The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – December 2-8, 1863

Medallion with the Great Seal of the Confederacy.  (Library of Congress)

Medallion with the Great Seal of the Confederacy. (Library of Congress)

Here’s a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week.

The Confederacy’s elections for its second congress are over. Per McPherson (3), the main issues were conscription, impressment, taxes and management of finances.

As for the war, CS President Davis blames General Joseph Johnston for the battlefield reversals. While he can’t speak out in public, General Johnston, in letters to family, blames the losses on Richmond’s ambiguous orders and is critical of Davis’s leadership. The general has become a “shield” for critics of the administration.

The number of openly critical representatives in the 106-member CS Congress has gone from 26 up to 41. President Davis still has a narrow margin of congressional support, but his biggest boosters are from areas under Union occupation where Confederate elections couldn’t be held; these incumbents have just remained in office.

The southern equivalent of the North’s “copperheads” are the “reconstructionists” or “tories” (small “t”). Like its Yankee counterpart, the southern peace faction is still a minority.

Encouraged by the outcome of the elections down south, US President Lincoln (taking the controversial view that secession was illegal rather than treasonous or “state suicide” and that therefore southern states remain in the Union and can be reconstructed by loyal officials) offers a carefully worded offer of amnesty and pardon on December 8th.

Destroyed bridge across the Tennessee River (location uncertain) and pontoon bridge under construction in 1863.  (Library of Congress)

Destroyed bridge across the Tennessee River (location uncertain) and pontoon bridge under construction in 1863. (Library of Congress)

December 2

Military events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville: Confederate forces evacuate Loudon as General Sherman’s relief troops approach, destroying everything they can’t take with them and rendering the bridge across the Tennessee unusable.

Meanwhile, there is heavy skirmishing between Longstreet’s men and Burnside’s Cumberland Gap forces all day at Walker’s Ford and elsewhere along the Clinch River. Federals win a defensive tactical victory at Walker’s Ford, but Longstreet easily counters it by redeploying several units. Sherman’s approach is a much more serious concern. Confederates have captured a courier with dispatches from Grant indicating the advance of three columns, and Longstreet decides to withdraw to Virginia. (17)

South Carolina operations/Siege of Charleston: Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (19)

Virginia operations/Mine Run Campaign: US General Meade withdraws to the north, ending the campaign. (6) The Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia can now go into winter quarters.

A salt raid on the Florida coast during the war.  (Source)

A salt raid on the Florida coast during the war. (Source)

Blockade operations: “One of the primary duties for U.S. Navy ships operating along the Florida coast, along with watching for smugglers and blockade-runners, was keeping an eye out for salt works. Although some salt, in both South and North, was dug in mines where it had been deposited as ancient ocean beds evaporated, much more came from coastal operations. Sea water would be scooped into kettles and the water boiled off, or placed in shallow pans to evaporate. The USS Restless came upon such an operation today on Lake Ocala, Fla., that was producing an incredible 130 bushels of salt per day. Acting Master William R. Browne ordered the boilers destroyed, along with two flatboats and six ox carts, and had all the salt returned to the sea from whence it came. He also took 17 prisoners.” (9)

Other: US President Lincoln is still confined to the sick bed because of varioloid smallpox but is working as much as possible. (5)

December 3

Military events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville: With the bridge at Loudon out, Sherman changes his approach, sending only one corps to Loudon and directing his other troops towards Morgantown, where they can cross the Little Tennessee River and approach Knoxville from the south, using Burnside’s supply pontoon bridge to enter the city. The big question for Union strategists: Will Longstreet bypass Sherman by marching east from Knoxville on his way south to rejoin Bragg, or will he (as Grant believes) head northeast along the line of the railroad link to Virginia? Sherman sends riders ahead to inform Burnside of the relief column’s presence.

