10 Moments That Shaped the Civil War
- February 3 — General William T. Sherman (USA) started his Meridian Campaign, employing “total war” tactics.
- February 9 — More than 100 Union officers escaped from Libby Prison in Virginia.
- February 17 — The Confederate submarine Hunley sank the USS Housatonic with a torpedo.
- February 24 — Andersonville Prison opened in Georgia.
- March 2 — Following the Battle of Walkerton, Confederate troops discovered papers that indicated the Union intended to assassinate President Jefferson Davis (CSA).
- March 9 — Ulysses S. Grant was named Commanding General of all Union forces.
- March 10 — General Nathaniel Banks (USA), started the Red River Campaign in Louisiana.
- March 23 — Union forces started the Camden Expedition in Southwestern Arkansas.
- April 12 — At the Battle of Fort Pillow, Confederate troops were reported to have intentionally massacred black Union troops.
- April 18 — Following the Battle of Poison Spring, black soldiers from The 1st Kansas Colored Regiment vowed never to be taken alive by Confederates and adopted the rallying cry, “Remember Poison Springs!”
January 17 — Dandridge
Tennessee — On January 14, General John G. Parke led Union forces toward Dandridge, near the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad. This forced General James Longstreet (CSA) to retreat.
On the 15th, Longstreet brought in more troops to engage the Union and threaten their base at New Market.
General Samuel D. Sturgis (USA), commanding the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Ohio, advanced toward Kimbrough’s Crossroads on the 16th. Confederate troops met his cavalry and pushed them back toward the crossroads.
As they approached the crossroads, the Union cavalry was attacked by Confederate infantry with artillery. Unable to dislodge them, the Union cavalry retreated to Dandridge.
Around noon the next day, Sturgis received information about Confederate preparations for an attack and organized his forces. At about 4:00 p.m., the Confederates attacked, and the battle lasted into the night.
The Battle of Dandridge ended with the Union forces retreating to New Market and Strawberry Plains under the cover of darkness. The Confederates were unable to pursue due to a shortage of cannons, ammunition, and shoes.
Union forces temporarily withdrew from the area.
January 26 — Athens
Alabama — Around 4:00 a.m. on January 26, Confederate cavalry attacked Athens, where 100 Union troops were stationed. Following a 2-hour engagement, the Confederates withdrew. Despite being outnumbered and lacking fortifications, the Union defenders successfully defended their position.
January 27 — Fair Garden
Tennessee — Following the Battle of Dandridge, Union cavalry moved to the southern side of the French Broad River, where they harassed Confederate foraging parties and captured wagons. On January 25, General James Longstreet, sent Confederate forces to engage the Union forces.
On the 26th, General Samuel D. Sturgis deployed his men to monitor the river fords along the river. In the afternoon, two Confederate cavalry brigades and artillery advanced from Fair Garden but were stopped about 4 miles from Sevierville. Meanwhile, other Confederates attacked a Union cavalry brigade at Fowler’s on Flat Creek, pushing them back about two miles.
No further fighting occurred that day. However, Union scouts observed Confederate concentration along Fair Garden Road, prompting Sturgis to order an attack the next morning.
In heavy fog on the 27th, Colonel Edward M. McCook’s Union division attacked, pushing back General William T. Martin’s Confederates until approximately 4:00 p.m. At that point, McCook’s men charged with their sabers and routed the Confederates.
On the 28th, Sturgis pursued the Confederates, routed them, and took prisoners. However, Union forces spotted 3 of Longstreet’s infantry brigades crossing the river. Recognizing his men were exhausted and low on supplies, Sturgis decided to withdraw.
Before leaving, Sturgis attacked General Frank C. Armstrong’s Confederate cavalry, located about 3-4 miles away on the river. Armstrong had fortified his position and Union troops suffered severe casualties in the assault. Soon after, Sturgis and his men withdrew.
