Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 1, 1863 - Happy New Year!

January 1, 1863:  Battle of Stones River, Tennessee, Day 2:  Not much happens today as both armies rest.  Confederate cavalry probes around the Union flanks, and there is skirmishing.  Also, Rosecrans sends back across the river the troops he had withdrawn on December 31—Van Cleve’s division and some supporting troops.

Casualties were severe the day before, and so the Yankees and Rebels watch each other warily.

---Second Battle  of  Galveston, Texas – At 2:00 AM in the dark hours, Gen. John Magruder’s Texas troops bring a surprise attack on the city and defenses of Union-occupied Galveston.  He directs Brig. Gen. Scurry’s cavalry and infantry to cross over to the barrier island far from the city, and to march eastward toward Galveston.  Col. Tom Green’s dismounted cavalry are loaded onto the 2 Confederate gunboats.  The two Confederate Navy cottonclad vessels steam from Houston down into Galveston Harbor, surprising the six U.S.N. vessels there.  Early on, the Rebel vessel Neptune is sunk.  The U.S.S. Harriet Lane is attacked by the C.S.S. Bayou City, and the Texans swarm on board wielding Bowie knives, while the Yankee sailors use boarding pikes.  After a desperate fight, in which Confederate rifle fire sweeps the deck clean, the Rebels capture the Lane in desperate hand-to-hand fighting.  
Capture of the USS Harriet Lane by the CSS Bayou City
The U.S.S. Westfield runs aground on a sandbar, and is attacked.  Commodore Renshaw decides to blow up the Westfield.  He evacuates the crew and is on board with several other officers when the charge ignites prematurely, killing Renshaw and 13 other men on board. 
The Westfield blows up.
 The remaining 4 Union ships pick up the shore-bound crews and sail directly out of the harbor.  250 men of the 43rd Massachusetts Infantry, garrisoning the city, meet the infantry attack, but are driven to the docks and killed in large numbers.  The remainder surrender.  Confederate Victory.

---John Arnett, a Union sailor from the U.S.S. Westfield, but on shore at the time of the attack, writes home with his account of the Galveston battle:

Dear Father: – I arrived here three days ago in the transport M.L. Boardman, from Galveston. You have probably heard ere this about our fight at Galveston, and the blowing up of our vessel, (the Westfield) to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy.

At about two o’clock, New Year’s morning, a large force of rebels came into the City by land, blockading the channel. – The Harriet Lane, Clifton, and Owasco were anchored close into the city.  The Harriet Lane was boarded by two rebel steamers running alongside, when one of the most terrible hand-to-hand conflicts ensued, the Texans using their Bowies and the sailors the boarding pike.  But unfortunately the odds were so heavy against us, in spite of our efforts, the Harriet Lane was captured, and the Secesh flag now waves over the hansomest vessel of the U.S.N. . . .

The fighting was hard on both sides and loss heavy. The rebels got up in the windows of the houses overlooking the wharf, and kept up such a well directed and brisk fire on the Harriet Lane as to sweep her decks, besides the many field pieces they brought to bear on the vessels from the wharf. You cannot imagine how we felt. There we were ashore, and could not render any assistance to the other vessels, when we could see the flashes of the fire, and hear loud cannonading on both sides, and when daylight dawned to see two rebel steamers, one on each side of the Harriet lane, and then we knew she was captured. Com. Renshaw then gave orders for all hands to leave the ship, as he was going to destroy her. . . . The fire communicated with the magazine before we expected, and several of our crew were blown up with the vessel, including the Commodore, W.B. Renshaw, our 1st Lieuten[t], C.W. Zimmerman, and Chief Engineer W.R. Green.

. . . The old “tars” shed tears, and seemed as if they wanted to be blown up with him. For one I should have been willing to have gone up with her, sooner than to see her fall into the enemy’s hands.

The fight lasted about five hours and was a very hard one. Not over ten were left alive out of the Harriet Lane. Her Commander, Capt. Wainwright, Lieut. Lee [Lea?] and most of her officers were killed. . . .

We had to leave the harbor then with the remaining vessels. There were 250 Union soldiers there. These 250 were all killed or taken prisoners.

---President Abraham Lincoln, in answer to many speculations about whether he would make the Emancipation Proclamation law after all, in fact does sign the proclamation on this date.  In response to the news, there are numerous desertions in the Union army, including nearly all of the 109th Illinois Infantry Regiment, which had to be disbanded. 

---U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, writes in his journal some profound observations about the Emancipation Proclamation and its permanent and fundamental effect on American culture:

The Emancipation Proclamation is published in this evening’s Star. This is a broad step, and will be a landmark in history. The immediate effect will not be all its friends anticipate or its opponents apprehend. Passing events are steadily accomplishing what is here proclaimed.

The character of the country is in many respects undergoing a transformation. This must be obvious to all, and I am content to await the results of passing events, deep as they may plough their furrows in our once happy land. This great upheaval which is shaking our civil fabric was perhaps necessary to overthrow and subdue the mass of wrong and error which no trivial measure could eradicate. The seed which is being sown will germinate and bear fruit, and tares and weeds will also spring up under the new dispensation.

---On this date, in Kansas, the members of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry regiment hold a celebration for Jubilee and the Emancipation Proclamation at their camp at Fort Scott, with a large barbecue feast, civilian visitors, and speeches.  One notable speech was given by Captain William D. Matthews, a black officer (which was not common in this war) from Maryland who was instrumental in raising this regiment:

To-day is a day for great rejoicing with us. The President has proclaimed freedom. The Southern loyalists hear and intend to take it. I am not surprised while I rejoice. As a thinking man I never doubted this day would come, for I believed in God. It was a crime to hold and a sin to be a slave. If the Bible be true, we know that there can be no nation unpunished in which such are permitted. For my part, I believe myself responsible to God for my acts and not to man. Therefore I claim to be entitled to as much of His freedom as any other man, and if His act debarred me therefrom, then He would not be a just God. . . . Let me speak a word to my people. Now is our time to strike. Our own exertions and our own muscle must make us men. If we fight we shall be respected.

---Julia LeGrand, a woman of New Orleans, writs in her journal about her mixed feelings about receiving Union officers socially, or whether to hate the enemy even if you hope for their defeat:

Of course I rejoice that the Fredericksburg and Vicksburg heights have not been carried, but my heart bleeds inwardly at the bloody reports. These men have many to mourn them at home, and their love of life was as ours. It is true they need not have joined in such unholy war, yet numbers perhaps have not been moved by evil motives. There is no infatuation so baleful that good men by artful tongues cannot be brought within its influence. The human mind is a strange thing—professing forever to seek happiness and truth, it constantly immolates one and crushes out the other. Oh, these are sad days and I regret that I ever lived to see them. I hope our country will be spared an other revolution, but I doubt it. Bad politicians will never be wanting to stir up evil for the sake of gain. Since the Constitution of our forefathers has been forgotten, the security seems to have gone from everything.

---Saran Morgan of Baton Rouge writes in her journal on the occasion of the New Year:

January 1st, Thursday, 1863.
1863! Why I have hardly become accustomed to writing ’62 yet! Where has this year gone? With all its troubles and anxieties, it is the shortest I ever spent! ’61 and ’62 together would hardly seem three hundred and sixty-five days to me. Well, let time fly. Every hour brings us nearer air freedom, and we are two years nearer peace now than we were when South Carolina seceded. That is one consolation. . . .

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