Civil War Timeline and History, from July to December 1863

July 1, 1863–December 31, 1863

The third year of the American Civil War continued into the second half of 1863. This timeline covers important moments from July to December, including military and political events that affected the course of the war and the history of the United States.

Civil War Timeline, History, July to December 1863, AHC Original

A timeline of the Civil War, featuring rare images from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated and Harper’s Weekly.

10 Moments That Shaped the Civil War

  1. July 1–3 — The Battle of Gettysburg took place over three days, culminating in Pickett’s Charge, a disaster for Confederate forces. Lee was forced to retreat to Virginia and the Union Army pursued him.
  2. July 4 — The Siege of Vicksburg ended when Confederate forces surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant.
  3. July 13 — The New York Draft Riots started as Americans protested the government’s military draft.
  4. July 17 — Union forces took control of Indian Territory with a victory at the Battle of Honey Springs.
  5. July 18 — Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of the 54th Massachusetts, was killed at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner.
  6. July 26 — General John Hunt Morgan surrendered to Union forces in Salineville, Ohio, ending his raid into the North.
  7. September 18 — Confederates won the Battle of Chickamauga, forcing Union forces to retreat to Chattanooga.
  8. November 19 — President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address during the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
  9. November 25 — Union forces won the Third Battle of Chattanooga, securing control of the city, which became an important supply depot for the Union for the rest of the war.
  10. December 8 — President Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, part of his plan to restore the Union.

1863, July

July 1 — Cabin Creek

Indian Territory — Colonel James M. Williams of the First Kansas Colored Infantry led a Union supply train from Fort Scott, Kansas, to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory. Confederate Colonel Stand Watie planned to attack him at Cabin Creek but awaited reinforcements from Brigadier General William L. Cabell. High water delayed Cabell, and although Cabin Creek initially had high water too, it eventually subsided. Williams stopped the Confederates with artillery fire and two cavalry charges, allowing the supply train to reach Fort Gibson. The arrival of supplies allowed Union forces could stay in Indian Territory, contributing to to victories at Honey Springs and the capture of Fort Smith, Arkansas.

July 1 — Battle of Carlisle in Pennsylvania. Inconclusive.

July 1–3 — Gettysburg

Pennsylvania — General Robert E. Lee focused his entire force on General George G. Meade and his Army of the Potomac (USA) in Gettysburg. Confederates converged on the town on July 1, pushing Union defenders back to Cemetery Hill. Reinforcements arrived overnight for both sides. 

On July 2, Lee attempted to encircle the Federals, attacking their left and right flanks. By evening, the Union still held Little Round Top and had stopped most of the attack from forces commanded by General Richard S. Ewell.

Battle of Gettysburg, 1863, July 2, Confederate Charge up Cemetery Hill, FL 335
This illustration depicts Confederates charging the Union position on Cemetery Hill on July 2. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

On July 3, Confederate infantry lost their last foothold on Culp’s Hill. In the afternoon, after an artillery bombardment, Lee attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. Pickett’s Charge momentarily broke through but was repulsed with heavy casualties. Stuart’s cavalry failed to breach the Union rear. 

Lee started retreating on July 4, with a long train of wounded soldiers.

July 3 — Battle of Fairfield in Pennsylvania, during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg. Confederate victory.

July 4 — Fight at Monterey Pass in Pennsylvania, during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg. Union victory.

July 4 — Surrender of Vicksburg

Vicksburg surrendered to Grant, giving the United States complete control of the Mississippi River, which was a critical supply line for the Confederate states in the West. 

Siege of Vicksburg, 1863, Confederate Troops Marching Out, HW
This illustration depicts Confederate prisoners marching out of Vicksburg. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 1, 1863.

July 4 — Helena

Arkansas — Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes led an attack on Helena to ease pressure on Vicksburg. Despite having more troops and initial success in capturing some fortifications, the Union forces pushed them back. Helena remained a vital Union stronghold in the Trans-Mississippi region and served as a base for the subsequent capture of Little Rock.

July 5 — The Jackson Expedition started in Mississippi. Union victory.

July 6 — Williamsport

Maryland — During the night of July 4–5, Lee’s army started retreating from Gettysburg, moving southwest toward Hagerstown and Williamsport, screened by Stuart’s cavalry. Union infantry cautiously followed on July 5, converging on Middletown, Maryland, which led to the Battle of Williamsport

On July 7, John Imboden’s Confederates prevented John Buford’s Union cavalry from taking Williamsport and damaging Confederate trains. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division pushed two Confederate cavalry brigades out of Hagerstown before being forced to withdraw when the rest of J.E.B. Stuart’s command arrived. 

Lee’s infantry reached the rain-swollen Potomac River but could not cross due to a destroyed pontoon bridge. On July 11, Lee entrenched a line protecting the river crossings at Williamsport, awaiting Meade’s advance.

On July 12, General George G. Meade arrived in the area and skirmishing ensued as he positioned his forces. By July 13, the river had dropped enough to build a new bridge, and Lee’s army started crossing after dark. 

On the morning of July 14, Kilpatrick and Buford’s cavalry divisions attacked the rearguard division of Henry Heth still on the north bank, capturing over 500 prisoners. Confederate Brigadier General James Pettigrew was mortally wounded. 

On July 16, David Gregg’s cavalry approached Shepherdstown, where Fitzhugh Lee’s and J.R. Chambliss’s brigades, supported by M.J. Ferguson’s, held the Potomac River fords against Union infantry. Despite several Confederate attacks and sorties, Gregg held out until nightfall when he withdrew.

July 8 — Boonsboro

Maryland — On July 8, Confederate cavalry, positioned at the South Mountain passes, engaged in a rearguard action against units from the Union’s 1st and 3rd Cavalry Divisions, along with infantry. This skirmish was part of a series of cavalry engagements that occurred in the vicinity of Boonsboro, Hagerstown, and Williamsport during this period.

