US History/Civil War
Causes of the Civil War
The immediate cause of the Civil War was the election of Abraham Lincoln. Four other and more fundamental causes include deep disagreement between advocates of slave ownership and abolitionists, the conflict between North and South over the rights of a state in the Union, social and economic differences between North and South, and whether it was constitutional to secede from the Union. 
By the end of March, 1861, the Confederacy had created a constitution and elected its first and only president, Jefferson Davis. The Constitution of the Confederate States of America was the supreme law of the Confederate States of America, as adopted on March 11, 1861 and in effect through the conclusion of the American Civil War. The Confederacy also operated under a Provisional Constitution from February 8, 1861 to March 11, 1861.
In regard to most articles of the Constitution, the document is a word-for-word duplicate of the United States Constitution. The original, hand-written document is currently located in the University of Georgia archives at Athens, Georgia. The major differences between the two constitutions was the Confederacy's greater emphasis on the rights of individual member states, and an explicit support of slavery.
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Fort Sumter and the Beginning of the War
Several federal forts were seized and converted to Confederate strongholds. By the time of Lincoln's inauguration only two major forts had not been taken. On April 11, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard demanded that Union Major Robert Anderson surrender Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Sumter had a strategic position on an island defending Charleston's harbor. The supplies of the besieged forts would only last a few weeks. The Union sent ships to resupply the fort, but they were held off by Confederate ships. Beauregard's troops surrounded the fort and opened fire. A tremendous cannon firefight remarkably claimed no casualties. By April 14, Anderson was forced to surrender the fort. The first casualties of the War occurred after the surrender: while the fort flag was being lowered, a Union cannon misfired.
The next day, President Lincoln declared that the US faced a rebellion. Lincoln called up state militias and requested volunteers to enlist in the Army. In response to this call and to the surrender of Fort Sumter, four more states seceded; Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The Civil War had begun.
Each side determined its strategies. The Confederate leadership felt that its army only needed to defend itself to gain independence. By its tactical strengths and its material shortages, it created what Jefferson Davis named an "offensive defensive" strategy. It would strengthen its defense posture, when conditions were right, by occasional offensive strikes into the North. However, three people who had important roles in Confederate plans had different strategies. While President Davis argued for a solely defensive war, General Robert E. Lee asserted they had to fight the Union head on, and General Thomas Jackson claimed they needed to invade the Union's important cities first and defeat the enemy to reclaim the cities.
The strategy of aging Union General Winfield Scott became popularly known as the Anaconda Plan. Named for the South American snake that strangles its victims to death, the plan aimed to defeat the Confederacy by surrounding it on all sides with a blockade of Southern ports and the swift capture of the Mississippi River.
First Battle of Bull Run and the Early Stages of the War
Four slave states remained in the Union; Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. The four border states were all important, and Lincoln did not want them to join the Confederacy. Missouri controlled parts of the Mississippi River, Kentucky controlled the Ohio river, and Delaware was close to the important Pennsylvania city of Philadelphia. Perhaps the most important border state was Maryland. It was close to the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, and the Union capital of Washington was located between pro-Confederate sections of Maryland and seceded Virginia. Lincoln knew he had to be cautious if he did not want these states to join the Confederacy. But after the Battle of Fort Sumter, all of these states except for Maryland joined the South.
Both sides had strengths and weaknesses. The North had a greater population, more factories, more supplies, and more money than the South. The South had more experienced military leadership, better-trained armies, and the advantage of fighting on familiar territory. Robert E. Lee is an example of the leadership the South relied upon. Before the Civil War, President Lincoln asked him to lead the Union army. Even though Lee was himself against slavery, he followed the people of his home state of Virginia into succession.
Support for secession and the war was not unanimous in the Confederacy, and all of the southern states provided substantial numbers of troops for the Union armies. Moreover, the presence of slavery acted as a drain of southern manpower, as adult males who might otherwise join the army were required to police the slaves.
On July 21, 1861, the armies of General Beauregard and Union General Irvin McDowell met at Manassas, Virginia in the Battle of Bull Run. Here the North originally had the upper hand, but Confederate General Thomas Jackson and his troops blocked Northern progress. Jackson's men began to retreat but Jackson stayed, standing "as a stone wall" (he was hereafter nicknamed "Stonewall Jackson"). As Confederate reinforcements arrived, McDowell's army retreated in confusion and was totally defeated. Before this, the North had nurtured a hope of quick victory over the Confederacy. The loss killed that hope. Though the Confederates achieved victory, General Beauregard did not chase stragglers of the defeated Union Army. Angered by this, Davis replaced him with General Robert E. Lee. Northern general McDowell's defeat by Confederates caused his replacement by George McClellan.
