A Conflict of the Two Great Armies~May 1864~4th to 7th

A Conflict of the Two Great Armies~ Gideon Welles

The bloodshed which will characterize the summer begins in earnest in Virginia as Grant and Lee face each other for the first time. Congress, President Lincoln and his Cabinet investigate and discuss the Fort Pillow atrocity. The situation in the prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia worsens.

Battle of the Wilderness

Battle of the Wilderness

May 4– Wednesday– Chancellorsville, Virginia; Croatan, North Carolina; Varnell’s Station, Georgia; David’s Ferry, Louisiana; Doubtful Canyon, New Mexico Territory; Ashwood Landing, Louisiana; Callaghan’s Station, Virginia– Raids, quarrels and collisions.

May 4– Wednesday– London, England– Birth of Marie Booth, the third daughter and seventh of the nine children of William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army. [Dies January 5, 1937.]

May 5– Thursday– New York City– The managers of the American Bible Society meet and receive reports of operations. Bibles are being distributed in Tennessee and in Virginia to both Federal and Confederate forces. Bibles in both English and French are being sent to Haiti. Efforts are also being undertaken in Italy, Russia, Chile, Egypt, Palestine, South Africa, Ceylon, and Japan.

May 5– Thursday– Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania– Birth of Elizabeth Jane Cochran, a/k/a Nellie Bly, journalist, author and inventor. [Dies January 27, 1922.]

May 5– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– “Long session. Grant is wholly detached from his base with ten days’ forage and fifteen days’ rations. Rumors abound, but there is no trustworthy intelligence. The general, absolute ignorance of Grant’s plans and movements is a good sign. The Commission adjourned this evening.” ~ Diary of George Templeton Strong. [He is in Washington for several days doing business for the Sanitary Commission.]

seal of Sanitary commission

May 5– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– “I have written a letter to the President in relation to the Fort Pillow massacre, but it is not satisfactory to me, nor can I make it so without the evidence of what was done, nor am I certain that even then I could come to a conclusion on so grave and important  a question. The idea of retaliation,– killing man for man,– which is the popular noisy demand, is barbarous, and I cannot assent to or advise it. The leading officers should be held accountable and punished, but how? The policy of killing Negro soldiers after they have surrendered must not be permitted, and the Rebel leaders should be called upon to avow or disavow it. But how is this to be done? Shall we go to Jeff Davis and his government, or apply to General Lee? If they will give us no answer, or declare they will kill the Negroes, or justify Forrest, shall we take innocent Rebel officers as hostages? The whole subject is beset with difficulties. I cannot yield to any inhuman scheme of retaliation. Must wait the publication of the testimony.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

May 5– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– A Joint Congressional Committee assigned to investigate what happened at Fort Pillow issues a report declaring that “the atrocities committed at Fort Pillow were not the result of passions excited by the heat of conflict but were result of a policy deliberately decided upon and unhesitatingly announced.”

May 5– Thursday– the Wilderness, Virginia– The anticipated spring campaign gets underway as General Lee moves to stop General Grant’s campaign in Virginia. The intensity of the first day’s fighting makes clear that both sides are up against the enemy’s main body.

artillery at Wilderness battle site

artillery at Wilderness battle site

May 5– Thursday– New Berne, North Carolina– Union troops beat back a Confederate attempt to retake the town.

May 5– Thursday– Pleasant Grove , Georgia–“We have made our camp pleasant enough by clearing away all rubbish and under-brush, leaving only the tall white oaks and pines. . . . It is reported that the enemy has evacuated Dalton and is retreating southward; I think the forces concentrated against him must nearly deplete the enemy’s numbers, and in that case to give us battle would be certain discomfiture, if not annihilation; by falling back, he compels us to divide our forces and gains in numerical strength by concentration. . . . Indications, however, are that we will have a long march; if the rebels keep retreating, that is inevitable. Officers’ baggage has in a large measure been stored; we are allowed but one wagon for the regiment, all others are to be used for carrying rations. This shows that we are not to rely upon and wait for the completion of railroad communications; I think that is well.” ~ Letter from Union officer Fredrick C. Winkler to his family in Wisconsin.

May 5– Thursday– Andersonville, Georgia– After his inspection of the prison-camp yesterday, Commander Howell Cobb reports to a Confederate official that the Andersonville prison is packed to capacity with Union prisoners, that the already high death rate will grow even worse during the summer months if conditions do not improve and no more prisoners should be sent here. [His concern is justified but unfortunately no one pays attention to the matter.]


May 5– Thursday– Monroe, Oregon– Birth of Willis C Hawley, educator and politician. [Dies July 24, 1941.]

