This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 17: Fighting in Virginia as winter nears end.
Save for the Union's aborted "Mud March," the winter of 1863 saw Confederate and federal forces idle in their camps until roads became passable and the frigid weather abated. Then fighting at the battle of Kelly's Ford in Virginia broke out on March 17, 1863, ending the monotony of winter camp for both sides. For the first time, Union forces were able to mass a formidable cavalry force for an attack. All told, some 2,100 troopers in the Union cavalry division moved on Confederate positions, aiming to do battle near Culpeper, not far from the ford. But when Confederates detected Union movements, fighting erupted instead near the ford where the Southerners had taken up positions behind felled trees and other obstacles. The bitter combat raged until Confederate cavalry troops successfully counterattacked, prompting Union forces to withdraw by mid-afternoon of that March 17th. The outcome appeared inconclusive. Nonetheless, the Union's cavalry — which had only recently been united from far-flung units by the U.S. War Department — proved itself to be a formidable fighting force that would be used to greater effect later in the war, including an appearance at the Battle of Gettysburg.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 24: West Virginia residents urge statehood.
What is present-day West Virginia broke away from secession-minded Virginia early in the Civil War, only to enter the Union in June 1863. That movement toward statehood was well in motion 150 years ago this week during the conflict. The mountainous area had already begun drumming up Union supporters even before a Richmond Convention voted for Virginia to secede from the Union in 1861. Soon a move was afoot to form a new pro-Union government for the region, which found itself largely under Union control early in the conflict. President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law in December 1862 approving the creation of West Virginia as a pro-Union state. The issue of statehood then went to a vote of West Virginia residents on March 26, 1863, and a majority approved of the statehood bill, including its amendments. Ultimately the state would be officially created as of June 20, 1863. Though West Virginia obtained statehood in the Union during the Civil War, animosities between pro-Confederate and pro-Union sides rankled for years in that region as families sent troops to both sides of the conflict to fight.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 31: The Richmond bread riot.
Dire food shortages triggered violent bread riots in Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, 150 weeks ago during the Civil War. The rioting on April 2, 1863, began when hundreds of women demanding emergency provisions became the flashpoint for a mob protest that surged across the city's business district. Many shattered windows and looted storefronts before the rioting subsided. The New York Times quoted a newly released Union prisoner in a dispatch April 8, 1863, as saying he witnessed the upheaval through the window of a prison where he had been held in Richmond. The former POW told the newspaper he saw a crowd that swelled to hundreds — several armed with clubs, guns and stones. The account quoted the witness as saying: "They broke open the Government stores and took bread, clothing and whatever else they wanted." Military action in Virginia had depleted food stocks and conditions for civilians crowding Richmond were severe. The report said order was restored only after Confederate President Jefferson Davis warned his militias could use force to intervene. But ultimately his government released more food for the hungry. Many in the South lacked basic foodstuffs well before the war began, inflation soared and a Union blockade on Confederate seaports only made matters worse.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 7: Union Navy attacks Charleston, S.C.
A Union naval fleet of nine ironclad vessels attacked Charleston, S.C., on April 7, 1863. The attack 150 years ago during the Civil War marked a return to outright hostilities in the Southern seaport where the Civil War began in April 1861 with Confederate artillery barraging Union-held Fort Sumter. Bypassing gunfire from batteries ringing the port, the federal ironclads began attacking Fort Sumter, then defended by hundreds of Confederate troops. The artillery attack by the federal ironclads rained dozens of rounds on Sumter and the fort replied with a much heavier barrage of its own. One federal ironclad, the Keokuk, ran closer than any of the other Union vessels to fire on the fort from its two gun turrets. But the Keokuk was hit numerous times by Confederate firing, pulling away crippled to sink a day later. Another federal vessel also was hit and disabled. The federal attack inflicted only minor damage to Fort Sumter, pocking its walls with shell shot even though the stout fort remained intact. Only a handful of troops were killed on both sides. The engagement had little influence on the war effort of either side and wasn't nearly as significant as the April 1861 Confederate attack on Fort Sumter that unleashed the tides of war.