At 6 a.m. C.S.A. Lieutenant General William J. Hardee attacks U.S. Major General William Rosecran’s right flank before Union soldiers have finished eating their breakfast, completely catching the men off guard. 10,000 Confederates attack in one massive wave; several Union artillery batteries are captured without having time to fire a single shot. By 10 a.m. Hardee drives the Union troops back three miles, but U.S. Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson rallies his men despite his own brigade casualties of 50%.
Rosecrans races across the battlefield directing units, his uniform covered in blood from his friend and chief of staff, Colonel Julius Garesche, who was beheaded by a cannonball while riding alongside him.
A second Confederate wave is not met with the same unexpected shock. U.S. Major General Philip Sheridan had anticipated an early attack and had his division up and in line by 4am; Sheridan’s men repulse the Confederates in three separate charges. Unfortunately while they slowed the Confederate advance it comes at a heavy cost; all three of Sheridan’s brigade commanders are killed and more than one third of his men are casualties in just four hours of fighting in a cedar forest surrounded on three sides that is later named “The Slaughter Pen.”
Though the morning had been very successful for the Confederates, by the afternoon mistakes are made in communications and movements are made based on false reports. This allows Rosecrans to reposition his troops before an attack by C.S.A. Major General John Breckinridge. Breckinridge and his men move slowly and his first two brigades are assaulted in piecemeal attacks and suffer heavy repulses. Two more brigades arrive but the Confederate attack fails a second time. By 4:30 p.m. the fighting is finished for the day.
C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg’s plan had been to cut Rosecran’s line of communication, but instead it drives the Union troops to concentrate at one point: Nashville Pike. This gives the Union a stronger defensive position than when the day had started.
In Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signs the legislation that paves the way for West Virginia to enter into the Union as the 35th state. The citizens of West Virginia will still have to vote for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, after which Lincoln will be able to submit an official document stating that West Virginia has met all statehood requirements.
Lincoln also meets with his Cabinet one last time to go over revisions he made to the Emancipation Proclamation the previous evening after listening to their suggestions the day before. Afterwards he meets with U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside to discuss military matters; Burnside has been called to testify before Congress regarding his actions at Fredericksburg.
Outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S. Major General William T. Sherman starts to move his men towards Drumgould’s Bluff, but the fog is so thick that he calls off the movement and subsequent attack. He will have to wait another day.
Tonight Rosecrans holds a council of war to decide what to do next. Some of the generals feel that the Union has been defeated and recommend a retreat. But Rosecrans and two other generals disagree; the decision is made to stand and fight.
Though he has suffered 9,000 casualties out of 35,000 men, Bragg ends the day certain he has won a victory. He is convinced that the large number of captured Union soldiers means that Rosecrans has lost considerably more than his own numbers. The Confederate troops dig in, facing the new Union line. Bragg sends a telegram to Richmond, Virginia before heading to bed:
“The enemy has yielded his strong position and is falling back. We occupy the whole field and shall follow him. God has granted us a happy New Year.”
Though they have spent the entire day in battle against each other, men on both sides – Confederate and Union – join together in singing “Home Sweet Home” on this last night of the year.
From his camp in Falmouth, Virginia, U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes a final entry in his journal for the year:
“Well, the year 1862 is drawing to a close. As I look back I am bewildered when I think of the hundreds of miles I have tramped, the thousands of dead and wounded that I have seen, and the many strange sights that I have witnessed. I can truly thank God for his preserving care over me and the many blessings I have received. One year ago tonight I was an enlisted man and stood cap in hand asking for a furlough. Tonight I am an officer and men ask the same favor of me. It seems to me right that officers should rise from the ranks, for only such can sympathize with the private soldiers. The year has not amounted to much as far as the War is concerned, but we hope for the best and feel sure that in the end the Union will be restored. Good bye, 1862.”
In a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the U.S.S. Monitor crew evacuates onto the wooden ship U.S.S. Rhode Island at the direction of Commander John P. Bankhead. Just nine months earlier, the ship had been part of a revolution in naval warfare when the ironclad dueled with the C.S.S. Merrimack off Hampton Roads, Virginia, which resulted in a standoff. It was the first time two ironclads faced each other in a naval engagement. Today as the Monitor pitches and sways in the rough seas, the caulking around the revolving gun turret loosens and water begins to leak in the hull. The high seas continue to jolt the ship’s flat armor bottom, each time opening more seams. 46 crewmen make it onto the Rhode Island; the Monitor’s pumps eventually stop working and the ship sinks before 16 crewmen can be rescued.
