As December 1862 began, it was a far different military picture than it had been a few months before. Confederate troops had been victorious on the peninsula at Richmond and in northern Virginia, and for a brief time in Kentucky, but now toward year’s end, the long term outlook for the Confederacy seemed anything but bright. Federal armies under Gen. Ambrose Burnside were at the gates of Fredericksburg, in mid-Tennessee under Gen. William Rosecrans near Murfreesboro, and under Gen. Ulysses Grant in Mississippi, preparing for a drive on Vicksburg. Lesser Union forces were facing Confederate troops in Arkansas, New Orleans, and along the coasts of Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas. Off-shore, there was the Federal blockade, and beyond that, the Confederate raider CSS Alabama went after Union shipping.
Politically, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was trying to direct all of the Confederate government’s operations, trying to obtain men and supplies from his governors, and trying to protect the vulnerable points of his nation. In Washington, President Lincoln faced negative reactions to his emancipation proclamation, resistance to the military draft, Democratic victories in the November elections and sensitive military commanders. The third session of the 37th U.S. Congress met on Monday, Dec. 1, where Lincoln presented his State of the Union message. Foreign relations were satisfactory, commerce was generally in good shape and Federal receipts exceeded expenditures. Mr. Lincoln also presented three proposed Constitutional amendments: that every state which abolished slavery before 1900 would be compensated; that all slaves who were freed during the war would remain free and their loyal owners compensated; and that Congress would provide for colonization outside of the U.S. of all free blacks with their consent.
Mr. Lincoln concluded his message: “As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or mainly lose, the last best, hope of earth.” Elsewhere on this first day of December, there was fighting between forces in Virginia, in western Virginia, and in Tennessee. At Fredericksburg, Va., Gen. Thomas Jackson’s troops arrived from their march from Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, and formed the right of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army on the high ground beyond the town.
On Dec. 2 and 3, skirmishing and fighting continued as the two opposing forces moved into positions on both sides of the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg. A Federal reconnaissance was made between Harpers Ferry and Winchester; Winchester was captured by Union troops with a loss of 145 Confederate defenders. At Saline, in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), there was a brisk fight. An attack was made on a Union forage train on the Hardin Pike near Nashville. In Mississippi, Gen. Grant’s troops pressed the Confederates opposing them along the Yoknapatawpha River. Grenada, Miss. was captured by Grant’s troops, causing the Southerners there to destroy 15 locomotives and 100 rail cars. The next day, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston assumed overall command of Confederate forces in the western theatre of the war. In Minnesota, citizens attacked Indian prisoners at Mankato, where they had been captured in the Sioux uprising. Gen. Grant’s cavalry was unsuccessful in a sharp fight on the Mississippi Central Railroad at Coffeyville, Miss. on Friday, Dec. 5.