Category Archives: Military

Charleston: The Federal Bombardment Begins

August 17, 1863 – Federal heavy artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, while Federal naval vessels began bombarding Battery Wagner on Morris Island to the south.

Maj Gen Q.A. Gillmore | Image Credit:

Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commanding the Federal Department of the South, had failed twice to capture Battery Wagner on Morris Island. He insisted that he needed more men to try again. Since no reinforcements were forthcoming, Gillmore instead resolved to bombard Wagner and the other Confederate embrasure on the island, Battery Gregg, as well as the symbol of the rebellion, Fort Sumter.

Gillmore had spent nearly a week positioning 11 heavy-caliber Parrott rifled guns on the southern part of Morris Island and test firing them. Once in place, Gillmore announced to his superiors, “I shall open on Sumter at daylight” on the 17th. The guns were ready to launch a bombardment on Fort Sumter, to the north, that was unprecedented in warfare.

The bombardment would be supported by Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren’s naval fleet, which consisted of the ironclads U.S.S. Catskill, Montauk, Nahant, New Ironsides, Passaic, Patapsco, and Weehawken; as well as the wooden gunboats U.S.S. Canandaigua, Cimarron, Dai Ching, Lodona, Mahaska, Ottawa, Seneca, and Wissahocken. Dahlgren’s gunboats would silence the Confederate guns at Batteries Wagner and Gregg.

A Parrott rifle fired a round at 5 a.m. on the 17th, signaling the start of the barrage. Soon every cannon joined in, with each battery targeting a different section of Fort Sumter. The artillerists mainly focused on the fort’s south-facing “gorge wall.”

Dahlgren moved his warships as close to shore as the tide could bring him to fire on Wagner and Gregg, using canister and shrapnel. All the ironclads joined in a concentrated fire at 8:30 a.m., forcing the Confederates into their bombproofs until the ships fell back around noon.

The Confederate defenders answered with sporadic fire that usually missed its targets. However, one shot from Fort Sumter struck the pilothouse of the Catskill and killed the ship’s paymaster and Dahlgren’s chief of staff, Captain George W. Rodgers.

Gillmore, who could not see the bombardment’s effect on Sumter from his vantage point, sent a message to Dahlgren at 1 p.m., “What do you think of this morning’s work?” Dahlgren responded, “Sumter seems greatly damaged.” Also, Wagner had been silenced, and if the Confederates returned to their guns, “the monitors will run up and silence her again.” The ironclads sporadically fired on Wagner throughout the rest of the day, but they did relatively little damage to the embrasure.

The Federal guns on Morris Island crumbled sections of Fort Sumter’s walls and disabled seven Confederate cannon. The Federals had fired 948 rounds at the fort, of which 445 struck the outer walls, 233 landed inside, and 270 missed. Remarkably, the Confederates sustained only 18 casualties (one killed and 17 wounded).

Despite such heavy punishment, the rubble and sand that the barrage produced at Fort Sumter actually formed a newer, stronger layer of protection for the defenders. Gillmore notified Dahlgren, “I propose the same programme for tomorrow that we had today.”

The bombardment of Fort Sumter and Batteries Wagner and Gregg continued for the next three days. On the 20th, the mayor of Charleston asked the Davis administration to transfer all South Carolina troops from the Army of Northern Virginia to “defend their native soil.” To most Confederates, states’ rights still took precedence over the central government, and things seemed desperate at Charleston.

As the bombardment entered its fifth day, the Federals had fired 4,500 rounds at the fort, with over 2,000 hitting the walls and another 1,350 landing inside. Colonel Alfred Rhett, commanding the Fort Sumter garrison, stated, “The gorge face has been much battered, and the greater portion of it has fallen.”

Rhett reported the “northwest scarp wall penetrated at seven upper and five lowered casemates; breaches 8 by 10 (feet) and 6 by 8 through two of them. Stairway at salient demolished; only two traverse circles of barbette battery, northeast face, in good condition; east barracks badly damaged.”

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate defenses at Charleston, inspected Fort Sumter that day. He informed Richmond that the Federal bombardment was “still progressing rapidly from land batteries. Fort will ere long become ineffective.” However, he added that Sumter “will be held… as long as practicable.”



Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 191; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130;; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 317; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 340-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 398


Chattanooga: The Federals Advance

August 16, 1863 – Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland finally began moving out of Tullahoma to capture the vital railroad city of Chattanooga.

Maj Gen William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit:

By the 11th, Rosecrans was still at Tullahoma, over two weeks after being ordered by General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to confront General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Capturing this “Gateway City” would give the Federals control of southern railroads moving to and from Nashville, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama. It would also give the Federals a vital base on the Tennessee River from which to invade the Deep South. Rosecrans had cited numerous reasons for the delay, including harvesting crops, establishing supply lines, repairing railroads, and having adequate protection on his flanks.

Rosecrans had begun moving some infantry and cavalry, but then he informed Washington that he needed more time to collect railroad cars for his supplies. Also, he insisted that he needed Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio to move into eastern Tennessee to guard his left flank, and he received word that Burnside needed two more days to get going. Rosecrans wrote, “His movement should be felt before ours on the left.”

Rosecrans assured Burnside on the 12th, “We will be at the Tennessee River by the time you reach Kingston. Do you want the excess of rations we have there?” But Rosecrans soon had to change his plans because the railroad bringing men and supplies from Tracy City, “built for bringing coal down the mountains, has such high grades and sharp curves as to require a peculiar engine.” The only train available was “broken on its way from Nashville,” thus the advance was suspended “until that road was completely available for transporting stores to Tracy City.” This took four more days.

The Army of the Cumberland finally began moving on Sunday the 16th, heading out of Tullahoma toward Chattanooga, 65 miles southeast. The army consisted of 50,000 infantry in three corps, screened by 9,000 cavalry and bearing 200 heavy guns. Rosecrans planned to trap Bragg between his army and Burnside’s by feinting north of Chattanooga while attacking south and west of the city.

The Federals moved with extreme precision, as Rosecrans spread his three corps across a 50-mile front to cover the three main Cumberland Mountain passes. This was a risky move because Bragg could have isolated and destroyed any of the three corps in detail. However, Bragg was unaware of Rosecrans’s approach. The Cumberland Mountains were formidable obstacles to bypass, but they also screened the Federal advance from Bragg, whose Confederates could not see them approaching on the other side of the range.

Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s XXI Corps was to feint north of Chattanooga by crossing the Tennessee at Blythe’s Ferry, about 45 miles upriver. Major General George H. Thomas’s XIV Corps in the center and Major General Alexander McCook’s XX Corps on the right would comprise the main threat, moving southwest and threatening Chattanooga downstream.

On the 16th, Crittenden crossed Walden’s Ridge, while Thomas and McCook crossed the Tennessee about 50 miles downriver from Chattanooga. Rosecrans informed Washington at 9:35 that night:

“All three corps are crossing the mountains. It will take till Wednesday night to reach their respective positions. I think we shall deceive the enemy as to our point of crossing. It is a stupendous undertaking. The Alps, with a broad river at the foot, and not fertile plains, but 70 miles of difficult and mostly sterile mountains beyond, before reaching a point of secondary importance to the enemy, in reference to his vital one, Atlanta.”

Colonel John T. Wilder, who commanded the “Lightening Brigade” of mounted infantry under Thomas, screened the Federal center while the official Federal cavalry screened the left and right. Wilder’s horsemen advanced on terrible roads, covering just 20 miles on the 18th before entering the Sequatchie Valley the next day.

The Federals captured a few Confederate scouts, and after interrogating them, Wilder reported, “I do not think there are any forces of consequence this side of Tennessee River.” Wilder’s Federals then turned to help screen Crittenden as he feinted to Bragg’s north. By the 19th, Thomas and McCook were at Bridgeport, Alabama, about 35 miles downriver from Chattanooga.

Rosecrans awaited Burnside’s advance, writing him, “The head of your column ought to appear soon if you are in time.” Rosecrans explained that he intended to attack Chattanooga from the south, between Bridgeport and Rome, and concluded, “Let us have full co-operation. Telegraph me position, progress, and plan.”