July 9 — Corydon

Indiana — On July 2, 1863, General John Hunt Morgan embarked on a mission with approximately 2,450 hand-picked cavalrymen to disrupt the communication lines of the Union Army of the Cumberland

The Union forces had commenced their operations against General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee during the Tullahoma Campaign on June 23. Morgan’s journey started by crossing the Cumberland River at Burkesville. As they advanced, they encountered a Union regiment at Tebb’s Bend on July 4, which forced them to change their route.

Morgan’s next move was to capture the garrison in Lebanon, Kentucky, and from there, he traveled through Springfield, Bardstown, and Garnettsville. On July 8, he crossed the Ohio River at Mauckport, Indiana, despite orders to remain south of the river within Kentucky. This action prompted Union officials to activate the militia in Indiana and Ohio and organize a defense strategy.

The following day, near Corydon, Indiana, a portion of Morgan’s force engaged with around 400 Home Guards, capturing most of them. As Morgan continued his eastward journey into Ohio, he wreaked havoc by destroying bridges, railroads, and government supplies. Federal units converged to prevent Morgan from returning to Kentucky.

July 10 — Battle of Funkstown in Maryland, during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg. Confederate victory.

July 10 — Fort Wagner

South Carolina — On July 10, Union artillery on Folly Island, combined with the ironclad fleet commanded by Rear Admiral John Dahlgren, bombarded Confederate defenses on Morris Island. 

This artillery fire served as cover for the brigade led by Brigadier General George C. Strong, which used boats to cross Light House Inlet and make a landing on the southern tip of Morris Island.

Strong’s troops made significant progress, capturing several Confederate batteries and advancing within the firing range of Fort Wagner. At the break of dawn on July 11, Strong launched an assault on the fort. Soldiers from the 7th Connecticut Regiment managed to reach the parapet but, lacking support, were eventually forced to withdraw.

Included among the United States troops was the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, the first African-American regiment of volunteers to see combat in the Civil War.

July 12 — Kock’s Plantation

Louisiana — After the surrender of Port Hudson, two Union divisions were transferred to Donaldsonville by transport for an inland mission. They proceeded up Bayou LaFourche, with one division on each side of the bayou. Confederate Brigadier General Tom Green positioned one of his brigades on the east bank and the other on the west bank of the bayou.

As Union forces advanced, skirmishes occurred on July 11 and 12. 

On the morning of July 13, a foraging party set out along both sides of the bayou. When they reached Kock’s Plantation they met Confederate skirmishers who forced them to retreat. 

Soon after, the Confederates launched an attack on the Union troops, who were forced to fall back. Eventually, Union forces retreated to the safety of Fort Butler in Donaldsonville, approximately 6 miles from Kock’s Plantation.

July 13 — New York Draft Riots

New York — Draft Riots started in New York City and spread discontented workers and laborers attacked the draft office and African-American churches. Rioters are upset by the draft system that seems to favor the rich. The riots continued through July 16. It is estimated that 120 people were killed, including children and $2 million worth of damage was done. Order was restored by troops returning from the Battle of Gettysburg.

New York Draft Riots, 1863, Burning Orphanage, HW
This illustration depicts rioters in New York burning an orphanage for black children. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 1, 1863.

July 13–14 — Falling Waters

Maryland — Near Falling Waters, Maryland, U.S. troops skirmished with Lee’s rearguard. That night, the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River, marking the end of the Gettysburg Campaign.

July 16 — Grimball’s Island

South Carolina — To divert Confederate reinforcements and prevent an attack on Fort Wagner, General Quincy Gillmore devised two deceptive maneuvers. 

  1. First, an amphibious force sailed up the Stono River, creating a threat to the Charleston & Savannah Railroad bridge. 
  2. Second, another force led by General Terry’s division landed on James Island on July 8. Terry’s troops conducted a demonstration against the Confederate defenses. 

On July 16, Confederates attacked Terry’s camp at Grimball’s Landing. However, due to marshy terrain, the Confederate assault faltered and was abandoned. Union troops withdrew from the island on July 17.

July 17 — Honey Springs

Indian Territory — Union and Confederate troops had engaged in frequent skirmishes around Honey Springs Depot. 

Union General James G. Blunt anticipated that Confederate troops, primarily composed of Indians led by General Douglas H. Cooper, were gathering and would soon launch an attack on his position at Fort Gibson. 

Blunt decided to confront the Confederates at Honey Springs Depot before they could be reinforced by General William Cabell’s brigade, which was advancing from Fort Smith, Arkansas.

On July 15, Blunt started crossing the swollen Arkansas River. By midnight on July 16–17, he had assembled a force of 3,000 soldiers, including whites, Indians, and African American troops, and was marching toward Honey Springs. Skirmishes with Confederates took place early on the morning of the 17th, leading to full-scale combat by midafternoon.

The Confederate troops encountered difficulties due to wet gunpowder, and the situation worsened as rain began to fall. After withstanding a Union attack, Cooper withdrew his men to secure fresh ammunition. 

Meanwhile, there was confusion in the Confederate lines, and Cooper learned Blunt was about to turn his left flank. This prompted a Confederate retreat, and despite some rearguard actions, many troops were unable to mount an effective counterattack and ultimately fled. 

Any hopes of the Confederates capturing Fort Gibson were ended. With the victory at the Battle of Honey Springs, Union forces gained control of Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River.

July 18 — Fort Wagner, Second Battle

South Carolina — Following the unsuccessful assault on Fort Wagner on July 11, General Quincy Gillmore reinforced his position on Morris Island. 

On the evening of July 18, he launched another attack, with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry at the forefront. During the assault, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the regiment’s commander, was killed.

Members of the brigade managed to scale the fort’s parapet but were eventually driven out after intense hand-to-hand combat, resulting in significant casualties. 

Afterward, Union forces resorted to siege tactics to gradually weaken and capture the fort, ending the Second Battle of Fort Wagner.

Second Battle of Fort Wagner, 1863, Union Troops Storming the Walls, HW
This illustration depicts Union forces storming the walls at Fort Wagner. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 8, 1863.

July 19 — Buffington Island

Ohio — On July 13, Morgan’s raiders entered Ohio at Harrison, where they were pursued by multiple columns of Union cavalry, all under the overall command of Brigadier General Edward H. Hobson. 

