April 1864 saw the American Civil War move into its fourth year. The improved weather meant that the month saw action on all the fronts. April 1864 witnessed another controversial incident in the war at Fort Pillow in Tennessee (April 12th).
April 2nd: The improving weather resulted in action throughout all of the theatre of war.
April 6th: The Constitutional Convention of Louisiana, meeting in New Orleans, adopted a new state constitution that abolished slavery.
April 8th: The Senate passed a joint resolution by 38 to 6 to abolish slavery. It also approved of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Union forces suffered a defeat at Sabine Cross Roads. They lost 113 killed, 581 wounded and 1541 missing or captured. The South suffered total losses of 1000 men.
April 9th: Grant sent orders to Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade’s army had to follow Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia wherever it went. Grant made it plain that the destruction of Lee’s army was his top priority. “Wherever Lee goes, there you will head also.”
In a follow-up to Sabine Cross Roads, Confederate troops attacked a Union force at Pleasant Bank. This was not a skirmish as both sides mustered 12,000 men. Both sides claimed a victory but ultimately it was the Confederates who were pushed back. The Union lost 150 dead, 844 wounded and 375 missing while the Confederates lost over 1,200 men.
April 11th: Union troops involved at Sabine Cross Roads and Pleasant Bank continue with their withdrawal from the Red River region.
A pro-Union state government was inaugurated in Little Rock, Arkansas.
April 12th: An attack by Confederate cavalry at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, became one of the most controversial incidents of the war. Fort Pillow was held by 557 Union troops, including 262 African-American troops. Confederate cavalry, commanded by Bedford Forrest, attacked and overwhelmed the fort. It was what happened next that caused controversy. Of the 557 defenders, 231 were killed and 100 wounded. A high percentage of the deaths were African-American soldiers. In the post-war Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War it was claimed by those who survived that former slaves were specifically picked out by Forrest’s men after the fort had surrendered – a claim he denied. Forrest claimed that the fort’s commander carried on fighting even after it was obvious that the fort would fall. However, even by the standards of the American Civil War, casualties were high.
April 16th: A report released by the Union government showed that 146,634 Confederate prisoners had been captured since the beginning of the war.
April 17th: General Grant refused anymore prisoner exchanges. From a military point of view this was an obvious move as it reduced even further potential Confederate military reserves. However, the decision also condemned many Union men held as prisoners to appalling conditions. The South could barely feed itself, let alone prisoners-of-war.
April 20th: A sea-based attack on Fort William, neat Plymouth, was a resounding success for the Confederates. Not built to withstand a sea attack, the fort quickly surrendered with the capture of 2,800 men. More important, 200 tons of anthracite coal was also taken. The victory, while of no great strategic importance, was a huge morale boost for the South. However, this also should the plight of the South – celebrating a victory that had little importance to the overall way the war was going.
April 22nd: Jefferson Davis sent out on order to Lieutenant General Polk that any captured African-American soldier who turned out to be an escaped slave had to be held until recovered by his owner.
April 26th: The loss of Fort William prompted Grant to pull out of Plymouth, North Carolina. In fact, Grant did not believe that the area had any strategic importance, so it was not worth defending.
April 27th: Grant issued his orders for a spring offensive. The Army of the Potomac was to attack the Army of Northern Virginia head on. The Army of the James was to attack Richmond from the South. For Grant a co-ordinated and cohesive attack on the South’s main fighting force was the start of the finish of the civil war. Grant believed that if his plan worked, the war would be over. He was not to know that on the same day Jefferson Davis sent Jacob Thompson to Canada to unofficially put out peace feelers for an end to the war.
April 30th: Davis sent out an order that any captured slave had to be returned to his owner.