By Thursday, August 20, 1863 General William Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland neared the Tennessee River west of Chattanooga, Tennessee. A separate force of Union troops at Covington, Kentucky also was poised to assist Rosecrans’ renewed offensive.
On Monday, August 17, 1863 eleven guns of the Federal batteries on Morris Island, aided by naval armament, opened fire at Charlestown, South Carolina against Confederate fortifications at Fort Sumter, Fortress Wagner, and Battery Gregg.
A total of 938 shot were fired in the first major, Union bombardment of Charlestown’s defenses. Fort Sumter’s brick outer walls crumbled under the blows of the huge, Union Parrott guns. Ironically, the rubble and sand formed an even more impregnable bulwark against Federal fire, especially at Fortress Wagner and Battery Gregg.
In June and early July of 1863 Union General William Rosecrans had outmaneuvered Confederate General Braxton Bragg in middle Tennessee during the Tullahoma Campaign, driving the Confederates from Middle Tennessee.
However, Rosecrans then halted, despite urgings from the War Department, while he considered pursuing the Confederates into mountainous territory. Rosecrans explained his delay, citing ripening crops to be harvested, repair of railroads, and his need for support for both flanks of his army.
On Thursday, August 13, 1863 a Confederate army chaplain wrote to President Jefferson Davis, expressing the feelings of many in and out of the western Confederate armies “that every disaster that has befallen us in the West has grown out of the fact that weak and inefficient men have been kept in power.”
The letter criticized Davis for “his astonishing prejudices and adherence to weak favorites” such as General John Pemberton. Urging Davis “to relieve us of these drones and pigmies,” Pemberton was accused of illegally trading cotton and tobacco with the Northern armies.
On Tuesday, August 11, 1863 after two days of reflection President Jefferson Davis responded to Robert E. Lee’s offer to resign, refusing to accept the general’s resignation. Davis noted that “our country could not bear to lose you” and admitted, “To ask me to substitute you by someone in my judgment more fit to command….is to demand of me an impossibility.”
On Tuesday, August 11, 1863 at Charlestown, South Carolina, Confederate artillery units at Fortress Wagner, Fort Sumter, and on James Island bombarded Federal trenches and gun emplacements on Morris Island, only temporarily halting Union working parties.
Confederate General Pierre Beauregard, commanding the Charlestown area, ordered that his artillery take all steps necessary to impede the construction of Union artillery batteries and also directed that the defensive lines on James Island shortened.
On Monday, August 10, 1863 at Galveston, Texas several Confederate regiments commanded by General John Magruder began a three day mutiny, citing spoiled and weevil infested cornmeal, excessive drilling, the extreme summer heat, and a lack of furloughs as reasons for their actions.
These Confederates refused to drill or release their units’ heavy weapons until assurances were made to improve both their work conditions and quality of their food. The troops were not the only disenchanted at Galveston.
On August 8, 1863 Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent a letter to President Jefferson Davis in which Lee offered to resign as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Reminding Davis of his generally declining health, Lee also noted the level of distress in the public press as a result of his failure to prevail at Gettysburg. Noting that his troops had been “too generous to exhibit it” and his “brother officers too kind to report it,” Lee nevertheless feared that discontentment was present in his army.
Despite the destructive New York City draft riots of the prior month, President Abraham Lincoln on Friday, August 7, 1863 wrote New York State Democratic Governor Horatio Seymour to carefully explain why he would not suspend the draft in New York, explaining “My purpose is to be, in my action, just and constitutional; and yet practical, in performing the important duty, with which I am charged, of maintaining the unity, and the free principles of our common country.”
In the early days of August 1863 Union forces continued preparations for an attack against Charlestown, South Carolina and its stubborn Confederate defenses. On Morris Island near Charlestown Harbor Federal troops worked around the clock constructing approaches to Fortress Wagner.