This Week in the Civil War: July 1-7, 1863

Wednesday, July 1.  GettysburgIn Pennsylvania, the Battle of Gettysburg began between General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and General George G. Meade’s Federal Army of the Potomac. Fighting erupted when the Federal vanguard under General John Buford arrived at the town. As General Richard Ewell’s Confederates advanced from the northwest, Buford held his ground and called on the rest of the Federal army to hurry and support him.

Reinforcements gradually arrived on both sides, and the skirmish became a battle at several points outside Gettysburg. One of the Federals’ best corps commanders, General John Reynolds, was killed in action. The Federals slowly withdrew south of town to Cemetery Hill, where Robert E. Lee ordered Ewell to capture the position “if practicable.” Ewell decided not to attack, and a vital opportunity to seize the high ground and destroy the Federal army was lost. By day’s end, both sides had suffered terrible casualties, but Federal reinforcements were forming a nearly impregnable defense.

In Mississippi, the brutal Federal siege of Vicksburg was taking its toll on the Confederate troops and civilians in the city. Residents holed up in hillside caves to avoid artillery, and many were starving. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Theater, was unable to help the Confederates trapped in Vicksburg because General Ulysses S. Grant’s besieging Federal army was being constantly reinforced.

In Tennessee, General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland captured Tullahoma without a fight after a brilliant campaign of maneuver against General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. Because this campaign featured no major fighting, its success was overshadowed by Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Nevertheless, Bragg considered the loss of Tullahoma “a great disaster” as he withdrew to Chattanooga.

In Virginia, residents of Richmond were alarmed by a Federal expedition that came close to the capital city. In Missouri, a pro-Union state convention resolved to end slavery in the state by July 4, 1870. Skirmishing occurred in Kentucky and the Indian Territory.

Thursday, July 2.  The Battle of Gettysburg continued, as Robert E. Lee ordered General James Longstreet to attack the Federal left at Cemetery Ridge and the Round Tops, while Richard Ewell attacked the Federal right at Culp’s and Cemetery Hills. The attacks were ineffective until Federals under General Daniel Sickles blundered by moving forward into a wheat field and creating a gap in the line. The Confederates captured several key points but were repulsed at Little Round Top by Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain’s 20th Maine. The second day of fighting ended in brutal stalemate. That night, George G. Meade conferred with subordinates and decided to hold his ground. He hurried Federal reinforcements to the line’s center at Cemetery Ridge, guessing that since Lee had attacked both Federal flanks, he would try the center next.

In Mississippi, John C. Pemberton conferred with his commanders and agreed that Vicksburg must be surrendered to save the residents from starving. Pemberton contacted Ulysses S. Grant to discuss possible surrender terms, and a meeting between the two commanders was scheduled for tomorrow.

In Richmond, Confederate President Jefferson Davis authorized Vice President Alexander Stephens to “proceed as a military commissioner under flag of truce to Washington.” Stephens was to officially negotiate prisoner exchange, but he was also empowered to discuss a possible end to the war.

In Kentucky, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan began a raid to ease Federal pressure on Tennessee. General Braxton Bragg had approved Morgan’s Kentucky raid, but Bragg had not been informed that Morgan also planned to cross the Ohio River and invade the North. Skirmishing occurred in Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Virginia.

Friday, July 3.  The Battle of Gettysburg concluded. As George G. Meade had guessed, Robert E. Lee planned to attack the Federal center at Cemetery Ridge and split the line in two. Lee overruled James Longstreet’s objections, confident his troops would succeed. After one of the largest artillery fights in American history, Longstreet ordered his three divisions to advance in what became known as “Pickett’s Charge,” named for General George Pickett, one of the division commanders.

The Confederates marched through artillery and rifle fire, making it to the ridge where fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued. In what was later called the “Confederate high-water mark,” the charge was unsuccessful and the Federals were victorious. Lee refused pleas from his troops to try another charge, instead preparing defenses for a Federal counterattack that never came. This was the most terrible battle ever fought in North America, as nearly 50,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing over three days of fighting.

