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Chapter IX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9


American Civil War in 1864: Battle of Olustee: Federal Failures in Louisiana and Arkansas: Grant takes the Command in Virginia; He crosses the Rapidan: Battles of the " Wilderness" and Spotsylvania Court House: Terrible Slaughter: Death of Stuart: Fighting on the North Anna: Battle oŁ Cold Harbour: Grant transfers his Army to the South of the James River: Fruitless Assault on Petersburg: End of the Campaign: Inexhaustible Resources of the North: Early Invades Maryland; Menaces Washington; Is twice Defeated by Sheridan: Devastation of the Shenandoah Valley by Sheridan's Order: Sherman Advances into Georgia: Fall of Atlanta: Hood Invades Tennessee Repulsed from Nashville: Sherman's Great March: Fall of Savannah: The Alabama and the Kearsarge: Capture of the Mobile Forts by Farragut: The Florida at Bahia: The St. Albans Raid: Constitutional Amendment Abolishing Slavery: Re-election of Mr. Lincoln - Maximilian accepts the Mexican Crown: Arrives in Mexico: His progress in putting down the Juarists - Destructive Cyclone at Calcutta.
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The course of the Civil War in America in 1864 was characterised by as desperate fighting, but distinguished by fewer picturesque incidents than the campaigns of the two preceding years. The contest became more sanguinary as it proceeded; in this year we hear of the massacre of prisoners, of fights in which no quarter was given, of the burning of villages and farms, of the ruthless destruction and wholesale plunder of property. Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward erected the preservation of the Union into a religion, and did not fear to characterise those who sought to dissolve it as the " enemies of the human race "Naturally, therefore, they made it a point of duty to wade through seas of blood and stride over wide-spread ruin to their object. On the other hand, this frightful pertinacity maddened the Confederates, and infused a spirit of vengeful fury into their resistance, so long as any resistance was possible.

In the outlying portions of the vast territory over which the war raged, the events of the year were, upon the whole, unfavourable to the Federals. In an attempt, made in February, to overrun and recover Florida for the Union, General Seymour was defeated (February 20), with heavy loss, by the Confederate General Finnegan, at a place called Olustee, near the northern frontier of the state; and this was the last serious fighting that occurred in Florida till the final collapse of the Confederacy. In the part of Louisiana which lies to the west of the Mississippi, a great combined military and naval expedition, under General Banks and Admiral Porter, the object of which was to clear the valley of the Red river and to reach and capture Shreveport, a place of considerable importance in the north-western corner of the state, resulted in complete failure. The Confederate General Kirby Smith attacked Banks' army while its divisions were scattered at Sabine Cross Roads (April 8), and defeated it with heavy loss in guns and prisoners. Banks fell back on Grand Ecore, repulsing his pursuers with loss at Pleasant Hill, and thence on Alexandria; ultimately he retired to Simmsport, a place not many miles from the Mississippi. Admiral Porter, who had worked his fleet of gun-boats up the Red river to within a short distance of Shreveport, was compelled, on hearing of Banks' defeat, to work them down again, in which operation he was much hampered by the low state of the river, and the continual attacks of the enemy from the banks, losing one or two of his gun-boats from the former cause, and a considerable number of men from the latter. In Arkansas, a state on the western bank of the Mississippi, north of Louisiana, the Federal General Steele set out, in the spring, from Little Rock, the capital of the state - which he had captured in the previous September - on an expedition to Camden, a town near the Louisiana border. But a portion of his force being defeated and compelled to surrender at Mark's Mill (April 25), Steele retreated, not without considerable difficulty, to Little Rock; the greater portion of the state was recovered by the Confederates, and the attempts at a Union organisation, which the. success of the previous year had encouraged, were nipped in the bud. In Missouri, on the other hand, in spite of a last and very daring inroad by General Price, the Federal hold of the state remained unshaken; yet, on the whole, the Confederates west of the Mississippi were stronger at the end of the year than they had been at the beginning.