On July 19, brigades led by Kautz and Judah engaged Morgan’s forces near Buffington Island

During the night, Morgan and approximately 400 of his men managed to escape encirclement by following a narrow path through the woods. However, the remainder of his force surrendered to Union forces and was captured.

Morgan's Raid, 1863, Washington Ohio
This illustration depicts Morgan and his men in Washington, Ohio. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, August 15, 1863.

July 23 — Manassas Gap

Virginia — After recrossing the Potomac River at Williamsport, General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army retreated up the Shenandoah Valley. General Meade followed Lee into Virginia by crossing the Potomac River east of the Blue Ridge. 

On July 23, Meade directed the III Corps, led by General William H. French, to intercept the retreating Confederates at Front Royal by passing through Manassas Gap.

Early in the morning, French started slowly pushing the Confederates back, forcing them into the gap. Around 4:30 p.m., Confederate reinforcements from General Robert E. Rodes’s division arrived, with artillery. By nightfall, Union assaults ended, and during the night, the Confederates retreated into the Luray Valley.

On July 24, the Union army took control of Front Royal, but Lee’s army successfully escaped pursuit and was beyond reach.

July 24Battle of Hoover’s Gap in Tennessee. Union victory.

July 24 — Battle of Liberty Gap in Tennessee. Union victory.

July 24 — Big Mound

Dakota Territory — General Henry Hastings Sibley led his troops from Fort Ridgely, Minnesota, into the Dakotas, chasing the Santee Sioux who had sparked an uprising in the Minnesota River Valley in August 1862. There, the Santee joined forces with the Teton Sioux.

Around 1:00 p.m. on the 24th, Sibley’s scouts reported they had spotted a large Indian camp a few miles away. Sibley established a camp on a nearby salt lake and had his men dig trenches to fortify it for protection. 

While they were setting up camp, numerous Indians appeared and initially seemed friendly. Some of them approached the scouts, who were gathered about 300-400 yards from the camp, and started talking to them. 

Surgeon Josiah S. Weiser from the 1st Regiment Minnesota Mounted Rangers joined the conversation, but shortly after, a Sioux fired a shot, killing him. The scouts attempted to retaliate, but the attacker managed to escape. 

Other Indians who had been concealed behind the surrounding ridges emerged and launched an attack. In response, soldiers went out in groups to engage the Indians. 

Sibley, accompanied by a few men, approached the “Big Mound” on the opposite side of the ravine. He tried to dislodge Sioux warriors who were positioned higher up in the ravine and were firing at the infantry and cavalry with little opposition. 

Union forces were able to displace these Sioux and others who were well-positioned in the surrounding ridges by using accurate artillery fire. They forced the Sioux into the rugged prairie, where they fled.

The mounted troops, along with some infantry and artillery units, pursued the Sioux in a running battle that continued throughout the day. 

Before nightfall, the soldiers were ordered to break off the pursuit and return to camp, with some not arriving until the following morning. The Sioux forces were scattered.

July 26 — Dead Buffalo Lake

Dakota Territory — After the Battle of Big Mound, General Henry Hastings Sibley and his troops relocated their camp to a new location about 4 miles away, where they rested for a day. On the morning of the 26th, they resumed their march and after covering approximately 14 miles, they encountered the Sioux, who were prepared for battle.

At first, the battle occurred at long range as the Indians refrained from closing in on the soldiers. However, the Sioux attempted to flank the left side of the camp and seize the mules. The Mounted Rangers and infantry, engaged in heavy combat, managed to push the Sioux back. Soon after, the Sioux retreated, ending the battle.

Sibley continued his pursuit the next day until it was clear the Sioux were retreating.

July 26 — Salineville

Ohio — Following his escape from Buffington’s Island with 400 of his men, John Hunt Morgan continued his journey east and north, looking for a safe place to cross the Ohio River. 

As several columns of Union cavalry pursued him, Morgan rode through Salineville, heading down the railroad toward Smith’s Ford. Eventually, he turned onto the New Lisbon Road but was trapped and cut off from escape. Morgan decided to surrender.

This ended his raid, during which Morgan and his men had captured and paroled approximately 6,000 Union soldiers and militia. They had also destroyed 34 bridges, disrupting railroads at over 60 locations, and diverting tens of thousands of Union troops from their intended duties.

July 28 — Stony Lake

Dakota Territory — Following the Battle of Dead Buffalo Lake, Brigadier General Henry Hastings Sibley and his troops continued their pursuit of the retreating Sioux. Their march took them to Stony Lake, where the exhaustion of their animals forced them to stop and rest. 

On the 28th, as he resumed his pursuit, Sibley became aware of a large Sioux force advancing toward him. He ordered his men to be on the alert and continued his march.

The Sioux tried to find weaknesses in the Union column but failed. Frustrated, the Sioux withdrew, preventing any pursuit. Sibley later noted in his report that the encounter at Stony Lake was “the largest engagement between our troops and the Indians in terms of numbers thus far.”

July 30 — Lincoln Issues General Order 252

In response to the Confederate refusal to treat black soldiers the same as white soldiers, President Abraham Lincoln issued General Order 252. This order declared that for any U.S. prisoner killed in violation of the laws of war, a Confederate prisoner would be killed in exchange. As a result, the prisoner exchange system is essentially suspended.

July 30 — U.S. Representatives and tribal leaders, including Chief Pocatello of the Shoshone, signed the Treaty of Box Elder.

1863, August

August 8 — Robert E. Lee sent a letter of resignation to CSA President Jefferson Davis. The offer was refused by Davis.

August 10President Lincoln met with Frederick Douglass, who asked for equal treatment of black troops in the Union Army.

August 17 — Fort Sumter, Second Battle

South Carolina — On August 17, Federal artillery batteries on Morris Island started bombarding Fort Sumter and the Confederate defenses in Charleston and continued until August 23. The garrison inside Fort Sumter managed to withstand the bombardment. Meanwhile, siege operations against Fort Wagner on Morris Island continued.