Burnside reported, “We have had a serious delay in mounting the cavalry and accumulating forage and subsistence, but all the columns are in motion.” However, he moved slowly while awaiting the return of his beloved IX Corps from Vicksburg, and his army was still 130 miles from Knoxville.

At Chattanooga, Bragg remained unaware that Rosecrans’s Federals were closing in on him, though he continued scrambling to get reinforcements from General Joseph E. Johnston in Mississippi and Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner in eastern Tennessee. On the 20th, Confederates learned that Rosecrans’s army had crossed the mountains and reached the Tennessee at Stevenson and Bridgeport, southwest of Chattanooga. They learned that Burnside’s 30,000-man army was advancing from Kentucky as well.

Bragg, with just 40,000 men at Chattanooga, hesitated to assume the offensive in the face of such superior numbers. President Jefferson Davis declined a suggestion from Adjutant General Samuel Cooper to order Bragg to attack.


References; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18794; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 317; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 677; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 340; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 397-98; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 670; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 137-38

The Border District: Ewing Incites Guerrillas

August 14, 1863 – Brigadier General Thomas Ewing incurred the wrath of Confederate raiders operating along the Missouri-Kansas border by targeting their relatives, including women and children.

Brig Gen Thomas Ewing | Image Credit:

The border conflict between Missouri and Kansas, which had begun before the war, continued raging as the war progressed. Ewing (brother-in-law of William T. Sherman), commanding the Federal District of the Border, had just 2,500 men spread out across Missouri, Kansas, and the Colorado Territory. There were no concentrated enemy forces, but the Federals had to deal with pro-Confederate partisans operating mainly in western Missouri and eastern Kansas.

These partisans, mostly based in Missouri, crossed the border, launched quick attacks, and then disappeared among the population. Since the Federals could not track them down, Ewing authorized the arrest of anyone suspected of aiding or abetting them, including their mothers, wives, and daughters. This infuriated the raiders, who had made it a point not to make war on women.

Ewing’s Federals began rounding up these women and sending them to designated prison camps, including abandoned warehouses and other buildings. One such structure was an old three-story brick building in Kansas City, in which the women were held on the second floor. On the 14th, this building collapsed, killing five and injuring many others.

The partisans believed that Ewing had deliberately sabotaged the building. It was in a dilapidated condition, and Ewing had been warned that it might collapse. Among the women killed was the sister of William Anderson, who became known as “Bloody Bill” following his retaliatory rampage. Other women were related to notorious partisan leader Colonel William C. Quantrill.

Col W.C. Quantrill | Image Credit:

Quantrill had gained notoriety during the fight over “Bleeding Kansas” before the war, making money by charging exorbitant fees to return fugitive slaves to their masters, as well as stealing horses and cattle. When the war began, he raised a group of pro-Confederate raiders that included “Bloody Bill,” Cole Younger, and Frank and Jesse James. Quantrill became a captain under the Confederate Partisan Ranger Act, but when the Confederate government denied him a colonelship, he bestowed the title upon himself anyway.

Four days after the Kansas City building collapse, Ewing exacerbated the partisans’ rage further by issuing General Order No. 10. This declared that the arrests would continue, and furthermore, “the wives and children of known guerrillas, and also women who are heads of families and are willfully engaged in aiding guerrillas, will be notified… to remove out of this district and out of the State of Missouri forthwith.”

Quantrill and his raiders received word of the tragedy at Kansas City and Ewing’s punitive response while camped in western Missouri. Quantrill had been planning to raid Lawrence, the abolitionist headquarters of Kansas that had been sacked by pro-slavery forces in 1856. Ever since James H. Lane, a U.S. senator who led Unionist Kansas forces, sacked Osceola, Missouri, in 1861, Quantrill had sought revenge.

The raiders, who had spies in Lawrence, prepared a “death list” of prominent Unionist residents, including Lane. Scouts informed Quantrill that an attack might fail because large bodies of Federal troops often passed through on their way to other posts. But Quantrill argued, “Lawrence is the great hotbed of abolitionism in Kansas, and we can get more revenge and more money there than anywhere else in the state.” And now, after learning of Ewing’s depredations, Quantrill resolved to attack no matter what.

On the 19th, Quantrill and about 300 Missouri partisans began heading toward Kansas. As they reached the border, Quantrill announced, “This is a hazardous ride, and there is a chance we will all be annihilated. Any man who feels he is not equal to the task can quit, and no one will call him a coward.” Some left, but most remained. In fact, they gained new recruits along the way, boosting their total to around 450.

The partisans rode through the night, stopping at farms to get directions to Lawrence in the dark. The raiders killed any civilian who recognized Quantrill, spoke German (German immigrants were largely pro-Republican), or was a known abolitionist. In all, 10 farmers were forced to serve as guides and then murdered by the time Quantrill and his men approached Lawrence before dawn on the 21st.

Quantrill had planned to attack at night, but now dawn was approaching, so the attack would have to take place in broad daylight. Lawrence was a large town of about 2,000 people, and some partisans began having second thoughts about attacking. Quantrill told them, “You can do as you please. I am going to Lawrence.”


References; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 302-03; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 703-04; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 340-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 399; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 785; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 152; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363

Federals Target Little Rock

August 12, 1863 – A Federal force led by Major General Frederick Steele advanced westward from Helena, Arkansas, to capture the state capital of Little Rock.

After the Federals gained control of the entire Mississippi River, the pro-Confederate governors of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas issued a joint proclamation to the people of their states. They declared that although each separated section of the Confederacy would now have to rely “mainly on its own resources… We now are self-dependent, but also self-sustaining.”

The governors further asserted that they were “able to conduct a vigorous defense, and seize occasions for offensive operations against the enemy… there is everything to incite us to renewed efforts, nothing to justify despondency.” This was largely due to the efforts of Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, who had proven “active, intelligent, and with the prestige of uniform success in his undertakings.” Smith deserved “the zealous support of every patriot.”

The Federals were “powerful and haughty,” and determined not just to “coerce us into submission, but to despoil us of our whole property, and subject us to every species of ignominy.” To stop them, every man, woman, and child had to do their part. The governors announced, “Western skill and valor will prepare a San Jacinto defeat for every invading army that pollutes the soil of this department.” They concluded:

“In the darkest hours of our history, the protection extended to us by Almighty God has been so manifest, as even to be acknowledged by candid foes. Their victories have been to them as fruit turning to ashes on their lips; our defeats have been chastenings to improve us and arouse our energies. On His help and our own right arms we steadfastly rely; counting on aid neither from the policy of neutral nations, nor from the distractions in the midst of our enemies, we look confidently forward to the day when thirteen confederate States will in peace and safety occupy their right position among the great powers of the earth.”

The proclamation failed to acknowledge that soldiers were deserting the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi, largely stationed at Little Rock under Major General Sterling Price (within Smith’s department), in droves. Federal spies in Little Rock reported that the troops were “fleeing like rats from a falling house; they give the rebellion up, and express a determination to return to their homes.”

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit:

In early August, Steele took command of the Federal forces at Helena. Now that Major Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Nathaniel P. Banks had opened the Mississippi, Steele was able to take the offensive in Arkansas. His “Army of Arkansas” consisted of about 7,000 infantry and Brigadier General John W. Davidson’s 6,000 cavalry troopers. The force began moving out of Helena on a mission to “break up Price and occupy Little Rock.”

Price reported that he had 19,000 troops ready to not only defend the city, but to take the offensive and achieve his ultimate goal of regaining Missouri for the Confederacy. This news reached Steele, who responded by advancing cautiously, even though scouts assured him that Price did not have half the number of men he claimed.

As the main Confederate force built defenses outside Little Rock, Price dispatched some infantry to Clarendon and Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s cavalry division 100 miles northeast to Jacksonport. Davidson’s Federal troopers bypassed Marmaduke, forcing the Confederates to give up both Jacksonport and Clarendon and fall back toward Little Rock. Steele joined Davidson at Clarendon, where the Federal advance would resume.

