14 thoughts on “Event of the Year, 1864

  1. wgdavis September 7, 2012 / 8:42 pm

    A Whopper of a year…hard to pick out one thing: Grant not withdrawing after the Wilderness, Sherman Takes Atlanta, Sherman’s March to the Sea/occupation of Savannah, the Re-election of Lincoln [and resulting political elimination of McClellan], Grant forcing Lee into the works at Petersburg. Of all these, I think I have to give the nod to Sherman, whose double blow of Atlanta followed by the March to the Sea were perhaps the most devastating blows to Confederate morale of the entire war to date, and were accompanied by a near-total disruption of supplies from the deep south to Virginia.

  2. Al Mackey September 7, 2012 / 9:37 pm

    Grant turns south instead of north. It meant Longstreet’s assessment of him was spot on, and it meant the beginning of the end.

  3. jfepperson September 8, 2012 / 7:20 am

    Al said it before I did. Jeff has a nice list, but I think Al nails it.

  4. Richard McCormick September 8, 2012 / 8:46 am

    My first reaction is Lincoln’s re-election, as a Federal symbol to the Rebels that the Federals will keep on fighting. Of course, if you argued that Sherman’s capture of Atlanta was they key event in Lincoln’s re-election and thus deserves this title, I am not sure I could make a good argument against that (but then don’t we need to decide what was the key event in Sherman’s success?)

    Grant keeping up the fight after the Wilderness is another great choice, but I still feel that the Confederates still had hope of wearing out the North, but Lincoln’s re-election basically put an end to that and it became just a matter of time at that point

  5. Greg Taylor September 8, 2012 / 1:11 pm

    The Union failure at the Crater. Had Burnside’s original plan to use USCT to lead the assault not been overruled by Meade and Grant due to political considerations, the assault may well have broken the Confederate lines, led to the fall of Petersburg and ended the war almost 9 months earlier than it did.

    • Mark September 10, 2012 / 9:19 am

      That’s very thought provoking.

  6. Noma September 8, 2012 / 5:00 pm

    I agree with Al Mackey: Grant turns south, and “fights it out on this line if it takes all summer.”

  7. Noma September 8, 2012 / 5:58 pm

    I guess it won’t qualify as event of the year 1864, but since today (Sept 8) is Joshua Chamberlain’s birthday, it may be worth remembering his actions at Petersburg in June 1864.

    I can’t find a good explanation of it online, but I recently heard Tom Desjardin (“Chamberlain: A Life in Letters”) explain the situation. I’ll try to recall what he said. In the big mess of the losing battle on June 18, a messenger galloped up to Chamberlain and said that he was supposed to attack the Confederates immediately. Chamberlain looked at the situation and realized that it was an impossible task.

    He sent back a letter to Meade saying something like, “I received a verbal order from someone claiming to be a messenger from you, saying I am supposed to attack the Confederate line. Well, in fact, this looks like a very bad idea to me. I think it would be suicidal. But if that’s what you want, well okay. Just wondering: am I supposed to do this all on my own, or will the whole Army back me up — which would be much better. Sincerely yours, Joshua L. Chamberlain.”

    As soon as the messenger galloped away, Chamberlain realized he had made a terrible mistake — basically he had challenged Meade’s order. Some time later, the messenger came galloping back. As he rode up, Chamberlain began to unbuckle his sword, to hand it over to him — knowing that surely that must be the end of his colonelcy — but the messenger gave him a note, saying, “Well, yes, you are right. You should not attack alone — you will have the whole army to back you up.”

    Then Chamberlain advanced with his troops, got shot down, was going to die, and got a brevet promotion from Grant.

    So luckily, he didn’t get courtmartialed (as he expected) nor did he die (as Grant expected), but he lived on to be present at Appomattox some time later, and offer a peace-keeping salute to the surrendered Confederates — which was the big event for 1865, since it set a tone of peace that kept soldiers from killing each other a couple days later when Lincoln was killed.

    (I know this is exaggerated out of proportion — but I just wanted to mention Joshua on his birthday.)

    You can read his dying note to Fanny, about halfway down this page:


    • John Foskett September 9, 2012 / 8:17 am

      Somewhat like that old saw about a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon and drought in Iowa, I’d say the RSVP invitation to Grant to come to Washington in early 1864. That was the game-changer, as it turns out.

      • Noma September 9, 2012 / 8:54 pm

        Definitely, your RSVP invitation wins!

  8. Jerry Desko September 10, 2012 / 12:47 am

    This was a tough one but the most important event of the year was when Grant laid siege to Petersburg. All else revolves around this.

    Both Lincoln and Grant agreed this was a very strategic move. It was however executed poorly but its hold strengthen over time.

    This stalemate was a confirmation to both sides that this phase of the conflict was a true war of attrition.

    Grant was not threatened by any additional force of the CSA army of any consequence. He also had ample troops for staying the course knowing that the defensive line of the Confederates would eventually give way.

    Lee was now resigned to waiting. No more manpower was available to him and he was losing troops each day by desertion. A full scale escape of troops to the west would surely be detected by Grant so escape was really no option although it had to be tried.

    The siege of Petersburg and the surrounding area was truly the beginning of the end for the Army of Northern Virginia and a CSA government based in Richmond.

    • Noma September 10, 2012 / 1:09 pm

      “The stalemate was a confirmation to both sides that this phase of the conflict was a true war of attrition.”

      I’m interested in this statement. Probably not here, but many times this term is used by Confederate sympathizers (starting with Jubal Early?) to prove that Grant really had very little skill as a general, since he won by a “war of attrition.”

      On the opposing side, Union sympathizers seem to want to prove that it was not a “war of attrition.”

      What I could never understand is how that logic works. A similar thing is Vicksburg. Victory was won because Grant applied an extended siege.

      It doesn’t seem logical to me to criticize someone because they used siege tactics to win a conflict. Isn’t siege simply one of the strategies of war. It sounds like objecting to a victory because their side shot more people than our side did. No, shooting is just one of the tactics of war. It’s not unfair, and it’s not proof that a commander is unskilled.

      So, could someone explain this a little more to me? Didn’t Grant win Petersburg — in large part — by conducting a “war of attrition”? And, if he did, how would that prove that he was an inept or unskilled general?

      • Jerry Desko September 10, 2012 / 6:56 pm

        The use of a war of attrition does not declare that any commander is inadequate. It only affirms that if things are kept as they are, one side has all the manpower of resources to eventually win against the other because of the other’s loses.

        Grant used his position and manpower to contain the enemy until they would fight or use flight. They fled but were eventually overwhelmed by the Union forces. In using this technique Grant minimized his casualties as he and Lincoln agreed to do. The is no shame or mark of disgrace to use such a strategy. In attrition one side is weakened by their dwindling numbers and other resources.

        As I said before, the CSA forces were losing men daily to sickness and desertion and they had no way to replace the men. The CSA was also extremely short of foodstuffs. The Union had untapped resources for manpower and food.

  9. tonygunter September 10, 2012 / 7:53 am

    Grant being raised to Lieutenant General seems the obvious choice. I think Jeff Davis replacing Johnston with Hood deserves a mention. It reveals the desperation of the Confederate position, the Confederate government having been forced to withdraw into Richmond / Petersburg by Grant and a prime lifeline to the rest of the Confederacy threatened by Sherman.

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