In Mississippi, a tense meeting occurred between John C. Pemberton and Ulysses S. Grant over possible surrender terms for the Confederates besieged in Vicksburg. Grant initially insisted that all captured Confederate soldiers be sent North as prisoners of war. But then he relented and offered to parole them if they pledged not to take up arms again. Pemberton agreed.

In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates skirmished as they advanced on Columbia. In New Orleans, the Federal commander banned all public gatherings except for church services without written permission; no more than three people were allowed to congregate at one place in the streets; and a 9 p.m. curfew was enacted to prevent rebellion against the Federal occupation forces. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee.

Saturday, July 4.  John C. Pemberton formally surrendered Vicksburg to Ulysses S. Grant. This ended a Federal campaign that had lasted over a year; it left a once-proud Confederate stronghold in ruins with its residents starving and destitute. The remaining 29,000 Confederate soldiers marched out of Vicksburg at 10 a.m. and stacked their arms. Along with the men, the Federals also captured 172 cannon and 60,000 muskets. Grant’s Federals entered the city and began providing food to the starving civilians and soldiers.

The twin victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg sparked massive celebrations throughout the North, and 100-gun salutes were fired in most major cities. The fall of Vicksburg meant that the fall of Port Hudson was inevitable, thus opening the entire Mississippi River to Federal transport and commerce. This day marked the turning point of the war. From this point forward, the Confederacy could only rely on northern war weariness or foreign intervention for victory.

In Pennsylvania, Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia began returning to Virginia after its defeat at Gettysburg. President Lincoln announced “a great success to the cause of the Union” for the Army of the Potomac.

As the Confederate gunboat Torpedo carried Vice President Alexander Stephens down the James River to Hampton Roads, President Davis wrote to President Lincoln requesting that Stephens be allowed to negotiate with Federal authorities. However, having just won major victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Lincoln replied, “The request is inadmissible.”

In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates were temporarily repulsed at Tebb’s Bend on the Green River. In Arkansas, Confederates attacked Helena in a belated attempt to relieve Federal pressure on Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Skirmishing occurred in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Missouri, and the New Mexico Territory.

Sunday, July 5.  Robert E. Lee’s Confederates moved toward Hagerstown, Maryland. George G. Meade’s Federals did not pursue, but there were minor cavalry skirmishes in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

In Mississippi, Federals under General William T. Sherman began moving toward the state capital at Jackson to confront the remaining Confederates in the state under General Joseph E. Johnston. Meanwhile, Ulysses S. Grant began paroling the captured Confederates at Vicksburg. In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates captured Lebanon and Bardstown. Skirmishing occurred in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Monday, July 6.  Robert E. Lee’s Confederates continued withdrawing to Virginia, and George G. Meade’s Federals attempted no major pursuit. In Mississippi, William T. Sherman’s Federals continued advancing toward Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates at Jackson. In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates captured Garnettsville as they continued moving north toward the Ohio River.

In Indiana, an anti-war group called the Knights of the Golden Circle seized guns and ammunition at the Huntington depot. Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont was relieved as commander of the Federal South Atlantic Blockading Squadron due to his failed attack on Charleston, South Carolina.

Tuesday, July 7.  In Tennessee, General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee established new positions at Chattanooga after losing most of the state to General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland.

In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates skirmished at Shepherdsville and Cummings’ Ferry as they approached the Ohio River. In the Arizona Territory, Colonel “Kit” Carson began an expedition against the Indians. In the North, the Conscription Act went into effect amidst much resentment. Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, Mississippi, and the Idaho Territory.

As Robert E. Lee’s Confederates continued withdrawing, Lee wrote to President Davis that the army would continue moving southward. Expressing concern about George G. Meade’s reluctance to pursue Lee, President Lincoln wrote to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “Now, if General Meade can complete his work, so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee’s army, the rebellion will be over.”

One thought on “This Week in the Civil War: July 1-7, 1863

  1. Pingback: High Water Mark | nebraskaenergyobserver

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