Friday, December 19, 2014

December 19, 1864: "The darkest and most dismal day . . ."

On this this 150 years ago, Confederate war clerk John B. Jones had his hands full with news and rumors.
December 19th.—The darkest and most dismal day that ever dawned upon the earth, except one. There was no light when the usual hour came round, and later the sun refused to shine. There was fog, and afterward rain.

Northern papers say Hood has been utterly routed, losing all his guns!

A letter from Mr. ——— to ———, dated Richmond, December 17th, 1864, says: “I have the honor to report my success as most remarkable and satisfactory. I have ascertained the whole Yankee mail line, from the gun-boats to your city, with all the agents save one. You will be surprised when informed, from the lowest to the highest class. The agent in your city, and most likely in your department, has yet to be discovered. This is as certain as what we have learned (his arrest, I mean), for the party in whose hands the mail is put coming from your city is known to us; and we have only to learn who gives him the mail, which can be done upon arrest, if not sooner, to know everything. What shall be done with the parties (spies, of course) when we are ready to act? If you ever intimate that trials are tedious, etc., the enemy seize citizens from some neighborhood as hostages, when their emissaries are disturbed. I will dispatch, if it be authorized, and that will end the matter. The lady I spoke to you of is the fountain-head. What to do with females troubles me, for I dislike to be identified with their arrest.

“I request that a good boat, with three torpedoes, and a man who understands working them, be sent to Milford to report to me at Edge Hill. Let the man be mum on all questions. I would meet him at Milford, if I knew the day (distance is twenty-five miles), with a wagon, to take him, torpedoes, and boat to the point required. I must be sure of the day.

“Have the following advertisement published in Monday’s papers:

“‘Yankees Escaped! $1000 Reward!—A Yankee officer and three privates escaped from prison on Thursday night, with important matter upon their persons. The above reward will be given for their detection.’

“Let me hear from you through Cawood’s Line, upon receipt of this. Respectfully, etc. ———.”

We have the spectacle now of three full generals—Johnston, Beauregard, and Bragg—without armies to command; and the armies in the field apparently melting away under the lead of subordinate, if not incompetent leaders. So much for the administration of the Adjutant-General’s office.

Governor Smith is still exempting deputy sheriffs, constables, etc.—all able-bodied.

It is rumored on the street that we intend evacuating Savannah. How did that get out—if, indeed, such is the determination? There are traitors in high places—or near them.

It is also rumored that the Danville Railroad has been cut. I don’t believe it—yet.

There is deep vexation in the city—a general apprehension that our affairs are rapidly approaching a crisis such as has not been experienced before. There is also much denunciation of the President for the removal of Gen. Johnston from the command of the Army of Tennessee.

Hon. Mr. Foote declared, Saturday, that he would resign his seat if the bill to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, now pending, became a law. There is much consternation—but it is of a sullen character, without excitement.

The United States Congress has ordered that notice be given Great Britain of an intention on the part of the Federal Government to increase the naval force on the lakes; also a proposition has been introduced to terminate the Reciprocity Treaty. And Gen. Dix orders his military subordinates to pursue any rebel raiders even into Canada and bring them over. So, light may come from that quarter. A war with England would be our peace.

At 2 p.m. it was rumored that Charleston is taken and Beauregard a prisoner. Also that Gen. Jos. E. Johnston (in the city) says Richmond will be evacuated in ten days. I do not learn what gold sells at to-day! I suspect some coup d’├ętat is meditated.

December 19, 1864: Searching for a Confederate Peace

On this day 150 years ago, the Confederate House of Representatives was searching for a way out of the war.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER. 19, 1864 (Journal of the Confederate Congress, Vol. 7, pp. 363-364)

The House resumed the consideration of the unfinished business, viz:

The resolution of Mr. Turner, “tendering negotiations for peace and a mitigation of the horrors of the war.”

