The American Civil War 150th Anniversary: March 18-24, 1863

Here is a look at what was happening in the Civil War this week in March 1863.

But first here is a quick look at what is not happening in Tennessee right now (using a wonderfully succinct if not academically certified Wikipedia article).

Two great armies are facing off, not engaging each other.

Google Maps image today, showing four places that were on strategists' minds in March 1863:  Murfreesboro (A), Tullahoma (B), Chattanooga (C), and Vicksburg (D). (Click to enlarge)

Google Maps image today, showing four places that were on strategists’ minds in March 1863: Murfreesboro (A), Tullahoma (B), Chattanooga (C), and Vicksburg (D). (Click to enlarge)

CS General Braxton Bragg, headquartered in Tullahoma (B on the image), has his approximately 45,000-man Army of Tennessee in a strong defensive position about 30 miles south of Murfreesboro (A on the image), where US General William Rosecrans is based with the 50,000- to 60,000-man Army of the Cumberland.

Bragg has been ordered to protect the rail line to Chattanooga (C on the image), where Southern agricultural products are being shipped east to supply General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. President Davis has sent General Joseph Johnston to investigate complaints that have reached Richmond from some of Bragg’s subordinates. Davis apparently wishes Johnston to take over command. Johnston, however, longs to regain command of the Army of Northern Virginia and instead reports back to Davis that the Army of the Tennessee is just fine.

Rosecrans is being urged by President Lincoln, Secretary of War Stanton and General-in-Chief Halleck to attack Bragg, for they fear the Confederates may use some of Bragg’s army against Grant at Vicksburg (D on the image). Rosecrans, however, stays put, arguing that if he attacks, Bragg may just slip away with his entire army and head straight to Vicksburg. The US general is also unwilling to advance a major campaign on muddy roads, although he is sending out reconnaissance units, one of which has just met disaster in the form of CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry at Spring Hill.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, near Fredericksburg, the coming spring will soon stir US Captain Francis Adams Donaldson to write:

. . . the woods fairly teem with birds and the fields are beginning to put forth. Spring is upon us in all its glory. Ah, how many of us will live to see another. God grant that we all may. To see the soldiers now one would hardly think that ere many weeks thousands of them will be numbered among those who were. I never saw the army in such splendid condition and in such excellent fighting trim. I presume the Confederates are in just such good order. God! what a crush there will be when they come together.

March 18

Other: “The financial markets of Paris were presented with a new investment opportunity today as the financiers House of Erlanger offered to buyers three million British pounds’ worth of Confederate bonds. The instruments were to be repaid over a period of twenty years. Although they became at the time prime examples of why investments involve risk, the holder’s descendants have reason to be happy–the bonds themselves are worth a great deal in the antiquities market today. The bonds were indeed quickly subscribed and purchased, giving not only much-needed revenue to the Richmond government but increasing hopes that recognition by European governments must surely follow soon.” – Civil War Interactive (16)

March 19

Battles: Liberty, Tennessee: CS General John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry division is attacked by heavy Union infantry and forced to withdraw to Milton. (2)

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: US Admiral Farragut’s fleet must be supplied from sources north of Vicksburg, since the Confederates control Port Hudson, Louisiana. On their run upriver for this purposes, his flagship Hartford and the USS Albatross engage reinforced Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. (12)

Tennessee operations: A group of “[John Hunt] Morgan acolytes” attack an L&N train near Richland, exchanging gunfire with the passengers and derailing it. As the guerrillas board the train to rob the passengers and seize the mail, the conductor escapes and summons help from a nearby stockade. The attackers are driven off, with the loss of 4 men and 28 horses. (2)

March 20

Battles: Milton/Vaught’s Hill, Tennessee. General Morgan forces a Union withdrawal but has heavy casualties himself, leaving the 2nd Cavalry Brigade at Snow Hill. (2)

March 22

Battles: Mount Sterling, Kentucky. A detachment from General Morgan’s cavalry captures this strategic town. Its Union commander will later be dishonorably discharged for surrendering. (6)

Military events: Tennessee/Kentucky operations: CS General John Pegram begins a raid into Kentucky that will prove unsuccessful and stir up complaints among his subordinates, including from General John Hunt Morgan. (Wikipedia)

Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Both the Yazoo Pass and Steele’s Bayou expeditions are stymied by geography and Confederate resistance. Too, the Mississippi River is now receding, threatening to trap US boats in the canals. US General Grant decides his only chance to come at Vicksburg from the north now is by assaulting the bluffs far to the right of Pemberton. (21)

Meanwhile, Charles A. Dana is reporting almost daily on Grant to Lincoln and Stanton (here’s an example; click “transcription” for a clear view of the text). Dana reports Grant to be “an uncommon fellow – the most modest, the most disinterested, and the most honest man.” However, newspaper editorials in the “Butternut” region are savaging Grant, while General McClernand and other highly-connected officers are using their Washington contacts to get him replaced.

Lincoln will later say, “I have had stronger influence brought against Grant, praying for his removal . . . than for any other object, coming too from good men.” (25)

Grant was one of the few senior generals Lincoln had not yet met in March 1863.  (Images from Library of Congress)

Grant was one of the few senior generals Lincoln had not yet met in March 1863. (Images from Library of Congress)

March 23

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Farragut has the USS Hartford and Albatross engage batteries at Warrenton, Mississippi, just below Vicksburg, while waiting for US Admiral Porter (who is above Vicksburg) to float supplies downriver on a barge. Farragut also asks Porter to send two rams and an ironclad to help patrol the river between Vicksburg and Port Hudson – however, these will have to run the Vicksburg batteries. (12)

Off the coast of Brazil, the CSS Alabama captures the Morning Star and burns the whaling schooner Kingfisher.

March 24

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: A small skirmish at Black Bayou marks the end of the Steele’s Bayou expedition.

Tennessee operations: CS General Forrest, having learned that some of the US troops who had escaped him at Thompson’s Station on March 5th now are stationed at Brentwood, on the Franklin & Nashville Railroad, gets permission from General Van Dorn to attack them. (4, 23)

The house of CS General John Hunt Morgan's in-laws in Murfreesboro (image published in 1863).  It also served as the provost guard  for the Army of the Cumberland during the Union occupation.  (Library of Congress)

The house of CS General John Hunt Morgan’s in-laws in Murfreesboro (image published in 1863). It also served as the provost guard for the Army of the Cumberland during the Union occupation. (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) The record of Hon. C. L. Vallandigham on abolition, the Union, and the Civil War. C. L. Vallandigham (1863)

(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.

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

(24) Captain Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama, US Naval Historical Center.

(25) A. Lincoln, A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009)

Categories: American Civil War

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