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: Jan 14-20, 1863

Wednesday, January 14.  In Louisiana, Federal gunboats and troops attacked the Confederate gunboat Cotton and land fortifications at Bayou Teche. After a sharp fight, Cotton was burned the next morning. General Edmund Kirby Smith was given command of the Confederate Army of the Southwest.

Thursday, January 15.  In Arkansas, Federal troops burned Mound City, a center of guerrilla activities. The Confederate commerce raider Florida set sail from Mobile in a campaign against Federal shipping. Confederate President Jefferson Davis suggested to General Braxton Bragg, who had retreated from Murfreesboro to Tullahoma in Tennessee, “For the present all which seems practicable is to select a strong position and fortifying it to wait for attack.” President Abraham Lincoln demonstrated his interest in inventions and scientific developments by requesting tests for a concentrated horse food and a new gunpowder.

Friday, January 16.  In Tennessee, a Federal expedition began from Fort Henry to Waverly. In Arkansas, the Federal gunboat Baron De Kalb seized guns and ammunition at Devall’s Bluff.

Saturday, January 17.  President Lincoln signed a congressional resolution providing for the immediate payment of military personnel. Lincoln also requested currency reforms, as the war was costing $2.5 million per day by this year. The cost was financed by selling war bonds, borrowing over $1 billion from foreign countries, and issuing paper currency called greenbacks. These measures caused a massive increase in the cost of living through a new economic term called “inflation,” as well as enormous interest payments after the war that threatened U.S. economic stability.

Following the capture of Fort Hindman, General John A. McClernand’s Federal Army of the Mississippi began moving down the Mississippi River to Milliken’s Bend, north of Vicksburg. Skirmishing occurred at Newtown, Virginia, and a Federal expedition began from New Berne, North Carolina.

Sunday, January 18.  Skirmishing occurred in the Cherokee Country of the Indian Territory and along the White River in Arkansas.

Monday, January 19.  In northern Virginia, General Ambrose Burnside’s Federal Army of the Potomac began its second attempt to destroy General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Fredericksburg. Hoping to redeem himself after his disastrous defeat the previous month, Burnside promised to strike “a great and mortal blow to the rebellion” by moving north along the Rappahannock River and attacking Lee’s left. By evening, the Grand Divisions of Generals Joseph Hooker and William Franklin reached were prepared to cross the river.

President Lincoln responded to an address from workers of Manchester, Great Britain. He said he deplored the sufferings among mill workers in Europe caused by the cotton shortage, but it was the fault of “our disloyal citizens.” The Confederate government had unofficially banned the exportation of cotton, its greatest commodity, in the hopes that cotton-starved nations such as Britain and France would help the Confederacy gain independence so the cotton trade would resume. This became known as “King Cotton Diplomacy.”

Tuesday, January 20.  In northern Virginia, Ambrose Burnside changed his plans for crossing the Rappahannock, and icy rain began falling in torrents. Burnside later said, “From that moment we felt that the winter campaign had ended.” During the night, guns and pontoons were dragged through the muddy roads as a winter storm ravaged the East.

In Missouri, John S. Marmaduke’s Confederates captured Patterson in continued raiding. General David Hunter resumed command of the Federal Department of the South.

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

This Week in the Civil War: Dec 31, 1862-Jan 6, 1863

Wednesday, December 31.  In Tennessee, the Battle of Stone’s River (or Murfreesboro) began, as Federal General William Rosecrans and Confederate General Braxton Bragg resolved to attack each other. Both commanders planned to move left and crush the enemy right, but Bragg moved first and put the Federals on the defensive. After several Confederate assaults, the Federals withdrew to the Murfreesboro-Nashville Pike, pinned against Stone’s River.

Both sides inflicted heavy casualties, but the fighting was inconclusive and the Federal lines held. Bragg and Rosecrans remained within range of each other, each hoping that the other would withdraw. The Confederates entrenched, and the Federal command discussed the situation. Bragg prematurely wired the Confederate government that his men had scored a victory.

In Mississippi, General William T. Sherman’s Federals continued exploring various plans for attacking the bluffs north of Vicksburg.

In Tennessee, General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry was surprised by Federal forces at Parker’s Crossroad. After raiding General Ulysses S. Grant’s supply lines, Forrest was confronting a Federal force in his front when a second force unexpectedly attacked from behind. When his staff asked for orders, Forrest said, “Split in two and charge both ways.” They followed the order and escaped, losing 300 troops.

