After a very eventful year of campaigning, the Confederate and Union armies wound down for the winter in the final month of 1863. The Army of the Potomac ended its Mine Run Campaign in early December, pulling back north across the Rapidan River. The army began preparing winter quarters in Virginia in the area between the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers at locations including Brandy Station, Kelly’s Ford, and Culpeper Courthouse. In Tennessee, reinforcements led by Major General William T. Sherman were closing in on Knoxville to relieve Major General Ambrose Burnsides’ besieged garrison, compelling General James Longstreet to withdraw from the area. Longstreet engaged in several minor actions in east Tennessee before finally settling into winter quarters in northeastern Tennessee near Greeneville.
While the major armies were quiet, action continued on a smaller scale. The Union bombardment in Charleston Harbor,particularly against Fort Sumter, continued. The fort was pounded by Union army and naval artillery, and despite heavy damage, continued to hold out. The always present naval blockade of the Confederate coast, cavalry raids and infantry skirmishes continued as usual.
On December 16th, General Joseph E. Johnston was given command of the Army of Tennessee to replace Braxton Bragg, who had resigned at the end of November. Bragg could not get along with his subordinate officers, many of whom had openly campaigned for his removal. Although Jefferson Davis accepted Bragg’s resignation, the Confederate president still supported him. Bragg reported to Richmond, where Davis appointed him to a position as a military advisor.
On the same day that Johnston was named commander of the Army of Tennessee, the Union Army lost one of its better cavalry commanders when General John Buford died of Typhoid in Washington DC at age 37. Buford had led the delaying action at Gettysburg that allowed the bulk of the Federal army to arrive in time to setup defensive positions on the high ground at Cemetery Ridge and the Round Tops.
As 1863 drew to a close, there was reason for optimism in the north. The year had seen several major battles, and while the north had suffered defeat at Chancellorsville and Chickamauga, Federal armies had been victorious at Stones River, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Chattanooga. The victories at Vicksburg and Port Hudson secured the Mississippi River for the Union and split the Confederacy in two. Most of Tennessee was in Union hands. The Confederate invasion of the north and been turned back at Gettysburg. But Robert E. Lee’s army was still intact in Virginia, Confederate armies in northern Georgia and elsewhere were still formidable foes, and a great deal of significant fighting with long casualty lists was yet to come.