Nathan Bedford Forrest

This tag is associated with 4 posts

150 Years Ago: Saturday, December 20, 1862

Salmon P. ChaseSource: Library of Congress

Salmon P. Chase
Source: Library of Congress

This morning U.S. President Abraham Lincoln receives the resignation letter from an embarrassed Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase. He now holds the resignations of Chase and Secretary of State William Seward in his hands. As he sits there with their resignations, one in each hand, he tells visiting New York Senator and friend Ira Harris that “I can ride now – I’ve got a pumpkin in each end of my bag.

He laughs it off; Seward and Chase might not get along, but they balance each other out. Lincoln refuses to accept either resignation. Lincoln knows how Seward is perceived to be in control of everything, but Lincoln knows that is not the case and values his contributions. Though Chase is untrustworthy in his lust for power and Lincoln is well aware that Chase has such strong ambitions to become President that he is even willing to switch parties to run against him in 1864, Chase has proven to be invaluable in the Treasury Department, where he has made it an efficient and organized “machine” and he has done an outstanding job selling war bonds and managing the finances of the U.S. government during a time of war. Neither man argues with the President’s decision and the rest of the Cabinet supports it. The “Cabinet Crisis” is officially over.

Confederate cavalry under Major General Earl Van Dorn raid U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s secondary – yet crucial – supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi, capturing the entire 1,500 man garrison and destroying ammunition and food. Combined with recent similar actions by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry in Tennessee, Grant finds his communications and supply lines with the North temporarily suspended. He stops his movement toward Vicksburg and decides to withdraw to Oxford, Mississippi. While his men ask him what they are to do, Grant responds “We had endeavored to feed ourselves from our own northern resources, but our friends in gray have been uncivil enough to destroy what we had brought along, and it could not be expected that men, with arms in their hands, would starve in the midst of plenty.” Grant sends troops and wagons to collect all the food and forage they can find for fifteen miles on each side of the road, along with “assisting in eating up what we left.

One of Grant’s generals is unaware of this development: U.S. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, who is aboard the Forest Queen and leaving Memphis today with 20,000 men towards Vicksburg. They will stop at Helena to pick up 12,000 more. Sherman writes to his brother John, an Ohio Senator:

Of course the pressure of this force acting in concert with Grant must produce good results. Even if we don’t open the Mississippi, by the way an event not so important as at first sight, until the great armies of the enemy are defeated – we are progressing. I wish Burnside and Rosecrans were getting along faster, but I suppose the encounter the same troubles we all do…

The great evil is absenteeism, which is real desertion and should be punished with death. Of course I would have the wounded and sick well cared for, but the sick list real and feigned is fearful. More than one-half the paper army is not in the enemy’s country and whilst the actual regiments present for duty are in arrears of pay and favor, sick and discharged men are carefully paid and provided for. Unite with other and discriminate in favor of the officers and soldiers who are with their companies. The “absent and sick” should receive half pay because of the advantages they receive of fine hospitals and quiet residence at home. The “absent without leave” should be treated as deserters and in no event receive a dollar’s pay – clothing or anything else. In course of time we may get an army. Finance is very important but no use of discussing that now; we must fight it out if it devastates the land and costs every cent of the North…

I rise at 3 a.m. to finish up necessary business and as usual write in haste… I am very popular with the people here and officers and indeed with all my men. I don’t seek popularity with the “sneaks and absentees” or the “Dear People”…

Former U.S. Commander of the Army of the Potomac George B. McClellan writes to U.S. Brigadier General Fitz John Porter from the 5th Avenue Hotel in New York City. Porter has been recently arrested and court-martialed for his actions at the Second Bull Run battle in August (he did not follow orders to attack) and is awaiting a hearing. McClellan has always had a close personal relationship with Porter, who he considers his protege. Unable to keep his feelings quiet about the recent Fredericksburg defeat, he writes:

The monied men & the respectable men of this city are up in arms, their patience is exhausted & unless the President comprehends the gravity of his situation I see great danger ahead.

Burnside must have conducted his withdrawal very skillfully to have succeeded so well – poor fellow how I pity him! I have defended him to the best of my ability.

The sacrifice of Saturday was an useless one – nothing gained, not even honor. Banks ought to have gone to the James River, & to the last moment I hoped that it was so.

The future looks dark & threatening – alas for our poor country! I still trust in God & bow to his will – he will bring us victory when we deserve it. A change must come ere long – the present state of affairs cannot last.