Price called for reinforcements, but none were available. He pulled Marmaduke back to Des Arc, on the White River about 50 miles east of Little Rock. Marmaduke then received orders to send one of his brigades to the other cavalry division in the department, led by Brigadier General Lucius M. Walker. Marmaduke and Walker despised each other, and even though Marmaduke had proven a more able cavalry leader in the department, most of his superiors favored Walker. Marmaduke complied with orders while staying with his lone remaining brigade at Des Arc.

Meanwhile, Steele’s Federals continued advancing “through a country almost destitute of water,” which caused nearly 1,000 men to drop from the ranks. When Steele learned that just one Confederate cavalry brigade guarded the White River, he directed his men to set up a field hospital at Devall’s Bluff, “a more healthy location” about 10 miles upstream. According to Steele, the path from Devall’s to Little Rock “possessed many advantages over the other as a line of operations.”

Steele sent Davidson’s cavalry “to ascertain the position and intention of the enemy” around Devall’s on the 19th. Confederate deserters falsely claimed that Smith and Price were gathering reinforcements at Little Rock. This prompted Steele to ask his corps commander, Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut at Memphis, to send him more men. Hurlbut responded by sending a brigade to Helena, and then on to join Steele’s main force.

After a respite to allow his men to hydrate, Steele continued the advance toward Brownsville, 25 miles from Little Rock. On the 23rd, Price ordered Marmaduke to join forces with Walker, with Walker the ranking officer, at Brownsville. This enraged Marmaduke, who prided himself on having an independent command, but he complied.

Davidson’s 5,000 troopers confronted Marmaduke’s 1,100 horsemen within the Brownsville defenses on the 25th. Before the Federals could launch a full-scale attack, Marmaduke pulled back and formed a new line at a crossroads needed for Walker’s supply train, about four miles closer to Little Rock. Marmaduke reported, “The enemy came upon me, and were handsomely repulsed.”

The Federals reformed and attacked again, this time enveloping both of Marmaduke’s flanks. He pulled back to Bayou Meto, about 12 miles from Little Rock. As night fell, the Federals returned to Brownsville, and Marmaduke and Walker put up defenses south of Bayou Meto.

Both sides prepared on the 26th, and when Davidson’s Federals resumed their advance the next day, the Confederates came out across Reed’s Bridge to meet them. The Confederates put up a stiff fight, then fell back, burning the bridge to keep the Federals from pursuing. Davidson reported:

“A dash of the First Iowa Cavalry, under fire of the enemy’s battery and sharpshooters lining the opposite bank, failed to save the bridge, which had been set on fire by the enemy, everything having been prepared beforehand for that purpose. Our batteries engaged those of the enemy, and the skirmishers on both sides were busy for about an hour and a half.”

According to Marmaduke, the Federals, “failing to occupy the river, returned after a heavy loss, leaving a number of their dead on the ground.” Davidson reported losing 45 (seven killed and 38 wounded); Confederate losses were not reported. Price ordered Marmaduke and Walker to fall back toward Little Rock that night.

Farther west in Arkansas, Brigadier General William L. Cabell withdrew his Confederates from Fort Smith after receiving intelligence that advancing Federals outnumbered him and he could expect no reinforcements from Brigadier General William Steele (no relation to Frederick Steele) in the Indian Territory.

After another day of preparation, Davidson’s Federals resumed their patrol and pursuit on the 29th. Price dispatched his cavalry to block all possible approaches to Little Rock from the northeast. The most important was the Shoal Ford Road, which led to Terry’s Ferry, several miles down the Arkansas River from Little Rock. If the Federals gained control of this road, they could flank Price and force him to abandon the capital.

Federals and Confederates clashed on this road on the 30th, trading fire for about five hours. The Confederates finally fell back to another defensive position, which the Federals did not want to attack due to the approaching nightfall. As the Federals fell back, Marmaduke brought up reinforcements. Both sides continued probing each other’s lines into September as Little Rock tentatively remained in Confederate hands.


References; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 278-79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 337, 339; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 702; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 396

Post-Vicksburg: Davis Deals with Crisis

August 9, 1863 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis tried to regroup after the disastrous loss of the Mississippi River.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit:

Following the devastating surrenders of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the southern press generally concluded that Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, who had surrendered Vicksburg, was the most to blame. Davis disagreed, noting that General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding all Confederates in the Western Theater, had urged Pemberton to abandon Vicksburg, and when Pemberton got trapped there, Johnston did little to try rescuing him.

A letter circulated among southern newspapers from Johnston’s medical director, Dr. D.W. Yandell, in which Yandell (apparently writing to a fellow doctor) praised Johnston while condemning Pemberton and Davis for lacking decisiveness and wisdom. When Davis read this “article/letter,” he resentfully forwarded a copy to Johnston with a message of his own:

“It is needless to say that you are not considered capable of giving countenance to such efforts at laudation of yourself and detraction of others, and the paper is sent to you with the confidence that you will take the proper action in the premises.”

A few days later, Pemberton, now awaiting a prisoner exchange at Gainesville, Alabama, submitted his official report on the Vicksburg campaign. In it, he sought to “disprove many charges made against me through ignorance or malice.” However, “I fully acknowledge the correctness of the principle, that in military affairs, ‘Success is the test of merit.’”

That quote came from General Albert Sidney Johnston when he was assembling Confederate forces for a counterattack after the fall of Fort Donelson in 1862. Johnston, a close friend of Davis’s who was killed at the Battle of Shiloh, said, “The test of merit in my profession with the people is success. It is a hard rule, but I think it right.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit:

Davis responded on the 9th. He tried easing Pemberton’s resentment by noting that in the eyes of the press, success was not necessarily the test of merit; for press favorites, the test was simply doing “what they are expected to do.” Such favorites were “sheltered when they fail by a transfer of the blame.” Those whom the press disliked often had their success “denied or treated as a necessary result.”

“The test of success,” Davis wrote, “though far from just, is one which may be accepted in preference to the popular delusion so readily created by unscrupulous men who resort to the newspapers to desseminate falsehood and forestall the public judgement.”

To Davis, both Pemberton and General Robert E. Lee had recently received harsh press criticism due more to opinion than fact. He stated, “General Lee and yourself have seemed to me example of the second class, and my confidence has not been diminished because letter-writers have not sent forth your praise on the wings of the press.”

Davis assured Pemberton that he was “no stranger to the misrepresentation of that which malignity is capable, nor to the generation of such feelings by the conscientious discharge of duty.” He knew firsthand “how slowly the messenger of truth follows that of slander.”

However, southerners continued railing against Pemberton, with some speculating that his Pennsylvania roots may have played a role in his surrender. Davis received a letter from an army chaplain expressing the sentiments of many troops in the western armies “that every disaster that has befallen us in the West has grown out of the fact that weak and inefficient men have been kept in power,” including Pemberton. The chaplain asked, “I beseech of you to relieve us of these drones and pigmies.”

Pemberton remained disqualified from service until paroled in October. He did not take up active field operations again.


References; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 646-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 397

Lee Submits His Resignation

August 8, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee submitted his resignation as commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to President Jefferson Davis.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit:

As both the Federal Army of the Potomac and the Confederate army settled into their camps following the Gettysburg campaign, Lee reflected on his defeat, his general depression as a result, and his recent health problems (having possibly suffered a heart attack). He wrote Davis from his Orange headquarters acknowledging the high command’s dissatisfaction with his performance at Gettysburg.

Lee took a philosophical tone regarding the state of the army:

“We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters. Our people have only to be true and united, to bear manfully the misfortunes incident to war, and all will come right in the end.”

Noting the natural inclination to “blame others for the non-fulfillment of our expectations,” Lee wrote that it was “unbecoming in a generous people… I grieve to see its expression.” Lee then wrote:

“The general remedy for the want of success in a military commander is his removal. This is natural, and, in many instances, proper. For, no matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops disaster must sooner or later ensue. I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army. I have seen and heard of expression of discontent in the public journals at the result of the expedition. I do not know how far this feeling extends in the army. My brother officers have been too kind to report it, and so far the troops have been too generous to exhibit it. It is fair, however, to suppose that it does exist, and success is so necessary to us that nothing should be risked to secure it. I therefore, in all sincerity, request Your Excellency to take measures to supply my place.”

