1863


In January 1863 it was clear that state governors in the north could not raise enough troops for the Union Army. On 3rd March, the federal government passed the Enrollment Act. This was the first example of conscription or compulsory military service in United States history. The decision to allow men to avoid the draft by paying $300 to hire a substitute, resulted in the accusation that this was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.

Abraham Lincoln was also now ready to give his approval to the formation of black regiments. He had objected in May, 1862, when General David Hunter began enlisting black soldiers into the 1st South Carolina (African Descent) regiment. However, nothing was said when Hunter created two more black regiments in 1863.

John Andrew, the governor of Massachusetts, and a passionate opponent of slavery, began recruiting black soldiers and established the 5th Massachusetts (Colored) Cavalry Regiment and the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) and the 55th Massachusetts (Colored) Infantry Regiments. In all, six regiments of US Colored Cavalry, eleven regiments and four companies of US Colored Heavy Artillery, ten batteries of the US Colored Light Artillery, and 100 regiments and sixteen companies of US Colored Infantry were raised during the war. By the end of the conflict nearly 190,000 black soldiers and sailors had served in the Union forces.

On 25th January, Major General Joseph Hooker replaced Ambrose Burnside as the commander of the Army of Potomac. Two months later Hooker, with over 104,000 men, began to move south. In April, 1863, Hooker, decided to attack Lee’s army that had been entrenched on the south side of the Rappahonnock River since the battle of Fredericksburg. Hooker crossed the river and took up position at Chancellorsville.

Although outnumbered two to one, Robert E. Lee opted to split his Confederate Army into two groups. Lee left 10,000 men under Jubal Early, while on 2nd May, he sent Thomas Stonewall Jackson to attacked the flank of Hooker’s army. The attack was successful but after returning from the battlefield Jackson was accidentally shot by one of his own men. Jackson’s left arm was successfully amputated but he developed pneumonia and he died eight days later.

On the 3rd May, James Jeb Stuart, who had taken command of Jackson’s troops, mounted another attack and drove Joseph Hooker back further. The following day Lee and Jubal Early joined the attack on the Union Army. By 6th May, Hooker had lost over 11,000 men, and decided to retreat from the area.

Later that month Joseph E. Johnston ordered General John Pemberton to attack Ulysses S. Grant at Clinton, Mississippi. Considering this too risky, Pemberton decided to attack Grant’s supply train on the road between Grand Gulf and Raymond. Discovering Pemberton’s plans, Grant attacked the Confederate Army at Champion’s Hill. Pemberton was badly defeated and with the remains of his army returned to their fortifications around Vicksburg. After two failed assaults, Grant decided to starve Pemberton out. This strategy proved successful and on 4th July, Pemberton surrendered the city. The western Confederacy was now completely isolated from the eastern Confederacy and the Union Army had total control of the Mississippi River.

Robert E. Lee now decided to take the war to the north. The Confederate Army reached Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on 1st July. The town was quickly taken but the Union Army, led by Major General George Meade, arrived in force soon afterwards and for the next two days the town was the scene of bitter fighting. Attacks led by James Jeb Stuart, George Pickett and James Longstreet proved costly and by the 5th July, Lee decided to retreat south. Both sides suffered heavy losses with Lee losing 28,063 men and Meade 23,049.

Abraham Lincoln was encouraged by the army’s victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, but was dismayed by the news of the Draft Riots in several American cities. There was heavy loss of life in Detroit but the worst rioting took place in New York City in July. The mob set fire to an African American church and orphanage, and attacked the office of the New York Tribune. Started by Irish immigrants, the main victims were African Americans and activists in the anti-slavery movement. The Union Army were sent in and had to open fire on the rioters in order to gain control of the city. By the time the riot was over, nearly a 1,000 people had been killed or wounded.

In September, 1863, General Braxton Bragg and his troops attacked union armies led by George H. Thomas and William Rosecrans at Chickamauga. Thomas was able to hold firm but Rosecrans and his men fled to Chattanooga. Bragg followed and was attempting to starve Rosecrans out when union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph Hooker and William Sherman arrived. Bragg was now forced to retreat and did not stop until he reached Dalton, Georgia. The Union Army now controlled the whole of Tennessee.

Major General George Meade also followed the army of Robert E. Lee back south. Lee ordered several counter-attacks but was unable to prevent the Union Army advance taking place. Lee decided to dig in along the west bank of the Mine Run. Considering the fortifications too strong, Meade decided against an assault and spent the winter on the north bank of the Rapidan.