View Full Version : The Campaigns of 1864

Albany Rifles
29 Apr 14,, 19:07
As the calendar of 2014 turns to May I begin to ponder the events of 150 years ago. While I will concentrate more on the Eastern Theater much was happening across the country. This is meant as an area for greater discussion and in depth analysis on 1864…the year which doomed the Confederacy. Let's use thsi area to share our thoughts and discussions on the seminal events of 1864.

By late April, Sherman had wrapped up his successful Meridian, MS, Campaign and marshalling his forces for a move towards Atlanta. He had organized his Division of the Mississippi forces into 3 field armies: Grant (and Sherman’s) old Army of the Tennessee was under the command of James Birdseye McPherson, a young engineer who had risen fast but had proved equal to the faith placed in him. John Schofield held command of the small Army of the Ohio. The unflappable George Thomas would command the Army of the Cumberland. 2 of the corps of this army would be the newly named IVth Corps and the XXth Corps, led, respectively, by O.O. Howard and Joe Hooker. These were the redesignated XIth & XIIth corps of the Army of the Potomac which had been sent west after Chickamauga to assist. Their shame of Chancellorsville & Gettysburg had been wiped clean by their heroic actions at Chattanooga. Schofield would have the one division of cavalry belonging to the armies under his command.

Opposing Sherman would be Joe Johnston’s tough Army of Tennessee. While not as successful as the more famous Army of Northern Virginia was made up of exceptionally fine troops and leaders. If one knows of the fierce reputation of the Texas Brigade and Barksdale’s Mississippians in the ANV, imagine an entire army made up of such units. This was the AOT. Johnston’s 4 corps commanders were outstanding. Leonidas Polk, the Fighting Bishop, had fought well for the entire war. The brash and aggressive John Bell Hood, recently recovered from the amputation of his leg at Chickamauga, was a controversial but inspired choice as another corps commander. The 3rd corps was commanded by William Hardee, arguably one of the best corps commanders in Confederate service. Finally, the young Joe Wheeler commanded Johnston’s cavalry.

I will submit right now that Johnston had better corps commanders in 1864 than did Lee. And I could say both Thomas & McPherson also enjoyed better corps commanders, overall, to Meade. I would take Logan, Dodge or Blair over Warren any day.

These 2 forces would attack in concert with Meade & Grant with a single objective: Atlanta.

In the TransMississippi, Nathaniel Banks took forces from the Gulf up the Red River, dissipating efforts against Mobile. This would be a backwater affair wioth no reall impact over the strategic impacts to come.

In the Virginia Tidewater, Benjamin Butler would command the newly formed Army of the James. Hios forces would have 2 corps drawn from the Atlantic and Gulf seaboard, the Xth & XVIIIth Corps. These 2 corps were commanded by 2 men Grant saw as good professionals who would offset Butler’s amateur errors; Quincy Gilmore & Charles ‘Baldy” Smith. Butler’s mission was to attack up the Virginia Peninsula, sever the Richmond-Petersburg Rail line, secure a base at the old port of City Point at the confluence of the Appomattox & James Rivers, and draw forces away from Lee’s main army.

He would be opposed by one of the most famous an quixotic figures of the Confederacy, P.G.T. Beauregard and the 18,000 men of Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. His best troops were the 5,000 Virginians of George Pickett’s division at Petersburg.

In the Shenandoah Valley, Franz Sigel was pulled off the trash heap due to political reasons and given command of a force which was to head up the Valley (read march south…it was to go upstream) and destroy any Confederate forces he found and remove the Valley as Lee’s Breadbasket.

His opponent would be John C. Breckenridge, former US Vice President, Presidential candidate in 1860 and Confederate general.

Tomorrow I will write about the main avent.

Things were about to get very real.

Albany Rifles
01 May 14,, 19:07
As May began in 1864 in Central Virginia, there were entirely new dynamics at work. The 2 armies, and by extension the nations they represented, were a totally different force than they were just 6 months before.