Early Southern victories raised the complete defeat of the Union. The Confederacy appointed two representatives to the United Kingdom and France. Both traveled to Europe on a British ship, the RMS Trent. A Union Captain, Charles Wilkes, seized the Trent and forced the Confederate representatives to board the Union ship. This seizure violated the neutrality of the United Kingdom. The British demanded apologies, and Lincoln eventually complied, even releasing the Confederate representatives. If he had failed to do so, the United Kingdom would have had an excuse to join with the Confederacy against the Union. Factories in the North of England depended upon Confederate cotton, and their neutrality was not assured.
The Civil War was affected by technological innovations that changed the nature of battle. The most lethal change was the introduction of rifling to muskets. In previous wars, the maximum effective range of a musket was between 70 to 110 meters. Muskets, which were smooth bore firearms, weren't accurate beyond that. Tactics involved moving masses of troops to musket range, firing a volley, and then charging the opposing force with the bayonet, which is a sword blade attached to a firearm. However, a bullet from an aimed rifled musket could hit a soldier more than 1300 meters away. This drastically improved any defense. Massed attacks were easier to stop from a longer distance. The standardization of the rifle during the revolutionary war was extended to these new armaments, and to other military supplies.
Some other key changes on land dealt with logistics -- the art of military supply -- and communications. By 1860, there were approximately 30,000 miles of railroad track, mostly in the Northern states. The railroads meant that supplies need not be obtained from local farms and cities, and that armies could operate for extended periods of time without fear of starvation. The advances in food preservation created during the Napoleonic Wars brought a wider variety of food to the soldier. In addition, armies could be moved across the country within days, without marching. Doctors could move to the wounded.
The telegraph is the third of the key technologies that changed the nature of the war. Washington City and Richmond, the capitals of the two opposing sides, could stay in touch with commanders in the field, passing on updated intelligence and orders. President Lincoln used the telegraph frequently, as did his chief general, Halleck, and field commanders such as Grant.
At sea, the greatest innovation was the introduction of ironclad warships. In 1862, the Confederate Navy built the CSS Virginia on the half-burned hull of the USS Merrimack. This ship, with iron armor, was impervious to cannon fire that would drive off or sink a wooden ship. The Virginia sank the U.S. frigate Cumberland. It might have broken the blockade of the Federal fleet if it had not been for the arrival of the ironclad USS Monitor, built by Swedish-American John Ericsson. The two met in May 1862 off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The battle was a draw, but this sufficed for the Union to continue its blockade of the Confederacy. The Virginia'had retreated into a bay where it could not be of much use, and the Confederacy later burned it to prevent Union capture.
The U.S. Civil War introduced the first American railroad artillery; a successful submarine; a "snorkel" breathing device; the periscope for trench warfare; field trenches, land-mine fields, and wire entanglements, as battles began to take place for days at a time; American use of flame throwers and naval torpedoes; aerial reconnaissance, using hot-air balloons and cameras, and antiaircraft fire; resultant camouflage and blackouts; repeating rifles; telescopic sights for rifles for the aid of snipers, fixed ammunition, and long-range rifles for general use; electronic exploding bombs and torpedoes; revolving gun turrets on boats; and a workable machine gun. As part of the organization of men and materiel, the Civil War introduced foreign social innovations such as incorporation of female and civilian support in the Northern Sanitation Fairs, an organized medical and nursing corps with bandages, opium, and other anesthetics, hospital ships, and an army ambulance corps. To supply newspapers and magazines, with their sophisticated new engraving devices, there arose a wide-range corps of press correspondents in war zones. New aids in communication included the bugle call, "Taps," and other new calls, and the wigwag signal code in battle. To enable the federal prosecution of the war, the North inaugurated American conscription, legal voting for servicemen, The U.S. Secret Service, the income, withholding, and tobacco (cigarette) taxes, and the Medal of Honor. The Southern forces created a Confederate Department of Justice. The North created the first U.S. Navy admiral. Both sides commissioned Army Chaplains. The North commissioned African-American fighters, and its first African-American U.S. Army Officer, Major M.R. Delany.
