Primary Source: Richmond Daily Dispatch on August 30, 1864

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

By 1864, the Confederacy was nearing a state of collapse. Not only had the Union inflicted heavy losses in major conflicts like Gettysburg and Antietam, but the Confederate economy and standing of living had nearly bottomed out.

The Civil War in 1864

Historians usually agree that the turning point of the Civil War came in 1863 with the Battle of Gettysburg. A year later, it became clear that the Confederacy faced tremendous challenges if it was to survive the Civil War, let alone win it. Confederate President Jefferson Davis had adopted a strategy of waiting the foe out, believing that the North would lose its taste for a prolonged war and offer terms for negotiation; by 1864 it had become clear that this strategy had failed: the Union Army advanced into Virginia and laid siege to Richmond, the Confederate capital, in June. The Confederate Army was undersized, poorly equipped, and sometimes on the verge of starvation. There were only a few success stories, like General Nathan Bedford Forrest's campaigns in the Western Confederate states that limited the Union advance.

The picture in the North was better, but still grim. Lincoln faced a re-election campaign and, in an effort to demonstrate leadership and success, ordered his generals to exact a greater toll from the Confederacy, leading to offensive thrusts like Sherman's infamous 'March to the Sea'; the brutality showed by Sherman and his soldiers remains a contentious issue to some white Southerners today, 150 years after the fact. Union generals, furthermore, realized that the easiest way to defeat the Confederacy would be to commit their much-higher numbers to conflicts of attrition, wearing down the Confederates because they could not replace their losses as easily as the Union could.

The Richmond Daily Dispatch was one of the most important newspapers of the Civil War because Richmond was the capital city of the Confederacy. They had better access to political and military news due to their connections with the Confederate government. Understandably, their audience and their tone was very pro-Confederate and very anti-Union.

Let's take a look at the text from that newspaper now.

Text of Richmond Daily Dispatch on August 20th, 1864

The War News.

Since the memorable battle at Reams a station, on Thursday last, there has been no fighting on the lines in front of Petersburg. The enemy, however, commenced shelling the city heavily yesterday morning, and several houses were struck. It is in this barbarous practice that Grant finds solace for his grief over his late defeat; but the army that confronts him stands as firm as a rock, and Petersburg is as defiant as ever.

In the enemy's several attempts to cut and hold the Weldon railroad he has lost not less than fifteen thousand men. Nine thousand prisoners have been taken, and his killed and wounded, at a low estimate, will reach six thousand. Thus it will be seen, that while the holding of this line of communication is somewhat annoying to us, it is exceedingly expensive amusement to the enemy.

Again, in the early engagements before Petersburg Grant lost ten thousand men, according to the admission of war journals at the North. At the explosion of the mine, we have the same authority for stating that he sustained a loss of five thousand, which, added to the above, makes his aggregate loss during the short siege of Petersburg thirty thousand. Nor does this include the loss in Butler's department, or in the engagements on the north side of the James river.

If the abolition journals of the North, instead of publishing lying bulletins of the favorable progress of the siege, were to lay before their readers such undeniable facts as the foregoing, the people might well stand appalled, and they would soon be as clamorous for peace as they have ever been for pushing on the war.

The enemy's works at Reams' captured by our troops on Thursday, were very strong, and constructed with much ingenuity and skill. They were built of logs, fence rails and earth, extended on both sides of the railroad, and were protected on all sides, and as they thought, both in front and rear. They are now in our possession, and the Yankees have made no attempt to recapture them.

Among the prisoners captured on Thursday are about eighty commissioned officers, including the following: Lieutenant-Colonel T. A. Walker, Assistant Adjutant-General; Major John W. Beattic, One Hundred and Sixty-fourth New York; Major John W. Byron, Eighty-eighth New York; Major John Byrne, One Hundred and Fifty fifth New York; Major Frank Williamson, Fourth New York Heavy Artillery. No officers of higher rank are among the number, though it was currently reported that a brigadier-general had fallen into our hands.

Another lot of Yankee prisoners, among them between sixty and seventy wounded, were brought to this city yesterday from Petersburg. One died on the passage.

The rumor that the enemy had landed in force at the White House, on the Pamunkey river, is without foundation. There might have been a small party in the vicinity on Saturday morning, though this is doubtful. An official dispatch, received on Sunday evening, states that there was no enemy there at that time.

The Northern Border.

We are still without later intelligence from Early's command than that furnished by Northern papers of the 27th, and that is of a very unreliable nature. There had been some skirmishing in the neighborhood of Leetown, thirty miles west of Harper's Ferry, in which, as we infer from the admissions of the enemy, the advantage remained with the Confederates. Although a report of a victory over the Yankees is not confirmed, it is evident from the Yankee accounts that something had taken place which the military authorities desired to suppress. A dispatch, concerning operations on Sheridan's line, sent from Washington to Baltimore, was smothered by the press censor in the last-named city. It is not probable, however, that any general engagement has taken place; otherwise, the fact would have been communicated to the authorities here.

The position of affairs in Georgia.

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