Powhatan Civil War Round Table
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David Ruth - No Turning Back:

A Retrospective Examination of the 1864 Overland Campaign

The PCWRT says farewell to 2018 on Thursday, December 20th with our annual Christmas dinner at the County Seat Restaurant. 

In March 1864, following his successes in the Mississippi region, General Ulysses S. Grant was called to the nation’s capital and promoted to Lieutenant General, giving him command of all Union Armies, answering only to Abraham Lincoln.

With Maj. Gen.George G. Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac, and Maj. Gen.William Tecumseh Sherman in command in the Western Theater, Grant andLincolndevised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions.  This was the first time the Union armies would have a coordinated offensive across a number of theaters.

Central to this strategy, The Overland Campaign was a series of battles fought inVirginiaduring May and June 1864,and the resulting onslaught would eventually bring about the end of the war.

This month we introduce historian David Ruth, co-author of “No Turning Back, A Guide to the Overland campaign.” 

A native of Pennsylvania, David grew up under the shadows of the Gettysburg Round Tops.  With a family totally immersed in history, particularly about the Civil War, it was preordained that he was going to absorb that interest as well.  And many summer trips to the battlefields with his father at an early age sealed the deal.

David first started working for the National Park Service in 1973 as a fifer in a Confederate camp at Chancellorsville where he also spent the next few summers honing his historian and tour guide skills.  In 1975 he graduated from Virginia Tech with a history degree in honors and had the privilege of working with Dr. James I. Robertson who served as his advisor for his honors thesis that explored the Battle of Salem Church.

With persistence and tenacity David and his wife moved from park to park to gain experience, and David was finally rewarded with a permanent NPS position in 1977 in Philadelphia.  After that assignment he was sent to Manassas Battlefield and then to Fort Sumter in 1981 where he served as both park historian and chief ranger.  In 1991, he relocated to Richmond where he initially served as chief of Interpretation, then Assistant Superintendent, and in 2008 was promoted to park Superintendent.  He retired from that position this past January with 44 years of government service.

During his career he had the opportunity to work on historical productions including “North and South”, “Glory,” and served as the on-camera commentator for Civil War Journal’s Fort Sumter episode.  He has written several book reviews, and in 2014 David and two of his colleagues published, “No Turning Back, A Guide to the Overland campaign.”  He is now in the research phase of a book that will examine the cavalry operations of the Overland Campaign leading to Phil Sheridan’s Richmond Raid and the mortal wounding of Jeb Stuart.  Publication is planned for next summer.  He is scoping out a future publication on the Blackford family of Virginia.

We hope you will join us!


The County Seat offers our members and guests a main course, or the soup and salad bar.  December’s main course will consist of tossed salad, roast pork, mashed potatoes, peas with pearl onions, and dessert.  Please specify your dining preference (main course or soup and salad bar) when you submit your pre-paid reservation, which is due the Tuesday prior to each meeting. This month reservations must be received by December 18th.


Thursday, January 17 2019 – Our speaker will be Bobby Wilcox.  Topic to be announced and more information about upcoming presentations in 2019 will soon follow.  We wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


If you have an interest in becoming more involved with the PCWRT, or have a special skill to offer, why not consider volunteering? New ideas and new people are the life-blood of any organization, and the PCWRT is no different. We need new volunteers with new ideas to move forward into our second decade. To get involved, please see one of our Leadership Committee members at our next meeting.


“A Merry Christmas to you dear wife. Since I cannot wish it you by word of mouth, I will by word of pen and paper. No doubt you are enjoying yourself finely to day with the abundance of good things which are so plenty and so cheap in the peaceful north.“A few extras would not go badly in this region to day but as they are not comestible we content ourselves with what we have and by tomorrow no doubt we shall feel as well as though we had stuffed ourselves full of roast turkey and plum pudding.”

