150 Years Ago This Week: Horse food and gunpowder

January 1863

Federal troops under Maj. Gen. John McClernand arrived on the night of Jan. 9 at Fort Hindman, or Arkansas Post, Ark., on the Arkansas River about 50 miles upstream from its junction with the Mississippi River. Confederates under Brig. Gen. Thomas Churchill had been disrupting river traffic from Fort Hindman; Gen. McClernand’s plans were to put an end to it, with assistance from a naval force commanded by Rear Adm. David D. Porter.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Churchill
Brig. Gen. Thomas Churchill

On Jan. 10, Gen. McClernand led the land attack, and the naval bombardment battered against the river side of the fort, putting the Southern artillery out of action. The fighting was intense, and on Jan. 11, Gen. Churchill, faced with overwhelming odds, surrendered the fort. Of the 5,000 Confederates who surrendered, 28 had been killed and 81 wounded.

Union losses amounted to 134 killed, 898 wounded and 29 captured or missing out of a force of 20,000 soldiers and 13 gunboats. While the taking of the fort did not affect the Union strategy to take Vicksburg, Miss., Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant in Tennessee ordered Gen. McClernand’s force back into Tennessee.

In a rare ship-to-ship duel, CSS Alabama engaged the USS Hatteras and sank the Union warship off Galveston, Texas. Hatteras had been in service on blockade duty and went to investigate a strange vessel, only to be attacked by the Confederate cruiser.

On Jan. 12, the third session of the First Confederate Congress met in Richmond and received a state of the Confederacy message from President Jefferson Davis. Davis optimistically reviewed the military situation, pointing out the halting of Federals at Fredericksburg, at Vicksburg and in Tennessee. He went into a long review of foreign relations and the hopes of foreign recognition for the Confederate States.

Of the Emancipation Proclamation, Davis said it meant “the extermination of the colored race and encouraged mass murders of their masters.” He called it proof of the “true nature of the designs of the Republican party.” Davis also asked for financial legislation, revision of the draft-exempt laws and relief to citizens suffering war damage.

There was extensive fighting on all fronts – Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Arkansas – as mid-January approached. The first Union regiment of colored troops, the South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Col. Thomas Higginson, was authorized by the Federal government on Jan. 13.

On the Cumberland River in Tennessee, Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry seized the Union gunboat Sidell; three river transports filled with Union wounded were also captured. The wounded were put onboard one vessel allowed to go to its destination while the other boats were burned. Gen. E. Kirby Smith was assigned to command the Confederate Army of the Southwest on Jan. 14.

Mound City, Ark., was a known center of irregular or guerrilla warfare. Federal troops and sailors attacked and burned it on Jan. 16. The same day, the Confederate cruiser Florida sailed from Mobile, Ala., breaking through the Union naval blockade on its mission against Union shipping.

President Davis wrote to Gen. Braxton Bragg in Tennessee: “For the present, all that seems practicable is to select a strong position and fortifying it to wait for an attack.” In Washington, President Lincoln asked if a concentrated horse food should be tested, and ordered a test of gunpowder, showing his interest in inventions and scientific developments.

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Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.