150 Years Ago in the Civil War
The Emancipation Proclamation, released in preliminary form a few days after the Battle of Antietam, was issued in its final form by President Abraham Lincoln on New Year’s Day 1863. Though it applied only to states “in rebellion” and exempted Union controlled areas of the Confederacy as well as the border states, it did mean that slaves in all other areas of the south were free–at least in the eyes of the U.S. government. From a practical standpoint, it meant that slaves were liberated as the Union armies advanced into the south. It also meant that for the first time, ex slaves and free African Americans could serve in the U.S. Army (though the Navy had accepted non whites into service all along) and new regiments began enlisting immediately.
Official reaction by the Confederate government was, predictably, outrage. The Emancipation Proclamation was an important step in the abolition of slavery, but the institution was not completely abolished until ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865.
Also on New Year’s Day, General John B. Magruder led a force of 500 men and two gunboats from Houston, Texas down to Union held Galveston. The Confederates sank one of the five Union ships there and another was blown up to prevent it’s capture. The other three Union vessels escaped with some of the Union ground troops, but about 600 were killed or captured and Galveston returned to Confederate hands. The Confederacy had some additional success in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston on January 11th, when the CSS Alabama under Captain Raphael Semmes sunk the sidewheel steamer USS Hatteras.
Conclusion of the Battle of Stones River
Near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, General William Rosecrans’ Federals and General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates paused on New Year’s Day after their costly fighting of the day before. The most significant event of the day was the redeployment of a Union division of infantry backed up by 58 cannon to a hill east of Stones River. Though Bragg’s subordinates argued against it, the commanding general ordered an assault against the position on January 2nd. The advancing Rebels pushed back the Union infantry, but the well placed Federal artillery opened fire and stopped the Confederate surge in its tracks. The Union infantry followed with a counterattack, capturing hundreds and driving the rest back to their old lines.
With the assault a failure and with Union reinforcements arriving, Bragg withdrew his army 25 miles to the south on January 3rd. The Battle of Stones River was one of the more costly fights in the war. Union total casualties–killed, wounded, and missing (mostly captured)–were listed as 12,906 including 1677 killed; for the Confederates, it was 11,739 total casualties of which1294 were killed.
Battle of Arkansas Post
On January 4th, Major General John A. McClernand set out on a combined Army and Navy venture up the Arkansas River. McClernand had 30,000 men under his command, which he called the Army of the Mississippi. The men were transported by water and were accompanied by 13 gunboats under the command of Admiral David Porter. Their objective was Arkansas Post, or Fort Hindman, located 25 miles up river from the mouth of the Arkansas River. McClernand was acting without orders from his department commander, Major General Ulysses S. Grant.
The troop transports began arriving in the vicinity of Arkansas Post on January 9th. After disembarking, the Union troops began to advance on foot towards Fort Hindman, overrunning some Confederate positions and forcing the Rebels back to the fort and it’s adjacent earth works. Porter’s gunboats bombarded the fort during the day on the 10th. On the 11th, McClernand launched a ground assault against Fort Hindman. The infantry was backed up with both land based and naval artillery fire. With the fort completely enveloped and no help on the way, Fort Hindman’s commander, Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill, surrendered.
Although it was a Union victory, Grant saw the Arkansas Post expedition as a distraction from his Vicksburg Campaign. McClernand wanted to continue up the Arkansas River, but was ordered by Grant to return. It wasn’t the first time Grant and McClernand had been at odds. but the commanding general had to be careful in how he handled the politically well connected McClernand.
The Mud March
In Virginia, Major General Ambrose Burnside had the Army of the Potomac moving on January 19th. Burnside planned to cross the Rappahannock River at U.S. Ford, about 10 miles from Fredericksburg. On the evening of the 20th, rain began to fall and the roads turned to mud. The rain continued into the next day, and the roads became impassible. The Army of the Potomac was stuck in the mud, and absorbed catcalls and derision from the Confederates watching the affair. Burnside finally gave up, and the Federals returned to their winter quarters at Falmouth.
After this debacle, Lincoln decided to once again make a command change. He promoted Major General Joseph Hooker to commander of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker, who was serving as a commander of one of Burnside’s Grand Divisions, had long coveted his boss’s job and happily took over command of the army on January 26th, closing out an event filled month.