Editor's Note: This article is part of an occasional series on the Civil War sesquicentennial provided by members of the Wheeling Civil War 150 Committee.
Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside's Army of the Potomac, still staggering from its December defeat at Fredericksburg, began its ill-fated offensive against Lee's Army of Northern Virginia Jan. 20, 1863. This disastrous campaign, known as the "Mud March" lasted only three days and resulted in Lincoln's removal of Burnside.
On Jan. 25, Lincoln replaced Burnside with Maj. Gen. Joseph, "Fighting Joe" Hooker. After the Battle of Fredericksburg, Wheeling's Shriver Grays, Company G, 27th Virginia Infantry, CSA, under the command of Capt. Daniel Shriver, encamped in and around Winchester, Va. Both Lee and Hooker's armies settled into winter quarters in unrelenting rains and awaited the warmer days of spring.
Morale in the Union army was low; as many as 200 men a day were deserting.
Hooker reported a total of 85,000 men and officers missing when he took command.
The general made many leadership and tactical changes and persuaded Lincoln to issue a general proclamation of amnesty to all deserters who would rejoin their commands by April 1. He instituted a morale-building badge system giving each division its own recognizable insignia.
By April 1, 1863, under Hooker's leadership, the army's morale had been restored. The Army of the Potomac was a formidable force, well-supplied and well-equipped, numbering nearly 134,000 men. However, morale on the home front had sunk to a new low, say it or not, everyone was tiring of war. The North's first conscription act was implemented in March indicating to many that a long struggle was on the horizon.
On April 2, a "bread riot" took place in Richmond, which would be followed later in the month at Raleigh. Several hundred women marched on the Capitol, confronted Gov. John Letcher and demanded relief. A shortage of food and basics and hyperinflation took its toll. The armies, in order to feed the hungry troops, had stripped the Virginia countryside, leaving little for the civilian population. Confederate President Jefferson Davis appeared on the scene and threw a handful of coins into the crowd. Many of the women were later arrested, convicted and imprisoned.
On April 3, Hooker's headquarters received a telegram announcing Lincoln's arrival scheduled for the next day. On April 4, the president gathered a small entourage including Mrs. Lincoln aboard the Carrie Martin and steamed down the Potomac to meet with Hooker and discuss Hooker's future war strategy.
The Intelligencer reported April 4 that Jenkins Raider prisoners captured at Point Pleasant had arrived at Wheeling's Athenaeum prison. Seventy more rebel prisoners arrived on the steamer Eagle April 12. Three Confederate spies from Buckhannon were brought to the prison April 14. The dawning of April 20 saw the arrival of 37 prisoners, two deserters and two women, Jennie De Hart, a rebel spy, and Elizabeth Hays, who went by the name of "Peg Leg" and was said to be a "bad egg."
On April 6, Lincoln reviewed the Army of the Potomac's First, Sixth, 11th and 12th Army Corps, the Cavalry Corps and the First West Virginia Light Artillery, "Wheeling's Finest," Battery D, Capt. Carlin's "Wheeling Battery." Two days later, Lincoln reviewed the remaining two-thirds of the Army of the Potomac and as many as 70,000 men passed in review.
The month marked the second anniversary of the war. The Civil War started April 12, 1861 at 4:30 a.m., when Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston (S.C.) Harbor.
The Intelligencer picked up this article from the Springfield (Mass.) Republican newspaper: "The Author of 'Life in the Iron Mills,' Miss Harding has been spending some time in New York with the wife of Gen. J.C. Fremont. Miss Harding is a native of Virginia and there, during the General's brief campaign, 'Our Jessie' first met her."
Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck joined Hooker at Aquia on April 19 to discuss strategy. None considered Virginia the most important theater of war at that time. Each thought Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Mississippi operations more important.
At 10:30 p.m. April 16, seven ironclad gunboats, including the ironclad Lafayette, three transports and one of Charles Ellet Jr.'s rams ran the Vicksburg blockade, a most important accomplishment.
The Intelligencer reported in April that Wheeling's Missouri Iron Works was furnishing the iron plate used on the Federal ironclads. Lincoln thought when Grant could take Vicksburg, it would be the turning point of the war. Splitting the states of the Confederacy along the line of the Mississippi River, the heart of the celebrated "Anaconda Plan" would seal the fate of the Confederacy. Lincoln and Halleck saw Gen. Rosecrans' movements (Rosecrans, inventor of the Wheeling ambulance) as second in importance and judged Hooker's Virginia activities, third.
For local residents, the most important event occurred April 20, 1863, with the issuance of Proclamation 100, admitting West Virginia into the Union. Lincoln proclaimed that the act would take effect 60 days later on June 20, 1863.
On April 26, a convention of the Union and the new state met and selected delegates for the May 6 Parkersburg Convention. Meanwhile, Gov. Francis H. Pierpont was making plans for the Restored Government of the State of Virginia to move to Alexandria, Va.
On April 27, Hooker moved his army toward Chancellorsville. Lee would begin his move to Chancellorsville May 1. The Wheeling Shriver Grays, serving under Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson would be part of the Chancellorsville campaign, joining the recently organized 36th Virginia Cavalry Battalion under the command of Maj. James Sweeney of Wheeling. Near noon on April 30, Grant began landing Federal troops south of Vicksburg.