History of the American Civil War Part 3: 1863

Co-written by Zeke and Houston

Important or Major Battles in 1863

2nd National Flag of the Confederacy, (1863-1865) also known as the “Stalinless Banner” or “Jackson Flag.”

After the failed Maryland Campaign of 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched his great invasion of the North, which began with Chancellorsville with the tragic death of Stonewall Jackson and ended at Gettysburg with the retreat of Lee’s army.

During the Siege of Vicksburg in Mississippi, the Confederacy was successfully split in half, dividing Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas from the rest of the South. In the west, Confederate generals desperately tried to defend Georgia and Tennessee from Union occupation.

Political Situation

On September 22, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in which he stated that all slaves in any slave state, including states of the Confederacy, were freed. In fact, Lincoln had no authority and no way to enforce the freeing of slaves in the Confederacy since they had seceded from the Union. Even slaves in parts of the South under Union occupation, such as New Orleans, Tennessee, and the land around the Mississippi River continued to work as slaves, and some were even forced into the Union Army against their will. Slavery wasn’t even abolished in Union states or cities that allowed the institution such as Maryland, Delaware, or Washington D.C. until the 13th Amendment was passed in December 1865. Lincoln had finally made the war about ending slavery on top of the preservation of the Union. Before his Proclamation, Britain and France had been considering the idea of supporting the Confederacy both diplomatically and militarily more and more. Both powers had abolished slavery years earlier and Lincoln figured that if he made the war about the freeing of the slaves, the countries of Europe wouldn’t want to get involved. After this, the South lost any chance of foreign aid or intervention.

Battle of Stones River (Second Murfreesboro) 

The Battle of Stones River was fought from December 31, 1862 – January 2, 1863, near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A force of 43,000 Union men of the Army of the Cumberland commanded by General William Rosecrans fought against the Confederate Army of Tennessee commanded by General Braxton Bragg. Rosecrans’s army had just marched from Nashville and Bragg decided to strike when the enemy was weak.

A Confederate Kentucky regiment crossing Stone’s River.

The Confederates were victorious on the first day of battle, but they were eventually defeated and forced to retreat on January 2. Overall the Union had 12,906 casualties, and the Confederates had roughly 11,739, making this battle one of the worst in the war.

Battle of Salem Church (Bank’s Ford)

From May 3 – 4, 1863 the Battle of Salem Church was fought in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. After the Battle of Fredericksburg, Union General John Sedgwick and the Army of the Potomac met the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia commanded by General Robert E. Lee outside of the city of Fredericksburg. In a miscalculated attack, General Sedgwick thought he was facing only one infantry brigade, when he was really facing 10,000 men.

General Robert E. Lee.

Having 23,000 men, General Sedgwick still thought he could win against the Confederate’s 10,000 troops. He fought for one day until another 15,000 Southern reinforcements came from Richmond, and was forced to retreat. The Confederates won having 4,935 casualties, while the Yankees had 4,611.

Battle of Chancellorsville 

The Battle of Chancellorsville was a prominent battle in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. It took place from April 30 – May 6, 1863, and was part of the Chancellorsville Campaign, in which Union General Joseph Hooker tried once again to take control of the Rappahannock River in Central Virginia, which the Federals had tried to do in December of 1862.

Wounding of General Stonewall Jackson.

Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and Stonewall Jackson fought alongside each other at the battle. On the night of May 2, General Jackson, along with some of his men, were scouting out the woods near the Union lines when his own troops, mistaking him for the enemy, fired on them, mortally wounding Jackson. He died 8 days later on May 10, 1863 in Guinea Station, Virginia. One of the South’s greatest generals and Lee’s right-hand man had died. The Confederates did ultimately win the battle and repel the Union attack, taking 12,794 casualties compared to the Union’s 12,145.

