This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 20: Aborted Union "Mud March." New commander for Army of the Potomac.
Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside attempts a winter offensive in the Virginia countryside, later dubbed the "Mud March," 150 years ago during the Civil War. It would go down in failure. The abortive campaign was intended to boost the flagging morale of the Union's Army of the Potomac and restore Burnside's reputation after his bruising defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. The offensive began in mild weather on Jan. 20, 1863, but a night of heavy rain bogged down Union attempts to place a pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock River for troops and weapons to ford cross. Instead, Burnside's forces found themselves bogging down in mud along the riverbank amid rebel sniper fire and the campaign had to be called off. Many in the Army of the Potomac emerged demoralized and despairing after the latest failed campaign. And the grumbling of some of Burnside's officers reached President Abraham Lincoln, then desperate to find a military leader who could smash the Confederate army. In a matter of days, Burnside would be sacked, replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker at the helm of the Army of the Potomac. The Associated Press reported on Burnside's departure Jan. 26, 1863, in which he saluted his officers and troops a last time at his headquarters. According to AP, Burnside acknowledged that while victory had not been gained on his watch, his forces had shown "courage, patience and endurance." He added to the troops: "Continue to exercise these virtues, be true in your devotion to your country, and the principles you have sworn to maintain."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 27: Confederate ironclads harass Union blockade of Charleston.
Two Confederate ironclad rams, the CSS Palmetto State and the CSS Chicora, unleash a surprise assault Jan. 31, 1863, on Union forces blockading Charleston, S.C., where the Civil War began in 1861. The Palmetto rammed one Union ship, firing into the vessel and disabling it. The other ironclad went for a second Union ship, showering it with enough artillery shells that it had to be towed away. After trading fire with Union foes for a while, the low-slung Confederate rams retreated to the safety of Charleston Harbor with only minor damage. The Confederate vessels briefly vexed the Union blockade of Charleston harbor — part of a larger federal effort to shut off Confederate ports from supplying themselves with arms, ammunition and other goods by blockade runners. Also this week 150 years ago in the Civil War, Southern newspapers crowed over the rebel success in recently stopping Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside from crossing the Rappahannock River toward Richmond, Va., seat of the Confederacy. Burnside's offensive bogged down in thick mud after heavy winter rains, prompting him to be sacked shortly after the abortive expedition in January 1863. "Yankee Army Stuck in the Mud," boasted one headline in the "Daily Constitutionalist" newspaper of Augusta, Ga. It added: "The Yankees were prevented from crossing the Rappahannock owing to the impassable conditions of the roads. Our correspondent says that it was impossible to draw an empty wagon through the dreadful mud. The whole army was stuck fast."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 3: The USS Montauk off Georgia, Blinding snowstorm off Virginia's coast.
In the early months of 1863, the Union decided to dispatch ironclad vessels, heavily armored vessels, to reinforce the blockade of Southeast Atlantic seaports operated by the Confederacy. The USS Montauk attempted on Feb. 1, 1863, to destroy the Confederate defense works at Fort McAllister, Ga., a point of land near the coast close to the Georgia city of Savannah. Confederate defenders dispatched the CSS Rattlesnake to counter the Montauk and allied vessel pounding the fort. In the end the battle would last only a matter of hours and finish inconclusively. The Associated Press reported on Feb. 3, 1863, that a heavy snow storm has hit the Virginia coast near Union-held Fort Monroe. "The amount of snow is greater than has fallen at this point in any one time for some years. Four schooners went ashore on the beach near here during a storm." Such storms signal a slower pace to the hostilities during the cold winter months when roads often become impassable and fighting difficult because of such adverse weather.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb. 10: Yazoo Pass Expedition opens.
Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, intent on keeping up the pressure on the enemy in the winter of 1863, dispatched a combined Army-Navy expedition to cross swampy, difficult terrain along the Yazoo River to flank Confederates defending Vicksburg, Miss., a city on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Grant's aim was to get behind the rebel defenders holding heavily fortified Vicksburg, a bastion that so far had repelled all Union attempts to be captured. The expeditionary force, which would begin moving after a levee breach on the Mississippi River on Feb. 3, 1863, would struggle and slog for weeks across watery terrain behind enemy lines and ultimately fail in March. The flood plain where the rivers meet contained inhospitable swamps, marshes and areas of dense brush. The passage of a flotilla of Navy gunships also was slowed by trees and other obstacles felled across waterways by Confederate foes. Ultimately the expedition would prove inconclusive and Grant would have to devise other means of attacking and overpowering Vicksburg, then an indomitable Confederate bastion commanding a key stretch of the Mississippi River — the main waterway for trade through the nation's midsection. The Associated Press reports this month 150 years ago during the Civil War that steamers attempting to ply the Mississippi River near Vicksburg have to risk attacks by Confederate guerrillas and occasional shelling while plying the river.
This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources.