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.
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.