August 21 — Lawrence

Kansas — In what was supposedly a response to a Union raid on Osceola, Missouri, Lieutenant Colonel William C. Quantrill led a raid on Lawrence, Kansas. During the attack, known as the “Lawrence Massacre”, Quantrill and his men killed civilians, including men and boys, and laid waste to numerous buildings in the town. Quantrill’s forces occupied Lawrence for a few hours before retreating.

Lawrence Massacre, 1863, August 21, Quantrill's Raiders, HW
Lawrence Massacre. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, September 5, 1863.

August 21 — Chattanooga, Second Battle

Tennessee — On August 16, 1863, General William S. Rosecrans, who led the Army of the Cumberland, initiated a campaign to seize Chattanooga. 

As part of the campaign, Colonel John T. Wilder and his brigade from the Union 4th Division, XIV Army Corps, carried out a strategic maneuver. They moved northeast of Chattanooga, where the Confederates could see them. This convinced General Braxton Bragg the Union assault on Chattanooga would come from that direction.

On August 21, Wilder’s Brigade reached the Tennessee River, opposite Chattanooga. They instructed the 18th Indiana Light Artillery to start shelling the town. This bombardment coincided with a day of prayer and fasting, during which many soldiers and civilians in Chattanooga were attending church services. The shelling had a significant impact, sinking two steamers at the dock and causing considerable turmoil among the Confederates.

This shelling continued for two weeks, diverting Bragg’s attention. Meanwhile, the main body of Rosecrans’s army crossed the Tennessee River further to the west and south of Chattanooga. When Bragg received word on September 8 that a substantial Union force was positioned southwest of the city, he decided to abandon Chattanooga.

1863, September

September 1 — Devil’s Backbone

Arkansas — Following the Confederate withdrawal from Fort Smith, Union General James G. Blunt directed Colonel William Cloud to pursue the Confederates. Cloud followed them to Old Jenny Lind where the Confederates chose to make a stand at the base of Devil’s Backbone. 

General William L. Cabell and his Confederates executed an ambush against the approaching Union troops, momentarily disrupting their advance. After regrouping, the Union forces, with the support of artillery, resumed their advance and forced the Confederates to retreat to Waldron.

September 3 — Whitestone Hill

Dakota Territory — Following Brigadier General Henry Hastings Sibley’s successes against the Sioux, he withdrew from the region, crossing the James River. The Sioux, in turn, recrossed the Missouri River and returned to their traditional hunting grounds. In response, Brigadier General Alfred Sully decided to locate and confront these Sioux.

By September 3, Sully’s forces reached a lake where they discovered the carcasses of recently killed buffalo. Around 3:00 p.m., a detachment of the 6th Iowa Cavalry stumbled upon a Sioux camp consisting of more than 400 lodges. 

The Union troops tried to encircle the camp until a messenger could notify Sully. The message reached Sully around 4:00 p.m., prompting him to set out with the remainder of his troops, except for those who remained behind to safeguard the animals and supplies.

About an hour later, Sully and his forces arrived at the Sioux camp, where they found the Sioux were trying to leave the area. Sully sent his troops to assist the 6th Iowa Cavalry. 

Battle of Whitestone Hill, 1863, Union Cavalry Charge
Battle of Whitestone Hill. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, October 31, 1863.

While the Sioux did launch a counterattack, it proved unsuccessful. Under heavy fire from Union forces, the Sioux broke and fled. Although the fighting subsided after dark, scattered gunfire persisted. Sully ordered a bugle call to rally, and all the troops remained armed throughout the night.

In the morning, Sully established a camp on the battleground. Over the next two days, he sent scouting parties to search for remnants of the Sioux and ordered the destruction of their food supplies and other provisions discovered. 

On September 5, an officer and 27 men from the 2nd Nebraska and 6th Iowa Cavalry regiments ventured out to locate a surgeon and 8 men who had gone missing since the battle on the 3rd.

Approximately 15 miles northwest of the camp, they were attacked by a group of around 300 Sioux. The Union troops retreated and returned to their camp.

September 5 — Charleston Harbor, Second Battle

South Carolina — During the night of September 6-7, Confederates decided to evacuate Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg due to the increasing pressure from advancing Federal forces. Federal troops eventually took control of all of Morris Island. On September 8, a storming party consisting of approximately 400 marines and sailors launched an attempt to surprise Fort Sumter. However, their attack was repulsed by the Confederate garrison.

September 7Battle of Cumberland Gap in Tennessee. Union victory.

Battle of Cumberland Gap, 1863, Union Forces
This illustration depicts Union forces marching through the Cumberland Gap. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, October 10, 1863.

September 8 — Sabine Pass, Second Battle

Texas — On the morning of September 8, 1863, at approximately 6:00 a.m., a Union flotilla, consisting of 4 gunboats and 7 transports, entered Sabine Pass and proceeded up the Sabine River. Their objective was to reduce Fort Griffin and commence the occupation of Texas by landing troops. However, as the Union gunboats approached Fort Griffin, they came under fire from 6 Confederate cannons.

Fort Griffin was manned by a small force of 44 men who were under the command of Lieutenant Richard W. Dowling. The Confederates at Fort Griffin successfully stopped the Union flotilla’s attack. They also captured the Union gunboat Clifton and took 200 Union prisoners.

Second Battle of Sabine Pass, 1863, September 8
Second Battle of Sabine Pass. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, October 10, 1863.

September 9 — Occupation of Chattanooga

Tennessee — Chattanooga was taken over by Federal forces under General William Rosecrans. His Army of the Cumberland prepared to invade northern Georgia.

September 10 — Bayou Fourche

Arkansas — On September 10, 1863, a Union military operation took place when General Fred Steele, commander of the Army of Arkansas, formulated a plan to capture Little Rock. To execute his plan, he ordered General John W. Davidson to lead his cavalry division across the Arkansas River towards Little Rock, while Steele himself led additional troops in an attack on Confederates entrenched on the north side of the river.

