The US Civil War in August 1863

In August 1863, Charleston Harbor remained a primary target for Federal forces, but the Confederates held firm. In the East, the battered armies of George Meade and Robert E. Lee returned to Virginia and licked their many wounds following the horrific Battle of Gettysburg. In the West, Federal forces began moving toward Chattanooga, considered to be the gateway to the Deep South. Beyond the Mississippi, guerrilla warfare turned ugly as civilians were massacred in Kansas.

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The Charleston Campaign

Throughout this month, Federal forces assaulted the forts and islands ringing Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Battery Wagner was pummeled by Federal armaments while the Confederates strengthened their defenses in anticipation of a Federal invasion. On August 26, Federal troops captured the forward earthworks outside Wagner, but the defenders in the fort held as General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding Confederate forces in Charleston, refused to surrender.

Fort Sumter was also heavily bombarded by Federal artillery, including the 200-pound cannon called the “Swamp Angel.” Sumter’s walls crumbled into rubble and sand, but the defenders held the fort. Nearly 6,000 rounds were fired at Sumter by the Federals, but no advantage was gained as Charleston and its forts in the harbor remained in Confederate hands.

The Eastern Theater

Desperate for manpower, Confederate President Jefferson Davis granted amnesty to all soldiers absent without leave if they would return to their units within 20 days. Following the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg in July, General Robert E. Lee offered to resign as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Davis refused Lee’s request, stating “our country could not bear to lose you.”

In the North, Army of the Potomac commander George Meade met with President Abraham Lincoln at the White House to discuss Gettysburg and future operations. Lincoln reiterated his pledge to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, to enforce the military draft, to refuse any compromise with the South unless the Union was restored, and to support enlisting blacks in the military.

The Chattanooga Campaign

In the Western Theater, the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General William Rosecrans was stationed in Tullahoma, Tennessee. After prodding from Lincoln, Rosecrans began moving his troops in an effort to capture the vital railroad city of Chattanooga. Assisting in the move was the Army of the Ohio under General Ambrose Burnside.

Opposing these two Federal armies was the Confederate Army of Tennessee commanded by General Braxton Bragg. Bragg asked President Davis for more troops as Rosecrans devised a plan to cross the Tennessee River and trap Bragg between his army and Burnside’s. Davis desperately sought to send reinforcements to Bragg as Rosecrans inched closer to Chattanooga.

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