150 Years Ago This Week: Grant assumes command

March 1864

On the last day of February, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln approved the congressional act reviving the grade of lieutenant general in the army — the highest rank since George Washington. It was clear that Congress and the president had Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant in mind for the promotion. Retired Gen. Winfield Scott was a lieutenant general by brevet only.

On March 1, while Maj. Gen. Kilpatrick and Col. Ulrich Dahlgren were conducting their raid on Richmond, the president nominated Gen. Grant for the newly created army rank. The Senate confirmed the nomination on March 2, the day Col. Dahlgren was killed and the incriminating documents found on his body. The next day, Gen. Grant was ordered to Washington to receive his commission.

On Friday, March 4, the Senate confirmed Andrew Johnson as Military Governor of Tennessee, and in New Orleans, Gov. Michael Hahn took office of the pro-Union administration of Louisiana. In Washington, Adm. John Dahlgren called at the White House to learn the fate of his son, Ulrich, whose death near Richmond was not yet known.

The Confederate government ordered every vessel to allot half of its cargo capacity to government shipments on March 5. This was done to minimize private profit from blockade running and to assist in obtaining badly needed supplies. Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge, former vice president under James Buchanan, assumed command of the Department of Western Virginia; the Confederacy did not recognize the admission of West Virginia to the Union the previous June.

On March 7, anxious over the military situation in the West, President Jefferson Davis wrote Lt. Gen. James Longstreet in east Tennessee: “It is needless to point out to you the value of a successful movement into Tennessee and Kentucky, and the importance — I may say necessity — of our taking the initiative.”

President Lincoln wrote congressman John Creswell of Maryland the same day that, while he preferred gradual emancipation in Maryland, he would not object to immediate emancipation of the slaves there. The president also designated the starting point of the new Union Pacific Railroad on the western boundary of Iowa.

On March 8, at a reception at the Executive Mansion, President Lincoln walked up to a disheveled-looking man in uniform. “General Grant, is it?” the president asked. “Yes, it is,” was the general’s reply. The two men met for the first time. Later, in the East Room crowded with people, the short-statured Gen. Grant stood on a crimson-colored sofa so the people could see him, and the room echoed with cheers and applause.

The following day, at a Cabinet meeting, Gen. Grant formally received his commission as lieutenant general and announced that, as general-in-chief of the Armies of the United States, he would serve alongside Maj. Gen. George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, in the Eastern theatre of war. Gen. Grant left on March 10 and went to Brandy Station in Culpeper County — Gen. Meade’s headquarters.

On March 11, Gen. Grant returned to Washington and went that evening to Nashville to confer there with Maj. Gen. William Sherman, now commander of the Union armies in the West. On March 12, the Union military command was realigned. Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck was relieved at his own request as General in Chief, and assumed the post of Chief of Staff.

To Gen. Sherman was assigned the Military Division of the Mississippi, commanding the Departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee and the Arkansas. Maj. Gen. John B. McPherson was assigned command of the Department and the Army of the Tennessee.

On the Mississippi River, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks moved his army on gunboats up the Red River into the heart of Louisiana to start the Red River Campaign. His chief opponent was Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding 30,000 Confederate troops.

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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.