Friday, September 12, 2014

Fall of Atlanta

Confederate artillery position
After John Bell Hood's disastrous attacks on Sherman's lines around the town of Atlanta, Georgia, the campaign fell into a siege. The Federals positioned artillery and began to shell the town. The Confederate artillery defending the town replied, and the bombardment continued on and off for days. Sherman also sent his cavalry on raids to try to cut the rebel supply lines south of the city. The more skillful Confederate horsemen repulsed these raids, foiling Sherman's plans. He did not want to try to storm the Confederate works. They were strong, and he knew the difficulty of attacking a well fortified position from his reverses at Vicksburg and Kennesaw Mountain. Instead he moved against the railroad in the Confederate rear with a much larger force – six of his seven corps.
A house in Atlanta used by Confederate sharpshooters and hit by Union artillery
Hood received intelligence of the Federal movement, and detached two corps under William Hardee to meet it, but he did not realize the true scale of the attack. On August 31st Hardee attacked Sherman's forces, but both corps did not engage in unison, and one of them was drive off easily by the Federals. The next day Sherman sent several of his corps against a salient in the Confederate line. The rebels fought hard, but the Federals pushed on, and after hand to hand combat broke through the Confederate line. Hardee's men fell back, and Jonesboro and the railroad fell firmly into Union hands. Back in Atlanta, John Bell Hood realized his supply line had been cut, and determined he had no hope of holding the town. The Confederates abandoned Atlanta that night, and the Federal troops occupied it the next day. As Sherman wrote triumphantly two days later, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won."
Atlanta's railroad in ruins
The fall of Atlanta signaled the end of the campaign. Sherman had captured his objective, though without completely eliminating the Confederate army. It came at a very providential time for the Union cause. Abraham Lincoln was in the midst of a reelection campaign. General George B. McClellan had just been nominated by the Democratic party to run against him. Lincoln was not hopeful about his chances for reelection. He had written just a few days before, on August 23rd, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected.” The victory of Atlanta was a major turning point in the campaign. For months the fighting had continued to slog along, especially between Grant and Lee in Virginia, with heavy casualty bills but little to show for it. The fall of Atlanta was a major accomplishment, and it gave the northern people hope that the war was winnable, and before long the nation would be reunified.

Lincoln campaign poster

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mobile Bay Falls

In the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5th, David Farragut ran his ships past the forts and sunk the Confederate flotilla, but he still had to deal with three Confederate forts. Forts Gaines and Morgan guarded the entrance to the bay, and the smaller Fort Powell was positioned inside. Powell was the first to fall. Lt. Col. Williams, her commander had been ordered to hold out as long as possible, but, “when no longer tenable, save your garrison.” It did not take Williams long to decide it was untenable. Without even undergoing heavy pressure from the Federals he spiked his guns, blew up his powder and waded to the mainland with his men.

Fort Gaines
Fort Gaines was under the command of Colonel Charles Anderson. He had 818 troops in the garrison while Major General Gordon Granger had 3,300 troops besieging him. The fort had also been badly positioned. The sand dunes on the island offered cover for the Union troops to approach very close to the walls. Brigadier General Page, the Confederate commander in Mobile, ordered that the fort not be surrendered, but Anderson ignored him. He sent out a flag of truce, and surrendered to Granger and Farragut on August 8th.
Fort Morgan
After Fort Gaines surrendered the Federal infantry was moved to face the last Confederate fort – Fort Morgan. It was an old massonry force garrisoned by 618 men under General Page himself. The Federals began a formal siege with regular lines of approaching trenches. Meanwhile, several of the monitors bombarded the fort, along with the Tennessee, which had been repaired and assimilated into the Federal fleet. On August 22 cannon and mortars on land joined the ships, and the fort was subjected to a day long bombardment. Page was afraid that the Union balls would hit his magazines, so he ordered them to be flooded. The next day he decided that further resistance was useless. He spiked his guns and raised the white flag.
After Page surrendered he was arrested by the Federal forces. They accused him of violating the laws of war by destroying the guns and ammunition of the fort after he surrendered. A court of inquiry was formed in New Orleans to investigate. They found him not guilty, determining that he had destroyed the equipment of the fort before its surrender,.

The surrender of Fort Morgan marked the completion of the Federal capture of Mobile Bay. With Union ships holding the mouth of the bay, they could stop the flow of blockade runners coming too and fro. The town itself was still in Confederate hands, and would remain so until the next year.