The Army of the Potomac was entrusted this year to General Grant, who was nominated by the President, on the 1st March, Lieutenant-General of the Armies of the United States, a dignity hitherto accorded only to George Washington. "What emphatically recommended General Grant both to the President and to Congress - notwithstanding his civilian training and frequent serious mistakes in strategy - was his " utter disbelief in the efficacy of any rose-water treatment of the rebellion." His policy, agreeing with that of Mr. Lincoln himself, was to wear out the Confederacy by continual and simultaneous attacks in every quarter, to give them no rest either winter or summer, and thus to make the utmost possible use of the great advantage possessed by the Federals in their practically unbounded resources in men and material, and to impede the Confederates as much as possible in the use of the advantage which they possessed - that of moving on interior and shorter lines of communication. He was determined - to use his own words in his final report on the war - " to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but" submission. He assumed the command of the army, which, however, still remained under the immediate direction of Meade, early in March, and devoted the rest of that month and the whole of April to a careful re-organisation, massing his entire force, amounting to about 100,000 men, in three corps, under Generals Hancock, Warren, and Sedgwick. Lee also had re-formed his far inferior army into three corps, under Hill, Ewell, and Longstreet. When all was ready, Meade was ordered to cross the Rapidan, and enter the " Wilderness " - a tract of broken table-land densely covered with dwarfish timber and bushes, which lies to the west of Chancellorsville. His columns crossed the river without opposition, and moving to their right were about to emerge from the tangled broken country, when Lee, who had drawn up his army outside the western border of the Wilderness, vigorously attacked and checked their progress. The battle raged with various success through the 5th and 6th of May; but, about sun-down on the 6th, a sudden Confederate charge broke the Federal right, and led to the capture of several thousand prisoners. The total losses in the two days' battle were - on the Federal side, nearly 20,000 men, of whom some 6,000 were taken prisoners; on that of the Confederates, according to their own estimate, only 8,000. General Longstreet was severely wounded in this battle.

On the next day (May 7), as Lee did not attack, Grant resolved to resume his march upon Richmond, and pushed his columns in a southerly direction, through the Wilderness into the open country round Spotsylvania Court House. Here he found Lee posted in a position of considerable strength, fortified by earthworks and abattis. During four days (May 8, 9, 10, and 12), there was continual fighting round Spotsylvania, with frightful carnage. On the first day, General Sedgwick, while placing his guns, and bantering some of his men who winced at the singing of Confederate bullets, was struck in the face by the ball from a sharp-shooter's rifle and fell dead. The command of his corps was given to General Wright. Grant wrote to the War Department, on the 11th May, declaring that the result of six days' heavy fighting was much in his favour (which was only true in the sense that he could better afford to lose two men than the Confederates one), and ending: " I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." The Federal losses round Spotsylvania again amounted to nearly 20,000 men. After the action on the 12th, several days of marching and counter-marching ensued, Grant endeavouring, but without success, to find a weak place in the Confederate lines. On the 21st, he withdrew his army by its left in a south-easterly direction, and marched upon the North Anna, a stream which, when joined by the South Anna, forms the river Pamunkey. Meantime, General Butler, commanding at Fortress Munroe, had advanced with 30,000 men up the James river towards Richmond, which he hoped to find feebly defended. Both he and Grant were aided in their movements by the operations of a powerful cavalry, now far more numerous and well appointed than the Confederate horsemen, whose brilliant raids had carried consternation far across the Federal border in the earlier years of the war. Stuart himself, the best cavalry officer on the Confederate side, had fallen mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern, near Richmond, on the 11th May, while resisting, with far inferior numbers, the attack of a large cavalry force under the command of General Sheridan. But Beauregard was summoned up from Charleston, the attack on which had been turned into a blockade, to oppose Butler, and attacking him at Proctor's Creek (May 16), on the James river, forced him to retreat.

When Grant reached the North Anna, he found the ever-watchful Lee confronting him again in a strong position to the south of that river. Two days' fighting (May 23, 24) ensued; after which, perceiving the impossibility of forcing the Confederate entrenchments without a loss which even the Federal armies could not afford, Grant again withdrew by his left, and moved towards the Chickahominy. Lee, moving on a shorter line, had time to post himself at Cold Harbour, north of the river, before the Federals could reach it. His position was naturally strong, and he knew how to make the most of its advantages. " No other American has ever so thoroughly appreciated and so readily seized the enormous advantage which the increased range, precision, and efficiency given to musketry by rifling have insured to the defensive, when wielded by a commander who knows how speedily a trench may be dug and a slight breastwork thrown up, which will stop nine-tenths of the bullets that would otherwise draw blood." Yet, if Grant was to reach Richmond on this line, he must force Lee's position, and the attempt was accordingly made. The Federals came on bravely and swiftly, but were as swiftly repulsed with terrible slaughter. Twenty minutes after the first shot was fired, ten thousand men were stretched on the sod, dead, dying, or disabled; while the loss on the side of the Confederates did not exceed a thousand men. When, some hours later, General Meade ordered the assault to be renewed, the soldiers simply and unanimously refused to obey. The total loss to the Federals in this battle of Cold Harbour (June 3) exceeded 13,000 men.

