The Year Was 1863

Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1863The year was 1863 and the U.S. was embroiled in the Civil War. Notable battles that year included those at Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. One of the most well-known battles of the Civil War, 1-3 July 1863, the Union Army, led by General George G. Meade met General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Virginia at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to engage in one of the largest battles to ever take place on American soil involving more than 160,000 men.

The battle would result in more than 23,000 Union casualties and between 20,000 and 25,000 Confederate. Later that year, President Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak at the consecration of a cemetery where he would deliver his famous Gettysburg Address, on 19 November 1863.

Earlier that year, on 1 January, Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves held in Confederate states were to be free, and further declared that they “be received into the armed service of the United States.” Following this proclamation, the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer infantry became the first northern all-Black Union regiment. 

Not all of the Civil War soldiers of 1863 were volunteers. In March of that year, the National Conscription Act began a draft registration for men between twenty and thirty-five. The conscription process allowed for wealthy men to hire substitutes or buy exemption for $300. The process angered those who couldn’t afford to get out of service, and following the news of devastating casualties from Gettysburg, when a list of draftees was listed in New York papers, rioting ensued. Mobs attacked the armory and then took to the streets, targeting blacks and abolitionists in a horrific manner. Federal troops, many of them fresh from the fields of Gettysburg, had to be called in to quell the riots. 

In partitioned Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus, another protest of a draft, in this case into the Russian Tsarist army, resulted in an insurrection known as the January Uprising.  After the uprising failed, the Russian government executed hundreds, and more than 18,000 people were exiled to Siberia.  

Another proclamation by President Lincoln would be of a more peaceful nature. On 3 October, he issued a proclamation calling for a national day of Thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday of November. (The full-text of the proclamation appeared in the 13 October 1863 issue of the “Adams Sentinel,” which can be found on the blog entry for this article and in the Ancestry Historical Newspaper Collection. (Click on the newspaper image in the upper right corner to enlarge it.)

In other U.S. news in 1863, Arizona and Idaho were organized as U.S. territories, and West Virginia was admitted as the 35th state.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was founded in 1863, inspired by a book written by Henry Dunant, a Swiss man who had visited an Italian battlefield and asked “Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies for the purpose of having care given to the wounded in wartime by zealous, devoted and thoroughly qualified volunteers?”

In London, crowds gathered in January hoping for a ride on the first underground train, a project aimed at cutting down on the congestion on London streets.

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6 thoughts on “The Year Was 1863

  1. I loved the history you gave in this weeks article.
    Please keep up the great work you are doing. It helps
    to bring our Civil War heroes back closer to us and
    helps us understand our families alot better.
    Betty Johnson

  2. Thanks for the “The Year Was…” articles. Are a real help to me in writing my family history.

  3. I would like to know about Robert E. Lee Family Tree. He was my Greatgandmother’s first cousin. Her name was
    Mary Elizabeth Lee. Her father was Levia Lee.

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