Hoping for the nightmare to end

  • Written by Don C. White

A segment of the Civil War is examined closelyHistory-Don-White-logo

As the year 1864 began, the war-weary citizens of the Confederacy as well as those of the
Union had tired of the fighting.
When was this nightmare going to end?
How many more lives of the youth of America were to be sacrificed to complete, either the sundering of the nation or the healing of the nation? They looked to the leaders as they pondered these questions. They wanted answers that neither Arbraham Lincoln nor Jefferson Davis could give them as to when this terrible scourge upon the land would come to an end.
The leaders on neither side could not have imagined that the war would last this long. But it had. Now, in what would be the last full year of fighting, neither side gave any sign of stopping. Yes, there had been peace overtures but so far nothing that could bring the sides together.
For one thing, President Lincoln never considered the erring brothers to have left the Union.
As new territories entered into statehood, the total count carried on as if no state had seceded. From
Lincoln’s standpoint there could be no peace unless and until the nation was once again united. He
would not budge an inch from this position.
Most of the armies began the year in winter quarters, safe, if not snug, warm, if not well-feed,
Fighting would begin as soon as spring arrived. Meanwhile, the Confederate Navy kept busy with a number of torpedo attacks. The one most people remember occurred on February 17 off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina where the submarine H. L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic with the loss of five of her crew. Tragically all hands on the Hunley were lost.
The torpedo attacks continued through-out the year and destroyed a number of Union vessels.
The most well-known naval battle of the year took place on June 19 off the coast of Cherburg, France between the CSS Alabama and the USS Kearsarge. The Confederate Raider had captured over 60prizes valued at more than $6 million. On this day, she met her match and was sunk with nine hands lost and many captured.
Late in 1863 and early 1864, some newspapers in the north began a campaign calling for
U. S. Grant to become a candidate for president. He had been a Douglas Democrat before the war but was behind President Lincoln 100 percent by this time. Also, around this time, Grant was being touted to become Lieutenant General of the Army and supreme commander of all Union troops.
Of course the talk of Grant for president was a concern for Lincoln. He knew better thananyone what this itch could do to a man. He needed to be reassured that Grant had no aspirations to run against him. At this stage of the war Lincoln and Grant had never met. Lincoln turned to the Congressman from Galena, Elihu Washburne for some insight on Grant. Washburne told Lincoln that Russell Jones of Galena knew Grant better than anyone.
Mr. Jones was a U.S. Marshall serving at Chicago. Lincoln sent for him to ask if he thought
Grant was the least bit interested in running for president. He offered Lincoln a letter he had recently received from Grant that stated as long as Lincoln could be retained in office, he, Grant, had no interest in running in 1864. This information assured Lincoln so that he could move ahead with the promotion of Grant to Lt. General and commander of the army.
From that moment forward things moved quickly, with Grant going to Washington on March 8, 1864. At a White House reception Lincoln and Grant met for the first time. The next day at a cabinet meeting Grant was presented his commission as Lieutenant General. Lincoln said in part, “The Nation’s appreciation of what you have done, and it’s reliance upon you for what remains to do, in the existing great struggle, are now presented with the Commission, constituting you Lieutenant General in the Army of the United States. …”
In Grant, Lincoln finally found the man that he had been looking for to lead the Union troops to victory.
Another item of interest that took place late in 1863 and early 1864 was the arrival of an armada of Russian ships docking at New York and San Francisco harbors. They spent the winter enjoying the sights and hospitality of America. Some reports say that a number of U.S. military officers along with Mrs. Lincoln were entertained on a shipboard reception. This over-whelming show of force in support of the Union sent a strong message to the Confederacy as well as to England and France that the North had a friend in Russia.
Meanwhile, fighting occurred at Averysboro, N.C.; Paducah, Ky.; Pleasant Hill, La. and
Fort Pillow, Tennessee. The fighting at Fort Pillow is known yet today as the Fort Pillow “Massacre”.
Accounts differed as to the number of troops killed, but after an Investigation it was determined that
nearly 350 Union men were killed. Most of the 262 African-American troops stationed there died in this battle.
Confederate losses were near 100, killed and wounded.
General Grant wasted little time in planning the spring offensive. In his first meeting with
George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, Meade offered his resignation. He believed that Grant would want to put one of his western generals in command, so he offered to step aside. Grant would not hear of it; he wanted Meade to continue as commander. This move was the right thing to do to maintain the morale of the army. As the campaign progressed the Army of the Potomac would become known more as Grant’s Army than Meade’s.
On the 17th of March Grant and Sherman met at Nashville to finalize plans for the spring offensive. Grant was in a hurry to return to Washington, so he had Sherman and General Grenville Dodge travel to Cincinnati with him so they could hammer out the details of the campaign. For two days in a hotel room they poured over maps and paperwork to come up with a “grand strategy” to end the war. General Dodge was there to keep track of the details of their plan.
At the end of their meeting it boiled down to Grant going for Robert E. Lee and Sherman going for Joe Johnston. Sherman was given command of the Military Division of the Mississippi and
Grant would make his headquarters in the East, not behind a desk in Washington, but traveling with the Army of the Potomac.
Grant and Sherman’s plans fit perfectly with what President Lincoln had wanted since early in the war. In Grant he had found the general that could and would get the job done. Both armies were to keep constant pressure on Lee’s and Johnston’s armies.
President Lincoln told Grant, “All he ever wanted or had ever wanted was someone who would take responsibility and act. . .” Soon, Grant had his first run-in with Secretary Edwin Stanton. As Grant began ordering troops away from the defenses of the Capital, Stanton thought he should intervene and countermand Grant’s orders. When Grant wouldn’t back down to the overbearing Stanton, Stanton said they had better go talk with the President. Grant agreed and when Lincoln asked him to state his case, Grant said, “I have no case to state. I am satisfied as it is.” Stanton then stated his case and Lincoln answered, “You and I, Mr. Stanton, have been trying to boss this job, and we have not succeeded very well with it. We have sent across the mountains for Mr. Grant, as Mrs. Grant calls him. . . and I think we had better leave him alone to do as he pleases.”
With the matter clearly stated, Grant was able to organize and plan the campaign without further interference. General Meade’s Army of the Potomac was to follow General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia wherever it went. General Benjamin Butler was to disrupt and destroy
General Lee’s line of communications and General Sherman’s forces (Armies of the Ohio, Tennessee
and Cumberland) were to advance through Georgia against Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s
Army of the Tennessee.
By the beginning of May 1864, the only remaining question was whether Grant or Sherman would be the first to move upon the enemy forces. It was Sherman in the West on May 4 who began to move south out of Chattanooga, Tennessee towards Atlanta, Georgia. Sherman’s three armies numbered 98,000 troops and Johnston’s forces totaled 62,000.
In the East the Army of the Potomac (118,000 troops) opened the fighting against the Army of
Northern Virginia (61,000 troops) at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864.

– Don C. White is a Palos Hills historian who loves delving into the Civil War. His columns run on occasion in the Reporter.