This Week in the Civil War: Apr 29-May 5, 1863

Wednesday, April 29.  In Virginia, a major part of General Joseph Hooker’s Federal Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s and U.S. fords and moved into the Wilderness. This was part of Hooker’s plan to force General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates out of their impregnable positions in Fredericksburg and give battle. To further prod Lee, Hooker sent Federal cavalry under General George Stoneman between Lee and Richmond to catch the Confederates in a pincers movement.

On the Mississippi River, Admiral David D. Porter’s Federal naval fleet began shuttling General Ulysses S. Grant’s troops across the river. This was part of Grant’s plan to march southward past Vicksburg on the river’s west bank, then recross the river and attack the city from behind.

A Federal diversionary force under Colonel Benjamin Grierson continued raiding Mississippi, skirmishing at Brookhaven. In Missouri, General John S. Marmaduke’s Confederates skirmished at Castor River.

Thursday, April 30.  In Virginia, Joseph Hooker established headquarters at Chancellorsville, a small village in the Wilderness. Hooker did not order an attack; rather, he waited for Robert E. Lee’s Confederates to move into the open. Confident that Lee would be destroyed, Hooker proclaimed to his troops that “the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must ingloriously fly, or come out from behind their defenses and give us battle on our ground, where certain destruction awaits him.” However, Lee had a plan of his own.

On the Mississippi, the vanguard of Ulysses S. Grant’s army under General John A. McClernand assembled on the river’s east bank, south of Vicksburg and ready to advance inland unopposed. Grant later wrote, “All the campaigns, labors, hardships, and exposures, from the month of December previous to this time, that had been made and endured, were for the accomplishments of this one object.” Grant was aided by Benjamin Grierson’s cavalry diversion, as well as Federal demonstrations north of Vicksburg led by General William T. Sherman.

Skirmishing occurred in Alabama, western Virginia, and the Indian Territory.

Friday, May 1.  In Virginia, the Battle of Chancellorsville began. As Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac tried outflanking Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Lee hurried to block the Federals’ exit from the Wilderness, a region of tangled underbrush that would offset the superior Federal numbers. Lee left about 10,000 men to face the Federal corps threatening Fredericksburg. After holding his ground in a series of skirmishes, Hooker ordered a withdrawal to stronger defensive positions around Chancellorsville. This stunned his subordinates, and although Hooker explained that he thought Lee was heavily reinforced, he later admitted, “For once, I lost confidence in Joe Hooker.”

The Federal withdrawal allowed Lee to seize the initiative. That evening, he discussed strategy with General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who proposed to split the army by sending Jackson’s corps to attack the vulnerable right flank. This was a bold plan because Lee’s army was already split between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. However, Lee approved.

In his effort to capture Vicksburg, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued crossing the Mississippi River south of the town at Bruinsburg. The lead Federal corps under General John A. McClernand moved inland toward Port Gibson, about 30 miles south of Vicksburg. A small Confederate force outflanked at Grand Gulf hurried to Port Gibson to intercept McClernand. After a day-long fight, the outnumbered Confederates withdrew. Securing Port Gibson allowed the main Federal force to establish strong positions at Grand Gulf.

Before adjourning, the Confederate Congress approved several measures, including creating a Provisional Navy to complement the Regular Navy; allowing the president to approve contracts for building naval vessels in Europe; allowing congressional delegates from various Indian nations; creating a commission on taxes; tightening provisions on the conscription law; and adopting a national flag known as the “Stainless Banner.”

Skirmishing occurred in Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee. In Missouri, John Marmaduke’s Confederates skirmished at Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis River as they returned to Arkansas.

Saturday, May 2.  In Virginia, “Stonewall” Jackson’s 28,000 Confederates moved around the Federal right flank. Federal scouts observed them and concluded they were retreating. However, Jackson attacked the unsuspecting Federal Eleventh Corps at 6 p.m. On the Federal left, Robert E. Lee’s remaining Confederates attacked to divert attention from Jackson, even though they were outnumbered by nearly four-to-one. The fight ended at nightfall with the Federals in disarray. During the night, “Stonewall” Jackson was accidentally shot by Confederate pickets while scouting positions.

