Here is a look at what was happening in the Civil War in mid-April 1863. Sorry there aren’t any dramatic John Wayne pictures like last week, but I have included a couple of maps because activity really picked up in the eastern theater and was also heavy along the Mississippi River from above Vicksburg all the way down to Baton Rouge.
Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Grierson’s Raid: At 3 a.m., US Col. Grierson learns that he has arrived at Grand Gulf too soon – Grant has not yet landed. Waiting around would be suicidal, so Grierson decides to go to Baton Rouge. In masterful deception, he paroles 21 military prisoners after letting them hear him and his officers discuss the best way to Grand Gulf and Natchez. As well, he lets a civilian prisoner escape after discussing a ride to Natchez within his hearing. Grierson then sends off a battalion to create a diversion in the west while his remaining force slips off to the east. The battalion rejoins them after leading Confederates on a wild goose chase. As for progress after that, one of the Federal sergeants later commented, “I do not think we missed traveling towards any point on the compass.” The raiders reach Brookhaven where they take and parole many prisoners, capture a mule train carrying sugar, and destroy the railroad depot and tracks. After leaving town, they ride on after dark and camp some eight miles away. (14)
Meanwhile, north of Vicksburg, US General Sherman launches an impressive diversionary attack on Haynes Bluff with 10 regiments on 10 steamers, eight gunboats and an armada of mortar boats. South of the city, Grant is at Hard Times, Louisiana, loading troops for transport across the Mississippi River. US Admiral Porters starts bombarding Grand Gulf, Mississippi, with seven ironclads. Fortified Confederate artillery return fire. The artillery duel there lasts for six hours, stopping after the defenders of Grand Gulf temporarily run out of ammunition. Meanwhile, CS General Bowen, in Grand Gulf, can see at least half a dozen troop transports on the far shore. However, Grant – knowing that public opinion in the north will not tolerate failure – decides to move his force further south, forcing the Southerners to extend their line. (8, 21)
Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid: At Moulton, Alabama, CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest learns US Colonel Streight’s goal is to hit targets in northern Georgia. Forrest therefore divides his force in two, with one column under Colonel Roddey to follow Streight directly, while the other heads northeast to cut off the Federals’ escape. Streight and his men spend the day riding towards Blountsville and camp for the night in Day’s Gap. (4, 10)
Virginia operations/Chancellorsville: US General Hooker sends two infantry corps across the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg, while five corps march upriver, cross and then head east toward Fredericksburg to turn General Lee’s left flank (this massive movement has probably been ongoing since around April 26th, according to Civil War Home’s timeline for the Battle of Chancellorsville). (24) US cavalry under General George Stoneman raid through Spotsylvania County, working around General Lee’s force and hindering communication with Richmond. (16)
Battles and skirmishes: Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations/Streight’s Raid: Day’s Gap, Crooked Creek, Hog Mountain. General Forrest and his men first attack Streight at Day’s Gap and then pursue him eastward.
Military events: Virginia operations/Chancellorsville: General Hooker reunites the right wing of the Army of the Potomac. CS General JEB Stuart’s cavalry is close by, gathering information for General Lee. Lee divides his army, leaving a covering force in Fredericksburg under General Early and marching out to meet the Federals. Hooker hears reports of a large Confederate force advancing toward him and orders his men to concentrate at Chancellorsville. Meanwhile, Longstreet, besieging Suffolk, hears word of Union troop movement in northern Virginia and assumes he will be called to reinforce Lee. (25)
Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Grierson’s Raid: By now, four Confederate columns are converging on Grierson, and a 2400-man force has also been dispatched to cut the raiders off before they can reach Union-held Baton Rouge. The US Army is trying to help Grierson, but they are mislead as badly as the Confederates by his deceptions and launch raids into northern Mississippi. Grierson and his men continue south, following the railroad, reaching Summit by noon after they have destroyed every bridge, trestle and water tower along the way. (To understand the strategic importance of those water towers, as well as to enjoy some laughs, watch Buster Keaton’s The General  – here, for instance. It’s also at Netflix, on the Internet Archive, and available in many other places.)
After leaving Summit, the Federal horsemen ride another 15 miles and camp at Spurlack’s Plantation near Liberty, Mississippi. The pursuing forces are close behind. (14)
Meanwhile, north of Vicksburg, General Sherman continues to act as if he has the entire US Army with him. His gunboats and mortars bombard the bluffs as if to soften them up for an infantry landing. It works. CS General Pemberton in Vicksburg believes Grant’s moves at Grand Gulf are the diversion. (21) Grant, however, is now crossing the Mississippi and lands at Bruinsburg unchallenged. (8, 21)
Battles and skirmishes: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: The battle of Port Gibson. CS General Bowen’s delaying action here (PDF) is today used by military historians as an example of how a numerically inferior force can delay a much larger force.
Meanwhile, Grant’s 12-year-old son Fred, who has been left behind and told to stay aboard a ship, hears the gunfire and slips away to be there. He encounters many battlefield horrors and at first hides guiltily upon spotting his father on horseback, directing troops on the field. Later, during a lull, he approaches Grant, who is surprised to see him there. When asked how he got there, Fred replies, “I walked.” His father then looks at him for a while and says, without any anger, “I guess you will do.” (13)
Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations/Streight’s Raid: Blountsville. Forrest is still pursuing Streight eastward.
