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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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)