February 6 — Morton’s Ford
Virginia — To divert attention from an upcoming cavalry-infantry raid up the Peninsula toward Richmond, elements of the Union Army tried to cross Rapidan River on February 6 — a division of the II Corps crossed at Morton’s Ford, the I Corps at Raccoon Ford, and the Union cavalry crossed at Robertson’s Ford. Confederate forces from the command of General Richard Ewell engaged Union forces at the crossings, resulting in fighting at all three crossings, especially Morton’s Ford. The Union forces eventually withdrew under cover of darkness on February 7.
February 9 — Escape from Libby Prison, Richmond
Virginia — 109 Union officers escaped from Libby Prison in what was the largest prison escape of the war. 48 of the escapees were later captured and two drowned, but 59 made their way back to the United States.
February 13 — The Battle of Middle Boggy Depot took place during the Red River Campaign.
February 14 — Meridian
Mississippi — From Vicksburg, Mississippi, General William T. Sherman launched a campaign to capture the railroad center in Meridian and potentially advance to Selma, Alabama, where he would be in a position to attack Mobile.
On February 1, 1864, Sherman sent General William Sooy Smith and 7,000 men out of Memphis, south through Okolona along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Smith’s mission was to rendezvous with the remainder of the Union forces at Meridian.
Accompanied by his force of 20,000 men, Sherman left for Meridian on February 3. In response, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered additional troops to the region from nearby areas. The Confederate commander in the vicinity, General Leonidas Polk, tried or organize resistance but eventually retreated eastward.
Skirmishes took place between cavalry units under General Stephen D. Lee and Sherman’s advancing force as they neared Meridian. As Sherman approached Meridian itself, he met more resistance from Confederates but continued his steady advance.
Polk eventually realized that he could not stop Sherman, and decided to evacuate Meridian on the 14th. Sherman’s troops entered Meridian and destroyed the railroad tracks.
Unfortunately, Smith’s force never reached Meridian, because it was engaged with Confederates at the Battle of Okolona.
On the 20th, Sherman left Meridian and moved west Canton in search of Smith and his command. It was only upon his return to Vicksburg that Sherman learned about what happened to Smith.
Although Sherman succeeded in destroying important Confederate transportation infrastructure, his plan to advance into Alabama had to be abandoned.
February 17 — Successful Submarine Attack
South Carolina — The CSS H.L. Hunley, a 7-man submergible craft, attacked the USS Housatonic outside of Charleston, firing a torpedo. The Housatonic broke apart and sank, taking all but 5 of her crew with it. The Hunley was also lost until it was found in 1995.
February 20 — Olustee
Florida — General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Department of the South, sent an expedition into Florida with the objectives of securing Union strongholds, disrupting Confederate supply routes, and enlisting black soldiers.
General Truman Seymour led the expedition deep into Florida, where he engaged in occupation, destruction, and the emancipation of enslaved people. At first, he met minimal opposition, but on February 20, they approached the entrenched position of General Joseph Finegan, who commanded around 5,000 Confederate troops near Olustee.
As Seymour’s advance units neared, one of his infantry brigades ventured forth to confront Finegan’s forces. An engagement ensued, resulting in the Union forces launching an attack, only to be stopped by the Confederates.
The battle escalated, and as Finegan committed his last reserves, the Union line fractured and retreated. Surprisingly, Finegan did not pursue them, allowing most of the retreating Union forces to reach Jacksonville.
February 22 — Dalton, First Battle
Georgia — When General William T. Sherman threatened Meridian, President Jefferson Davis deployed additional troops into the area. At the same time, General George H. Thomas went to assess the strength of the Confederates led by General Joseph E. Johnston.
Thomas hoped that Johnston’s army would be weakened and susceptible to an attack. On the 22nd, the two armies first engaged at Rocky Face Ridge, near Dalton. At Crow Valley on the 25th, Union forces came close to turning the Confederate right flank, although ultimately they were unable to do so.
On the 27th, recognizing that Johnston was well-prepared and capable of stopping any assault, Thomas withdrew, ending the First Battle of Dalton.
February 22 — Okolona
Mississippi — General William Sooy Smith led a cavalry force of 7,000 men from Memphis, south through Okolona along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Smith was supposed to rendezvous with the rest of the Union force in Meridian by February 10.
