150 Years Ago This Week: President Lincoln watches his assassin

November, 1863

In a maneuver against Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces in Virginia, Maj. Gen. George Meade sent Union forces across the Rappahannock River — the boundary between Culpeper County and Fauquier County — at Kelly’s Ford, near Culpeper Courthouse, and at Rappahannock Station (present-day Remington); Federal attacks did not move the Southerners.

At dusk on Saturday, Nov. 7, an advance by two Union brigades, including one of the rare bayonet attacks of the war, succeeded in overrunning the Confederate positions and established a bridgehead on the river. Two Confederate divisions sustained over 2,000 casualties, shocking the Confederate army.

Gen. Lee withdrew his forces south to the Rapidan River, the southern boundary of Culpeper County; both armies had returned to the positions they held at the beginning of the Bristoe campaign at the beginning of October. Neither side had gained from their operations, and sporadic fighting the next day took place in Culpeper County at Jeffersonton, Rixeyville, Muddy Run, Brandy Station and Stevensburg, and in Fauquier County at Warrenton.

Pleased by Union advances in Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln in Washington had on Monday, Nov. 9, wired Gen. Meade: “Well done.” That evening, President Lincoln attended Ford’s Theatre and saw the celebrated actor John Wilkes Booth in the play, “The Marble Heart.” Seventeen months later, in this same theatre, John Wilkes Booth fired a bullet into Lincoln’s brain.

Union forces continued their bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C., having fired more than 1,700 rounds at the crumbling fortification. Confederate casualties numbered just a few wounded. There were also extensive Federal attempts to clear up Confederate guerrilla activities and raids in Missouri and Arkansas.

In Mississippi, Federals operated against Confederate troops from Skipwith’s Landing to Tallulah Courthouse. Maj. Gen. John G. Foster was superseded in command of the Union Department of Virginia and North Carolina on Nov. 11 by the ill-famed former Federal military commander at New Orleans, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler.

One of his first acts was to order the arrest of anyone “annoying loyal persons by opprobrious and threatening language,” which angered local citizens. Deeply concerned about the military situations in Chattanooga and Charleston, President Jefferson Davis wired Gen. Braxton Bragg: “Do not allow the enemy to get up all his reinforcements before striking him, if it can be avoided.”

Another bombardment against Fort Sumter began on Thursday, Nov. 12 and lasted for four days. In Little Rock, pro-Union citizens gathered to confer on the means of restoring Arkansas to the Union. In Washington the same day, Kate Chase, the daughter of Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, and star of the Washington social circle, married Rhode Island senator William Sprague in a ceremony attended by President Lincoln and his wife, Mary.

On Friday, Nov. 13, Union troops skirmished with Indians near the Big Bar, on the south fork of the Trinity River. In an important Confederate command change, Brig. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest was assigned to operate in Union-controlled western Tennessee, and in Richmond, the Confederate government said that force and confiscation should be used if necessary to collect the tax in kind from reluctant farmers in North Carolina.

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.