At the U.S. White House, President Abraham Lincoln meets with his Cabinet members and provides them with a copy of his draft Emancipation Proclamation. Though he had already announced it back in September, he will release the final, binding document on the first day of the upcoming new year. He asks for their suggestions, which he will take into account. He also notifies them that he plans on approving the bill from Congress that will make West Virginia a state. After his meeting Lincoln sends a quick note to the Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac, Major General Ambrose Burnside, who is currently in the city: “I have good reason for saying you must not make a general movement of the army without letting me know.”
Out West, U.S. Major General William T. Sherman concludes that resuming his attacks on the Chickasaw Buyou bluffs would be pointless. He meets with Admiral David Dixon Porter and plans a joint army-navy attack on Drumgould’s Bluff to the northeast, hoping that the steep bluffs will provide cover for his 32,000 men as they advance. They will proceed with the new plan tomorrow; Sherman has yet to hear anything from his commanding General Ulysses S. Grant, who was to support him with additional troops via a land route.
Outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, U.S. Major General William S. Rosecrans slowly approaches the main Confederate forces led by C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg with fighting at Jefferson, La Vergne, Rock Spring and Nolensville. Though the Confederates do a good job of slowing their advance, Rosecrans continues to move closer to the Murfreesboro Confederate stronghold.
This past March in Washington City, a former Baptist Church and short-lived opera house on 10th Street reopened it’s doors as Ford’s Atheneum, a music hall. Owned by successful theatrical entrepreneur John T. Ford from Baltimore, Maryland, it had been hailed a success by the local newspaper and President Lincoln had even paid to a visit to the hall in May. Around 5pm, a fire caused by defective gas meters breaks out in the cellar under the stage. Fed by the combustible materials of the dressing rooms and stage scenery, the fire rages well into the night, lighting the city skies. While there is no loss of life, nearby buildings to the north and south are also damaged. By morning only the blackened walls remain standing and the entire interior of the theatre is gutted. Ford’s loss, estimated at $20,000, is only partially covered by insurance. He will need to decide whether or not to rebuild his theatre.
America continues to be the one theme that occupies the world’s tongue and thought. The Rappahannock has been crossed in the face of the whole Confederate army; and by the time these pages reach the reader a battle will probably have been fought upon which great issues may hang. If the Confederates are the winners it will go far to establish, as an unquestionable fact, their military superiority, and to inspirit them, in spite of all difficulties, to new exertions and struggles. But if they are beaten their position will be a most dangerous one. General Sumner has also, and on an earlier day, crossed the river some miles further down, and from that point was almost within a day’s march of Petersburg and its railway, which is connected with all the railways of North and South Carolina, and must be the chief line for bringing supplies to Lee’s army. Sumner, therefore, in the event of a Federal victory at Fredericksburg, would be ready to make a flank attack on the retreating army; and that most dangerous measure under the circumstances could only be evaded by the Confederates retreating by a different and circuitous line to Richmond, so that the Federals would probably be able to reach the Confederate capital first. Much, then, depends upon the battle at Fredericksburg, which we are told by telegrams arriving at the moment we write had actually begun.
The Alabama threatens to become a source of trouble between our own and the American Governments. If the responsible advisers of the Crown say the English law of enlistment has been violated by the building and fitting out of such a vessel in our country, it will be of course our duty to offer amends. But if no law has been violated the Americans must learn to be less susceptible, to annoyance, and direct their energies rather to the capture of the offending vessel than to angry abuse of us. Meantime we cannot but own the Americans are doing a very handsome act in contributing so largely to the wants of our operatives.
– – The London Times
The final Emancipation Proclamation is to be issued in a few days and many are nervous that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln may change his mind. He spends the day meeting with various members of Congress and clergymen on the issue, one of them Dr. Bryan Sunderland, who tells the President that “We are full of faith and prayer that you will make clean sweep for the Right.” Lincoln leans forward in his chair towards the clergyman and says “Doctor, it’s very hard sometimes to know what is right! You pray often and honestly, but so do those across the lines. They pray and all their preachers pray honestly. You and I don’t think them justified in praying for their objects, but they pray earnestly, no doubt! If you and I had our own way, Doctor, we will settle this war without bloodshed, but Providence permits blood to be shed. It’s hard to tell what Providence wants of us. Sometimes, we, ourselves, are more humane that the Divine Mercy seems to us to be.”
U.S. Major General William T. Sherman’s troops move their way through the swamps and bayous as they make their way towards Vicksburg. They are engaged in small skirmishes against Confederate pickets as Lieutenant General John Pemberton rushes troops in from the north to defend the strategic Confederate city. Sherman is waiting to receive additional assistance from Major General John McClernand, though he lacks respect for the man and is not looking forward to working with him. McClernand has proven himself to care more about using his political connections to advance his rank than to actually earn his promotions. Very few men respect or trust him; and they probably shouldn’t, as he is one of the key people responsible for spreading the word to politicians and the press that U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant is a drunk. Of course, if Grant is forced to step down because of this, McClernand naturally assumes he will obtain Grant’s position of Commander of the Western army. He has already been working closely with Illinois Governor Richard Yates to gain control over the Vicksburg campaign and authority to execute his own plan that goes against what Grant already has in motion. He knows that capturing Vicksburg will be a huge win for the Union; if his plan is the successful one, he will gain the credit and fame. But for now, Grant’s orders – backed by Washington – put him under Sherman’s control.
