150 Years Ago This Week: Major confrontations north and south

March/April 1864

“This afternoon a dreadful affair took place in our town,” said a Charleston, Ill., newspaper on Monday, March 28. About 100 Copperheads vented long pent-up feelings by attacking Union soldiers at home on furlough in Charleston. The fighting was quelled by troop reinforcements, leaving five men dead and more than 20 injured. It was the worst anti-war outbreak since the New York City draft riots in July 1863.

In Louisiana, as part of the Red River campaign, Federal troops commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks moved northwest from Alexandria, La. To resist an anticipated invasion of the Trans-Mississippi, Confederate troops gathered under Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor.

The following day, responding to criticism in the press (possibly written by subordinate officers) of his direction of the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, Maj. Gen. George Meade formally requested to convene a court of inquiry to clear his name and justify his actions in the engagement.

In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln quietly requested Gen. Meade withdraw his request, saying that he was quite satisfied with Gen. Meade’s actions, although he expressed a desire that Gen. Meade would have sent his army after Gen. Lee before the Confederates had crossed the Potomac River back into Virginia.

As Gen. Banks’ troops approached Shreveport, La., on March 29, Confederates burned more than 10 miles of cotton fields along the Red River to prevent their capture by advancing Union soldiers. The month closed with widespread fighting between Union and Confederate troops in all areas, both east and west: The Eel River in California; Caperton’s Ferry, Ala.; Arkadelphia, Ark.; Greenton, Mo.; Cherry Grove, Va.; Palatka, Fla.; Moscow, Ky.; and Snyder’s Bluff, Miss.

Not since the autumn of 1863 had there been major confrontations North and South, as April of 1864 opened. On the Red River, Gen. Banks’ army ran into trouble from Gen. Taylor’s Confederate opposition. In Charleston Harbor, S.C., Union guns kept pounding the rubble that marked Fort Sumter, but still the fort’s defenders refused to yield.

Throughout the South, dissatisfaction with the Jefferson Davis administration increased, even as the territory of the Confederacy dwindled. President Davis was still arguing with Gov. Francis Pickens of South Carolina and Zebulon Vance of North Carolina over the enforcement of policies of the Confederate States regarding trade and troop procurement and allocations.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant was serving in the field with Gen. Meade’s Army of the Potomac in Virginia, with Gen. Robert E. Lee’s legendary Army of Northern Virginia ahead of them. On the St. John’s River in Florida, the U.S. gunboat Maple Leaf sank after striking a torpedo or mine. The lighthouse at Cape Lookout Light in North Carolina was destroyed by the Confederates in the hopes of causing damage to the U.S. Navy ships on blockade duty in the treacherous waters.

In western Tennessee, Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest and his cavalry continued their raids and fought a brisk and successful fight against Union cavalry at Raleigh, Tenn. on April 3. A new Federal cavalry commander was being brought east to Virginia and the Army of the Potomac from the west, replacing Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg, who had temporarily been placed in command of the mounted service since Maj. Gen. Albert Pleasanton had been transferred to Missouri the week before. The new commander meant a continuous improvement to the Union cavalry in Virginia. He would prove to be as tenacious as Gen. Grant, and his name would soon spread fear in the hearts of the residents of the Shenandoah Valley.

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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.