The most obvious difference of course was on the Union side. For starters, U.S. Grant was now a lieutenant general and in command of all field armies of the nation. He stayed only 3 days in Washington before moving with his headquarters staff to set up operations collocated with George Meade and the army of the Potomac. There was a certain air of optimism and competence expressed by the Westerners which irritated the men of the Army of the Potomac.

Just the day before Grant had received the following letter from the President:

Executive MANSION, WASHINGTON, April 30, 1864.

Lieut.-Gen. Grant:

Not expecting to see you before the Spring campaign opens, I wish to express in this war, my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it. The particulars of your plans I neither know, nor seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any restraints or constraints upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster, or capture of our men in great numbers, shall be avoided, I know that these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there be anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it.
And now, with a brave army and a just cause, may God sustain you.

Yours, very truly.




THE PRESIDENT: Your very kind letter of yesterday is just received. The confidence you express for the future and satisfaction for the past in my military administration, is acknowledged with pride. It shall be my earnest endeavor that you and the country shall not be disappointed. From my first entrance into the volunteer service of the country to the present day, I have never had cause of complaint, have never expressed or implied a complaint against the Administration or the Secretary of War, for throwing any embarrassment in the way of my vigorously prosecuting what appeared to be my duty.
Indeed, since the promotion which placed me in command of all the armies, and in view of the great responsibility and importance of success, I have been astonished at the readiness which everything asked for has been yielded, without even an explanation being asked. Should my success be less than I desire and expect, the least I can say is, the fault is not with you.

Very truly, your obedient servant,

U.S. GRANT, Lieut.-Gen.

In this correspondence you can see the respect to the 2 men shared…a critical difference than what had existed in previous command relationships between executive and his commanders. But in the realm of trust but verify postulated by another president 120 years later Lincoln sent ASST SEC of the ARMY Charles Dana to ride with Grant. Dana had first been sent out to Vicksburg to keep an eye on Grant and check on reports of alcohol abuse; he quickly replied to Washington the reports were unfounded. The 2 built up a mutual trust during the Vicksburg Campaign. Dana’s presence relieved Grant of having to maintain a continuous correspondence with the War Department…he gladly had Dana fill that role.

Grant’s plan was simple…in 1864 all Union forces would cooperate and execute offensives in a coordinated manner. Each was given a simple objective…attack the corresponding Confederate force and keep them engaged in battle so each could not reinforce the other.

- Sherman’s forces of the Military Division of the Mississippi were to attack Joe Johnston’s Army of Tennessee and threaten Atlanta.

- Nathaniel Banks was to attack Mobile to keep forces in the lower Gulf states tied down (he went up the Red River instead….that is another story and sometimes I think Grant should have fired Halleck over that one!)

- Benjamin Butler would attack up the James River to cut the Richmond Petersburg Railroad, establish a base at City Point, VA, and provide forces to Grant as needed.

- Franz Sigel’s small army from the Department of West Virginia was to move up the Shenandoah Valley to pin down Confederate forces there.

- The main fight was to occur in central Virginia which would have Meade square off against Lee. Grant’s orders to Lee were simple….”wherever Lee goes you go.” And the instrument to affect this mission had changed the most of all the Federal armies since the end of the Mine Run Campaign in the previous November.

In March of 1864 Meade sent to the War Department the following proposal

Washington, D.C., March 4, 1864.

Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck,

General-in- Chief:

Sir: I beg leave to submit for your consideration and that of the honorable Secretary of War the following plan for the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac:

I propose to reduce the number of corps, now five, to three. In doing this I propose to retain the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Corps, reducing the three divisions now in each to two divisions. I then propose to consolidate the two divisions of the Third Corps (constituting the old corps) into one division and transfer it temporarily to the Fifth Corps; this division to retain its corps badges and other distinctive marks, and having understood that when the accession of recruits shall justify the organization of another corps, this division shall resume its position as the Third Corps with such additions as can be made.

