The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – January 14-20, 1863

Here is a look at events in the Civil War this week in January 1863.

January 14

Military events: Tennessee operations: For the next 10-12 days, CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry is on picket duty, but also “pushing their approaches as near as possible to Nashville [and] the Federal garrison of that position [is] kept continually on the alert and a good deal harassed.” (4)

Western theater: CS General E. Kirby Smith is given command of the Department of the Southwest. (6)

The Hon. Clement L. Vallandigham (D), Ohio.  (Library of Congress)

The Hon. Clement L. Vallandigham (D, Ohio). (Library of Congress)

Other: Representative Clement L. Vallandigham (D, Ohio) – leader of the “Peace” faction of the Democrat party that’s known as “Copperheads” to radical Republicans – gives a farewell speech in the House after having lost his seat in the fall elections due to gerrymandering of districts by Ohio Republicans.

Those Republicans might have done better to leave him in D.C.

There isn’t much to do during winter in the mid-19th century, and people everywhere are bored. Vallandigham, like the vaudevillians of later years, will play to packed houses throughout the North during his upcoming winter tour, after leaving the US Congress, to promote the “Copperhead” message.

He is eloquent and the message a powerful one to many Northerners: the Union as it was and an armistice with the South, “look[ing] to the welfare, safety, and peace of the white race, without reference to the effect that settlement may have on the African.” (3)

"Breaking up the Camps, of the Army of the Potomac," 1863, Arthur Lumley (Library of Congress)

“Breaking up the Camps, of the Army of the Potomac,” 1863, Arthur Lumley (Library of Congress)

January 15

Military events: Virginia operations: From the Army of the Potomac: “We are on the eve of a movement – all sick have been sent to the rear, and cooked rations on hand ready for immediate issue. A campaign is to be inaugurated – that is certain – but we have not much confidence in its successful termination. We don’t believe in Genl. Burnside’s ability to achieve anything very startling. Where we are to go I haven’t the least idea, but so long as it is not against Fredericksburg I don’t care. . . .The all absorbing question is where are we to move to! Is it forward or backward, advance or retreat? We are entirely at sea in regard to it. Do you hear any rumors at home?” (17)

January 16

Military events: Vicksburg operations: General Grant leaves Memphis for the Union positions at Vicksburg. (8)

Virginia operations: From the Army of the Potomac: “We are all ready to leave, and could do so within an hour should the order come. What causes the delay I know not, but it is always so, we “dilly dally” until the enemy are apprised of our intentions, which makes the task so much harder to overcome . . . P.S. Orders have just been recd. to move at daylight tomorrow.” (17)

January 17

Military events: Vicksburg operations: General Grant reaches Helena, Arkansas. (8)

Other: As he signs a Congressional resolution to print more of the new greenbacks “for the prompt discharge of all arrears of pay due to our soldiers and our sailors,” President Lincoln also expresses concerns about the economic risks of doing so and suggests ways to get around those. (5)

Sen. Charles Sumner (D, Massachusetts) in 1859, upon his return to the Senate.  (Library of Congress)

Sen. Charles Sumner (R, Massachusetts) in 1859, upon his return to the Senate. (Library of Congress)

This same day Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, who had returned to the US Congress in 1859 after recovering from his brutal beating in the Senate chamber in 1856, tells a friend:

These are dark hours. There are senators full of despair – not I. The President tells me that he now fears “the fire in the rear” – meaning the Democracy [the Peace wing of the Democrat party], especially at the Northwest [Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc.] – more than our military chances. But I fear that our army is everywhere in a bad way. I see no central inspiration or command; no concentration, no combination which promises a Jena.

January 18

Military events: Vicksburg operations: General Grant meets with Generals McClernand and Sherman, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter about plans for the Vicksburg expedition. (8)

January 19

Emancipation: The New York Evening Express editorializes on the Proclamation: “The best thing that can be done is for Mr. Lincoln to resign, and go home to Springfield, with Mr. Hamlin to follow him. These resignations would be worth twenty victories, and would reestablish public confidence.” (10)

Military events: Vicksburg operations: General Grant returns to Memphis. (8)

Virginia operations: From the Army of the Potomac: “We are still here, in old camp, but under marching orders. I can give no explanation why we do not move. The weather is favorable and should be taken advantage of, because at this season of the year, it is hardly to be expected that good weather will long continue.” (17)

January 20

Military events: Virginia operations/the Mud March: While “the country is enveloped in a blizzard” and “Lincoln in White House hears frozen crystals beat on windows of [his] office” (5), General Burnside makes his move.

From the Army of the Potomac: “We struck tents about one P.M., Tuesday, January 20th and started off to the tune of ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me‘. . . No one cared, no one had confidence, and it made not the slightest difference whether they stayed in camp or inaugurated a campaign, it was all one and the same thing to them. The army had settled down into perfect indifference. We marched a distance of 5 miles and encamped in an extensive oak forest. It had been threatening rain all day, and towards dusk it came down, with high winds and torrents of rain as it can only rain in Virginia . . . Misery loves company and misery must have been satisfied that night. The men, being without shelter, stood up all night with muskets and cartridge boxes held close to their persons to keep dry, and just took the pelting, pouring rain as it came along.” (17)

Fredericksburg from the US side of the Rapahannock during the winter of 1863 - misery, indeed.  (Library of Congress)

Confederate-held Fredericksburg from the US side of the Rappahannock during the winter of 1863. (Library of Congress)


(1)  The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

(2)  Morgan’s Raiders and The L&N Railroad in the Civil War, by Dan Lee (2011).

(3)  Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).

(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).

(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(6) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(7) Henry Halleck’s War: A Fresh Look at Lincoln’s Controversial General-In-Chief, by Curt Anders (1999).

(8) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.

(9)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.

(10) The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: The Story of America’s Most Reviled President, Larry Tagg.

(11)  The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby.

(12)  Conquest of the Lower Mississippi.

(13) The Strategy of Robert E. Lee, by J. J. Bowen (1914).

(14) Major General John Alexander McClernand: Politician in Uniform, Richard L. Kiper.

(15) The Civil War and the Press, Sachsman et al.

(16) Civil War Interactive.

(17) Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, edited by J. Gregory Acken (1998).

(18) Mosby Heritage Area Association: Chronology of Mosby’s Life.

(19) Those Damn Horse Soldiers, by George Walsh (2006).

(20) Civil War Virtual Museum.

Categories: American Civil War

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