In Louisiana, Benjamin Grierson’s Federals arrived in Baton Rouge after conducting one of the most successful cavalry operations of the war. Diverting Confederate attention from Ulysses S. Grant, Grierson’s men raided western Tennessee, killing 100 Confederates, taking 500 prisoners, destroying up to 60 miles of railroad and telegraph lines, capturing or destroying 3,000 arms, and seizing 1,000 horses and mules. Grierson’s men had traveled 600 miles and fought four engagements, evading thousands of Confederates along the way.

Skirmishing occurred in Alabama, Tennessee, and western Virginia.

Sunday, May 3.  In Virginia, “Stonewall” Jackson’s wounds from the previous night were so serious that he relinquished command to General Jeb Stuart. By morning, the Federals had established a V-shaped defensive line. When the Confederates attacked, the Federals slowly moved back. Joseph Hooker had tens of thousands of reserves that were yet to be deployed, but he ordered no counterattack. He was knocked unconscious when he was hit in the head by wood scattered from a Confederate shell. When he regained consciousness, Hooker ordered a general withdrawal.

In Alabama, Colonel A.D. Streight’s Federals surrendered to Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest after heavy raiding and skirmishing. The Roman Catholic bishop of Iowa threatened church members with excommunication if they refused to renounce the pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle.

Monday, May 4.  In Virginia, the Federal corps at Fredericksburg broke through the Confederate defenses and joined Joseph Hooker’s main force. However, Hooker was already withdrawing his army across the Rappahannock River. Confederate President Jefferson Davis wired Lee his thanks on behalf of the people “reverently united with you in giving praise to God for the success with which He has crowned your arms.”

In Mississippi, Grant’s Federals continued moving south of Vicksburg, skirmishing at various places. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Missouri.

Tuesday, May 5.  In Virginia, Robert E. Lee’s Confederate prepared to attack Joseph Hooker’s Federals again. However, Hooker’s army fell back across the Rappahannock, ending the Battle of Chancellorsville in Federal defeat. Hooker was defeated by a force less than half his size that had been divided three times. This humiliated the North and has since been considered one of the greatest military victories in history. However, it was a pyrrhic victory for Lee because he suffered a much greater casualty percentage than Hooker.

Former Congressman Clement Vallandigham was arrested by Federal troops in Dayton, Ohio for violating General Order No. 38. The order, issued by Department of the Ohio commander Ambrose Burnside, had prohibited disloyalty in his jurisdiction. Vallandigham was one of the most outspoken “Copperheads,” or Peace Democrats who opposed the war. His specific offense had been delivering a speech calling the war “wicked and cruel,” where the object was not to preserve the Union but to subjugate the South and establish a Republican dictatorship.

Skirmishing occurred in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia. Federals conducted operations against the Indians in the Utah and Idaho territories.

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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This Week in the Civil War: Mar 18-24, 1863

Wednesday, March 18.  Confederate commissioner John Slidell and representatives of Emile Erlanger, head of France’s most influential bank, negotiated a loan to the Confederacy for $15 million to help finance the war. The loan was secured by the Confederate sale of 20-year war bonds that could be exchanged for cotton, the South’s most lucrative commodity. The cotton was to be sold to bondholders at 12 cents per pound when the market rate was 21 cents per pound. Some Confederate officials noted the enormous profit margin and accused Erlanger of extortion, but they were desperate for money so the loan was approved.

President Abraham Lincoln wrote to Congressman Henry Winter Davis of Maryland: “Let the friends of the government first save the government, then administer it to their own liking.” General Theophilus H. Holmes assumed command of the Confederate District of Arkansas.