Mr. [LaFayette] McMullin submitted the following amendment to the amendment of Mr. Barksdale (in the nature of a substitute):

Strike out the whole of the same and insert in lieu thereof the following, viz: 
“Whereas according to the Declaration of Independence of the United States and the Constitution of the Confederate States, the people of each of said States, in their highest sovereign capacity, have a right to alter, amend, or abolish the government under which they live, and establish such other as they may deem moat expedient; and

“Whereas the people of the several Confederate States have thought proper to sever their political connection with the people and Government of the United States, for reasons which it is not needful here to state; and

“Whereas the people of the Confederate States have organized and established a distinct government for themselves: and

“Whereas because the people of the Confederate States have thus exercised their undoubted right in this respect, the people and Government of the United States have thought proper to make war upon them; and

“Whereas there seems to be a difference of opinion on the part of the respective Governments and people as to which of the contending parties is responsible for the commencement of the present war: Therefore,

“Resolved, That whilst it is not expedient, and would be incompatible with the dignity of the Confederate States, to send commissioners to Washington City, for the purpose of securing a cessation of hostilities, yet it would be, in the judgment of this body, eminently proper that the House of Representatives of the Confederate States should dispatch, without delay, to some convenient point, a body of commissioners, thirteen in number, composed of one representative from each of said States, to meet and confer with such individuals as may be appointed by the Government of the United States, in regard to all the outstanding questions of difference between the two Governments, and to agree, if possible, upon the terms of a lasting and honorable peace, subject to the ratification of the respective Governments and of the sovereign States respectively represented therein.”

Mr. McMullin moved to refer the whole subject to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Mr. H[oratio]. W. Bruce called the question; which was ordered, and the motion to refer prevailed.

December 19, 1864: "CALL FOR 300,000 VOLUNTEERS"

A Proclamation

Whereas, by the act approved July 4, 1864, entitled "An act further to regulate and provide for the enrolling and calling out the national forces, and for other purposes," it is provided that the President of the United States may, "at his discretion, at any time hereafter, call for any number of men, as volunteers for the respective terms of one, two, and three years for military service," and "that in case the quota or any part thereof of any town, township, ward of a city, precinct, or election district, or of any country not so subdivided, shall not be filled within the space of fifty days after such call, then the President shall immediately order a draft for one year to fill such quota or any part thereof which may be unfilled;" and

Whereas, by the credits allowed in accordance with the act of Congress on the call for 500,000 men, made July 18, 1864, the number of men to be obtained under that call was reduced to 280,000; and

Whereas, the operations of the enemy in certain States have rendered it impracticable to procure from them their full quotas of troops under said call; and

Whereas, from the foregoing causes but 240,000 men have been put into the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps under the said call of July 18, 1864, leaving a deficiency on that call of two hundred and sixty thousand (260,000):

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, in order to supply the aforesaid deficiency and to provide for casualties in the military and naval service of the United States, do issue this my call for three hundred thousand (300,000) volunteers to serve for one, two, or three years. The quotas of the States, districts, and subdistricts under this call will be assigned by the War Department through the bureau of the Provost-Marshal General of the United States, and "in case the quota or any part thereof of any town, township, ward of a city, precinct, or election district, or of any county not so subdivided, shall not be filled" before the fifteenth of February, 1865, then a draft shall be made to fill such quota or any part thereof under this call which may be unfilled on said fifteenth day of February, 1865.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed..........

By the President: WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

December 18, 1864: W.E. Johnson Jr. to his wife

Fort Pulaski as it appeared, damaged, in 1862 after its capture.
On this day 150 years ago, one of the "Immortal Six Hundred" at Fort Pulaski wrote home to his wife.
Fort Pulaski Dec 18th 1864

My dear Wife

I have not received a letter from in a very long time[.] They are not allowed to reach me for some reason + I think it must be that the sheets of paper upon which you write are too large, this is the right size[.] If this is the reason I suppose I will get another from you untill this reaches you + your reply, which will be a long time[.] Fathers of the 17 + 30th of Nov were received on the 11th inst. His seem to come regularly, the power of attorney did not come. I tryed to have one prepared here but was advised that it would not answer the purpose + would not be allowed to go through the lines[.] I haveng been hoping I would get home in time to attend to such matters, but feel quite sure now unless something has been done to obtain a special exchange for me that I will remain in this miserable condition for an indefinite period[.] all the sick + wounded have of this party of six hundred have been exchanged, together with about a doz or more officers who were so fortunate as to have friends within our lines who obtained specials exchanges for them, among them was my friend Capt Pinckney, who promised me he would write you immediately upon his arrival in Charleston + I hope has done so. Can nothing be done for me, the probability of my having to lie in prison for another six or twelve months adds much to my miserable condition. Think of the prospect ahead of me + try + induce some one to make an effort to have me released. I received a letter from Capt Hall in which he informed me that he had called to see you on the 11th Nov but that you were at Camden[.] I was very sorry as I knew he could give you all the information you want in regard to me[.] If any effort is to be made to obtain an exchange for me let it be done promptly as I think is quite probable we will be sent north unless exchanged

Your devoted Husband

W E Johnson Jr Lt 7 SSC

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December 17, 1864: The Aftermath of Nashville

On this day 150 years ago, the Confederate Army of Tennessee staggered away from its defeat at the Battle of Nashville. With the retreating army was Private Sam R. Watkins who wrote a memoir of his experience of the battle and the retreat after the war.

