The End of 1863

December 31, 1863 – With the coming of a new year, morale among southerners fell to an all-time low as prospects for a Federal victory seemed brighter than ever.

This year had begun inauspiciously for the Federals with defeats at Galveston, Charleston Harbor, and Chancellorsville, but they rebounded with historic victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, Tullahoma, Little Rock, and Knoxville. And although the Federals had suffered a resounding defeat at Chickamauga, they reversed the setback by driving most Confederate forces out of Tennessee.

U.S. Navy Secy Gideon Welles | Image Credit:

As Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary, “The year closes more satisfactorily than it commenced. The war has been waged with success, although there have been in some instances errors and misfortunes. But the heart of the nation is sounder and its hopes higher.”

Southerners did not share this sentiment. An article in the Richmond Examiner, published on New Year’s Eve, spoke for most in the Confederacy when it declared:

“To-day closes the gloomiest year of our struggle. No sanguine hope of intervention buoys up the spirits of the confederate public as at the end of 1861. No brilliant victory like that of Fredericksburgh encourages us to look forward to a speedy and successful termination of the war, as in the last weeks of 1862.”

The writer discounted the recent minor Confederate victories at Mine Run and Bean’s Station: “(George G.) Meade’s advance was hardly meant in earnest, and Bean’s Station is a poor set-off to the loss of the gallant men who fell in the murderous assault on Knoxville.”

One of the most startling military transformations this year involved the improvement of the Federal cavalry, which now nearly matched its declining Confederate counterpart. The article maintained that with the “deficiencies of our cavalry service, Lincoln’s squadrons of horses threaten to be as universal a terror, as pervasive a nuisance, as his squadrons of gun-boats were some months since.” The writer continued:

“The advantages gained at Chancellorsville and Chickamauga have had heavy counterpoises. The one victory led to the fall of (Thomas “Stonewall”) Jackson and the deposition of (Joseph) Hooker, the other led first to nothing and then to the indelible disgrace of Lookout Mountain. The Confederacy has been cut in twain along the line of the Mississippi, and our enemies are steadily pushing forward their plans for bisecting the eastern moiety.”

Regarding the southern way of life, “poverty has become penury, penury is lapsing into pauperism,” and there had been a “complete upturning of our social relations, the only happy people are those who have black hearts or black skins.” The editorial then lashed out at politicians, whose corruption was courting disaster:

“There is no forgiveness for political sins, and the results will as certainly follow as if there had been no repentance. As all sins are, in a higher sense, intellectual blunders, we must strain every fibre of the brain and every sinew of the will if we wish to repair the mischief which our folly and our corruption have wrought.”

Noting the constant sacrifices the people were making:

“We can no more avoid the loss of property than we can the shedding of blood. There is no family in the Confederacy that has not to mourn the fall of some member or some connection, and there is no family in the Confederacy which ought to expect to escape scathless in estate. The attempt is as useless, in most cases, as it is ignoble in all.”

The editorial concluded:

“We all have a heavy score to pay, and we know it. This may depress us, but our enemies need not be jubilant at our depression, for we are determined to meet our liabilities. Whatever number of men, or whatever amount of money shall be really wanting will be forthcoming. Whatever economy the straightening of our resources may require, we shall learn to exercise. We could only wish that Congress was not in such a feverish mood, and that the government would do something toward the establishment of a statistical bureau, or some other agency, by which we could approximately ascertain what we have to contribute, and to what extent we must husband our resources. Wise, cool, decided, prompt action would put us in good condition for the spring campaign of 1864, and the close of next year would furnish a more agreeable retrospect than the annus mirabilis of blunders which we now consign to the dead past.”


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 355; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 386-87; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 450; Perseus: The Richmond Examiner, 31 Dec 1863

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