I shudder, Fitz, when I think of those poor fellows of ours so uselessly killed at Fredericksburg!

McClellan also asks Porter if he wants him as a witness in front of the court, as McClellan is willing to go to Washington to defend his friend’s actions.

U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside travels to Washington at Lincoln’s request; tonight he meets with him and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to personally review his report on what happened on the Fredericksburg battlefield.

U.S. First Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. writes to his father back home in Massachusetts from Falmouth, Virginia:

After the inspiration of a night which would have been rather a nipper in your furnace-warmed house with double glass, passed here with a couple of blankets in one of the tents which I suppose General Halleck (whom may the Lord confound) would enumerate among the “luxuries” of the Army of the Potomac. I sit down to give you the benefit of my cheerfulness. U always read now that the Advertiser religiously as well as other papers and I was glad to see that cheerful sheet didn’t regard the late attempt in the light of a reverse. It was an infamous butchery in a ridiculous attempt in which I’ve no doubt our loss doubled or tripled that of the Rebs. However that’s neither here nor there. I’ve just been reading Mr. Motley’s letters to Billy (William) Seward. What a noble manly high-toned writer he is. I always thought his letters to you were more thoroughly what a man should write than almost any I ever saw. I never I believe have shown, as you seemed to hint, any wavering in my belief int eh right of our cause. It is my disbelief in our success by arms in which I differ from you & him. I think in that matter I have better chances of judging than you and I believe I represent the conviction of the army & not the least of the most intelligent part of it.

The successes of which you spoke were to be anticipated as necessary if we entered into the struggle. But I see no farther progress. I don’t think either of you realize the unity or the determination of the South. I think you are hopeful because (excuse me) you are ignorant. But if it is true that we represent civilization in its nature, as well as slavery, diffusive & aggressive, and if civilization and progress are the better things why they will conquer in the long run, we may be sure, and will stand a better chance in their proper province – peace – than in war, the brother of slavery – brother – it is slavery’s parent, child and sustainer at once.At any rate dear Father don’t, because I say these things imply or think that I am the manner for saying them. I am, to be sure, heartily tired and half worn out body and mind by this life, but I believe I am as ready as ever to do my duty. But it is maddening to see men put in over us & motions forced by popular clamor when the army is only willing to trust its life & reputation to one man.

150 Years Ago: Thursday, December 18, 1862

“The country is gone unless something is done at once. We must have men in command of our armies who are anxious to crush the rebellion.”  — Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler to his wife Letitia

Nathan Bedford ForrestSource: Library of Congress

Nathan Bedford Forrest
Source: Library of Congress

In the Western theater, Confederate cavalry leader General Nathan Bedford Forrest leads a raid into western Tennessee, an area held by the Union. With U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s main force occupying northern Mississippi, C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg had ordered Forrest several days ago to cut the Federal supply lines in Tennessee in hopes that it will capture Grant’s attention and force him back north and out of Mississippi.

This morning Forrest advances along Lower Road outside of Lexington, Tennessee. U.S. Colonel Robert Ingersoll’s scouts had left the Confederates a clear path towards the smaller part of Ingersoll’s command by failing to destroy a key bridge the day before. The inexperienced Union troops try to swing around and stop the attack but it is too late; Forrest’s troops overwhelm the panicked Union soldiers and they capture Ingersoll along with 140 of his men. Forrest also obtains artillery pieces, horses, rifles and supplies that can now support the Confederate cause. From here, Forrest sets his sights on Jackson, Tennessee, followed by a push into Kentucky.

This evening a delegation of nine Republican Senators present a resolution to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln calling for a “partial reconstruction of the Cabinet.” Both Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward were warned two days ago that Seward is the Senators’ particular target; his conduct, and that of the Cabinet in general, having been repeatedly, though cautiously, maligned by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Chase, feeling superior to Lincoln and Seward, has been divulging private Cabinet meeting information to the nine senators, though not all of it is truthful in nature; it can, however, be considered self-serving. Chase wants Seward’s position, after which he feels he will have enough power to control what he feels is an inept President not up to the task of managing the country or the war. Lincoln listens quietly to the nine senators and simply asks them to return tomorrow evening so he has time to process their concerns.