Shiloh and Ulysses Grant
While Union military efforts in the East were frustrated and even disastrous, the war west of the Appalachians developed differently, resulting in the first significant battlefield successes for the North.
On the border between the Union and Confederacy, Kentucky was divided in its sentiments toward the two sides and attempted political neutrality. By the autumn of 1861, the Kentucky state government decided to support the Union, despite its being a slave state. Its indecision and the divided loyalties of its population directed the course of military operations in the West; neither North or South wished to alienate Kentucky.
Below the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers where the Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri borders come together, Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, under command of Major General Henry W. Halleck, conducted a series of operations that would bring him national recognition. It was just across the Mississippi from Kentucky in Columbus, Missouri that Grant fought his first major battle.
The western campaigns continued into 1862 under Halleck's overall direction with Grant continuing into Western Tennessee along the Mississippi. In February, Grant attacked and captured the Tennessean Fort Donelson, providing a significant victory for the North.
About two months after the victory at Fort Donelson, Grant fought an even more important battle at Shiloh. Confederate generals A. S. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard made a surprise attack on the Union army. Though the initial attack was successful, the Union made a counter-attack and the Confederates were defeated.
After the Union took Fort Donelson, Grant wanted to push onto into Charleston and Memphis, perhaps gaining control of the Eastern railroad and supply line. But General Helleck vetoed their proposal.
Grant's troops killed Confederate General Albert Johnston and defeated the Confederate troops, but at a steep price. Approximately thirteen thousand Union soldiers and eleven thousand Confederate soldiers died, and Grant lost a chance of capturing the West quickly.
General Stonewall Jackson was nearing Washington. To prevent Jackson from invading, Union General George McClellan left over fifty thousand men in Washington. Yet Jackson's threat was deceptive, as he did not even have five thousand men in his army. McClellan's unnecessary fear forced him to wait over half a year before continuing the war in Virginia, allowing enough time for the Confederates to strengthen their position and earning him the nickname "Tardy George. Jackson's deception had a further effect in the Peninsular Campaign, the Union attempt to take the Confederate capital Richmond without the aid of the force remaining in Washington. (The Union strategy for a quick end to the war was capturing Richmond, which was close to Washington.)
In early April 1862, McClellan's troops began the Campaign, traveling over sea to the peninsula formed by the mouths of the York and James Rivers. This spit of land included Yorktown and Williamsburg and led straight to Richmond. By late May, McClellan was a few miles from Richmond, when Robert E. Lee took control of one of the Confederate Armies. After several victorious battles, it seemed as if McClellan could march to Richmond. But he refused to attack without reinforcements, which he saw as necessary to defeat Jackson's illusory troops. The forces he wanted were instead defending Washington. During the last week of June, Confederate General Robert E. Lee started the Seven Days' Battles that forced McClellan to retreat. By July, McClellan had lost over fifteen thousand men: there was little consolation in the fact that Lee had lost even more.
Other important skirmishes occurred in the course of the Peninsular Campaign. Flag Officer David Farragut of the Union Navy easily took control of the Mississippi River when he captured the key port of New Orleans in April, providing a key advantage to the Union and depriving the Confederacy of the river. The North raised a blockade around the ports of the South, cutting off dry goods such as shoes and vastly increasing inflation. (Although the Confederates produced raw materials, they did not have the industrial wherewithal to finish them -- for example, the cotton mills in the North and abroad -- or the railroads to fully distribute them.)
Second Bull Run and Antietam
A new Union Army was organized at the same time under General John Pope. Pope attempted to join his army with McClellan's to combine their strengths. Stonewall Jackson headed this off by surrounding Pope's Army in Manassas, which the North called the Second Battle of Bull Run. Both sides fought on August 29, and the Confederates won against a much larger Union force.
Pope's battered Army did eventually combine with McClellan's. But the Second Battle of Bull Run had encouraged General Lee to invade Maryland. In Sharpsburg, Maryland, McClellan and Lee led their armies against each other. On September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam (named for a nearby creek) led to the deaths of over ten thousand soldiers from each side; no other one-day battle led to more deaths in one day. This day is called "Bloodiest day of American History". McClellan's scouts had found Lee's battle plans with a discarded packet of cigars, but he did not act on the intelligence immediately. The Union technically won the Pyrrhic victory; McClellan lost about one-sixth of his Army, but Lee lost around one-third of his. Even though they could march and end the war, McClellan didn't go forward because he thought he's already lost too many soldiers. This was the victory needed for Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, so that it did not appear as an act of desperation.
