150 Years Ago This Week: Political issues

February 1865

After months of siege operations at Petersburg, Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant with Maj. Gen. George Meade and the Army of the Potomac became active again on Sunday, Feb. 5. The Federal Second and the Fifth Corps along with cavalry moved towards the Boydton Plank Road with little opposition from Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Grant’s objective was to extend the Union lines south and west of Petersburg and weaken the already strained Confederate positions. The Confederates did move to oppose the Union advance but could not accomplish much against them. Along Hatcher’s Run, the fighting lasted for two days. On Feb. 6, Brig. Gen. John Pegram was killed leading his Confederate division in attack against the Federals on the Boydton Plank Road near Hatcher’s Run. Maj. Gen. Gouveneur Warren’s Union Fifth Corps was forced back in some confusion when Confederate reinforcements moved in.

In South Carolina, Maj. Gen. William Sherman ran into Confederate resistance along the Little Salkehatchie River near Barnwell. Gen. Sherman’s objective was still not clear, whether he was heading his army towards Charleston on the coast or Columbia a hundred miles inland. The Union troops were committing acts of vengeance against South Carolina’s citizens and homesteads as they marched north.

On Feb. 7, Maine and Kansas ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, but in Dover, Delaware, the state legislature failed to approve the amendment with the required votes. At Petersburg, the Federals abandoned their positions along the Boydton Plank Road but held their ground at Hatcher’s Run, leaving Gen. Lee’s army of some 46,000 Confederates to defend some 37 miles of the Richmond-Petersburg lines. The fighting at Hatcher’s Run resulted in some 1,500 Union casualties out of 35,000 men engaged; Gen. Lee’s troops had some 14,000 men engaged in the fighting, and sustained about 1,000 casualties.

In Washington, President Lincoln held a Cabinet meeting following his return from the unsuccessful peace negotiations at Hampton Roads. He proposed to the Cabinet a plan for the U.S. government to pay the seceded states $400 million if they abandoned resistance to the national authority by April 1. The Cabinet was unanimously opposed to the plan, and the matter was dropped. Mr. Lincoln also wired Gen. Grant at Petersburg of the failed peace conference, that “nothing transpired, or transpiring with the three gentlemen from Richmond, is to cause any change, hindrance or delay, of your military plans or operations.”

In Richmond on Feb. 6, President Jefferson Davis named the capable Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge as Secretary of War. Gen. Breckinridge was a Kentuckian, and had served in both houses of the U.S. Congress as well as Vice President under President James Buchanan. The Confederate Senate approved the appointment the same day. At Petersburg, Gen. Lee received orders to assume the duties as general-in-chief of the Armies of the Confederate States, following the act approved on Jan. 23 by the Confederate Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a joint resolution declaring that the states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee were not entitled to representation in the electoral college. President Lincoln signed the resolution but disclaimed any opinion on the matter as well as the right to interfere in the counting of votes.

Gen. Lee took on his duties as general-in-chief Feb. 9, saying he would rely on the field commanders to do what needed to be done, and that manpower was a paramount necessity. He proposed a pardon to any deserters who reported back to the armies within 30 days. Confederate Navy Capt. Raphael Semmes was named rear admiral on Feb. 10, and appointed to command of the James River Squadron.

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.