The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – May 4-12, 1863

Here is a look at what was happening in the Civil War 150 years ago. It’s extended a little – just realized that I didn’t include events for May 4th and 5th last week for some reason.


Richmond newspapers weren’t sold in US camps. (Library of Congress)

The fog of war was very thick in Washington this week.

Lincoln was actually getting his news about the fighting at Chancellorsville from the Richmond newspapers!

Meanwhile, in the western theater, General Grant showed himself a master of the military art of seeking forgiveness after an action rather than asking permission for it in advance.

May 4

Battles/Skirmishes: Virginia operations/Chancellorsville: General Lee, leaving a holding force around Chancellorsville to watch the Army of the Potomac, pushes Federal cavalry away from Fredericksburg, back to the Rappahannock. The Army of Northern Virginia can now get reinforcements. Of note, General Longstreet’s troops are on their way after lifting the siege of Suffolk. (13) US President Lincoln, waiting in the War Department’s telegraph room in “terrible suspense,” sends a telegram in midafternoon: “We have news here that the enemy has reoccupied heights above Fredericksburg. Is that so?” General Hooker, incredibly, replies: “I am informed that it is so, but attach no importance to it.” (5, 19)

Skirmish in West Union, Virginia. (22)

West Louisiana Expedition: US gunboats on the Red River attack Fort De Russy but are forced to withdraw when the USS Albatross is damaged. (22)

May 5

Other: In Ohio, General Burnside has former US Representative and leader of the Peace Democrats Clement Vallandigham arrested. (6)


The arrest of Clement Vallandigham. (Wikipedia)

Battles/Raids: Virginia operations/Chancellorsville: With the US 6th Corps surrounded and Lee able to receive reinforcement, General Hooker orders his army to retreat across the Rappahannock overnight, in a heavy rain storm. (13, 19)

Confederate raid on Harrisville, Virginia. (22)

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: General Grant is moving inland from the river and his supply base at Grand Gulf. From his route, the Confederates can’t tell if he is aiming for Jackson or Vicksburg. (8) Indeed, his plans are a little fluid in nature. During the night Grant reaches Hankinson’s Ferry across the Big Black River on a very cold day. (7, 23)

CS President Davis noted later:

The country through which he had to pass was for some distance composed of abrupt hills, and all of it poorly provided with roads. There was reasonable ground to hope that, with such difficult communications with his base of supplies, and the physical obstacles to his progress, he might be advantageously encountered at many points and be finally defeated. In such warfare as was possible, that portion of the population who were exempt or incapable of full service in the army could be very effective as an auxiliary force. I therefore wrote to the Governor, Pettus, a man worthy of all confidence, as well for his patriotism as his manhood) requesting him to use all practicable means to get every man and boy, capable of aiding their country in its need, to turn out, mounted or on foot, with whatever weapons they had, to aid the soldiers in driving the invader from our soil. The facilities the enemy possessed in river transportation and the aid which their iron-clad gunboats gave to all operations where land and naval forces could be combined were lost to Grant in this interior march which he was making. Success gives credit to military enterprises; had this failed, as I think it should, it surely would have been pronounced an egregious blunder.


Some of Grant’s hospitals were aboard boats on the Mississippi River. (Library of Congress)

Per several sources, this riskiness is also a concern to many on the Union side, including General Sherman, and may be why General Halleck wants Grant to wait for General Nathaniel Banks, who has been delayed while coming upriver from Baton Rouge. General Grant, however, does have a supply line (see source 23, below). Knowing that speed is essential, he also plans to live off the land to a degree that I think has not yet been seen in this war.

General Ulysses S. Grant:

I do not calculate the possibility of supplying the army with full rations from Grand Gulf … What I do expect, however, is to get up what rations of hard bread, coffee, and salt we can, and make the country furnish the balance.

