150 Years Ago This Week: A small medium conducts a séance

April 1863

The first clash between local Mississippi Confederates and the U.S. Cavalry commanded by Col. Benjamin Grierson on their raid south from LaGrange, Tenn., took place between Ripley and New Albany, in northern Mississippi on Saturday, April 18.

In Arkansas, Confederate cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke launched a raid into Missouri that would last two weeks. The Confederate salt works near New Iberia, La., was destroyed by Federals the same day; salt was a very precious commodity used primarily to preserve food in these days of pre-refrigeration and freezing.

The Confederate Congress authorized a volunteer navy, whereby private qualified citizens could obtain and outfit vessels for cruising against enemy shipping; compensation came in the form of prize money for the cargoes of the seized ships. The practice never went into effect during the war.

In secret on April 19, President Lincoln, War Secretary Edwin Stanton and Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck took a single-day journey to Aquia Landing, north of Fredericksburg, Va., to look into the status of the Army of the Potomac. In Mississippi, Col. Grierson’s cavalry engaged and drove off Confederates at Pontotoc as the Federal raid continued south. The next day, April 20, President Lincoln, back in Washington, issued a proclamation declaring that, having been approved by the Congress, the new state of West Virginia would be admitted to the Union on June 20.

In western Virginia, Confederate cavalry under Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden launched a series of raids against the B&O Railroad. Gen. Marmaduke’s cavalry fought a skirmish sustaining 50 casualties and defeated Union troops at Patterson, Mo. On April 21, Confederate infantry commanded by Brig. Gen. William “Grumble” Jones joined the forces of Gen. Imboden in raids against the B&O Railroad in western Virginia.

The following day, Gen. Marmaduke’s cavalry fought a major skirmish at Fredericktown, Mo. In front of Vicksburg, Miss., on the Mississippi River, a flotilla of six Union naval transports and 12 barges attempted to pass the Confederate gun batteries. One transport and six barges were sunk but the others got through, bringing precious cargo, men and supplies to Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s troops south of Vicksburg. In Richmond, concerned about Vicksburg, President Davis wired Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton to float fire rafts down the Mississippi to disrupt Union naval operations, or to anchor the fire rafts in the river on dark nights to illuminate anything moving on the water.

At the White House on Thursday, April 23, a short-statured female medium conducted a séance at the request of Mrs. Lincoln, who believed in such things, and wanted to reach out to her dead son Willie, who had died in February 1862, in the Executive Mansion. Present with the First Lady were the President and several Cabinet members. After the medium left the room, “spirits” were reported to have pinched Stanton’s nose and tweaked the beard of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles.

Mr. Lincoln later sent a wire to a sensitive Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans in Murfreesboro, Tenn., that he had not heard any complaints lodged against the general. Four blockade-runners managed to elude the U.S. Navy and entered the port of Wilmington, N.C. with much-needed valuable cargoes from Europe.

Gen. Grierson’s raiders, deep in Mississippi, fought with and chased away Confederates at Birmingham and Garlandville, Miss., on April 24. In Missouri, Gen. Marmaduke’s Confederate raiders surprised and defeated Union cavalry at the Middle Creek Bridges. In southern Alabama, Union cavalry under Brig Gen. Grenville Dodge captured the town of Tuscumbia.

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.