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5 Rousseau’s Raid, 1864 The bugles sounded “Forward.” —Capt. Thomas C. Williams, USA Winter 1864. Cold gripped the land and the Union vise was set, ready to tighten. Frigid northers barreled over the sere fields and leafless woods, plunging temperatures from the already ice-­ choked Ohio River to the south­ ern Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In north­ ern Virginia, the respective armies hunkered down in cozy log huts divided by the Rapidan River on the north and the Blue Ridge to the east. In the west­ ern theater, the Father of Waters flowed “unvexed to the sea,” and Union forces held everything north of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad between the Arkansas state line and Chattanooga. In northeast­ ern Ala­ bama, not far from Bridgeport, Yankee artilleryman Jenkins Jones registered the weather in his diary. “The new year came in very cold with a little snow,” he wrote, “the first of the season. Ground frozen several inches in depth.” Jones and his comrades coped by chunking fence rails onto blazing fires, sending showers of sparks skyward, and cushioning their bedding with piles of dry leaves. They were hardy young men, inured to harsher temperatures at home, but they took solace when the cold fronts passed and the air slowly warmed. After the New Year’s Day freeze, they endured periods of heavy rain, mist, and overcast skies but then delighted in “a soft sunny day.” Smiling skies buoyed their faith and optimism.1 Rebel Alabamians were less cheered. Augusta Jane Evans’s new novel, Macaria ; or, Altars of Sacrifice rolled off presses North and South (the latter edition with wallpaper-­ covered endboards and rough wrapping paper pages), as an exhortation to persevere, but pub­ lic officials, military men, and ordi- Rousseau’s Raid, 1864 101 nary citizens from the Tennessee River south to Mobile Bay felt vulnerable, and they worried about what might happen next. Even as white flakes dusted Jones’s tent and Huntsville’s rooftops, four politicians penned a letter to Confederate secretary of war James A. Seddon “relative to the present condition of North Ala­ bama.” Noting that the Federals were in force everywhere north of the Tennessee, the correspondents continued, “A glance at the map of the country will satisfy that if the raiding parties of the enemy be permitted to cross the river there is no natural barrier to prevent him from sweeping as low down the country as the Ala­ bama River, penetrating that region of the State in which are located the mining and manufacturing establishments.” They begged that to protect against “such calamities as would result from the incursions of the enemy,” General Roddey be reinforced by five companies of Alabamians then under General Forrest. They further warned that should the enemy get across the river “without meeting serious opposition,” Unionists “in the mountain regions” would be emboldened. Likewise, on the coast, despite months of tireless preparations, Confederate officers believed Mobile Bay faced imminent attack and that their vari­ ous forts and small naval squadron were as yet too weak. Dissatisfied with the city defenses, Scheliha started construction on a third line of entrenchments, and Admiral Buchanan candidly informed Evans that he “had not more than half” the number of men he needed for his gunboats.2 Their fears were well-­ founded. Studying the overall strategic situation after Vicksburg, General Grant wanted to immediately strike Mobile. “Having that as a base of operations,” he later explained in his memoirs, “troops could have been thrown into the interior to operate against General Bragg’s army. This would necessarily have compelled Bragg to detach in order to meet this fire in his rear. If he had not done this the troops from Mobile could have inflicted inestimable damage upon much of the country from which his army and Lee’s were yet receiving their supplies.” Grant was overruled that time, but by February another opportunity of at least putting some extra fear into south Alabamians presented itself. General Sherman was to launch a land attack across Mississippi from Vicksburg all the way to Meridian, which would cripple three criti­ cal railroads. From there he could either strike farther east for Demopolis, Selma, and Montgomery, head down the Mobile and Ohio’s tracks for the Port City, or fall back on the Mississippi River. In order to di- 102 Chapter 5 vert Rebel troops during Sherman’s advance, Farragut was to make a strong demonstration against Mobile Bay. It was never meant to be...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780817391423
Related ISBN
9780817319601
MARC Record
OCLC
998800361
Pages
289
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-09
Language
English
Open Access
No
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