150 Years Ago This Week: A dark day in American history 

November/December 1864

On Sunday, Nov. 27, on the James River near Petersburg, Va., the steamer Greyhound was blown up, apparently by Confederate saboteurs. The ship was the floating headquarters of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, commander of the Union Army of the James. Gen. Butler was not aboard when the explosion occurred.

In Georgia, after two days of continuous skirmishing, Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler stopped the advances of the Union cavalry commanded by Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick at Waynesborough. In Tennessee, by this evening, Gen. John B. Hood and the Confederate Army of Tennessee arrived just south of the Duck River at Columbia. Across the river, the Union commander, Maj. Gen. John Schofield, expected Gen. Hood to attempt to turn his flanks and had the Federals prepare his positions there. The cavalry commander, Brig. Gen. James Lane, had given Gen. Schofield erroneous information that Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. Nathan Forrest had crossed the Duck to the east of Columbia.

In Maryland, west of Cumberland on Nov. 28, Confederate cavalry under Brig. Gen. Thomas Rosser operated from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia against the B&O Railroad; they captured extensive supplies and prisoners. After knocking out the railway bridge across the Potomac, the Confederate troopers returned to Virginia. The same day, following a collision with an army transport steamer on Nov. 19, the captured Confederate raider C.S.S. Florida finally sank. The Southern ship had encountered the U.S.S. Wachusett at Bahia, Brazil, on Oct. 7; following a brief fight, the raider surrendered and was taken to the North Atlantic in tow by Wachusett.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Gen. Hood and the Army of Tennessee turned north from Columbia, Tenn., to isolate and destroy the Federals under Gen. Schofield. The Union commander, afraid of being cut off from the rest of the Union army under Maj. Gen. George Thomas at Nashville, retreated towards Spring Hill. There the two forces clashed in a bloody encounter, after which Gen. Schofield withdrew that night.

Also on the same day occurred one of the most heinous and black events in American military history. In the Colorado Territory, the citizens of the Denver area felt the need to put down the Indians who had been taking advantage of the lack of Federal troops and had been committing numerous depredations against local citizens. With some 900 Colorado volunteers, Col. John M. Chivington moved against the Indian camp at Sand Creek, some 40 miles south of Ft. Lyon.

In March 1862, in command of Colorado volunteers, then Major Chivington had taken his column cross-country to attack and capture the Confederate supply wagon train at Apache Canyon in the New Mexico Territory, ending the Confederate advances in the Southwest. Now, in 1864, some 500 Arapahoes and Cheyennes under command of Chief Black Kettle occupied the camp at Sand Creek. The Indians there insisted they were peaceful, had taken no part in the recent raids, and were under the protection of the Federal garrison at Ft. Lyon.

Col. Chivington and the troops suddenly and without warning attacked the camp at Sand Creek and massacred the warriors and all of the women and children. In his report, Col. Chivington wrote, “It may, perhaps, be unnecessary for me to state I captured no prisoners; between five and six hundred were killed.” Among the dead was the respected Chief Black Kettle. With some exceptions, American citizens and the government were appalled. In time the Federal government condemned the massacre at Sand Creek and paid an indemnity to the survivors.

        On the last day of November, furious that Gen. Schofield had eluded his trap, Gen. Hood immediately pursued the Federals. At Franklin, Tenn., where the Federals had dug in waiting for bridges to be repaired, Gen. Hood launched a series of savage head-on attacks in one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, which nearly destroyed his army. Confederate casualties numbered more than 6,200; some 2,300 Union casualties were sustained. The Confederate military command was decimated: six Southern general officers were killed, including Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburn, one of the most able of the Confederacy’s combat commanders; six more were seriously wounded, and one captured. Fifty-five Southern regimental commanders were casualties. That night Gen. Schofield withdrew his army from Franklin towards Nashville and Gen. Thomas’s army.

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.