150 Years Ago This Week: Britain reinforces her neutrality

July/August 1863

As the month of July drew to a close, John Hunt Morgan and his Confederate cavalry roamed at will through the state of Ohio, fighting skirmishes at Steubenville and Springfield. On Sunday, July 26, near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border at Salineville, Gen. Morgan and the 364 troopers with him got into a skirmish with Union troops and by the end, the exhausted Confederates were forced to surrender. 

Gen. John H. Morgan
Gen. John H. Morgan

Gen. Morgan and his officers were sent to the Ohio State Penitentiary at Columbus. The Confederate raid through Indiana and Ohio had been quite spectacular: Some 6,000 Union soldiers had been captured and paroled, 34 bridges had been destroyed, railroads had been torn up in at least 60 places and thousands of Union troops had been diverted to stop the Confederates. 

In the Dakota Territory, there had been severe fighting between Union troops under Brig. Gen. Henry Sibley and Sioux Indians at Dead Buffalo Creek two days before; on July 28, Gen. Sibley’s troops were pursuing the Sioux and encamped for the night at Stony Lake. The Sioux moved upon the Union troops in force and a fast-moving engagement ensued. The Indians looked for, unsuccessfully, for a weak point in the Union lines and finally broke off the attack, retreating at great speed and preventing pursuit by the Federal soldiers.

At the end of July, President Jefferson Davis wrote to Gen. Robert E. Lee at Culpeper Courthouse that efforts were being made to send him absentees and convalescents, and that his Administration was attempting to eliminate such problems as a lack of horseshoes. Mindful of the difficulties facing Confederate troops on other fronts, Mr. Davis advised Gen. Lee: “I have felt more than ever before the want of your advice during this recent period of disaster.” 

Of the many complaints against him, the president wrote, “If a victim would secure the success of our cause, I would freely offer myself.” On Wednesday, July 29, Queen Victoria addressed Parliament and said that she “saw no reason to depart from the strict neutrality which Her Majesty has observed from the beginning of the American contest.”

In Washington on July 30, President Lincoln issued orders that the government of the United States would “give the same protection to all its soldiers, and if the enemy shall sell or enslave anyone because of his color, the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy’s prisoners in our possession.” 

On July 31, the momentous month which saw the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson and the Battle of Gettysburg closed with fighting in Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina, and in the Dakota and New Mexico territories.

After the crisis in July, the North was more optimistic and confident with the Mississippi River opened and Gen. Lee’s army back in Virginia. Northerners were aware that Gen. Lee and his army were not defeated, and that Charleston Harbor was still firmly in Confederate control. Both in the North and the South there was wonder if the respective armies could mount an offensive in Virginia after Gettysburg. 

Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s Union forces were still in Mississippi, and inactive. Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was attempting to keep Union forces out of the important rail center at Chattanooga and the deep South. Southerners were confident that the Confederate armies, which had survived a series of monumental defeats the year before, could do so again.

A cavalry fight near Brandy Station, in Culpeper County, on Saturday, Aug. 1, marked the conclusion of the Gettysburg campaign; it was fought on the very same ground where, on June 9, the campaign began. Attempting to determine the plans of Gen. Lee’s army nearby, Federal cavalry probed the Confederate lines but were forced to retire without gathering any information.

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.