On Tuesday, March 3, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln signed a national draft law, imposing liability on all male Northerners between the ages of twenty and forty-five years, with the exception of those who were mentally or physically unfit, those convicted of a felony, men with certain types of dependents, and various Federal and state officials.
On February 28, 1863, architect James J. Gifford began constructing a theater for John T. Ford in Washington DC. The new theater opened its doors in August, and had a seating capacity of 2,400. The theater was celebrated at the time as a “magnificent new thespian temple.”
On February 27, 1863, a Congressional conference committee finalized the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act. Habeas Corpus is the right of a prisoner to challenge the basis of his confinement.
The Constitution prohibits Congress from suspending this right, except in times of rebellion or invasion. On that basis, Congress granted military officials acting on authority of the President the right to detain prisoners indefinitely or until the end of the Civil War.
On February 26, 1863, Andrew Johnson delivered a speech to a pro-Union convention in Indianapolis, during which he strongly criticized Confederate leaders for seceding from the Union. Before the Civil War, Johnson had been a Democratic Senator from Tennessee.
He was the only Southern Senator not to resign at the war’s outbreak in 1861. In 1862, President Lincoln appointed Johnson to serve as military governor of Tennessee, then occupied by Union forces.
On February 25, 1863, the nation saw a major reorganization of its financial system, when Congress passed and President Lincoln signed the National Currency Act. At this time, the nation had no uniform currency.
The act established federal banks that issued legal tender backed by the US Treasury. The act also authorized the federal government to tax notes issued by state banks, which had the effect of driving them out of circulation.
On February 24, 1863, Arizona was formally organized as a federal territory. Claimed from Mexico in the war of 1846-48, the territory had seen sparse settlement until the discovery of gold near the town of Prescott in 1863.
When it was still a part of the New Mexico Territory, Arizona had been claimed and occupied by the Confederacy. Local historians are proud to boast that the “westernmost” battle of the Civil War was fought at Picaho Pass, roughly 50 miles from Tucson.
On February 22, 1863, George Washington’s birthday was celebrated in both the Union and in the Confederacy. In the Union, Washington was hailed as the father of the country and as a champion of a strong national government.
On February 21, 1863, the CSS Alabama destroyed two Union commercial vessels in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. An English built sloop-of-war, the Alabama was designed to raid Union commerce and to disrupt Union shipping.
She boasted eight cannons and could be powered by either sail or steam. She had initially seen action near the Azores Islands, before crossing the Atlantic to disrupt Union shipping from New England, all the way to the coast of Texas.
On February 19, 1863, a train carrying Confederate soldiers to the Battle of Vicksburg crashed at Chunky Creek, near Hickory, Mississippi. The crash was caused by damage to a bridge brought on by heavy winter rains.
It resulted in 40 military and civilian deaths. In the immediate aftermath, warriors from a nearby Choctaw Indian battalion braved debris and freezing waters to rescue dozens of stranded passengers.
On February 18, 1863, a council representing the Cherokee Nation agreed to peace terms with the Union. Like most other Indian tribes located in the territories that are now the state of Oklahoma, the Cherokee had initially sided with the Confederacy, contributing warriors in the West and in the Appalachians.