The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – April 15-21, 1863

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

Probably not this. (Ultimate source includes Scots being dour.)

Probably not this. (The original source includes Scots being dour.)

No, in the real world of April 1863, real heroes are on the move, some wearing blue, some gray. A very few of them are remembered in history.

Also, three major military raids will start this week, two of them by Union troops and one by Confederates.

And this happens:

April 15

Battles: Virginia operations: Siege of Suffolk. Union and Confederate forces have an artillery duel that ends when the Confederate battery at Norfleet House is put out of action. (25)

Military events: Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid, preliminaries: US Colonel Abel Streight and 2,000 Indiana infantrymen reach Fort Henry, Tennessee, one day ahead of their supply boats. (22)

April 16

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: General Grant runs the Vicksburg batteries. The source for the April 16 and 17 quotes on this is 21:

. . . on the dark night of April 16 . . . Admiral Porter ordered seven gunboats, three transports, and a dozen barges out into the channel to dare the wall of fire. Grant and his family watched. Julia and the children, visiting at Milliken’s Bend, were aboard as the headquarters boat “Henry von Phul” pulled to the upper mouth of the useless canal fronting Vicksburg. Fred Dent Grant, twelve, watched his father puff the habitual cigar, eyes glowing intensely. Aide James Harrison Wilson held on his lap one of the smaller Grant children, who whimpered and held tighter to Wilson’s neck with every cannon blast. The Confederate guns on the bank and the Union ones on the gunboats combined to make 525 of these great booms, according to War Department official Charles Dana. What Grant saw must have looked like fifty Fourths of July – but the glow Fred saw in his father’s eyes reflected more than cannon blasts. On the Vicksburg bank, they ignited barrels of tar and great piles of pine logs as daring skiff-borne lookouts sped to the Louisiana side and fired entire houses.

Each vessel required twenty minutes to pass the guns. In the disarray, smoke, and confusion the boats and barges spun in a complete circle once and even twice like slow-motion tops. Some crashed into each other and lost parts of their protective piles of cotton and hay bales. Some of the cotton, set ablaze by the Confederate cannons, fell overboard and bobbed on the current, making scores of floating bonfires.

. . .

All but two of the vessels made it down, the only exceptions being a coal barge that sank and the transport steamboat “Henry Clay,” which exploded under Confederate fire.

April 17

Battles: Virginia operations: Siege of Suffolk. US sailors attack the Confederate battery on Hill’s Point during the night but are driven off by pickets. (25)

Military events: Missouri operations: Marmaduke’s second raid begins. Some say this began on the 18th. In any event, CS General John Marmaduke sets out with a force of some 5,000 men, splitting it into two columns. One column is to attack US forces under General John McNeil in Bloomfield, Missouri, while General Marmaduke joins the second column that’s heading to Fredericktown to cut off McNeil’s retreat to Pilot Knob. McNeil and his forces instead head for the heavily fortified Cape Girardeau before the first column can get to Bloomfield. (6)

Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid, preliminaries: Streight’s force sets sail again, leaving Tennessee in a convoy with two gunboats and a brigade of US Marines and heading south for Eastport, Mississippi, which sits on the Tennessee River right on the border with Alabama. Meanwhile, the force they plan to rendezvous with, General Grenville Dodge and some 5,500 infantry and cavalry, encounters a small Confederate cavalry force on its way to Eastport. These troops withdraw and Dodge continues on. One of his columns is attacked by CS Colonel Phillip Roddy and a cavalry brigade, losing 2 artillery pieces (Dodge recaptures one of those), 22 artillerymen and an infantry company. Dodge wires the Union commander at Corinth for reinforcements and gets another brigade and battery. (22)

A transport Steamer on Tennessee River (Matthew Brady, undated, National Archives)

A transport steamer on the Tennessee during the war. (Matthew Brady, undated, National Archives)

Mississippi operations/Vicksburg:

On the morning of April 17, the first thing McClernand’s lookouts on the New Carthage levee saw floating toward them on the current seemed a harbinger of doom: numbers of flaming cotton bales and the battered pilothouse of the “Henry Clay.” Confederate adherents along the banks were gleeful, but not for long. At 12:20 p.m., in the wake of three barges, the black, beloved ironclads hove into view. The sight was electrifying. Union officers yelled, danced and began drinking.

