- January 1, 1863:
Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect. This frees all slaves in territories held by Confederates and emphasizes the enlisting of black soldiers in the Union Army. The war to preserve the Union now becomes a revolutionary struggle for the abolition of slavery.
- January 2, 1863:
Battle of Murfreesboro continues along the banks of the Stone’s River in Tennessee. Battle of Stones River ends.
- January 9, 1863:
Battle of Arkansas Post.
- January 11, 1863:
Battle of Arkansas Post ends.
- January 31, 1863:
Confederate ironclads temporarily break the blockade at Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
- March 3, 1863:
The U.S. Congress enacts a draft, affecting male citizens aged 20 to 45, but also exempts those who pay $300 or provide a substitute.
- April 2, 1863:
Bread riots in Richmond, Virginia.
- April 24, 1863:
Confederate government passes a tax in-kind on one-tenth of all produce.
- April 30, 1863:
Battle of Days’ Gap.
- May 1, 1863:
Battle of Chancellorsville begins in Virginia. Battle of Port Gibson. Battle of Chalk Bluff.
- May 2, 1863:
Stonewall Jackson is accidentally shot. Battle of Chalk Bluff ends.
- May 3, 1863:
General Joseph Hooker and the Army of the Potomac abandon a key hill on the Chancellorsville battlefield. The Union army was reeling after Stonewall Jackson’s troops swung around the Union right flank and stormed out of the woods on the evening of May 2, causing the Federals to retreat some two miles before stopping the Confederate advance. Nonetheless, Hooker’s forces were still in a position to deal a serious defeat to Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia because they had a numerical advantage and a strategic position between Lee’s divided forces. But Lee had Hooker psychologically beaten.
Union forces controlled the key geographical feature in the Chancellorsville area: Hazel Grove, a hill that provided a prime artillery location. General J.E.B. Stuart, the head of the Confederate cavalry, assumed temporary command of Stonewall Jackson’s corps after Jackson was wounded the night before (a wound that proved fatal a week later) and planned to attack Hazel Grove the next morning. This move was made much easier when Hooker made the crucial mistake of ordering an evacuation of the decisive hill. Once Stuart’s artillery occupied Hazel Grove, the Confederates proceeded to wreak havoc on the Union lines around Chancellorsville.
Rebel cannons shelled the Union line, and the fighting resulted in more Union casualties than Jackson’s attack the day before. Hooker himself was wounded when an artillery shell struck the column he was leaning against. Stunned, Hooker took a shot of brandy and ordered the retreat from the Chancellorsville area, which allowed Jackson’s men to rejoin the bulk of Lee’s troops. The daring flanking maneuver had worked. Hooker had failed to exploit the divided Army of Northern Virginia, and allowed the smaller Rebel force to defeat his numerically superior force. Union losses are 17,000 killed, wounded and missing out of 130,000. The Confederates, 13,000 out of 60,000.
- May 10, 1863:
Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson dies. The South loses one of its boldest and most colorful generals on this day. He died of pneumonia a week after losing his arm when his own troops accidentally fired on him during the Battle of Chancellorsville. In the first two years of the war, Jackson terrorized Union commanders and led his army corps on bold and daring marches. He was the perfect complement to Robert E. Lee.
A native Virginian, Jackson grew up in poverty in Clarksburg, in the mountains of what is now West Virginia. Orphaned at an early age, Jackson was raised by relatives and became a shy, lonely young man. He had only a rudimentary education but secured an appointment to West Point after another young man from the same congressional district turned his appointment down. Despite poor preparation, Jackson worked hard and graduated 17th in a class of 59 cadets.
Upon graduating, Jackson served as an artillery officer during the Mexican War, seeing action at Vera Cruz and Chapultepec. He earned three brevets for bravery in just six months and then left the service in 1850 to teach at Virginia Military Institute. He was known as a difficult and eccentric classroom instructor, prone to strange and impromptu gestures in class. He was also a devout Presbyterian who refused to even talk of secular matters on the Sabbath. In 1859, he led a group of VMI cadets to serve as gallows guards for the hanging of John Brown.
When war broke out in 1861, Jackson became a brigadier general in command of five regiments raised in the Shenandoah Valley. At the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, Jackson earned distinction by leading the attack that secured an advantage for the Confederates. Confederate General Bernard Bee, trying to inspire his troops, exclaimed "there stands Jackson like a stone wall," and provided one of the most enduring monikers in history.
By 1862, Jackson was recognized as one of the most effective commanders in the Confederate army. Leading his force on one of the most brilliant campaigns in military history during the summer of 1862, Jackson marched around the Shenandoah Valley and held off three Union armies while providing relief for Confederates pinned down on the James Peninsula by George McClellan’s army. He later rejoined the Army of Northern Virginia for the Seven Days battles, and his leadership was brilliant at Second Bull Run in August 1862. He soon became Lee’s most trusted corps commander.