Thursday, March 19.  In the South, the first bond sales on the new Erlanger loan took place. Initial sales were successful, but Federal agents in Europe spread rumors that Confederate securities were a poor risk and bid up the cost of war supplies so high that the Confederates could not afford to buy them. Many investors were ruined, Erlanger cleared $6 million in commissions, and the Confederacy was left with $9 million to pay for war.

On the Mississippi River, the Federal ships Hartford and Albatross under command of Flag Officer David G. Farragut passed the batteries at Grand Gulf, just south of Vicksburg. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

Friday, March 20.  Federal General Stephen A. Hurlbut informed President Lincoln of all the unsuccessful attempts to attack Vicksburg thus far. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Florida.

Saturday, March 21.  On the Mississippi River, Farragut’s Federal ships anchored below Vicksburg. Confederate sharpshooters harassed General William T. Sherman’s Federals at Steele’s Bayou. In Tennessee, Confederate guerrillas attacked a train traveling from Bolivar to Grand Junction.

In Louisiana, one Federal expedition left New Orleans for Ponchatoula, and another left Bonnet Carre for the Amite River. Federal General Edwin Sumner died; he had fought admirably on the Virginia Peninsula and at Antietam last year.

Sunday, March 22.  In Kentucky, Confederate under John Pegram began operations, while part of John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate force attempted to capture a Federal garrison at Mount Sterling. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Monday, March 23.  The Confederate Congress authorized funding Treasury notes issued previous to December 1, 1862 and further issuance of Treasury notes for not less than $5 or more than $50 each.

President Lincoln wrote to New York Governor Horatio Seymour, a Democratic opponent of his administration, that “there can not be a difference of purpose between you and me. If we should differ as to the means, it is important that such difference should be as small as possible–that it should not be enhanced by unjust suspicions on one side or the other.”

In Florida, Federal forces operated near Jacksonville. On the Mississippi River, Farragut’s Federal ships attacked Confederate batteries at Warrenton, below Vicksburg. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Tuesday, March 24.  In Mississippi, William T. Sherman’s Federals were stopped in their struggles north of Vicksburg in a skirmish at Black’s Bayou. This convinced Sherman to abandon the futile effort to reach Vicksburg through the maze of marshes and swamps north of the stronghold. Sherman’s withdrawal ended a series of unsuccessful efforts to attack Vicksburg from the north, and General Ulysses S. Grant began formulating a new plan of attack.

Skirmishing occurred in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida. In Arkansas, Federal scouts began operating near Fayetteville.

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

This Week in the Civil War: Feb 18-24, 1863

Wednesday, February 18.  In South Carolina, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard warned against potential Federal attacks on either Savannah or Charleston: “To arms, fellow citizens!”

In Virginia, a portion of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was transferred from Fredericksburg to positions east of Richmond to protect the Confederate capital from potential Federal attacks from the Peninsula between the York and James Rivers.

In Kentucky, Federal authorities dispersed a suspected pro-Confederate Democratic convention. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Thursday, February 19.  In Mississippi, Federals under General Ulysses S. Grant skirmished with Confederates north of Vicksburg. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to Western Theater commander Joseph E. Johnston that he regretted “the confidence of superior officers in Genl. Bragg’s fitness for command has been so much impaired. It is scarcely possible in that state of the case for him to possess the requisite confidence of the troops.” However, Davis was reluctant to remove Braxton Bragg as commander of the Army of Tennessee.

Friday, February 20.  The Confederate Congress approved issuing bonds to fund Treasury notes. Skirmishing occurred between Federals and Indians in the Dakota Territory.

Saturday, February 21.  In Virginia, two Federal gunboats attacked Confederate batteries at Ware’s Point on the Rappahannock River. In Washington, a public reception was held at the White House.

Sunday, February 22.  To commemorate George Washington’s Birthday, the Central Pacific Railroad began construction on the transcontinental railroad project at Sacramento, California. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Alabama.

