The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – February 11-17, 1863

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

There is nautical news on the great rivers and in the Caribbean (click on the images below to see more detail, or visit linked sources), while Major J. M. Crews, CSA, survives his dip in the chilly Tennessee’s Duck River and will eventually live to see the first decade of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, US President Lincoln is becoming more and more isolated in Washington after release of his Emancipation Proclamation (10), and has just started discussions with the British, out of the public view, about colonizing African Americans in Belize and Guiana.

Florida is also on the minds of some Northerners during this cold month of February.

February 12

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: General Grant visits Lake Providence, Louisiana again. (8) In spite of problems keeping adequate supplies of coal for propulsion, Federal ships, including the US ram Queen of the West, seize more than $2 million in cargo (that’s 1863 dollars) on the Mississippi, Red and White rivers. (6, 16)

The CS Florida capturing the merchant ship Jacob Bell.  (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

The CS Florida capturing the merchant ship Jacob Bell. (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Of note, the same source reports that Federal ships nabbed the clipper ship Jacob Bell in the Caribbean, too, but according to the US Naval Historical Center, the Jacob Bell, on its way to New York from China with a “valuable cargo,” was captured by the CSS Florida.

The Confederates burned the Jacob Bell the next day, and Harper’s Weekly eventually reported that “the British Pirate ‘Florida'” destroyed the Jacob Bell.

February 13

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: The US ironclad Indianola, towing three barges (not shown in the engraving), successfully runs Vicksburg’s batteries. (8, 16)

February 14

Military events: Tennessee operations: CS Generals Forrest and Wheeler and their cavalry column, still trying to avoid US General Jefferson C. Davis and his forces, march 14-15 miles but cold and inclement weather force them to stop. (4)

"The Loss of the 'Queen of the West,'" on February 14, 1863, by Mr. McCullagh, in "Harper's Weekly."  (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

“The Loss of the ‘Queen of the West,'” on February 14, 1863, by Mr. McCullagh, in “Harper’s Weekly.” (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: The US ram Queen of the West runs aground on the Black River (per the US Naval Historical Center page, but other sources say it happened on the Red River – it’s the same river; depends on the exact location, I guess).

The Queen is captured, although its crew escapes by floating over to another Federal ship on cotton bales (again, not shown in the engraving). The Confederates quickly repair her and launch her as the CS Queen of the West. (16)

South Carolina operations: In his diary, US Admiral Dahlgren reports President Lincoln is “restless about Charleston.” (5) US Admiral DuPont there has been strongly complaining about the lack of supplies, fuel, and so forth. (16)

February 15

Military events: Tennessee operations: Generals Forrest and Wheeler change their route, and owing to the slippery condition of the road, head cross-country, only moving some 12 miles during the day. Their rations exhausted, they are also living off the land. General Davis is still in pursuit. (4)

South Carolina operations: In Washington, Lincoln and his advisers study a plan to attack Charleston. (5)

February 16

Other: As the number of volunteers in Ohio and elsewhere drops, the US Senate passes the final version of the Conscription (or Enrollment) Act, the first draft in US history (the Confederacy has had one for about a year now). (6, 16) Meanwhile, desertion rates are soaring in the US Army (some 5000 a month), and dire rumors are coming from the Northwest (the general region around Ohio, Indiana, Illinois), with President Lincoln’s secretary even getting word of an impending revolution in Illinois set to begin on Washington’s Birthday. Illinois Governor Yates requests 4 regiments, fearing armed resistance from deserters newly arrived back in the state. (10, 15)

Military events: Tennessee operations: Generals Forrest and Wheeler deflect their march somewhat and cross the valley of the Piney River, some 20 miles, camping for the night at Piney Factory in Hickman County. Scouts report General Davis and his men are some 15 miles east, on the Columbia-Charlotte Road.

A bridge over the Duck River, some time during the Civil War.  (Library of Congress)

A bridge over the Duck River, some time during the Civil War. (Library of Congress)

Carolina operations: Lincoln discusses sending Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox to advise Admiral DuPont in Charleston. The president also consults Admiral Dahlgren about new war weapons and a plan to attack Charleston. (5)

February 17

Military events: Tennessee operations: Generals Forrest and Wheeler reach the Duck River, finding it in flood. “General Forrest calling for volunteers to test the fact, Major J. M. Crews, an Acting Inspector-General on his staff, dashed at once into the surging, freezing stream. . . . The Major was washed from his seat, but, by a happy chance, was presently drifted across and ashore by the current, where he was rescued by some citizens; and so intense was the cold that his clothes were frozen stiffly in a few moments after he was drawn from the water.” The cavalry find a crossing a few miles upstream, and once on the other side, will not have to worry about pursuit again. They reach their base the next day, and General Wheeler departs to the other flank of the army. (4, including quote)

Mississippi operations: From Civil War Interactive: “The captain of a ship is the last of the absolute monarchs, by law and custom, even when the ship in question is a lowly tugboat providing hauling services to the U.S. Navy. Thus it was today that the captain of the Federal boat Hercules was towing a chain of seven coal barges down the Mississippi River. Her captain had been warned that while his destination, Memphis, Tenn., was firmly in Union hands, the same could not be said about the Arkansas shoreline on the opposite side of the river. The captain, alas, ignored this wise advice and came down the channel on the Arkansas side. Sure enough, while his navigation was sound enough, his judgment of the political tides was not. His vessel was set upon by fierce Confederate and guerilla fire and was shortly captured. Hercules was soon seen to be burning, and the Confederates were making an effort to detach and save the coal barges. The Union gunboats, although not willing to venture into danger themselves, launched a barrage of long-range fire and drove the guerillas off.”

A Civil War-era US tugboat, by A. R. Waud (Library of Congress)

A Civil War-era US tugboat, by A. R. Waud (Library of Congress)

Other: General Grant rescinds General Hurlbut’s order banning the Chicago Times as a “copperhead” paper. (6)

President Lincoln meets with New Yorkers who bring proposals from William C. Bryant and New York’s Cooper Institute suggesting colonization of Florida with “armed free labor colonies.” Per a speech earlier in the month by Eli Thayer, this would involve Northerners moving to Florida, where they would be assisted by “7000 negroes there, able to bear arms against an invasion of the State.”

According to the 1860 census, Florida’s residents currently include 77,747 white people, 932 free and 61,745 enslaved colored people (the census distinguished between “black” and “mulatto” slaves, but only counted free “colored” people) – a total of 140,424 residents. The state’s represented voted 62-7 in favor of secession in January 1861. Florida was now playing the role of “Supplier of the Confederacy” and was therefore also under the naval blockade. In fact the US Navy was now running its operations in the area from Fort Clinch, on Amelia Island. Today this one of the best preserved 19th century forts in the country.


(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.

(21) Born to Battle: Grant and Forrest: Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga: The Campaigns That Doomed the Confederacy, Jack Hurst (2012).

(22) Yazoo Pass Expedition: Failed Attack on Fort Pemberton and Civil War Album page on the Yazoo Pass with direct source quotes.

(23) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011)

Categories: American Civil War

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