May 6

Battles/Skirmishes: A Federal ambush of Mosby’s Raiders at Blakely’s Grove, Virginia, goes awry when the US troops mistake their own cavalry for the Confederate raiders and open fire. (22)

Military events: Virginia operations/Chancellorsville: At around 3 p.m., Lincoln hears that General Hooker was retreating. According to a reporter with him at the time, the US president turns pale and starts pacing, saying, “My God! my God! What will the country say! What will the country say!” Lincoln gets a grip, though. The overnight storm has taken out the telegraph lines in the area, and he sends Hooker a despatch with news of the battle gained from Richmond newspapers, telegraphing him later when possible. At around 4 p.m., Lincoln and General-in-Chief Halleck leave Washington for Hooker’s headquarters. (5, 19)

Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: General Sherman begins crossing his corps across the river into Mississippi. (23)

Lincoln on April 17, 1863 (Matthew Brady by way of source 19, below)

US President Lincoln on April 17, 1863 (Matthew Brady by way of source 19, below)

May 7

Military events: Virginia operations: After spending part of the day with Hooker, President Lincoln asks him, “What next?

Mississippi operations: General Banks occupies Alexandria, Louisiana – well over 100 miles downriver from Grand Gulf and General Grant – after Confederate troops have withdrawn to Shreveport. (22) Admiral Porter’s fleet joins the infantry units of the Western Louisiana Expedition here. “This would mark the limit of the Union advance as the main body of General Banks’ forces turn eastward to invest Port Hudson while the balance returns down the Red River escorted by Admiral Porter’s gunboats. Virtually on the heels of the departing Union forces, the Confederates re-occupy nearly all of the territory lost to advancing expedition.” (10)

Other: While in his office at Spring Hill, Tennessee, CS General Earl Van Dorn is shot by a local doctor for unclear reasons. Some historians believe it was because Van Dorn had been seeing the doctor’s wife.

May 8

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: At a cabinet meeting, US Secretary of Navy Welles announces the capture of Grand Gulf, Mississippi, by Admiral Porter. (5) Meanwhile, Grant tells General Halleck his advance troops are 15 miles from Edwards Station, on the Southern railroad and all is well. US troops under Generals Sherman, McClernand and McPherson are to cut the railway supply line from Jackson to Vicksburg there. (21)

May 9

Battles/Skirmishes Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: US forces under General McPherson briefly skirmish with Confederate cavalry at Utica, forcing them to retreat. (22) At Port Hudson, Admiral Porter’s ships position themselves and await General Banks’s land forces. A mortar fleet gathers at Baton Rouge. (10)

Military events: Wilmington, North Carolina, is the port of choice for blockade runners, now that Charleston and New Orleans have been pretty much shut down. (12)

Virginia operations: Lincoln asks General Dix what damage has been done to the railroads between Fredericksburg and Richmond.


CS President Jefferson Davis. (Library of Congress)

Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: The CS War Department orders General Joseph Johnston to take overall command of Mississippi and promises him reinforcements (3)

Jefferson Davis:

Large bodies of troops continued to descend the river, land above Vicksburg, and, to avoid our batteries at that place, to move on the west side of the river to reenforce General Grant. This seemed to justify the conclusion that the main effort in the West was to be made by that army, and, supposing that General Johnston would be convinced of the fact if he repaired to that field in person, as well as to avail ourselves of the public confidence felt in his military capacity, he was ordered, on the 9th of May, 1863, to ” proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces, giving to those in the field, as far as practicable, the encouragement and benefit of your personal direction. Arrange to take, for temporary service, with you, or to be followed without delay, three thousand good troops,” etc.

May 10

Battles/Raids: Confederate raiders attack Oiltown, Virginia, destroying some 150,000 barrels of oil and setting the river alight in the process. Wikipedia has more on the April-May 1863 Jones-Imboden Raid that included this event. (22)

I found no images of the Oiltown raid, but it probably looked like this 1901 fire in another oil down, Salem, West Virginia.

I found no images of the Oiltown raid, but it probably looked like this 1901 fire in another oil town, Salem, West Virginia – only the river was burning, too.

Fort Beauregard, Louisiana: Four US gunboats on the Ouachita River shell the fort and then depart. (22)

Horseshoe Bottom, Tennessee: Col. John Hunt Morgan is heard from again when he attacks and scatters a small Union force here. He has bigger plans for the near future. (2, 22)

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: General Grant is at Cayuga. (7)

In Virginia, CS General Thomas Jackson dies after a week-long bout of pneumonia, although modern physicians think Dr. McGuire (and Google) may have misunderstood the cause of death, which was probably a pulmonary embolism.

