This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 13: Arkansas skirmishing persists, troop movements reported in the East.
Skirmishes continue in Arkansas this week 150 years ago in the Civil War, a week after major fighting in the region. The skirmishing follows a Union victory over Confederate forces garrisoned at Fort Hindman in Arkansas during fighting Jan. 9-11, 1863. The skirmishing takes place in spots including Lick Creek and DeValls Bluff and Frog Bayou in the days after the major battle. But such small-scale engagements pose little significance in the larger scope of the war. Skirmishes would continue sporadically in Arkansas throughout the coming months of the war. Meanwhile, this week brings attention in the North to the fact that hundreds of thousands of soldiers are expected to finish their service and be eligible to leave the Union army by May. That report in Northern newspapers the second week of January prompts speculation in Richmond, Va., capital of the Confederacy, that the Union may seek to employ freed blacks for military service. Eventually in March 1863, President Abraham Lincoln will be prompted to sign his government’s first Conscription Act. Also this week, Northern newspapers quote an Associated Press report as saying there are signs the Union’s Army of the Potomac is again ‘‘in motion.’’ The reports indicate Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s troops are again afoot in northern Virginia. But details are sketchy and the report raises worries in the Confederacy that a renewed attempt may be afoot by the Union to advance toward Richmond.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 20: Aborted Union ‘‘Mud March.’’ New commander for Army of the Potomac.
Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside attempts a winter offensive in the Virginia countryside, later dubbed the ‘‘Mud March,’’ 150 years ago during the Civil War. It would go down in failure. The abortive military campaign was intended to boost the flagging morale of the Union’s Army of the Potomac and restore Burnside’s reputation after his bruising defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. The offensive began in mild weather on Jan. 20, 1863, but a night of heavy rain bogged down Union attempts to place a pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock River for troops and weapons to cross. Instead, Burnside’s forces found themselves bogging down in mud along the riverbank amid rebel sniper fire and the campaign had to be called off. Many in the Army of the Potomac emerged demoralized and despairing after the latest failed campaign. And the grumbling of some of Burnside’s officers reached the ears of President Abraham Lincoln, then desperate to find a military leader who could smash the Confederate army. In a matter of days, Burnside would be sacked, replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker at the helm of the Army of the Potomac. The Associated Press reported on Burnside’s departure Jan. 26, 1863, in which he saluted his officers and troops a last time at his headquarters. . Burnside acknowledged that while victory had not been gained on his watch, his forces had shown ‘‘courage, patience and endurance.’’ He added to the troops: ‘‘Continue to exercise these virtues, be true in your devotion to your country, and the principles you have sworn to maintain. ‘‘
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 27: Confederate ironclads harass Union blockade of Charleston.
Two Confederate ironclad rams, the CSS Palmetto State and the CSS Chicora, unleash a surprise assault Jan. 31, 1863, on Union forces blockading Charleston, S.C., where the Civil War began in 1861. The Palmetto rammed one Union ship, firing into the vessel and disabling it. The other ironclad went for a second Union ship, showering it with enough artillery shells that it had to be towed away. After trading fire with Union foes for a while, the low-slung Confederate rams retreated to the safety of Charleston Harbor with only minor damage. The action of the Confederate vessels briefly harass the Union blockade of Charleston harbor — part of a larger effort to shut off Confederate ports from supplying themselves with arms, ammunition and other goods through the aid of blockade runners. Also this week 150 years ago in the Civil War, Confederate newspapers crowed over the South’s success in recently stopping Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside from crossing the Rappahannock River toward Richmond, Va., seat of the secessionists. Burnside’s offensive bogged down in thick mud after heavy winter rains, prompting him to be sacked shortly after the abortive expedition in January 1863. ‘‘Yankee Army Stuck in the Mud,’’ boasted one headline in the ‘‘Daily Constitutionalist’’ newspaper of Augusta, Ga. It added: ‘‘The Yankees were prevented from crossing the Rappahannock owing to the impassable conditions of the roads. Our correspondent says that it was impossible to draw an empty wagon through the dreadful mud. The whole army was stuck fast.’’
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 3: The USS Montauk off Georgia, Blinding snowstorm off Virginia’s coast.
In the early months of 1863, the Union decided to dispatch ironclad vessels, heavily armored vessels, to reinforce the blockade of Southeast Atlantic seaports operated by the Confederacy. The USS Montauk attempted on Feb. 1, 1863, to destroy the Confederate defense works at Fort McAllister, Ga., a point of land near the coast close to the Georgia city of Savannah. Confederate defenders dispatched the CSS Rattlesnake to counter the Montauk and allied vessel pounding the fort. In the end the battle would last only a matter of hours and finish inconclusively. The Associated Press reported on Feb. 3, 1863, that a heavy snow storm has hit the Virginia coast near Union-held Fort Monroe. ‘‘The amount of snow is greater than has fallen at this point in any one time for some years. Four schooners went ashore on the beach near here during a storm.’’ Such storms signal a slower pace to the hostitilies during the cold winter months when roads often become impassable and fighting difficult because of such adverse weather.
This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources.