150 Years Ago This Week: Confederates attack bandits in Mexico

August/September 1863

The month of August 1863 closed with the Confederates at Fort Sumter digging their cannons out of the rubble and moving them into the city of Charleston, S.C. in an anticipated defense of the city. A small Southern transport steamer in Charleston Harbor with Confederate troops aboard was fired on by Fort Moultrie in error; the transport sank.

There was also fighting in several other areas: at Marais des Cygnes, Kan.; Winter’s Gap in Tennessee; in Alabama at Will’s Valley; and near Leesburg, Va. Now, as September opened, Fort Smith, on the western border of Arkansas, was taken by Union forces on Tuesday, Sept. 1. After driving Confederate forces farther south into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Brig. Gen. James Blunt and his Union forces turned on Fort Smith, occupied by Confederates under Brig. Gen. William Cabell. Fort Smith was taken by a single regiment of Federal infantry.

At the base of a ridge called Devil’s Backbone, near Jenny Lind, Ark., a sharp fight broke out between retreating Confederates and the advance of Gen. Blunt’s troops. The Southerners ambushed the Union troops, but were later turned and forced to retire in confusion when the Union troops were reinforced by artillery. Fort Smith would remain in Union hands until the war’s end.

On Sept. 2, Union mortar fire struck forts Wagner and Sumter in Charleston Harbor. With almost 630 rounds fired this day, the second phase of the major bombardment of the Southern forts ended. In Tennessee, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s troops cut the fairly direct rail line between Virginia and Chattanooga, forcing any Confederate reinforcements for Gen. Braxton Bragg to travel south along the Atlantic coast to Atlanta and then west up into Tennessee.

In Virginia, there was a sharp cavalry fight at Corbin’s Crossroads near Amissville. President Jefferson Davis wired Gov. Isham Harris of Tennessee that reinforcements and arms were being sent to Chattanooga and Gen. Bragg’s threatened Army of Tennessee. By Sept. 3, Union troops were entrenched within 80 yards of Fort Wagner on Morris Island, Charleston Harbor.

At Port Conway, on the Rappahannock River south of Fredericksburg, Federal cavalry attacked and destroyed two Confederate (formerly Union) gunboats, the Satellite and the Reliance. Confederate troops near the village of Mier, Mexico, attacked and routed bandits under their leader Zapata, which had been raiding in both Confederate and Mexican territory.

The people of Nevada rejected a proposed state constitution, and in Washington, President Lincoln told Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase that he could not include parts of Virginia and Louisiana in the Emancipation Proclamation because there was no military necessity to do so, and “the original proclamation has no constitutional or legal justification except as a military measure.”

Growing more desperate, Gen. Bragg’s Confederate army at Chattanooga was threatened from the south and the west when Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland completed crossing the Tennessee River near Bridgeport, Ala., and near Shellmound, Tenn. On Sept. 4, from New Orleans, Federal transports and gunboats headed towards the Texas-Louisiana coast at Sabine Pass. This was the first of several troop movements by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks to occupy important positions in Texas, both as an offensive against Confederate troops and as a display of force to the French occupying Mexico.

Also in New Orleans, Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant was severely injured when his horse shied and fell on top of him; there was some evidence that Gen. Grant had been drinking heavily during his partly-social and partly-official visit to confer with Gen. Banks. Gen. Grant would be incapacitated and bedridden for several weeks. Indignant women marched on supply stores in Mobile, Ala., carrying signs reading “Bread or Blood” and “Bread and Peace,” and took away food, clothing and other household goods.

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.