~Hiram P. Roberts - Chaplain, Company E, 84th Illinois Volunteer Infantry~

December 19, 1863


See our website’s FAQ page for a list of our most frequently asked questions. Don’t see your question addressed there? E-mail us at PowhatanCWRT@gmail.com


Your Membership Dues for 2019 will soon be due. With no increase in price to PCWRT Membership, we hope you will encourage friends and neighbors to also join.  All dues must be received by March 31, 2019 to insure continuation of your membership

  • Individual Membership - $25.00
  • Family Membership    -    $35.00     

Membership includes 12 newsletters per year and entitles you to membership rates at our monthly dinner meetings. 

THIS MONTH IN THE CIVIL WAR 1864 - Courtesy History Learning Site

December 1, 1864 - The Union army commanded by John Schofield, entrenched itself in Nashville and dominated the Cumberland River.

December 2, 1864 – William T. Sherman was halfway to Savannah. His subordinates in Nashville were ordered by Washington to confront and defeat John B. Hood’s Army of the Tennessee. However, very poor weather hindered both armies.

December 8, 1864 - General Grant made it clear that he supported the President’s wish that Hood should be attacked immediately by Schofield’s men. Either that or he wanted Schofield replaced. The Union commander in Nashville was General Thomas, a subordinate of Schofield. He telegraphed Grant that his cavalry had no horses and that any attack not supported by the cavalry was doomed to failure.

December 9, 1864 - Appalling weather in Nashville made all forms of fighting nearly impossible. Roads had been reduced to quagmires.

December 10, 1864 - Sherman’s army arrived in Savannah.

December 12, 1864 - Thomas telegraphed Grant with the information that he would attack Hood as soon as the weather improved.

December 13, 1864 - In a further blow to the defenders of Savannah, Sherman’s men established a route to the sea that would allow the Union Navy to supply his army. Grant appointed Major-General John Logan to replace General Thomas in Nashville.

December 15, 1864 - Once the weather had cleared Thomas ordered an attack on Hood’s army at Nashville. The only thing that saved Hood was the shortened day. Other than failing to finish off Hood’s army, the attack was an overwhelming success with 1,000 men taken prisoner.

December 16, 1864 - Thomas conveyed the news to Grant. He followed up the attack with a further massive attack using all the men at his command – 50,000. Hood could only muster 30,000 men. The Army of the Tennessee put up a good defense but defeat was almost inevitable. 4,500 Confederate troops surrendered, 1,500 men were either killed or wounded. 59 out of 156 artillery guns were captured. Hood could only order a retreat for those who survived – a retreat that had to be executed in the dead of winter with minimal supplies.

December 18, 1864 - Savannah refused to surrender to Sherman.

December 19, 1864 - Such was the confidence of Sherman – and his numerical advantage – that he could afford to send troops to Grant to assist in the attack on Richmond.

December 20, 1864 - The Confederate force in Savannah left the city. 10,000 men managed to withdraw from the city but they were still facing in the field an army six times larger than them. Savannah fell to Sherman. The Confederates left behind 250 heavy artillery guns and 25,000 bales of cotton in the city.

December 21, 1864 - Sherman entered Savannah.

December 22, 1864 - Sherman telegraphed Lincoln the following: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah.”

December 24, 1864 - Union forces started an attack on Fort Fisher in North Carolina. This fort defended the only remaining port open to the Confederacy – Wilmington. The largest Union naval force of 60 warships gathered before the fort to blast it into submission. However, their task was not easy. The design of the fort and the inaccuracy of those bombarding the fort meant that many Union shells fired from the ships simply flew over the fort and into Cape Fear River.

December 25, 1864 - 6,000 Union troops landed to take Fort Fisher but the fort’s guns were still intact and kept them pinned down. A rumor that Confederate reinforcements were on their way convinced the commanders on the ground that they should withdraw.

December 26, 1864 - The Union troops at Fort Fisher were evacuated. Lincoln ordered an investigation as to what went wrong and why what should have been a relatively easy victory turned into a full-scale withdrawal.

December 30, 1864 - Lincoln proposed to remove General Ben Butler from the command of the Army of the James. It was Butler who commanded the abortive landing at Fort Fisher. Grant also had a very low opinion of Butler’s ability.

December 31, 1864 - Sherman’s army rested in Savannah in preparation for its advance north to support Grant.




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