A Many-sided Field-day ~ March 1865 ~ 24th to 26th

A Many-sided Field-day

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Talk of some type of evacuation of Richmond flourishes at many levels. Lee tries a desperate measure to relieve the siege but suffers a bitter loss. Longstreet worries about the number and morale of his soldiers. Whitman visits his brother George home now from a prison camp. Mexico struggles against the French invaders.

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March 24– Friday– Richmond, Virginia– “Clear and very windy. The fear of utter famine is now assuming form. Those who have the means are laying up stores for the day of siege– I mean a closer and more rigorous siege– when all communications with the country shall cease; and this makes the commodities scarcer and the prices higher. There is a project on foot to send away some thousands of useless consumers; but how it is to be effected by the city authorities, and where they will be sent to, are questions I have not heard answered. The population of the city is not less than 100,000, and the markets cannot subsist 70,000. Then there is the army in the vicinity, which must be fed. I suppose the poultry and the sheep will be eaten, and something like a pro rata distribution of flour and meal ordered.” ~ Diary of John Jones.

March 24– Friday– Petersburg, Virginia– “I see no cause for despondency; but on the contrary, I think there is great encouragement to hope. Sherman has gone almost unopposed through the most flourishing portions of the Confederacy; but has he conquered the people? True, his progress will have a deleterious effect upon our cause abroad; but tis far from ‘crushing the rebellion.’ The repulse of our Peace Commissioners, has also produced a desirable effect, causing a greater unanimity of feeling to exist among our people than ever before. The ‘Negro’ bill has been passed, and already the Negroes are being put into the field. This will undoubtedly greatly increase our effective force, since the places of many of our troops now occupying the lines around Petersburg and Richmond can be easily filled; but I think this bill unconstitutional and violently antagonistic to the principles for which we are fighting; if however, tis reported to an act of necessity I cheerfully acquiesce. These men being relieved can operate more successfully upon the enemy’s flanks, and soon we would be ready for another foray into Pennsylvania. I know what you will say to this, since you’ve already told me, you were ‘opposed to invasion;’ but I believe that’s the only way to make the Yankees cry ‘enough.’Tis certainly better for us to enter the enemy’s country, and be fed by them, than remain in these detestable ditches poorly provided for, subject to every manner of disease and to death from the many and fiendish invasions of our foe. More men have been lost since we came south of Richmond than in the celebrated battle of Gettysburg. I’m glad to learn that Senator Hill and others are delivering addresses to the people of Georgia; for I am sorry to say I think they need some stimulus to make them do their duty, since they will not do it voluntarily. Now is the times we need their encouragement and their strongest efforts. Why do they withhold it? Surely they do expect to save anything by submission or reconstruction. On the contrary, they will lose everything, not even their home will be spared.” ~ Letters from Confederate soldier Alva Benjamin Spencer to his fiancee Maggie Cone.

March 24– Friday– Quebec, Canada– Four political leaders are appointed to negotiate Confederation in London.

March 25– Saturday– New York City– “Benito Juarez, President of Mexico, has issued a New Year’s proclamation, dated Chihuahua, in which he urges upon all Mexicans to fight out the question with the [French] invaders. He reiterates his hope that he will triumph in the end. . . . The British army and navy estimates for the year 1865-6 have just been announced. The cost of the army is $71,000,000; of the navy $51,000,000. Total estimates for the military and naval establishments for the coming year, £24,76,671; or, in American currency, $123,703,355.” ~ Frank Leslies Weekly.

President Benito Juarez

President Benito Juarez

March 25– Saturday– Vernon County, Wisconsin– The “Claywater Meteorite” explodes just before reaching ground level. Its fragments, having a combined mass of 1.5 kg, are recovered.

March 25– Saturday– Headquarters First Army Corps, Virginia– “The impression prevails amongst the Georgia troops of this command that persons at home having authority to raise local organizations are writing and sending messages to the men in the ranks here, offering inducements to them to quit our ranks and go home and join the home organizations. The large and increasing number of desertions, particularly amongst the Georgia troops, induces me to believe that some such outside influence must be operating upon our men. Nearly all of the parties of deserters seem to go home, and it must be under the influence of some promise, such as being received in the local forces. I would suggest, therefore, the publication of a general order warning all officers or persons authorized to raise local organizations against receiving such deserters or in any way harboring them, and cautioning all such parties that they shall be punished for such crimes under the twenty-second and twenty-third Articles of War. It may be well to publish the articles in the order, and to send the order South to be published in all the Southern papers. If the order is published, I would suggest that copies be sent to the Southern papers by special messenger or by parties going South who will take pains to have it published, otherwise I fear it may miscarry or be delayed by our irregular mails. Another growing evil seems to trouble us now in the shape of applications to raise Negro companies, regiments, brigades, etc. The desire for promotion seems to have taken possession of our army, and it seems that nearly all the officers and men think that they could gain a grade or more if allowed to go home. I presume that many may try to go merely because they get furloughs. I would suggest, therefore, that some regulation be published upon this subject, and it seems to me that it should require the companies to be mustered in as non-commissioned officers and privates by the enrolling officers, and that all of the officers (general, field, and company) shall be selected from the officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates on duty with the armies of the Confederacy. If these matters are not speedily taken hold of by a firm hand, I fear that we shall be seriously damaged by them.” ~ Letter from Confederate General James Longstreet to Colonel W. H. Taylor.