Lee further explained:

“I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire. How can I fulfill the expectations of others? I have not yet removed from the (heart) attack I experienced the past spring. I am becoming more and more incapable of exertion, and am thus prevented from making the personal examinations and giving the personal supervision to the operations in the field which I feel to be necessary. Everything, therefore, points to the advantages to be derived from a new commander, and I the more anxiously urge the matter upon Your Excellency from my belief that a younger and abler man than myself can readily be attained.”

Lee’s letter of resignation shocked Davis, who relied on Lee as his top field commander. Dealing with other pressing matters at the same time, Davis responded to Lee three days later:

“Yours of the 8th instant has been received. There has been nothing which I have found to require a greater effort of patience than to bear the criticisms of the ignorant, who pronounce everything a failure which does not equal their expectations or desires, and can see no good result which is not in the line of their own imaginings.”

Davis acknowledged “that an officer who loses the confidence of his troops should have his position changed, whatever may be his ability, but-when I read the sentence I was not at all prepared for the application you were about to make.” Davis declared that “expressions of discontent in the public journals furnish but little evidence of the sentiment of an army,” and he considered the press “generally partisan” and “venal.”

Regarding Lee’s argument that he should be replaced, Davis wrote:

“But suppose, my dear friend, that I were to admit, with all their implications, the points which you present, where am I to find that new commander who is to possess the greater ability which you believe to be required?… if Providence should kindly offer such a person for our use, I would not hesitate to avail of his services… My sight is not sufficiently penetrating to discover such hidden merit, if it exists, and I have but used to you the language of sober earnestness when I have impressed upon you the propriety of avoiding all unnecessary exposure to danger, because I felt our country could not bear to lose you. To ask me to substitute you by some one in my judgment more fit to command, or who would possess more of the confidence of the army, or of the reflecting men of the country, is to demand an impossibility.”

Davis refused to accept Lee’s resignation, concluding:

“It only remains for me to hope that you will take all possible care of yourself, that your health and strength may be entirely restored, and that the Lord will preserve you for the important duties devolved upon you in the struggle of our suffering country for the independence which we have engaged in war to maintain.”

When Lee received Davis’s letter, he responded by offering to serve in a lesser capacity: “The lower the position, the more suitable to my ability, and the more agreeable to my feelings. Beyond such assistance as I can give an invalid wife and three houseless daughters I have no object in life but to devote myself to the defense of our violated country’s rights.”

But Davis would have none of it. Lee was the only Confederate army commander with whom he never had a quarrel. He could not allow him to serve in any capacity other than commander of the army that protected the Confederate capital.



Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 428;; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 315; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 656-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 338; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 162; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 395-96

Federal Conscription: Lincoln Insists the Draft Continue

August 7, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln rejected New York Governor Horatio Seymour’s request to suspend the military draft in his state.

The Enrollment Act, passed in March, required all able-bodied men between the ages of 20 and 45 to register for a military draft. This law was deeply resented by people who opposed the war on various grounds (religious principles, refusal to fight to free slaves, refusal to fight to preserve the Union, supporting the Confederacy, etc.). In July, the drawing of draftee names sparked riots through the North, including the worst draft and race riot in American history in New York City.

New York Gov Horatio Seymour | Image Credit:

As the violence simmered down in early August, Seymour, one of the most prominent critics of the Lincoln administration, wrote the president urging him to suspend the draft. He argued that conscription was unconstitutional (and thus required judicial review before enforcement), that the quota assigned to New York was “glaringly unjust,” and that drafting men would encourage more rioting. Seymour, who many Republicans accused of emboldening the rioters, provided more detailed objections to conscription in subsequent letters.

While he awaited Lincoln’s response, Seymour also exchanged correspondence with Major General John A. Dix, commanding the military department that encompassed New York, which included overseeing the draft’s enforcement. Seymour wrote Dix on the 1st:

“I have this day sent to the President of the United States a communication in relation to the draft in this State. I believe his answer will relieve you and me from the painful questions growing out of an armed enforcement of the conscription law in this patriotic State, which has contributed so largely and freely to the support of the national cause during the existing war.”

