Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April 15, 1864: Robert E. Lee to Jefferson Davis

On this day 150 years ago, General Robert E. Lee wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis to update him on the situation at the front. In this letter Lee examined the possible direction of the various Union offensives and how he thought they might be countered. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Lee contemplated attacking the Army of the Potomac on the Rappahannock River line to try and cripple the Union advance before it even got started.
HEADQUARTERS, April 15, 1864.

MR. PRESIDENT: The reports of the scouts are still conflicting as to the character of the re-enforcements to the Army of the Potomac and the composition of that at Annapolis under General Burnside. I think it probable that the Eighth Corps, which embraces the troops who have heretofore guarded the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the intrenchments around Washington, Alexandria, &c., have been moved up to the Rappahannock and that an equivalent has been sent to Annapolis from General Meade.

Lieutenant-Colonel Mosby states that the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, consolidated, have also been sent to General Burnside. Bur whatever doubt there may be on these points, I think it certain that the enemy is organizing a large army on the Rappahannock, and another at Annapolis, and that the former is intended to move directly on Richmond, while the latter is intended to take it in flank or rear. I think we may also reasonably suppose that the Federal troops that have so long besieged Charleston will, with a portion of their iron-clad steamers be transferred to the James River. I consider that the suspension of the attack on that city was virtually declared when General Gillmore transferred his operations to the Saint John's River. It can only be continued during the summer months by the fleet. The expedition of the enemy up Red River has so diminished his forces about New Orleans and Mobile that I think no attack upon the latter city need be apprehended soon, especially as we have reason to hope that he will return from his expedition in a shattered condition. I have thought, therefore, that General Johnston might draw something from Mobile during the summer to strengthen his hands, and that General Beauregard with a portion of his troops might move into North Carolina to oppose General Burnside should he resume his old position in that State, or be ready to advance to the James River should that route be taken. I do not know what benefit General Buckner can accomplish; but if he can only hold Bristol, I think he had better be called for a season to Richmond. We shall have to glean troops from every quarter to oppose the apparent combination of the enemy. If Richmond could be held secure against the attack from the east, I would propose that I draw Longstreet to me and move right against the enemy on the Rappahannock. Should God give us a crowning victory there, all their plans would be dissipated and their troops now collecting on the waters of the Chesapeake would be recalled to the defense of Washington. But to make this move I must have provisions and forage. I am not yet able to call to me the cavalry or artillery. If I am obliged to retire from this line, either by a flank movement of the enemy or the want of supplies, great injury will befall us. I have ventured to throw out these suggestions to Your Excellency in order that in surveying the whole field of operations you may consider all the circumstances bearing on the question. Should you determine it is better to divide this army and fall back toward Richmond I am ready to do so. I, however, see no better plan for the defense of Richmond than that I have proposed.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE.


Friday, April 11, 2014

April 11, 1864: The Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut

Mary Boykin Chesnut's time in wartime Richmond was drawing to a close. Her husband, James Chesnut, Jr., had decided to re-enter the Confederate army and take command of reserve troops back in South Carolina. Mary was preparing to return to Camden, South Carolina.
April 11th. - Drove with Mrs. Davis and all her infant family; wonderfully clever and precocious children, with unbroken wills. At one time there was a sudden uprising of the nursery contingent. They laughed, fought, and screamed. Bedlam broke loose. Mrs. Davis scolded, laughed, and cried. She asked me if my husband would speak to the President about the plan in South Carolina, which everybody said suited him. "No, Mrs. Davis," said I. "That is what I told Mr. Davis," said she. "Colonel Chesnut rides so high a horse. Now Browne is so much more practical. He goes forth to be general of conscripts in Georgia. His wife will stay at the Cobbs's."

Mrs. Ould gave me a luncheon on Saturday. I felt that this was my last sad farewell to Richmond and the people there I love so well. Mrs. Davis sent her carriage for me, and we went to the Oulds' together. Such good things were served - oranges, guava jelly, etc. The Examiner says Mr. Ould, when he goes to Fortress Monroe, replenishes his larder; why not? The Examiner has taken another fling at the President, as, "haughty and austere with his friends, affable, kind, subservient to his enemies." I wonder if the Yankees would indorse that certificate. Both sides abuse him. He can not please anybody, it seems. No doubt he is right.

My husband is now brigadier-general and is sent to South Carolina to organize and take command of the reserve troops. C. C. Clay and L. Q. C. Lamar are both spoken of to fill the vacancy made among Mr. Davis's aides by this promotion.

To-day, Captain Smith Lee spent the morning here and gave a review of past Washington gossip. I am having such a busy, happy life, with so many friends, and my friends are so clever, so charming. But the change to that weary, dreary Camden! Mary Preston said: "I do think Mrs. Chesnut deserves to be canonized; she agrees to go back to Camden." The Prestons gave me a farewell dinner; my twenty-fourth wedding day, and the very pleasantest day I have spent in Richmond.

Maria Lewis was sitting with us on Mrs. Huger's steps, and Smith Lee was lauding Virginia people as usual. As Lee would say, there "hove in sight" Frank Parker, riding one of the finest of General Bragg's horses; by his side Buck on Fairfax, the most beautiful horse in Richmond, his brown coat looking like satin, his proud neck arched, moving slowly, gracefully, calmly, no fidgets, aristocratic in his bearing to the tips of his bridle-reins. There sat Buck tall and fair, managing her horse with infinite ease, her English riding-habit showing plainly the exquisite proportions of her figure. "Supremely lovely," said Smith Lee. "Look at them both," said I proudly; "can you match those two in Virginia?" "Three cheers for South Carolina!" was the answer of Lee, the gallant Virginia sailor.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April 9, 1864: Torpedo attack on the U.S.S. Minnesota

On this day 150 years ago, the Confederate spar torpedo boat C.S.S. Squib attempted to sink the Union steam frigate U.S.S. Minnesota.
Off Newport News, Va., April 9, 1864.

SIR: I have to report that last night about 2 o'clock, while riding to the ebb tide, a dark object was discovered slowly passing the ship about 200 yards distant. It was thought to be a boat, and hailed; to the hail was answered "Roanoke." By this time it was directly abeam, seemingly without any power of locomotion. The officer of the deck promptly gave orders to the tug astern to go and examine it, and repeated his orders several times before getting any reply, and while endeavoring to have this order executed, the object, a "David," approached the ship just abaft the port main chains and exploded a torpedo under her, the "David" making off in the direction of the Nansemond River. Several muskets and a round shot were fired at it and every effort made to send in pursuit, but the tug Poppy had failed to keep the required lookout and also had allowed her steam to go down, which was not discovered until the "David" had disappeared. Vessels were sent in search, but failed to find her. I submit the accompanying report of Acting Ensign Birtwistle, officer of the deck at the time specified. It is difficult to say how far the ship may be damaged, although she manifests no leak. The shock was quite severe and I should be glad to have a survey to ascertain the extent of injury sustained.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Lieutenant-Commander, Commanding U. S. S. Minnesota.

Acting Rear-Admiral S.P. LEE,
Commanding North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Monday, April 7, 2014

April 7, 1864: The Army of the Potomac prepares to move

Major General George G. Meade
With Ulysses S. Grant planning an offensive in Virginia, Major General George G. Meade began preparing the Army of the Potomac for a forward movement. The army had acquired a lot of extra baggage during its time in winter camp, and Meade ordered this extra baggage sent to the rear.
April 7, 1864.

I. In view of the near approach of the time when this army may be expected to resume active operations, corps and other independent commanders will cause the public and private property for which transportation is not authorized by existing orders to be sent to the rear with as little delay as practicable.

Store-houses are provided in Alexandria, under the charge of Captain J. G. C. Lee, assistant quartermaster, for the storage of all legitimate surplus or extra private and public property, such as officers' trunks and boxes and regimental property that will not be transported in wagons on a march. Officers will be restricted to a moderate allowance of bedding and mess articles, and to a valise or carpet-bag for extra clothing. All property sent to the rear must be plainly marked, stating whether private or public, name of owner, corps, division, brigade, regiment, company, and contents. It will be turned over to the nearest depot quartermaster, who will give transportation receipts for the same to Alexandria; when it reaches the latter place, a store-house receipt will be forwarded to the owner or responsible officer, who will thus be enabled to withdraw it at the proper time without the necessity of visiting the depots in person. Office wagons having been furnished to the headquarters of each corps, most, if not all, of the desks and tables heretofore used in offices will be sent to the rear.

II. All sutlers and their employes will leave the army by the 16th instant, and should sutlers be found with the army after that date, their goods will be confiscated for the benefit of the hospitals, and their employes will be placed, by the provost-marshal-general, at hard labor.

III. After the 16th instant, the provost-marshal-general will recall the permits heretofore given to citizens to remain with the army, Government employes, members of the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, and the registered newspaper correspondents excepted.

IV. Paragraph 2 of General Orders, Numbers 62, of June 12, 1863, from these headquarters, is republished for general information, it being as follows:

Every commanding officers is required by paragraph 5, General Orders, Numbers 56, to send to the provost-marshal-general every citizen found within his lines without a proper permit, and the provost-marshal-general is hereby instructed to put every person so delivered, and every unauthorized person hereafter found within the limits of this army to hard labor on the Government works or in the quartermaster's department.

V. The authority heretofore delegated to corps commanders to grant leaves of absence and furloughs is revoked, except as to furloughs to re-enlisted veterans, and, with this exception, until further orders, no leaves of absence or furloughs will be granted save in extreme cases. In such cases corps commanders may grant leaves and furloughs, subject to the limitations as to time established by General Orders, Numbers 3, of January 30, 1863, from these headquarters.

VI. Corps and other independent commanders will send to these headquarters, with as little delay as practicable, lists showing the names and regiments of officers and enlisted men doing duty in their respective commands who belong to regiments serving in other armies or departments. Such lists will also show the circumstances under which such officers and men have been detained with this army.

VII. So far as practicable, each command will furnish its own details for every kind of extra or special service. Officers and men now doing duty in one corps, belonging to regiments serving in another, will, unless specially assigned from these headquarters, be returned to their regiments, aides-de-camp of general officers and men on duty with the batteries excepted.

VIII. Paragraph 4 of General Orders, Numbers 11, of February 11, 1863, from headquarters,+ respecting the sale and issue of subsistence stores to citizens, will not be so construed as to authorize such sales and issues to be made to persons residing without the line of cavalry pickets.

IX. Paragraph 2 of General Orders, Numbers 12, of March 29, 1864, from these headquarters, is so far amended as to direct that in the cavalry and infantry corps a board be appointed in each division, by the division commander, for the examination of applications for transfer to the Navy. The reports of such boards to be forwarded as directed in the above-mentioned paragraph.

By command of Major-General Meade:


Assistant Adjutant-General.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

April 5, 1864: Phil Sheridan takes command of the Cavalry Corps

On this day 150 years ago, Major General Philip Sheridan, U.S. Volunteers, took command of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, which consisted of four divisions of cavalry.
HDQRS. ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Numbers 86. April 5, 1864.

* * * * *

13. Major General P. H. Sheridan, U. S. Volunteers, having reported to the major-general commanding, is, in compliance with General Orders, Numbers 144, of the 4th instant, from the War Department, assigned to the command of the Cavalry Corps, and will enter upon duty accordingly.

* * * * *

By command of Major-General Meade:

Assistant Adjutant-General.

April 5, 1864: "[T]he great effort of the enemy in this campaign will be made in Virginia."

As Robert E. Lee continued to receive reports of reinforcements for the Army of the Potomac from his scouts and spies beyond the Union lines, he realized that Ulysses S. Grant intended to make his main attack in Virginia. On this day 150 years ago, Robert E. Lee wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis to explain his growing concern.
HEADQUARTERS, April 5, 1864.

President Confederate States:

MR. PRESIDENT; All the information I received tends to show that the great effort of the enemy in this campaign will be made in Virginia. Nothing as yet has been discovered to develop their plan.

Re-enforcements are certainly daily arriving to the Army of the Potomac. I cannot ascertain whence they come. Information was received on the 2nd from two scouts, derived from citizens along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, that the troops on the cars said they belonged to Grant's Army of the Tennessee. A resident of Culpeper stated that the Eleventh and Twelfth Army Corps had returned there. I telegraphed to Generals Johnston and Longstreet to know if they were still in the West. I inclose their answers. Both seem to think they are in their front, but preparing to leave. The tone of the Northern papers, as well as the impression prevailing in their armies, go to show that Grant with a large force is to move against Richmond. One of their correspondents at Harrisburg states, upon the occasion of the visit of Generals Burnside and Hancock, that it was certain that the former would go to North Carolina. They cannot collect the large force they mention for their operations against Richmond without reducing their other armies. This ought to be discovered and taken advantage of by our respective commanders. I infer from the information I receive that Longstreet's corps is in the vicinity of Abingdon and Bristol. It is therefore in position to be thrown west or east. Unless it is certain that it can be advantageously employed west for a speedy blow, I would recommend that it be returned to this army. The movements and reports of the enemy may be intended to misled us, and should therefore be carefully observed. But all the information that reaches me goes to strengthen the belief that General Grant is preparing to move against Richmond.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE,


[Inclosure Numbers 1.]

BRISTOL, April 4, 1864.

General R. E. LEE,

Orange Court-House, Va.:

I doubt if there is a regular organization as the Eleventh Corps.

Fragments of the Fourth, Seventh, Eleventh, and the Fourteenth and Twenty-third Corps were at Knoxville and vicinity eight days ago. There are reports of movements going, on but are no confirmed. Citizens report the enemy preparing to leave East Tennessee.


Lieutenant-General, Commanding.

[Inclosure Numbers 2.]

DALTON, April 4, 1864.

General R. E. LEE,

Orange Court-House, Va.:

Our scouts report Eleventh and Twelfth Corps opposite to us, but rumors that they are to go to Virginia. Some of their furloughed regiments are in the Northeast.