Monday, February 23.  Skirmishing occurred in North Carolina and Kentucky, and Union meetings were held at Cincinnati; Russellville, Kentucky; and Nashville, Tennessee.

Tuesday, February 24.  On the Mississippi River, four Confederate vessels attacked the Federal gunboat Indianola. Among the attackers was Queen of the West, a Federal gunboat that had been captured and commandeered by the Confederates. Indianola was rammed seven times in the blistering fight, and Lieutenant Commander George Brown finally surrendered the ship, which he called “a partially sunken vessel.” This Confederate victory was a major setback to Federal river operations below Vicksburg.

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

This Week in the Civil War: Jan 28-Feb 3, 1863

Wednesday, January 28.  Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding west of the Mississippi River, “The loss of either of the two positions–Vicksburg and Port Hudson–would destroy communication with the Trans-Mississippi Department and inflict upon the Confederacy an injury which I am sure you have not failed to appreciate.”

Skirmishing occurred in Louisiana and Tennessee. In St. Louis, a mass meeting approved the Emancipation Proclamation.

Thursday, January 29.  The Confederate Congress authorized the Treasury to borrow $15 million through French financier Emile Erlanger.

President Davis wired General John C. Pemberton, commander of Confederate forces at Vicksburg, “Has anything or can anything be done to obstruct the navigation from Yazoo Pass down?” Davis was concerned about Federal efforts to attack the vital stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi from the north.

In the Utah Territory, U.S. forces defeated the Bannock Indians at Bear River or Battle Creek. Skirmishing occurred in Louisiana, and Federal naval forces bombarded Galveston, Texas.

Friday, January 30.  In Mississippi, General Ulysses S. Grant assumed full command of the Vicksburg campaign and began developing plans to attack the fortress.

In South Carolina, the Federal gunboat Isaac Smith was captured by Confederates forces on the Stono River near Charleston. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia.

Saturday, January 31.  Confederate gunboats temporarily broke the blockade of Charleston, South Carolina by damaging Federal steamers. The Confederacy issued an international declaration that the blockade had been lifted, but this proved to be only a temporary disruption.

In Indiana, Federal cavalry intervened to stop resistance to the arrest of alleged military deserters in Morgan County. After shots were fired, the rioters were dispersed or captured, and the deserters were arrested.

Skirmishing occurred in South Carolina and Tennessee.

Sunday, February 1.  On the Georgia coast, Federal naval forces unsuccessfully attacked Fort McAllister, south of Savannah. In North Carolina, a Federal expedition left New Berne for Plymouth.

Monday, February 2.  On the Mississippi River, the Federal ram Queen of the West ran past the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg in an effort to attack enemy vessels. The ram passed without serious damage, despite being struck 12 times.

Skirmishing occurred in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Tuesday, February 3.  On the Mississippi, Queen of the West captured three Confederate ships below Vicksburg and seized food, cotton, and prisoners, including ladies.

In Mississippi, Federal forces opened the levee at Yazoo Pass in an effort to reach Vicksburg via the Yazoo River. In Tennessee, Federal forces repulsed an attack by General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates at Fort Donelson.

In Washington, French Minister to the U.S. M. Mercier met with Secretary of State William Seward and, on behalf of Emperor Napoleon III, offered to mediate an end to the war. Seward later informed the French government that the U.S. declined the offer.

The Civil War This Week: Jan 7-13, 1863

Wednesday, January 7.  Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote to General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac, emphasizing “our first object was, not Richmond, but the defeat or scattering of Lee’s army.” Halleck strongly backed Burnside’s plan to attack across the Rappahannock.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote to General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, asking Lee to call on the Federal commanders to “prevent the savage atrocities which are threatened.” If the Federals did not comply, Lee should inform them that “measures will be taken by retaliation to repress the indulgence of such brutal passion.”

In Missouri, General John S. Marmaduke’s Confederates captured Ozark and advanced on Springfield. A group of 450 women and children left Washington, DC for Richmond and the Confederacy with permission from the Federal government. The Richmond Enquirer called the Emancipation Proclamation “the most startling political crime, the most stupid political blunder, yet known in American history… Southern people have now only to choose between victory and death.”

