Darkest and Most Dismal Day ~ December 1864 ~ 19th to 21st

Darkest and Most Dismal Day ~ John Jones

In Richmond a government clerk confides his dismay to his diary– disaster in Tennessee following the one in Georgia. What he does not know is that Confederate troops are evacuating Savannah. Lincoln calls for more volunteers. Gideon Welles bemoans the political scene in Washington. A former patient writes to Walt Whitman. Refugees and families separated by the war experience want and express personal concern.


December 19– Monday– Washington, D.C.– “Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, in order to supply the aforesaid deficiency and to provide for casualties in the military and naval service of the United States, do issue this my call for three hundred thousand (300,000) volunteers to serve for one, two, or three years. The quotas of the States, districts, and subdistricts under this call will be assigned by the War Department through the bureau of the Provost-Marshal-General of the United States, and ‘in case the quota or any part thereof of any town, township, ward of a city, precinct, or election district, or of any county not so subdivided, shall not be filled. before the 15th day of February, 1865, then a draft shall be made to fill such quota or any part thereof under this call which may be unfilled on said 15th day of February, 1865.”

President Lincoln

President Lincoln

December 19– Monday– Washington, D.C.– “Captain Winslow called on me to-day. He is looking well and feels happy. Luck was with him in the fight with the Alabama. The House of Representatives to-day passes a resolution of H. Winter Davis, aimed at the Secretary of State for his management of foreign affairs, and asserting the authority of the House in these matters. There is a disposition to make the legislative, fortunately the representative branch, the controlling power of the government. The whole was conceived in a bad spirit and is discreditable to the getters-up and those who passed the resolutions. Davis has never been, and never will be, a useful Member of Congress. Although possessing talents, he is factious, uneasy, and unprincipled. He is just now connected with a clique of malcontents, most of whom were gathering a few months [ago] around our present Chief Justice. An embryo party is forming and we shall see what comes of it and whether the ermine is soiled.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

December 19– Monday– Staunton, Virginia– “I again avail myself of a few moments to write to you hoping it may reach you soon. I am quite well. [His son] Freddy is well except complaining to day of headache. He has retired and whilst I write he asks me to tell you to send him up some Christmas things fire crackers &c &c– Can you do it? We have just returned from Richmond and laid in a stock of goods Freddy seen the Capital . . . and been to the Theatre & comes home highly pleased with his trip. I have joined Mr Herring in laying in a stock of goods. I intend trying merchandising this winter any how & see what it will do. I think there is more made at that than anything else here. If I find it don’t pay I will soon drop it but as sales are all cash here & goods going up daily I can’t see how one can loose if cautious. I tried to get out of the hotel but can’t do it now so I will still continue my interest in it. James S Brown is with us, and assists in attending to the business. I wish so much that you were here, it would be so much pleasanter for us all, of an evening when the rush of business is over Freddy & I sit alone around our fire talking & it is quite lonesome. If spring brings no change in National affairs I will make some change in mine. It won’t do to live this way. Jack & Ellen & family are now here with me. Ellen has a young daughter. Louise is still well – they all want another party next Friday night. They all seem to make Freddy their agent to ask me for favors & privileges & think much of him. He has a . . . suit, a sack coat, a new cap & hat & is growing up quite a little man. All seem to like him. He goes to school & learns fast– his teacher is quite fond of him. Whilst I write our troops [Confederate] are passing down the Valley I am in the store & can’t get time to write more.” ~ Letter from John Quincy Nadenbousch to his wife Hester.

December 19– Monday– Richmond, Virginia– “The darkest and most dismal day that ever dawned upon the earth, except one. There was no light when the usual hour came round, and later the sun refused to shine. There was fog, and afterward rain. Northern papers say Hood has been utterly routed, losing all his guns! . . . We have the spectacle now of three full generals– Johnston, Beauregard, and Bragg– without armies to command; and the armies in the field apparently melting away under the lead of subordinate, if not incompetent leaders. So much for the administration of the Adjutant-General’s office. It is rumored on the street that we intend evacuating Savannah. How did that get out– if, indeed, such is the determination? There are traitors in high places– or near them. It is also rumored that the Danville Railroad has been cut. I don’t believe it– yet. There is deep vexation in the city– a general apprehension that our affairs are rapidly approaching a crisis such as has not been experienced before. There is also much denunciation of the President forthe removal of General Johnston from the command of the Army of Tennessee. . . . The United States Congress has ordered that notice be given Great Britain of an intention on the part of the Federal Government to increase the naval force on the [Great] Lakes; also a proposition has been introduced to terminate the Reciprocity Treaty. And General Dix orders his military subordinates to pursue any rebel raiders even into Canada and bring them over. So, light may come from that quarter. A war with England would be our peace.” ~ Diary of John Jones.

