This Week in the Civil War: Jan 21-27, 1863

Wednesday, January 21.  In northern Virginia, General Ambrose Burnside’s Federal Army of the Potomac remained paralyzed by the driving winter rains that turned roads into impassable mud and slime. In Texas, two Federal blockaders were captured by Confederate steamers at Sabine Pass.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis dispatched General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Western Department, to General Braxton Bragg’s headquarters at Tullahoma, Tennessee to investigate criticism that Bragg had unnecessarily retreated from the Battle of Stone’s River. Davis was concerned that Bragg’s subordinates lacked confidence in their commander.

President Abraham Lincoln endorsed a letter from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to General Ulysses S. Grant explaining why Grant had been ordered to revoke his General Order No. 11. The controversial order had expelled all Jews from Grant’s military department. Halleck explained that Lincoln did not object to expelling “traitors and Jew peddlers,” but “as it in terms proscribed an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deemed it necessary to revoke it.” The expulsion order was never enforced.

Lincoln officially cashiered General Fitz John Porter from the U.S. Army and forever disqualified him from holding any government office. This came after a January 10 court-martial convicted Porter of disobeying orders during the Battle of Second Bull Run the previous August. The ruling was reversed in 1879, and Porter was restored to the rank of colonel in 1886.

Thursday, January 22.  In northern Virginia, Ambrose Burnside’s Federals were stalled in mud, unable to cross the Rappahannock and attack General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Trains and wagons were stuck, horses and mules were dying, and the Federals were demoralized.

Ulysses S. Grant assumed command of all Federal troops in Arkansas. Within this, President Lincoln ordered General John McClernand’s Army of the Mississippi to return from its unauthorized expedition to Fort Hindman and become a corps under Grant’s command. This eventually caused resentment between the two generals, though Lincoln asked McClernand “for my sake, & for the country’s sake, you give your whole attention to the better work.” Grant renewed efforts to cut a canal across “Swampy Toe” opposite Vicksburg that would move boats and men around the fortress city.

Friday, January 23.  In northern Virginia, severe storms continued as Ambrose Burnside’s Federals pulled back to their winter quarters. The “mud march” ended in miserable failure. Many of Burnside’s subordinates criticized his leadership, but his harshest critic was Joseph Hooker, who called Burnside incompetent and the Lincoln administration feeble. Burnside responded by issuing General Order No. 8, charging Hooker with “unjust and unnecessary criticisms… endeavored to create distrust in the minds of officers… (including) reports and statements which were calculated to create incorrect impressions…” Burnside asked permission from President Lincoln to remove William B. Franklin, W.F. Smith, and others from the army, and to remove Hooker from the service entirely. Burnside also requested a personal meeting with the president.

Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, Arkansas, and South Carolina. Lincoln began preparing orders to return General Benjamin Butler to New Orleans, replacing General Nathaniel Banks. The orders were never carried out.

Saturday, January 24.  In northern Virginia, the Federal Army of the Potomac settled back into its gloomy winter quarters across from Fredericksburg while dissension among the ranks increased. President Lincoln conferred with General-in-Chief Halleck on the military situation and awaited Ambrose Burnside’s arrival. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Virginia.

Sunday, January 25.  President Lincoln conferred with General Burnside this morning, who reiterated his demand to remove several generals from his command, otherwise he would resign. Later this morning, Lincoln resolved the dilemma by removing Generals Edwin V. Sumner and William B. Franklin from command. He also accepted Burnside’s resignation and replaced him with Joseph Hooker.

Burnside had reluctantly accepted command of the Army of the Potomac in the first place, and his ineptitude, first at Fredericksburg and then during the “mud march,” sealed his fate. The army was neither surprised nor disappointed by his removal. However, many were surprised that Hooker had been chosen to command, considering Hooker’s insubordinate comments about his superiors. Lincoln explained that he needed a fighter, and unlike Burnside, Hooker wanted the post.

Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Mississippi. In Arkansas, John S. Marmaduke’s Confederates reached Batesville. The organization of the first regiment of Federal Negro South Carolina soldiers was completed on the Carolina coast.

Monday, January 26.  General Joseph Hooker assumed command of the Federal Army of the Potomac. In a letter, President Lincoln explained why he had been chosen to lead: “I have heard… of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.”

Skirmishing occurred in Florida, Arkansas, and Virginia. The Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Alabama seized a Federal vessel off Santo Domingo (the present-day Dominican Republic).

Tuesday, January 27.  In Georgia, Federal naval forces led by U.S.S. Montauk attacked Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River south of Savannah. The squadron withdrew after several hours of bombardment. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.

The proprietor of the Philadelphia Journal, A.D. Boileau, was arrested and brought to Washington to face charges for allegedly printing anti-Union material. President Davis complimented Georgia Governor Joseph Brown for reducing cotton cultivation and urging produce farming: “The possibility of a short supply of provisions presents the greatest danger to a successful prosecution of the war.”

Primary source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)

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