150 Years Ago This Week: Vicksburg frustrations continue

March 1863

Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner, one of the oldest Federal officers in the service, who had performed well as a combat commander in the Peninsula Campaign and in Maryland in September 1862, died in Syracuse, N.Y., on Saturday, March 21. The same day, in Mississippi, gunboats on Steele’s Bayou were harassed by Confederate sharpshooters along the banks.

In Tennessee, Confederate raiders attacked a railroad train between Bolivar and Grand Junction. Adm. David Farragut’s Union gunboats were anchored on the Mississippi, just below Vicksburg, awaiting the next planned assault on the city and its Confederate artillery batteries. The Federal garrison at Mount Sterling, Ky., was captured on March 22 by Confederates under Brig. Gen. Basil Duke.

On Monday, March 23, Federal troops operated in and around Jacksonville, Fla., while Adm. Farragut’s ships USS Hartford and USS Albatross attacked Confederate batteries at Warrenton, Miss., below Vicksburg.

In Richmond, a Confederate act provided for the funding of treasury notes issued previous to Dec. 1, 1862, and for further issuance of treasury notes for not less than $5 nor more than $50 each. In Washington, President Lincoln wrote to New York Gov. Horatio Seymour, an occasional opponent of the Lincoln administration.

“There cannot be a difference of purpose between you and me. If we should differ as to the means, it is important that such difference should be as small as possible – that it should not be enhanced by unjust suspicions on one side or the other.” A treaty between the United States and Liberia was promulgated on this March 23, the first step in preparing to establish a colony of slaves and free blacks from the U.S.

The last of a number of unsuccessful efforts to find an entrance to Vicksburg through the twisting waterways of Steele’s Bayou by Federal land and naval forces failed on March 24. There were command changes in the Federal military the next day: Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, formerly the commander of the Army of the Potomac, was assigned to command the Department of the Ohio, replacing Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright, who was assigned to command a division in the Army of the Potomac.

Two Federal rams, Lancaster and Switzerland, attempted to run the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg from north to south on the Mississippi on March 25. Lancaster was struck some 30 times and sank; most of its crew managed to escape. Switzerland was badly disabled and managed to float downstream and out of firing range from the Southern guns.

On Thursday, March 26, the voters of West Virginia approved gradual emancipation of slaves; in Richmond, the Confederate Congress approved an act which authorized the impressment of forage or other property, including slaves, when necessary for the armies in the field.

The same day, President Lincoln wrote to the Union Military Governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson, saying, “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of force for restoring the Union. The bare sight of 50,000 armed and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once.”

A skirmish took place between opposing forces at Palatka, Fla., on Friday, March 27. In Washington this same day, a group of representatives of a number of Indian tribes met with President Lincoln. He told them, “I can see no way in which your race is to become as numerous and as prosperous as the white race except by living as they do, by the cultivation of the earth.”

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 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.