The Confederate “Bounce” in the fall of 1863

The broad-scale history books mention the fall of 1862 as a Confederate autumn.  As Ed Bearss said in some documentary you might have seen, the Confederacy was on the offensive across a thousand mile front.   Hard, even for us a century and a half later, to grasp how the Confederacy rebounded from the dire situation in June of that year.  But the “tide” crested with reverses at Antietam and Perryville.

Then the Federals followed up, pressing the issue through December.  To show for that bloody December, the Federals had little to show.  But those operations set the stage for a series of spring offensives in 1863.  Ironclad Attack on Charleston, Chancellorsville, early stages of Grant’s operations against Vicksburg, and delays in Tennessee… the Federals suffered a major reverse and few tangible gains.  But June and July turned that around.  Consider the situation on the morning of July 11:

  • The Army of Northern Virginia pushed back to a small corner of Maryland with the Potomac River – an angry flooding river, I would add – at their back.
  • Vicksburg had fallen, taking with it an entire Confederate army.
  • The Federals had a division on Morris Island and were but a few thousand yards from cracking the Charleston defenses.
  • After a nearly bloodless campaign of maneuver, the Army of Tennessee was forced back to Chattanooga.

Only Major-General Ambrose Burnside seemed to be lagging behind, in east Tennessee.  If you were a newspaper reporter called upon to write a front page headline, could you go wrong with – “Confederate Army in retreat: End of war in sight?

But as we know, such prognostication would have been “Dewey Beats Truman.”

Instead the Confederates bounced back.  The first failed assault on Battery Wagner lead to a protracted siege which drew in Federal resources.  After being maneuvered out of Chattanooga, General Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee (with help) delivered a rare victory in the west.  The Federal Army of the Cumberland sat under siege in Chattanooga, and the Federals pulled in reinforcements from other theaters.  And then, on October 9, 1863, General Robert E. Lee had the Army of Northern Virginia on the march north again, across the Rapidan River.

Did the war take a “Confederate bounce” for at least a few weeks in the fall of 1863?  I think so. Temporary, though it was. And how do we judge the successes and failures that autumn? More to the point… Where is the “Confederates resurgent” book?

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