However, Smith did not leave for Meridian until February 11. During his advance, he met little resistance and was joined by around 1,000 former slaves. Sherman eventually left Meridian on the 20th, partially due to concerns regarding Smith’s location.
On the 20th, Smith approached West Point, 90 miles north of Meridian, and fought with Confederate cavalry units at Prairie Station and Aberdeen who were under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Concerned about the safety of the former slaves and uncertain about the strength of the Confederate forces, Smith consolidated his forces at Prairie Station. On the morning of the 21st, he started to move toward West Point.
Just after dawn, Colonel Jeffrey Forrest’s Confederate cavalry engaged Smith’s forces. At times, Forrest withdrew, enticing Smith into a swamp west of the Tombigbee River. Additional Confederate troops arrived, escalating the battle. Smith suspected that he had fallen into a trap and ordered a retreat, leaving a rearguard to hold off the Confederates, which they did for about two hours. Meanwhile, General Forrest arrived and ordered a pursuit. Skirmishes continued throughout the day.
At sunrise on the 22nd, the Confederates attacked Smith’s forces south of Okolona. As more Confederate troops joined the battle, breaks occurred in the Union line and they were forced to retreat.
For a significant portion of the day, the two sides engaged in a running battle covering a distance of 11 miles. Colonel Forrest was killed during one of the Confederate charges. Eventually, the Union forces stopped fighting and headed for Pontotoc.
General Forrest, commanding the Confederates on the field, recognized that his troops were nearly out of ammunition and refrained from ordering a pursuit. Mississippi militia continued to harass Smith until he reached the state line. Smith finally arrived in Collierville, Tennessee, near Memphis, on the 26th.
Although Smith’s expedition had inflicted significant damage, the engagement at Okolona forced him to withdraw before achieving his other objectives. Smith’s actions, in defiance of Sherman’s orders, put the success of the Meridian Expedition in jeopardy.
February 24 — Andersonville Prison Opens
Georgia — Andersonville Prison Camp, also known as Camp Sumter, opens in Georgia. It became known for its overcrowded, poor conditions, and high death rate among inmates. The first prisoners arrived on the 24th.
March 2 — Walkerton
Virginia — On February 28, General Judson Kilpatrick led 4,000 men on a raid toward Richmond. Leading an advance force of 500 men was Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, the son of Rear Admiral John Dahlgren. While Kilpatrick moved along the Virginia Central Railroad, damaging the tracks, Dahlgren went south toward the James River. Dahlgren’s goal was to cross the river, approach Richmond from the rear, and free Union prisoners held at Belle Isle.
Kilpatrick arrived outside of Richmond on March 1 and engaged in skirmishes while waiting for Dahlgren to rejoin him. However, Dahlgren was delayed, forcing Kilpatrick to withdraw as Confederate cavalry pursued his forces.
On March 2, a clash with General Wade Hampton (CSA) took place near Old Church, with the Federals ultimately finding refuge alongside elements from the command of General Benjamin F. Butler at New Kent Court House.
Meanwhile, Dahlgren’s men failed to breach Richmond’s defenses, leading them to attempt an escape by moving north of the city. Dahlgren’s men became separated, and on March 2, approximately 100 of them were ambushed by a contingent from the 9th Virginia Cavalry and Home Guards in King and Queen County near Walkerton. Tragically, Dahlgren was killed, and most of his men were captured.
The Confederates searched Dahlgren’s clothes and found orders to burn Richmond and assassinate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, which caused outrage in the South. Southerners accused the North of initiating a “war of extermination.” General George G. Meade, General Kilpatrick, and President Abraham Lincoln all insisted they were unaware of the so-called “Dahlgren Papers.”
March 9 — President Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as Commanding General of all Union forces.
March 10 — Red River Campaign Begins
Louisiana — As part of an overall Union strategy to strike deep into the Confederacy, a combined force of army and navy commands led by General Nathaniel Banks started a campaign on the Red River in Louisiana.
