower wrote: Learning that a road. leading from the right of the line crossed Mill Creek by a ford, I pushed my command down that road for the purpose of closing on the enemy’s flank. I left five companies of the First Brigade to guard the ford, then formed in line of battle, and throwing out skirmishers moved forward, keeping my line parallel, or as nearly so as possible, with the road crossing the creek. In moving forward the brigade on the right (Brigadier-General Fuller’s) encountered a very bad swamp, and I found it necessary to half the Third Brigade some three quarters of a hour to allow the First Brigade to pass the swamp. At this time our skirmishers advancing met those of the enemy; they being thus… Read More

‘Our Position Was Extremely Perilous’ – Johnston Hangs on at Bentonville

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March 20, 1865 (Monday) “On the 21st the skirmishing was resumed with spirit by the enemy,” wrote Joe Johnston. Through the night, little hand changed on the Bentonville battlefield. Johnston’s three small corps still remained in their initial lines and his left was sharply engaged. His right, on the other hand, was quiet. General Sherman, commanding the Union troops, had learned of the battle late the previous night. On the morning of this date, he rode toward the lines, his Right Wing in tow, to bring his entire force to bear against Johnston. When he arrived near the field with the bulk of the two corps, he established lines of battle and advanced, with skirmishers front, in hopes of linking up with General Slocum’s wing. Through the night, Slocum improved his line as elements of the Fifteenth Corps augmented his numbers, making the lines, in Sherman’s words, “impregnable.” The next morning, the rest of the Right Wing joined them. “I ordered General Howard to proceed with due caution, using skirmishers alone,” wrote Sherman, “till he… Read More

‘With Unusual Stubbornness’ – The Battle of Bentonville Begins

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March 19, 1865 (Sunday) General Sherman rose early. His orders for the day’s march had gone out last night, and he suspected a clear road ahead. In this, he was mistaken, and in his ignorance, he departed from the Left Wing of his army and rode casually for the Right, moving along parallel roads ten or so miles away. The day’s march was started as planned. For John Slocum’s Left Wing, this meant that the Fourteenth Corps again took the lead, with the Twentieth to follow. Even from the start, the march was contested. This was, however, only cavalry before them. A Union prisoner, escaped from Rebel captors, was brought to Slocum, telling the general that Joe Johnston’s Confederates were all up near Raleigh. Southern deserters all spoke the same tidings. And even with the boom of artillery, Slocum remained certain that cavalry only lay ahead. As General Jefferson C. Davis lead the Fourteenth Corps, he noticed that “the enemy’s pickets yielded their ground with unusual stubbornness for cavalry troops.” But the prisoners they took… Read More

‘Old Hampton is Playing a Bluff Game’ – Saving Bentonville for Battle

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March 18, 1865 (Saturday) For days, there was no certainly in Joe Johnston, commanding the patchwork of Southern forces in North Carolina. General Sherman’s forces, he believed, would march toward one of two places – the more southerly Goldsboro or the more northerly Raleigh. And so at Smithfield, located in between, he held much of his command. Johnston was relying upon his cavalry, helmed by Wade Hampton, to act as scouts and determine which way Sherman’s forces were marching. Just before dawn on this date, the fog was cleared. Hampton sent a message detailing the position of the enemy. Even better, due to the battle at Averasboro a couple of days before, the two wings had become separated, with the Left Wing being greatly strung out on the road to Goldsboro. “General Johnston directs that you immediately put your command in motion for Bentonville,” read the order to all. Bentonville was a small crossroads south of Smithfield through which the Right Wing of Sherman’s command would pass. With the Left Wing strung out and about… Read More

‘Whenever I Hear Any One Arguing for Slavery, I Feel a Strong Impulse to See it Tried on Him Personally’

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March 17, 1865 (Friday) On this date President Lincoln delivered one of his more famous speeches. There were two copies of this message – one from the New York Herald, and another, written shortly thereafter, signed personally by Lincoln. The first was spoken to the 140th Indiana Regiment, which captured a Confederate flag at Fort Anderson. But it was before Lincoln had heard that the Confederate bill to allow slaves to fight in the Southern armies had passed. The second took this into account. I have taken the liberty of splicing the two drafts together to make a third. It’s usually a bad idea to do this, but I thought I’d give it a shot anyway. Below is this new draft. The portions that come from the second, signed draft are in italics. — FELLOW CITIZENS—It will be but a very few words that I shall undertake to say. I was born in Kentucky, raised in Indiana and lived in Illinois. And now I am here, where it is my business to care equally for… Read More

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