150 Years Ago This Week: Panic spreads in the North

June 1863

By virtue of a presidential proclamation, on Saturday, June 20, West Virginia took its place in the Union as the 35th state. In Baltimore, earthen fortifications were being constructed north and west of the city in anticipation of possible Confederate raids as the Army of Northern Virginia continued its advance north through Maryland.

A six-hour heavy bombardment by Union forces on the city of Vicksburg, Miss. seemed to be just another day in the beleaguered city overlooking the Mississippi River. “One day is like another in this besieged city – all you can hear is the rattle of enemy guns, with the sharp crack of their sharpshooters’ rifles going from early dawn to dark, and then at night the roaring of the terrible mortars is kept up sometimes all this time,” wrote a Confederate major stationed there.

The war continued on all fronts, including a skirmish with Indians out in the Utah Territory near Government Springs. As Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army moved north, they encountered and fought scattered small units of Federal cavalry along the way – at Upperville, Thoroughfare Gap and Gainesville in Virginia, and near Frederick, Md.

The daring Confederate raider Charles Savez Read captured five Union fishing schooners off the New England coast in his ship Tacony, adding to his mounting record of attacks on Federal commerce. Exhorted by Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant to take the pressure off his lines at Vicksburg by preventing Confederate reinforcements, Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans finally began moving his Federal forces toward the Confederate army commanded by Gen. Braxton Bragg at Tullahoma, Tenn.

Between June 23 and the end of the month, Gen. Rosecrans’ troops outflanked the Confederates and forced Gen. Bragg to move his army behind the Tennessee River and away from Vicksburg. In Virginia, Gen. Lee suspected that Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac was preparing a crossing of the Potomac River from Virginia to Maryland. He was correct; the Federals groped after the Confederates. After an Confederate intense attack near Brashear City, La., some 1,000 Union troops surrendered.

On Wednesday, June 24, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and his First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River with the intent of joining Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell’s Second Corps on the march into Pennsylvania. In Mississippi, Gen. Grant’s forces received additional reinforcements, and the Union grip on Vicksburg tightened; the situation in the city became critical when the Federal artillery shelling became more intense, and the population suffered from lack of food and daily supplies to meet their needs.

From his headquarters, Gen. Hooker wrote Washington that he would send two army corps across the Potomac River to protect Washington and then strike on Gen. Lee’s probable line of retreat to Virginia. He asked the War Department for orders, stating, “I don’t know whether I’m standing on my head or on my feet,” in his relationship with his army – not very encouraging news to those in the Federal capital.

Maj. Gen. James E.B. Stuart received permission from Gen. Lee to bring his cavalry, which had been in Virginia screening the Confederate advance north, to join the Confederate army north of the Potomac in Maryland. In Pennsylvania, Maj. Gen. Jubal Early and his Confederate division from the Second Corps entered Gettysburg, Pa., on their march north towards York. There was a brief skirmish with Union troops at Gettysburg, and a number of the Federals were captured.

Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin called for 60,000 men to serve for three months to stop Gen. Lee’s forces marching north, and there were those in authority in Washington who began to doubt Gen. Hooker’s ability to act against the Confederate incursion into the North.

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.