150 Years Ago, February 1863

by James Durney on February 4, 2013 · 1 comment

150 Years Ago

February 1863

Winter holds the Virginia armies hostage.  The “Mud March” is both an example and warning to commanders about conducting operations.  The infantry and artillery stay snug in their winter camps.  The men live in log huts using tents for a roof.  Cracker boxes become chimneys, cabinets and furniture making the hut livable.  Mud fills any gaps between the logs.  Drill almost disappears from the schedule.  Sentry and picket are the only real duties scheduled.  The men settle into a routine of newspapers, books, letters, church, gambling and drinking depending on their personalities.  Officer’s wives come for extended visits.  A few lucky men get a furlough but most stick to their hut.

This is the time of Religious Revivals in all the armies.  The Army of Northern Virginia engaged in a series of revivals that converted many men.  These activities varied depending on the units.  Large revival meetings, professions of faith and God’s intervention in soldiers’ lives were popular.   Equally popular were small groups engaging in Bible Study, pray and discussions.  While revivals take place each winter, this is the time of “The Great Revival”, the largest and most remembered of the war.

Snow causes major confrontations as thousands engage in epic snowball fights.  These large battles are in diaries, letters home and fondly remembered in the years after the war.

While both sides hold snowball fights, Confederate armies seem to have been the most receptive to snowball fights.  The Army of Northern Virginia held the largest of the fights.  During the two-day Battle of Rappahannock Academy, approximately 10,000 Confederate soldiers fought in about a foot snow.  One participant described this battle as one of the “most memorable combats of the war.”

Internationally, European intervention in the war is having a slow death.  Secretary Seward receives an offer from France to mediate the war.  Seward rejects the French offer 3-days later.  Queen Victoria, while Seward is preparing his answer to the French, tells Parliament why the government will not offer to mediate the war.  Her reason is that England cannot find enough common ground to have a reasonable expectation of success.  A week later, confederate agent James M. Mason speaks at the London Lord Mayor’s Banquet promoting recognition of the CSA.

Grant continues to search for the key to Vicksburg.  The current plan is to cut the levee raising the water level to Porter’s ships behind and below the city.  For one reason or another, each attempt fails.  Grant and Porter are above the city, unable to overcome the defenses without excessive losses.

Hooker is making the Army of the Potomac his army, gone are Burnside’s Grand Divisions.  The reorganized AoP is nine infantry and one cavalry corps.  George Stoneman commands the cavalry.  John F. Reynolds commands the I Corps, Darius N. Couch the II, Daniel E. Sickles the III, George G. Mead the V, John Sedgwick the VI, William F. Smith the IX, Franz Sigel the XI and Harry W. Slocum the XII.  While commanders and corps will change, this basic organization lasts until the end of the war.

The consolidation of the AoP’s Cavalry into a Corps is a major change with far reaching consequences.  The assignment of cavalry to major infantry formations for the commander’s use ends.  From now on, the Union Cavalry, in the East, will fight as a unified force.

Inflation is devaluing the Confederate currency to the extent that a dollar is worth only 20 cents in 1861 buying power.

Troopers of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler and John H. Morgan raid in Tennessee.  Wheeler’s attack on the Cumberland Iron Works fails.  Forrest attack on Fort Donelson results in approximately 800 causalities while inflicting fewer than 50 causalities.  Morgan’s attack on troops near Cainsville fails.

Inland, the Navy concentrates on the Mississippi, the Yazoo and Red rivers.  The blockade tightens.

While the Blockade Fleet captures more blockade-runners, this is still a profitable enterprise.

The United States institutes conscription on the 16th.  All white men, 20 to 45 are liable for military service.  States will draft only if voluntary enlistments do not fill their quota.  Draftees can hire a substitute for about what a worker makes in a year.

The Copperhead movement is coming under attack.  The military stop publication of The Chicago Times making disloyal statements.  Grant rescinds the order about ten days later.  Northern troops end a convention of Democrats in Frankfort Kentucky for pro-Confederate activities.  Northern soldiers at a hospital in Keokuk Iowa, ransack the office of the Constitution for publishing anti-war statements.

Arizona becomes a separate territory, when Congress splits New Mexico Territory in two.

Colonel Alfred H. Terry skirmishes with the Sioux in Dakota Territory.  This portion of the Sioux nation is fleeing Minnesota after the uprising in 1862.

The National Council of Cherokee Indians abolishes slavery, renounce their alliance with the CSA and rejoin the USA.

Reading the War

While God Is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers by Steven E. Woodworth is a well-written balanced look at religion in the armies.

A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman covers Great Britain’s options, attitudes and opportunities during the war.

The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863 by Eric Wittenberg looks at the use and abuse of the Union Cavalry early in the war.

War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 by James M. McPherson has information on the naval operations at Vicksburg and the blockade.

Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North by Jennifer L. Weber is a very readable look at this movement.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chris Coleman February 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

Your comments about winter quarters for the Army of the Potomac and their general idleness during off season, illuminates a contrast between the eastern theatre and the forces in the western theatre. In general, the Army of the Potomac didn’t like to fight in cold weather–or do much of anything else during the cold months. While no doubt the soldiers of the western theatre disliked campaigning in cold and/or rainy weather too, consider how many major battles and campaigns were conducted in the west: Donelson/Henry, Stones River, the Battle of Nashville, etc.

A great deal was made about the “Mud Campaign” in the east and how awful it was trying to move men and materiel; it was almost standard for the western armies to have to slog through muddy, sodden roads: even the immensely successful summer Tullahoma Campaign had to contend with General Mud.

I wonder how many other CW enthusiasts/historians have picked up on this contrast.


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