During Davidson’s advance toward Little Rock, his cavalry division met Confederate troops near Bayou Fourche. The Union forces, supported by artillery fire from the north side of the river, engaged the Confederates and eventually forced them out of their position, forcing the Confederates to retreat to Little Rock.

As a result, Little Rock fell to Union forces that evening. The capture of Little Rock was a turning point in the Civil War, as it isolated the Confederates in the Trans-Mississippi Theater from the rest of the South.

September 10 — Davis’ Cross Roads

Georgia — Following the Tullahoma Campaign, General William S. Rosecrans renewed the offensive to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga. Rosecrans’s army was divided into 3 corps, each taking separate routes towards Chattanooga. Upon learning of the Union advance, Confederate General Braxton Bragg started concentrating his troops in and around Chattanooga to defend the city.

Taking advantage of Bragg’s situation, Rosecrans ordered some of his troops to move into Georgia by moving ahead and securing key mountain gaps in the area known as McLemore’s Cove. Meanwhile, Colonel John T. Wilder’s artillery shelled Chattanooga as a diversionary tactic.

As the Union forces advanced, Major General James S. Negley’s division of the XIV Army Corps, supported by Brigadier General Absalom Baird’s division, moved through the mouth of McLemore’s Cove on the Dug Gap Road. Negley received reports that Confederates were concentrating around Dug Gap but continued to move forward.

General Bragg had ordered General Thomas C. Hindman with his division to launch a flank assault on Negley’s position at Davis’ Cross Roads while General Patrick R. Cleburne and his division forced their way through Dug Gap to strike Negley from the front. However, Hindman’s reinforcements did not arrive as planned, leading Confederate officers to call off the attack.

The next morning, Confederate reinforcements arrived and advanced toward the Union line. In response, the Union forces withdrew to Stevens Gap. Negley’s division moved to a defensive position on the ridge east of West Chickamauga Creek, while the other division passed by and established a defensive line at Stevens Gap. Both divisions awaited the arrival of the rest of the men from the corps of General George Thomas as they retreated under constant pursuit and fire from the Confederates.

September 14Battle of Culpeper Court House in Virginia. Union victory.

Battle of Culpeper Court House, 1863, September 14, Custer's Cavalry, FL 357
This illustration depicts the cavalry led by George Armstrong Custer capturing Confederate artillery at the Battle of Culpeper Court House. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

September 18 — Chickamauga

Georgia — As Union troops followed the retreating Confederates, they encountered them at Davis’ Cross Roads. Bragg wanted to retake Chattanooga and devised a plan to meet and defeat a portion of Rosecran’s army before reoccupying the city. On September 17, Bragg marched north intending to engage and defeat the XXI Army Corps.

On September 18, elements of Bragg’s army engaged Union cavalry and mounted infantry, who were armed with Spencer Repeating Rifles. The fighting intensified on the morning of September 19, with Bragg’s forces launching continuous attacks against the Union line, which was able to withstand the attacks.

The next day, Bragg attacked the Union left flank. In late morning, Rosecrans was informed that a gap had opened in his line. To reinforce what he believed to be a vulnerable point, Rosecrans inadvertently created a real gap in his line. Confederate General James Longstreet recognized and exploited this gap, driving approximately one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, from the battlefield.

General George H. Thomas assumed command and worked to organize his forces on Horseshoe Ridge and Snodgrass Hill. Despite strong Confederate assaults on these positions, Thomas’s forces held their ground until after nightfall. 

Thomas then led his men off the field, leaving it to the Confederates. The Union forces retreated to Chattanooga, while the Confederates occupied the surrounding heights, ending the Battle of Chickamauga.

Battle of Chickamauga, 1863, Union Forces at Crawfish Creek, FL 356
Battle of Chickamauga. Image Source: Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War, 1894.

September 22 — The Battle of Blountsville took place in Tennessee. Union victory.

September 29 — Stirling’s Plantation

Louisiana — Following the Union defeat at Sabine Pass, General Nathaniel P. Banks planned to occupy significant locations in Texas. One of his strategies was to send troops up the Bayou Teche, disembark them on the plains, and then march overland into Texas. 

To support Banks, Major General Ulysses S. Grant sent him a division, commanded by General Napoleon J.T. Dana, with orders to garrison Morganza and prevent Confederate troops from operating on the Atchafalaya River.

Meanwhile, a detachment of about 1,000 men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel J.B. Leake was stationed at Stirling’s Plantation. Their mission was to guard the road to the Atchafalaya River and stop Confederates from passing through.

General Alfred Mouton, who led the Sub-District of Southwestern Louisiana, saw an opportunity to defeat the Union forces around Fordoche Bridge. On September 19, he directed General Tom Green to prepare for an attack and sent reinforcements. The attack order was set for September 25.

Green’s force started crossing the Atchafalaya River on September 28, and by midnight of the 29th, all of his troops had crossed. 

At dawn on September 29, Green’s men advanced. Confederate cavalry started skirmishes with Union pickets at Fordoche Bridge before noon, which continued for about half an hour. 

Afterward, Green’s other troops engaged the Union forces, driving them back and capturing many of them. Although most of the Federal cavalry found an escape route, it was a clear victory for Green’s Confederates.

Despite this defeat, it did not stop Banks from proceeding with his plan to move into Texas.

1863, October

October 3 — President Lincoln signed a proclamation, establishing Thanksgiving Day, to be held the last Thursday in November.

October 5 — Submarine Attack

South Carolina — The Confederate vessel David, a partially submerged, steam-powered ship, attacked the New Ironsides, part of the U.S. fleet blockading Charleston Harbor, with a torpedo. Both vessels survived the attack, and the commander of the David, along with one crew member, was captured.

October 6 — Baxter Springs

Kansas — After conducting raids in Kansas, William C. Quantrill and his men decided to spend the winter in Texas. While traveling south on the Texas Road, they met two Union teamsters from Baxter Springs. Quantrill captured and killed them, and then prepared to attack the Union post at Baxter Springs.

Quantrill divided his men into two columns. One column was led by Quantrill and the other by his subordinate, David Poole. Poole’s column went down the Texas Road, where they encountered Union soldiers, many of whom were African Americans, and forced them to retreat to the earth and log fort. The Confederates launched an attack on the fort, however, the garrison, aided by a howitzer, successfully defended the fort. 

