On February 7, 1863, a commentator for the London Illustrated News wrote a bitterly critical assessment of the Union’s conduct of the American Civil War. The commentator was especially unsparing in his criticism of President Lincoln.
He observed that while the President was seemingly a “well-meaning man,” he had unfairly placed the burden of victory squarely on Union soldiers, as though sheer bravery could compensate for the incompetence of their officers and commander-in-chief.
On February 7, 1863, Second Lieutenant John Whittier Messer Appleton became the first white officer commissioned to serve with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and memorialized in the film Glory, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry consisted of approximately 1,100 free black men recruited mostly from the North.
On February 6, 1863, Secretary of State Seward announced that the Union was rejecting a French offer to mediate in the American Civil War.
With ambitions rivaling those of his more famous uncle, Emperor Napoleon III had hoped to establish a military alliance with the Confederacy, and to build a French colonial empire in Mexico. Napoleon’s efforts in Mexico were dealt a setback on May 5, 1862, however, when a French army was defeated by Mexican forces.
On February 3, 1863, a Confederate assault led by Major General Joseph Wheeler failed to dislodge a Union fortification at Ft. Donelson on the Cumberland River. The purpose of the attack had been to disrupt Union shipping.
On February 3, 1863, the USS Queen of the West continued to wreak havoc with Confederate shipping on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Originally commissioned as a civilian vessel in 1854, the side-wheel steamer was acquired by the War Department in 1862 and fitted with a ram.
On February 1, 1863, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a prominent Massachusetts abolitionist, led the first federally authorized regiment of African American soldier, into combat.
As reported in the New York Times, Higginson’s force, the First South Carolina Volunteers, landed in the vicinity of Fernandina Beach and then proceeded up the St. Mary’s River along the Florida-Georgia border. In their first taste of combat under his command, Higginson’s forces availed themselves well.
On January 31, 1863, two Confederate gunboats attempted to break the Union blockade of Charleston. The vessels inflicted considerable damage before withdrawing. In the meantime, however, the Union stranglehold remained as tight as ever.
The Union had announced its intent to blockade Confederate ports on April 19, 1861, as part of the Anaconda Plan. At that time, attempting to close some 3,500 miles of coastline from the outside world was unprecedented in naval operations.
On January 30, 1863, President Lincoln wrote to his Secretary of Interior, including a $200 voucher to fund a visit to Liberia by a representative of the American Colonization Society.
According to historian Phillip W. Magnus, the letter demonstrates that Lincoln was considering the resettlement of freed slaves to Africa, the Caribbean or Central America. The President’s motives were complex.
While the Civil War raged elsewhere, the nation’s assault against Native Americans continued. On January 29, 1863, California volunteers massacred over 350 Shoshone* Indians along the Bear River in modern-day Idaho.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, President Lincoln worried that communications with California would be disrupted. He therefore ordered the strengthening of federal forces along critical mail routes running through Indian territories.
On January 27, 1863, the Union launched a major naval assault against Ft. McAllister, Georgia. With control of the fort, the Union navy would be able to interdict commerce from the interior to the coast. It would also be able to threaten the critical, Confederate port of Savannah.
The attack represented the first time in history that an ironclad ship, the Montauk*, was used against a fortified position on land. The exchange of fire between ironclad and fort would last five hours before the Montauk withdrew.