Ewell's attempt at taking back the South Carolina state capital was based upon a couple of assumptions. One was that Banks' men, now that they were cut off from replacements, reinforcements and supply would be easier pickings. The second, and in this one "Old Baldy" was to be disappointed, was that he could catch the yankees unawares. They had been occupying Columbia since May without any interference from Ewell down at Charleston and their commander might now be distracted by developments in his rear. The flaw in the assumption of surprise was that, ever since Lincoln's emancipation proclamation two years earlier, it had become increasingly hard for any movement of Confederate forces to go unreported to their opponents. Word along the local slave population would move ahead of any marching rebel force like an invisible bow wave and seemed to invariably reach Union ears ahead of the butternut troops themselves.
The Battle of Columbia: July 20th1864
Ewell's Corps - GOC Mj. Gen. R Ewell
28,000 men, 80 guns
Bolden's Brigade 14
McDaniel's Brigade 14
Lindsay's Brigade 14
Greenwood's Brigade 14
Goldbridge's Brigade 14
Snider's Brigade 14
Turner's Brigade 14
Jones' Brigade 14
Earps' Brigade 14
Mannion's Brigade 14
Army of The Congaree - GOC : Mj. Gen. NP Banks
28,000 men, 80 guns
XXVIII Corps. - Mj Gen R Wilson
1st Division (Davis)
1st Brigade (McElroy) 10
2nd Brigade (Otto). 10
3rd Brigade (Stafford) 8
2nd Division (Brannard)
1st Brigade (Bush) 10
2nd Brigade (McDaniel) 10
3rd Brigade (Stevens) 8
3rd Division (St Paul)
1st Brigade (Nicols) 10
2nd Brigade (Trobriand) 10
3rd Brigade (Kendall) 8
XXIX Corps Mj Gen B Moore
1st Division (Burwell)
1st Brigade (Smith) 10
2nd Brigade (Capenter) 10
3rd Brigade (Hackett) 8
2nd Division (Williams)
1st Brigade (Wilton) 10
2nd Brigade (Morgan) 10
3rd Brigade (Markham) 8
The battle of Columbia was a Confederate victory but only a completely unsustainably pyrrhic one. After a day of battering at the Union line, Ewell's army was very near to collapse when a late-afternoon turning movement, made after the main attack in the center had failed, and the approaching exhaustion of the federals' supply of ammunition prompted Banks to withdraw.
The battlefield outside Columbia. The Union forces await the assault.
Jay's Division begins a flanking march designed to draw forward the federal reserves. It worked only too well and the Confederate division was badly mauled by day's end.
Preparations underway for the Confederate left to attack.
Jay's column winds its way forward.
Union troops of Moore's XXIX Corps awaiting the attack.
The butternut wave rolls forward.
Canalad's Division finally begins to lap around the Union right flank.
He was able to do so at leisure, the Confederates, having lost 4,800 men to his own 1,800, being all-but shattered. The Union columns fell back down the left bank of the Congaree River and ended the month by occupying Charleston on the coast. The slaughter at Columbia had been utterly unproductive other than in helping convince the northern public that any apparent progress in the conquest of the south would always be fleeting.
The dog days of August saw a determined and surprisingly successful attempt by Lincoln's increasingly beleaguered administration to contradict that view. On the second day of that month, Major General Ambrose E Burnside led a force of 20,000 untested troops across the Ohio River and into the southern portion of the pro-Union section of Virginia. In a four week campaign Burnside was able to secure all of his assigned objectives against minimal resistance and double the size of the area of western Virginia that was solidly under federal control.
It was in the face of this news that the 1864 Democratic national convention opened in Chicago Illinois on August 29th. Two days later, the delegates there nominated congressman Alexander Long of Ohio as their candidate for President. In his acceptance speech Long did not claim that the war could not or even that it would not be won, thereby, at a stroke preemptively dismissing any charge of defeatism that his opponents might make. Indeed, the nominee stated plainly that, militarily, the outcome was not in doubt. Union material superiority, given enough time and the sacrifice of enough lives, must surely triumph he said but then what? Long answered his own question grimly. The Union, he proclaimed, would be preserved but; "...bound in blood. The south will be unreconciled and the Federal government will have conquered only the ground under the boots of its soldiers".
The nomination of a freshman congressman for President might be outlandish enough but the nomination for Vice President seemed intended to make it less so by comparison. George B McClellan was a Major General in the Union Army but he was a thoroughly obscure one having spent the war to date as "Commander of The Department of The Ohio". This amounted to being in charge of the defense of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and what was to become West Virginia. When, soon after the outbreak of hostilities, it became clear that no rebel forces threatened any of that territory, the position largely devolved into an administrative command. In that role, McClellan had proved highly effective but he had not seen a single day's action in the war. What he had done, however was oversee the pacification of the northwestern corner of the Commonwealth of Virginia efficiently and almost entirely without incident. This had, in so small part, been attributable to his declaration in May 1861 that he had no intention in interfering in any way with the property of the local citizens. Implicitly, this included slaves. This had a calming effect on tensions within the civilian population and the discipline with which McClellan had a gift for instilling in the men under his command had led to a positively peacetime state of affairs in the region for which he was responsible.
Yet, the man was still only 37 when nominated. He could be viewed as a prodigy or an ingenue depending on circumstance and the predisposition of the audience. He was a gamble, an accumulator bet set atop the initial wager placed on Long at the head of the ticket.
Lincoln now at least knew who and what he was facing and set about creating an unstoppable military momentum to carry him to reelection and the north to final victory.
Sherman dispatched a column to retake Nashville without incident on September 1st, the rebel cavalry evacuating back east through Murfreesboro carrying with them as much in the way of plundered supplies as they could manage. This was to be followed with a drive on AS Johnston's Army of Tennessee aimed at the capture of Chattanooga and the forcing of Confederate forces out of their last foothold in Tennessee once and for all. However, it was to his most proven and reliably victorious commander that Lincoln turned to deliver the planned decisive blow. Throughout August and September, Grant's command in Mississippi was lavished with resupply and reinforcement. The Commander in Chief of The Western Theater created, out of the mass of new troops, a new Army of The Southwest. This he placed under his own direct command while Ord retained the leadership of his old Army of The Tennessee. Combined, this host, over 90,000 strong, would march north to Jackson, eject Forrsest and. his cavalry from the state capital for good and then turn east to finally crush Kirby Smith at Meridian and complete the conquest of Mississippi.