Here is a look at events in the Civil War at the end of January and beginning of February 1863.
A Hard Time for Lincoln
Military moves in the field have slowed, and in Washington, President Lincoln now has more time to consider disturbing rumors from the Northwest (Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, i.e., “Butternut” country) of secret organizations and moves toward secession with an eye for the region either to join the Confederacy or to broker a separate peace with it.
Headline news is not good, either: the Indiana legislature is about to pass a joint resolution “Instructing our Senators, and requesting our Representatives, to vote against the emancipation proclamation of President Lincoln” (source, p. 244 [PDF]), while Illinois politicians are contentiously considering something similar.
Army morale is low. Desertion rates from the Federal army are high everywhere, but some Indiana units lose so many men, Lincoln has to disband them.
On top of everything, the one-year anniversary of son Willie’s death is approaching, and Mary Todd Lincoln is undergoing a fresh paroxysm of grief. (3, 10)
All this strain is showing on the president. Admiral John Dahlgren – whose testing lab in the Navy Yard Lincoln, ever curious about new weapons, enjoys and visits frequently – notes in his diary, “I observe that the President never tells a joke now.”
The Army of the Potomac is near Fredericksburg on the far shore of the Rappahannock, while the Army of Northern Virginia spends this time south of Fredericksburg. As shown in Gods and Generals, General Jackson’s troops are quartered on the grounds of Moss Neck Manor.
It would take a lot of research just to track down where most of the other armies and smaller military units sheltered during the 1862-63 winter.
In some areas, though, fighting continues on water as well as land.
Military Events: West Tennessee operations: CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest rejoins his cavalry brigade, which General Bragg has entrusted to General Wheeler (who now outranks Forrest) and tasked with taking Federal positions in the Dover/Fort Donelson area.
Everything from ammunition to food is in short supply, and Forrest tells Bragg that “the expedition [does] not promise results in any wise commensurate with inevitable losses and possible hazard of serious disaster.” (4, quotes are from author) Even though they are 100 miles behind enemy lines, with insufficient supplies and nothing much to forage, General Wheeler “conclude[s] that nothing could be lost by an attack on the garrison at Dover.” Forrest reportedly tells some of his men that if he is killed they must report that he has opposed this. (21)
Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: CS President Davis asks General T. H. Holmes, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, to attend to the defenses of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana. (15)
General Grant arrives at Young’s Point, Louisiana, north of Vicksburg, where he will be staying on a river boat until a camp on land can be prepared (all the recent rains have sent the Mississippi over its banks). (8, 21)
Other: The CS Congress authorizes borrowing $15 million (that’s in 1863 dollars – a huge sum), provided by French financier Emile Erlanger. (15)
President Lincoln writes to Thurlow Weed, “Your valedictory to the patrons of the Albany [New York] Evening Journal brings me a good deal of uneasiness. What does it mean?” Weed had not specifically spelled out his opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation in his farewell, but in his reply to Lincoln’s query, Weed rails against abolition and the influence of Horace Greeley. (5)
Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Grant orders a levee that leads to Yazoo Pass cut, planning to approach Vicksburg from the north. (8)
Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Grant assumes personal control of the campaign against Vicksburg and announces that he will have a canal built through the swamps at Lake Providence, Louisiana, so his troops can attack the city from the rear. (8, 15) Now that he has General-in-Chief Halleck’s backing, Grant also reduces General McClernand’s command to one corps. McClernand, a political general from Illinois whose inside connections with Lincoln have become tenuous, can do nothing but complain; in response to McClernand’s complaints, Grant (no stranger, apparently, to behind-the-scenes game playing) sends the complete dossier he has assembled on McClernand’s mistakes and manipulations to Washington – and lets McClernand know it has been done. (21)
Battles: South Carolina: Charleston Harbor: “In midwinter a haze often gathers over Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Out of the haze this morning came the shadowy forms of Confederate gunboats Chicora and Palmetto State. Their mission was to break the blockade strangling this major Southern port. Surprise and fierce gunfire wreaked havoc on the Federal ships. Mercedita was rammed, shelled, shot, run aground and surrendered (she later got back afloat and escaped.) Keystone State was the next target, taking shots in her boilers that killed 20 and wounded 20 more, most of the deaths being caused by scalding steam. Other Federal vessels were also damaged and the Confederates withdrew completely unscathed. It was announced abroad that the blockade was broken, but it was not. The Federals always had more ships.” (15 – included the entire quote because it’s very well written)
Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: General Grant tells his wife that the river is rising and Vicksburg is “a terrible place at this stage of water. The river is higher than the land, and it takes all the efforts of the troops to keep the water out.” (21)
Battles: Georgia: Naval attack on Fort McAllister. While taking some damage, Confederate defenders of the fort drive off the Federal attackers. (6, 15)
Other: An Atlanta newspaper publishes the names of recently captured Confederate deserters.
Battles: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: The Federal ram Queen of the West runs the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg to attack the steamer, CSS City of Vicksburg, but gets caught in the river current and loses momentum. Little damage is done by either side. The Queen of the West heads downriver. (15)
Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: With the Northern public impatient at his delay, General Grant can’t wait for the Mississippi River flooding to end. He proposes three routes of simultaneous attack on Vicksburg. Meanwhile, troops are busy at digging a canal (or “‘that big canal’ to turn the course of the Mississippi River,” as an Atlanta newspaper describes it), and other projects to clear transport routes. (21)
Other: Lincoln thanks the workingmen of London for their support of “your policy along the path of emancipation.”
Battles: Mississippi operations: Below the mouth of the Red River, the USS Queen of the West captures three Confederate vessels, one empty and the other two loaded with supplies. After removing the crew and passengers, the Federals destroy all three vessels. (15)
West Tennessee operations/Dover: Generals Forrest and Wheeler attack the Federal garrison in the afternoon. It’s a messy operation all around and the Confederates withdraw. Forrest refuses to ever serve under Wheeler again (see the detailed account in source 21, Chapter 20, free preview, below).
Other: In France, Napoleon III offers to mediate between Washington and Richmond. Lincoln turns down the offer. (6)
(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.
(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.
(12) Conquest of the Lower Mississippi. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(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.
(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).
Categories: American Civil War