Meanwhile, Quantrill’s column approached the post from a different direction and encountered a Union detachment that was escorting General James G. Blunt and wagons transporting his personal belongings from his former headquarters at the Department of the Frontier in Fort Scott to his new headquarters at Fort Smith.

Most of the Union detachment, including the band and Major Henry Z. Curtis — the son of General Samuel R. Curtis — were killed. However, Blunt and a few mounted men managed to escape and return to Fort Scott. Blunt faced criticism and was temporarily removed from command for failing to protect his column during the attack, but he was later reinstated.

October 9 — Bristoe Campaign Begins

Virginia — Lee marched into northern Virginia in a feint toward Washington, attempting to flank the Army of the Potomac, which was under the command of General George G. Meade. A string of battles followed, known as the Bristoe Campaign.

October 10 — The Battle of Blue Springs took place in Tennessee. Union victory. 

October 13 — Auburn, First Battle

Virginia — Following the retreat from Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia regrouped and concentrated their forces behind the Rapidan River in Orange County, Virginia. 

In August, the Union Army of the Potomac advanced to the Rappahannock River, and by mid-September, it sent columns forward to confront Lee along the Rapidan River.

In early September, Lee sent two divisions from Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Corps to reinforce the Confederate army in Georgia. In response, the Union forces also sent reinforcements, with the XI and XII Corps sent to Tennessee by railroad in late September after the Battle of Chickamauga.

In early October, Lee took the offensive, sweeping around the right flank of General George G. Meade, forcing Meade to withdraw along the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. 

On October 13, Confederate cavalry under the command of General J.E.B. Stuart, including brigades led by Fitzhugh Lee and Lunsford Lomax, engaged in skirmishes with the rearguard of the Union III Corps near Auburn. Stuart, realizing that he was cut off by retreating Federal columns, hid his men in a wooded ravine until the unsuspecting Union forces moved on.

October 14 — Bristoe Station

Virginia General A.P. Hill engaged Union soldiers from the II Corps, who took defensive positions behind the embankment of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad at Bristoe Station. They stopped the Confederate assault, inflicting heavy casualties on two brigades from General Henry Heth’s division and capturing an enemy artillery battery. 

Battle of Bristoe Station, 1863, Heth's Charge
Battle of Bristoe Station. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, November 7, 1863.

Afterward, the Union forces withdrew to Centreville without further harassment from the Confederates. Lee’s offensive maneuvers in the Bristoe Campaign came to an early and inconclusive end. 

Following some minor skirmishes near Manassas and Centreville, the Confederates withdrew toward the Rappahannock River, destroying the Orange & Alexandria Railroad as they retreated.

The outcome of the Battle of Bristoe Station negatively affected A.P. Hill’s standing in the eyes of General Robert E. Lee, who was reportedly displeased with Hill’s actions during the engagement. Lee ordered Hill to bury the Confederate dead and refrain from discussing the matter further.

October 14 — Auburn, Second Battle

Virginia — As the Federal army retreated towards Manassas Junction, a rearguard action took place involving Union forces from the II Corps, which was led by General Gouverneur K. Warren. Union brigades clashed with Confederates led by General J.E.B. Stuart, including both cavalry and infantry units from Harry Hays’s division.

Stuart’s cavalry tried to bluff Warren’s infantry, but Union forces managed to confront the Confederate troops. However, Stuart’s cavalry successfully evaded a more significant disaster, and the Confederate infantry was able to escape the situation.

Following the battle, the II Corps continued its withdrawal towards Catlett Station, which was a vital location on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.

October 16 — Fort Brooke

Florida — A Union naval operation was carried out involving the bombardment of Fort Brooke by two Union ships. This bombardment was a diversionary tactic. Meanwhile, a landing party under the command of Acting Master T.R. Harris disembarked at Ballast Point and then marched a distance of 14 miles to reach the Hillsborough River.

The purpose of the mission was to capture several Confederate steamers that were being used for blockade running. Harris and his men successfully surprised and captured two vessels during this operation. However, the Confederate garrison destroyed another steamer to prevent it from falling into Union hands. 

As Harris’s returned to their ship they were attacked by a detachment from the Confederate garrison, resulting in Union casualties.

October 16 — President Lincoln placed General Grant in command of all Union operations in the Western Theater.

October 19 — Buckland Mills

Virginia — After the Confederate defeat at Bristoe Station and the withdrawal of Robert E. Lee’s army from the vicinity of Manassas Junction, Confederate cavalry under the command of General J.E.B. Stuart shielded the Confederate retreat.

Union cavalry, led by General Judson Kilpatrick, pursued Stuart along the Warrenton Turnpike. Stuart lured the Union cavalry into an ambush near Chestnut Hill. In the ensuing engagement, known as the “Buckland Races,” the Federal troopers found themselves in a vulnerable position and were swiftly routed by the Confederates.

As a result of this engagement, the Union cavalry units were scattered, and they were pursued by the Confederates for a distance of 5 miles.

October 25 — Pine Bluff

Arkansas — At 8:00 a.m., Colonel Powell Clayton sent Union cavalry toward Princeton to confront General John S. Marmaduke’s advancing Confederates. An exchange of gunfire ensued, prompting the Confederates to approach under a flag of truce and demand surrender. However, Lieutenant M.F. Clark rejected the surrender demand.

Afterward, Colonel Powell Clayton’s troops slowly retreated into Pine Bluff. Meanwhile, approximately 300 African-American soldiers engaged in the effort to roll cotton bales out of the warehouses. These cotton bales were subsequently used to create barricades, fortifying the defense of the court square in Pine Bluff.

Despite the Confederate attempts to seize the square through force and even resorting to trying to burn out the Union troops, they were unsuccessful. Ultimately, the Confederates retreated, leaving Pine Bluff in the hands of the Federal troops.

