Unlike previous conflicts, the American Civil War saw the rapid transmission of news, thanks to the invention of the telegraph. Within three days of the Emancipation Proclamation becoming official, the public was already offering divergent interpretations.
On January 4, 1863, Reverend Nathanial Hall of Dorchester, Massachusetts told his congregation that the moral stain of slavery had “poisoned the whole atmosphere of American social life.” As a result of slavery, freedom and justice in the country had become paralyzed.
On January 3, 1863, the three-day Battle for Stone’s River concluded. The battle had seen Confederate General Braxton Bragg attempt to assume a commanding position in middle Tennessee.
Twice, Bragg moved against Union positions under the command of Major General William J. Rosecrans. With the benefit of artillery and superior positioning, Rosecrans prevailed both times, and Bragg finally withdrew. After having faced a string of disappointments in the previous year, the Union enjoyed a boost in morale in the battle’s aftermath.
On January 2, 1863, the outcome of the bloodiest conflict in the nation’s history remained very much in doubt. In the West, the previous year had seen the Union capture the critical port of New Orleans, and Ulysses S. Grant prevail, albeit barely, at the battle of Shiloh. But in the East, the war remained a stalemate.
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, as President Lincoln declared all slaves on Confederate territory forever free. The declaration represented a shift in the President’s thinking.
On August 22, 1862, the President had said that his “paramount objective in fighting the war was to “save the Union,” and if he “could save the Union, without freeing any slave,” he would do it. The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to slaves in the loyal Border States.
On New Years’ Eve, 1862, Confederate Major General John G. Magruder set sail from Houston, on his way to reclaim the nearby port of Galveston. Magruder’s fleet consisted of two vessels, both reinforced with compressed cotton to protect the invaders inside.
As Magruder’s “Cottonclads,” entered Galveston Harbor, they seemed hopelessly outgunned by six Union vessels. One of Magruder’s vessels was sunk immediately. But, with his surviving vessel, Magruder prevailed on January 1.
On Monday, December 29, 1862, General William Tecumseh* Sherman advanced toward the foot of the bluffs north of Vicksburg, Mississippi near Chickasaw Bayou.
Over the next several days, the Confederate defenders successfully thwarted Sherman’s advance. In this contest, Sherman’s estimated 31,000 troops suffered many casualties, while the Confederates with less than half as many—suffered few.
In the days after Christmas 1862 fighting continued on many fronts. In Arkansas, the Union Army of the Frontier, commanded by James Blount, attacked Confederate forces at Dripping Springs, Arkansas, and drove them through the town of Van Buren, capturing approximately forty wagons, four steamers, and miscellaneous supplies.
Christmas Day, 1862 saw little respite from the war. President and Mrs. Lincoln attended church and then in the afternoon visited with wounded soldiers in the many Washington, D.C. hospitals. Sherman’s Fifteenth Corps continued its operations near Milliken’s Bend north of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
On Tuesday, December 23, 1862, President Jefferson Davis by proclamation called the former Union commander of New Orleans, Union General Benjamin F. Butler, a felon, outlaw, and a common enemy of mankind.
On Monday, December 22, 1862 President Lincoln conferred in Washington, D. C. with General Ambrose Burnside as recriminations continued over the Union debacle at Fredericksburg. A number of Union officers privately called for Burnside’s removal, and the beleaguered general surprised the president by announcing that he would draft a letter taking full blame for the Fredericksburg defeat.