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150 Years Ago: Thursday, April 23, 1863


John Wilkes Booth, 1863

John Wilkes Booth, 1863

Actor John Wilkes Booth is enjoying his time back on stage. After suffering from a respiratory illness during February and March, Spring has given him life and energy and he is back in Washington performing to packed theatres as he plays the title roles in both Hamlet and Richard III. The National Republican drama critic states that Booth “takes the hearts of the audience by storm” and terms his performance “a complete triumph.” Booth is earning top money and praise; with it comes his choice of women, who fight for the chance to be with the actor, even if it is for just one evening.

From a country farm in Spotsylvania, Virginia, C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson finds himself with time to catch up on battle reports. He starts by sending General Robert E. Lee details on his troops activities from September 5 – 27, 1862, which includes details on (yet another) capture of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and the battle of Sharpsburg (known in the North as the battle of Antietam) in Maryland.

Though Jackson mostly keeps it brief and simple, giving overall battlefield movements and casualties, there are two people that stand out, one in a good way, another not. He praises Major General J.E.B. Stuart, one of the Confederacy’s most valued cavalry officers, by stating “Maj.-Gen. Stuart had the advance and acted his part well. This officer rendered valuable service throughout the day. His bold use of artillery secured for us an important position, which, had the enemy possessed, might have commanded our left.” As for Major General A.P. Hill and the movement of his troops from Harpers Ferry to Sharpsburg – which many Confederates felt saved them from possibly losing not just a battle but the war – Jackson simply writes, months later, “I have not embraced the movements of his division.” Jackson had several quarrels with Hill leading up to that moment, Jackson being the higher ranking officer and expecting his orders to be followed to the letter, which Hill did not always do. Though Lee had sent for Hill during the Sharpsburg attack for much needed reinforcements, Jackson was unaware of it and did not seem to approve; it had gone against his own orders for Hill to stay at Harpers Ferry to make sure it did not yet again fall into Union hands. To Jackson, it was another order Hill had not obeyed and it did not sit well with him, even seven months later.

U.S. Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac Joseph Hooker is still in the Fredericksburg, Virginia vicinity. It’s been over four months since the Union defeat there and the army has not yet made a significant move to destroy Lee’s army, most of which has spent the winter behind their strong defenses in Fredericksburg. Hooker has completed plans to move and surprise Lee by sweeping down to behind him and cutting off his supplies from Richmond, but first he wants to test Lee’s strength before he starts his main troop movements. Three days ago Hooker sent out troops under Major General Abner Doubleday to do reconnaissance and they have since returned. Now U.S. General John Reynolds sends the 24th Michigan and 84th New York on the same path: down the north bank to Port Conway, eighteen miles from camp. “The object of this demonstration is to draw the enemy force in that direction“, Reynolds is informed. His men should pretend to conceal their wagon train but to let enough of it show to give the impression of strength to the enemy; Hooker knows Lee’s men will be watching.

In Mississippi, as he waits for orders from U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant to make yet another attempt to take the geographically well-protected city of Vicksburg, Major General William T. Sherman writes his brother Senator John Sherman back in Washington as they continue to trade opinions on the important issues of the day via letters:

Dear Brother,

I have noticed in the Conscript Act the clauses which empowered the President to consolidate the ten companies of a regiment into five, when the aggregate was below one-half the maximum standard, and to reduce the officers accordingly. Had I dreamed that this was going to be made universal, I should have written you and begged you for the love of our ruined country to implore Lincoln to spare us this last and fatal blow. Two years of costly war have enabled the North to realize the fact that by organized and disciplined armies alone can she hope to restore the old and found a new empire. We had succeeded in making the skeletons of armies, eliminating out of the crude materials that first came forth the worthless material, and had just begun to have some good young colonels, captains, sergeants and corporals. And Congress had passed the Conscript Bill, which would have enabled the President to fill up these skeleton regiments full of privates who soon, from their fellows, and with experienced officers, would make an army capable of marching and being handled and directed. But to my amazement comes this order…This is a far worse defeat than Manassas. Mr. Wade, in his report to condemn McClellan, gave a positive assurance to the army that henceforth, instead of fighting with diminishing ranks, we should feel assured that the gaps made by the bullet, disease, desertion, etc., would be promptly filled, whereas only such parts of the Conscript Law as tend to weaken us are enforced, viz.: 5 per cent for furlough and 50 per cent of officers and non-commissioned officers discharged to consolidate regiments. Even Blair is amazed at this. He protests the order cannot be executed, and we should appeal to Mr. Lincoln, whom he still insists has no desire to destroy the army. But the order is positive and I don’t see how we can hesitate. Grant started today down to Carthage, and I have written to him, which may stave it off for a few days, but I tremble at the loss of so many young and good officers, who have been hard at work for two years, and now that they begin to see how to take care of soldiers, must be turned out…

If not too late, do, for mercy’s sake, exhaust your influence to stop this consolidation of regiments. Fill all the regiments with conscripts, and if the army is then too large disband the regiments that prefer to serve north of the Potomac and the Ohio. Keep the war South at all hazards. If this Consolidation Law is literally enforced, and no new draft is made, this campaign is over. And the outside world will have a perfect right to say our Government is afraid of its own people…

Affectionately yours,

W. T. Sherman

What Sherman doesn’t know is that a Union flotilla of six transports and twelve barges have passed the Confederate artillery batteries protecting Vicksburg. One transport and six barges were sunk yesterday, but the remainder carried their supplies to Grant’s troops now stationed below the city. It is has been slow going for Grant and his mission to take Vicksburg, but his plan does appear to be coming together. C.S.A. Major Generals Carter L. Stevenson and John C. Pemberton try come to an agreement on how to best use their scarce resources; they lack the number of troops that Grant has at his disposal. Stevenson is convinced that the Union army will cross the Mississippi River at Warrenton, just eight miles south of Vicksburg. He wants troops stationed on the south side of Vicksburg where they can cover roads that would lead into the city from Warrenton. Pemberton wants to send troops directly to Warrenton itself. Neither General is looking 20 miles further south to Grand Gulf, which is exactly where Grant is preparing his men for a major move.

Ever since their son Willie’s death last February, U.S. President Abraham and his wife Mary Lincoln continue to have difficulties getting over the loss. Especially given the loss of loved ones during the war, spiritualists and séances are becoming a trend across the country, whether it be a sincere attempt to make contact with a loved one, or simply a show for entertainment. Mary Lincoln has especially found comfort in them, believing that through the séances she is able to make contact with her dear deceased son. Though the President does not believe in such things and is getting over an illness which has affected his throat and eyes, he gives in to his wife and attends a séance in the White House Red Room tonight; several cabinet members also attend. There is no unusual activity until after the Lincoln’s left the room. Newspapers will report that after the Lincoln’s left, the “‘Spirits’ tweaked the nose of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and tugged on Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles beard.

About thecivilwarproject

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. The site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.

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