In the same manner I propose to consolidate the First Corps into a division, and, with its distinctive marks, &c., assign it to the Second Corps. This would leave the Third Division of the Third Corps, which did not belong to the original corps, but joined after Gettysburg, under Major-General French, which I propose to transfer to the Sixth Corps.

The Second and Sixth Corps, being now commanded by officers assigned by the President of the United States, will continue to be so commanded. The Fifth Corps I propose to have commanded by Major-General Warren, by the assignment of the President.
Of the two corps temporarily broken up, I propose to assign the officers of the general staff to vacancies that may exist in the other corps.

After the above general organization is decided on, general officers will be assigned to divisions and brigades on consultation with corps commanders. The present temporary commanders of the First, Third, and Fifth Corps, it is understood, the Department has decided to relieve. A list of general officers whom in my judgment it is expedient to relieve is herewith furnished, viz: Brig. Gen. J. R. Kenly, Brig. Gen. F. B. Spinola, Brig. Gen. Sol. Meredith.

I should be glad, if this organization is decided upon, that those general officers belonging to the Army of the Potomac and now absent on detached duty be ordered to rejoin, as well as such forces as may have been detached for special purposes.

Respectfully, yours,

Geo. G. Meade, Major-General, Commanding, Army of the Potomac.
With this move Meade handled MANY vexing issues rather deftly.

1. At Gettysburg he recognized that the small size of Union corps put them at a disadvantage against like Confederate units. He standardized a minimum of 3 brigades to a division, 3 divisions to a corps. Some units had more; none had less.

2. At Gettysburg and the following campaigns Meade had to pass orders to up to 8 different corps commanders ) G’burg 7 infantry/ 1 cavalry; Bristoe Station & Mine Run 5 infantry & 1 cavalry). A reduction in the number of 4 corps total (3 infantry/ 1 cavalry) would streamline orders processes.

3. Keep in mind that even in the Army, the politics of the day were huge. Almost all general officers were ardent Democrats…War Democrats to be sure but they did not support the Republican Party platforms. Hey were, by nature, conservative men. So that meant abolitionists like Abner Doubleday were gone…too bad, he was a damn fine combat commander.

4. It allowed him to remove 3 subpar corps commanders, John Newton, William French and George Sykes. He was able to secure the return of Winfield Scott Hancock, Hancock the Superb, to the command of his old 2nd Corps. By asking Lincoln:

The Fifth Corps I propose to have commanded by Major-General Warren, by the assignment of the President.

Meade continued to provide favor on an officer he thought very promising who had performed adequately in the wake of Gettysburg, Gouvernour Warren. By having the President appoint him the commander of the last of the open corps, the 5th Corps, Meade guaranteed he would not have to take back into the Army a political hack who was clamoring for a return to duty….George Sickles. Sickles wanted back in the Army. He was heartily despised by the Regulars in the Army in general and Meade in Particular. Meade could never forgive Sickles for his disobedience at Gettysburg which almost cost Meade the battle. Additionally, Meade believed Sickles was behind the entire Historicus affair (Who Was Historicus (http://www.civilwarhome.com/historicus.htm)) which had caused Meade much grief. This deft political move checkmated Sickles.

John Sedgwick retained command of the 6th Corps. As at Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, the 6th Corps was the largest infantry corps in the Army of the Potomac. Up to this point in the war, the 6th had been noted for success three times; when the corps took Marye’s Heights at Second Fredericksburg, when they had overrun the Confederate defenses at Rappahannock Station and when the Vermont Brigade broke the line at Mine Run. Other than that the corps had played mainly supporting roles. Stanton had wanted Sedgwick fired since he was a confirmed McClellan man, but he was beloved by the troops of the army. Meade knew that “Uncle John” was his most experienced subordinate and had faith in him. It would seem that the 6th corps would have a rendezvous with destiny with 1864.