Grant’s forces were now on the vulnerable side of Vicksburg with means to cross the river. . . . to launch their move towards Vicksburg’s back door.

Now that Vicksburg is terribly vulnerable some residents move out of town, including the families of Lucy McRae, the 10-year-old daughter of a successful Vicksburg merchant, and Willie Lord, the 11-year-old son of an Episcopalian minister. The McRae’s move to another home they own in Bolton’s Depot near Jackson, while the Lord’s leave for Flowers’ Plantation near the Big Black River. Both Father Lord and Mr. McRae remain in Vicksburg, as do the various men of the family who are already in military service. (13)

Laurel Hill plantation house in Rodney, Mississippi, as it appeared in 1972.

Laurel Hill plantation house in Rodney, Mississippi.

Grant doesn’t move right away, though. He sends Julia and the children – except Fred – home. Then he establishes headquarters at the Perkins family’s Somerset Plantation in Louisiana and assesses targets across the river between Grand Gulf and Rodney, Mississippi.

General Sherman and his men are still north of Vicksburg, working on a canal, and Grant considers the possibility of using them in some sort of a diversionary attack.

Another, more ambitious diversion in Mississippi does going today: Grierson’s Raid.

US Colonel Benjamin Grierson and some 1700 cavalry set off from La Grange, Tennessee, headed for Newton Station, Mississippi – the key rail head supplying Vicksburg – with orders to destroy everything in their path.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen The Horse Soldiers (1959) – as a historical documentary, this is a very entertaining John Wayne movie.

Oh, time out for a little fun – this clip from The Horse Soldiers shows a fictional academy and military action, but it’s one of the few times you’ll see John Wayne fleeing a battle without firing a shot. He also waves his hat in salute at the charging enemy, at the very end.

Of note, other real Southern military academies besides VMI sent cadets into the field. Some young men from Tuscaloosa Academy fired on advancing Union forces later in the war, I know. Do you know of any others?

Anyway, here is an image – taken by a Confederate spy – of the real Grierson’s raiders, near the end of their raid and still in enemy territory. (7)


It gives you an idea of the scale of operations in Mississippi in April 1863. This is just a raid, intended to cause destruction and, hopefully, cripple a key supply line to Vicksburg, but it’s also just a relative small diversion from the main attack Grant now is planning.

Grierson and his men make 30 miles this first day and camp near Ripley, Mississippi. (26)

Shelby Foote/NCHGS

Shelby Foote/NCHGS map of Grierson’s Raid. Click to enlarge.

April 18

Military events: Mississippi operations/Grierson’s raid. The US troops ride to New Albany. (26) Word reaches CS General Daniel Ruggles of a Yankee presence in the area, but he is short of men and can send only Colonel Clark Barteau’s regiment of Tennessee cavalrymen to look into things. One of Barteau’s patrols makes contact with Grierson’s men near New Albany and pickets the bridge there, but the Confederate commander holds off, unsure of the size of the raid or its purpose. That night, it begins to rain. (14)

April 19

Battles: Virginia operations/Siege of Suffolk: Three US land batteries fire on the Confederate battery at Hill’s Point while troops make an amphibious assault. The defenders of Hill’s Point surrender. The Nansemond River is now open again to Union traffic and besieged Suffolk can be resupplied. (25)

North Carolina operations: The siege of Little Washington is lifted. (16)

Military events: Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid, preliminaries: The expedition force arrives. Eastport is now host to 2000 men under Col. Streight and some 7,5000 men under General Dodge. Streight has also brought at least 600 mules on the boats. During the night, CS Colonel Roddy and his men sneak in and stampede the mules. Only some 200 will be recovered, not enough for the needs of Streight and his 2,000 men and their supplies.

Streight's men plan to use mules exactly like these World War I soldiers are doing.  Source.

Streight’s men plan to use their mules just like these WWI soldiers are doing. LibraryArchives.

The expedition must be delayed for two days, long enough for CS General Bragg “to hear of it and to select for its defeat the man of all men capable of its accomplishment.” (Spoiler – that would be Nathan Bedford Forrest. Source is 22, including quote.)

