Lt. George E. Dixon Camp 1962
Sons of Confederate Veterans
February of 1864 marked the only Leap Year ever observed in the Confederate States of America, but it proved a good one, particularly during the transition from February to March. Confederate forces managed to repel yet another Yankee attempt to take Richmond and, other than the initiation of a major campaign in Louisiana, Northern leadership otherwise concentrated on reorganization.
The first event initiated on 29 February, when a Union cavalry commander, Maj Gen Hugh Judson Kirkpatrick (known as “Kill Cavalry” by his troops) started on the road to Richmond with 4000 men, flanked by a brigade commanded by Col Ulric Dahlgren. One reference stated Kilpatrick was “…aggressive, impulsive;” the same source referred to Dahlgren as having “…little experience and even less judgment.” Besides taking Richmond, they intended to release all of the Union prisoners held at Libby Prison and Belle Isle.
Dahlgren’s troopers? Stalled along the swollen James River. With his superior retreating towards Tidewater, Dahlgren was fully exposed and received the full attention of the Southerners in the area, including Wade Hampton. The northerners managed to fight their way across the Mattaponi River but on the other side a Southern ambush led by Maj Gen Fitzhugh Lee killed Col Dahlgren and most of his men, leaving 100 to go into POW status. Overall, the disastrous Kilpatrick campaign resulted in over 320 KIA and 1000 taken prisoner; the general subsequently found himself demoted and transferred out of the eastern theater, to a cavalry division command in the Army of the Cumberland.
Papers found on Dahlgren by a member of the Richmond Home Guards caused a major uproar in the south. The papers cited official orders to burn Richmond following its (planned) capture, as well as the murder of President Jefferson Davis and his entire cabinet. Needless to say, this revelation didn’t play too well with the Southern government, populace and newspapers; Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon immediately recommended the hanging of Union prisoners around the south. Gen Robert E. Lee advised restraint and contacted his counterpart, Maj Gen George Gordon Meade, Commander, Army of the Potomac. Meade stated no one in the US government or the Army had authorized such orders and after a while, the controversy died down…fortunately, with no reprisals between the two armies.
On 9 March, newly promoted Lt Gen Ulysses S. Grant assumed the duties of General-in-Chief of the US Army. His predecessor – and former boss – Maj Gen Henry Wager Halleck quietly relocated to Washington, DC, and assumed the duties of Army Chief of Staff, leaving Grant to run the Union’s field campaigns. On the 10th, Grant met with General Meade concerning plans for the remainder of 1864. A week later, Maj Gen William T. Sherman turned over command of the Army of the Tennessee to one of his former corps commanders, Maj Gen James B. McPherson; in turn, Sherman became Commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, which included the Departments of the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Cumberland and the Arkansas.
Thus, Sherman assumed responsibility for the western theater of the war…which included the Red River region of Louisiana and east Texas. There, on 12 March, Maj Gen Nathaniel P. Banks (one of the war’s worst “political generals,” who received the nickname of “Commissary Banks” for his ineptness against Stonewall Jackson in the first Shenandoah campaign) initiated his Red River Campaign, originally designed by General Halleck while he still commanded all Unioni field forces. Within short order, the Yankees captured Fort De Russy and took Alexandria, Louisiana. The month ended with Union troops under Maj Gen Frederick Steele capturing Arkadelphia, Arkansas, as part of the planned seizure of Shreveport from north and south.
While Banks’ initial efforts in the southwest had proven successful, his campaign was about to run into a buzzsaw, the outcome of which would benefit the south. Unfortunately for the Confederacy, with spring coming on, the reorganization of the remaining Union forces under Grant and, by extension, Sherman, would soon have a highly negative impact on the Confederacy.
Hold high the flag!