The Emancipation Proclamation
General McClellan seemed too defensive to Lincoln, who replaced McClellan with General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside decided to go on the offensive against Lee. In December 1862, at Fredricksburg, Virginia, Burnside's Army of the Potomac assaulted built-up Confederate positions and suffered terrible casualties to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The Federal superiority in numbers was matched by Lee's use of terrain and modern firepower. "Burnside's Slaughter Pen" resulted in over ten thousand Union casualties, as the North used Napoleonic tactics against the South's carbines. Burnside then again attempted to capture Richmond, but was foiled by winter weather. The "Mud March" forced the Army of the Potomac to return to winter quarters.
President Lincoln liked men who did not campaign on the abolition of slavery. He only intended to prevent slavery in all new states and territories. On the 22nd of August, 1862, Lincoln was coming to the decision that abolishing slavery might help the Union, in a letter from that time he wrote "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.". Doing so would especially disrupt the Confederate economy. In September, 1862, after the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln and his Cabinet agreed to emancipate, or free, southern slaves. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all slaves in rebel states "forever free."
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The constitutional authority for the Emancipation Proclamation cannot be challenged. The Proclamation did not abolish slavery everywhere; it was restricted to states "still in rebellion" against the Union on the day it took effect. The Proclamation, technically, was part of a military strategy against states that had rebelled; this was to prevent internal conflict with the border states. Still, all the border states except Kentucky and Delaware had abolished slavery on their own. Naturally, the proclamation had no way of being enforced: the Executive in the form of military action was still trying to force the Confederacy to rejoin. Nonetheless, many slaves who had heard of the Proclamation escaped when Union forces approached.
The Proclamation had another profound effect on the war: it changed the objective from forcing the Confederacy to rejoin the Union to eliminating slavery throughout the United States. The South had been trying too woo Great Britain (which relied on the South's agricultural exports, especially cotton, for manufacturing) into an alliance; now all hopes for one were eliminated. Great Britain was firmly against the institution of slavery, and it had been illegal throughout the British Empire since 1833. In fact, some slaves freed via the Underground Railroad were taken to Britain, since it was safe from bounty hunters. (Canada was too close to the U.S. for some).
Although the Union did not at first accept black freedmen for combat, it hired them for other jobs. When troops became scarce, the Union began enlisting blacks. At the end of the war, the 180,000 enlisted blacks made up about 10% of the Union Army, and 29500 enlisted blacks to Navy. Until 1864, the South refused to recognize captured black soldiers as prisoners of war, and executed several of them at Fort Pillow as escaped slaves. Lincoln believed in the necessity of black soldiers: in August 1864, he said if the black soldiers of the Union army all joined the Confederacy, "we would be compelled to abandon the war in three weeks."
Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville
In 1863, Lincoln again changed leadership, replacing Burnside with General Joseph Hooker. Hooker had a reputation for aggressiveness; his nickname was "Fighting Joe". From May 1 to May 4, 1863, near Chancellorsville, Virginia, General Lee, again outnumbered, used audacious tactics — he divided his smaller force in two in the face of superior numbers, sending Stonewall Jackson to the Union's flank, and defeated Hooker. Again, the Confederacy won, but at a great cost. Shortly after the battle of Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot by Confederate soldiers who didn't recognize him in the poor evening light, dying soon after.
The North already held New Orleans. If it could control the entire Mississippi River, it could divide the Confederacy in two, making Confederate transportation of weapons and troops more difficult. Vicksburg and Fort Hudson were major Confederate ports. General Scott's "Anaconda Plan" was based on gaining control of the Mississippi.
The city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, was located on high bluffs on the eastern bank of the river. At the time, the Mississippi River went through a 180-degree U shaped bend by the city. (It has since shifted course westward and the bend no longer exists.) Guns batteries there prevented Federal steamboats from crossing. Vicksburg was also on one of the major railroads running east-west through the Confederacy. Vicksburg was therefore a key point under Confederate control.
Major General Ulysses Grant marched on land from Memphis, Tennessee, while General William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops traveled by water. Both intended to converge on Vicksburg. Both failed, at least for the time being. In December, 1862, Grant's supply line was disrupted, and Sherman had to attack alone.
Since Vicksburg had not fallen to a frontal assault, the Union forces made several attempts to bypass Vicksburg by building canals to divert the Mississippi River, but these failed.