Thursday, January 1.  In Washington, the traditional New Year’s reception took place in the White House. After receiving guests, President Abraham Lincoln retired to the Executive Office, where administration officials witnessed him signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Copies were sent to the press, and news of the signing was spread throughout the world. Although the proclamation technically freed nobody, it gave the U.S. a foreign relations advantage over the Confederacy. It also opened the path to permanently abolishing slavery. And perhaps most importantly, it authorized the recruitment of blacks into the military, giving the North an overwhelming manpower advantage. Celebrations and salutes were held among free blacks, former slaves, and abolitionists in Boston’s Tremont Temple.

Federal General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac, met with Lincoln to discuss a new plan of attack following the disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg the previous month. Lincoln informed the general that several army subordinates had no confidence in him. Burnside offered to resign, but Lincoln refused because he had no practical replacement. Hoping to redeem himself, Burnside promised to strike “a great and mortal blow to the rebellion” by moving north along the Rappahannock River and attacking Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s left flank. Lincoln reluctantly approved the plan.

In Texas, General John B. Magruder’s Confederates landed at Galveston to free the town from Federal occupation. Improvised gunboats landed on the lowlands, while cotton steamers attacked Federal ships in Galveston Harbor. When the Federal flagship was run aground, the naval flotilla abandoned the town, and the Federal garrison at Kuhn’s Wharf surrendered. The Confederate capture of Galveston temporarily broke the Federal naval blockade.

In Tennessee, General William Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland and General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee remained in their positions from the previous day, poised to strike each other at Stone’s River. In South Carolina, Robert Yeadon of Charleston offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of Federal General Benjamin F. Butler, dead or alive.

Friday, January 2.  In Tennessee, the Battle of Stone’s River (or Murfreesboro) resumed after a one-day respite. Braxton Bragg’s Confederates resumed their attacks, but the Federal lines had been strengthened and the attacks were repulsed. By nightfall, both armies fell back, and rain turned the battlefield into a quagmire.

Saturday, January 3.  In Tennessee, Braxton Bragg’s Confederates began withdrawing to Tullahoma. William Rosecrans was surprised by Bragg’s withdrawal and did not pursue. This prompted Bragg to claim a tactical victory, but it soon became apparent that this was a significant Confederate defeat. The Battle of Stone’s River secured Kentucky and Tennessee for the Federals. It also boosted the morale of pro-Union eastern Tennesseans and demoralized Confederate sympathizers in central Tennessee and Kentucky. Many Confederates saw this as a missed opportunity to destroy the northern war effort after the Federals had been so soundly beaten at Fredericksburg the previous month.

In Mississippi, William T. Sherman’s Federals began withdrawing from the bluffs north of Vicksburg across the Mississippi River to Milliken’s Bend. Their effort to capture Vicksburg ended in failure, but the overall commander, General Ulysses S. Grant, soon began developing another plan of attack. John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates recrossed the Cumberland River after raiding Federal supply lines in Kentucky. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates crossed the Tennessee River at Clifton after attacking Ulysses S. Grant’s supply lines.

Sunday, January 4.  General John A. McClernand’s 30,000-man Federal force began an unauthorized move up the Arkansas River with 50 transports and gunboats commanded by Admiral David D. Porter. McClernand’s force included the corps belonging to William T. Sherman that had just withdrawn from Mississippi, and this move sought to avenge the Federal defeat at Chickasaw Bluffs last month. Their target was Arkansas Post, or Fort Hindman, on the Arkansas River.

Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck ordered Ulysses S. Grant to rescind his controversial General Order No. 11 expelling all Jews from his military department. President Lincoln endorsed Halleck’s order, and Grant complied on January 7.

In Tennessee, various skirmishes occurred as Braxton Bragg’s Confederates continued withdrawing from Murfreesboro. In the New Mexico Territory, Federal forces began operations against various Indian tribes that continued until May. U.S.S. Quaker City captured a Confederate blockade-runner carrying important dispatches off Charleston, South Carolina.

Monday, January 5.  In Tennessee, Federal troops entered Murfreesboro as skirmishing continued. President Lincoln wired William Rosecrans, “God bless you and all with you… I can never forget… that you gave us a hard-earned victory, which, if there had been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.” Rosecrans soon began planning a Federal advance on the vital railroad city of Chattanooga.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis returned to Richmond after completing his southern tour. Davis told a serenading crowd that the Confederacy was the last hope “for the perpetuation of that system of government which our forefathers founded–the asylum of the oppressed and the home of true representative liberty.” Davis added, “Every crime which could characterize the course of demons has marked the course of the invader.” Noting the recent victory at Fredericksburg, Davis quipped that the only Federals who had reached the Confederate capital thus far had been prisoners.

Tuesday, January 6.  General John Marmaduke’s Confederates raided Missouri and fought skirmishes at Linn Creek and Fort Lawrence, Beaver Station.