Military events: Virginia operations/Chancellorsville: Hooker’s army assumes a strong defensive position in the area called The Wilderness around the Chancellor family home, giving the Confederates the initiative. General Lee gets word that Hooker’s left flank is weak, so with General Jackson he plans an attack there for the next morning, even though it means splitting his force once again. Hooker believes Longstreet has already joined Lee, but the Confederate foraging wagons around Suffolk have only just begun moving north. Longstreet tells Richmond that he won’t leave Suffolk until the wagons are safe. (25)
Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Grierson’s Raid: Grierson has to cross the Tickfaw and Amite rivers, and his scouts report Confederate columns are converging on the raiders. The raiders will have to shoot their way across the Tickfaw but do succeed in crossing, with losses. (This is, I believe, the source of the final scene in The Horse Soldiers, and – spoiler alert! – Grierson did indeed leave his surgeon with the wounded before crossing.) They ride on, reaching the bridge across the unfordable Amite River around midnight, before the Confederates get there, and cross safely. (14)
Other: President Lincoln assures the governor of Pennsylvania that “the enemy which alarms you” is in no position to invade his state. (5)
Battles and skirmishes: Virginia operations/Chancellorsville: It takes all day, but CS General Jackson marches 27,000 men around Hooker while Lee keeps pressure on the Federals with his remaining 13,000 men. Just after 5 p.m., Jackson launches a surprise attack on Hooker’s left and routs the US corps there. Fighting continues on into the night. At around 9:30 p.m., Jackson is accidentally shot by friendly fire, sustaining arm and hand wounds, and his command temporarily passes to General Stuart. At Suffolk, the US defenders attack the remaining Confederate front lines, but General Longstreet has received his orders and withdraws in order to link up with General Lee near Fredericksburg. (25)
Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations/Streight’s Raid: Black Creek/Gadsden and Blount’s Plantation. Forrest’s pursuit of Streight continues. Sixteen-year-old Emma Sansom helps guide Forrest.
Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Grierson’s Raid: Grierson and his men ride all night towards Baton Rouge. By dawn, they reach Greenwell Springs and destroy the camp of a CSA cavalry unit. Next is the Comite River, and its three fords are guarded. However, Baton Rouge is so close that the Confederates are watching that direction. Grierson is able to hit them unawares and capture almost everybody. Later in the day, they ride into Baton Rouge and receive a hero’s welcome. (14)
General Grant’s forces advance into Port Gibson, finding it unoccupied. While reading Confederate papers, Grant hears of Grierson’s Raid for the first time since authorizing it back in February. (8, 21)
Other: The Washington Chronicle reports, that during the past week, a gentleman called on President Lincoln and asked for pass to Richmond. “Well,” Lincoln reportedly replied, “I would be very happy to oblige you, if my passes were respected; but the fact is, sir, I have, within the past two years given passes to 250,000 men to go to Richmond, and not one has got there yet.” (5)
Battles and skirmishes: Virginia operations/Chancellorsville: After a punishing morning of frontal attacks, Generals Lee and Stuart reunite their forces. Lee plans to attack Hooker’s but is diverted for a while by a message from General Early, who is under attack by Federal forces at Fredericksburg. Lee blocks the federal advance and counterattacks with both wings of his army, massing his artillery at Hazel Grove. Hooker is knocked out when a Confederate artillery shot hits the Chancellor’s home and a veranda beam splits, striking the US general on the head and shoulders. By midday, the Federal center has been pushed back. (24) Lincoln is in the telegraph office until 11 p.m., asking for and getting some updates, including this:
General Hooker is at Chancellorsville. General Sedgwick, with 15,000 to 20,000 men, at a point 3 or 4 miles out from Fredericksburg, on the road to Chancellorsville. Lee is between. . . .
Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations/Streight’s Raid: Centre, Cedar Bluff, Alabama. Three miles east of Cedar Bluff, General Forrest surrounds the exhausted US troops and forces their surrender. They will be taken to Richmond as POWs. (10)
Mississippi operations/Western Louisiana Expedition: Three US gunboats moving up the Red River battle two Confederate ships that are taking on supplies. After an hour, the Union ships withdraw, allowing the Confederates to move their supplies further upriver and to delay the Federal advance. The descending US ships meet up with Admiral Porter, who has them join him in a strong push up the Red River. (12)
Atlantic operations: The CSS Alabama captures and burns the bark Union Jack and the ship Sea Lark off Brazil. (23)
Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Grant enters Grand Gulf, which the CSA has also evacuated, and establishes a supply base there. He learns that US General Banks, coming up from New Orleans to reinforce Grant, has been delayed and won’t be able to launch his part of the campaign – against Port Hudson, Louisiana – until at least May 10th. Rather than delay the attack on Vicksburg for a month, Grant decides to stretch his supply line thin and advance, feinting towards Vicksburg to confuse General Pemberton, and then turning towards Jackson. It’s a risky move and he doesn’t inform Halleck and Lincoln in Washington fully about it. He does order General Sherman now to move his corps down and across the Mississippi to reinforce Grant’s troops. (8, 21)
The USS Chancellorsville taking on rough seas in the West Pacific in 2008:
(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) Grierson’s Raid. (Wikipedia)
(8) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(9)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.
(10) Streight’s Raid (Wikipedia)
(12) Conquest of the Lower Mississippi. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(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).
(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) Streight’s Raid, Encylopedia of Alabama.
(20) Battle of Vicksburg. Civil War Home.
(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.
(27) Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, Volume 6, Abner Doubleday (1882).
Categories: American Civil War