In the mounted force the overmatched Alfred Pleasonton was gone, sent to the Trans-Mississippi. He was replaced by a Grant favorite, the irascible Philip Sheridan. In November of 1863 the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac was excellent. Despite halting starts and fits in 1864 Sheridan would make it superb. While he and 2 of his division commanders lacked experience they were all fighters….and the troopers were damn good soldiers. Gone were the days of Jeb Stuart and the Beaux Cavaliers. Instead the dark horsemen of the apocalypse were riding Federal blue.

Of key staff, Meade kept his choice as chief-of-staff Andrew Humphries and Henry Hunt as chief of artillery. If one were to look up the word hardass in a dictionary you would see a picture of A. A. Humphries staring back at you. But he was a brilliant tactician and staff chief. He was the first modern combat chief of staff as we think of them today. Henry Hunt would continue to serve as the finest gunner the Federal army would produce but he would see his guns play a lesser role in the campaigns ahead.

The following is an interesting editorial from late March 1864 regarding the reorganization.


So that is the head…what of the body? As a whole the men of the Army of the Potomac were an experienced, hardened, determined force. Men from the 1st & 3rd Corps were allowed to keep their old corps badges upon amalgamation. Units were reinforced over the winter through reenlistments and new recruits. Some of the first draftees began to arrive to fill units as well as bounty men. Most of the new arrivals, however, were substitutes. Among the new men 2 new groups began to be seen….Asians and Native Americans. Recruiters had gone West to fill quotas and they were not too picky. The Indian reservations of New York, Maine, Michigan and Ohio had proven fertile ground. Also Lincoln’s shrewd reinstatement of Sigel may have disastrous battlefield results but it did result in a surge of enlistments by Germans in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois and Missouri. Finally, Grant had scoured the commands guarding Washington as well as line of communications to provide new units….the Heavy Artillery.

But there was a ticking time bomb…many of the best units were 3 year regiments. They had fought loyally and hard from the Peninsula to Mine Run. But they had been raised in the dark days following Bull Run. Many of these units’ enlistments would expire starting as early as late June. In many ways, this was a use it or lose it army, much like McDowell’s forces at Bull Run, Montgomery’s forces at Quebec and Washington’s forces at Trenton. Meade and Grant had to get the best use out of this force before it started to disintegrate.

Later more on Meade’s objective…the Army of Northern Virginia.

02 May 14,, 01:36
What books would you recommend to learn more about Mine Run, Rappahannock Station, and Meade's transformation of the AoP?

02 May 14,, 01:38
It would seem that the 6th corps would have a rendezvous with destiny with 1864.

It had a storied history between its successes in the Valley in the fall and then in finally cracking the Petersburg line on 2 Apr 65.

Albany Rifles
02 May 14,, 03:14
What books would you recommend to learn more about Mine Run, Rappahannock Station, and Meade's transformation of the AoP?


There isn't too much but let me get my bibliography notes together and I will share

More to come


Albany Rifles
02 May 14,, 15:19

I read these last spring when I was studying for a tour I did with the same guy I emntioned in the PM a few weeks ago.

This one is from your neck of the woods and may be able to get it hard copy. I do enjoy reading monographs but they are not for all.

The Mine Run Campaign: An Operational Analysis of Major George G. Meade

Kavin L. Coughenour


Gottfried's The Maps of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns was pretty good but most of my research was doen on line reading monographs and OR excerpts. Tighe's book on the subject is very uneven.

As for Meade's transformation I read Catton's trilogy on the AOP, OR excerpts as well as these websites. I have also heard Jeff Wert covers it well in his Sword of Lincoln.


Meade submits the reorganization plan: Army of the Potomac down to three corps | To the Sound of the Guns (http://markerhunter.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/meade-reorganization-plan/)

Triple C
04 May 14,, 13:20
At what point did Chancellorsville became an unwinnable battle for Hooker? Was he doomed on May 1, when he adopted a defensive posture? May 2, when Jackson outflanked the short arm of the Union L? Or May 3, when Lee pushed into the Union center at Chancellorsville? By a majority vote, Hooker's generals wanted to stay and fight. Was it denial, or was Hooker's army ripe for a rout?

04 May 14,, 13:35
Hooker got unnerved after getting his clock cleaned by the cannonball that hit his porch. If you look at the numbers, the AoP still had the advantage, the flank attack had hit some of the weaker units, and not everybody truly got into the fight. The turning point was the cannonball if you want to put a finger on when it was "unwinnable for Hooker." For another commander without a concussion, I'm not sure if you can label it unwinnable.

Triple C
04 May 14,, 17:42
That is what I was wondering; in terms of numbers, the Federals were not rendered weaker by Lee's efforts. Though to Lee's credit his attacking army was actually inflicting heavier losses then sustaining.

Sorry AR, I meant to post it at the Today in ACW thread.

05 May 14,, 03:27
yeah, it goes part and parcel with my wondering of what would have happened if Hooker wasn't stunned.

it's really hard to believe how Hooker did so poorly at chancellorsville when he did pretty good in the Western Theater afterwards. it seems to me that Lee's gambit at Chancellorsville was predicated on the other side having an incompetent commander (Burnside or Pope), but would not have worked on even a half-decent commander. seems the cannonball took Hooker down several notches in competency.

08 May 14,, 13:43
So, we're 150 years removed from the ending of the battle of the Wilderness. Who won?

Albany Rifles
08 May 14,, 13:59

My initial call would be to say the Confederates because of the casualties they caused on Meade.

But lets go back and remember the objective. For Lee, it was hit the AOP so hard in the tangle of the Widlerness that it would be stuck there. This would allow his smaller force to keep the larger AOP at bay and keep his Rapidan River line intact. So by sundown on 6 May Lee appeared to have a tactical victory...but at what price? 11,500 casualties he could ill afford, his best general down and he had lost his ability to maneuver on his terms.

For the Union Grant's plan to get rapidly through the Wilderness and get to Lee in open country failed. The AOP & the IXth Corps had suffered casualties equal to Chancellorsville the year prior. However, he had breached Lee's Rapidan line and he had accomplished what he had set out to do; namely, bring the ANV to battle and prevent it from getting away. This the AOP achieved.

And more importantly, the Southward movement along the Brock Road instilled a long missing ingredient into the equation for the Soldiers of the AOP...along with their determination, courage and devotion to duty was added hope. The hope that by staying on the offensive their sacrifices of the previous 3 years would be worth it. It also caused Lee to realize that maybe he had underestimated the new Union commander.

And if not for some rookie mistakes by Sheridan at Todd's Tavern and a forest fire which kept Dick Anderson on the move, Grant & Meade have beaten Lee to the crossroads at Spotsylvania and brought Lee to battle in more open country.

So, Confederate tactical victory but Federal operational and strategic victory.

08 May 14,, 15:47
here's another way to think of it.

say Grant is shot the day after the Battle of the Wilderness ended. is there a scenario you can envision where the CSA comes out independent? what happens if Grant is shot a day before the Battle of Wilderness started?

08 May 14,, 16:59
he had accomplished what he had set out to do; namely, bring the ANV to battle and prevent it from getting away. This the AOP achieved.

This is the key - Grant and Meade got off the plan to attack the South's operational and strategic center of gravity. Like a bulldog, they grabbed the ANV and kept chewing - owning the initiative and forcing Lee to dance to their tune. For this, while it was tactical stalemate, I call it the same way you do - the Union came out ahead.

08 May 14,, 17:04
here's another way to think of it.

say Grant is shot the day after the Battle of the Wilderness ended. is there a scenario you can envision where the CSA comes out independent?

It wasn't decisive, and I think your question may be leaning towards asking that. At the end, the AoP and the North owned the initiative, and the peripheral strategy had potentially reinforcing Confederate units locked down, allowing the AoP to fight solely the ANV.

what happens if Grant is shot a day before the Battle of Wilderness started?

I think that Meade and Humphreys would have pushed the AoP harder to clear the Wilderness, so there's a potential upside. How aggressively or intuitively the ensuring battle would have been handled by Meade, I feel unqualified to answer since I haven't read enough on Meade's generalship in the fall '63 campaigns to then extrapolate.

Albany Rifles
08 May 14,, 19:08

I concur with your analysis of Meade.

Meade, with Humphries as a true Chief of Staff, was a doer. He may have been a little off on the selection of Warren as a corps commander...but Warren had been adequate the previous fall...maybe even very good when compared to Newton & French.

Meade was aggressive in the fall of 1863 when one considers what he dealt with between SEP-NOV. After getting his Army reorganized on the fly in July he has to spend quite a bit of August getting the Army refitted...you and I would say reconstituted. He had to reorganize brigades and divisions. The AOP lost over 6,000 horses and mules in he Gettysburg campaign...some dead, the rest wounded and broken down. The Quartermaster Remount Service was good but it was not THAT good. He had to deal with a LOT of back stabbing from Washington (see the beginnings of HERDOTUS) which exploded that winter.

In the Bristoe Campaign Meade moved out aggressively against Lee but made sure he had a secure base of supply along the rail line. Mid campaign he was ordered to send to send 2 corps to Chattanooga to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland in the wake of the Chickamauga disaster. While staying in a more defensive mindset than Lee, he used Lee's army's aggressiveness against at Bristoe Station and inflicted heavy casualties on AP Hill. Meade actually provided the most aggressive move of the campaign with his assault by the VIth Corps at Rappahanock Station. Meade showed aggresiveness durign the Mine Run campaign but was done in by the caution of French, Newton and Warren. Sedgwick's VIth Corps Vermont Brigade was actually able to breech the Confederate defensive line (something the VIth Corps was growing very adept at doing) but engineer that he was he could see he could not have success on a wide enough front so called of the assaults.

So to your question...

Meade did not fear Lee. Not surprising, Meade felt more comfortable on the defense than offense woudl prove to be just fine on the offense. He had a prediliction for fighting on favorable ground of his choosing. To that end I believe he and Humphreys would have pushed harder through the Wilderness (maybe even keeping a tighter reign on Sheridan since Grant would now be absent) and perhaps battle would have been joiined at Laurel Hill and vicinity ratehr than on the edge of the old Chancellorsville charnel house.

The one wild card with Grant gone...what was the role of the IXth Corps going to be? Would Burnside early on ignore his date of rank and willingly serve under Meade or cause a problem.

I normally hate what ifs...but this was a tasty one!

08 May 14,, 19:55
i suppose to better ask my question, was ANV strategic offensive capability destroyed following the Battle of Wilderness? IE if grant or whomever retreated after the battle, would the ANV still be able to execute an invasion of the North as it did in 1862 and 1863?

08 May 14,, 20:14
i suppose to better ask my question, was ANV strategic offensive capability destroyed following the Battle of Wilderness? IE if grant or whomever retreated after the battle, would the ANV still be able to execute an invasion of the North as it did in 1862 and 1863?

No. It wasn't until after Spotsylvania that the ANV was severely attrited. For example, Ewell was down from 20K to 6K by the end of Harris Farm. It was only the collapse of the peripheral strategy (Butler getting corked and Sigel failing in the valley) that allowed for reinforcements from the Valley and Petersburg/Richmond to join the ANV and bring their #s up.

Albany Rifles
08 May 14,, 20:16
The ANV's offensive ability was destroyed after Gettysburg.

It had lost too many leaders to ever again effectively launch another Antietam or Gettysburg.

It could fight but it could fight with the spade as its main weapon, not maneuver.

At the Wilderness, what the ANV lost was the ability to determine where the fight was going to occur. While Lee seemed to be ahead of Grant/Meade at every step in the Overland, in reality he was desperately jumping from defensive positions ahead of being pinned into place by the AOP. In each case Lee pulled out to keep from being locked in place with no ability to move. The AOP dictated the terms for the rest of the war.

What Lee was able to do was once the 2 armies got to Richmond he could detach forces to cause problems...but never a serious threat.

But that is for another time.