Northern editorials also blame the Lincoln Administration for losing the war, especially after the recent defeat in Fredericksburg. The Hartford Daily Courant publishes an editorial today that echoes the sentiments of many in the Union:

Mismanagement in the War Department

There is no mistaking the fact that the people of the United States are enraged at the blundering and incompetency of the War Department. No one questions the integrity of Mr. Lincoln. Though nominally Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy, he cannot directly plan campaigns, or guide the movements of our forces. The experiences of a civilian do not fit one in a month or a year to exchange peaceful pursuits for supreme leadership in war. The multiplicity of other duties, too, compels the Chief Magistrate of the nation to rely on the honesty and wisdom of his immediate advisers. The generous heart of the people attributes the errors of the Administration to the misplaced confidence of the Executive. Dependence upon subordinates is an inseparable condition of the Presidential office, and especially is this true in the midst of a terrible civil war, like that now convulsing the nation, giving rise as it does to an infinitude of new duties and new responsibilities.

From the beginning, as our readers will bear witness, we have never surrendered our columns to the adulation of imaginary heroes. We have endeavored to know but one cause—the cause so precious to every patriotic heart. The fate of party measures, the prospects of individual men, sink into utter insignificance when the life of the rising nation of the world is imperiled. Politicians will pass into oblivion. The achievements of their ambition will be forgotten, and their names will rot their bones. But this noble land will either continue entire, scattering blessings among long lines yet unborn, and holding up the beacon light of liberty for the guidance of the nations, or it will crumble into contemptible fragments. In a crisis of such magnitude every man, woman, and child, forgetful of self, should burn the incense of pure patriotism on the altar of their country.

Last spring our arms were prosperous everywhere. The people were full of hope. The rebels were discouraged and demoralized. Our legions swept triumphantly into the very heart of the Mississippi valley. We had victories almost to satiety. To fight was to win. The enemy lost heart. Despair was fast sapping the last lingering remnants of courage in the rebellious states.

So far the plans devised at headquarters were crowned with admirable results. While cheering news from the South and the West was daily giving us fresh cause for rejoicing, Gen. McClellan left Washington to finish the grand and comprehensive campaign which thus far had progressed so magnificently. Scarcely had he left when Mr. Stanton took the bits in his teeth. Intoxicated by the consciousness of power, he staggered into monstrous absurdities. He tacked rotten rags to a sound garment. He presumed to meddle with matters where he was profoundly ignorant. The army of the Potomac, which according to the original design was to have been hurled unitedly and irresistibly upon Richmond, was divided, and a portion of it left unsupported, to contend alone against the combined hosts of the Confederacy.

The campaign at Fredericksburg will bring down a storm of indignation upon the heads of the military managers at Washington, which will probably compel Mr. Lincoln to throw them overboard. General Burnside, with the gallant officers and men under him, have done nobly. When the change of base was determined on, he moved rapidly to the banks of the Rappahannock. From lack of foresight at the War Department, the means of crossing the river were not provided till Gen. Lee had been allowed sufficient time to mass his troops and render the heights beyond Fredericksburg impregnable. Had the promptitude of the War Department equaled the celerity of Gen. Burnside, the army of the Potomac ere this would have reached the precincts of Richmond.

Many thousand lives and many millions of treasure have been thrown away already, through imbecility, chicanery, and general mismanagement. Neither the patriotism nor the patience of the people can long endure such exhausting and fruitless drains. A land of unrivaled power and resources, impelled by a spirit of consecration to a noble cause, has unquestioningly placed its wealth of men and means at the disposal of the Government. Though matters have gone badly, the strength of our army is by no means materially impaired. It far outnumbers the rebel army, and in all respects is incomparably better supplied. The soldiers fight like veterans. Our generals in the field are gallant and true. What we need is intellect and honesty at headquarters. Let Mr. Lincoln repudiate all political plotters. Let him entrust the momentous interests of the hour to those who have genius to plan, and the fidelity to execute, with an eye single to the good, the honor, and the happiness of the land.

150 Years Ago: Thursday, December 11, 1862

Building Pontoon Bridges to city of FredericksburgSource: Library of Congress

Building Pontoon Bridges to city of Fredericksburg
Source: Library of Congress

At midnight, Union engineers quietly haul 189 wagons of pontoon bridges down to the Rappahannock River and begin putting the pieces together. At 5am, the engineers hear the order “Fire!” come across the river and C.S.A. General William Barksdale’s brigade begins attacking the engineers. Work on the bridges to the south of the city proceeds rapidly, but the work on the bridges at the city comes to a halt. At 10am, U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside orders a massive barrage on the city to stop the sniping on his engineers, but the barrage fails. Finally, three Union regiments cross the river using the pontoons as boats and force Barksdale’s men back. As the day ends, Oliver Howard’s division enters the city in force and Barksdale withdraws. Burnside now occupies the city of Fredericksburg that he has been staring at across the river for several weeks.

