Civil War Daily Gazette

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

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The Pause in the Operations – Lee Misreads Grant

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June 9, 1864 (Thursday) “The indications are that Grant, despairing of a direct attack, is now seeking to embarrass you by flank movements,” wrote Jefferson Davis to General Lee on this date. The day previous, Davis had joined Lee at the front, together observing the lines of the enemy. When he returned to Richmond, he assessed what he saw and concluded that Grant was going to run around Lee’s right flank once more. Lee was being stretched thin. Though he had necessarily contracted his lines at Cold Harbor, he had to deal with the defeat in the Shenandoah Valley. For this, he had already detached John Breckinridge’s troops, now numbering many less then they had when first arriving. But there was also the Union cavalry under Phil Sheridan. General Grant had dispatched the cavaliers to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad running from the Shenandoah Valley to north of Richmond. He was to begin at Louisa Court House [near Greenwood on the map], ravaging westward toward Charlottesville and the Valley. While Sheridan left on the 7th,… Read More

Lincoln Nominated for Second Term – Hamlin Hung Out to Dry

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June 8, 1864 (Wednesday) It had become almost common knowledge, at least among aficionados of the Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party to run as an incumbent in the coming presidential election. According to John Hay, Lincoln’s personal secretary, “death alone could have prevented the choice of Mr. Lincoln by the Union Convention.” The delegates had gathered the day previous in Baltimore, and there they would decided upon who to put forward for president and vice president. All through the 7th, 600 delegates from twenty-five states gathered in the Front Street Theatre to discuss their options. Even New Mexico, a far off territory, managed to send a delegate. The meeting was called to order by Judge Edmond Morgan of New York, who reminded all that it was only eight years before that the Republican party first put forward a candidate for president. In that election, there was defeat (he blamed Pennsylvania), but ” in 1860 the party banner was again unfurled, with the names of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin… Read More

All the Horrors of a Living Dead – The Truce at Cold Harbor

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June 7, 1864 (Tuesday) It had taken two days, but finally a truce to care for the wounded and bury the dead was approved by General Lee. Four days had passed since the last major fighting, and it remained doubtful if any were still alive. They were allowed only two hours for the task, beginning at 6pm. Finding no words of my own to adequately describe this macabre story, we’ll begin with William P. Derby of the 27th Massachusetts Infantry, who took part in the work: 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.… Read More

‘Wounded Men are Now Suffering’ – Grant and Lee Argue about a Truce

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June 6, 1864 (Monday) Cold Harbor had become yet another stalemate. General Grant could no longer throw men against Lee’s entrenchments. It resulted in nothing but death, gaining not an inch. But also, he realized that it was “not practical to hold a line northeast of Richmond,” as he told Chief of Staff Henry Halleck the day previous. To Halleck, Grant then admitted his failures: My idea from the start has been to beat Lee’s army, if possible, north of Richmond, then, after destroying his lines of communication north of the James River, to transfer the army to the south side and besiege Lee in Richmond, or follow him south if he should retreat. I now find, after more than thirty days of trial, that the enemy deems it of the first importance to run no risks with the armies they now have. They act purely on the defensive, behind breast-works, or feebly on the offensive immediately in front of them, and where in case of repulse they can instantly retire behind them. Without a… Read More

Splinters Amid Great Slaughter – War Returns to the Shenandoah Valley

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June 5, 1864 (Sunday) “To aid the expedition under General Hunter,” wrote Grant on June 3 to his corps commanders, “it is necessary that we should detain all the army now with Lee until the former gets well on his way to Lynchburg. To do this effectually it will be better to keep the enemy out of the intrenchments of Richmond than to have them go back there.” General Grant now understood the impact the Shenandoah Valley had upon the Army of the Potomac. In May, Union forces under Franz Sigel were soundly defeated at New Market by a much smaller force under John Breckinridge. Following the southern victory, Breckinridge rapidly moved his troops and appeared by Lee’s side, adding to the Army of Northern Virginia and to Grant’s losses at Cold Harbor, where the two armies now stood in chest-high trenches peering across a sea of bloated and blackening bodies. In the Shenandoah Valley, Franz Sigel was replaced by David Hunter, who was ordered to throw his small army at Staunton, Virginia, with an… Read More

Johnston and Sherman Slide East

Sherman: That's right Joe. All washed up. ... Joe? ... Joe? You still there?

