Interesting facts, links, and suggested books for each month of the Civil War.
This Month's Events
1 January. President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation. This proclamation applies only to slaves in territory under the control of the Confederacy, not to areas under Union control or in the slaves states that had not seceded. Southerners are outraged; many see the proclamation as an attempt to foment a slave insurrection.
1-2 January. In Tennessee, the Battle of Stone River (aka Murfreesboro) continues. [See previous month.] As the fighting goes on, both sides take heavy casualties, a total of 23,515, the highest percentage of casualties of any battle in the war. While both sides are badly mauled, Bragg withdraws and the Union retains control of the middle Tennessee area.
Stone River National Battlefield now contains "the oldest surviving American Civil War monument standing in its original location", the Hazen Brigade monument to its dead. The Union brigade, composed of the 9th Indiana, 41st Ohio, 6th Kentucky, and 110th Illinois, was the only Union outfit not to retreat on December 31.
8 January. In Madison County, North Carolina, the small isolated community of Shelton Laurel is an Unionist stronghold. Responding to a raid by "outliers", Confederate forces attack the valley, terrorizing and torturing the women they find. Ultimately they take 15 males, ranging in age from a boy of 13 to grandfathers, shoot them, and leave the bodies to be eaten by pigs.
20 January. Union General Ambrose Burnside, the loser at Fredericksburg, plans an attack on Lee's rear to cut supply lines and to retrieve his own reputation. However an unseasonable thaw and heavy rains bog down the troops in the so called "Mud March". Burnside has to pull his troops back and a few days later he is replaced by General Joseph Hooker.
22 January. William G. Morris [see September 1862], now promoted to major, writes home to Gaston County. He thinks that his regiment, the 37th NC, will be sent back to North Carolina.
26 January. Governor Andrew of Massachusetts receives permission from the War Dept. to form a regiment of black soldiers. Captain Robert Shaw, age 25, accepts command of the regiment. So many men try to enlist that eventually there will be 2 regiments, the 54th and the 55th. In 1989 the movie "Glory" about the 54th will win 3 Oscars.
26 January. David L. Swain, president of the University of North Carolina, is concerned about the conscription process. He writes, "Why exempt the Faculty of the University from conscription, if they are to be stripped of Students? Our present number is 45, we will probably rise to 60 -- if let alone, and this will be a diminution of 400 of our numbers before the war. The deaths of graduates and students in the last two years on the battlefields and resulting from Camp exposure, exceed all the casualties of the preceding quarter of a century." The concept of a "student deferment" is still a century in the future.
28 January. A few miles south of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Robert Hoke's brigade of North Carolinians, having been through days of rain and mud, now find themselves covered with 10 inches of snow.
The soldiers are filthy and there is a shortage of soap. Hoke sends men to his home county, Lincoln County, North Carolina to obtain a supply of pots and then sets his men to making soap from the dead animals in the area.
This month amomg the nurses at the Washington hospitals described by Whitman [see December 1862] is 30 year old Louisa May Alcott. Like Whitman, she is inspired to write by her experiences. After only 6 weeks her father has to come and take her home as she is expected to die of "typhoid pneumonia". Louisa survives (although her health is damaged for life by the drugs used to treat her) and in May 1863 her "Hospital Sketches" will appear in an Abolitionist paper. They are such a success that many other periodicals reprint them and then they appear as a book, surprising reading for those who know her only as the author of Little Women.
Brooks's luminous second novel imagines the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. An idealistic Concord cleric, March becomes a Union chaplain and later finds himself assigned to be a teacher on a cotton plantation that employs freed slaves, or "contraband." His narrative begins with cheerful letters home, but March gradually reveals to the reader what he does not to his family. In between, we learn of March's earlier life: his whirlwind courtship of quick-tempered Marmee, his friendship with Emerson and Thoreau and the surprising cause of his family's genteel poverty. When a Confederate attack on the contraband farm lands March in a Washington hospital, sick with fever and guilt, the first-person narrative switches to Marmee, who describes a different version of the years past and an agonized reaction to the truth she uncovers about her husband's life.
A Union general's senseless murder is swiftly cloaked in lies and the evidence points to Irish laborers struggling to find a place in their new homeland. But the turmoil of war hides layers of dangerous secrets, and a Welsh immigrant nursing wounds old and new must overcome ancient hatreds to honor justice. Thousands of Irishmen serve valiantly on the fields of battle, yet others deny that the South's rebellion is any concern of theirs. Amid maddening rumors and lingering superstitions, an effort to draft more Irishmen into the army leads to a violent confrontation. A local death threatens to become an international crisis. At the request of President Lincoln, Union Major Abel Jones follows the trail of guilt from a windswept graveyard to the killing fields of Fredericksburg -- and soon learns that no one really wants to know the truth behind the general's murder.
Ransom J. Powell, 13, runs away to become a drummer boy for the Union Army in this fact-based Civil War story set in Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia. He quickly learns that youth does not spare one the horrors of war. He sees a fellow drummer as well as several other friends killed before he is taken prisoner. His stays at Libby and Andersonville prisons are described in grim detail. Wisler, the author of several historical fiction books for children and adults, presents a well-researched view of the war. He effectively interweaves the known facts of Powell's life with first-person accounts of other soldiers and prisoners to create an exciting story. The boy's pro-Union point of view is dominant but not dogmatically domineering. The southern rationale for war is also explored, and Powell meets good and bad people on both sides.
Itching to join the Union army as a drummer boy, Jeremy talks his way into a New York regiment, though he is much too young to enlist. As he and his messmates march through Tennessee and Georgia, he slowly gains their acceptance. Along the way, he also strikes up an uneasy acquaintance with a young Confederate soldier and befriends Dulcie, an 11-year-old escaped slave, whose story is sometimes told in parallel with Jeremy's. Gradually, his dreams of glory fade as he finds that war is not what he expected and, often, people are not what they seem. With graphic scenes set on the battlefield and in the field hospital, the story is more realistic than most Civil War novels for young people. Despite deaths, amputations, and moral ambiguities, the writing does convey a sense of idealism and purpose or, perhaps, multiple purposes for the various well-drawn characters. Schwabach's research is evident in details of the story as well as the appended historical notes and source bibliography. Gr. 5-8.
These letters will surprise readers who know Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry only through the movie Glory or the bronze memorial in Boston Commons. Most relate Shaw's wartime experiences in Virginia before he reluctantly agreed to lead the 54th; they are interesting yet unremarkable as Civil War letters. His letters after he took command reveal him as less ardent in his abolitionism and less certain of his black charges than movie and myth would have it, but they do suggest how war and social purpose drove a Boston blueblood to martyrdom on the ramparts of Fort Wagner.
The first comprehensive collection of Louisa May Alcott's nonfiction sketches, this includes "Hospital Sketches". Alcott is best known for Little Women, but her work is more varied and complex than many realize. For a woman in the 19th century, she shows unusual independence, traveling widely by herself and writing, often irreverently, about her full range of experiences.