union General George Thomas

union General George Thomas

December 19– Monday– Nashville, Tennessee– “The major-general commanding [General George Thomas] directs that you will have all stragglers belonging to the troops in front whom you may find about the city of Nashville and vicinity arrested, confined in the barracks, and turned out, under guard, every day, to work on the fortifications until further orders, reporting to the major-general commanding the number you have arrested and so employed. You will exercise great vigilance in overlooking the passes of persons permitted to go in and out of Nashville, and all persons who enter Nashville without proper authority should be arrested and put to work on the fortifications, until they can fully satisfy you that they are not enemies of the Government. Travel by railroad and steam-boat to Nashville from Kentucky and the States west of the Ohio River is positively prohibited, except with passes issued from headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, for good reasons, which must be stated on the pass. This order will be understood as particularly applicable towomen desiring to enter Nashville, and none will be admitted unless their loyalty is well established and known, and even loyal women are not to be admitted except upon the best of reasons. You are also directed to make a thorough examination of the country about Nashville for the killed and wounded of the recent battle, and have them provided for, and also collect the arms, &c., found upon the field.” ~ orders sent Union General John Miller who commands the garrison in Nashville.

December 19– Monday– Rutherford Creek, Tennessee; Curtis Creek, Tennessee, near Columbia, Tennessee– Federal troops skirmish with retreating Confederate soldiers.

December 19– Monday– Savannah, Georgia– Confederate forces complete preparations to evacuate the city rather than submit to a siege or a battle with the larger Federal forces.



December 20– Tuesday– Wheeling, West Virginia– “The other day we made brief mention of the arrival in this city of a refugee and his family from the Valley of Virginia, and also made note of the kindness shown them by Mr. George E. Wickham, that gentleman having provided the destitute refugees with lodging and provision immediately upon their arrival. Mr. Wickham’s kindness did not stop there. Yesterday he secured a house for the unfortunates on a farm a few miles above the city, and provided them with an entire outfit of clothing, furniture, etc. They are now comfortably installed in a place which they can call ‘home.’ In connection with the above, we may remark that we received a letter yesterday from a subscriber in Hancock county, whose heart is evidently in the right place, enclosing one dollar for the relief of Mr. Huntsberry and family, the refugees referred to. The gift is a small one in itself, but it is big with kindness – it comes from a full and a free heart and is better than thousands grudgingly bestowed. Our correspondent writes: ‘I give according to my means, but if we would all give one dollar apiece, we could do much to help poor, suffering women and homeless children.’” ~ Wheeling Daily Register.

December 20– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– “It is a misfortune that the President gives his ear to a class of old party hacks like [Thomas] Ewing and Tom Corwin, men of ability and power in their day, for whom he has high regard but who are paid to come here and persuade the President to do wrong. Ewing would not, of himself, do or advise another to do what he beseeches of the President, except for money. All this the President has the sagacity to see, but hardly the will to resist. I shall not be surprised if he yields, as he intimated he was ready to do before any remark from me.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles

Gideon Welles

Gideon Welles

December 20– Tuesday– Saltville, Virginia– Federal cavalry destroy the salt works, reducing the supply of salt available to Richmond and to General Lee’s army.

December 20– Tuesday– Savannah, Georgia– During the night, the city’s 10,000 Confederate defenders under General Hardee retreat over a pontoon bridge, crossing the Savannah River into South Carolina. Union General Sherman is in the process of surrounding Savannah and preparing a heavy bombardment of the city. Hardee knows his meager forces have no chance against the large and now well-equipped Union army.

December 21– Wednesday–Newark, New Jersey– “I write these few lines to you in order that you may know where I am and also that I am in the enjoyment of middling good health. I heard from you through my Father some time ago and I have wanted to visit you but I am sorry to say my health will not admit of my being out much this cold weather. If you remember I was wounded through my lung and the ball is now near my right kidney and I am not as healthy as I use to be before I was wounded. I feel quite well to day. I have just received a letter from my Brother in my Regiment (15th New Jersey) he spoke of you. I wrote him concerning you and he says he would like to see you. I think I owe you a thousand thanks for your kindness to me while in Hospital at Washington. I have often thought of you and wished I could hear from you. I would like to hear from that Lady who did so much for me. I think it was Miss Howard. I think I will be well enough to come and see you in a week or two and then we will talk over all the incidents of our short acquaintance in Washington. If you will answer this and set the day I will come and see you. I am a little deaf now from the earache but I hope we will get along with that. Hoping to hear from you soon.” ~ Letter from Jesse Mullery to Walt Whitman.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

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