March 14 — Fort DeRussy
Louisiana — In early 1864, the Union launched an expedition into territory controlled by Confederate General E. Kirby Smith and the Trans-Mississippi Department, which had its headquarters in Shreveport, Louisiana. This Union operation was under the joint command of General Nathaniel P. Banks and Rear Admiral David D. Porter.
The expedition consisted of Porter’s fleet and detachments from General A.J. Smith’s XVI and XVII Army Corps, part of the Army of the Tennessee. On March 12, 1864, the expedition started traveling up the Red River toward Shreveport. Meanwhile, General Banks, leading the XIII and XIX Army Corps, advanced via Berwick Bay and Bayou Teche.
The expedition faced several challenges, including obstacles deliberately placed by Confederates along the river. However, the most significant impediment was Fort DeRussy, a strong earthen fort equipped with a partially iron-plated battery designed to withstand the firepower of Union ironclads that might attempt to approach it from the river.
General Smith’s command had initially embarked on transports in Vicksburg and then disembarked at Simsport on March 12, approximately 30 miles from Fort DeRussy. On the morning of the 13th, Smith sent troops to scout for any Confederates in his path. This contingent engaged and pursued a Confederate brigade before Smith resumed the march toward Fort DeRussy.
Early on the 14th, the Union forces continued their advance but met a Confederate division that posed a threat to their progress. Always alert to this danger, Smith had to position part of his command to intercept the Confederates if they launched an attack.
Upon reaching Fort DeRussy, the Confederate garrison of 350 men opened fire. Smith decided to send Joseph Mower’s division from the XVI Corps to capture the fort. He directed the division’s positioning for the impending assault. Around 6:30 p.m., Smith ordered a charge on the fort, and roughly 20 minutes later, Mower’s troops successfully scaled the parapet, leading to the surrender of the enemy.
The fall of Fort DeRussy opened up the Red River route to Alexandria for the Union.
March 25 — Paducah
Kentucky — In March, General Nathan Bedford Forrest (CSA) embarked on an expedition from Columbus, Mississippi, leading a force of around 3,000 men. His expedition had several objectives, including recruiting, reequipping, and dispersing Federals as it moved into West Tennessee and Kentucky.
The expedition reached Paducah on March 25 and quickly took control of the town. The Union garrison of 650 men, led by Colonel Stephen G. Hicks, retreated to Fort Anderson in the western part of the town. Hicks had the support of two gunboats on the Ohio River and refused to surrender.
Most of Forrest’s men proceeded to seize Union supplies and gather horses and mules. A smaller part of Forrest’s command tried to assault Fort Anderson but was stopped and suffered heavy casualties. Subsequently, Forrest’s men withdrew from the area.
April 3 — Elkin’s Ferry
Arkansas — During the Camden Expedition, Union forces were searching for a place to cross the Little Missouri River. They reached Elkin’s Ferry before the Confederates, and as they started their crossing, the Confederates made attempts to halt their progress, but were unsuccessful and the Union troops crossed.
April 8 — Mansfield
Louisiana — General Nathaniel P. Banks and the Red River Expedition had made significant progress, advancing approximately 150 miles up the Red River. General Richard Taylor, without receiving specific instructions from his superior, General E. Kirby Smith, recognized the need to counter this Union advance. Taylor established a defensive position below Mansfield, near Sabine Cross-Roads.
On April 8, Union forces approached Mansfield. Confederate cavalry engaged them but were driven back. Through the morning, the Union forces scouted the Confederate lines. In the late afternoon, despite being outnumbered, General Taylor decided to launch an attack on the Union position. The Confederates attacked both flanks of Banks’ forces, successively rolling up one division and then another. However, Union reinforcements arrived around 6:00 p.m., stopping Taylor’s assault.
That night, Taylor tried to outflank Banks’ right flank but failed. Banks withdrew but met Taylor again on April 9 at Pleasant Hill.
April 9 — Pleasant Hill
Louisiana — General Richard Taylor won at Mansfield on April 8, forcing General Nathaniel Banks to withdraw and regroup at Pleasant Hill. On the morning of April 9, Taylor marched towards Pleasant Hill with the intent of destroying Banks.
Taylor was outnumbered but believed Banks would be cautious following his defeat at Mansfield. Taylor also believed a strong, well-coordinated attack had a strong chance of success and he launched his attack on Banks at Pleasant Hill at 5:00 p.m.
Taylor’s strategy involved sending a force to attack the Union front, while simultaneously attempting to roll up the left flank and maneuvering his cavalry around the right flank to cut off the Union escape route.
The attack on the Union left flank, led by General Thomas J. Churchill, was successful in forcing the Federals to retreat. Churchill ordered his men forward, intending to strike the Union center from the rear. However, Union forces realized what he was doing and attacked Churchill’s right flank, forcing him to withdraw.
Pleasant Hill marked the culmination of the major battles, in terms of the number of men involved, during the Louisiana phase of the Red River Campaign. Afterward, Banks decided to retreat, leave West Louisiana, and abandon the plan to capture Shreveport.
April 10 — Prairie D’Ane
Arkansas — On April 10, the Union forces led by General Fred Steele joined with General John M. Thayer’s division a the Cornelius farm and marched south.
The march brought them into contact with Confederates at Prairie D’Ane, where they launched an attack that initially pushed the Confederates back by about a mile.
Skirmishes persisted throughout the afternoon of April 11, prompting Steele to divert some of his forces, which were originally on the path to Shreveport, toward Camden.
On April 13, General Sterling Price and his Confederates returned to Prairie D’Ane and engaged Steele’s rearguard, which was led by Thayer. The battle lasted for four hours before Price withdrew, allowing Steele to continue his march to Camden, where he occupied the city.
April 12 — Blair’s Landing
Louisiana — Following the Battle of Pleasant Hill, General Tom Green led his troops to Pleasant Hill Landing along the Red River. It was around 4:00 p.m. on April 12 when they discovered grounded and damaged Union transports and gunboats belonging to the XVI and XVII Army Corps, as well as U.S. Navy gunboats, all of which carried supplies and armament.
Union General Thomas Kilby Smith’s Provisional Division, part of the XVII Corps, and Navy gunboats were present to protect the army transports.
Green launched an attack on the vessels. During the battle, Smith’s men successfully defended the boats and stopped Green’s assault. Smith’s men used bales of cotton, sacks of oats, and other makeshift barriers to defend themselves. Green was killed in the fighting and the Confederates withdrew.
The Union ships continued to move downriver but were harassed by Conferated led by General St. John R. Liddell on the 12th and 13th. However, the ships eventually rendezvoused with General Nathaniel Banks at Grand Ecore, delivering much-needed supplies to the Union forces.
April 12 — Fort Pillow
Tennessee — Fort Pillow was held by a Union garrison consisting of 295 white Tennessee troops and 262 U.S. Colored Troops, led by Major Lionel F. Booth. Fort Pillow was a Confederate-built earthen fortification with an additional Union-built inner redoubt. It overlooked the Mississippi River, about 40 miles above Memphis.
On April 12, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest led an attack on Fort Pillow with a cavalry division comprising around 2,500 men. Forrest seized the older outworks and effectively surrounded Booth.
The rugged terrain in the area hindered the gunboat New Era from supporting the Union forces. Additionally, the garrison found it difficult to depress their artillery sufficiently to cover the approaches to the fort. Confederate sharpshooters positioned on the surrounding knolls started firing into the fort, resulting in the death of Major Booth. Major William F. Bradford assumed command of the garrison.
Around 11:00 a.m., the Confederates launched an attack and secured more strategically advantageous positions around the fort. Forrest demanded an unconditional surrender, and Bradford requested an hour for consultation. Forrest granted only 20 minutes. Bradford refused to surrender, and the Confederates renewed the attack.
The Confederates overran the fort and forced the Federals to retreat down the river’s bluff into a deadly crossfire. Union casualties were heavy, and only 62 of the U.S. Colored Troops survived. Afterward, the Confederates were accused of massacring the black troops, nicknaming the engagement the “Fort Pillow Massacre.”