October 28 — Wauhatchie

Tennessee — On October 26, General George H. Thomas and General Ulysses S. Grant launched the “Cracker Line Operation” to relieve Union forces besieged in Chattanooga. This operation involved the opening of a critical road to Chattanooga from Brown’s Ferry on the Tennessee River while simultaneously advancing up Lookout Valley to secure Kelley’s Ferry Road.

General William F. “Baldy” Smith, serving as the Union Chief Engineer for the Military Division of the Mississippi, was tasked with establishing the bridgehead at Brown’s Ferry. He had at his disposal General John B. Turchin’s and General William B. Hazen’s 1st and 2nd brigades, part of the 3rd Division, IV Army Corps. Additionally, General Joseph Hooker led 3 divisions in a march from Bridgeport through Lookout Valley toward Brown’s Ferry from the south.

In the early hours of October 27, 1863, elements of Hazen’s brigade utilized pontoons to float around Moccasin Bend to reach Brown’s Ferry. Turchin’s brigade secured a position on Moccasin Bend, directly across from Brown’s Ferry. After landing, Hazen established a bridgehead and quickly constructed a pontoon bridge across the river, allowing Turchin’s troops to cross and take up a position on his right.

Meanwhile, Hooker, while his forces were passing through Lookout Valley on October 28, ordered General John W. Geary’s division to remain at Wauhatchie Station. This detachment was responsible for protecting the line of communications to the south as well as the road leading west to Kelley’s Ferry.

Upon observing the Union movements on the 27th and 28th of October, General James Longstreet and General Braxton Bragg decided to launch a night attack on Wauhatchie Station. Although the attack was initially scheduled for 10:00 p.m. on the night of the 28th, confusion caused a delay until midnight.

Battle of Wauhatchie, 1863, October 28, Union Attack Rifle Pits, HW
Battle of Wauhatchie. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, November 28, 1863.

Geary’s division at Wauhatchie Station was surprised but quickly formed into a V-shaped battle line to defend against the Confederate assault. Hearing the sounds of battle, Hooker sent Major General Oliver Otis Howard with two divisions from the XI Army Corps as reinforcements to Wauhatchie Station.

As more Union troops arrived, the Confederates were forced to retreat to Lookout Mountain. This successful defense allowed the Union to receive crucial supplies, weapons, ammunition, and reinforcements through the secured Cracker Line. The Battle of Wauhatchie was one of the few significant night engagements of the war.

1863, November

November 3 — Collierville

Tennessee — Collierville, Tennessee, was the site of 4 minor battles that took place over 3 months in 1863. The most significant one took place on November 3. It was intended to be a Confederate cavalry raid aimed at disrupting the Memphis & Charleston Railroad behind General William T. Sherman’s XV Army Corps, which was marching to Chattanooga.

General James R. Chalmers, Mississippi cavalry, planned the raid. However, when he learned that only two Union regiments were defending Collierville, he decided to launch an attack. However, Union Colonel Edward Hatch had more troops than Chalmers had assumed. Hatch had stationed forces in both Collierville and Germantown, located 5 miles to the west.

Aware of Chalmers’s approach from the south, Union scouts alerted Hatch, prompting him to order the defenders of Collierville to be prepared. Hatch rode from Germantown with additional cavalry reinforcements. 

Meanwhile, Chalmers started his attack from the south but encountered unexpected Union forces on his flanks. Believing he was outnumbered, Chalmbers decided to call off the attack and retreated to Mississippi.

The Memphis & Charleston Railroad remained open for Union troop movements, allowing them to continue operations in the region.

November 6 — Droop Mountain

West Virginia — In early November, General William W.W. Averell and General Alfred Napoleon Alexander Duffie led a Union raid into Southwestern Virginia to disrupt the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. During the campaign, Duffie’s column was tasked with destroying military property along their route.

Meanwhile, Averell engaged and defeated General John Echols at the Battle of Droop Mountain. The two Union columns regrouped at Lewisburg on the following day. However, they were not in a condition to continue their raid further into Southwestern Virginia.

November 7 — Rappahannock Station, Second Battle

Virginia —On November 7, the Union army executed a successful operation by forcing the passage of the Rappahannock River at two different locations. 

At dusk, a Union attack overwhelmed the Confederate bridgehead at Rappahannock Station, resulting in the capture of over 1,600 men from the division of Jubal Early. Meanwhile, fighting at Kelly’s Ford led to 430 casualties, and the Confederates retreated, allowing the Union forces to cross the river.

At this point, both Union and Confederate armies were preparing to go into winter quarters. However, instead of wintering in place, General Robert E. Lee decided to move to Orange County south of the Rapidan River. Meanwhile, the Army of the Potomac, led by General George G. Meade, occupied the vicinity of Brandy Station and Culpeper County.

November 16 — Campbell’s Station

Tennessee — In early November, General James Longstreet launched an offensive against Union forces led by General Ambrose E. Burnside, who commanded the Department of the Ohio troops based in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Longstreet and Burnside moved toward Campbell’s Station, along parallel routes. At Campbell’s Station, there was a small town where Concord Road intersected Kingston Road, which led to Knoxville, and both sides wanted to control the intersection.

On November 16, after forced marches through rain, the forward elements of Burnside’s army reached the intersection and took defensive positions. The main column arrived around noon, with the baggage train trailing closely behind. 15 minutes later, Longstreet arrived.

Longstreet planned simultaneous attacks on both flanks of Burnside’s forces. General Lafayette McLaw’s division executed its assault with such force that it forced the Union right flank to shift its position, although the Union forces ultimately held their ground. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Micah Jenkins’s division was slow to maneuver and failed to turn the Union left flank.

Burnside responded to the flank attacks by ordering his divisions to withdraw to a ridge about three-quarters of a mile down the road, where they reorganized and returned to Knoxville, ending the Battle of Campbell’s Station.

November 19 — Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

PennsylvaniaPresident Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address during the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

November 23 — Chattanooga, Third Battle

Tennessee — From the end of September through October, General Braxton Bragg laid siege to the Union Army at Chattanooga, which was led by Major General William Rosecrans. The siege effectively cut Union supply lines.

