The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – August 12-18, 1863

Here is a look at events in the Civil War, 150 years ago this week.

Of note, two Confederate generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest and James Longstreet, are very unhappy with how things are going.

Forrest, Davis and Bragg during the war (all images from Library of Congress)

General Forrest, President Davis and General Bragg during the war (all images from Library of Congress)

In Tennessee, the Yankees under General Rosecrans keep coming. This week Rosecrans will move to try to draw CS General Bragg out of Chattanooga with a flanking maneuver by crossing the Tennessee River many miles south of the city. Forrest, who has clashed with Bragg before, thinks that Bragg isn’t inclined to resist the Federal forces.

General Forrest’s men have just successfully fought off US troops in the Sparta area, and Forrest now wants to escape Bragg and counter the damage General Grant’s capture of Vicksburg has caused. He writes a letter to Jefferson Davis about it this week, sending one copy of it properly through General Bragg and another directly to Richmond, in case Bragg doesn’t forward the letter (Bragg, a Davis favorite, does forward it, along with the comment that removing Forrest from the Army of Tennessee would take away “one of its greatest elements of strength” at a time of great need, thus thwarting Forrest). (13)

Of note, Wyeth’s account of Forrest is close to hagiography, but he has a point. Concern about Forrest on the US side of things is so intense, even President Lincoln is asking Rosecrans about Forrest’s whereabouts.

General Longstreet, President Davis and General Lee (Wikipedia [Longstreet] and Library of Congress)

General Longstreet, President Davis and General Lee (Wikipedia [Longstreet] and Library of Congress)

In Virginia, General Longstreet is requesting a transfer to the West.

The bitter pill that Longstreet is portrayed as swallowing in the movie Gettysburg is quite real, especially combined with the fall of Vicksburg.

Around this time he tells CS Senator Louis Wigfall, “If I remain here, I fear that we shall go, little at a time, till all will be lost. I hope that I may get west in time to save what there is left of us… .”

General Lee will regretfully agree to “Old Pete’s” transfer.

President Lincoln in the fall of 1863.  (Library of Congress)

President Lincoln in the fall of 1863. Earlier in the summer, he had said, “Grant is my man and I am his the rest of the war!” (Library of Congress)

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., President Lincoln prepares a proclamation for New York Governor Seymour, calling out the militia against opposition to the draft in the state (it is never used).

The US president has also received an invitation to speak about his policies at a September meeting in Springfield, Illinois, and this week replies, “I think I will go, or send a letter – probably the latter” (15)

The letter he will send to be read at this meeting is a famous one that, according to one supporter, “meets the fears of the timid and the doubts of the reformer. It proves that the [Emancipation] Proclamation and the policy resulting from it are the most conservative, both of liberty and of our form of government.”

Meanwhile, on the battlefield, more literal “big guns” are barking. (A note on the following images/videos: Regulars know I don’t usually concentrate on military hardware, but the thought of President Lincoln target shooting in the park in D.C. – yes – just kind of got me in the groove. Also, those 200-pounders are pretty awesome – what a scene Charleston Harbor must been presented this week in 1863!)

August 12

Battles: Siege of Charleston Harbor: Federal batteries on Morris Island start a ranging barrage, measuring the distance to various Confederate targets, that will last four days.

“They were only practice shots. They came from Parrott guns, which were named for their inventor and not tropical birds. These were special Parrott guns though, heavier in caliber than normal and rifled inside the barrel for greater accuracy and range [on the other side, the Confederacy got rifled cannon from Blakely in Britain…Barb]. The Federal forces had finally gotten them ashore on Morris Island in Charleston Harbor and installed them on their mountings in the sand. They fired off calibration shots today, intending only to test the aim of the weapons. They blew holes in the brick walls of Ft. Sumter with these test shots.”

Parrott rifled guns in Virginia during the war.  (Library of Congress)

200-pounder Parrott rifled guns, in Virginia during the war, like the “Swamp Angel” used by US artillerymen on Morris Island. (Library of Congress)

Also, the new “torpedo fish” boat General Beauregard requested from Mobile arrives by rail. It is named the H. L. Hunley after its designer, Horace Hunley, when the military takes control of the ship. (6; 10, including quote; 19; 12)

U.S. Naval Historical Center

He looks worried. I would be, too. (Source: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

August 13

Military events: Siege of Charleston Harbor: Federal ranging fire continues, now from both land batteries and naval guns. (17)

August 14

Military events: Arkansas and Missouri operations: “Various skirmishes, actions, expeditions and other nastiness occurred in West Point, Arkansas, and numerous places in Missouri including Sherwood, Wellington, and the greater metropolitan area of Jack’s Ford.” (10, including quote)

Other: The Women’s Prison in Kansas City collapses.

