It has been three months since I last wrote about the progress of the war. During the autumn months of 1864, many battles and smaller engagements were fought in which Federal forces were more often victorious. The tide of war had indeed shifted against the South and Confederate commanders, with the exception of Gen. Lee, employed strategies that were more desperate and risky.
In Georgia, after the fall of Atlanta, Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood regrouped what remained of his beaten army and marched to the west and north around Gen. William T. Sherman’s Federal forces. Hood pounced on Sherman’s main supply line, the railroad from Chattanooga to Atlanta. On October 5th, A small Federal garrison at Allatoona Pass held fast despite taking heavy casualties. Hood was forced to withdraw. Sherman was faced with a difficult choice—either use his veteran army to protect the railroad all the way back to Nashville or abandon the railroad and allow the army to live off the land. Sherman proposed this strategy to Gen. Grant. On November 15th Sherman’s notorious “March to the Sea” began while Hood moved west across northern Alabama in preparation for his daring and ill-fated invasion of Tennessee.
Rear Admiral David D. Porter, who commanded the Mississippi River Squadron during the Vicksburg campaign was given command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron on October 12th. Almost immediately he began laying plans to take Fort Fisher that guarded the Confederacy’s only major port on the eastern seaboard.
In the Shenandoah Valley, on October 19th, after three months of back and forth fighting, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early launched an early morning attack against Gen. Philip Sheridan’s much larger army that was dug in along Cedar Creek south of Winchester, VA. The attack was initially successful, but the Federals rallied, and Sheridan, who arrived late on the field of battle, led his troops to victory. Early’s force ceased to be a threat in the valley, and Sheridan would soon be called to serve as a corps commander at Petersburg.
At the end of August, Confederate Gen. Sterling Price started his 12,000-man army northward from Arkansas. His goal was to take Missouri back for the Confederacy, along with the vital city of St. Louis. Price accomplished neither objective. Although he did win several engagements over inferior Federal forces, Union Gen. Samuel Curtis brought several commands together a few miles southeast of Kansas City. At Westport on October 23rd, in what became known as “The Gettysburg of the West,” Price’s army was soundly defeated and would not present a threat for the remainder of the war.
While the stalemate of Petersburg entered its fifth month, forces in blue were gaining victories throughout the theater of war. Rebel forces that had been viable and strong were so decimated that many of the Federal troops that had been used to defeat them would be used in Virginia or elsewhere to finally bring an end to conflict.