The Battle of Chancellorsville was Lee’s and Jackson’s shining moment. Despite the fact that they faced an army twice the size of theirs, Lee daringly split his force and sent Jackson around the Union flank—a move that resulted in perhaps the Army of the Potomac’s most stunning defeat of the war. When nightfall halted the attack, Jackson rode forward to reconnoiter the territory for another assault. But as he and his aides rode back to the lines, a group of Rebels opened fire. Jackson was hit three times, and a Southern bullet shattered his left arm. His arm had to be amputated the next day. Soon, pneumonia set in, and Jackson quickly began to fade. He died, as he had wished, on the Sabbath, May 10, 1863, with these last words: "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees."
- May 12, 1863:
Battle of Raymond.
- May 13, 1863:
Union General Ulysses S. Grant advances toward the Mississippi capital of Jackson during his bold and daring drive to take Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River.
- May 16, 1863:
Battle of Champion’s Hill, Mississippi: The Union army seals the fate of Vicksburg by defeating the Confederates at the Battle of Champion’s Hill. General Ulysses S. Grant had successfully run the Confederate gauntlet at Vicksburg and placed the Army of the Tennessee south of the stronghold, the Rebels’ last significant holding on the Mississippi River.
- May 18, 1863:
The siege of Vicksburg commences Union General Ulysses S. Grant surrounds Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, in one of the most brilliant campaigns of the war.
- May 21, 1863:
Battle of Port Hudson (Siege of)
- May 28, 1863:
54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry leaves for action. This is the first fully trained black regiment in the Union army.
- June 3, 1863:
General Lee with 75,000 Confederates launches his second invasion of the North, heading into Pennsylvania in a campaign that will soon lead to Gettysburg.
- June 9, 1863:
Battle of Brandy Station.
- June 14, 1863:
Battle of Second Winchester: A small Union garrison in the Shenandoah Valley town of Winchester, Virginia, is easily defeated by the Army of Northern Virginia on the path of the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania.
- June 28, 1863:
President Lincoln appoints General George G. Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing Hooker. Meade is the 5th man to command the Army in less than a year.
- July 1, 1863:
The Battle of Gettysburg begins when Union and Confederate forces collide at Gettysburg. The epic battle lasted three days and resulted in a retreat to Virginia by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
- July 2, 1863:
The second day of battle at Gettysburg General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia attacks General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac at both Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top, but fails to move the Yankees from their positions.
- July 3, 1863:
Pickett leads his infamous charge at Gettysburg Troops under Confederate General George Pickett begin a massive attack against the center of the Union lines at Gettysburg on the climactic third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest engagement of the war. General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia encountered George Meade’s Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania and battered the Yankees for two days. The day before Pickett’s charge, the Confederates had hammered each flank of the Union line but could not break through.
Now, on July 3, Lee decided to attack the Union center, stationed on Cemetery Ridge, after making another unsuccessful attempt on the Union right flank at Culp’s Hill in the morning. The majority of the force consisted of Pickett’s division, but there were other units represented among the 15,000 attackers.
After a long Confederate artillery bombardment, the Rebel force moved through the open field and up the slight rise of Cemetery Ridge. But by the time they reached the Union line, the attack had been broken into many small units, and they were unable to penetrate the Yankee center.
The failed attack effectively ended the battle of Gettysburg. On July 4, Lee began to withdraw his forces to Virginia. The casualties for both armies were staggering. Lee lost 28,000 of his 75,000 soldiers, and Union losses stood at over 22,000. It was the last time Lee threatened Northern territory. LEE DEFEATED AT GETTYSBURG: On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s last attempt at breaking the Union line ends in disastrous failure, bringing the most decisive battle of the War For Southern Independence to an end. Many observers recall this day as the "high water mark of the Confederacy."
- July 4, 1863:
Surrender of Vicksburg The Confederacy is torn in two when General John C. Pemberton surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg. Battle of Helena. The Union is now in control of the Mississippi and the Confederacy is effectively split in two, cut off from its western allies.
- July 9, 1863:
Surrender of Port Hudson, Louisiana, the Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River in Louisiana, falls to Nathaniel Banks’ Union force. Less than a week after the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Confederate garrison’s surrender at Port Hudson cleared another obstacle for the Federals on the Mississippi River.
- July 15, 1863:
Draft riots continue to rock New York City The draft riot enters its fourth day in New York City in response to the Enrollment Act, which was enacted on March 3, 1863. Although avoiding military service became much more difficult, wealthier citizens could still pay a commutation fee of $300 to stay at home. Irritation with the draft dovetailed with opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862, which made abolition of slavery the central goal of the war for the Union. Particularly vocal in their opposition were the Democratic Irish, who felt the war was being forced upon them by Protestant Republicans and feared that emancipation of slaves would jeopardize their jobs. Their fears were confirmed when black laborers replaced striking Irish dock workers the month before the riots.
Discontent simmered until the draft began among the Irish New Yorkers on July 11. Two days later, a mob burned the draft office, triggering nearly five days of violence. At first, the targets included local newspapers, wealthy homes, well-dressed men, and police officers, but the crowd’s attention soon turned to African Americans. Several blacks were lynched, and businesses employing blacks were burned. A black orphanage was also burned, but the children escaped.