U.S. Major General John F. Reynolds is moving the rest of Major General William Franklin’s Left Grand Division across the bridges three miles south of the city. Reynolds approaches the owner of a nearby plantation home, owned by Mr. Barnard, who refuses to leave the premises so the Union can use his home for their operations. It is unclear what Reynolds says to Barnard – he is usually a man of few words – but as Franklin arrives he sees Barnard escorted by two soldiers towards the pontoon bridge. Franklin sets up his headquarters at the Barnard home, which overlooks the river and is less than a mile south of the bridges.

Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes and his fellow 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers leave their camp at Falmouth in darkness; his men will cross the bridges south of the city:

Franklin's Crossing (taken May 1863)Source: Library of Congress

Franklin’s Crossing (taken May 1863)
Source: Library of Congress

We left our camp about two o’clock in the morning and just at daylight reached the banks of the Rappahannock River below Fredericksburg. The river is narrow and for about five hundred years back the ground is nearly of a level with the river. Back of this plain are high bluffs and here we had nearly two hundred cannon in position. These cannon were constantly firing and the roar was tremendous. The air was filled with shot and shell flying over our heads and into Fredericksburg. The Rebels did not often reply but would at times land a shot over onto our side. Just at sunset the 2nd R.I. was ordered to cross the bridge at a place now called Franklin’s crossing. It is opposite a plantation owned by A.N. Barnard and is about three miles below the city. Companies “B”, “I” and “K” first charged across the pontoon bridges with arms at a trail while the balance of the Regiment followed with loaded guns. As we reached the other side of the river the three companies rushed up the bank and deployed as skirmishers. The Regiment followed and as we reached the high ground received a volley that wounded two of our men. The Rebels retreated and we followed for a short distance. Night now came and as the remainder of our Brigade crossed the bridge they gave “Three cheers for the Regiment first over.” Our entire Regiment was deployed across the plain in a semicircle from river to river and remained through the night. General Devens said to us: “Boys, you have had a hard time, but Rhode Island did well.” The Army was looking on to see our crossing and we felt that we must do well.

In the Western theater, C.S.A. Cavalry officer Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men leave Columbia, Tennessee with the main goal to disrupt U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s line of communication as his men march south into Mississippi towards Vicksburg. If Forrest can leave Grant in the dark, he will have no choice but to stop the forward movement and retreat back to a point where he has communication capabilities.

U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster begins what has been nicknamed the “Goldsboro Expedition”, in which Foster and his men will push into North Carolina in an attempt to sever railroad supply lines to Virginia. They start their march from the port city of New Bern, North Carolina and move west.

The Richmond Dispatch newspaper writes a column called “Competition of negro with White Labor”, giving reasons why whites shouldn’t worry about the loss of jobs as black people will not work unless forced to:

In his late miserable Message Lincoln declares that the emancipation of negroes will not increase the supply of labor so as to interfere with the white labor of the North. Probably, the only truth he has ever uttered is contained in that declaration.–The idea of freedom entertained by “American citizens of African descent” is simply freedom from labor of any kind. So far from intending to compete with the white laborers of the North, they expect to live in ease and luxury at Mr. Lincoln’s national table, to be received on terms of entire social equality by himself, Seward, Chase & Co, and to intermarry, if it should be agreeable to them, with their female kith and kin. Freedom to work or starve is a view of liberty that they have never entertained.

That, for the present generation, an influx of free negroes into the North would seriously impair the value of white labor, may be very true, but Mr. Lincoln is speaking of the permanent results. He knows, because all experience proves it, that the free negro soon becomes the victim of debauchery and laziness, and disappears from the face of the earth. It is with Satanic hardness of heart that Lincoln contemplates the fate of a race whose welfare he professes to desire. So much for the Negro in the North. But, in the South, we are told the negro will continue to labor, his master paying him wages, till new homes can be found for them in “more genial climes.”