Meanwhile, Longstreet is moving his trains (of supplies) northeast, with cavalry acting as a rearguard. Sherman’s first attempt at bridge-building across the 240-yard-wide Little Tennessee fails. (17)

"The Supply Train," by E. Forbes (Library of Congress)

“The Supply Train,” by E. Forbes (Library of Congress)

Northern Mississippi operations: CS General Stephen Lee is ordering strikes against stations on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad to divert attention. CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his small force are moving out towards Jackson, Tennessee. (4, 10)

South Carolina operations/Siege of Charleston: Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (19)

December 4

Military events/Battles: Eastern Tennessee operations/Siege of Knoxville: Sherman issues final orders for the approach on Knoxville. “With no rope, a handful of nails, and but six axes, three saws and three bad augers,” it takes US troops all day to bridge the Little Tennessee. Confederate skirmishers are extremely active all day, and US troops note the movement of Longstreet’s trains but can’t hit them with gunfire. Artillery under CS Colonel Alexander is active until around 2 p.m., when they start to disengage in preparation for withdrawal. Some Union infantry conduct a reconnaissance in force but are driven back. At dusk, as bad weather moves in, the bulk of Longstreet’s infantry start clearing out, protected both by skirmishers and the inclement weather. The withdrawal continues overnight, becoming a real endurance trial as the skies clear and the temperature plummets, freezing muddy roads into icy spikes. Federal observers outside Knoxville watch enemy campfires around the city gradually go out, one by one. Some US skirmishers enter empty CS trenches around 2 a.m., but the bulk of Sherman’s men wait for dawn. (17, including quote)

Unidentified Confederate cavalryman during the war.  (Library of Congress)

Unidentified Confederate cavalryman during the war. (Library of Congress)

Northern Mississippi operations: General Forrest and his men safely cross the railroad. General Stephen Lee tells General Joe Johnston that Forrest has “marched into west Tennessee with four hundred and fifty men and two guns, having been compelled to leave the balance of his artillery for lack of horses to pull them.” This is in General Sherman’s area of responsibility, but he’s busy in East Tennessee, and on being informed of Forrest’s movement, says that he is “indifferent to Forrest’s reported expedition. He may cavort about the country as much as he pleases.” Sherman will soon change his mind. (11, including quotes)

South Carolina operations/Siege of Charleston: Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (19)

December 5

Military events: Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville Campaign: Union observers in Knoxville watch the tail end of Longstreet’s column moving away at dawn. At Blain’s Cross Roads, some 18 miles from the city, Longstreet orders a rest stop. One of CS President Davis’s aides-de-camp arrives with some more troops and word from Davis, that unless Longstreet has a better idea, he should withdraw to southwestern Virginia. (17)

Northern Mississippi/West Tennessee operations: After defeating a unit of US General Grierson’s cavalry, General Forrest reaches Bolivar, Tennessee, where they are “received by the people with profound pleasure, and a sumptuous provision [i]s made for the entertainment of men and horses.” (4, including quote; 11)

South Carolina operations/Siege of Charleston: Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (19)

Views of Knoxville, from Harper's Weekly in early 1864.  (Library of Congress)  Click to enlarge.

Views of Knoxville, from Harper’s Weekly in early 1864. (Library of Congress) Click to enlarge.

December 6

Military events: Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville Campaign: Sherman is in Knoxville and offers to help Burnside go after Longstreet, although he notes that his men are weary after the long march. Burnside takes the hint and just requests two divisions. Two cavalry units are sent out to await developments, and Sherman decides to take his two corps and a division from the Army of the Tennessee back to Chattanooga.

During the day Longstreet has moved on to Rutledge, seeing no sign of pursuit. He thinks he can remain in East Tennessee if the railroads to Virginia are made operable. He telegraphs Richmond and receives “full discretion” from Davis. (17, 20)

Northern Mississipi/West Tennessee operations: General Forrest reaches Jackson, Tennessee, where he is welcomed. He writes General Joe Johnston that he now has 5,000 troops and expects more as his presence in Jackson becomes more widely known. He reports that men who had been conscripted by the Federals in Kentucky are deserting and joining him at a rate of 50-100 daily, but he needs $100,000 (that’s 1863 dollars!) to buy artillery horses, wagons and other materiel as well as $120,000 to pay troops; in the meantime, he has spent $20,000 of his own. (4, 10)

South Carolina operations/Siege of Charleston: Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (19)

