150 Years Ago This Week: Lincoln gets an invitation

November, 1863

Attention at the beginning of November, 1863, turned from the mid-summer fronts on the Mississippi River and in Virginia and Pennsylvania to Tennessee, and specifically Chattanooga. At present, it was an issue of how Gen. Braxton Bragg would respond to Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s opening of a supply line to feed Maj. Gen. George Thomas’ Union army trapped inside Chattanooga.

In Charleston, S.C., the Union guns still blazed away at the pile of rubble called Fort Sumter. Nearly 800 rounds were fired on Fort Sumter on Nov. 1. One Confederate was wounded, but the Confederate flag still flew over the blasted ramparts. On his return to Richmond from touring the western theatre of the war, President Jefferson Davis wrote to Gen. Bragg from Savannah of his disappointment that Gen. Grant had established the “cracker line.”

The next day, Nov. 2, and possibly as an afterthought given the short advanced notice, President Abraham Lincoln received an invitation to “make a few appropriate remarks” on Nov. 19 at the dedication of the new National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pa. The President accepted the invitation.

President Davis visited Charleston during another major bombardment of Fort Sumter, and addressed the crowds in the city, saying, “I do not believe that Charleston will ever be taken, despite being now singled out as a particular point of hatred to the Yankees.” If it should be taken, President Davis said, “the whole should be left one mass of rubbish.”

Another 661 rounds were fired by the Federals on Fort Sumter on Nov. 3. On Nov. 4, Gen. Bragg sent Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and his corps from Chattanooga to go against Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s Federal troops in east Tennessee, in the area of Knoxville. In doing so, Gen. Bragg greatly weakened his Army of Tennessee around Chattanooga, but he needed to retrieve Knoxville for the Confederacy and re-establish lines of communications to Virginia.

It was an ominous move for the Union forces. Until Maj. Gen. William Sherman and his Union army arrived from Mississippi, Gen. Grant believed he could not relieve Gen. Thomas’ troops in Chattanooga; Gen. Burnside would have to hold on as best he could.

On Thursday, Nov. 5, two Federal vessels captured three Confederate blockade-runners off the mouth of the Rio Grande River near Galveston, and three more were captured by the Union Navy operating off the coasts of Florida and South Carolina. In Virginia, Maj. John Mosby and his Confederate partisan rangers harassed the Union army under Maj. Gen. George Meade.

President Lincoln wrote to Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks in Louisiana that he was disappointed that a constitutional government had not been set up in that state; he urged Gen. Banks to “lose no more time,” and argued that such a Unionist government must “be for and not against the slaves on the question of their permanent freedom.”

In the mountains of West Virginia near Beverly, Federal forces commanded by Brig. Gen. William W. Averill encountered Confederate troops blocking the road at Droop Mountain. Gen. Averill divided his force, sending a major portion on a lengthy detour to get to the rear of the Confederates under Brig. Gen. John Echols. The two Union columns attacked the Confederates in mid-afternoon and forced the Southerners to withdraw down the turnpike or scatter into the woods. This engagement helped further the Federal objectives of clearing out Confederate sympathizers and destroying rail links between Virginia and the southwest.

In Virginia, along the Rappahannock River between Culpeper and Fauquier counties, Maj. Gen. George Meade ordered some of his troops to cross the river between Kelly’s Ford and Rappahannock Station (present-day Remington) in an effort to force Confederate troops under Gen. Robert E. Lee in a southerly direction towards the Rapidan River. A general engagement in this vicinity was expected within the next day.

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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.