Thursday, January 8.  President Abraham Lincoln wrote to troubled Ambrose Burnside, “I do not yet see how I could profit by changing the command of the A.P. (Army of the Potomac) & if I did, I should not wish to do it by accepting the resignation of your commission.”

Defending the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln wrote to General John A. McClernand that “it must stand… As to the States not included in it, of course they can have their rights in the Union as of old.” President Davis wrote to General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Western Theater, “To hold the Mississippi is vital.”

In Missouri, John S. Marmaduke’s Confederates were repulsed by the Federal garrison at Springfield. In Washington, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Lincoln’s appointment of John P. Usher of Indiana as Interior secretary. Usher replaced Caleb Smith, who resigned due to poor health. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas.

Friday, January 9.  In Tennessee, General William S. Rosecrans reorganized the Federal Army of the Cumberland into three corps commanded by George H. Thomas, Alexander McD. McCook, and Thomas L. Crittenden.

In Missouri, the Federal garrison at Hartville surrendered to John S. Marmaduke’s Confederates. Boat crews from U.S.S. Ethan Allen destroyed salt works near St. Joseph’s, Florida.

Saturday, January 10.  John A. McClernand’s Federals closed in on Arkansas Post, or Fort Hindman, about 50 miles up the Arkansas River from its junction with the Mississippi. McClernand drove in on the outer earthworks, and naval bombardment stopped Confederate artillery. Land units were poised to attack the besieged Confederates under General Thomas J. Churchill.

President Lincoln wrote to General Samuel Curtis in St. Louis about his concern with the slave problem in Missouri. A Federal military court-martial dismissed General Fitz John Porter from the U.S. Army for failing to obey orders during the Battle of Second Bull Run the previous August. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Arkansas, and Federal warships bombarded Galveston, Texas.

Sunday, January 11.  After a two-day naval bombardment, John A. McClernand launched a Federal ground attack on Fort Hindman on the Arkansas River. The overwhelmed Confederate defenders quickly surrendered. The Federals captured nearly 5,000 prisoners, 17 cannon, 46,000 rounds of small arms ammunition, and seven battle flags. While this was a Federal success, the fort itself held little strategic significance. Moreover, it diverted troops from the primary campaign against Vicksburg.

The prominent Confederate blockade runner, C.S.S. Alabama, sank U.S.S. Hatteras off Galveston, Texas. Hatteras had been on blockade duty when she was attacked by the stronger Alabama. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Missouri. In Missouri, John S. Marmaduke’s Confederates withdrew from Hartville. On the Mississippi River north of Memphis, Confederates surprised, captured, and burned U.S.S. Grampus No. 2.

Monday, January 12.  The third session of the 1st Confederate Congress assembled in Richmond and received a message from President Davis. The message criticized the Emancipation Proclamation because it could lead to the wholesale murder of blacks and slaveholders, thus revealing the “true nature of the designs” of the Republican Party. Davis requested legislation amending the draft laws and providing relief for citizens in war-torn regions of the South.

Skirmishing occurred in Arkansas. General John E. Wool assumed command of the Federal Department of the East.

Tuesday, January 13.  The U.S. War Department officially authorized the recruitment of blacks for the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, to be commanded by Colonel Thomas W. Higginson.

In Arkansas, a Federal expedition began from Helena. In Tennessee, a Federal reconnaissance began from Nashville to the Harpeth and Cumberland Rivers, and another Federal reconnaissance began from Murfreesboro. U.S.S. Columbia ran aground off North Carolina; the vessel was captured and burned by Confederates.

At the Harpeth Shoals on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, U.S. gunboat Slidell surrendered to General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederates. Three transports with wounded troops were also seized; Wheeler put the wounded all on one transport and allowed it to proceed, then burned the other two.