A few more scenes, my dear friends, and we close these memoirs. We march toward the city of Nashville. We camp the first night at Brentwood. The next day we can see the fine old building of solid granite, looming up on Capitol Hill--the capitol of Tennessee. We can see the Stars and Stripes flying from the dome. Our pulse leaps with pride when we see the grand old architecture. We can hear the bugle call, and the playing of the bands of the different regiments in the Federal lines. Now and then a shell is thrown into our midst from Fort Negley, but no attack or demonstrations on either side. We bivouac on the cold and hard-frozen ground, and when we walk about, the echo of our footsteps sound like the echo of a tombstone. The earth is crusted with snow, and the wind from the northwest is piercing our very bones. We can see our ragged soldiers, with sunken cheeks and famine-glistening eyes. Where were our generals? Alas! there were none. Not one single general out of Cheatham's division was left--not one. General B. F. Cheatham himself was the only surviving general of his old division. Nearly all our captains and colonels were gone. Companies mingled with companies, regiments with regiments, and brigades with brigades. A few raw-boned horses stood shivering under the ice-covered trees, nibbling the short, scanty grass. Being in range of the Federal guns from Fort Negley, we were not allowed to have fires at night, and our thin and ragged blankets were but poor protection against the cold, raw blasts of December weather--the coldest ever known. The cold stars seem to twinkle with unusual brilliancy, and the pale moon seems to be but one vast heap of frozen snow, which glimmers in the cold gray sky, and the air gets colder by its coming; our breath, forming in little rays, seems to make a thousand little coruscations that scintillate in the cold frosty air. I can tell you nothing of what was going on among the generals. But there we were, and that is all that I can tell you. One morning about daylight our army began to move. Our division was then on the extreme right wing, and then we were transferred to the left wing. The battle had begun. We were continually moving to our left. We would build little temporary breastworks, then we would be moved to another place. Our lines kept on widening out, and stretching further and further apart, until it was not more than a skeleton of a skirmish line from one end to the other. We started at a run. We cared for nothing. Not more than a thousand yards off, we could see the Yankee cavalry, artillery, and infantry, marching apparently still further to our left. We could see regiments advancing at double-quick across the fields, while, with our army, everything seemed confused. The private soldier could not see into things. It seemed to be somewhat like a flock of wild geese when they have lost their leader. We were willing to go anywhere, or to follow anyone who would lead us. We were anxious to flee, fight, or fortify. I have never seen an army so confused and demoralized. The whole thing seemed to be tottering and trembling. When, Halt! Front! Right dress! and Adjutant McKinney readsus the following order:
"SOLDIERS:--The commanding general takes pleasure in announcing to his troops that victory and success are now within their grasp; and the commanding general feels proud and gratified that in every attack and assault the enemy have been repulsed; and the commanding general will further say to his noble and gallant troops, 'Be of good cheer--all is well.'

"General Commanding.

"Acting Adjutant-General."
I remember how this order was received. Every soldier said, "O, shucks; that is all shenanigan," for we knew that we had never met the enemy or fired a gun outside of a little skirmishing. And I will further state that that battle order, announcing success and victory, was the cause of a greater demoralization than if our troops had been actually engaged in battle. They at once mistrusted General Hood's judgment as a commander. And every private soldier in the whole army knew the situation of affairs. I remember when passing by Hood, how feeble and decrepit he looked, with an arm in a sling, and a crutch in the other hand, and trying to guide and control his horse. And, reader, I was not a Christian then, and am but little better today; but, as God sees my heart tonight, I prayed in my heart that day for General Hood. Poor fellow, I loved him, not as a General, but as a good man. I knew when that army order was read, that General Hood had been deceived, and that the poor fellow was only trying to encourage his men. Every impulse of his nature was but to do good, and to serve his country as best he could. Ah! reader, some day all will be well.

