150 Years Ago This Week: “This administration will not be re-elected.”

August 1864

After a fierce bombardment by land batteries, three ironclad monitors and other Union naval vessels on Sunday, Aug. 22, Fort Morgan, the last major Confederate post at the entrance to Mobile Bay, Ala., fell to the Federals.

Since Aug. 17, Fort Morgan had been besieged by Union troops in the rear and completely shut off from Mobile. The fall of Fort Morgan gave Federals control of the port, though the Confederates still held the city of Mobile. With the fort’s surrender, the only Confederate port still open to blockade-runners was Wilmington, N.C.

At a Cabinet meeting in Washington on Aug. 23, President Abraham Lincoln asked his Cabinet members to sign a memorandum (without reading it): “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be re-elected. Then, it will be my duty to cooperate with the President-elect, as to save the Union between the election in November and the inauguration in March; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”

There was much pessimism in the North and in Washington as August 1864 closed — over likely defeat in the November election and a feeling that a new president, possibly Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, would not carry out the war aims. This was on President Lincoln’s mind.

At Halltown, W. Va., on Aug, 24, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Union Army of the Shenandoah was encamped in and around Harpers Ferry. Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederate troops continued demonstrating against the Union forces; it appeared that Gen. Early was going to recross the Potomac River and head north again.

The following day, at Ream’s Station on the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg, Va., Federal infantry destroying the rail line supplying Petersburg and Richmond was attacked in a sharp fight by Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s Third Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The Confederates had been reinforced, and the savage attack at Ream’s Station threw back Maj. Gen. Winfield Hancock’s Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac with heavy Union casualties. Some 2,000 Union soldiers were captured.

In Georgia, Gen. John B. Hood’s last entry lines in and out of Atlanta were threatened by Maj. Gen. John Schofield’s troops in a minor assault. Skirmishes took place at Pace’s and Turner’s ferries along the Chattahoochee River. CSS Tallahassee ran the blockade into Wilmington, N.C. on the same day (Aug. 25) after a successful three-week cruise in which she had captured 31 Northern ships and spread fear along the eastern seaboard into New England.

On Saturday, Aug, 27, Maj. Gen. William Sherman’s armies were ready for a major assault southwest of Atlanta, on the Sandtown Road, and ready to advance farther south before swinging east toward Jonesborough to cut the Confederates’ last railroads into Atlanta. It was just a matter of time now.

In Virginia, Gen. Early’s Valley Army had given up attacking Gen. Sheridan’s strong positions around Harpers Ferry; the Confederates pulled back west of Opequon Creek toward Bunker Hill and Stephenson’s Depot north of Winchester. There was some fighting between opposing forces in West Virginia at Halltown, Charles Town, Shepherdstown and Williamsport, Md.

Out in the West, Union troops carried out operations against Indians in Fort Boise and Salmon Falls, Idaho Territory; and in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) at Backbone. There was also fighting in Arkansas, at Little Rock, DeValls Bluff, Searcy, Fairview and Augusta. Due to poor health, Admiral David Farragut requested a leave of absence from the U.S. Navy Department.

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.