In Tennessee, U.S. Major General William Rosecrans continues his march towards Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg and his army of over 20,000 are stationed in defense of the city.
Thirty-two year old U.S. Captain James Love has been with his St. Louis, Missouri regiment since June 1861. James was born in Ireland but came to the United States with his brother at the age of nineteen. At the start of the war he owned a store and a large corner property with several houses he rented out to locals. Once U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 and southern states started to secede, many citizens left the city along with unpaid bills; James couldn’t even find tenants for his homes. Though the state of Missouri was split on their loyalties, James was staunchly for the Union and spent time secretly meeting other Union men as they secretly learned military drills in the cellars and caves of local breweries. He enlisted with Company D, 5th U.S. Reserve Corp.
When he enlisted in the army, James started writing letters to his fiancee back home, twenty-nine year old Eliza Mary Wilson, or “Molly” as he called her. Molly was also from Ireland and came to the United States after the death of her father in 1849. James and Molly were introduced through family, and they became secretly engaged in 1861.
Though they are separated by distance in the time of war, like so many others they exchange letters as their only means of maintaining a connection. James has arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, where his regiment is on provost duty to help preserve order in the Union-occupied town. James has finally started to receive his mail, including newspapers that provide information on the war and on the recent elections, including those in his home state of Missouri. Sunday’s are usually a good day to write loved ones; James takes this time to write to his beloved Molly:
My Dear Molly,
I commence as usual on a Sunday, and a wet one with all its depressing influences. I have been in camp here all the time since I wrote last. We moved camp after I closed your letter to this place about a mile, just on the bank of the river below Nashville. We can go over easily daily if we wish to get a pass countersigned by half a dozen generals, but as we have little money, and there is but little to buy or see in town if we had, why we stay at home. I have gone to duty again, a weeks rest has made me a new man, together with plenty of Quinine.
There are hope’s of our staying here for a little while now. Our request to be transferred to Kansas has been refused and General Rosecrans has sent to Kansas for the rest of our Regiment. He wishes us for the present to remain in town, and perhaps so continue either in the fortifications or on Provost Duty.
We are all in good spirits on account of the anticipation of a rest, and that was the principal reason why we wish’d to go, expecting of course as we passed St. Louis to have or take a furlough.
If we stay here as Genl R- thinks we will, (and orders us too) when the road gets safe, I will try for leave for Ten days. It will be hard to get, unless we go in winter quarters. I fear the fighting is becoming too much in earnest to expect it, but somebody must stay here, so if good luck is with us we will.
Mails are coming this way pretty freely just now, and the R.R. will be open in a day or two, so I hope to hear from you soon. We have got late papers & the times are exciting & full of important events, from all parts of the compass. The Army of the Cumberland of which we are now a part is concentrating here rapidly as it scours the country side above us and it is fast being outfitted with clothing, Tents & Wagons for a Southern campaign. It is said to Chattanooga, East Tennessee & even Mobile.
I see you have had an exciting contested election once again with Frank Blair in the field, this time beat I suppose by a new man. So mote it be, for the sake of poetical justice. I care very little, so as Missouri becomes soon a free state.
I have no hairbreadth scapes nor startling incidents this time to relate, & I’m glad of it. I hope all may soon be peace & quietness for a generation.
I am with much love to you & all.
My dear dear girl,
C.S.A. Lieutenant-General James Longstreet believes that a battle with the Army of the Potomac is immanent. As Union troops make their way towards their destination of Fredericksburg, Virginia, there has been fire exchanged along the way and the movements south have been noticed by Confederate leaders. He has his Assistant Adjutant-General, Gilbert Moxley Sorrel, send a message to the troops:
The troops of this command will be held in readiness for battle upon a moment’s notice. Commanders will see that provisions, ammunition, and transportation are at hand and in such quantities as may he wanted to meet their necessities. The commanding general relies upon the valor and patriotism of these well tried troops to sustain them in the struggle that they may again be called upon to encounter. Officers, cool and take care of your men. Soldiers, remain steady in your ranks, take good aim, and obey the orders of your officers. Observe these simple injunctions, and your general will be responsible for the issue.
