This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 27: Confederate ironclads harass Union blockade of Charleston.
Two Confederate ironclad rams, the CSS Palmetto State and the CSS Chicora, unleash a surprise assault Jan. 31, 1863, on Union forces blockading Charleston, S.C., where the Civil War began in 1861. The Palmetto rammed one Union ship, firing into the vessel and disabling it. The other ironclad went for a second Union ship, showering it with enough artillery shells that it had to be towed away. After trading fire with Union foes for a while, the low-slung Confederate rams retreated to the safety of Charleston Harbor with only minor damage. The Confederate vessels briefly vexed the Union blockade of Charleston harbor – part of a larger federal effort to shut off Confederate ports from supplying themselves with arms, ammunition and other goods by blockade runners. Also this week 150 years ago in the Civil War, Southern newspapers crowed over the rebel success in recently stopping Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside from crossing the Rappahannock River toward Richmond, Va., seat of the Confederacy. Burnside's offensive bogged down in thick mud after heavy winter rains, prompting him to be sacked shortly after the abortive expedition in January 1863. "Yankee Army Stuck in the Mud," boasted one headline in the "Daily Constitutionalist" newspaper of Augusta, Ga. It added: "The Yankees were prevented from crossing the Rappahannock owing to the impassable conditions of the roads. Our correspondent says that it was impossible to draw an empty wagon through the dreadful mud. The whole army was stuck fast."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 3: The USS Montauk off Georgia, Blinding snowstorm off Virginia's coast.
In the early months of 1863, the Union decided to dispatch ironclad vessels, heavily armored vessels, to reinforce the blockade of Southeast Atlantic seaports operated by the Confederacy. The USS Montauk attempted on Feb. 1, 1863, to destroy the Confederate defense works at Fort McAllister, Ga., a point of land near the coast close to the Georgia city of Savannah. Confederate defenders dispatched the CSS Rattlesnake to counter the Montauk and allied vessel pounding the fort. In the end the battle would last only a matter of hours and finish inconclusively. The Associated Press reported on Feb. 3, 1863, that a heavy snow storm has hit the Virginia coast near Union-held Fort Monroe. "The amount of snow is greater than has fallen at this point in any one time for some years. Four schooners went ashore on the beach near here during a storm." Such storms signal a slower pace to the hostilities during the cold winter months when roads often become impassable and fighting difficult because of such adverse weather.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 10: Yazoo Pass Expedition opens.
Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, intent on keeping up the pressure on the enemy in the winter of 1863, dispatched a combined Army-Navy expedition to cross swampy, difficult terrain along the Yazoo River to flank Confederates defending Vicksburg, Miss., a city on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Grant's aim was to get behind the rebel defenders holding heavily fortified Vicksburg, a bastion that so far had repelled all Union attempts to be captured. The expeditionary force, which would begin moving after a levee breach on the Mississippi River on Feb. 3, 1863, would struggle and slog for weeks across watery terrain behind enemy lines and ultimately fail in March. The flood plain where the rivers meet contained inhospitable swamps, marshes and areas of dense brush. The passage of a flotilla of Navy gunships also was slowed by trees and other obstacles felled across waterways by Confederate foes. Ultimately the expedition would prove inconclusive and Grant would have to devise other means of attacking and overpowering Vicksburg, then an indomitable Confederate bastion commanding a key stretch of the Mississippi River – the main waterway for trade through the nation's midsection. The Associated Press reports this month 150 years ago during the Civil War that steamers attempting to ply the Mississippi River near Vicksburg have to risk attacks by Confederate guerrillas and occasional shelling while plying the river.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 17: Union ironclad Indianola threatens lower Mississippi.
This week 150 years ago in the Civil War saw Union and Confederate gunboats vying for control of the lower Mississippi River and its tributaries. The winter of 1863 brings a formidable new player into play: a powerful ironclad riverboat called The USS Indianola. The fortified city of Vicksburg, Miss., atop bluffs lining the Mississippi River, remained in Confederate hands at this stage of the war. But Union forces have eventual hopes of wresting Vicksburg and other points downriver from the Confederacy to gain supremacy over the entire river. If the entire waterway could be seized by the Union, it would effectively split the Confederacy in two. To that end, the Union in mid-February 1863 sent the Cincinnati-built Indianola down the Mississippi. On Feb. 13, the Indianola rushed passed Confederate guns firing from Vicksburg. None of the rebel shots struck the Indianola. But Confederate gunboats and rebel rams still plied the river nearby and posed a danger that would doom the Indianola within days. Elsewhere, winter has prevented major fighting. Both sides await better weather and passable roads. Soldiers trade letters with loved ones back home, where many worry about those missing or lost to combat or disease. One commanding officer wrote in a note from Tennessee – published Feb. 23, 1863, in the Daily Illinois state Journal in Springfield, Ill. – that loved ones could rest assured that soldiers who recently died had been buried with proper tombstones near Memphis. "Each grave is marked with a head and foot board, on which is inscribed the name, age and place of residence – so that the last resting place of each one may be readily identified," wrote col. N. Niles.