April 17 — Grant’s Conditions on Prisoner Exchange Talks
General Ulysses S. Grant prohibited prisoner exchange talks from progressing unless Confederate authorities agreed to treat black soldiers the same as white, and until Confederates released enough US soldiers to make up for the large number of Confederates paroled at Vicksburg and Port Hudson.
April 17 — Plymouth
North Carolina — In a coordinated effort with the CSS Albemarle, Confederates led by General R.F. Hoke launched an attack on the Federal garrison at Plymouth on April 17.
Two days later, on April 19, the Confederate ship Albemarle appeared in the river. It sank the Union vessel Smithfield, inflicted damage on the Miami, and forced the withdrawal of the remaining Union ships that had been providing support to the Plymouth garrison.
As Confederates advanced, they captured Fort Comfort, forcing the Federals to seek refuge in Fort Williams. On April 20, the garrison at Fort Plymouth surrendered.
April 18 — Poison Spring
Arkansas — Facing dwindling supplies for his men at Camden General Fred Steele decided to send a foraging party in search of corn that had been stockpiled by the Confederates. The corn was located about 20 miles up the Prairie D’Ane-Camden Road, near White Oak Creek. The foraging party successfully loaded the corn into wagons, and on April 18, Colonel James M. Williams started the trip back to Camden.
However, as they made their way back, Confederates led by Generals John S. Marmaduke and Samuel B. Maxey reached Lee Plantation, about 15 miles from Camden. Marmaduke and Maxey engaged Williams, attacking from the front and rear.
Williams was forced to retreat north into a marshy area where he regrouped and then returned to Camden, ending the Battle of Poison Spring. Unfortunately, he lost nearly 200 wagons full of corn and provisions they had gathered during the foraging mission.
April 22 — The U.S. Congress passed the Coinage Act, which required the inscription “In God We Trust” to be on all U.S. coins.
April 23 — Monett’s Ferry
Louisiana — As the Red River Expedition neared its conclusion, General Nathaniel P. Banks decided to evacuate Grand Ecore and retreat to Alexandria.
The Confederates pursued the Banks, whose advance party, was led by General William H. Emory. On April 23, Emory was attacked by Confederate cavalry led by General Hamilton P. Bee near Monett’s Ferry, also known as Cane River Crossing.
Bee had received orders to contest Emory’s crossing, and he strategically positioned his men to cover both flanks of his forces. Reluctant to launch a direct assault against the well-entrenched Confederates, Emory decided to conduct a demonstration in front of Bee’s lines while sending two brigades in search of another place to cross the river.
One of Emory’s brigades found a ford, crossed the river, and attacked the Confederates from their flank. This forced Bee to retreat. Meanwhile, Banks had his men lay pontoon bridges, allowing the entire Union force to cross the river by the following day.
April 25 — Marks’ Mills
Arkansas — A Union force was tasked with escorting 240 wagons from Camden to Pine Bluff to gather supplies and transport them back to the army of General Fred Steele.
At first, the Union escort successfully stopped Confederate attempts to halt their progress. However, the Confederates subsequently executed a coordinated attack on both the rear and front of the Union column, resulting in a rout of the Union troops.
After the battle, the Confederates succeeded in capturing the majority of the Union soldiers along with all of the supply wagons. This turn of events forced General Steele to abandon any plans of joining forces with General Nathaniel Banks on the Red River. Instead, Steele realized that his primary objective was to safeguard his army.
April 30 — Jenkin’s Ferry
Arkansas — Following defeats at Marks’ Mills and Poison Spring, General Fred Steele decided to retreat from Camden. On the afternoon of April 29, the Union troops reached Jenkins’ Ferry and started crossing the Saline River, which was swollen due to heavy rainfall.
Confederates arrived on the 30th and attacked the Union positions. However, the Federal troops managed to repulse these attacks and completed their crossing, bringing with them both their soldiers and supply wagons. Unfortunately, due to the difficult conditions, they were forced to abandon many of the wagons in the swamp north of the Saline River.
After crossing the river, Steele regrouped at Little Rock.