On October 17, General Ulysses S. Grant assumed command of Union forces in the West and replaced Rosecrans with General George Thomas. One of the first things Grant did was establish a new supply line to Chattanooga.

In mid-November, General William T. Sherman arrived in Chattanooga with 4 divisions. With these reinforcements, the Federal forces began offensive operations to break the Confederate siege.

On November 23–24, Union troops launched successful attacks during the Battle of Chattanooga, capturing key positions such as Orchard Knob and Lookout Mountain. These victories boosted the morale of the Union forces and gave them an advantage.

Battle of Lookout Mountain, 1863, View from Union Works, HW
This illustration depicts Lookout Mountain as seen from Union defensive works on Chattanooga Creek. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, November 14, 1863.

The most decisive action occurred on November 25 when Union soldiers launched a successful assault on the Confederate position on Missionary Ridge. The victory was a turning point in the Chattanooga Campaign.

With the Union firmly in control of Chattanooga, the city became a crucial supply and logistics base for General Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

November 27 — Mine Run

Virginia — The Battle of Payne’s Farm and the Battle of New Hope Church were the initial engagements of the Mine Run Campaign. They took place in late November and were part of General George G. Meade’s efforts to outmaneuver General Robert E. Lee in the vicinity of the Rapidan River.

Meade’s plan involved moving through the difficult terrain of the Wilderness and striking at the right flank of the Confederates south of the Rapidan River. General Jubal A. Early, commanding a corps under Lee, was tasked with countering Meade’s advance.

The Battle of Payne’s Farm unfolded as Early’s Confederates moved east along the Orange Turnpike to confront the advancing Union III Corps, commanded by General William French. 

During the battle, General Joseph B. Carr’s division launched two attacks against the Confederate positions. In response, General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s Confederate division counterattacked but faced difficulties due to heavy enemy fire and the terrain.

The battle ended when Lee decided to withdraw and prepared field fortifications along Mine Run after nightfall. The next day, the Union Army closed in on the Confederates, resulting in intense skirmishing. However, a major full-scale attack did not materialize.

General Meade decided the Confederate defensive line was too strong to assault directly, leading to his decision to withdraw during the night of December 1–2, effectively ending the Mine Run Campaign.

November 27 — Ringgold Gap

Georgia — After the Union victory at Missionary Ridge, Union forces pursued the retreating Confederates, who were led by General Patrick Cleburne. The Confederates retreated to Ringgold Gap, a location where the Western & Atlantic Railroad passed through Taylor’s Ridge.

General Joseph B. Hooker, in command of Union forces, ordered his men to advance and seize Taylor’s Ridge. The Union forces engaged in heavy fighting for 5 hours but were unable to secure the ridge and the Confederates maintained their position at Ringgold Gap.

Battle of Ringgold Gap, 1863, November 27
Battle of Ringgold Gap. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, January 9, 1863.

November 27 — Siege of Knoxville

Tennessee — Confederates under General James Longstreet besieged Knoxville, Tennessee, which was occupied by Union forces under General Ambrose Burnside. Longstreet’s attack on November 30 failed, resulting in heavy losses. The arrival of Union reinforcements forced Longstreet to retreat to Greeneville, Tennessee, for the winter.

November 27 — John Hunt Morgan and some of his men escaped from an Ohio prison and made their way back to the South.

November 29 — Fort Sanders

Tennessee — In their attempt to capture Knoxville, the Confederates recognized Fort Sanders as the most vulnerable point in Union defensive fortifications, which encircled the city. Fort Sanders was situated on an elevation northwest of Knoxville.

General James Longstreet believed he could send a storming party under the cover of night, and launch a surprise attack before dawn. The plan was to overwhelm Fort Sanders swiftly and decisively. Before the assault, a brief artillery barrage targeted the interior of the fort.

The actual attack on Fort Sanders involved 3 Confederate brigades charging the walls. However, they encountered Union wire entanglements, consisting of telegraph wire stretched from one tree stump to another, which significantly delayed their advance. 

Battle of Fort Sanders, 1863, November 29, Longstreet's Assault, HW
Battle of Fort Sanders. Image Source: Harper’s Weekly, January 9, 1863.

The fort’s outer ditch proved to be impassable for the Confederates. It was 12 feet wide and had vertical sides, while the exterior slope of the fort was almost vertical as well. Crossing the ditch under heavy musket and canister fire was nearly impossible.

Despite some Confederate officers leading their men into the ditch, very few managed to ascend the walls and enter the fort. Most were either wounded, killed, or captured. The attack on Fort Sanders lasted 20 minutes and failed.

1863, December

December 8 — Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

Washington — President Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, outlining a plan to pardon those who participated in the “existing rebellion,” contingent upon them taking an oath to the United States.

December 14 — The Battle of Bean’s Station took place in Tennessee. The outcome of the battle was inconclusive.

December 29 — Mossy Creek

Tennessee — On the night of December 28, 1863, General Samuel D. Sturgis received a report indicating the presence of a Confederate cavalry brigade in the vicinity of Dandridge.

Suspecting that the Confederate cavalry force might be divided, Sturgis decided to engage this portion of the Union force. He ordered the majority of his cavalry to move toward Dandridge using two roads.

While Union troops were en route to Dandridge, General William T. Martin, who commanded the Confederate cavalry under Longstreet, launched an attack on the remaining portion of Sturgis’s force at Mossy Creek, Tennessee, which included the First Brigade of the Second Division of the XXIII Army Corps, led by Colonel Samuel R. Mott. The Confederate attack started at 9:00 a.m.

At first, the Confederates forced the Federals to retreat. Some of the Union soldiers who had been on their way to Dandridge turned back in response to the ongoing battle. However, as the day progressed, the tide of the battle shifted, and Union forces started to drive the Confederates back. 

By nightfall, the Confederate troops had returned to their original positions, essentially retracing their steps from the start of the battle. Union forces did not immediately pursue them.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Civil War Timeline and History, from July to December 1863
  • Date July 1, 1863–December 31, 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords Civil War Timeline, Civil War History, Civil War 1863
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 16, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 12, 2024

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