150 Years Ago This Week: The war reaches its midpoint

April 1863

April, 1863, specifically April 10, was the midpoint of the war, 1861-65, though it was then unknown at the time in 1863. Military activity by both land and naval forces throughout the divided nations increased daily. On Saturday, April 4, President Lincoln left Washington for Fredericksburg, Va., to confer with Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and to review the Army of the Potomac, still in winter camps across the river from the city.

At Rodmans Point in North Carolina, Federal forces captured a strong Confederate artillery battery. On the west side of the Mississippi River, fighting took place between Confederate units and elements of Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s Federal troops moving from Millikin’s Bend towards New Grange, La., in their efforts to take on Vicksburg. Things were not going well for the Federals. President Lincoln conferred with Gen. Hooker on April 5. The next day, Lincoln at Gen. Hooker’s headquarters expressed his opinion on military strategy in Virginia: “our prime object is the enemy’s army before us, and is not with, or about, Richmond…”

In Liverpool, the British government seized the Confederate vessel Alexandria, which was being fitted out in the British harbor. Near Green Hill, Tenn., a small Federal force dashed into Confederate camps there, captured some Southern troops and destroyed a still house with some forty casks of liquor. On Tuesday, April 7, a major Union naval force under Rear Adm. Samuel DuPont consisting of nine ironclad warships steamed into Charleston Harbor, S.C., with the intent of joining land forces under Maj. Gen. David Hunter and taking the Confederate port. Confederate guns at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie opened on the naval flotilla.

In the engagement, the Confederates fired more than 2200 rounds while the ironclads fired less than 160. Weehawken was struck 53 times in 40 minutes; Montauk was hit 47 times; Passaic 35 times; Nantucket 51 times and Patapsco 47 times. Other vessels were similarly struck and damaged. Keokuk was struck 90 times and sank the following morning. Fort Sumter was damaged in the engagement, but Confederates effected repairs in the following days. At nightfall, Adm. DuPont realized that Charleston was not to be taken by naval force alone; Gen. Hunter’s troops had been kept at bay by Confederate land forces outside the city.

On Wednesday, April 8, President Lincoln reviewed Gen. Hooker’s army at Falmouth, Va., across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. Fighting took place near New Grange, La., at James’ Plantation, as Maj. Gen. John McClernand’s Union troops, carrying supplies and preparing roads through the backcountry towards Vicksburg, fought a series of small engagements with local Confederate troops.

On Friday, April 10, a reconnaissance in force led by Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn resulted in severe fighting at Franklin, Tenn. Federal Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led a rather inept response to the Confederate attacks; the 4th U.S. Cavalry under Brig. Gen. David Stanley captured Freeman’s Tennessee Battery on the Lewisburg Road, but lost it when Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest counterattacked and freed the battery. Gen. Stanley’s troopers quickly withdrew across the Big Harpeth River, and Gen. Van Dorn then ordered his command to withdraw to Spring Hill. On the same evening of April 10, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s detached corps from the Army of Northern Virginia began approaching Suffolk, in Virginia’s southside, garrisoned by Union troops commanded by Maj. Gen. John Peck. A month-long siege of the city began the following day.

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.