The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – Picking up the pieces in late May 1863

For the second time the US army has occupied and destroyed a Confederate American state capital: Jackson, Mississippi.

Vicksburg is also besieged, but it has the terrain advantages and 4 divisions of the Confederate army to protect it for a while.

Son of the South

If you’ve lost Harper’s Weekly… . Source

In the meantime, what is the Confederacy to do?

And how can the US president, beleaguered by a growing peace movement among Democrats and backlash against the Emancipation Proclamation from the public and both political parties, build on his general’s unexpected and very welcome successes last week?

What you do, if you were Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis now?

Where is everybody?

Let’s first take a look at the positions of the major forces.

Once again overlooking the Trans-Mississippi Theater, and after pointing that the following numbers probably include cavalry**, General Lee has approximately 75,000 men in the Eastern Theater, in northern Virginia, facing Hooker’s 134,000-man Army of the Potomac (all numbers here are estimated from this source and Dr. Wikipedia, and are unreliable). On the water, the blockade of the South’s Atlantic ports continues and US Admiral Dupont’s fleet of ironclads is holding after having failed to take Charleston.

In the Western Theater, US General Rosecrans, occupying Nashville, commands almost 45,000 men in the Army of the Cumberland; they are near CS General Bragg’s 35,000-man Army of Tennessee, with headquarters in the Shelbyville, Tennessee, area.

Cartoon of Lincoln, published in Boston in 1863.  Library of Congress

Cartoon of Lincoln, published in Boston in 1863. Library of Congress

General Grant, of course, is camped out at Vicksburg’s doorstep with the 45,000-man Army of the Tennessee, while inside, General Pemberton has 30,000 men of the Army of Mississippi in four divisions. Grant is supported by Admiral Porter’s gunboats on the Mississippi, while further south, US Admiral Farragut is blockading the vital Red River supply line (I think). The blockade of Southern ports on the Gulf also continues.

The Richmond bread riot in early May wasn't reported in Southern newspaper.  Image source: Library of Congress

The Richmond bread riot in early May wasn’t reported in Southern newspapers. Image source: Library of Congress, from a Northern paper

Last week General Lee met with President Davis and the War Cabinet to discuss strategy. He will be called back to Richmond this week, and presumably his arguments – and they’re good ones, based on the current economic, political and military situation (25) – will not change: Do not reinforce Vicksburg with Eastern forces. Instead, invade Pennsylvania, seeking a victory that will lead to a negotiated peace, or else face another siege of Richmond. He gets the go-ahead.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, CS General Joseph Johnston is building up his meager force of 6000 men to some 24,000, but like McClellan, he insists on getting more and more reinforcements before acting and Vicksburg goes without those extra tens of thousands of men. Johnston’s dislike of and bickering with President Davis may be even more intense than McClellan’s, with Lincoln.

Another US general is on the move this week. Nathaniel Banks is taking the 15,000 men of XIX Corps in his Department of the Gulf (based in New Orleans) northward to take Port Hudson and will also be supported by Admiral Porter’s Mississippi River fleet.


I can't find Southern satirical cartoons directed against the CS government, but the anti-abolitionist  "Free Negroes in the North," by Adalbert Volck, still has some sting today. Wikipedia

I can’t find Southern satirical cartoons directed against the CS government, but the anti-abolitionist “Free Negroes in the North,” by Adalbert Volck, still carries a little sting today. Wikipedia




**It's a mistake to overlook cavalry.  Click to enjoy every detail of this Thomas Nast cartoon of all the cavalry, apparently.   Source

**It’s a mistake to overlook cavalry. Click to see every detail of this Thomas Nast drawing of apparently all the cavalry. Source

May 20


(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) The Siege of Vicksburg, Civil War Home.

(24) Siege of Vicksburg, Wikipedia.

(25) Decisional Dilemma Vicksburg or Gettysburg? Davis (PDF)

Categories: American Civil War

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