This Week in the Civil War: May 20-26, 1863

Wednesday, May 20.  Off North Carolina, two Confederate blockade-runners were captured near the Neuse Rive and Nassau. In Louisiana, General Nathaniel Banks’s Federal army began preparing to attack Port Hudson on the Mississippi River. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, and the Indian Territory.

Thursday, May 21.  In Mississippi, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered a Federal attack on General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate lines outside Vicksburg. Confederates destroyed their stores and navy yard at Yazoo City before they could be captured by an approaching Federal flotilla.

In Louisiana, a portion of Nathaniel Banks’s Federals advanced on Port Hudson from Baton Rouge, while Banks’s main army approached from Alexandria. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Friday, May 22.  In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals launched a second assault on Vicksburg, but they were again repulsed with heavy losses. Grant lost nearly 3,200 killed, wounded, or missing, while the Confederates lost less than 500. Grant then decided to lay siege to the city in the hopes of starving it into submission.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis wired General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma: “The vital issue of holding the Missi. at Vicksburg is dependent on the success of Genl. Johnston in an attack on the investing force. The intelligence from there is discouraging. Can you aid him?…”

In Washington, the War Department issued General Order No. 143, establishing the U.S. Bureau of Colored Troops to manage the enlistment and recruitment of blacks into the U.S. military. Since the war began, blacks had attempted to enlist but had been refused due to a 1792 Federal law prohibiting blacks from bearing arms for the U.S. army.

In Louisiana, Nathaniel Banks’s Federals continued approaching Port Hudson. In Virginia, General Alfred Pleasonton replaced General George Stoneman as commander of the cavalry corps in the Federal Army of the Potomac. The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society held a meeting in London and voiced strong support for the Union.

In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln greeted a group at the White House known as the “One-Legged Brigade.” He told the convalescing veterans that there was no need for a speech “as the men upon their crutches were orators; their very appearance spoke louder than tongues.” Skirmishing occurred in Louisiana and the Indian Territory.

Saturday, May 23.  In Louisiana, Nathaniel Banks’s Federals advanced on Port Hudson from Bayou Sara in a heavy storm. In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals began preparing to lay siege to Vicksburg.

In Washington, President Lincoln conferred with army and navy officials about the unsuccessful Federal attacks on Charleston, South Carolina. In Ohio, petitions circulating protesting the “arbitrary arrest, illegal trial, and inhuman imprisonment of Hon. C.L. Vallandigham” for allegedly making pro-Confederate statements.

Jefferson Davis wired General Joseph E. Johnston, who was unable to stop Grant at Vicksburg, that he was “hopeful of junction of your forces and defeat of the enemy.” Davis also wired John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg, “Sympathizing with you for the reverse sustained.” Skirmishing occurred in Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas.

Sunday, May 24.  In Louisiana, Nathaniel Banks’s Federals began converging on Port Hudson. General John A. Schofield replaced General Samuel R. Curtis as commander of the Federal Department of Missouri.

Jefferson Davis wired Joseph E. Johnston that he knew John C. Pemberton would hold Vicksburg, “but the disparity of numbers renders prolonged defence dangerous. I hope you will soon be able to break the investment, make a junction and carry in munitions.”

President Lincoln spent the day visiting hospitals in and around Washington. Skirmishing occurred in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Monday, May 25.  In Louisiana, Confederates defending Port Hudson on the Mississippi were unable to abandon the fort before Nathaniel Banks’s Federals began surrounding it. The fort commander, General Franklin Gardner, had been ordered by Western Theater commander Joseph E. Johnston to abandon Port Hudson, but Gardner did not receive the order until Banks had already trapped the Confederates in the fort.

Federal authorities in Tennessee turned over former Ohio Congressmen Clement L. Vallandigham to the Confederates. His prison sentence had been changed by President Lincoln to banishment to the Confederacy after his conviction of expressing alleged pro-Confederate sentiments. The Confederates quickly exiled Vallandigham to Canada.

Federals captured the Confederate steamers Starlight and Red Chief on the Mississippi. C.S.S. Alabama seized two prizes in raids off Bahia, Brazil. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Arkansas.

Tuesday, May 26.  In Louisiana, Nathaniel Banks’s Federals completed setting up siege operations at Port Hudson. Jefferson Davis wrote to General Robert E. Lee that “Pemberton is stoutly defending the entrenchments at Vicksburg, and Johnston has an army outside, which I suppose will be able to raise the siege, and combined with Pemberton’s forces may win a victory.”

Skirmishing occurred in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, 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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