As the year 1863 began, it was a real possibility that the South could win the War Between the States, and that what had been the United State of America would be split into two countries. But 1863 was the pivotal year of the Civil War. In the west, Union forces seized control of the Mississippi River, and defeated their Confederate opponents at nearly every turn. In the east, two large scale battles were fought. Chancellorsville resulted in a resounding Confederate victory; Gettysburg ended in a resounding Union victory. At year’s end, the Army of the Potomac had held its own against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Following their terrible defeat at Fredericksburg (Dec. 13, 1862), the Army of the Potomac settled into winter quarters on the north side of the Rappahannock River. Only about 200 soldiers of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry were fit for duty at the start of the New Year. A few weeks later they were spared the worst of the hardships of Gen. Burnside’s infamous “Mud March” (January 20-23), and on January 25, they learned that the Army of the Potomac had a new commander. Gen. Burnside was out and Gen. Hooker was in.
The lot of the foot soldier began to improve. Fresh bread and regular fresh meat rations supplemented their diet. Corps badges and a furlough system helped to rebuild morale. On April 4, Adjutant Theodore Ellis was promoted to Major and given command of the Fourteenth Connecticut..
At the end of April, Gen. Hooker started the army in motion to the west and south. The several corps marched by different routes, and crossed the Rappahannock at several different fords to come together at Chancellorsville. During the battle that raged May 1-3, Gen. Hooker was completely outmatched by Gen. Lee. The Army of the Potomac was defeated handily, although more than half the troops saw little or no fighting, and Hooker withdrew the army during the night of May 5. However, Lee lost his “right arm” when Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded,and Lee would feel this loss for the remainder of the war.
On June 14, the Fourteenth Connecticut left Falmouth, Virginia and started on a long hot march north to Gettysburg. On June 30, the men learned that the army had yet another commander. Gen. George Meade. The regiment reached Gettysburg with 166 men at dawn on July 2, the second day of the battle, and were held in reserve. The next morning the regiment was detailed to cross the no-man’s-land between the lines to capture and burn a farmstead that was being used by Confederate sharpshooters. The barn and farmhouse were burned and then they returned to their position along the rock wall near “The Angle.” That afternoon the regiment held their section of the rock wall, about 120 yards in length, during the repeated assaults of Pickett’s Charge. They fought hard and stood their ground, and the charge was soundly defeated. This was the first time the regiment had tasted victory
Reduced to about 100 men, the Fourteenth Connecticut retired to an encampment along Cedar Run near Bristoe, Virginia. During August and September, new recruits were added through the draft, paid substitutes, and more volunteers. Over 900 names were listed on the rolls of the regiment, but only about 550 were actually present for duty. After the regiment rejoined the Seconds Corps, it advanced south of Culpeper, Virginia to Robinson’s Run where two deserters were executed in a particularly gruesome manner on September 17.
The new Fourteenth Connecticut fought well and was again victorious in a small scale battle along the railroad at Bristoe on October 14. The effect of Confederate defeats at Gettysburg and Bristoe was that Gen. Lee never again went of the offensive and chose to fight defensive actions for the remainder of the war.
Late in November the Army of the Potomac advanced against a heavily fortified line of Confederate works along a small marshy stream in Orange County, Virginia, known as Mine Run. It was certain that if the Federals tried to storm those works, casualties would be extremely high. Gen. Meade cancelled the scheduled assault, withdrew the army back to Culpeper County, and campaigning ended for the year.
As we look ahead to 1864, the Fourteenth Connecticut was involved in every battle of the Army of the Potomac. In fact, they saw more action during the month of May 1864 than they did in all of the year 1863.