150 Years Ago This Week: The Confederacy begins to unravel

January 1864

Union forces under Maj. Gen. John Parke advanced on Dandridge, Tenn. on Saturday, Jan. 16, along the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, forcing Confederate troops commanded by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet to withdraw. Gen. Longstreet moved additional troops into the area and threatened the Union supply base at New Market.

U.S. cavalry commanded by Maj. Gen. Samuel Sturgis occupied Kimbrough’s Crossroads and discovered a Confederate infantry division with artillery had moved in. A quick skirmish ensued, and Union troops were forced to retire to Dandridge after failing to dislodge the Southern artillery.

Gen. Sturgis moved his men into battle formation when he received word that Gen. Longstreet had ordered an attack. Around 4 p.m., the Confederates attacked and the battle began. Fighting was severe and resulted in substantial casualties. At dark, the Union troops fell back to New Market and Strawberry Plains; the fighting ended with the Union positions about where they had been when the fighting began. The Confederates did not capitalize on their efforts due to a lack of cannons, ammunition and shoes.

On the same day as the Battle of Dandridge, Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis assumed command of the recently re-established Union Department of Kansas. At Camp Butler in Springfield, Ill., a serious fire at the Union camp killed two officers.

The next day, substantial opposition to the Confederacy’s conscription law (requiring men between 18 and 45 years of age to serve in Southern armies — later changed to men 17 to 50) began developing in the far western counties of North Carolina. Protest meetings were held, and would continue through the Winter of 1864. In Rappahannock County, Union infantry pickets drove off Confederates in a brief skirmish at Flint Hill.

Indicative of the trend in many areas of Union-occupied Confederate states, pro-Union citizens in Arkansas convened a pro-Northern Constitutional Convention in Little Rock on Jan. 19, and adopted an anti-slavery measure. The new pro-Union Arkansas constitution would eventually be ratified by popular vote in March. Pro-Union citizens of Tennessee met in Nashville two days later and proposed a constitutional convention and abolition of slavery. The political fabric of the Confederate States was beginning to unravel.

In Washington, the Lincoln administration was concerned over the problem of cotton trading with people in Confederate territory. On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Federal naval forces made a reconnaissance of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines at the mouth of Mobile Bay. For some time, Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant had urged an attack on Mobile, Ala., and Confederates in that state had feared such an effort.

The same day, President Lincoln suspended five scheduled army executions for various offenses; he wired Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele in Arkansas that, in view of the proposed anti-slavery state constitution, an election should be ordered immediately.

In the meantime, the war dragged on, with fighting between opposing forces taking place at Tracy City, Strawberry Plains and Chattanooga, Tenn.; at Island No. 76 in the Mississippi River; at Rossville, Ga.; and on the Matagorda Peninsula in Texas. The distillation of whiskey was forbidden in the Federal Department of the Ohio due to the scarcity of grain.

In an important rearrangement of Union military commands, Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans was assigned to head the Union Department of the Missouri, replacing Maj. Gen. John Schofield; Gen. Schofield was replaced because of the political uproar between moderate and radical Union men in Missouri, and was assigned command of the Department of the Ohio.

Isaac Murphy was inaugurated provisional Union governor of Arkansas on Friday, Jan. 22, pending elections in the spring; he had been selected by the state contention. In Washington, President Lincoln told an Arkansas delegation that he would not appoint a separate military governor in Arkansas, but would leave administration to Gen. Steele until a new state government could be established.

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Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.