The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – August 5-11, 1863

Sheen and Duval (a distant relative) really don't resemble him at all.  (Source:  Library of Congress)

Sheen and Duval (a distant relative) really don’t resemble him at all. (Source: Library of Congress)

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

Things were actually pretty slow, probably because of weather that even Southerners described as “sultry.” After Vicksburg and Gettysburg, there wasn’t much reason on either side to launch major campaigns in such heat.

General Lee did offer his resignation this week.

According to this source, it read:

Camp Orange, August 8, 1863

His Excellency Jefferson Davis,
President of the Confederate States

Mr. President,

Your letters of July 28 and August 2 have been received, and I have waited for a leisure hour to reply, but I fear that will never come. I am extremely obliged to you for the attention given to the wants of this army, and the efforts made to supply them. Our absentees are returning, and I hope the earnest and beautiful appeal may stir up the virtue of the whole people; and that they may see their duty and perform it. Nothing is wanted but their fortitude should equal their bravery to insure the success of our cause. We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies and to prevent our falling into greater disasters. Our people have only to be true and united, to bear manfully the misfortunes incident to war, and all will come right in the end.

I know how prone we are to censure and how ready to blame others for the non-fulfillment of our expectations. This is unbecoming in a generous people, and I grieve to see its expression. The general remedy for the want of success in a military commander is his removal. This is natural, and in many instances, proper. For, no matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops disaster must sooner or later ensue.

I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army. I have seen and heard of expression of discontent in the public journals at the result of the expedition. I do not know how far this feeling extends in the army. My brother officers have been too kind to report it, and so far the troops have been too generous to exhibit it. It is fair, however, to suppose that it it does exist, and success is so necessary to us that nothing should be risked to secure it. I therefore, in all sincerity, request Your Excellency to take measures to supply my place. I do this with the more earnestness because no one is more aware than myself of my inability for the duties of my position. I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire. How can I fulfill the expectations of others? In addition I sensibly feel the growing failure of my bodily strength. I have not yet recovered from the attack*** I experienced the past spring. I am becoming more and more incapable of exertion, and am thus prevented from making the personal examinations and giving the personal supervision to the operations of the field which I feel to be necessary. I am so dull that in making use of the eyes of others I am frequently misled. Everything, therefore, points to the advantages to be derived from a new commander, and I the more anxiously urge the matter upon Your Excellency from my belief that a younger and abler man than myself can readily be attained. I know that he will have as gallant and brave an army as ever existed to second his efforts, and it would be the happiest day of my life to see at its head a worthy leader — one that would accomplish more than I could perform and all that I have wished. I hope Your Excellency will attribute my request to the true reason, the desire to serve my country, and to do all in my power to insure the success of her righteous cause.

I have no complaints to make of any one but myself. I have received nothing but kindness from those above me, and the most considerate attention from my comrades and companions in arms. To Your Excellency I am specially indebted for uniform kindness and consideration. You have done everything in your power to aid me in the work committed to my charge, without omitting anything to promote the general welfare. I pray that your efforts may at length be crowned with success, and that you may long live to enjoy the thanks of grateful people.

With sentiments of great esteem, I am, very respectfully and truly, yours,

R.E. Lee,

CS President Davis refused to accept his resignation.

***According to Mainwaring and Tribble (1992) at PubMed:

We believe that General Robert E. Lee had ischemic heart disease. It is our opinion that he sustained a heart attack in 1863 and that this illness had a major influence on the battle of Gettysburg.

No one knows for sure, I think.

August 5

Battles: Off Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, the CSS Alabama captures the bark Sea Bride. “The capture took place within view of the cheering crowds ashore. A local newspaperman wrote: ‘They did cheer, and cheer with a will, too. It was not, perhaps, taking the view of either side, Federal or Confederate, but in admiration of the skill, pluck and daring of the Alabama, her Captain, and her crew, who afford a general theme of admiration for the world all over.'” (14, including quote)

Military Events: “It was not a happy leader of the Confederate Submarine Battery Service who had to report to his commander today. The gunboat USS Commodore Barney had been making its way carefully up the James River, just above Dutch Gap, Va. Just as the ship was about to pass over one of these electrically-triggered torpedoes, the aforementioned operator hit the button just a few seconds early. The resulting explosion produced “agitated water” and “a lively concussion,” observers reported, but a delay of just a few seconds would have demolished the boat. The bomb did cost the Union two men, who either jumped in panic or were knocked overboard by the concussion. They were lost and presumed drowned.” (10, including quote)

US wagon train crossing a pontoon bridge on the Rappahannock River during the war.  (Source:  Library of Congress)

US wagon train crossing a pontoon bridge on the Rappahannock River during the war. (Source: Library of Congress)

August 6

Military events: Virginia operations: Mosby’s Raiders capture an entire US wagon train and its contents. (10)

August 7

Military events: Siege of Charleston Harbor: CS General Beauregard asks his old command in Mobile, Alabama to send him that new submarine they’re working on. This is actually the third such underwater craft that Horace Hunley has developed, and it’s still in testing, but Beauregard needs all the naval assistance he can get for Charleston’s defense. (10) This latest sub was tested in Mobile Bay in July and sank a coal flatboat. The craft now will be loaded onto a rail car headed for South Carolina. (Source).

Other: US President Lincoln says no after receiving a letter from New York State Governor Horatio Seymour (link is to a PDF file) after the riots in New York City, requesting that the draft be suspended in that state. (5)


“No. This is why we need soldiers.”

August 8

Battles: A Federal force tries to surprise Confederates under Colonel Dibrell near Sparta, but fails, taking heavy losses. (Some sources say the fight happened on the 9th, others that it was a two-day affair running from the 8th to the 9th.) Samuel “Champ” Ferguson shows up with some guerrillas to help the Confederate soldiers. (4, 13) Ferguson’s nemesis, David “Tinker David Beaty, apparently was not there.

Guerilla Warfare is, with the possible exception of Nuclear War, the most devastating type of war for the civilian inhabitants of an area. It usually lasts throughout the duration of conflict and, if a part of a civil war, pits neighbor against neighbor. The men involved are not disciplined troops and as a result should not be held to the same standards of conduct that would be required of regular forces. Additionally, the distinction between non-combatant and combatant is usually lost. The hate that is generated for the family of an individual who one blames for the death of one’s own family member can result in what others will call atrocities. Leaders of Guerilla movements are also usually given credit for any offense against those who are opposed to their cause. Simple robbery and assault are not considered to exist.

There is no doubt that innocent people were killed on both sides during the Civil War. There is also no doubt that both Champ Ferguson … and “Tinker Dave” ordered and carried out the execution of enemy soldiers after capture.
— From the entry linked above for Tinker Dave Beaty

August 10

Other/Military Events: General Hooker accepts Lincolns offer of a command under General Meade. (5)

August 11

Battles: Siege of Charleston Harbor: Confederate artillery at Fort Sumter, James Island and Fort Wagner pounds US forces on Morris Island. (6, 10)

Other: After consulting with his cabinet, President Lincoln again makes it clear to Governor Seymour that the draft will not be suspended in New York State. (5)

Confederate artillery near Charleston in 1863, date uncertain.  (Source:  Library of Congress)

Confederate artillery near Charleston in 1863, date uncertain. (Source: Library of Congress)


(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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