Not until July 17 was the violence contained by the arrival of Union troops, some fresh from the battlefield at Gettysburg. More than 1,000 died and property damage topped $2 million. The draft was temporarily suspended, and a revised conscription began in August. As a result of the riots and the delicate political balance in the city, relatively few New Yorkers were forced to serve in the Union army.
- July 17, 1863:
Battle of Honey Springs.
- July 18, 1863:
54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry attempts an assault of Battery Wagner outside Charleston, South Carolina.
- July 19, 1863:
Morgan’s raiders defeated at Buffington Island: Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s raid on the North is dealt a serious blow when a large part of his force is captured as they try to escape across the Ohio River at Buffington Island, Ohio. Cut off from the south, Morgan fled north with the remnants of his command and was captured a week later at Salineville, Ohio.
- August 8, 1863:
In the aftermath of his defeat at Gettysburg, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sends a letter of resignation as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The letter came more than a month after Lee’s retreat from Pennsylvania. At first, many people in the South wondered if in fact Lee had lost the battle. Lee’s intent had been to drive the Union army from Virginia, which he did. The Army of the Potomac suffered over 28,000 casualties, and the Union army’s offensive capabilities were temporarily disabled. But the Army of Northern Virginia absorbed 23,000 casualties, nearly one-third of its total. As the weeks rolled by and the Union army reentered Virginia, it became clear that the Confederacy had suffered a serious defeat at Gettysburg. As the press began to openly speculate about Lee’s leadership, the great general reflected on the campaign at his headquarters in Orange Courthouse, Virginia.
The modest Lee took the failure at Gettysburg very personally. In his letter to Davis, he wrote, "I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army…. No one is more aware than myself of my inability for the duties of my position. I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire…. I, therefore, in all sincerity, request your Excellency to take measure to supply my place."
Lee not only seriously questioned his ability to lead his army, he was also experiencing significant physical fatigue. He might also have sensed that Gettysburg was his last chance to win the war. Regardless, President Davis refused the request. He wrote, "To ask me to substitute you by someone … more fit to command, or who would possess more of the confidence of the army … is to demand an impossibility."
- September 1, 1863:
Battle of Devil’s Backbone.
- September 10, 1863:
Battle of Bayou Fourche.
- September 19, 1863:
Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. A decisive Confederate victory by General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee left General William S. Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland trapped in Chattanooga under Confederate siege.
- October 14, 1863:
Battle of Bristoe Station.
- October 15, 1863:
C.S.S. Hunley sinks during tests. The C.S.S. Hunley, the first successful submarine, sinks during a test run, killing its inventor and seven crewmembers.
Horace Lawson Hunley developed the submarine from a cylinder boiler. It was operated by a crew of eight–one person steered while the other seven turned a crank that drove the ship’s propeller. The Hunley could dive, but it required calm seas for safe operations. It was tested successfully in Alabama’s Mobile Bay in the summer of 1863, and Confederate commander General Pierre G.T. Beauregard recognized that the vessel might be useful to ram Union ships and break the blockade of Charleston Harbor. The Hunley was placed on a railcar and shipped to South Carolina.
The submarine experienced problems upon its arrival. During a test run, a crewmember became tangled in part of the craft’s machinery and the craft dove with its hatch open; only two men survived the accident. The ship was raised and repaired, but it was difficult to find another crew that was willing to assume the risk of operating the submarine. Its inventor and namesake stepped forward to restore confidence in his creation. On October 15, he took the submarine into Charleston Harbor for another test. In front of a crowd of spectators, the Hunley slipped below the surface and did not reappear. Horace Hunley and his entire crew perished.
Surprisingly, another willing crew was assembled and the Hunley went back into the water. On February 17, 1864, the ship headed out of Charleston Harbor and approached the U.S.S. Housatanic. The Hunley stuck a torpedo into the Yankee ship and then backed away before the explosion. The Housatanic sank in shallow water, and the Hunley became the first submarine to sink a ship in battle. Unfortunately, its first successful mission was also its last–the Hunley sank before it returned to Charleston, taking yet another crew down with it. The vessel was raised on August 8, 2000, and will now reside in an exhibit at the Charleston History Museum.
- October 16, 1863
The president appoints General Grant to command all operations in the Western theater.
- October 25, 1863:
Battle of Pine Bluff.
- November 19, 1863:
President Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address. The address was two minutes long, and took place at a ceremony dedicating the Battlefield as a National Cemetery.
- November 23, 1863:
Battle of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Rebel siege of Chattanooga ends as Union forces under Grant defeat the siege army of General Braxton Bragg. During the battle, one of the most dramatic moments of the war occurs. Yelling "Chickamauga! Chickamauga!" Union troops avenge their previous defeat at Chickamauga by storming up the face of Missionary Ridge without orders and sweep the Rebels from what had been thought to be an impregnable position.
- November 27, 1863:
Battle of Ringgold Gap. Battle of Mine Run.