Mississippi operations/Grierson’s Raid: Rain continues. In order to deceive any observers, Grierson breaks up his regiment, sending some men back to New Albany, some to Chesterville to the southeast, and some to King’s Bridge, as if the raid was on Confederate cavalry camps. King’s Bridge is empty, but some fighting erupts at New Albany. All US troops then converge on Pontotoc in the afternoon and camp at Weatherall’s Plantation. Mr. Weatherall is the brother of the Confederate officer in charge of local forces. (14, 26)

April 20

Mississippi operations/Grierson’s Raid: The raiders are now some 80 miles from where they started. Grierson sends 175 sick men back, ordering this “Quinine Brigade” to go through Pontotoc at night, marching by fours and giving the impression that all the men have turned back.

At 5 a.m., two hours after the departure of the Quinine Brigade, Grierson and his men start off, heading south in the rain. They reach Houston, Mississippi in the late afternoon, travel cross-country around it, and head another 12 miles south to Clear Springs, where they stop at the plantation of Benjamin Kilgore.

They were spotted in Houston, though, and runners have gone out to notify Colonel Barteau, whose cavalry is the only force that can catch Grierson now. Barteau, however, doesn’t know how many men Grierson has, as reports have been exaggerated. He only wants to find Grierson and hold him until more help can arrive. (14, 26)

April 21

Military events: Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid: The raid begins as Streight’s and Dodge’s forces leave Eastport in the afternoon, bound for Tuscumbia, Alabama. It’s less than 40 miles away, but CS Col. Roddy and his cavalry resist passage all the way, and the Federal troops won’t reach Tuscumbia until late in the afternoon on the 24th. (22)

This is how it rains in Mississippi.  Now, you are on horseback . . . it's a chilly spring day in 1863 . . .  the muddy road sucks at your horse's hooves and legs as your column struggles on . . . enemy forces are close but you'll never see them in this weather until they're right on top of you . . . and it has been raining like this, day and night, for days.  KOMUNews

This is how it rains in Mississippi. Now, you are on horseback . . . it’s a chilly spring day in 1863 . . . the muddy road sucks at your horse’s hooves and legs as your column struggles on . . . enemy forces are close but you’ll never see them in this weather until they’re right on top of you . . . and it has been raining like this for several days and nights. Ready for a surprise firefight? You’d better be. KOMUnews

Mississippi operations/Grierson’s Raid: It’s still raining hard. Grierson doesn’t know for sure but suspects that his attempt at deception with the Quinine Brigade hasn’t worked and pursuit may be close at hand. As a larger diversion, he sends Colonel Edward Hatch’s regiment – the only one with the newfangled repeating rifles (perhaps Spencers?) – to hit the Mobile & Ohio Railroad to the east, doing as much damage as possible along the way. After destroying the railroad, this regiment is to turn and follow the Quinine Brigade back to La Grange, Tennessee. Grierson and the remaining expeditionary force ride on to Starkville, where a company is sent to strike Macon, Mississippi. The main company reaches Louisville, Mississippi, by sundown.

In the meantime, Colonel Barteau is hot on the raiders’ tail, and at the road junction near Kilgore’s Plantation at midmorning, he sees fresh tracks (from Hatch’s regiment, which is also traveling in a deceptive way to make it look like a larger force). The Confederates are fooled into thinking the entire raiding party has turned east.

Hatch and his men are only about 8 miles down the road, eating lunch and Barteau soon catches up to them.

The Confederates charge. Hatch deploys his men and guns. When his lone artillery piece fires, many of Barteau’s men – militia men who have not seen combat before – scatter. Also, because of the intensity of fire from the Federals’ repeating rifles, the men in gray assume they are facing a full cavalry brigade, not a regiment.

In the confusion, Hatch’s troops remount and gallop north, with Barteau close behind and more Confederate forces joining in as the chase stretches on over the next two days. (14, 26)

Virginia operations/Army of the Potomac in winter quarters at Fredericksburg:

I will let you in to a State Secret, which you had better keep entirely to yourself, especially so far as Auntie is concerned – orders have been received to keep 5 days cooked rations constantly on hand. This you know means a move. I will try and give you timely warning.

– Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, USA (source 17)


(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) Grierson’s Raid. (Wikipedia)

(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) Under Siege: Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg, Andrea Warren (2009)

(14) Roughshod Through Dixie: Grierson’s Raid 1863. Mark Lardas (2010).

(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) Battle of Vicksburg. Civil War Home.

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

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

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

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

(25) The Siege of Suffolk. Wikipedia.

(26) Grierson’s Raid. Newton County, Mississippi, Historical and Geneological Society.

Categories: American Civil War

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