The Civil War 145 Years Ago: December 1864

145 Years Ago December 1864

By James Durney

  • On the first, following the Battle Franklin, the XXIII Corps withdraws to defensive positions at Nashville.  George Thomas assumes command of the Union forces defending the city.
  • Hood’s Army of Tennessee reaches Nashville on the second.  Hood has about 24,000 men and Forrest’s experienced cavalry.  On the same day, CSA General Sterling Price reaches Laynesport, AK ending all hope of retaking Missouri.  His command has marched almost 1,500 miles fighting 43 engagements while losing 4,000 men.  Most of his losses are to desertion.  Judson Kilpatrick, acting under Sherman’s orders commences offensive operations designed to drive Joe Wheeler’s cavalry away from the main columns.  For the next three or four days these forces will fight a series of skirmishes forcing Wheeler back toward Augusta.
  • On the third, armed parties from the USS Nita, Stars and Stripes, Ariel and Two Sisters destroy a large saltworks at Rocky Point in Tampa.
  • On the fifth, the second session of the 38th Congress convenes in Washington.  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles reports that the US Navy contains 671 ships of which 62 are ironclads, mounting 4,600 cannon.
  • On the sixth, Lincoln appoints Radical Republican and sometime Presidential candidate Salmon P. Chase as the fifth Chief Justice.
  • General Robert L. Milroy attacks and defeats General Nathan Forrest outside of Murfreesboro on the seventh.  Hood detached Forrest’ command from his Nashville lines releasing him to raid.
  • On the tenth, General Sherman, with 60,000 men, reaches the outskirt of Savannah.  William Hardee has 18,000 men to defend the city.  He orders the rice fields flooded reducing the approaches to the city.
  • On the 13th, in Montreal, the authorities release the St Albans raiders.  The United States formally notifies the British government they will nullify the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817 and in one year fortify the border with Canada.  The 2nd Division, XV Corps capture Fort McAllister outside of Savannah, establishing contact with the Navy and reopening Sherman’s supply lines.
  • Over a week after receiving orders to attack, after ignoring a number of pointed inquires with his replacement in route on the 15th, George Thomas attacks.  The Battle of Nashville is a disaster for Hood, in two days of battle his army is driven from every position and loses most of his artillery.  N.B. Forrest forms the rear guard as the badly defeated army flees south.  Almost 6,000 men, the majority captured are lost at the Battle of Nashville.  Union loses are 3,057.
  • On the 18th, Lincoln calls for 300,000 more men to rebuild the Union army’s ranks.
  • William Hardee evacuates the city of Savannah saving his army but losing 250 heavy cannon on the 20th.  The same day, Admiral David G. Farragut concludes his naval career at the New York Naval Yard.
  • On the 22nd, General Stoneman concludes his ten-day raid departing Saltville, VA.
  • On the 23rd, David G. Farragut becomes the first American vice admiral, the equivalent of a lieutenant general.  This required congressional legislation and Lincoln’s approval.
  • Also on the 23rd, 65,000 men and 5 ships arrive off Fort Fisher outside of Wilmington.  Fort Fisher is an earthwork fort, 480 yards long, 60 feet high with a garrison of 1,500 protecting the last major open port in the CSA.  On the 24th, the USS Louisiana packed with explosives detonates near the fort.  The explosions expected to level a wall but the ship is at least 250 yards from the fort and accomplishes nothing.  Facing the failure of the operation, Admiral David D. Porter orders a massive bombardment of the fort.  On Christmas day, 2,200 men from the Army of the James land an attack.  They are unable to get closer than 50 yards to the walls.  General Benjamin Butler orders a withdrawal and cancels the entire operation.  Butler’s withdrawal strands 700 men on the beach for two days until rescued.
  • On the 26th, John B. Hood’s army crosses the Tennessee River heading for Tupelo, MS.  The crossing is possible as low water at Great Mussel Shoals at strands Union gunboats.
  • Butler’s conduct enrages Grant, who tells Lincoln that the entire operation is a complete fiasco.  On the 30th, Lincoln, secure in his election victory, relieves Benjamin F. Butler as commander of the Army of the James.
  • The same day, Francis P. Blair suggests to Jefferson Davis a meeting to “explain the view I entertain in reference to the state of affairs of our Country.”
  • On the 31st, the 110,000 men of the Army of the Potomac are in their siege lines outside Petersburg and Richmond.  Facing them are the 66,000 man Army of Northern Virginia trying to hold 35 miles of lines.

The prospects of victory have never appeared brighter in the North.


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