Springtime raiding continued in late April 1863. John Marmaduke’s Confederate cavalry attacked Cape Girardeau, Missouri and also skirmished near the town of Jackson, while a second Confederate force under W.E. “Grumble” Jones threatened Altamont, Oakland, and Cranberry Summit, Maryland.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Grierson’s Union raiders rode through Central Mississippi, and Abel Streight’s Union force—many mounted on mules—moved from Tuscumbia, Alabama toward Rome, Georgia.
Anxious as he was for the Army of the Potomac to return to the field, President Abraham Lincoln, accompanied by General Henry Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, in mid-April 1863 took a one day trip to Aquia Creek to confer with General Joseph Hooker on his upcoming campaign.
The trip was carried out in secrecy; spies could not be allowed to warn Robert E. Lee of Hooker’s plans. A week after Lincoln’s visit, on April 27, the Army of the Potomac began to move, marching from Falmouth up the Rappahannock toward the fords over the river.
Since May 1861 when England recognized the belligerent rights of the Confederacy, many a foreign ship had run the Union blockade of the Southern coastline which stretched from the Chesapeake Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande River.
Just across the Rio Grande and outside the jurisdiction of the Union blockade, Matamoras, Mexico maintained a lively trade between the Confederacy and many European nations.
Monday, April 27, 1861 was Ulysses Grant’s forty-first birthday. It also marked the completion of his first-stage preparations for getting his troops across the Mississippi in order to assault Vicksburg’s land defenses.
On Wednesday, April 22, 1863 in front of Vicksburg a Federal flotilla of six transports and twelve barges attempted to pass the city’s Confederate batteries. One transport and six of the barges were sunk by Vicksburg’s guns, but the remaining ships carried their precious supplies to Ulysses Grant’s troops below the city.
President Jefferson Davis by telegram advised Vicksburg’s commander, General John Pemberton, to float fire rafts down the Mississippi River when Union ships attempted to pass the city’s guns or to anchor them in the river on dark nights.
Much has been made of Abraham Lincoln’s belief in the spirit world. After the death of young Willie Lincoln in 1862, both Lincolns—but especially Mary—grieved and sought comfort through Spiritualists, such as Nettie Colburn Maynard, who was often invited to the White House.
At one such séance, a grand piano being played by Ms. Maynard reputedly rose from the floor, and President Lincoln and Union Colonel Simon Kase allegedly climbed upon the piano to hold it in place.
By mid-April 1863 the Confederate Congress passed a series of legislative acts which revealed inherent weaknesses in the Confederate military. On April 16, President Jefferson Davis approved an act to allow minors to hold army commissions; the act suggested a shortage of manpower in the Confederate nation.
In mid-April 1863 both the Union and Confederacy launched impressive cavalry raids to harass their enemies. From La Grange, Tennessee Union Colonel Benjamin Grierson headed south with seventeen hundred cavalry, raiding through Mississippi.
On Thursday, April 16, 1863 just before midnight, Union Admiral David Porter’s fleet of twelve vessels attempted to run past the bluffs of Confederate held Vicksburg.
Many observers doubted whether any ship could effectively survive traversing the city’s defenses which were strategically located on elevated bluffs both to the north and south of the city. Moving downstream to assist Ulysses Grant’s Union land forces, all but one of the Union vessels got through, although hit often by Confederate artillery which lit up the sky with explosives against the intruding warships.
On Tuesday morning, April 14, 1863 Union forces under General Nathaniel Banks took possession of Fort Bisland, Louisiana which Confederate troops had abandoned during the prior night.
Moving against Confederate held Port Hudson on the Mississippi River, Union forces in a series of maneuvers had traversed the marshy swamps of the Bayou Teche region and attacked Confederate troops under the command of General Richard Taylor at Fort Bisland, located in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana.