Ah, yes! Back to the American Civil War! If you are new to my blog and have not kept up, I was in the middle of a Civil War “mini-series.” I wanted to take a break from the Civil War so that my readers from other countries did not assume I was Americentric. But now we are back.
If you are new, you can start from the beginning by clicking here! If you don’t do anything else, at least read the entry covering the Emancipation Proclamation, this way you will at least know where America stood at this point, the start of 1863.
On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. (God, I really hope you read it as I advised!) While he received a lot of grief from the Republican Party, Congress, and Union Generals, President Lincoln felt it was best to placate the Union border states that still had slaves and not completely abolish slavery at this time. While the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required that all slaves captured as runaways be returned to the South, many generals in the Union Army used loopholes to free otherwise returnable slaves. Examples of this would be claiming that the escaped slaves were “contraband of war” or decreeing that any slaves owned by Union rebels were to be considered free. To the South, the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation was the last straw; if there was ever a point of no-return, this was it.
Other than the Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 was about one thing: the battlefield. The first two years had heavy death tolls, and everyone knew that the war was far from over. To make up for all the lost lives and wounded soldiers, the North and South both passed laws to enforce a draft–of sorts. These laws were passed as conscription acts. In 1862, the U.S. Congress passed the Militia Act of 1862. This act allowed two changes to the previously issued Militia Act of 1792. First, African-Americans were now allowed to participate as war laborers and soldiers. This would greatly increase the number of able-bodied soldiers willing to fight for the cause against slavery. Secondly, it would require state drafts in states that did not have enough volunteers. The Militia Act of 1862 would prove to be a failure. The state-administered system was flawed, so on March 3, 1863, U.S. Congress passed another conscription act entitled the Enrollment Act. This would take the responsibility out of states’ hands and would be enforced on a national level.
The Enrollment Act would make all men, of U.S. descent and immigrants whom had filed for citizenship, between the ages of 20-45 enroll in the army. The only way to circumvent this was to have someone go in your place or to pay commutation. The fees collected by those not wanting to fight would be used to pay for the war. The passing of this one-sided act would lead to the New York City draft riots, which took place in July. The Enrollment Act was seen as unfair to the poor and working-class. They could not afford to pay their way out of enrolling, and this sparked a three-day riot. As a result, the North–oddly enough–took a lot of their anger and frustration out on blacks causing much devastation, damage, and death.
As previous years and future years will show, each year of the Civil War carried with it numerous battles, in fact dozens of battles. The three concentrated areas that saw the most action in 1863 were Chancellorsville, Virginia; Vicksburg, Mississippi; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. (There were three major battles in the Chattanooga area, but–in my lowly opinion, I think–they have no giant bearing on the outcome for 1863, so they won’t be discussed here. Well, after being victorious once again in Chattanooga, General Grant was promoted to General and Commander of all Union Armies.)
On April 27th, the Confederate Army made its first baby step towards what would be their largest offensive attack during the Civil War. After nearly annihilating the Army of Potomac, under the direction of Union General Joseph Hooker, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, General Lee took the Confederate Army and headed north. The Battle of Chancellorsville would be a key turning-point in the Confederates’ (albeit short-lived) offensive success. This victory resulted in the death of notable General “Stonewall” Jackson, which would give them the extra momentum they needed to also defeat Union forces in Winchester, Virginia, on June 13th. With these two victories, General Lee saw it timely to travel further north and attempt to take control of Pennsylvania. This would lead to the famous Battle of Gettysburg, which started on July 1st. (I am going to do an entry on the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg address shortly, so I will be brief here.) In a nutshell, the Confederate Army was defeated in the largest casualty battle in Civil War history and they were driven back to the south.
While General Lee and was trying to advance into northern territory, General John Pemberton was holding on for dear life in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Union General Ulysses S. Grant had continued on his rampage of Confederate defeat along the Mississippi River and by May 22nd, he started his six-week campaign to lay siege to Vicksburg. Once Confederate General Pemberton surrendered, General Grant captured Port Hudson in Louisiana as well. As Vicksburg was the last standing Confederate control along the Mississippi River, the Union had now taken the river back. This effectively split the Confederate States of America in half and halted all Confederate traffic along the Mississippi River. After the war, General Grant claimed that the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, would be the most important battle of the Civil War.
On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln would dedicate a portion of the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to become a national cemetery. Additionally, on this day, he would deliver one of the most memorable speeches of our nation’s history.
Stay tuned, we will be getting into the History of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address very soon!