We continued marching toward our left, our battle-line getting thinner and thinner. We could see the Federals advancing, their blue coats and banners flying, and could see their movements and hear them giving their commands. Our regiment was ordered to double quick to the extreme left wing of the army, and we had to pass up a steep hill, and the dead grass was wet and as slick as glass, and it was with the greatest difficulty that we could get up the steep hill side. When we got to the top, we, as skirmishers, were ordered to deploy still further to the left.

Billy Carr and J. E. Jones, two as brave soldiers as ever breathed the breath of life--in fact, it was given up that they were the bravest and most daring men in the Army of Tennessee--and myself, were on the very extreme left wing of our army. While we were deployed as skirmishers, I heard, "Surrender, surrender," and on looking around us, I saw that we were right in the midst of a Yankee line of battle. They were lying down in the bushes, and we were not looking for them so close to us. We immediately threw down our guns and surrendered. J. E. Jones was killed at the first discharge of their guns, when another Yankee raised up and took deliberate aim at Billy Carr, and fired, the ball striking him below the eye and passing through his head. As soon as I could, I picked up my gun, and as the Yankee turned I sent a minnie ball crushing through his head, and broke and run. But I am certain that I killed the Yankee who killed Billy Carr, but it was too late to save the poor boy's life. As I started to run, a fallen dogwood tree tripped me up, and I fell over the log. It was all that saved me. The log was riddled with balls, and thousands, it seemed to me, passed over it. As I got up to run again, I was shot through the middle finger of the very hand that is now penning these lines, and the thigh. But I had just killed a Yankee, and was determined to get away from there as soon as I could. How I did get back I hardly know, for I was wounded and surrounded by Yankees. One rushed forward, and placing the muzzle of his gun in two feet of me, discharged it, but it missed its aim, when I ran at him, grabbed him by the collar, and brought him off a prisoner. Captain Joe P. Lee and Colonel H. R. Field remember this, as would Lieutenant-Colonel John L. House, were he alive; and all the balance of Company H, who were there at the time. I had eight bullet holes in my coat, and two in my hand, beside the one in my thigh and finger. It was a hail storm of bullets. The above is true in every particular, and is but one incident of the war, which happened to hundreds of others. But, alas! all our valor and victories were in vain, when God and the whole world were against us.

Billy Carr was one of the bravest and best men I ever knew. He never knew what fear was, and in consequence of his reckless bravery, had been badly wounded at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, the octagon house, Dead Angle, and the 22nd of July at Atlanta. In every battle he was wounded, and finally, in the very last battle of the war, surrendered up his life for his country's cause. No father and mother of such a brave and gallant boy, should ever sorrow or regret having born to them such a son. He was the flower and chivalry of his company. He was as good as he was brave. His bones rest yonder on the Overton hills today, while I have no doubt in my own mind that his spirit is with the Redeemer of the hosts of heaven. He was my friend. Poor boy, farewell!

When I got back to where I could see our lines, it was one scene of confusion and rout. Finney's Florida brigade had broken before a mere skirmish line, and soon the whole army had caught the infection, had broken, and were running in every direction. Such a scene I never saw. The army was panic-stricken. The woods everywhere were full of running soldiers. Our officers were crying, "Halt! halt!" and trying to rally and re-form their broken ranks. The Federals would dash their cavalry in amongst us, and even their cannon joined in the charge. One piece of Yankee artillery galloped past me, right on the road, unlimbered their gun, fired a few shots, and galloped ahead again.

Hood's whole army was routed and in full retreat. Nearly every man in the entire army had thrown away his gun and accouterments. More than ten thousand had stopped and allowed themselves to be captured, while many, dreading the horrors of a Northern prison, kept on, and I saw many, yea, even thousands, broken down from sheer exhaustion, with despair and pity written on their features. Wagon trains, cannon, artillery, cavalry, and infantry were all blended in inextricable confusion. Broken down and jaded horses and mules refused to pull, and the badly-scared drivers looked like their eyes would pop out of their heads from fright. Wagon wheels, interlocking each other, soon clogged the road, and wagons, horses and provisions were left indiscriminately. The officers soon became effected with the demoralization of their troops, and rode on in dogged indifference. General Frank Cheatham and General Loring tried to form a line at Brentwood, but the line they formed was like trying to stop the current of Duck river with a fish net. I believe the army would have rallied, had there been any colors to rally to. And as the straggling army moves on down the road, every now and then we can hear the sullen roar of the Federal artillery booming in the distance. I saw a wagon and team abandoned, and I unhitched one of the horses and rode on horseback to Franklin, where a surgeon tied up my broken finger, and bandaged up my bleeding thigh. My boot was full of blood, and my clothing saturated with it. I was at General Hood's headquarters. He was much agitated and affected, pulling his hair with his one hand (he had but one), and crying like his heart would break. I pitied him, poor fellow. I asked him for a wounded furlough, and he gave it to me. I never saw him afterward. I always loved and honored him, and will ever revere and cherish his memory. He gave his life in the service of his country, and I know today he wears a garland of glory beyond the grave, where Justice says "well done," and Mercy has erased all his errors and faults.

I only write of the under strata of history; in other words, the privates' history--as I saw things then, and remember them now.

The winter of 1864-5 was the coldest that had been known for many years. The ground was frozen and rough, and our soldiers were poorly clad, while many, yes, very many, were entirely barefooted. Our wagon trains had either gone on, we knew not whither, or had been left behind. Everything and nature, too, seemed to be working against us. Even the keen, cutting air that whistled through our tattered clothes and over our poorly covered heads, seemed to lash us in its fury. The floods of waters that had overflowed their banks, seemed to laugh at our calamity, and to mock us in our misfortunes.

All along the route were weary and footsore soldiers. The citizens seemed to shrink and hide from us as we approached them. And, to cap the climax, Tennessee river was overflowing its banks, and several Federal gunboats were anchored just below Mussel Shoals, firing at us while crossing.

The once proud Army of Tennessee had degenerated to a mob. We were pinched by hunger and cold. The rains, and sleet, and snow never ceased falling from the winter sky, while the winds pierced the old, ragged, grayback Rebel soldier to his very marrow. The clothing of many were hanging around them in shreds of rags and tatters, while an old slouched hat covered their frozen ears. Some were on old, raw-boned horses, without saddles.

Hon. Jefferson Davis perhaps made blunders and mistakes, but I honestly believe that he ever did what he thought best for the good of his country. And there never lived on this earth from the days of Hampden to George Washington, a purer patriot or a nobler man than Jefferson Davis; and, like Marius, grand even in ruins.

Hood was a good man, a kind man, a philanthropic man, but he is both harmless and defenseless now. He was a poor general in the capacity of commander-in-chief. Had he been mentally qualified, his physical condition would have disqualified him. His legs and one of his arms had been shot off in the defense of his country. As a soldier, he was brave, good, noble, and gallant, and fought with the ferociousness of the wounded tiger, and with the everlasting grit of the bull-dog; but as a general he was a failure in every particular.

Our country is gone, our cause is lost. "Actum est de Republica."

December 17, 1864: Hardee refuses Sherman's surrender demand

Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, C.S. Army
On this day 150 years ago, Lieutenant General William J. Hardee of the Confederate Army refused a demand for the surrender of Savannah, Georgia issued by Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman.
Headquarters Department South Carolina Georgia, and Florida, Savannah, Georgia, December 17, 1864.

Major-General W.T. Sherman, commanding Federal Forces near Savannah, Georgia.

General: I have to acknowledge the receipt of a communication from you of this date, in which you demand “the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts,” on the ground that you “have received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot into the heart of the city,” and for the further reason that you “have, for some days, held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison can be supplied.” You add that, should you be “forced to resort to assault, or to the slower and surer process of starvation, you will then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and will make little effort to restrain your army,” etc., etc. The position of your forces (a half-mile beyond the outer line for the land-defense of Savannah) is, at the nearest point, at least four miles from the heart of the city. That and the interior line are both intact.

Your statement that you have, for some days, held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison can be supplied, is incorrect. I am in free and constant communication with my department.

Your demand for the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts is refused.

With respect to the threats you conveyed in the closing paragraphs of your letter (of what may be expected in case your demand is not complied with), I have to say that I have hitherto conducted the military operations entrusted to my direction in strict accordance with the rules of civilized warfare, and I should deeply regret the adoption of any course by you that may force me to deviate from them in future. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W.J. Hardee, Lieutenant-General