150 Years Ago This Week: Further ‘Copperhead’ activity

May/June 1863

Due to the death of Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson earlier in May, Gen. Robert E. Lee reorganized his Army of Northern Virginia into three army corps on Saturday, May 30. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet continued to lead the First Corps, still on detached duty in southeast Virginia; Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell was now in command of the Second Corps; and Lt. Gen. Ambrose P. Hill (of Culpeper) commanded the new Third Corps.

On the last day of May, Gen. Lee met with President Jefferson Davis to discuss army appointments and the military situation in the South. “Gen. Johnston did not, as you thought advisable, attack Grant promptly in Mississippi,” the President told his general, “and I fear the result is that which you anticipated if time was given.”

As June of 1863 opened, the war-weary eyes of both nations turned towards Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River bluffs. The citizens of the town and the Confederate soldiers protecting them tightened their belts and endured the daily firing of Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s siege guns. The only other river strongpoint in Confederate hands, Port Hudson, was also under siege.

Union and Confederate armies were encamped at Murfreesboro and at Tullahoma, Tenn. In Virginia, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s army was encamped near Fredericksburg while Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops occupied the ground towards Culpeper. On all fronts, it was a matter of time before the armies began to move. There were problems on the home fronts, North and South, as the war entered its third summer.

In Cincinnati, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Union Department of the Ohio, issued a general order on Monday, June 1: “On account of the repeated expression of disloyal and incendiary sentiments, the publication of the newspaper known as the Chicago Times is hereby suppressed.” The suppression of the anti-Administration newspaper caused immediate excitement in Chicago and elsewhere in the North.

A delegation of citizens led by Mayor Francis C. Sherman asked Mr. Lincoln to rescind the order. The president conferred with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on the issue of shutting down various newspapers. In Philadelphia a meeting was called to protest the treatment of former Congressman Clement Vallandigham.         

On June 2, President Lincoln conferred with the Army of the Potomac’s First Corps commander, Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, about Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s ability to command that army. He may have offered command to Gen. Reynold’s at that time. The President also wired Gen. Grant: “Are you in communication with Gen. Banks? Is he coming to you, or going farther off?”

President Lincoln urged the two armies to link but Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks wisely (for the Union cause) chose to continue the siege of Port Hudson while Gen. Grant was occupied with surrounding Vicksburg. In another twist to the Vallandigham issue, President Jefferson Davis in Richmond ordered the former Ohio congressman sent to Wilmington, N.C., and placed under guard as “an alien enemy.”

Led by Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws’ division of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, Gen. Lee’s army of some 75,000 Confederate soldiers began moving out towards Culpeper on June 3, leaving Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s Third Corps near Fredericksburg to oppose Gen. Hooker’s Union army. The decision to invade the North a second time had been made. What was to become the Gettysburg Campaign was now underway.

In Kentucky, the Ninth Army Corps of Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans army was ordered to Vicksburg to reinforce Gen. Grant’s army there. In New York, Democrats led by Mayor Fernando Wood met at the Cooper Institute to urge peace, while in Sheffield, England, a meeting was convened to honor the late Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. President Lincoln suggested to Secretary of War Stanton that the order suspending publication of the Chicago Times be revoked; the war secretary complied.

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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.