December 7

Military events: Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville Campaign: Sherman starts back to Chattanooga and the Army of the Cumberland, leaving two divisions under General Gordon Granger to reinforce General Burnside’s Army of the Ohio. Burnside is awaiting the arrival of General Foster, his replacement, who is traveling with the US force that had held the Cumberland Gap. Burnside leaves Granger’s troops in Knoxville and sends infantry out after Longstreet under his chief-of-staff General John Parke this day. The men are very poorly supplied; many are barefoot. As they trail the Confederate column over coming days, they will also find that the land has already been foraged out. (17) Lincoln, in the meantime, makes the private comment, “Now if this Army of the Potomac was any good … if the Army had any legs, they could move 30,000 men down to Lynchburg and catch Longstreet. Can anybody doubt, if Grant were here in command that he would catch him?” (5)

Northern Mississippi/West Tennessee operations: US commanders in West Tennessee are starting to react to Forrest’s incursion. (11)

South Carolina operations/Siege of Charleston: Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (19)

New England operations: The steamer Chesapeake, en route to Portland, Maine, is hijacked off Cape Cod by Confederates disguised as passengers and redirected to Nova Scotia, setting off an international incident. (21)

Both presidents delivered a state of the union message to their respective Congress this week.

Both presidents deliver a state of the union message to their respective congresses this week.

Other: President Davis delivers his annual message to the CS Congress. It’s very long and not cheery.(9)

December 8

Military events: Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville Campaign: Longstreet leaves Rutledge and conducts a 17-mile march to Mooresburg. Food is in short supply, morale is dropping and desertions are rising. (17)

Northern Mississippi/West Tennessee operations: From Jackson, General Forrest sends one of his staff to Richmond with a letter, informing the government of his appeal to Johnston for materiel and aid and telling them that if they can send aid, and if they move Stephen Lee into West Tennessee, he can regain a great swath of territory for the Confederacy as well as more supplies for General Johnston’s army. Unaware of events at Chattanooga and Bragg’s resignation, Forrest also sends a letter to Bragg saying that with aid he could send 5000 men to the Army of Tennessee. (10) Forrest’s recruiting work has to be done secretly, given the heavy Federal presence in the area.

Definite dates are unclear, but by now Grant and Sherman are aware that something serious is up. Forrest’s scouts report that US troops are on the move. General Johnston also informs Forrest that troops are moving against him from Columbus, Kentucky, and from Fort Pillow on the Mississippi. (11)

South Carolina operations/Siege of Charleston: Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continues. (19)

The Statue of Freedom was set atop the new US Capitol dome this week.

The Statue of Freedom is set atop the new US Capitol dome this week.

Other: President Lincoln issues his annual message to Congress (though he doesn’t deliver it as a speech). He “describes past year as one of health, sufficient harvests, improved conditions in national affairs, and peace with foreign powers. Treaties with Great Britain have suppressed African slave trade and adjusted possessory claims in Washington Territory. Negotiations with Spain, Chile, Peru, Nicaragua, and Colombia have been satisfactory. Foreigners within lines of insurgents are classed as belligerents, and naturalized persons must serve in military. Condition of organized territories is generally satisfactory. Under sharp discipline of civil war, Nation is beginning a new life. Operations of Treasury during last year have been successfully conducted. Pay of Army and Navy promptly met. People have borne burdens cheerfully. Blockade is increasing in efficiency; but illicit trade is not entirely suppressed. Production of war vessels has created new form of naval power. Post office may become self-supporting in few years. In Dept. of Interior public lands are being taken up, legislation is needed for Indian system, consideration should be given to enlarging water connections between Mississippi River and northeastern seaboard. When Congress assembled year ago, tone of public feeling and opinion at home and abroad was not satisfactory. With emancipation and employment of Negro troops there is new reckoning. Crisis which threatened to divide friends of Union is past. Looking to resumption of national authority within states, proclamation of amnesty and reconstruction is thought fit. State governments set up under prescribed mode will be recognized. War power is still main reliance. Chief care must be directed to Army and Navy.”

Lincoln issues a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. (5, 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) The Western Gulf Blockade.

(9) Civil War Interactive.

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

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

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

(13) This Week in the Civil War.

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

(15) Friends of the Hunley.

(16) CWSAC Battle Summaries

(17) The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee, Earl J. Hess (2012) [Note: The dating is difficult to follow in this source, though it’s excellent for details…Barb]

(18) The CSS Alabama’s Indian Ocean Expeditionary Raid (Wikipedia).

(19) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.

(20) March to the relief of Knoxville. (PDF)

(21) A Brief Naval Chronology of the Civil War (1861-65).

Categories: American Civil War

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