The Associated Press reported 150 years ago this week in the Civil War that Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was in retreat after abandoning his siege of Knoxville, Tenn. The dispatch dated Dec. 8, 1863, said Longstreet appeared to withdrawing through a mountain gap either toward Virginia or North Carolina with "Federal cavalry pursuing." The dispatch added; "he will scarcely be able to make good his escape without material loss, though he has thirty-six hours the start." With Ulysses Grant now firmly in control of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Longstreet unable to capture Knoxville, the Confederates are reeling from the blow. AP reported that a key for the Union was the arrival of William T. Sherman's cavalry at Knoxville in early December to reinforce the existing federal forces. Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln issued a statement that the Confederate retreat from East Tennessee renders it "probably that the Union forces cannot thereafter be dislodged from that important post, and esteeming this to be of high national consequence. I recommend that all loyal people, do, on the receipt of this information assemble at their places of worship, and render special homage and gratitude to Almighty God for this great advancement of the national cause (Signed) A. Lincoln."
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Dec. 15: Lincoln's Proclamation on Amnesty and Reconstruction.
In early December 1863, President Abraham Lincoln announced his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, an early document aimed at speeding reconciliation and reconstruction of areas recaptured from the Confederacy by this point in the Civil War. At this time in the conflict, Lincoln's armies had reclaimed large parts of the South and with the capture of those territories came a pressing need to rebuild and reorganize them. Lincoln's document, in an annual message to Congress, sought to permit a full pardon and restoration of property rights to all who had rebelled against the government—save ranking Confederate commanders and leaders. It also called for permitting a new government to be formed when 10 percent of eligible voters had sworn allegiance to the United States and to resolve questions involving freed slaves. Several Northern newspapers immediately supported the plan. "The President's plan of restoring our Federal system to its normal operation ... finds us already thoroughly committed to it .... What is the problem to be solved? It is—How to restore truly and safely the part of the Union which revolted," The New York Times said on Dec. 11, 1863.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Dec. 22: Fighting in Tennessee.
The Union, which had bolstered its positions in East Tennessee earlier in the year, launched into one more battle in the state before ringing out the year 1863. A Union brigadier general, Samuel D. Sturgis, got word on Dec. 28, 1863, that Confederate cavalry had been spotted near Dandridge, Tenn. He chose to go out and attack the force, opening up a battle at a place called Mossy Creek. Initially Confederate forces got the upper hand but then the Union troops turned the tables, forcing a brigade of Confederate cavalry to retreat. The Union victory, though a minor one, further consolidated Federal gains in the state. Soon after, fighting forces on both sides would begin their retreat to winter camps, hunkering down to await warmer weather to resume combat in earnest.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Dec. 29: Fighting subsides as troopers enter winter quarters.
As troops on both sides begin to enter winter camps, fighting has subsided with the onset of cold weather this month 150 years ago in the Civil War. The Associated Press reported on Dec. 27, 1863, that the U.S. steamer Massachusetts arrived from the Carolinas at Union-held Fort Monroe off the Virginia coast with more than 200 federal military personnel recently discharged from duty. The ship also was carrying dozens of sick and 16 rebel prisoners taken from the captured rebel steamer Chatham off the Carolinas. AP also reported that the ship was bringing northward examples of some of the obstructions removed from Charleston Harbor in South Carolina that Confederates were using to defend the area. The obstructions were to be taken to Navy officials in Washington for examination. AP added federal warships were continuing a blockade of Charleston with "little firing" between Confederate land batteries and federal warships anchored in nearby waters.