General Longstreet

General Longstreet

March 25– Saturday– Petersburg, Virginia– In a desperate attempt to break the siege, Confederate troops launch a heavy attack against a Federal position called Fort Stedman. After day-long fighting, initial Southern success is turned into a defeat. Total casualties– dead, wounded, missing– are approximately 1400 for the Union and almost 4000 for the Confederacy.

March 25– Saturday– City Point, Virginia– “We may indeed call this a many-sided field-day: a break fast with a pleasure party, an assault and a recapture of an entrenched line, a review by the President of a division of infantry, and sharp fighting at sundry points of a front of eighteen miles! If that is not a mixed affair, I would like to know what is? It has been a lucky day, for us, and the 9th Corps, after patient waiting for eight months, have played the game of the ‘Mine’ against their antagonists. The official despatches will give you the main facts very well, but I can add some particulars. About daylight, the enemy having massed three divisions and a part of a fourth, made a sudden rush and carried Fort Stedman and about half a mile of line commanded by it. The garrisons of the forts on either side stood firm, however, and repelled a severe attack with much injury to the enemy. Meantime, General Parke had ordered that the works should be retaken, if it cost every man in the Corps; and all the scattered regiments immediately at hand were put in and checked a further advance, until General Hartranft (I m not sure about the spelling of his name) brought up the 3rd division, which had been camped in reserve. He person ally led in one brigade of it, with conspicuous gallantry, retook the whole portion lost, and captured, at one swoop, 1800 Rebels. It was just the ‘Mine,’ turned the other way: they got caught in there and could not get out. Their loss also in killed and wounded must have been severe, not only from musketry, but also from canister, which was thrown into a ravine by which they retreated. Upwards of a hundred Rebel dead lay in and round Fort Stedman alone. Our own losses in the 9th Corps will be somewhat over 800, half of whom may be reckoned prisoners, taken in the first surprise. I should guess the loss of their opponents as not less than 2600.” ~ Letter from Union officer Theodore Lyman to his wife Elizabeth.

interior section of Fort Stedman

interior section of Fort Stedman

March 25– Saturday– Mobile, Alabama– Federal forces begin a siege of the city.

March 26– Sunday– Brooklyn, New York– “I write a few lines to tell you how I find the folks at home. Both my mother & brother George looked much better than I expected. Mother is quite well, considering– she goes about her household affairs pretty much the same as ever, & is cheerful. My brother would be in what I would almost call fair condition, if it were not that his legs are affected– it seems to me it is rheumatism, following the fever he had– but I don’t know. He goes to bed quite sleepy & falls to sleep– but then soon wakes, & frequently little or no more sleep that night– he most always leaves the bed, & comes downstairs, & passes the night on the sofa. He goes out most every day though some days has to lay by. He is going to report to Annapolis promptly when his furlough is up. I told him I had no doubt I could get it extended, but he does not wish it. He says little, but is in first rate spirits. I am feeling finely & never enjoyed a visit home more than I am doing this. I find myself perplexed about printing my book. All the printers tell me I could not pick a more inopportune time– that in ten days prices of paper, composition &c will all be very much lower &c. I shall decide tomorrow.” ~ Letter from Walt Whitman to his friends William D. and Ellen M. O’Connor.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

March 26– Sunday– Staunton, Virginia– “I am still at the Hotel & keeping it open. I have been trying hard to make some disposition of it but it seems impossible to do it & I fear the only way to save it until after the war is for me to keep it open & don’t know now who to get in it & for the present will have to stay here myself. Sometimes I think it best for you to come out here & live & when I think of the risk of all of our property I hesitate & can’t decide what is best for us all round but I think it will not be long until we will be able to judge more fully what is best & what to do. I assure you I am very anxious to be with you but I can’t ask you to abandon home with all its comforts to come here with me for my own comfort & pleasure & of course I have concluded to try & stand it longer.” ~ Letter from John Quincy Nadenbousch to his wife Hester.

March 26– Sunday– Richmond, Virginia– “I fear now it will be impossible to prevent a junction between Grant and Sherman, nor do I deem it prudent that this army should maintain its position until the latter shall approach too near.” ~ Message from Confederate General Robert E Lee to President Jeff Davis.

General Lee

General Lee

March 26– Sunday– outside Petersburg, Virginia– “I feel it my duty this pleasant Sabbath Evening to Inform you that I just came from the hospital from seeing your husband and he requested me to write you a letter to let you know how he was and what had happened him. The Rebs did make a break in through the picket line about one mile from this yesterday morning and we was called out about 5 o’clock and about 6 o’clock we was in line of battle in front of the enemy and we had just gave them two volleys when Sylvester and I was both wounded. Sylvester is wounded through the leg but I guess the bone is not fractured any at least he thinks so. He was in very good spirits to day and I think that it wont be sore very long. I got a slight tap through one of my fingers on the left hand. Mine is a very light wound but it is pretty sore to day. Sylvester was taken to the Hospital just shortly after he was wounded and I came back to camp. There was eight wounded in our Company and one killed. The rest of the boys are all out yet lying at the breast works. There was some of them had to go on picket last night but they will come in this evening but we drove the rebs back and they loosed a good many men. They had taken two or three of our forts before we got to them but we soon took them all back and the report is that we took fifteen hundred prisoners. There was over three hundred of the rebs killed and our loss don’t exceed more than three hundred killed wounded and missing. . . . Old General Lee told his men that they would go to City Point again . . . when they started but the old fellow missed that game . . . . Well I must soon bring my scribbling to a close for I will have to get at and get supper.” ~ Letter from Union soldier Jacob Shearer to Harriet A. McElheney.

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