January 31, 1863
★--Battle of Charleston Harbor: Last night, a Confederate flotilla under command of Flag Officer Duncan Ingraham moves out from the inner reaches of Charleston Harbor to attack the blockading fleet. In the wee hours of this morning, the CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State, two new ironclad rams, move into position. The construction of both ships was paid for by the contributions of the ladies of the South, particularly South Carolina, for use against Port Royal. On blockade patrol for the U.S. Navy is a collection of wooden light craft, lightly armed, and made to chase blockade runners, principally.
|CSS Palmetto State rams the USS Mercedita.|
The Palmetto State strikes first, as she cruises toward the USS Mercedita, ramming the Union ship on the starboard quarter. Listing to port, the Mercedita is unable to depress her guns low enough to hit the Rebel ironclad. The Palmetto State fires a shot from her bow gun, however, that traverses nearly the entire length of the Yankee ship diagonally (puncturing the ship’s boiler and killing a number of crewmen along the way with the scalding steam) and blowing a large hole through the port side of the Yankee vessel.
|USS Mercedita, with laundry out on the rigging|
Mercedita soon surrenders to the Confederates, and strikes her colors. The CSS Chicora (commanded by John R. Tucker), meanwhile, steams towards the USS Keystone State, whose skipper, Commander William LeRoy, hails the mysterious vessel.
|USS Keystone State|
Getting no answer, Le Roy calls his crew to general quarters, and hits the Chicora with several ineffectual shots. He tries to get off a broadside, but the Chicora beats him to it, firing into the Keystone State’s hull, killing several Federal sailors and starting several fires below decks. The Yankees begin to put out the fires, and the Keystone State again closes with the Rebel ram, but another volley from the iron ship gashes the Keystone ‘s boiler, and Le Roy orders the colors to be struck in surrender, with 40 of his men killed or wounded. One of her side wheels is crippled, and other is not, and still turning, and she drifts away from the Chicora. Le Roy’s executive officer insists that they are not surrendered, and raises her colors again and, assisted by other Union ships, is able to get away from the slower Rebel ram.
|CSS Chicora at her moorings in Charleston Harbor|
Tucker takes the Chicora 6 or 7 miles seaward, chasing 4 other Federal ships, but unable to close with any of them enough to do serious damage with her guns. The Confederates pronounce the blockade to be broken—an exaggeration. But indeed it is weakened until the U.S. Navy is able to send some armored ships, like the USS New Ironsides, down to close the port firmly. Confederate Victory
★–Middle Tennessee: While on a reconnaissance patrol from Murfreesboro to Franklin, Union cavalry troops encounter Rebel forces at Unionville, Middleton, and Rover, in three separate skirmishes in hand-to-hand saber fighting. The Yankees lose five wounded, while the Southerners lose at least 12 dead, 12wounded, and nearly 300 prisoners.
★–In answer to Gen. John McClernand’s protest against Grant’s having taken overall command of the forces moving against Vicksburg (which includes the “Army of the Mississippi” that McClernand invented and put himself in command of), and of marginalizing him by putting him in command of the west bank and Helena, Arkansas, Grant offers him a letter that makes things very clear:
GENERAL: The intention of General Orders, Number 13., is that I will take direct command of the Mississippi River expedition, which necessarily limits your command to the Thirteenth Army Corps.
In charging the Thirteenth Army Corps with garrisoning the WEST bank of the river, I add to it any forces belonging to any command on that bank not already assigned to other corps, and, instead of weakening your force in the field, it will strengthen it by about 7,000 men, still leaving a proper garrison at Helena, the only place I now deem necessary to garrison. All forces and posts garrisoned by the Thirteenth Army Corps are under your command, subject, of course, to directions from these headquarters.
I regard the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and will obey every order of his, but as yet I have seen no order to prevent my taking immediate command in the field, and since the dispatch referred to in your note, I have received another from the General-in-Chief of the Army, authorizing me directly to take command of this army.
★–Horatio Nelson Taft of Washington, DC writes in his journal of his own meditations on the war:
Washington Saturday Jan’y 31st 1863
The month of Jan’y has passed away and in looking back I find matters connected with the War in much the same condition they were in a month ago. It seems no nearer a close, but on the whole I think matters look more bright for us generaly. The Rebels through their papers repudiate all ideas of our Peace men at the North as to a “re-construction of the Union.” Nothing Short of entire Independence on their part will bring peace. Well, it seems [to] be a question of endurance, and we will see who can stand it the longest.
★–John Beauchamp Jones, a clerk in the Confederate War Department, writes in his journal about some of the cruel ironies of this war of Brother vs. Brother:
Major Lear, of Texas, who was at the capture of the Harriet Lane, met on the captured steamer his mortally-wounded son, the lieutenant.
A few days ago, Lieut. Buchanan was killed on a United States gun-boat by our sharpshooters. He was the son of Admiral Buchanan, in the Confederate service, now at Mobile. Thus we are reminded of the wars of the roses—father against son, and brother against brother. God speed the growth of the Peace Party, North and South; but we must have independence.