150 Years Ago, March 1863

150 Years Ago

March 1863

For armies that move by the muscles of men, horses or mules, weather is everything.  The standard six horse/mule army wagons carry 1,100 to 1,700 pounds.   Large loads on good dry roads, less off road or in bad weather.  An army’s location determines much of its’ activities.  Hooker and Lee, operating in northern Virginia are on a line with Cincinnati, Springfield and Kansas City.  They will stay in this zone for most of the war.  Grant is operating in a different environment; Forts Henry and Donaldson are on line with Winston-Salem and Greensboro.  Shiloh is on line with Columbia while northern Mississippi is on line with Birmingham and Macon.  The campaign season changes with locations.  Winter campaigns are desirable along the Tennessee, Mississippi state line where the heat of summer can be excessive.  Whenever an army commander starts a campaign, local weather should be a major consideration.  Washington, where they sit in overheated rooms, often fails to understand this.

On the second, the US Congress authorizes four Major Generals and nine Brigadier Generals for the Regular Army.  Volunteers get an additional 40 Major Generals and 200 Brigadier Generals.  Between Regular Army Rank, Volunteer Army Rank and Brevets, the post war army will have interesting problems.

Lincoln signs the Federal Draft Act; all white males between 20 and 46 are subject to the draft if the local quota is not filled by enlistments.  Draftees can hire a substitute for about a year’s wages for a workingman.  This is the first Federal draft.

Congress suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus prior to adjourning.

The newspaper Crisis suffers an attack by Union soldiers upset by the publication of pro-Southern editorials.  Copperheads and soldiers will have many clashes bringing the war home.

The Battle of Thompson’s Station when Forrest breaks the Federal line compelling them to surrender.  Van Dorn accuses Forrest of hording-captured supplies.  The two almost have a duel over this.

On the seventh, in Baltimore, the authorities confiscate “secession music”.  The same day, N. P. Banks starts the Port Hudson campaign.  Further west, Kirby Smith arrives to assume command of the Trans-Mississippi.

During the night of the eight, Captain John S. Mosby surprises General Edwin H. Stoughton, 32 of his men and 58 horses at Fairfax County Court House.  This is one of the key events in the Mosby story.

Confederates fell trees slowing the Yazoo River expedition from a crawl to a slow crawl.  On the ninth, Fort Pemberton, a small fortification approachable only by water stops the expedition.  On the sixteenth, they admit defeat and withdraw.

March tenth is an important day for the US Navy.  Voting 5-4 the Supreme Court approves the naval blockade.  Part of the decision denies the existence of the Confederation States of America while saying a sovereign state can conduct a blockade.  The same day, Lincoln approves a general amnesty for all soldiers who return to their units by April first.

A federal force with a number of USCT regiments captures Jacksonville.

On the thirteenth, the Brown’s Island Ordnance Laboratory blows up killing 70 workers, most of the women.

Admiral David G. Farragut returns to New Orleans after failing to get ships near Port Hudson.  If Banks wants Port Hudson, he will have to storm it.

The cavalry under Generals Joseph Wheeler and Earl Van Dorn becomes a Corps within the Army of Tennessee.

The Battle of Kelly’s Ford occurs on the 17th.  William Averell crosses the Rappahannock with 2,100 cavalrymen.  After a day is fighting, Averell withdraws leaving Lee a sack of coffee, while asking if he enjoyed his “visit”.  Fitzhugh Lee did not enjoy the visit, suffering almost twice the casualties inflicted. The era of Confederate cavalry dominance is ending.  Major John Pelham, of Fredericksburg fame, is among the dead in this battle.

On March eighteenth, the Democratic controlled New Jersey legislature passes resolutions commending the war and calling for peace.  The regiments, in the field, pass resolutions condemning the legislature as “wicked” and “cowardly”.  In 1864, New Jersey is one of the three states that voted for McClellan.

On the twenty-first, General Edwin V. Sumner dies of old age in Syracuse.  He commanded the Right Grand Division at the Battle of Fredericksburg and holds the distinction of being the oldest field commander of an Army Corps on either side.

On the twenty-second, Admiral Porter concedes the Steel Bayou operation has failed.  This is another of Grant’s attempts to bypass Vicksburg using inland waterways.

Burnside becomes commander of the Department of the Ohio.

Nathan B. Forrest fights a series of small battles near Brentwood Tennessee capturing 700 soldiers.

On March twenty-sixth, the Confederate Congress approves the Impressment Act, allowing the government could size slaves and/or food to supply the military.

On the twenty-ninth, Grant orders McClernand to Milliken’s Bend with orders to march south to New Carthage.  Grant is starting to move away from Memphis as a supply base.

The month ends with Lincoln designating April 30 as a national day of fasting and prayer.

The CSS Alabama is active off the cost of Brazil and the CSS Florida is “at sea”.

O.O. Howard becomes a Major General.

Carl Schurz gets command of the XI Corps.


Reading the War

Eric Wittenberg wrote an excellent history of this time in The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863.   Check out Brett’s review here.

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


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