Civil War Daily Gazette

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

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‘This is All for Political Effect’ – A Day Spent Musing on Spring

Grant wasn't really worried about anything.

February 16, 1864 (Tuesday) “The rebels will give us much trouble in the spring,” wrote General-in-Chief Henry Halleck to William Tecumseh Sherman, “and I fear we will not be fully prepared for them.” Across the autumn and winter, things had been going fairly well for the Federal cause. Still, there was an air of uncertainty and even panic that much would be lost come spring. As things stood in the middle of February, Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee had just marched across Mississippi and captured Meridian. From there, they threatened Mobile, Alabama. To the south, General Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf was preparing for a late winter campaign along the Red River in Louisiana. It was hoped the Frederick Steele’s Army of Arkansas would storm across their namesake to join with Banks. Following the Meridian Campaign, it was almost assumed that Sherman would cross the Mississippi River to join them. This would mean that all of the Rebels between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi would be handled by George Thomas’ Army of the… Read More

Pickett Executes Eighteen More Prisoners of War

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February 15, 1864 (Monday) Following his botched expedition against Federal-held New Bern, North Carolina, General George Pickett had exacted his revenge by executing two Union prisoners and threatened the same for more. When retreating, Pickett’s men captured 200 or so enemy soldiers. Twenty-two of them were found out to be former Rebels, who had joined the North Carolina militia before defecting to the Northern cause. Though they never officially joined the Confederate Army, this seemed to matter not at all to General Pickett, who, by the end of the first week of February, had found them to be Confederate deserters worthy of the death penalty. Ten days had passed since the execution of the first two. In that time, Pickett had established a court-martial in Kingston, North Carolina, officiated by his own officers. Since the prisoners had never actually been part of the Confederate Army, they should have been treated as any other prisoners of war. Disregarding this, Pickett went forward. The trials moved swiftly, as did the executions. By the 12th, five more prisoners… Read More

‘We Occupied the City Without a Shot’ – Sherman Takes Meridian

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February 14, 1864 (Sunday) In their retreating, the Confederates under Leonidas Polk had destroyed bridges and felled trees across the same roads that the Federals led by William Tecumseh Sherman were tramping. Before them worked the Pioneers, axing trees, rebuilding bridges, and corduroying roads. Helmed by Captain Andrew Hickenlooper, the Federal pioneers rose before dawn to rebuild the bridge across Tallahatta Creek, twenty miles west of Meridian, Mississippi. The infantry followed at 9am, though this day, like the last, was one of constant starts and stops. The reason for this spasmodic movement was, of course, the downed trees. General Sherman was doing his best to quicken the pace. Writing his official report, he recalled the road conditions. “At the Tallahatta [River], 20 miles from Meridian, we found the road obstructed with fallen timber,” wrote Sherman, “and satisfied the enemy was trying to save time to cover the removal of railroad property from Meridian, I dropped our trains with good escorts and pushed on over all obstructions straight for the Oktibbeha, where we found the bridge… Read More

‘Set Your Faces Sternly’ – Sherman to Enter Meridian

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February 13, 1864 (Saturday) Though William Tecumseh Sherman’s pace was incredible, covering almost 150 miles in two weeks, the previous day had ground his march to a halt. While his cavalry skirmished with the Rebels east of Decatur, Mississippi, his infantry was crawling through the streets of the burning town. The commander was hardly pleased, but as he slept, he was awoken by gunfire much closer than he felt was comfortable. It was a small, but surprising, attack of Confederate cavalry. Typically, a regiment was left behind at headquarters to act as a sort of body guard. This night, however, the appointed unit had marched east with the infantry, leaving Sherman behind. The Rebels hit the wagon train, scattering the undefended lines through the backyard of the cabin where Sherman was staying. It was harrowing, but before long, a brigade of infantry raced back to drive off the Confederates, who were unable to capture even a single wagon, let alone a Union general. Meanwhile, thirty miles east at Meridian, the Confederates under Leonidas Polk were… Read More

Grant Orders a Move Against Johnston

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February 12, 1864 (Friday) If there was one thing that General Grant was worried about when it came to William Tecumseh Sherman’s stab toward Meridian, Mississippi, it was Joe Johnston. It’s not that he was really all that worried about it, but it was something that he absolutely kept in mind. Johnston’s Rebel Army was hunkered in and around Dalton, Georgia, not too far south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. If Johnston were left to his own devices, worried Grant, he might send reinforcements to Leonidas Polk, the Confederate commander about to face off against Sherman. To see that this didn’t happen, Grant sent a message to George Thomas, helming the Union Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga. “On the 12th of February,” wrote Grant in his Memoirs, “I ordered Thomas to take Dalton and hold it, if possible; and I directed him to move without delay.” Grant oversimplified the transaction. Originally, Grant wanted Thomas to head northeast to Knoxville to bolster the Army of the Ohio, now under its new commander, John Schofield. James Longstreet’s Rebels… Read More

Polk Almost Figures it Out (Again)

Johnston would absolutely love to help you, but he's really busy not helping right now.

