After giving the Hawkins Boys the month of January off, I thought it was time to catch up with the men from Hawkins County and see what was happening in their winter camp in Dalton, Georgia, in 1864.
Spirits in the Army of Tennessee had improved greatly since Gen. Joe Johnston had assumed command. Furloughs had been granted, food distribution had improved, and even a small supply of Whitworth rifles made it through the Yankee blockade. The Whitworth was reported to be the most accurate long-range rifle in the world and was highly prized by the soldiers lucky enough to be issued one.
Morale was also improving with the Hawkins Boys, thanks to the return from the hospital of comrades wounded in battle such as Allen Christian. Christian had been seriously wounded four times in 1863, the last time at Missionary Ridge, yet he and others returned, bringing the numbers of the 19th Tennessee close to half-strength.
While things were quiet, it doesn’t mean the men didn’t see any fighting. There was one large battle that took place in March. Nobody remembers if it was someone from the 19th Tennessee or the other side that fired the first shot on that snowy day. But it evolved into one of the most unique battles of the war.
19th Tennessee regimental musician and historian William Worsham remembered, “During the night of March 21, snow fell to the depth of four or five inches. The next day the Old Nineteenth and the regiment of Jackson’s brigade that lay close along the side of our regiment began snowballing.”
“At first not more than a dozen began, then one by one joined, then they fell in by the score and soon each regiment was in line one against the other,” said Worsham. “Soon the two brigades were out, and finally the greater part of the two divisions, Cheatham’s and Walker’s, were engaged in one of the biggest snowballing of the world’s history. Generals, Colonels and company officers were engaged. Regular military maneuvers were observed, two lines of battle, more than a mile long, lasting three and a half or four hours. There were about five thousand engaged in it.”
The snowball battle was a good sign spirits were high and Gen. Johnston’s efforts to rebuild the army were beginning to pay off. Fortunately, he had not fought a battle in three months, giving him time to accomplish his task.
On the other side, Gen. U.S. Grant in Chattanooga was not happy. He did not want to give the Rebels time to regroup and had attempted to go on the offensive the first of February, sending Gen. William T. Sherman on a campaign through Mississippi while having Gen. George H. Thomas move against Dalton, but difficulties in putting the armies into motion frustrated his efforts.
Gen. Grant also had the problem of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, whose forces were wintering in East Tennessee near the homes of many of the Hawkins Boys.
“I directed Thomas to send at least ten-thousand men, besides Stanley’s division which was already to the east, into East Tennessee and notified John M. Schofield, who was now in command in East Tennessee, of this movement of troops into his department,” said Gen. Grant. “My object was to drive Longstreet out of East Tennessee as a part of the preparations for my spring campaign.”
“About this time General Foster advised me that he thought it would be a good thing to keep Longstreet just where he was; that he was perfectly quiet in East Tennessee, and if he was forced to leave there his whole well-equipped army would be free to go to any place where it could effect the most for their cause,” noted Grant. “I thought the advice was good, and, adopting that view, countermanded the orders for pursuit of Longstreet.”
So Gen. Longstreet would remain in East Tennessee until he rejoined Gen. Robert E. Lee in the spring. But Gen. Grant would be moving on.
Grant was still attempting to go on the offensive the beginning of March when good news of Gen. Sherman’s Mississippi campaign arrived.
“On the second of March I learned of Sherman’s success, which eased my mind very much” said Grant. “The next day, the third, I was ordered to Washington.”
On March 9, Gen. Grant was standing in the Executive Mansion by President Abraham Lincoln in the presence of the Cabinet, Grant’s eldest son, and members of Grant’s staff who had made the trip and a few others.
President Lincoln stepped forward and said, “General Grant, the nation’s appreciation of what you have done, and its reliance upon you for what remains to be done in the existing great struggle, are now presented with the commission constituting you lieutenant-general in the Army of the United States. With this high honor, devolves upon you, also, a corresponding responsibility. As the country herein trusts you, so, under God, it will sustain you. I scarcely need to add, that, with what I here speak for the nation, goes my own hearty personal concurrence.”
Gen. Grant replied, “Mr. President, I accept the commission, with gratitude for the high honor conferred. With the aid of the noble armies that have fought in so many fields for our common country it will be my earnest endeavor not to disappoint your expectations. I feel the full weight of the responsibilities now devolving on me; and I know that if they are met, it will be due to those armies, and above all, to the favor of that Providence which leads both nations and men.”
The man that President Lincoln could not spare because “he fights” now had command of all the Union armies and the manner of fighting the war was about to change.