General Lee, General Order 61:

With deep grief, the Commanding General announces to the army the death of Lieutenant-General T. J. Jackson, who expired on the 10th instant, at a quarter past three P.M. The daring skill and energy of this great and good soldier, by the decree of an all-wise Providence, are now lost to us. But while we mourn his death, we feel that his spirit lives, and will inspire the army with his indomitable courage and unshaken confidence in God as our hope and strength. Let his name be a watchword to his corps, who have followed him to victory in so many fields. Let his officers and soldiers emulate his invincible determination to do everything in defence of our beloved country.

R. E. LEE.

May 11

Military events: Mississippi operations: Lincoln asks General Dix if Richmond papers have mentioned Grand Gulf or Vicksburg.

General Grant telegraphs to General Halleck:

My forces will be this evening as far advanced towards Jackson as Fourteen-mile creek, the left near Black river, and extending in a line as nearly east and west as they can get without bringing on a battle. As I shall communicate with Grand Gulf no more, except it becomes necessary to send a [wagon] train with heavy escort, you may not hear from me again for several days.

Halleck wires back, telling him to unite with General Banks, “if possible,” Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Grant, however, is already on his way.

May 12

Battles: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg. The battle of Raymond. Vicksburg’s rail supply line is severed. (21)

Jefferson Davis:

On the 12th, the same day General Pemberton had applied for reinforcements, he instructed Major-General Stevenson as follows :

“From information received, it is evident that the enemy is advancing in force on Edwards’s Depot and Big Black Bridge; hot skirmishing has been going on all the morning, and the enemy are at Fourteen-Mile Creek. You must move with your whole division to the support of Loring and Bowen at the bridge, leaving Baldwin’s and Moore’s brigades to protect your right.”

In consequence of that information, Brigadier-General Gregg, who was near Raymond, received cautionary instruction; notwithstanding which, he was attacked by a large body of the enemy’s forces, and his single brigade, with great gallantry and steadiness, held them in check for several hours, and then retired in such good order as to attract general admiration. Meantime, bodies of the enemy’s troops were sent into the interior villages, and much damage was done in them, and to the defenseless, isolated homes in the country.

Military events: Mississippi operations/Vicksburg: Generals Grant and Sherman are at Dillon’s Farm on the Southern railroad/Fourteen Mile Creek. Upon hearing of the fight at Raymond and learning that General Joe Johnston is arriving with reinforcement, Grant decides to head straight to Jackson, about a dozen miles away, and take it. (3, 7, 23)

Other: With the countryside filled with news that “the Yankees are coming,” Mrs. Lord and her family (who have taken refuge from Vicksburg at the Flowers plantation on the Big Black River) and Mrs. McRae and her family (similar refugees, at Bolton Depot near Jackson) decide to head back to Vicksburg, where their husbands are. Twelve-year-old Fred Grant, meanwhile, is at his father’s side. (11)

Fred Grant describes one of many little skirmishes the US troops faced during their march through Mississippi:

…the enemy’s sharpshooters opened fire on us. One of the staff shouted to my father that they were aiming at him. His answer was to turn his horse and dash into the woods in the direction whence the bullets were coming.

Meanwhile, all citizens that could were trying to get out of the way:

"The Yankees are coming!" (11)

“The Yankees are coming!” (11)


(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)  Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.

(8)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.

(9)   The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby.

(10)  Conquest of the Lower Mississippi.

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

(12) Civil War Interactive.

(13) Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, edited by J. Gregory Acken (1998).

(14) Mosby Heritage Area Association: Chronology of Mosby’s Life.

(15)  Battle of Vicksburg. Civil War Home.

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

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

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

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

(20) Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, Volume 6, Abner Doubleday (1882).

(21) The Vicksburg Campaign (Wikipedia)

(22) Civil War Raids and Skirmishes in 1863.

(23) Grant’s Vicksburg Supply Line.

Categories: American Civil War

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