Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23, 1863

February 23, 1863

Mississippi River Delta (Yazoo) – The Union Navy has finally cleared away most of the obstructions in the Yazoo Pass, the waterway that leads from the Mississippi to the Coldwater River, and on to the Tallahatchie and the Yazoo---and the Yazoo leads all the way down to the dry land along the bluffline behind Vicksburg.  Being able to establish a base there would enable Grant to establish a base from which to attack the city from the landward side.  The expedition is able to go a few miles past the junction with the Coldwater, but later pulls back for safety.  Lt. Col. James Wilson and engineer troops go to work clearing tree overhang and other natural hindrances.  Many miles downstream, the Confederates near Greenville are building a fortress designed as a last-ditch defense against the expected Union incursion.

The intended route of the Union expedition to come in the "back door"

---The New York Times publishes an editorial that speculates about the rumors that Emperor Napoleon III intends to send the French Navy to forcibly open the blockade.  The State Department and several other newspapers argue against this rumor, but the Times points out that the French have not always been forthcoming in their recent relations with the U.S., including the Emperor’s advice to the U.S. to enter into negotiations with the Rebels for peace.

---The poet Walt Whitman, as a volunteer nurse, publishes a report in the New York Times about the military hospitals in Washington, D.C., and the magnitude of the problem with the military wounded and sick:

The military hospitals, convalescent camps, &c. in Washington and its neighborhood sometimes contain over fifty thousand sick and wounded men. Every form of wound, (the mere sight of some of them having been known to make a tolerably hardy visitor faint away,) every kind of malady, like a long procession, with typhoid fever and diarrhœa at the head as leaders, are here in steady motion. The soldier's hospital! how many sleepless nights how many woman's tears, how many long and aching hours and days of suspense, from every one of the Middle, Eastern and Western States, have concentrated here! Our own New-York, in the form of hundreds and thousands of her young men, may consider herself here. . . .

Upon a few of these hospitals I have been almost daily calling as a missionary, on my own account, for the sustenance and consolation of some of the most needy cases of sick and dying men, for the last two months. One has much to learn in order to do good in these places. Great tact is required. These are not like other hospitals. By far the greatest proportion (I should say five-sixths) of the patients are American young men, intelligent, of independent spirit, tender feelings, used to a hardy and healthy life; largely the farmers are represented by their sons—largely the mechanics and workingmen of the cities. Then they are soldiers. All these points must be borne in mind.

People through our Northern cities have little or no idea of the great and prominent feature which these military hospitals and convalescent camps make in and around Washington. There are not merely two or three or a dozen, but some fifty of them, or different degrees of capacity. . . .

A few weeks ago the vast area of the second story of that noblest of Washington buildings, the Patent Office, was crowded close with rows of sick, badly wounded and dying soldiers. They were placed in three very large apartments. I went there several times. It was a strange, solemn and, with all its features of suffering and death, a sort of fascinating sight. I went sometimes at night, to soothe and relieve particular cases; some, I found, needed a little cheering up and friendly consolation at that time, for they went to sleep better afterward. . . .

Many things invite comment, and some of them sharp criticism, in these hospitals. The Government, as I said, is anxious and liberal in its practice toward its sick; but the work has to be left, in its personal application to the men, to hundreds of officials of one grade or another about the hospitals, who are sometimes entirely lacking in the right qualities. There are tyrants and shysters in all positions, and especially those dressed in subordinate authority. Some of the ward doctors are careless, rude, capricious, needlessly strict. . . .

---With the Federal army of Nathaniel Banks about to advance on the fortified Confederate Army positions at Port Hudson on the Mississippi River, young Sarah Morgan of Louisiana finds that she and her family must evacuate Linwood, the plantation home of a friend where they have been living.  She worries about her soldier friends---many of them her beaux---and her future in another state:

Monday, February 23d.

Here goes! News has been received that the Yankees are already packed, ready to march against us at any hour. If I was up and well, how my heart would swell with exultation. As it is, it throbs so with excitement that I can scarcely lie still. Hope amounts almost to presumption at Port Hudson. They are confident that our fifteen thousand can repulse twice the number. Great God!—I say it with all reverence—if we could defeat them! If we could scatter, capture, annihilate them! My heart beats but one prayer—Victory! I shall grow wild repeating it. In the mean time, though, Linwood is in danger. This dear place, my second home; its loved inhabitants; think of their being in such peril! Oh, I shall cry heartily if harm comes to them! But I must leave before. No use of leaving my bones for the Yankees to pick; better sing "Dixie" in Georgia. . . . And no time for adieux! Wonder who will be surprised, who vexed, and who will cry over the unforeseen separation? Not a single "good-bye"! Nothing—except an old brass button that Mr. Halsey gave me as a souvenir in case he should be killed in the coming assault. It is too bad. Ah! Destiny! Destiny! Where do you take us? During these two trying years, I have learned to feel myself a mere puppet in the hands of a Something that takes me here to-day, to-morrow there, always unexpectedly, and generally very unwillingly, but at last leads me somewhere or other, right side up with care, after a thousand troubles and distresses. The hand of Destiny is on me now; where will it lead me?

---General Grenville Dodge, whose division of Federals have been keeping an idea on Confederate operations in northern Mississippi and Alabama, writes to General Grant with key information about the Rebels, how scattered and how dissipated they are, especially at Vicksburg:

CORINTH, MISS., February 23, 1863.
Major General U. S. GRANT,
Opposite Vicksburg: 

SIR: There are some matters south of this that may be of interest to you, and perhaps I may be excused for communicating them direct. They have been sent, part of them, to my immediate commanders. The scouts posted at Mobile, Meridian, and Jackson have sent in long reports, and the substance of those that can be relied upon are about as follows: ‘

1. No troops have come to Pemberton's army since Smith's 10,000 joined him about Christmas.

2. All troops from Mobile up the road, and from Grenada, have gone to Vicksburg and Port Hudson, leaving a few thousand at Mobile, some 600 at Meridian, and two regiments at Jackson, and about three regiments of militia at Grenada. . . . Everything in the shape of cavalry . . .  joined Van Dorn in his move to Tennessee, leaving perhaps a regiment or two north of Grenada, a few at Okolona, and a few companies just south of me. . . . West Mississippi is being entirely stripped of stock, provisions, forage, &c., and everything indicates that they are getting ready for a quick move.

In the last ten days some 3,000 negroes have been pressed and put to work at Columbus, Miss, and one or two points near Meridian, while the great stock of cars and engines at Meridian are being taken east and south. . . .

The trains go loaded from Vicksburg daily with sick and discharged soldiers. They say that they average 12 cars a day. Last week two heavy steamboat engines and the prow to a ram went up the road to Jackson; said to be placed in some boat in the Yazoo.

Deserters and conscripts are flocking into my lines daily, and, so far as the above statements are concerned, they corroborate them. The raking of the entire State of Mississippi for stock and provisions is as vigorously carried on as it was in Tennessee by Bragg. Van Dorn took about 8,000 mounted men and two batteries away with him. He is now at Columbia, Tenn., with Wheeler and Forrest, and Bragg has taken everything that is movable and that his army does not really need south of the Tennessee. He had put the railroad in order from Decatur to Tuscumbia; . . . My forces are on their way to Decatur now, which will stop that game. . . .

These little items may all be known to you, but, as they came so direct to me, I believe it is my duty to send them.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Gen. Grenville Dodge

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