February 11, 1864 (Thursday) “Keep in communication with General Polk,” wrote President Davis to Joe Johnston, “and do what you can to assist him, eithe rby sending him re-enforcements or joining him with what force you can. If possible the enemy should be met before he reaches the Gulf and establishes a base to which supplies and re-enforcements may be sent by sea.” Leonidas Polk, commanding the Confederate forces in Mississippi, was convinced that the Federal troops under William Tecumseh Sherman were headed for Mobile, Alabama. Though they numbered roughly 25,000, Polk placed their number nearer to 35,000. Either way, however, the relative handful of troops – no more than 10,000 – could do little to prevent the Union troops from doing pretty much whatever they pleased. In his reply to Davis, Johnston shrugged it off. “General Polk’s cavalry ought to prevent such a march,” he fired back with no advice at all for how such a thing might be accomplished. To Polk, Johnston was full of questions, asking him where the enemy was located,… Read More

‘I Will Hurt Them All I Can’ – Sooy Smith Prepares for Battle

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February 10, 1864 (Wednesday) As the Federal column under General William Tecumseh Sherman marched east through Mississippi, there was another column, mounted, that was integral to the success of the scheme. General William Sooy Smith’s cavalry was to move in concern with Sherman, both reaching Meridian at about the same time. While Sherman advanced from Vicksburg, Smith was to descend from Collierville, near Memphis. Sherman was still several days out from Meridian, and not fully convinced that his path would be a clear one to that important railroad hub. Still, he was fairly certain that Smith would not appear when he was supposed to do so. Smith was ordered to move on February 1st, traverse the 250 miles to Meridian, and arrive on this date. But on this date, he and his command were still in Collierville. If there was one thing that Sherman feared would completely derail Sooy Smith’s advance (apart from Smith, himself) was the Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest. They had thinly spread themselves as a sort of buffer between Smith… Read More

Polk Divines Sherman En Route to Mobile

Polk: I'm here! Let's go!

February 9, 1864 (Tuesday) The day previous had been one of marching. General Sherman’s two corps made their way east from Brandon, Mississippi toward Morton, where two divisions of Confederates under William Wing Loring and Samuel French were more or less arrayed to resist them. As the Yankees drew closer, General Loring came up with the plan to place French’s Division west of the town, while the cavalry under S.D. Lee played upon the Federals’ flanks. His own division would be nearby as support. Confederate General Leonidas Polk was in command of both, but had been in Mobile, Alabama preparing the port city for a suspected attack. The attack, he now suspected, would come from Sherman. Deducing that the true aim of the easterly Federal advance was Mobile, Polk sent two brigades en route to Loring’s defensive position in Morton to Mobile, instead. Loring’s plan to resist Sherman was quickly given up when he realized that he was grossly outnumbered. S.D. Lee’s cavalry could find no practicable means of disrupting the Union march and any… Read More

General Pickett Executes Two Union Soldiers, Possibly More to Come

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February 8, 1864 (Monday) On this chilly morning, the readers of the Petersburg Register, a Confederate newspaper operating south of Richmond, were treated to an account of the recent debacle at New Bern, North Carolina. The undertaking was led by General George Pickett, and it failed miserably, embarrassing the South, and the general in particular. The paper stated simply that “the place was stronger than we anticipated.” This was true, but also related a story that Pickett might have rathered be kept out of print. “From a private, who was one of the guard that brought the batch of prisoners through, we learn that Colonel Shaw was shot dead by a negro soldier from the other side of the river which he was spanning with a pontoon bridge. The negro was watched, followed, taken, and hanged after the action at Thomasville. It is stated that when our troops entered Thomasville a number of the enemy took shelter in the houses and fired upon them. The Yankees were ordered to surrender but refused, whereupon our men… Read More

The Work of Destruction was Most Thoroughly Done – Sherman Moves East

S.D. Lee will be up here if/when you need him.

February 7, 1864 (Thursday) “The enemy have crossed the river and are driving my men in on both the upper and lower Jackson roads,” wrote C.C. Wilbourn, commanding the Confederate cavalry holding best they could near Brandon, Mississippi. “They are fighting me altogether with small arms.” While most of the Rebel cavalry under S.D. Lee had regrouped well to the north of General Sherman’s eastward-marching columns, some had remained with the infantry under William Wing Loring and Samuel French, whose commands were much closer to Morton, twenty miles farther east. From his new encampment, General Loring took up Wilbourn’s case, writing to Lee. “It will be necessary to have some cavalry on the road to Jackson,” he explained. “I am informed that Wilbourn has only 40 men and Herren only 60 men.” Lee replied that he had sent a “good regiment” to Loring at dawn, but thus far, Loring had heard nothing from it but rumors that it was scattered. With merely 100 men between his force of, perhaps, 6,000 and the 25,000 Yankees, Loring… Read More

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