150 Years Ago in the Civil War
After several months of active campaigning and fighting, the major armies paused to recover in August 1863. Although the big armies were largely inactive, the war went on with numerous minor actions, cavalry raids, and skirmishes across the south. Offshore, the ever present Naval blockade continued to slowly squeeze the Confederacy. Two of the more notable actions in the month occurred on geographic opposite sides of the theater of conflict.
In July, Major General Quincy Gillmore’s Union army and Navy gunboats had been unable to capture Fort Wagner on Morris Island outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Gillmore decided to change tactics in his effort to take Charleston. Gilmore had successfully reduced Fort Pulaski on the Georgia coast in April 1862 by using rifled artillery to punch though the fort’s masonry walls, and he placed heavy guns in position to shell Fort Sumter in the harbor, as well as Fort Wagner and other Confederate harbor defenses. One of the guns Gillmore deployed was a huge eight inch Parrot Rifle that the men named the Swamp Angel.
On August 17th, Union artillery and U.S. Navy gunboats began the bombardment of the Charleston defenses as well as the city itself. Over 5000 shells were fired between August 17th and 23rd, reducing much of Fort Sumter to rubble and destroying many of its guns. But General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding Confederate forces at Charleston, was determined to hold Sumter, and the garrison refused to surrender. Shelling of Charleston continued off and on as the Union kept up the pressure.
Some of the more brutal fighting in the war occurred in western Missouri and eastern Kansas, where guerrillas and other irregular units conducted raids, attacking and killing pro slavery or pro Union civilians in the process, depending on which side the attackers were on, pillaged, and burned farms and houses. The most prominent group on the Union side was the Kansas based Red Legs, named for their red colored leggings. The best known and most notorious pro Confederate guerrilla leader was Missouri based William Clarke Quantrill. Quantrill and raiders like him kept the conventional Federal forces in the area busy trying to track them down, with only limited success.
Just before 5:00 a.m. on the morning of August 21st, Quantrill and a band of 450 men attacked strongly pro abolitionist Lawrence, Kansas, taking the town completely by surprise. Ordered to steal anything of value, burn the town, and kill all the men, the raiders killed 183 men and boys (no women were killed), plundered the town, and burned 185 buildings. The raid was carried out in all its brutality as revenge for pro Union deprivations in Missouri according to witnesses.
Four days after the Lawrence Raid, Brigadier General Thomas Ewing issued General Order No. 11. Residents of four counties in western Missouri were ordered to evacuate their homes. Those residents who could prove their loyalty to the U.S. could stay at military posts; those who could not, had to leave the area. Ewing’s order was issued essentially to remove civilians who were aiding the guerrillas. Farms and houses in the affected areas were burned. But Quantrill and many of his men remained at large, and large numbers of people who were displaced had nothing to do with aiding the guerrillas.
In Tennessee, the Union Army of the Cumberland under the command of Major General William Rosecrans began to move south out of the central part of the state toward Chattanooga on August 16th. In mid September, Rosecrans would concentrate his army a few miles south of Chattanooga along a northern Georgia stream called West Chickamauga Creek. There, Rosecrans’ Federals would clash with the Confederate Army of Tennessee in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.