By January 1865 many in the South knew that the American Civil War was lost, despite the upbeat stance of Jefferson Davis. The only thing in the South’s favour in January was the weather that continued to hinder the North.
January 3rd: Sherman readied his men to continue their advance north to challenge Lee.
January 4th: Union troops started their second assault on Fort Fisher; 8,000 men were involved.
January 5th: Both General Lee and Jefferson Davis continued to be upbeat about the South’s military situation. Many others in the Confederacy were a lot more pessimistic about the South’s chances. Lincoln gave James W Singleton a Presidential pass to get through Union lines to help facilitate a surrender.
January 11th: The Constitutional Convention of Missouri voted to abolish slavery in the state.
A party of 300 Confederate cavalry riding in very poor weather launched a surprise attack on Union positions in Beverley, West Virginia, and captured 600 Union troops.
January 12th: Jefferson Davis wrote in a letter to Lincoln that he willing to discuss an end to hostilities but only on the proviso that the South remained independent.
January 13th: The North started a major attack on Fort Fisher. The fort was all that protected the port of Wilmington – the only port that the South still had open that could trade with Europe. Troops were landed by the fort and the Union’s navy bombarded it from the sea.
January 14th: Union ships continued a non-stop bombardment of the fort, which received heavy damage. Guns in the fort had to be trained on both the approaching infantry on land and the ships out at sea. But all of the guns could not concentrated on one target alone.
January 15th: Fort Fisher fell to Union forces. The North lost a total of 1,341 men in the attack (226 killed, 1018 wounded and 57 missing). The South lost 500 men killed and wounded with over 2,000 taken prisoner. Wilmington was no longer able to operate as an overseas port and the South was effectively cut off with regards to external trade.
January 16th: Lincoln was made aware that Davis was willing to discuss peace based around the South’s independence. He immediately dismissed the idea.
January 17th: While in Savannah Sherman issued Field Order Number 15. As his successful army advanced in the South, it attracted many former slaves who followed it in the vanguard. Sherman’s order handed to them confiscated or abandoned land along the Georgia coast – a maximum of 40 acres per person. This move ensured that those former slaves who were near Sherman’s army were more than willing to help and support it. As the news of what Sherman had done spread, so did the hopes of former slaves still in the South.
January 19th: General Lee reluctantly accepted the title of commander-in-chief of the South’s Armies. Lee was undoubtedly a highly skilled general but he would have been aware that even a man of his abilities would not have the skill to stop the inevitable – a victory for the North. However a sense of duty compelled him to accept the promotion even if it was a poisoned chalice.
January 20th: Sherman’s army headed towards South Carolina. However, its advance was severely hampered by heavy rain that made roads all but unusable.
January 21st: Sherman’s army marched into South Carolina but faced no opposition from Confederate forces.
January 23rd: The South lost its ironclads ‘Virginia’ and ‘Richmond’. ‘Richmond’ ran aground on the James River while ‘Virginia’ was badly damaged by Union artillery in Fort Parsons.
January 24th: Grant agreed to an exchange of prisoners. He did not believe that it would make any difference to the campaign as he felt that the exchanged Southern prisoners would be less than keen to fight and the South was still experiencing major problems with desertion.
January 25th: Sherman continued his advance through South Carolina. All his men faced were skirmishes with Confederate troops. There appeared to be no sustained military attempt to stop his advance – or there was a realisation that any attempt was doomed to failure.
January 27th: Lee complained to the Confederate government in Richmond that his men were surviving on pitiable rations and that the major cause of desertion was the poor rations. On the same day he sent a letter to the Governor of South Carolina that “the Confederacy was safe" as long as the civilian population continued to give its support to the troops.
January 28th: Davis appointed senior Confederate politicians to hold informal talks with the North – Vice-President Stephens, President of the Senate, R Turner and former US Supreme Court judge John Campbell.