The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – July 29-August 4, 1863

Here is a look at what was happening in the war this week, back in 1863.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

For some, like Captain Donaldson in the Army of the Potomac, it was a boring time:

July 28th. Made ordnance returns & loafed generally.

July 29th. Clear. Nothing to report. Storm coming up interfered with Dress Parade.

July 30th. Clear. General Griffin returned. Whiskey ration issued at “retreat.”

July 31st. Cloudy. Whiskey ration issued this A.M. – good deal of rum abroad; officers somehow got badly loaded… .

Aug. 1st. Clear – didn’t move… .

Sunday, Aug. 2nd. Company inspection … .

Aug. 3rd. Broke Camp 6 P.M. … Took up line of March at 7 P.M. & bivouaced at 8:45 near Bealton Station.

Aug. 4th. Cloudy. Moved at 11 A.M. a short distance and established Camp by Column of Companies, officers on the flank, Artillery firing to the southward.

Some of Donaldson’s counterparts in the Army of Northern Virginia, those stationed near the Rapidan River, anyway, were undergoing a religious revival. (PDF)

"Semmes of the pirate 'Alabama'"  (Library of Congress)

“Semmes of the pirate ‘Alabama'” (Library of Congress)

The CSS Alabama was far from home, anchored in Saldanha Bay, about 80 miles northwest of Cape Town, picking up provisions from the Dutch settlement nearby. This week, Captain Semmes and his crew were doing some hunting and fishing on land, for a change. It was not all fun and games, though, for they also got news of Gettysburg and Vicksburg while here. Semmes later would write, “This [the surrender of Vicksburg] was a terrible blow to us. It not only lost us an army, but cut the Confederacy in two, by giving the enemy the command of the Mississippi River … Vicksburg and Gettysburg mark an era in the war… We need no better evidence of the shock which had been given to public confidence in the South, by those two disasters, than the simple fact, that our currency depreciated almost immediately a thousand per cent!” (14, including quote)

In middle Tennessee, CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s men under Colonel Dibrell had been given a detail near Sparta, nominally to watch US movements in the area but really for the men to visit home and their family in the area. Federal troops were at McMinnville, only 26 miles away, and the proximity of enemies would spark conflict – but not this week. (4, 13)

Along the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg, US General Nathaniel Banks was busy organizing a whole division of black troops (while discouraging black officers) for the US Department of the Gulf. He called it the Corps d’Afrique. One unit was out this week working with white troops to clear Confederate resistance from the area around Port Hudson while others were guarding supply depots. (16)

July 29

Military events: US President Lincoln authorizes General Halleck to tell General Meade that Lincoln is “unwilling he should now get into a general engagement” with Lee. (5)

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Other: Southern hopes for recognition abroad are again dashed when Queen Victoria, in a speech to Parliament, reaffirms Britain’s neutrality, saying (1, 10):

The civil war between the Northern and Southern states of the American Union still unfortunately continues, and is necessarily attended with much evil, not only to the contending parties, but also to nations which have taken no part in the conflict. Her Majesty, however, has seen no reason to depart from the strict neutrality which Her Majesty has observed from the beginning of the contest.

July 30

Military events: Mississippi/Gulf operations: General Halleck orders General Grant to send a corps to General Banks. Grant sends the XIII Corps under General E.O.C. Ord. (7)

President Lincoln issues an Order of Retaliation, saying that the Union will stand by all its troops, and if POWs any are sold or enslaved because of their color, there will be retaliatory punishment on Confederate POWs. (5, 10)

The CSS Florida in Bermuda, 1863.  (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

The CSS Florida in Bermuda, 1863. (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

July 31

Military events: “The commerce raiders of the Confederacy, although capturing or sinking relatively little of the commerce directed at Northern ports, had one curious effect: by driving insurance rates so high that they caused owners to re-register their vessels under the flags of other countries, they reduced United States flag shipping to levels that were never restored to this day. One of the fiercest, CSS Florida, was now two days out of Bermuda on course for the repair yards of Brest, France. Her skipper, Commander Maffitt, was ill and had requested that a replacement be sent over.” (10, including quote)

August 1

Battles: Siege of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Federal forces begin a prolonged bombardment of entrenchments around Charleston Harbor. (6)

I couldn't crop this Library of Congress photograph of Admiral Farragut without losing some of the cool details.

I couldn’t crop this Library of Congress photograph of Admiral Farragut without losing some of the cool details.

Military events: Gulf operations: Generals Grant and Banks confer at Vicksburg about an attack on Mobile, Alabama. (7) US Admiral Porter relieves Admiral Farragut of command of the lower half of the Mississippi and assumes responsibility for the river from New Orleans to the headwaters. Farragut now is free to concentrate on Mobile. (9)

August 2

Military events: Siege of Charleston Harbor: Near Cummings Point on Morris Island, Federal gunboats assault the Confederate steamer Chesterfield. The action is indecisive and not pursued. (10)

Virginia operations: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac establish lines on either side of the Rappahannock River. (6) “[A} a general calm settled over the Rappahannock valley. Lee was hard at work getting resupply for his Army of Northern Virginia, including the army itself. The problem of straggling was becoming a serious matter, as troops would take informal leave to tend to family emergencies, then not come back. Jefferson Davis had recently issued one of his offers of amnesty to any who returned within 20 days.” (10, including quote)

August 3

Battles: Mississippi/Gulf operations: Skirmish at Jackson, Louisiana. (18) Confederate infantry overrun a US storage depot. Then things get really ugly. Twenty-one black US enlisted men and their black officer, the next day are sent to Confederate lines, but their guard takes the wrong road. The guard finally reaches the lines, without the prisoners, reporting that four of the prisoners had tried to escape and there was a “stampede” which required the captors to shoot every single man. (16) There are also reports that at least two black soldiers are lynched and others beaten.

Both Confederate and US armies investigate. CS General Johnson has the Confederate unit involved broken up and reassigned. Its commander, General Logan, responds that any such actions were against his orders and wishes. US General Banks responds:

There is no evidence upon which retaliatory measures can be properly based, and the reply of General Logan must be received as satisfactory upon the part of the alleged execution of or punishment of negroes [sic].

General Banks and staff during the war.

General Banks and staff during the war.

August 4

Battles: Siege of Charleston Harbor. “‘Battery Wagner,’ as it was called in the South, was a mere spit of land with an installation of cannon on it. This establishment was essential to the defense of Charleston Harbor and both sides knew it. The Union called it ‘Fort Wagner’ because it was a little embarrassing to admit that a wall that didn’t even go all the way around the guns could keep the attackers out for so long. Under either name it underwent yet another naval bombardment today as they prepared a huge new gun called the Swamp Angel, which was expected to blow Wagner to little bits.” (10, including quote)


(1)  The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

(2)  Morgan’s Raiders.

(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) Henry Halleck’s War: A Fresh Look at Lincoln’s Controversial General-In-Chief, by Curt Anders

(9)  Conquest of the Lower Mississippi.

(10) Civil War Interactive.

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

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

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

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

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

(16) The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War. James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., 1995.

(17) This Week in the Civil War.

(18) The affair at Jackson, Louisiana.

Categories: American Civil War

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