Dix responded:

“It is my duty, as commanding officer of the troops in the service of the United States in this department, if called on by the enrolling officers, to aid them in resisting forcible opposition to the execution of the law; and it is from an earnest desire to avoid the necessity of employing for the purpose any of my forces, which have been placed here to garrison the forts and protect the public property, that I wished to see the draft enforced by the military power of the State, in case of armed or organized resistance to it… I designed, if your cooperation could not be relied on, to ask the General Government for a force which should be adequate to insure the execution of the law and to meet any emergency growing out of it.”

Seymour wrote:

“As you state in your letter that it is your duty to enforce the act of Congress, and, as you apprehend its provisions may excite popular resistance, it is proposed you should know the position which will be held by the State authorities. Of course, under no circumstances, can they perform duties expressly confided to others, nor can they undertake to relieve others from their proper responsibilities. But there can be no violations of good order, or riotous proceedings, no disturbances of the public peace, which are not infractions of the laws of the State; and those laws will be enforced under all circumstances. I shall take care that all the executive officers of this State perform their duties vigorously and thoroughly, and, if need be, the military power will be called into requisition. As you are an officer of the General Government, and not of the State, it does not become me to make suggestions to you with regard to your action under a law of Congress. You will, of course, be governed by your instructions and your own views of duty.”

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit:

Lincoln responded four days later. He wrote that if Seymour could prove his claim that New York’s draft quota was “glaringly unjust,” Lincoln would modify the allotment “so far as consistent, with practical convenience.” But he rejected Seymour’s request to suspend the draft until the courts ruled on its constitutionality: “I can not consent to suspend the draft in New-York, as you request because, among other reasons, time is too important.” Lincoln agreed to allow the Supreme Court to review the law in due time; “In fact, I should be willing to facilitate the obtaining of” such a judicial review. But for now:

“We are contending with an enemy who, as I understand, drives every able-bodied man he can reach into his ranks, very much as a butcher drives bullocks into a slaughter pen. No time is wasted, no argument is used. This produces an army which will soon turn upon our now victorious soldiers already in the field, if they shall not be sustained by recruits, as they should be.”

According to Lincoln, the Confederate Conscription Act:

“… produces an army with a rapidity not to be matched on our side, if we first waste time to re-experiment with the volunteer system, already deemed by congress, and palpably, in fact, so far exhausted, as to be inadequate; and then more time, to obtain a court decision, as to whether a law is constitutional, which requires a part of those not now in the service, to go to the aid of those who are already in it; and still more time, to determine with absolute certainty, that we get those, who are to go, in the precisely legal proportion, to those who are not to go.”

Lincoln concluded with a familiar appeal to solidarity in the fight against the Confederacy: “My purpose is to be, in my action, just and constitutional; and yet practical, in performing the important duty, with which I am charged, of maintaining the unity, and the free principles of our common country.”

On the 18th, the day before the draft was set to resume in New York, Dix notified Seymour, “I applied to the Secretary of War on the 14th inst. for a force adequate to the object. The call was promptly responded to, and I shall be ready to meet all opposition to the draft.”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had dispatched 42 Federal regiments and two batteries to enforce conscription in New York City, which unconstitutionally overrode Seymour’s authority over his state. But the draft would proceed, no matter what.

Lincoln offered a concession to New York by reducing its draft quota. But he also wrote an order forcing the New York militia into Federal service to help impose the draft if Seymour tried to stop it. About 20,000 troops patrolled Manhattan with three artillery batteries to ensure that no further violence broke out. Seymour did not try stopping the draft, and no unrest occurred.

Federal officials drew 292,441 names for the draft this month. Of these, 52,000 paid the $300 commutation fee to avoid service. The New York City Council appropriated money to pay commutation fees for many poor draftees. Those who could not afford to pay such a fee resented the commutation process, and the draft tended to net poor citizens and immigrants not necessarily loyal to the cause.


References; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19762-87; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 317; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9528-39; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 155-56; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 637; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 337, 341; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 394-95, 397-99; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 610; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363