But Grant's nerves were as firmly steeled as those of Count Bismarck; and the sole alteration which this day of slaughter induced in his plans was the transference of his line of attack from the north to the south of the James river. Running down from Richmond in a general south-easterly direction, the James is joined at City Point by the river Appomattox, flowing from the south-west, on whose banks, about twenty miles due south of Richmond, stands the town of Petersburg. This is an important railway centre, to which all the railways communicating with Richmond from the south converge, except one. Its capture, therefore, by cutting off the capital from its main sources of supply, would render the continued occupation of Richmond by a large Confederate army a work of difficulty. The army was safely conveyed over the James river in the first week of June, and with as little delay as possible Grant hurled strong columns of assault against the defences of Petersburg. Some success was obtained at one or two points, and the attack was renewed from day to day for several days (June 10 - 20), but eventually the assailants were beaten back, with the loss of 10,000 men. The Federal army then entrenched itself in front of Petersburg, and Grant opened communication on his right with General Butler, who had gradually advanced up the James river as far as a point on the left bank known as Deep Bottom, only ten miles from Richmond, where he constructed a bridge, so as to ensure an easy and rapid communication between the extreme right and left of the Federal line. Desperate fighting, attended by heavy loss to the Federals, especially in prisoners, continued through the best part of June, Grant's object being now to seize and destroy the lines of railroad connecting Petersburg with the interior. There was a lull in July; but, on the 30th of that month, a mine having been sprung with terrible effect beneath an advanced redoubt forming part of the Confederate lines at Petersburg, which blew the garrison of 300 men into the air, and opened a yawning breach in the defences, storming columns were ordered to the assault. But the arrangements were planned with little skill and executed without ardour; and the Confederates, recovering from their first consternation, repelled the attacking force with heavy loss. In August, Grant made decided progress, though effecting it at an enormous cost, inasmuch as the Weldon railroad, running due south from Petersburg, was seized and firmly held by Warren and Hancock. In the last week of October, there was more fighting on Hatcher's Run, to the south-west of Petersburg, but with no particular result. The Virginia campaign for the year was now at an end. Grant had neither defeated Lee, nor penetrated to Richmond, nor even taken Petersburg.

The losses during the campaign, in his and Butler's army together, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, reached, according to Federal accounts, the amazing total of 100,000 men; while the Confederate losses amounted to little more than half that number. But for the overwhelming numerical superiority on the part of the North, and the stubborn resolution of the Government, such a result of the campaign would have been equivalent to hopeless and admitted defeat. As it was, a loss which nearly equalled the entire strength of the army with which General Grant began the campaign had no effect in lessening the pressure upon the Confederates, for the numbers of the Federals " had been nearly or quite kept up by reinforcements from various quarters," Thus the severe losses sustained by the Confederates, though falling far short of those they had inflicted, yet, since they could not be made good, left them relatively weaker than when the campaign began. It is easy to conceive the feeling of despair which must have gradually infused itself into the breasts of the Southerners, both officers and men, at seeing the futility of all their victories and all their sacrifices, when measured against a political zeal - which some might call patriotism, others fanaticism - that counted human lives as nothing compared with the attainment of its object.

In Western Virginia, the course of events at first went favourably for the Confederates, but ended with a crushing disaster. Breckinridge defeated Sigel in the Shenandoah valley in May, giving place afterwards to Early, whose army was raised to a strength of 20,000 men. Defeating the Federal generals who opposed him, Early crossed into Maryland and threatened Washington, sending a force under General M'Causland to Chambers- burg, in Pennsylvania. The panic in the frontier states was for a short time greater than at any period since the commencement of the war. But troops were soon collected in sufficient numbers to secure Washington, and Early having advanced within seven miles of the city (July 11), and exchanged fire with some of the outer forts, thought it prudent to make a speedy retreat. M'Causland imposed a heavy war contribution on the town of Chambersburg, under penalty of conflagration, and when the money was not produced, set fire to the place; about two-thirds of the town were destroyed. Sheridan was now appointed by Grant to the chief command in the valley, with an army of 30,000 men. This able General defeated Early at Opequan Creek; near Winchester (September 19); and when, in the following month, the Confederates had surprised and routed General Crook, one of Sheridan's subordinates, at Cedar Creek (October 19), Sheridan, who was then on his way to Washington, turned back in time, restored the battle, and by masterly generalship transformed defeat into a decided victory. Previously to this, Sheridan, acting upon an order addressed to his predecessor in command by General Grant, had commenced a systematic devastation of this fertile region. Since the ravaging of the Palatinate, by order of Louis XIV., history can point to nothing more ruthless than the devastation of Western Virginia, and afterwards of South Carolina, by the agents of a Republic which started on its career with an ostentatious declaration of its respect for human rights. Sheridan writes to Grant on the 7th October: - " The whole country from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountain has been made untenable for a rebel army. I have destroyed over two thousand barns filled with wheat and hay and farming implements, over seventy mills filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over four thousand head of stock, and have killed and issued to the troops not less than three thousand sheep. This destruction embraces the Luray valley and Little Fort valley as well as the main valley. A large number of horses have been obtained, a proper estimate of which I can not now make."

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Pictures for Chapter IX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

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