Captain Semmes, on board the Alabama in August 1863 with his 110-pounder Blakely rile.

Captain Semmes, on board the Alabama in August 1863 with his 110-pounder Blakely rile. (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

August 15

Military events: The CSS Alabama leaves Cape Town for what will prove to be an unproductive month of patrolling nearby waters. (14)

August 16

Military events: Tennessee operations: “After urging from Washington, Major General William Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland commenced their march toward the Tennessee River and the Chattanooga from the area south of Tullahoma. Rosecrans delayed because, he said, of the ripening crops to be harvested, repair of railroads, and need of support on both flanks.” (17, including quote).

Siege of Charleston Harbor: At Fort Sumter, crews of laborers have repairing damaged masonry with sand, strengthening the faces near Morris Island, removing many of the fort’s guns, leaving only 38 artillery pieces there. (17) Confederates release water-borne mines (called “torpedoes” back in the day) in the Stono River to drift into Union shipping. They cause chaos but little damage and US Admiral Dahlgren orders a net placed on the river to stop further incursions of these torpedoes. (10)

Confederate torpedoes, shot, and shell in the Arsenal yard, Charleston, 1865.  (Library of Congress)

Confederate torpedoes, shot, and shell in the Arsenal yard, Charleston, 1865. (Library of Congress)

August 17

Battles: Siege of Charleston Harbor: “An an impressive display of firepower, Federal batteries begin heavy shelling of Confederate positions ringing Charleston Harbor including Fort Sumter. Using Parrott rifled cannon including the 200 pound Swamp Angel, the artillery is deadly accurate and easily breaches Sumter, but no assault is forthcoming. Although the initial attack is the heaviest, Federal assaults continue off and on until September, 1864.” They fire 938 shots at Fort Sumter, but the rubble and sand there form an impregnable bulwark. (6, including quote; 17; 19)

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper pictured the damage in August 1863.  (National Park Service)

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper pictured the damage in August 1863. (National Park Service)

The Confederates do return fire, and gunfire from Fort Wagner kills Admiral Dahlgren’s chief of staff. (10)

Military events: Eastern Tennessee operations: After waiting in Kentucky because of Morgan’s Great Raid, as well as the loan of the IX Corps to General Grant during the Vicksburg Campaign, US General Ambrose Burnside starts off on the East Tennessee, or Knoxville Campaign. Grant has released the IX Corps back to him, but General-in-Chief Halleck orders Burnside to move now, taking at least 12,000 men to Knoxville, where he is to secure the city and then head south to connect up with General Rosecrans. (20)

After being put off by the War Department, Christopher Spencer, inventor of a new lever-action repeating rifle fed by a magazine tube of bullets, meets President Lincoln and shows him how to assemble it. (5, Wikipedia, Smithsonian)

Third Lieutenant John Alphonso Beall, CSA, of Company D, 14th Texas Cavalry Regiment, with the single-shot, breech-loading Berdan Sharps rifle.  (Library of Congress)

On the other side are men like Third Lieutenant John Alphonso Beall, CSA, of Company D, 14th Texas Cavalry Regiment, with the single-shot, breech-loading Berdan Sharps rifle, accurate at long distances and easier to fire from horseback. (Library of Congress)

August 18

Military events: In the afternoon, Lincoln and Christopher Spencer, accompanied by his secretary and John Hay, walk to Treasury Park and test the Spencer rifle. Lincoln enjoys it so much, he will do more target shooting the next day. (5)

The soldiers will like it, too. No more loading in 9 times:

(Sorry about the ad, but I love this deleted scene from Gods and Generals.)

Siege of Charleston Harbor: “The second day of the bombardment of Ft. Sumter continued today off the coast of South Carolina. Union guns on Morris Island, Mossie Island, and various gunboats were taking part in the assault. Sumter was not the only target today. Other blasts were directed at Fort (or Battery) Wagner and Battery Gregg. Although large numbers of holes had been blown in Sumter’s walls, the incredibly sturdy old installation was nowhere near to being put out of service yet.” (10, including quote)


Fort Sumter cannon (Photo: Rennett ) .  Well, there's your problem, right there.

Fort Sumter cannon (Photo: Rennett Stowe) . Well, there’s your problem, right there.


(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.

(19) The Siege of Charleston, “The State.” (South Carolina)

(20) The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee, Earl J. Hess (2012)

(21) Friends of the Hunley.

Categories: American Civil War

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