This Week in the Civil War: May 13-19, 1863

Wednesday, May 13.  In Mississippi, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals advanced on the state capital of Jackson, which was defended by Confederates under General Joseph E. Johnston. Grant’s forces now stood between Johnston at Jackson and Confederate General John C. Pemberton, commanding Confederates at Vicksburg.   North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis expressing concern about desertion in the Confederate army; Vance attributed the high desertion rate to homesickness, fatigue, lack of furloughs, and inability to enter regiments of their choice. Skirmishing occurred in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Missouri.

Thursday, May 14.  In Louisiana, the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson on the west bank of the Mississippi River was depleted as men were transfered to aid Vicksburg. General Nathaniel Banks’s 24,000-man Federal Army of the Gulf advanced to capture the fort from the south.

In Mississippi, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals captured the state capital of Jackson. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston withdrew his outnumbered forces, along with vital supplies, to the north.

President Abraham Lincoln wrote to General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, that “some of your corps and Division commanders are giving you their entire confidence.” Hooker’s subordinates had lobbied the administration to remove him from command, but Lincoln feared the political implications of a quick removal. In private, Lincoln agreed with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that Hooker should be removed before another major battle occurred, but Lincoln secretly hoped that Hooker would resign.

Friday, May 15.  In Mississippi, Grant’s Federals converged on Edwards’ Station, east of the vital Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg. Federals under General William T. Sherman remained in Jackson to destroy supplies. General John C. Pemberton, commanding Confederates around Vicksburg, decided it was impossible to link with Joseph Johnston.

Skirmishing occurred in Arkansas, Missouri, and Virginia.

Saturday, May 16.  In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals turned west from Jackson to attack Vicksburg from the rear. The Federals confronted John C. Pemberton’s Confederates at Champion’s Hill, about halfway between Jackson and Vicksburg, and the outnumbered Confederates withdrew west after launching a furious counterattack that was repulsed just before reaching Grant’s headquarters.

Democrats and even some Republicans protested the conviction of Clement Vallandigham. Many were shocked that a citizen could be thrown into a military prison for simply exercising his constitutional right of free speech. New York Governor Horatio Seymour said, “(This arrest) is cowardly, brutal, infamous. It is not merely a step toward Revolution, it is revolution… our liberties are overthrown.”

Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, western Virginia, Virginia, and Louisiana.

Sunday, May 17.  In Mississippi, John C. Pemberton attempted to make one more stand against Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals by establishing defenses at Big Black River. However, the Confederates were overwhelmed once more, and they withdrew to previously prepared defenses on the outskirts of Vicksburg.

In Louisiana, Nathaniel Banks’s Federals converged on Port Hudson. Skirmishing occurred in Mississippi, Virginia, and Tennessee.

Monday, May 18.  In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals crossed the Big Black River and converged on Vicksburg. Joseph E. Johnston advised John C. Pemberton to abandon the city, but Pemberton decided to stay. President Jefferson Davis called for civilians and militia to join Johnston to help liberate Pemberton’s men trapped in Vicksburg.

In Great Britain, debates in the House of Lords led to demands that Britain defend its shipowners from U.S. prize ships. Skirmishing occurred in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and western Virginia.

Tuesday, May 19.  In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant ordered a general assault outside Vicksburg, but the Confederate defenders were stronger than he had anticipated and the attack was repulsed.

In response to protests against the arrest of Clement Vallandigham, President Lincoln directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to commute his two-year prison sentence and banish the former congressman to the Confederacy. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Missouri.

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

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