No man knows better than Abraham Lincoln; native of Kentucky; and familiar with the negro character, that the freed negro, as a general rule, will not work even for wages, a fact which has found striking illustrations in both Jamsiea and St. Domingo. The latter country, once the richest island of the world, has become, by successful insurrection, a wilderness; and the former, with the advantages of gradual emancipation, and the presence of white proprietors of estates, is little better. If Mr. Lincoln will consult the master of any Yankee steamer which has ever coated at a Jamaica port, he may inform him that the coal is brought on board by negro women, the men lolling in the shade under the trees, and at night taking from their wives the wages of the day. It is to the condition of St. Domingo and Jamaica that Mr. Lincoln would reduce the South. We are not so idiotic as to imagine that such a prospect would at all distress him on account of the ruin it would bring to Southern proprietors, but, pray, what would become of that dear Union; that precious, heavenly, god like Union, which he is seeking to preserve by letting all the devils out of the infernal pit and turning the earth into a hell? He figures cut the colossal cost of emancipation and the means of paying it, and concludes that the cost would be cheap to save so valuable a commodity as the Union. But what is it that makes the Union valuable except the staples cultivated by negro labor, and if the labor is abolished and transported to other climes, what becomes of the staples, and of the commerce, manufactures and revenue derived from them? White labor cannot be employed in the cultivation of cotton, sugar, and tobacco, and therefore the “glorious Union,” would be beggared and rendered worthless by the success of Lincoln’s pet scheme for its preservation — cutting open the goose that laid the golden egg.

And yet, in a message composed of nothing but –catch arguments”–to borrow a phrase from the poor, Illiterate creature — he has the hypocrisy to snivel through his Puritanical nose, “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, February 12, 1862

C.S.A. Major General Thomas J. Jackson provides an update to General Joseph E. Johnston, who is in charge of operations in Northern Virginia. Jackson informs Johnston that since the Confederates pulled out of Romney, Virginia (TCWP note: Present-day Romney is located in West Virginia), Union troops have since returned to retake possession. The Union is also moving approximately 3,000 troops 26 miles south to Moorefield. But the most important news is regarding re-enlistments, as the Confederacy is in desperate need to not only recruit, but to retain who they have. Jackson has provided those who re-list with an incentive: an authorized furlough. So far the results are encouraging.

The Alton Military Prison has only been in operation for three days but it’s already facing overcrowding issues. Chas C. Smith, U.S. Captain of the 13th Infantry, sends a letter to U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Burbank letting him know that he received yet another shipment of prisoners last night. They have rented buildings adjacent to the prison for storage and the quartermaster’s department, and the resident surgeon is looking for a suitable building for a hospital but has yet to find one. So far there has been no trouble with any of the prisoners, but soon there will not be room for the 13th Infantry to have quarters within the prison walls.

Under U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s instructions, most of the Union troops depart Fort Henry this morning and proceed about five miles utilizing Dover and Ridge Roads. Along the route troops are met by C.S.A. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is utilizing his cavalry to screen their movements. When Forrest observes a change of direction made by McClernand’s division after an initial encounter, he makes a quick decision to move his cavalry to Indian Creek, where they will wait to intercept them.

Three of Forrest’s squadrons dismount and wait for the large Union force to arrive. Once they do, Forrest orders a charge. The Union cavalry are given orders to move out of the way before the charge, leaving the 8th Illinois to take on Forrest and his men. The infantry opens a terrific fire at short range against the charging Confederate cavalry. A Union Battery arrives shortly after the firing begins and assists in breaking up the attack. Forrest withdraws his men behind the shelter of the Fort for the evening.

The USS Carondelet is the first Union gunboat to arrive up the river. They promptly fire numerous shells into Fort Donelson to test the strength of its defenses. There are no casualties or damage from the act. They pull out of range and await their orders for tomorrow.

Grant finally arrives at nightfall, where he sets up headquarters at Widow Crisp’s house. This puts him near the left side of the front of the line and a mile from the Cumberland River.

Over 740 miles away in Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has spent most of his 53rd birthday at the bedside of 11-year-old son Willie. Willie has been very ill for over ten days now and is growing weaker and more shadow-like each day that passes. He is not allowed to see other children and is too ill to get out of bed, so the President and his wife Mary have been spending most of their time at Willie’s bedside. They comfort and sooth their child, read him stories and remind him that Tad and his favorite pony that he always insisted on riding every day are waiting for him to get better. The White House staff, including dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, also take turns keeping Willie company so he is never left alone. Willie is a favorite among the White House staff; he’s intelligent and vivacious, but has a kind and tender heart. To see him in this state is almost too much for them to bear, but all they can do is pray for him to get better.

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