150 Years Ago This Week: Another offensive at Charleston

August, 1863

Federal troops under Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele marched from Helena, Ark., toward the state capital at Little Rock on Monday, Aug. 9. Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s huge army at Vicksburg, Miss., began to disperse. The Thirteenth Army Corps was moved to Carrollton, La. In southern Texas, near Galveston, several Confederate regiments came close to mutiny due to a lack of rations and furloughs; order was quickly restored.

Maj. John Mosby
Maj. John Mosby

In Washington, President Lincoln wrote to Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans near Chattanooga: “I have not abated in my kind feeling and confidence in you. Since Grant has been entirely relieved by the fall of Vicksburg, by which Johnston is also relieved, it has seemed to me that your chance for a strike has been considerably diminished.”

On Tuesday, Aug. 11, Confederate artillery at Ft. Wagner, Ft. Sumter and on James Island in Charleston Harbor, S.C., opened furiously on the Federal trenches being dug on Morris Island, halting the Northern working parties. On this same day, President Davis received and rejected Gen. Lee’s offer to resign; President Lincoln again wrote to Gov. Seymour of New York, defending the military draft in his state.

In Wilmington, N.C., a pro-Union meeting was held, supporting the Federal war effort. On Aug. 12, at Charleston, heavy Parrott guns of the Federal artillery opened fire on Ft. Wagner and Ft. Sumter from the low-lying trenches of Morris Island. Although this was considered practice fire in order to establish the range between the Union guns and the Confederate forts, it marked the beginning of a new Federal offensive against the Confederate defenses, one of the fiercest of the war. The Union guns pounded Ft. Sumter, causing considerable destruction there.

At Vicksburg, part of the Ninth Army Corps left the Federal fortifications on their way to eastern Tennessee. President Lincoln refused to give Maj. Gen. John McClernand a new command; he had been relieved of corps command at Vicksburg by Gen. Grant before the surrender of the Mississippi citadel.

Union troops began a month-long expedition against the Indians in the Dakota Territory on Aug. 13. A Confederate chaplain serving in the western theatre of war wrote to President Davis, expressing a feeling shared by many in the western armies: “Every disaster that has befallen us in the West has grown out of the fact that weak and inefficient men have been kept in power. I beseech you to relieve us of these drones and pigmies [sic].”

The chaplain included Lt. Gen. John Pemberton and Maj. Gen. Henry Holmes in his assessment. In Washington on Friday, Aug. 14, Maj. Gen. George Meade addressed the President and Cabinet at a meeting in Washington, and related the details of the Gettysburg Campaign to those present at the Executive Mansion.

In Virginia, Confederate rangers under Major John Mosby, the “Gray Ghost,” raided Union positions between Centreville in Fairfax County and Aldie in Loudoun County for five days, keeping Federal cavalry pinned down and away from Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army along the Rapidan River in Culpeper County.

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.