June 4, 1864 (Saturday) “Today the enemy is moving his forces from his right to his left,” wrote Confederate General Joe Johnston on the 1st. “We are making a corresponding movement to our right.” When last we left the Western theater, William Tecumseh Sherman was trying to re-establish his link with the railroad east of Dallas, Georgia. As Johnston noticed, Sherman was making such moves on the 1st. James McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, one of Sherman’s three armies, had been pulled back from their embattlements on the Federal right to another line about a mile distant. This was only technically to the Confederate right, but Johnston guessed Sherman’s mind and knew of the Federal cavalry scouting toward the railroad. The following two days were one of deluge, and neither side did more than skirmish and watch their respective foes. Though the findings of General Mansfield Lovell, Johnston believed that Sherman’s armies had suffered greatly since leaving Chattanooga. Combining battlefield losses and sick leave, Lovell estimated that 45,000 were no longer wearing the blue. And… Read More

Under the Blessing of God – Simply Slaughered at Cold Harbor

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June 3, 1864 (Friday) ‘Before sunrise on the morning of the 3rd a few shots were fired by our pickets, and our videttes on the parapet called out, “Look out, they are coming.”‘ But in the predawn, there was first a cannonade. Scores upon scores of pieces bursting shot and shell above their enemies. There was smoke and screaming, dying and survival. “Out of the powder smoke came an officer from the battle-lines of infantry. He told us to stop firing, as the soldiers were about to charge. He disappeared to carry the message to other batteries. Our cannon became silent. The smoke drifted off of the field. I noticed that the sun was not yet up. Suddenly the foremost line of our troops, which were lying on the ground in front of us, sprang to their feet and dashed at the Confederate earthworks at a run. Instantly those works were manned. Cannon belched forth a torrent of canister, the works glowed brightly with musketry, a storm of lead and iron struck the blue line,… Read More

The Shifting of Grant and Lee to Cold Harbor

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June 2, 1864 (Thursday) The night previous, General Grant had called upon Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps to march through the dark, leaving their lines on the Union right to join the proposed attack from the Union left. Hancock was to take up positions on the extreme left. But the march was grueling, and the column lost its way along the tangle of roads. Dawn broke over Cold Harbor, but it was without Hancock. Dawn, or shortly after, was when Grant wanted to spring the assault. He figured that since the Cold Harbor section of Lee’s line had attacked the previous day, it would be the weakest spot along the entire Confederate front. Hancock’s absence wasn’t Grant’s only problem. Baldy Smith, commanding the newly-arrived Eighteenth Corps, had already been complaining that he needed more troops and ammunition. While he ordered Horatio Wright’s Sixth Corps to lend Smith ammunition, he also ordered Hancock to leave one of his divisions with the Eighteenth Corps. This would all take time, and so the attack, originally scheduled for 6am,… Read More

‘A Sheet of Flame, Sudden as Lightening, Red as Blood’ – Cold Harbor

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June 1, 1864 (Wednesday) We last left the two armies in more or less of a stalemate along Totopotomoy Creek, fifteen miles northeast of Richmond. It was on May 30th that elements of Lee’s and Grant’s cavalry clashed at Old Cold Harbor. Lee was fearful that the newly-arrived Eighteenth Corps under “Baldy” Smith would slip around his flank into his rear, and so sent cavalry to prevent this catastrophe. The next day, the battle escalated, and both Lee and Grant sent infantry to bolster their numbers. Lee, too, had reinforcements – a division under Robert Hoke had arrived from Petersburg that day and was thrown together with Longstreet’s Corps, helmed temporarily by Richard Anderson. The movement of Anderson’s Corps was easily detected by General Grant, who ordered Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps to attack. And though their artillery made the best of it, Warren never gathered his wits or his troops enough to launch the assault, and Anderson’s Rebels arrived only a little worse for wear. For a time, the Federal cavalry pushed their Rebel counterparts… Read More

‘But Act Boldly and Promptly’ – Sherman Attempts to Regain the Railroad

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May 31, 1864 (Tuesday) Though there had been skirmishing and even heavier battle over the past several days, William Tecumseh Sherman’s men had spent most of their time digging deeper into the rich Georgia soil. The general, himself, however, was looking for a way out. His three armies had wished to hold closer to the railroad running south to Atlanta, as it also ran north to his supply depot. During a march, however, Joe Johnston’s Confederates barred his way and had given him no chance to circumvent them. First, however, he needed to see to an exceedingly large gap between George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, holding the center, and James McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, holding the left. To the latter, Sherman ordered once more to withdraw from the trenches in the face of the Rebels, fall back and make the link. McPherson had tried before, but had been snagged each time. Disengaging was no simple task. Since arriving near Dallas, Sherman had tried to slip east toward Allatoona Pass and the railroad. But… Read More

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