Battle of Champion Hill 

The Battle of Champion Hill was fought on May 16, 1863 in Hinds County, Mississippi. On the Morning of May 16, Confederate General John C. Pemberton tried to take high ground on Champion Hill, but they were cut down by the hundreds of Federals with artillery on the hill, and were forced to retreat. After the Confederate’s failed attempt at taking the hill, commanding Union General Grant decided to attack when the enemy was weak.

Confederates retreating at Champion Hill.

The Yankees charged at the outnumbered enemy and broke the Rebel lines, so the Confederates were forced to retreat. An astounding victory for General Grant, the Union won with 2,457 casualties while inflicting 3,840 on the Southerners.

Siege of Vicksburg

The Siege of Vicksburg was the most important military action in the Western Theater of the Civil War. It took place from May 18 – July 4, 1863, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. During 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant took the key cities of Corinth and Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. At the Battle of Champion Hill, Grant was able to move closer to the city and on May 18, 1863, Grant dug in around it. During the siege, civilians and soldiers inside the city had no food for months.

May 22 assaults.

Confederate General John Pemberton was outnumbered, but he was able to fortify the city with barbed wire fences and trenches. He also held the high ground. The Union failed attack after attack until finally Grant realized the only way he could win was to starve out the city. The Confederates were never able to brake the siege, and with many of their men starving, decided to surrender July 4, 1863.

The Union had 4,835 casualties while the Confederates had 3,202 combat casualties with an extra 29,450 surrendering. The whole Army of Mississippi had surrendered and the Confederacy had been cut in two.

Siege of Port Hudson 

The Siege of Port Hudson took place from May 22 – July 9, 1863. 40,000 men of the Union XIX Corps went to besiege the Confederate stronghold on the banks of the Mississippi River, near East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The 7,500 defending Confederate troops entrenched themselves and dug holes for their artillery.

Trenches dug by Confederates during the siege

Even though the Rebels had more artillery, they were no match for the Union’s ironclad gunboats. The 6,500 surviving Confederates surrendered on July 9, 1863. The Union had 5,000 killed or wounded, with an extra 5,000 dying of disease, while the Confederates had 1,000 deaths. The Union had taken the important fort.

Battle of Gettysburg 

The Battle of Gettysburg was the worst battle in the entire American Civil War, and the worst ever fought on American soil. It was also the 3rd worst in American history following the Battle of the Bulge, against the Nazis, and the Battle of Okinawa, against the Japanese. It took place from July 1 – 3, 1863 near the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee attempted an invasion of the North.

Following the their loss at Chancellorsville, Union General Joseph Hooker was replaced with General George Meade over command of the Army of the Potomac. On July 1, both armies were scrambling to get the high ground on Cemetery Ridge, but Union got there first. The Confederates, under command of General A.P. Hill launched a minor attack pushing the Union back near McPherson’s Ridge. The Confederates also shelled the city with artillery during the first day of the battle.

General A.P. Hill.

During the Night of July 1, the Union repositioned their troops and sent them up to Cemetery Ridge. They dug trenches behind a wall on the mountain and got ready for The Confederate’s attack. In a decision that he would later regret, Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered General John Bell Hood to send his brigade up the mountain to take the high ground.

In the early morning of July 2, Hood sent line after line of his Texas Brigade at the Union on the hill, which was commanded by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine. He almost broke the lines, but the Union sent a risky bayonet charge down the ridge at the Rebels, who ran in terror. General Hood was badly wounded in the chaos that followed, but he survived.

Later that day, Confederate General James Longstreet attacked the Union left flank commanded by General Dan Sickles. They were spread out over a mile, when Confederate artillery opened fire at the charging Union. Earlier that day, Dan Sickles had been ordered not to engage the Confederates there, but he did anyway. Later during the battle, while he was watching his men charge, he was blown off his horse by Confederate artillery, and his leg was shattered with shrapnel (from which he survived). After their general was hit, Federals retreated.

General Robert E. Lee knew that if he could break the Yankee lines once and for all, he would have a clear route to the American Capital, Washington D.C. On the morning of July 3, the Confederates set up line after line of men ready to charge at the Union behind a stone wall right in the center the their lines. The Union and Confederates shot artillery at each other until they were out of shells.

