150 Years Ago This Week: Mississippi again a battleground

February 1864

Acting under the congressional conscription act, President Abraham Lincoln ordered that 500,000 men be drafted on March 10 to serve for three years or the duration of the war. Further, the president ordered Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to send a transport to Ile a Vache, off the coast of San Domingo, to bring back black colonists who desired to return. This decision reflected further frustration in Lincoln’s plans to colonize black individuals.

Also in Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives, after some debate, passed a bill reviving the army grade of lieutenant general — the first time the rank had been considered since George Washington. The action, with Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant in mind for overall general-in-chief of all Federal armies, had been pushed through a somewhat reluctant Congress by Gen. Grant’s patron, congressman Elihu Washburne of Illinois (a former Secretary of State under President Grant), who had to assure President Lincoln that Gen. Grant had no presidential ambitions.

There was fighting on this day at Waldron, Ark.; Madisonville, La.; in the New Mexico and Arizona Territories; in White and Putnam Counties in Tennessee; and at Bristoe Station, on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad in Prince William County.

From this day until the end of June, Union troops were engaged in fights with Indians in the Humboldt Military District in California. In an attempt to recapture New Bern, N.C., Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s troops stopped their attack when Federals drew back into the town’s inner defenses.

Confederate soldiers of Gen. Pickett’s division captured the Federal gunboat Underwriter in the Neuse River near New Bern, N.C. on Feb. 2. The Confederates found the boilers cold after killing the boat’s commander and three sailors and capturing the rest of the crew; they set fire to the boat and, after some skirmishing with Union troops, abandoned the operation. This marked the end of Confederate efforts to recapture New Bern.

Off Charleston, S.C., the Federal blockade fleet destroyed a British blockade-runner; and in Chattanooga, some 130 Confederate army deserters took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. With more than 26,000 Union troops, Maj. Gen. William Sherman left Vicksburg, Miss., on Feb. 3 on an overland campaign to take the Confederate rail center at Meridian and destroy Confederate-held railroads on the way.

Joining Gen. Sherman’s infantry columns from Memphis were some 7,600 Union cavalry commanded by Maj. Gen. William Sooy Smith. Opposing the Federals were some 20,000 Confederate troops under command of Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, scattered throughout Mississippi. Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest commanded the Confederate cavalry supporting Gen. Polk’s infantry.

Confederates along the Kanawha River of West Virginia captured the river steamer Levi. Calling the attention of the Confederate Congress in Richmond the same day, President Jefferson Davis highlighted that “disloyalty and disaffection were often manifested among those who had enjoyed the quiet and safety at home.” He recommended suspension of the writ of habeas corpus as “a sharp remedy, but one needed to combat the evils of spying, desertion, associating with the enemy and disloyal activities and gatherings.”

Skirmishing on Feb. 4 between Gen. Sherman’s troops and Gen. Polk’s soldiers intensified when the Federals moved east from Vicksburg and passed along the battlefields of 1863. The start of what became the Meridian Campaign saw fighting at Liverpool’s Heights, Champion’s Hill, Edwards’ Ferry and Bolton Depot in west central Mississippi. There was also fighting this day near Moorefield, W.Va.; at Columbia, La.; and near Hot Springs, Mountain Fork and Rolling Prairie, Ark.

On Friday, Feb. 5, cavalry engagements between Union and Confederate horsemen marked a continued fight over a distance of 18 miles while Gen. Sherman’s men marched into the Mississippi capital at Jackson. At Hilton Head, S.C., Union Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour received orders from Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore to begin an expedition from there to Jacksonville, Fla. His troops began an immediate march to the interior of South Carolina.

In Richmond, the fourth session of the First Confederate Congress began two days of debate on several measures which included a ban on the importation of luxuries, the circulation of U.S. paper money and exports of cotton, tobacco, naval stores, sugar, molasses and rice.

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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.