150 Years Ago This Week: ‘Hold the fort. We are coming.’

October 1864

As October 1864 opened, the significance of the capture of Atlanta by the Federals in September was obvious to both North and South. To the North, it was helpful to Abraham Lincoln’s campaign for re-election, offsetting the stalemate of the fighting at Petersburg and the continual threat of Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederate force in the Shenandoah Valley.

To the Confederacy, Atlanta’s fall was an intolerable incursion that had to be eradicated if at all possible. By the end of September, Gen. John B. Hood, after conferring with President Jefferson Davis, moved out of Lovejoy’s Station near Atlanta to attempt to sever Maj. Gen. William Sherman’s lengthy supply line from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Atlanta. Gen. Hood hoped to force Gen. Sherman to withdraw back into Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. Nathan Forrest was operating in northern Alabama and Tennessee against the railroads, also attempting to force Gen. Sherman to withdraw his armies. In Missouri, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price began to seriously alarm the Union forces in and around St. Louis.

At Petersburg, Va., Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant had extended his lines but failed to break through Gen. Robert E. Lee’s defenses anywhere. In the Shenandoah Valley, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan believed the Valley Campaign was over and that Gen. Early’s Army of the Valley had been beaten, but Gen. Early was reorganizing and had received some reinforcements, and looked for a new area for a Confederate advance.

New doubts and additional disaffections in the Confederacy resulted from the continual losses of Confederate territory. There would obviously be some new military initiatives in the autumn of 1864.

In Virginia, the siege at Petersburg ground on despite the ending of the severe fighting around Peeble’s farm on Oct. 2. In the Shenandoah Valley, Gen. Early moved his force down the Valley from Harrisonburg toward Winchester.

Gen. Hood moved his Army of Tennessee south around Atlanta toward Gen. Sherman’s railroad supply line; there was a skirmish at Salt Springs. Gen. Forrest and his cavalry skirmished with Union cavalry at Athens and Huntsville in Alabama, and in the far west, a Federal expedition left Fort Craig in the New Mexico Territory toward Fort Goodwin in the Arizona Territory.

Near Wilmington and Fort Fisher, N.C., the British blockade-runner Condor ran aground off New Inlet, pursued by the U.S.S. Niphon. Carrying dispatches and $2,000 in gold, the famed Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow attempted to reach the shore in a small boat. The surf overturned the boat, and Mrs. Greenhow, weighed down by the gold, drowned not too far from the beach. It was a tragic loss to her family, as well as to the Confederate nation she faithfully served.

Around Saltville, in southwest Virginia, an important source of salt to the Confederacy, a Federal expedition determined to capture the salt-mining works was repulsed. At Columbia, S.C., President Davis, on his return to Richmond from meeting with Gen. Hood in Georgia, received an enthusiastic welcome.

He told the assembled crowd of his meeting with Gen. Hood, “His eye is now fixed upon a point far beyond that where he has been assailed by the enemy. If but a half, nay, one-fourth, of the men to whom the service has a right will give him that strength, I see no chance for Sherman to escape from a defeat or a disgraceful retreat.”

At Allatoona, Ga., a major engagement took place on Oct. 5 at the railroad pass, between Union forces under Brig. Gen. John Corse and Confederate Maj. Gen. Samuel French. When it was over, the Federals still held the railroad. Of the 2,000 men on each side engaged, Union casualties numbered just over 700; Confederate casualties were almost 800.

Gen. French had received reports that a large Federal force was on its way to cut off his troops; despite Gen. Sherman’s message to Gen. Corse (“Gen. Sherman says hold fast. We are coming”), Gen. Sherman was not in a position to send reinforcements at that time.

But Gen. Corse held on and routed Gen. French’s forces. From this engagement, the evangelist Philip P. Bliss wrote the hymn entitled “Hold the Fort, For We Are Coming” which has been sung in churches and camp meetings ever since.

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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.