Melee battle during Pickett’s Charge.

The Confederate generals commanding during the attack were General George Pickett, Lewis Armistead, Richard B. Garnett, and James L. Kempler. The charge is modernly known as “Pickett’s Charge” because Pickett’s men took so many casualties. The Southerns sent thousands of men, many of which were killed, through a mile long field at a line a Union soldiers, who were behind a stone wall. When the Confederates finally got there, there was fierce melee combat. The Confederates almost broke the Union lines, which very likely could have ended the war with Southern victory, but they were forced to retreat. General Armistead, Garnett, and Kempler were either killed or wounded, along with Union General Winfield Scott Hancock.

The last chance for the Confederates to take Washington had been a failure. The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point in the war, and after this, the Confederacy would go downhill. Just in Pickett’s Charge alone, there had been about 9,000 casualties. In total, there were 51,049 casualties (28,000 Confederate, 23,049 Union) during this brutal battle.  

Battle of Chickamauga

The Battle of Chickamauga was the bloodiest battle in the Western Theater of the war, taking place from September 18 – 20, 1863 in Catoosa county, Georgia. It was in the Chickamauga Campaign, which was a series of battles in northern Georgia before the Chattanooga Campaign. The Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Braxton Bragg, fought against Union General William Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland.

Fighting at Chickamauga.

60,000 Union troops attempted to invade Georgia, and were exhausted after the long march through the mountains of Northern Georgia, so Braxton Bragg decided to attack while they were vulnerable. On September 18, there was little fighting, but during the night the Federals were able to take the high grounds on a ridge in front of the Chickamauga Creek, and set up artillery batteries there.

On the morning of September 19, The Confederates, who actually outnumbered the Union by 5,000 men, decided to charge. They were cut down while crossing the creek, but later that day, the Rebels successfully pushed back the Union into the mountains, and by the 20th had rid Georgia of Yankee occupation. In total, the Union had 16,140 casualties and the Confederates had 18,454.

Battle of Missionary Ridge (Chattanooga)

The Battle of Missionary Ridge took place on November 25, 1863 outside of  Chattanooga, Tennessee. (I will also be adding the Battle of Lookout Mountain inside this). After the Battle of Stones River in early 1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant had taken the rest of Tennessee during the Tullahoma Campaign. After the failed attempt of invading Georgia, in September, the two sides met in the mountains outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Confederates were outnumbered by about 12,000 having 54,000 men while the Union had 66,000.

General Ulysses S. Grant instructed General William Tecumseh Sherman to attack the Bragg’s right flank at Tunnel Hill. At about 10:00 in the morning, Sherman attacked with 3 brigades, about 16,000 men. Sherman was facing only 3 small brigades commanded by Confederate General William J. Hardee. They battled for hours in a narrow ditch between two ridges, but eventually Sherman emerged victorious.

General U.S. Grant watches the Union assault on Missionary Ridge.

Meanwhile, General Grant had successfully seized the Confederate high ground on Lookout Mountain, famously named the “Battle Above the clouds.” Then Grant Charged at the Confederates on Missionary Ridge, where they had artillery and thousands of men. Grant took the hill by the end of the day, but they had taken plenty of casualties. When the battle concluded, Union had taken about 5,153 casualties, while the Confederates took had 6,667. 

2 thoughts on “History of the American Civil War Part 3: 1863

  1. Houston & Zeke, You two did an outstanding job on this. What an amazing amount of research!
    Southerner that I am I found myself getting tearful after things began to go downhill for the South; so many deaths! Not just for the South, of course, but for the North also.
    Thank you both for sharing this.
    Love ❤️ you both, Gramsey & Papa

  2. Truly, an amazing essay here, fellas. Well researched and easy to understand – quite the feat for military history. Way to go, on the finished product, as well as the team work. That sure warms a mama’s heart. 🙂

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