On January 2, 1863, the outcome of the bloodiest conflict in the nation’s history remained very much in doubt. In the West, the previous year had seen the Union capture the critical port of New Orleans, and Ulysses S. Grant prevail, albeit barely, at the battle of Shiloh. But in the East, the war remained a stalemate.
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, as President Lincoln declared all slaves on Confederate territory forever free. The declaration represented a shift in the President’s thinking.
On August 22, 1862, the President had said that his “paramount objective in fighting the war was to “save the Union,” and if he “could save the Union, without freeing any slave,” he would do it. The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to slaves in the loyal Border States.
On New Years’ Eve, 1862, Confederate Major General John G. Magruder set sail from Houston, on his way to reclaim the nearby port of Galveston. Magruder’s fleet consisted of two vessels, both reinforced with compressed cotton to protect the invaders inside.
As Magruder’s “Cottonclads,” entered Galveston Harbor, they seemed hopelessly outgunned by six Union vessels. One of Magruder’s vessels was sunk immediately. But, with his surviving vessel, Magruder prevailed on January 1.
On Monday, December 29, 1862, General William Tecumseh* Sherman advanced toward the foot of the bluffs north of Vicksburg, Mississippi near Chickasaw Bayou.
Over the next several days, the Confederate defenders successfully thwarted Sherman’s advance. In this contest, Sherman’s estimated 31,000 troops suffered many casualties, while the Confederates with less than half as many—suffered few.
In the days after Christmas 1862 fighting continued on many fronts. In Arkansas, the Union Army of the Frontier, commanded by James Blount, attacked Confederate forces at Dripping Springs, Arkansas, and drove them through the town of Van Buren, capturing approximately forty wagons, four steamers, and miscellaneous supplies.
Christmas Day, 1862 saw little respite from the war. President and Mrs. Lincoln attended church and then in the afternoon visited with wounded soldiers in the many Washington, D.C. hospitals. Sherman’s Fifteenth Corps continued its operations near Milliken’s Bend north of Vicksburg, Mississippi.