On January 25, 1863, President Lincoln appointed Joseph Hooker to head the Army of the Potomac. A Massachusetts native, Hooker graduated West Point in 1837 and served in the war against Mexico from 1846 to 1848.
On January 25, 1863, President Lincoln relieved General Ambrose Burnside from command of the Army of the Potomac. Having previously dismissed George McClellan in November, the President had made his second change of command in three months.
Among other things, Burnside had been faulted for the disastrous Union offensive against Fredericksburg in December. His attempt to redeem himself with another offensive in mid-January ended in fiasco.
The American Civil War was not the only event of global significance in early 1863. On January 22, 1863, the Polish inhabitants of the Russian Empire rose up against the government of Tsar Alexander II. The uprising resulted in atrocities on both sides before being savagely suppressed in the following year.
On January 21, 1863, a Confederate naval squadron led by Major General John Magruder expelled Union forces from an important port at the mouth of the Sabine River in Texas. The Gulf Coast had figured prominently in Union planning from the beginning of the war. Union strategists hoped to resume the delivery of cotton to Northern textile mills.
On January 20, 1863, General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac, tried to march on Richmond. In part, Burnside was seeking to reverse the sting of the Battle of Fredericksburg, a largely one-sided engagement in the previous month that had seen appalling Union casualties.
On January 17, 1863, Assistant Adjutant-General J.B. Eustis wrote an urgent letter, instructing his subordinates to petition the Confederate government to send arms to Central Texas. In justifying his request, Eustis warned that Union forces might infiltrate the Rio Grande.
He also worried that local Germans were plotting insurrection. There is little doubt that many Germans, who had established Hill Country communities like New Braunfels, Comfort and Fredericksburg in the 1840s, were lukewarm in their support of the Confederacy.
With the rapid flow of information—the American Civil War became a global event. On January 17, 1863, the Illustrated London News carried an article that celebrated President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation as long overdue.
Questioning the President’s motives, however, the author noted that slavery had been long prohibited in the British Empire, and bewailed the reality that a bloody internal war was required before America followed suit. The American Civil War badly polarized Britain, then the world’s premier power.
On January 16, 1863, Walt Whitman wrote a pained letter to his brother, Thomas Jefferson Whitman, in which he bemoaned the Union’s recent defeat at Fredericksburg as the most “complete piece of mismanagement perhaps ever yet known in the earth's wars.”
On January 14, 1863, Congressman Clement Vallandigham of Ohio gave a speech to the House of Representatives, which was highly critical of President Lincoln’s handling of the Civil War. Vallandigham denounced the President’s alleged suspension of civil liberties and due process. He also predicted: “You have not conquered the South. You never will.”
On January 12, 1863, President Jefferson Davis addressed the Confederate Congress in Richmond. Since the Union offensives in the western and eastern theatres had stalled, Davis remained confident that the Confederacy would prevail. He called the recently enacted Emancipation Proclamation, “the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man.”