Fort Morgan Today

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Battle of Globe Tavern

Globe Tavern
By August, 1864 the armies of Lee and Grant were stalled in front of Petersburg, the active campaigning turned into a regular siege. Grant and Meade's strategy to break this deadlock was to hit Lee's supply line. They hoped that if they cut off the flow of food and weapons coming through North Carolina, Richmond and Petersburg would have to be abandoned. One of the major supply lines was the Weldon Railroad. In the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road in late June Federals had destroyed a short section of the Weldon, but they were quickly driven off by the Confederates. In August Grant sent out another force against the Weldon under Major General Gouverneur Warren.
On August 18th Warren reached the railroad at Globe Tavern without meeting any resistance outside of a few pickets. While some troops began tearing up the tracks the rest formed a battle line and moved north to guard against a Confederate attack. When A. P. Hill heard of the Federal advance he sent three brigades out to meet them. At 2 pm they struck Warren's line and drove it back early to Globe Tavern. The Federals counterattacked and recaptured some ground before halting and entrenching for the night.
During the night significant reinforcements arrived for both sides. The next day was rainy, and for most of it the fighting was limited to minor skirmishing. But that changed in late afternoon. Maj. Gen. William Mahone, commanding the three infantry brigades the Confederates had received, had found a weak spot in the Federal right. When his men changed it, they were able to easily burst through into the Federal flank and rear. The Federals were under fire from several directions, and soon panicked and fled to the rear. Mahone's men captured nearly two full Union brigades. Although the Federal right crumbled, the center and right beat off the Confederate frontal attacks, and Union reinforcements arrived to stabilize the position.
The next day rain prevented further Confederate attacks, and that night Warren fell back two miles to a new entrenched position. There he was still on the Weldon Railroad, but his would were connected with the rest of the Union line. The Confederates advanced and attacked on the morning of August 21, but they were repulsed with heavy losses. With this the Confederates halted their attacks, resigned to the fact that the Weldon Railroad would remain in Union hands. The Confederate supply lines were disturbed, but not cut. They bypassed the Federal held section by hauling supplies in wagons on a series of roads.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Battle of Moorefield

After defeating the Federal forces in the Shenandoah Valley at the Second Battle of Kersntown, Jubal Early sent his cavalry north again to raid the towns of Maryland. The troopers under the command of Brigadier General John McCausland crossed the Potomac river on July 29th. After them was a force of Union cavalry under General William Averell. Averell positioned his men to block an attack towards Baltimore, but in the mean time the rebels captured and burned Chambersburg. McCausland then headed the other direction, into West Virginia. They attempted to cut the B&O Railroad, but were driven off by the Union garrison. When Averell received word of the Confederates' movements, he set off after them determined that they would not escape his grasp.
The Federals were badly outnumbered, with 1,760 troopers to about 3,000 Confederates, so they made a night attack. They charged into one of the two Confederate camps around 3 am. The Confederates were surprised to be awoken in the middle of the night, and those who did not flee were quickly taken prisoner. However, the commotion awakened the other camp, and they fell into line to meet the raid. Averell had already anticipated this, so at that moment they were struck on both flanks by parties of Federals. The Confederate line crumbled, and the Federals followed in hot pursuit. The Confederates lost 13 killed, 60 wounded and 415 captured. The Federals had 11 killed, 18 wounded and 13 captured.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Battle of Mobile Bay

Battle of Mobile Bay
In the summer of 1864 the ever advancing Union arms had left the Confederacy in possession of only a handful of major ports. One of these was Mobile, Alabama, and the Federals began to develop plans to capture it also. Leading the effort was Rear Admiral David Farragut, who had led the naval forces in the capture of New Orleans and Vicksburg. His fleet was composed of 18 ships of various types. Five were ironclad. They were up against three Confederate forts. Forts Morgan and Gaines guarded each side of the entrance to the bay, and the smaller Fort Powell was inside the harbor. The Confederates also had the CSS Tennessee, an ironclad built by the commander of the CSS Virginia, as well as three small gunboats.
Sailing past the forts
On August 3rd 1,500 Federal infantry under General Gordon Granger were landed near Fort Gaines to attack it from the land. Farragut delayed the attack two days so one of his Monitors, the Tecumseh, could arrive. His fleet went out to battle at dawn on August 5th, 150 years ago today. The four ironclad monitors led the attack, followed by the rest of the ships. The Tecumseh opened fire first at 6:47 AM., and the battle soon opened on all sides.
The Tecumseh sinks
The USS Tecumseh headed straight for the Tennessee, as Farragut had ordered. But her commander failed to avoid the minefield that the Confederates had place in the water. It was not long before she ran into a torpedo. It blew a harge hole in her side, sending her to the bottom within minutes with most of her crew still aboard. Seeing the fate of the first Federal ship, the Brooklyn slowed and signaled Farragut for orders. According to legend the admiral replied, “D--- the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Farragut believed that the Confederate torpedoes had been in the water too long to be of much use, and it had been an unlucky hit that sunk the Tecumseh. He decided to risk taking the rest of his ships through the minefield.
The Tennessee
Although the CSS Tennessee was greatly outnumbered by the Union fleet, she moved slowly forward to try to ram the enemy vessels. The Federal boats easily avoided her with their greater speed, and they themselves tried to ram. However, their rams and cannon balls just bounced off the rebel boat's iron sides. Although the Union fire could not pierce her hull, many of her accessories were shot away. With his steamstack perforated, her rudder chains cut and many of her gun shutters jammed, the Tennessee was left nearly helpless in the water. Soon the Union monitors arrived, and they fired ball after ball into the Confederate vessel. Finally with her sides bending under the heavy pressure and with some of the crew down from splinter injuries, the captain of the Tennessee hauled down his flag.