On the western campaign, a friendship has been building since the battle of Shiloh this past April. Though they have often been in different locations – one now military governor of Memphis, Tennessee, the other maneuvering his men around Grand Junction, Tennessee – they have kept in constant correspondence. U.S. Major Ulysses S. Grant looks forward to letters from Memphis, as he had asked U.S. Major General William T. Sherman to write him freely and fully on all matters of public interest. Some military leaders might have taken that request as a sign that they were not trusted and were to be “hand held”. Sherman has learned enough about Grant to know that it is not a matter of trust, but merely an act of wanting enough information to be able to make future command decisions. It’s also about staying in touch; letting Sherman known that Grant is there for him and supports his efforts, which are not always easy when occupying what was once a rebel city. Though very different in personality, they have both been victimized by the press and are far enough away from Washington City where they have a considerable amount of freedom in their actions compared to their counterparts in the Army of the Potomac. Unlike most, they also have a keen understanding of the necessities of war and what needs to be done to end it; both are committed to this enormous task.
These two friends are about to be reunited again, as Grant wants Sherman’s help in developing a strategy to take the important Mississippi River hub of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Today he sends Sherman a telegraph to “Meet me at Columbus, Kentucky on Thursday next. If you have a good map of the country south of you, take it up with you.“
Though a day behind schedule, U.S. Brigadier General William Rosecrans and his men engage Confederate troops in western Virginia led by C.S.A. Brigadier General Robert Garnett. The Battle of Rich Mountain engages the Confederates while they are split in two. In terms of manpower it is not a fair battle, with 2,000 Union troops against 310 Rebels. The Confederate forces fight hard and hold off the Union for more than two hours at the Rich Mountain pass with only a single cannon. But in the end the Union is victorious and the Confederates retreat; Union forces will follow them in the upcoming days.
The battle is small, but it successfully pushes Confederates from the B&O Railroad lines and disrupts Confederate recruiting in an area that has been pro-Union and anti-secession. Though Rosecrans had done the planning and execution for the attack, it was overseen by Major General George B. McClellan, who takes full credit for its success. McClellan does not give any credit to Rosecrans in his official report.
John Singleton Mosby had been against secession, but had enlisted in the Washington Mounted Rifles when Virginia left the Union. Today Mosby has his first encounter with Federal cavalry just south of Martinsburg, Virginia. His patrol captures two Union soldiers and then pushes the others to Martinsburg.
In Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary go to Camp Clark to review the troops. There are rumors in the camp that the army might be moving soon, but no one knows for certain if this is true.
Charles Benedict Calvert, a U.S. Representative from Maryland, writes U.S. President Abraham Lincoln regarding the resolution passed in the House yesterday. The resolution, which releases the military from obligation to recapture fugitive slaves, has angered many slaveholders in the border state of Maryland. Calvert has seen Union troops take fugitive slaves and employ them; in some cases, they have been sent with troops into Virginia. Calvert requests that fugitive slaves be kept in the camps in a “place of confinement” until owners have a chance to come and claim them. Ideally, Calvert prefers that the camps refuse to take in any fugitive slaves at all. Lincoln understands that the Union’s relationship with Maryland is a delicate one; he cannot lose the state to the Confederacy. While the House resolution stands, Lincoln will not support it. For Lincoln, the war is not about emancipation; it is about taking down the rebellion and keeping the country together.
In Richmond, Virginia, the city continues to work on its defenses. With Washington City only 100 miles away, the Confederate government knows that its capital will be a prime target for the Union. The Richmond Daily Dispatch reports:
“The late action of the State Convention, together with the resolution passed by the Council on Monday, has made the services of the free Negroes of the city available to do such work; and if those who are now encumbering the city with their worse than useless presence were immediately set to work, the whole of the defenses could soon be completed, and at the same time our operations be relieved of the anomalous condition they have lately presented, of labor performed by volunteer free Negroes, who came more than a hundred miles to work on the defenses of the city, while hundreds of the same class are now in our midst, idle and vicious, and corrupting our slaves.”
The U.S. Senate takes time today to pass a bill authorizing the employment of 500,000 volunteers – with an appropriation of $600 million – for the single purpose of suppressing the rebellion.
In cities across the Union, newspapers continue to advertise for medical supplies, writing materials and volunteers to support the military effort.
U.S. General George McClellan directs General William Rosecrans to attack Confederate forces at Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain, Virginia. Rosecrans has the advantage when it comes to manpower, but his men are slowed down by unfamiliar roads and uneven land. The attack simply cannot take place today.
A resident of Washington, Horatio Nelson Taft, was going to visit the Rhode Island camp today with his daughter Julia, but with the downpour of rain they decide against it. In his diary, Taft writes that there “has been nothing like a dry time yet this season.” Taft feels that a battle is now impending, as regiments have started to move into Virginia. “My impression is the Rebels will run”, he writes.