150 Years Ago This Week: The guns of August

August 1864

On the high seas of Monday, Aug. 15, the Confederate commerce raider CSS Tallahassee captured six Union merchant schooners off the coast of New England, widening the panic in the North into the far northeastern states.

In the lower Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, fighting between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s troops and the Union troops under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan blazed nearly every day in mid-month as the two forces attempted to outflank and overtake the other.

On Aug. 16, fighting took place at Guard Hill and Cedarville, just north of Front Royal on the road to Winchester, and at Strasburg. Gen. Sheridan believed he could not hold his line without supplying his forces, and so began to withdraw down the Valley to Harpers Ferry, where his army could be supplied by the B&O Railroad from the east.

In Georgia, in the lines around Atlanta, opposing troops fought it out in a number of skirmishes that did not do much besides inflict a few casualties. Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest and his Confederate cavalry ranged far and wide in Tennessee, drawing Union cavalry away from Maj. Gen. William Sherman’s troops fighting near Atlanta.

Off the coast of Lisbon, Portugal, Union warships captured the Confederate raider CSS Georgia, unaware that the Confederate cruiser had been disarmed and sold by the government to an English shipowner.

From Washington, President Lincoln wired Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant at City Point, Va.: “Hold on with a bull-dog grip and chew and choke as much as possible.” Gen. Grant had indicated to President Lincoln his desire to continue the siege of Petersburg without weakening his armies.

From the lines at Petersburg, the Union Fifth Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Warren, moved to the south and west, and occupied over a mile of the Weldon Railroad, vital to the supply of the Confederate army. There was some furious fighting in the heat and heavy rains that day, as the Union troops attacked at the railroad in an attempt to penetrate the lines.

Federal casualties on the Weldon Railroad were 544 killed and wounded, and some 292 captured or missing. In the lines around Atlanta, there was some hotly contested fighting when Maj. Gen. John Schofield moved his Army of the Ohio along Utoy Creek in an effort to pivot to the east and cut off the south side of Atlanta.

Fighting along the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg increased on Aug. 19, when Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s Confederate Third Corps attacked Union infantry in the dense woods, inflicting terrible casualties. Some 382 Union troops were killed or wounded, but over 2,100 were missing, many of them captured from Maj. Gen. Samuel Crawford’s broken division.

Gen. Warren pulled his troops back to Globe Tavern, but still held the important Confederate supply line. President Jefferson Davis expressed dismay to Gen. Robert E. Lee of the Union presence on the Weldon Railroad.

For the second time, Gen. Grant refused to exchange Confederate prisoners of war. He believed that such exchange would prolong the war. The Confederate government urged the exchange for humanitarian reasons, in that the Confederacy was sorely strained to feed, house, clothe and guard the Federal prisoners in Southern prison camps.

In a daring raid, some 2,000 Confederate cavalry under Gen. Forrest captured Memphis, Tenn., and held it for most of the day, nearly capturing two Union generals, Maj. Gen. Stephen Hurlbut and Maj. Gen. Cadwallader Washburn. The raid frustrated, demoralized and embarrassed the North, and allowed Gen. Forrest to operate against Gen. Sherman’s supply lines. Despite a huge effort in manpower, time, casualties and supplies, the Union efforts to bring Gen. Forrest and his cavalry to bay were unsuccessful.

In Alabama, Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor was assigned to command the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana. As the third week of August closed, and Gen. Sheridan’s army was in and around Harpers Ferry, W.Va., the Shenandoah Valley was largely cleared of Union troops; Gen. Early’s Army of the Valley concentrated in the area of Berryville, Va., and Charles Town and Summit Point, W.Va.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 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.