Having run into the bay and dealt with the Confederate naval threat, Farragut could now turn his attention to the siege of the forts. A short Federal bombardment left them still mostly intact at the end of the day. 
A World War I recruitment poster showing Farragut at Mobile Bay

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Battle of the Crater

The Federal high command knew it would be difficult to break the siege that had developed around Petersburg, Virginia. A frontal attack would be well-nigh impossible, as the Confederate works were just too strong to capture. Ambrose Burnside, once commander of the entire Army of the Potomac but now only of the XIV Corps, decided to go under the Confederate line. Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants, a former mining engineer and now commander of the 48th PA submitted a plan to dig a mine which Burnside approved. When blown up under Elliott's Salient, it would destroy the Confederate works in the area and kill their defenders. Grant had made a similar attempt at the siege of Vicksburg, but it had not been completely successful in breaking the Confederate line. That did not stop Burnside from trying again. Even if it wasn't successful, at least it would keep the men in the area occupied.

Digging the mine
The Pennsylvanians, many of them former miners, dug the earth out by hand, and then packed it into boxes and pulled out on improvised sledges. The air was kept fresh inside the tunnel with a fire which heated the air and forced it out through a ventilation tube. The soldiers dug around the clock. They calculated that they were under the Confederate position on July 17th after 511 feet of digging. Twenty feet deep in the ground, they could hear the rebel soldiers marching above. By July 23rd they had finished digging powder chambers under the bastions. 8,000 pounds of powder were brought in and connected with 100 feet of fuzes. The workers replaced the first forty feet of earth to create a backstop. All was ready on July 28th.

Burnside planned for a division of United States Colored Troops under Edward Ferrero to make the attack. Burnside had the men meticulously trained on exactly what their role would be in the assault. There was reluctance on the part of many Union generals to lead the blacks in combat, as they thought that they would not make good soldiers. Meade and Grant decided to change out the black division for a white one, and James Ledlie's unprepared division was chosen to lead the assault. Many brigades of infantry and 144 cannon were prepared to support them.

The explosion
The fuse was lit at 3:30 am on the morning of July 30th. Time ticked by as the Yankees anxiously waited, but no there was no explosion. It seemed likely that the fuse had been a dud, but it would be very hazardous to go and check, as it was possible it would explode at any moment. Grant was considering ordering Burnside to attack without the mine when two soldiers volunteered to see what the problem was. Lt. Jacob Douty and Sgt. Harry Reese soon found the problem - there had been a faulty splice in the fuse. They spliced and relit it. At 4:44 am the powder exploded in the middle of the Confederate entrenchments, throwing men, earth and guns into the air. One Confederate wrote:
A slight tremor of the earth for a second, then the rocking as of an earthquake, and, with a tremendous blast which rent the sleeping hills beyond, a vast column of earth and smoke shoots upward to a great height, its dark sides flashing out sparks with a roaring sound, showers of stones, broken timbers and blackened human limbs, subsides - the gloomy pale of darkening smoke flushing to an angry crimson as it floats away to meet the morning sun.

A crater opened in the landscape 170 feet long, over 100 feet wide and 30 feet deep, that is still visible to this day. 278 Confederate soldiers were instantly killed in the explosion, and many more were badly stunned. However, the Federals of Ledlie's division were not prepared to make an assault. When they did finally make it to the crater they did not keep moving as the black division had been trained to. Wandering around, they decided to use the crater as a rifle pit instead of making use of their success. Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone gathered all the men he could find and moved them to the Crater. Federal troops continued to pour into the crater, including Ferrero's black division. The gap in the Confederate line had been closed and Mahone moved his men to the rim of the crater. They unleashed their fire on 10,000 disorganized Union soldiers who were gathered in the pit. The casualties mounted among the tightly packed Federals, and the ease of hitting the target reminded many rebels of a turkey shoot. At about 9:30 am, Grant ordered the attack halted and Burnside to pull back the troops, but Burnside, despairing, delayed to execute the order in the hope that something miraculous would redeem the attack. Finally, around midday, the battle ended. Mahone's men charged with bayonets into the crater, capturing or killing any who did not flee to the rear. The Confederates were angry at seeing black troops fighting against them, as they saw it as uprooting their social order and inciting a slave rebellion on their helpless families. There were reported instances of cruelty on the part of the Confederate troops, some of whom regrettably did not accept the surrender of a black soldier, and bayoneted them in cold blood.

The crater after the battle
In this battle the Federals lost almost 3,800, with 500 killed, 1,900 wounded and 1,400 captured. The Confederates lost about 1,500, 350 killed, 750 wounded and 400 missing. Blame was quickly spread for the failure. Burnside and Ledlie were effectively dismissed, and resigned from the army. Grant wrote to Henry Halleck in Washington:
It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war. Such opportunity for carrying fortifications I have never seen and do not expect again to have. ... I am constrained to believe that, had instructions been promptly obeyed, Petersburg would have been carried, with all the artillery and a large number of prisoners, without a loss of 300 men.
The crater today

Monday, July 28, 2014

Battle of Killdeer Mountain

150 years ago today an important battle was fought between the United States and the Sioux Indians. Read about it on Discerning History.