May 6– Friday– Washington, D.C.– “Between Mr. Bates and Mr. Blair a suggestion came out that met my views better than anything that had previously been offered. It is that the President should by proclamation declare the officers who had command at the massacre outlaws, and require any of our officers who may capture them, to detain them in custody and not exchange them, but hold them to punishment. The thought was not very distinctly enunciated. In a conversation that followed the reading of our papers, I expressed myself favorable to this new suggestion, which relieved the subject of much of the difficulty. It avoids communication with the Rebel authorities. Takes the matter in our own hands. We get rid of the barbarity of retaliation. Stanton fell in with my suggestion, so far as to propose that, should Forrest, or Chalmers, or any officer conspicuous in this butchery be captured, he should be turned over for trial for the murders at Fort Pillow. I sat beside Chase and mentioned to him some of the advantages of this course, and he said it made a favorable impression. I urged him to say so, for it appeared to me that the President and Seward did not appreciate it. We get no tidings from the front. There is an impression that we are on the eve of a great battle and that it may already have commenced.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

May 6– Friday– the Wilderness, Virginia– “We met the enemy yesterday at Wilderness Run, the boundary between Orange and Spotsylvania & repulsed them from three desperate attacks, taking some 1300 prisoners & 3 pieces of Artillery, by our corps – our loss was quite heavy of course, having General Jones killed, General Stefford mortally wounded &c &c. the 2nd Corps fought them some 5 miles S. W. of us on the plank road – we on the same old turnpike that passes through Chancellorsville. . . . today we expect the most terrible battle we have ever had – God be praised for our success & with his help we have to do even better today – all things are ready for it. I am still unhurt but very tired.” ~ Letter from Confederate officer Jedediah Hotchkiss to Sara, his wife.

Wilderness trenches as they appear today

Wilderness trenches as they appear today

May 6– Friday– the Wilderness, Virginia– The second fierce day of fighting ends in a bloody stalemate. Total Federal casualties for two days of battle– dead, wounded and missing– amounts to 17,666; the Confederate total is approximately 7500.

May 6– Friday– Charleston, South Carolina–“ General Lee is no doubt ready to try the issue if Grant and Lincoln still insist that more blood must be shed, but of the disposition of forces this is not the time nor place to speak of them, if they were all perfectly understood. It is thought that the published program of the Federal campaign will be followed: that is, to advance in North Carolina under Burnside, up the Peninsula under Smith, and across the Rapidan under Grant, simultaneously. A victory at either point will be deemed a key, possibly, to the ultimate overthrow of our capitol. The enemy’s forces are being moved very secretly, and will in all probability terminate in massing at one point (perhaps the Peninsula) and at other points, making simply heavy feints for no decided results except to deceive our Generals. Of course these moves have been anticipated. All that is necessary apparently, to success is a hearty cooperation among our General officers in executing superior orders. General Lee, great in his magnanimity, justice and natural dignity, always commands the love and willing obedience of his subordinate officers.” ~ Charleston Mercury.

May 6– Friday– Andersonville, Georgia– The chief surgeon at Camp Sumter (Andersonville prison) recommends to Confederate officials that the prison hospital be moved from the interior of the stockade, since it is located near the unsanitary and polluted creek bed, where some inmates were attacking sick prisoners and stealing hospital equipment.

May 7– Saturday– New York City– “If the ladies can save the country, the country shall be saved. But, in order to accomplish this important result, we require enlightenment on one essential point, viz.: What are foreign goods, and what domestic? You are probably aware that but comparatively few of the ‘loyal women of America’ ever purchase India shawls, point lace, or any other costly fabrics; but we do purchase unlimited quantities of shoes, stockings, bonnet ribbons, low-priced silks, traveling dress goods, &c., &c.; ask your wife; she will give you the catalogue. Now only give us the means of knowing home goods from foreign, and I will guarantee that there will not be one woman in one hundred who will not take pride in arraying herself in American apparel at any sacrifice of taste or money. . . . I know that I express the feeling of the majority of American women when I say that I welcome any sacrifice that will aid to crush this infamous rebellion, and restore the power of the Government over the whole of our country. It is all my country, and I do not want to give an inch of it to any traitor.” ~ Letter to the editor of the New York Times from a reader who signs herself only “A Jersey Woman” and writes in response to the Ladies National Covenant formed in Washington five days ago.


May 7– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– “Some fragmentary intelligence comes to us of a conflict of the two great armies. A two days’ fight is said to have taken place. The President came into my room about 1 p.m., and told me he had slept none last night. He lay down for a short time on the sofa in my room and detailed all the news he had gathered.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

May 7– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– “In compliance with the request contained in a resolution of the Senate dated April 30, 1864, I herewith transmit to your honorable body a copy of the opinion by the Attorney-General on the rights of colored persons in the Army or volunteer service of the United States, together with the accompanying papers.” ~ Message from President Lincoln to the Senate. A Congressional committee is continuing its investigation of the massacre at Fort Pillow.

May 7– Saturday– Locust Grove, Virginia– “We have had another day of fighting . . . but we repulsed them handsomely, with tremendous loss to them & not much to us except in officers . . . we drove off all their attacks on our line every where & were masters of the position . . . . they have a large army– have soaked it up from every direction & have staked all on the issue of this battle – they burned Orange Court House a few days ago – the scoundrels – General Lee led a gallant charge yesterday – he praises the conduct of our Corps much– we have our Army closed up & can make a fine fight with God’s blessing. Many of our men have not been engaged yet. Love and Kisses for you & the children & may God bless you.” ~ Letter from Confederate officer Jedediah Hotchkiss to his wife Sara.

carrying off dead & wounded

carrying off dead & wounded

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