This week in the Civil War

The Associated PressFebruary 17, 2013 

150 years ago

Union ironclad Indianola threatens lower Mississippi: Union and Confederate gunboats are vying for control of the lower Mississippi River and its tributaries.

The winter of 1863 brings a formidable, new player to the fray: a powerful ironclad riverboat called The USS Indianola.

The fortified city of Vicksburg, Miss., atop bluffs lining the Mississippi River, remained in Confederate hands at this stage of the war. But Union forces have eventual hopes of wresting Vicksburg and other points downriver from the Confederacy to control the entire river. If the entire waterway could be seized by the Union, it would effectively split the Confederacy in two.

To that end, the Union in mid-February 1863 sent the Cincinnati-built Indianola down the Mississippi. The Indianola rushed past Confederate guns firing from Vicksburg. None of the rebel shots struck the Indianola. But Confederate gunboats and rebel rams still plied the river nearby and posed a danger that would doom the Indianola within days.

Elsewhere, winter has prevented major fighting. Both sides await better weather and passable roads. Soldiers trade letters with loved ones back home, where many worry about those missing or lost to combat or disease.

One commanding officer wrote in a note from Tennessee – published Feb. 23, 1863, in the Daily Illinois state Journal in Springfield, Ill. – that loved ones could rest assured that soldiers who died were buried with proper tombstones near Memphis. “Each grave is marked with a head and foot board, on which is inscribed the name, age and place of residence – so that the last resting place of each one may be readily identified,” wrote Col. N. Niles.

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