Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year's Day Retrospect of 1863

Watch television at the end of December or start of January and you are bound to come across a special program or two on the "year in review." Many of us like to look back at the previous twelve months and remember the people, places, and events that made the year unique. Perhaps we are motivated by nostalgia or even a deep-seated sense of history. But whatever the reason, twenty-first century Americans are not alone in reflecting on the past year as they ring in a new one.

"New Year's Day," Harper's Weekly, Jan. 2, 1864 (courtesy of
On January 1, 1864, the Washington Daily National Republican published "A Retrospect." The paper offered readers a review of Union military gains during 1863:
In taking a retrospect of the past year we find a record of the most brilliant successes yet achieved during the war. If we include Mufreesboro, which commenced by skirmishing on December 29, 1862, and lasted until January 4, 1863, we have among our principal victories Mufreesboro, Vicksburg, Morris Island, Gettysburg, Port Hudson, Chattanooga, Knoxville. History does not furnish a year's victories by the armies of any country in any war that will excel these.
[Braxton] Bragg was completely whipped at Mufreesboro after a week's hard fighting.
At Vicksburg General [Ulysses S.] Grant, by military manoeuvres that have no parallel, captured the rebel stronghold of the Mississippi Valley.
At Port Hudson, the last remaining post on the Mississippi, the navigation of the "Father of Waters" was opened entirely by General [Nathaniel P.] Banks.
At Morris Island General [Quincy] Gillmore astonished the world by his gunnery, captured forts the rebels deemed impregnable, put Charleston under fire, and converted the original city of the rebellion into a purgatory for traitors, where they must live in mortal fear until the town is finally wrapped in ashes.
At Gettysburg the rebels were brought to a stop in their contemplated raid, which was to destroy at one fell swoop Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. The question of a Northern invasion was settled by this battle, and the future safety of the North secured.
At Chattanooga the invincibility of our armies when rightly handled was established, and the rebels cut off from their most fruitful source of supplies, East Tennessee, the fighting at Knoxville putting a clincher upon this part of the business, and deciding the fate of this most valuable region.
And then may look with satisfaction to the splendid advantages gained by General Banks in Texas; to the demonstrations made by our cavalry, showing that in this arm of the service the rebels no longer excel us.
If we turn to the operations of the navy we behold an equally pleasing record. The blockade has finally been made so nearly perfect that the rebels can no longer depend upon receiving supplies from foreign speculators, and our captures of rebel craft have been very heavy.
Our victories during the year have cost us dearly in the blood of our patriotic countrymen, but this has sanctified our cause and rendered more determined our people in the work of putting down the insurrection. Never will we yield our birthright to traitors, when so many of our kindred have died so nobly in defending it.
The paper closed the retrospect with an excerpt from "To-Day and To-Morrow" by English poet Gerald Massey:
High hopes that burned like stars sublime
 Go down the heaven of Freedom
And true hearts perish in the time
 We bitterliest need them
For never sit we down and say
 There's nothing left but sorrow
We walk the wilderness to-day
 The Promised Land to-morrow
Build up heroic lives, and all
 Be like a sheathen sabre
Ready to flash out at God's call, 
 O chivalry of labor 
Triumph and toil are twins: and aye,
 Joy s[uns] the cloud of sorrow
And 'tis the martyrdom of to-day
 Brings victory to-morrow (emphasis in original editorial).
The Daily National Republican's focus on the military successes of 1863 is not surprising. After all, when compared to a year ago and the disaster at Fredericksburg, the war was going much better for the Union, and people across the country had every reason to look back with pride. Echoing President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the newspaper called for a total defeat of the rebellion so that those who died preserving the Union had not died in vain. Within a few months, the pages of the Daily National Republican would carry news of Union advances and high casualties. The war would lead to even more death and destruction during 1864, but "victory to-morrow" would be within reach as the year drew to a close.

I'd like to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and thanks for reading in 2013! This past year has been a busy one for the blog and my other Civil War-related pursuits, and 2014 promises to be even busier. The pipeline of posts keeps growing. I also have a couple of speaking engagements later this winter and plan to work with Fairfax County on developing a new Civil War Trails marker. And then there are the multitude of Sesquicentennial activities that will be attracting everyone's attention this year. As always, see you here, and hopefully see you on the battlefield!


Gerald Massey, The Poetical Works of Gerald Massey (1861); Washington Daily National Republican, Jan. 1, 1864;

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