Thursday, May 23, 2013

May 23, 1863

May 23, 1863

—On this date, Pres. Lincoln confers with Sec. of the Navy Gideon Welles, Asst. Sec. of the Navy Gustavus Fox, Sec. of War Edwin Stanton, and General Henry W. Halleck. Their topic: a proposed coordinated attack on Charleston.

—On this date, Pres. Lincoln also offers command of the Army of the Potomac to Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch, one of Hooker’s corps commanders. Couch turns down the offer, citing his poor health, suggesting Meade instead.

Maj. Gen. Darius Couch, USA

—Sergeant Alexander P. Downing, of the 11th Iowa Infantry, writes in his journal of his regiment’s activities in the opening moves of the Siege of Vicksburg, as well as a stark description of a field hospital’s grisly work:
Saturday, 23d — We started this morning at daylight and marched five miles to General McPherson’s headquarters at the center of the army. Here we lay until 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when we marched back to our old place on the extreme left. The rebels again commenced to shell us, but the shells went over our heads. The Eleventh Iowa went on picket. Our men are shelling the rebels from all sides, and they are falling back behind their fortifications. When passing the headquarters of the Seventeenth Army Corps today, I saw a most dreadful sight at the field hospital ; there was a pile, all that a six-mule team could haul, of legs and arms thrown from the amputating tables in a shed nearby, where the wounded were being cared for.

—Sergeant Osborn H. Oldroyd, of the 20th Ohio Infantry Regiment, writes in his journal of incidents on picket duty outside of the fortifications of Vicksburg:
MAY 23D.—Our regiment lay in the rifle pits to-day, watching the enemy. For hours we were unable to see the motion of a man or beast on their side, all was so exceedingly quiet throughout the day. After dark we were relieved, and as we returned to the camp the enemy got range of us, and for a few minutes their bullets flew about us quite freely. However, we bent our heads as low as we could and double-quicked to quarters. One shot flew very close to my head, and I could distinctly recognize the familiar zip and whiz of quite a number of others at a safer distance. The rebels seemed to fire without any definite direction. If our sharpshooters were not on the alert, the rebels could peep over their works and take good aim; but as they were so closely watched they had to be content with random shooting. . . . We think Grant’s head is level, anyhow. The weather is getting hotter, and I fear sickness; and water is growing scarce, which is very annoying. If we can but keep well, the future has no fears for us.

—Edwin E. Mason, of the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment, writes home with news. He has apparently been ill: 
Ward #3 Hospital, Convalescent Camp, Washington, DC May 21, 1863

Dear Mother,

I sit down to write a few lines to let you know where I ‘be.’ At present I am in Hospital at convalescent Camp near Alexandria, distant- 3 miles; from Washington 7. I wrote to you first at Baltimore and sent a likeness and a gold pen and some money. I forget how much. I received $29 at Harrisburg and when I wrote, or had wrote for me, for I was sick at the time of the second letter. I gave the fellow all the money I had left. . . . I spoke about Sundays fight and my running away Sunday night. Till then I thought soldiering all very fine. But I would rather have been at home. . . . The plan I sent you is the one back of the City: of course they are not correct but give you an idea how they are filled in. I didn’t fight there, but at Chancellorsville. We crossed at Kelly’s Ford. . . . That Battle brought me to my senses and if I ever come home again, won’t I work I’ll dig my finger nails off. All of you work in concert and you will do better. When at home I thought pa could work all time just as well as not. But I have found my mistake too late. . . . I will send home every cent I can get hold of. . . .

Your affectionate and wayward Son,
goodbye Edwin E. Mason
Mason writes again, two days later, to his sister:
Ward #3 Hospital, Convalescent Camp, Washington, DC May 23, 1863
Dear Sister, I received yours of the 19th this morning. I am most well. I came here a week ago last Thursday with the measles. I ‘staid’ in Camp Distribution till I was broke out 2 and a half days before the Doct. knew what ailed me. so much for him and his knowledge. You chided me for going forth – fight – my country’s battles. Ba! The way of it was this, that not hearing from you, I determined to go to my Regiment. . . . and fetched up at Chancellorsville. It is a very large place consisting of one house and lots of trees. In the ‘hottes’ of the fight, and I assure you there was somoe fighting done that day, we chaged on a battery that was mowing us down like grain before the reaper and ‘fit’ about 15 min. But of no avail. Behind the battery was a Regiment of infantry in ambush. They rose with a yell that made my hair start, and poured a volley into our men who stand it? we didn’t for we run like sheep. We was so cut up it was determined to send us across the river.

—The Richmond Daily Dispatch publishes the latest news from the Western Theater and the Vicksburg Campaign. Note how Grant’s relentless advance on Vicksburg is characterized as having "fled towards Vicksburg":
Grant entered the State of Mississippi by crossing the river five miles below Grand Gulf, with from sixty to one hundred thousand men, including a heavy force of cavalry.

He has received no reinforcements from Louisiana, but receives accessions constantly from the west bank of the river. His transportation is all on the river, and must cling to the river bank.

We evacuated Grand Gulf, falling back and fighting towards Jackson, followed by the enemy, who entered Jackson with 50,000 men on the 16th.

Gen. Johnston reached Jackson on the 13th, and fell back to Canton. The Yankees committed various excesses during their two days occupation of Jackson, such as burning churches and private houses, tearing jewelry from the persons of citizens, gutting residences, etc. They then fled towards Vicksburg, followed by Gen. Johnston who is constantly receiving reinforcements.
Vicksburg has five months supplies of every kind, and can be taken only when the force defending it has exhausted these supplies.

The Yankees report the capture of Alexandria, La, but the report is not credited.
Edwin Forbes, Return from Picket Duty

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