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This Week in the Civil War

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The Associated Press | April 12, 2013 09:01 AM EST | AP


This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 14: Union gunboats run past Vicksburg.

Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had for months sought in the winter of 1862-63 to find a way to clear Confederate forces defending Vicksburg on the seemingly indomitable bluffs lining the Mississippi River there. Clearing Vicksburg would be a key prize for the Union if it could seize control of that city and gain supremacy over the inland waterway, splitting the Confederacy in half. On the night of April 16, 1863, Union gunboats ran downriver past the batteries at Vicksburg, outwitting artillery fire from the heights as they moved below that city. Grant planned to have his armada meet up with thousands of troops marching overland. His audacious plan: to send his troops trekking down the river's west bank where they could be ferried by flee across to the Vicksburg side to mount an eventual attack. For now, Vicksburg bristled with heavy gun batteries along its riverfront and along the swamps and bayous on other sides. All of its approaches by land were guarded by gun batteries. In the coming month, Grant, however, would open a 47-day siege of Vicksburg that would gain the Union a much-needed victory and further burnish Grant's star as a general who fights to win – and one Lincoln would tap to lead the overall war effort.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 21: Ruckus on the railroad.

Confederate fighters conduct a raid 150 years ago this week in the Civil War, aiming to destroy a vital section of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in what is current-day West Virginia. The raid led by two Confederate generals – William Jones and John Imboden – was one of many by the South seeking to block Union attempts to deliver troops, weapons and supplies to their forces in the war theater. Confederate raids continued nearly uninterrupted during the second half of the war, disrupting the Union supply effort while prolonging the conflict. The B&O Railroad was a choice target as one of the nation's oldest railroad links. Confederate raiders in April and May 1863 were successfully in destroying numerous rail bridges while seizing thousands of horses, heads of cattle and destroying ample Union supplies. Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported on April 24, 1863, that the Confederates were attempting to dismantle the sunken federal ironclad USS Keokuk at Charleston, S.C. The Keokuk was hit by Confederate shelling and disabled during an ill-fated Union attack in early April 1863 on Fort Sumter, site of the first shots of the Civil War in 1861. AP reported that "while some parties of rebels ... were endeavoring to dismantle" the Keokuk, "they were driven away by the fire of the gunboat" of a Union party." The report said some 14 federal gunboats and ironclads lingered off South Carolina's coast in the days after the attack on Fort Sumter.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 28: Battle of Chancellorsville, wounding of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

Warmer weather after the winter brings renewed fighting at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia 150 years ago this week in the Civil War. Union generals attempt to crumple in Confederate lines near the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers close to Fredericksburg. Ultimately the Union forces line up against Confederate rivals near Chancellorsville, Va., on April 30, 1863. Union forces advance and fighting opens May 2, 1863, with a Confederate attack organized by its supreme general, Robert E. Lee. In the fierce combat that ensues, the Southern rebels smash through the Union line for a Confederate victory. Thought Lee gained a major victory, one of his greatest fighters, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, was wounded by friendly fire in the din and confusion of battle May 2. Jackson died several days later On May 10, 1863. His remains were taken to Richmond, seat of the Confederacy, for a final tribute before burial. For the Confederacy, the loss of Jackson was a stinging blow.

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This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, May 5: More fighting in Virginia, Death of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

The Second Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., was fought 150 years ago in May 1863 in and around Fredericksburg, Va. Thousands of Confederate forces clashed with Union foes anxious to press onward to the gates of Richmond, capital of the Confederacy. Union troops overran and captured Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg in fierce combat that included hand-to-hand fighting with Southern rivals, many of whom were killed or fled on foot. But Lee countered May 4 with a fierce assault of his own, retaking that strategic high ground and forcing a Union withdrawal. The chaotic series of days would close out with the death May 10, 1863, of the mortally wounded Confederate Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. He had contracted pneumonia after having his left arm amputated after being mistakenly shot by his own men May 2, 1863. Confederate Robert E. Lee was famously quoted as saying of Jackson's wounding: "He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm." Jackson, gradually growing weaker at a house where he was taken, was with his wife and their infant daughter at his bedside when he died. Jackson would be buried in Lexington, Va., mourned throughout the Confederacy.