Grant decided to attack Vicksburg again in April. Instead of approaching from the north, as had been done before, his army approached Vicksburg from the south. Grant's Army of Tennessee crossed from the West bank to the East at Big Bluff on April 18, 1863. Then, in a series of battles, including Raymond and Champion's Hill, defeated Southern forces coming to the relief of Confederate general Pemberton. Sherman and Grant together besieged Vicksburg. Two major assaults were repelled by the defenders of Vicksburg, including one in which a giant Union land mine was set off under the Confederate fortifications.
From May to July, Vicksburg remained in Confederate hands, but on July 3, 1863, one day before Independence Day, General Pemberton finally capitulated. Thirty thousand Confederates were taken prisoner, but released after taking an oath to not participate in fighting the United States unless properly exchanged (a practice called parole).
This victory cut the Confederate States in two, accomplishing one of the Union total war goals. Confederate forces would not be able to draw on the food and horses previously supplied by Texas.
This victory was very important, giving the Union control of the whole Mississippi River and effectively splitting the Confederacy. Confederate forces were now deprived of food and supplies from Texas.
At the same time as the opening of the Vicksburg Campaign, General Lee decided to march his troops into Pennsylvania. He had three reasons for doing this. He intended to win a major victory on Northern soil, increasing Southern morale, encouraging Northern peace activists sympathetic to the South (the "Copperheads"), and increasing the likelihood of political recognition by England and France. His hungry, poorly shod army could raid supplies from the North, reducing the burden on the Confederate economy. And he intended to encroach upon the Northern capital, forcing the recall of Federal troops from the Western Theater and easing some of the pressure on Vicksburg.
Keeping the Blue Ridge Mountains between him and the Federal army, Lee advanced up the Shenandoah Valley into West Virginia and Maryland before finally marching into South-Central Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the Union forces moved north on roads to Lee's east, without the latter's knowledge. His cavalry commander and chief scout, Jeb Stuart, had launched a raid eastward to "ride around" the Union army. On July first, 1863, Confederate Division Leader Henry Heth's soldiers ran into John Buford's Federal cavalry unit west of the city of Gettysburg. Buford's two brigades held their ground for several hours, until the arrival of the Union 1st Corps, and then withdrew through the town. The Confederates occupied Gettysburg, but by then the Union forces had formed a strong defensive line on the hills south of the town.
For the next three days, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia faced the Union Army of the Potomac, now under the command of General George G. Meade, a Pennsylvanian who replaced Hooker, who had resigned as commander. (Hooker was given a corps command in the Army of the Cumberland, then in eastern Tennessee, where he performed satisfactorily for the remainder of the war.)
South of Gettysburg are high hills shaped like an inverted letter "J". At the end of the first day, the Union held this important high ground, partially because the Confederate left wing had dawdled moving into position. One July 2, Lee planned to attack up Emmitsburg Road from the south and west, hoping to force the Union troops to abandon the important hills and ridges. The attack went awry, and some Confederate forces, including Law's Alabama Brigade, attempted to force a gap in the Federal line between the two Round Tops, dominant heights at the extreme southern end of the Union's fish hook-shaped defensive line. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine Regiment, anchored this gap. He and the rest of his brigade, commanded by Colonel Strong Vincent, held the hill despite several hard-pressed attacks, including launching a bayonet charge when the regiment was low on ammunition.
Meanwhile, north of the Round Tops, a small ridge immediately to the west of the Federal line drew the attention of Union General Daniel Sickles, a former New York congressman, who commanded the Third Corps. He ordered his corps to advance to the peach-orchard crested ridge, which led to hard fighting around the "Devil's Den," Wheatfield, and Peach Orchard. Sickles lost a leg in the fight.
On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee decided to try a direct attack on the Union and "virtually destroy their army." Putting Lieutenant General James Longstreet in charge of the three-division main assault, he wanted his men, including the division of Major General George Pickett, to march across a mile and a half up a gradual slope to the center of the Union line. Lee promised artillery support, but any trained soldier who looked across those fields knew that they would be an open target for the Union soldiers--much the reverse of the situation six months before in Fredericksburg. However, the choice was either to attack or withdraw, and Lee was a naturally aggressive soldier.
By the end of the attack, half of Longstreet's force was dead, wounded or captured and the position was not taken. George Pickett never forgave Lee for "slaughtering" his men. Pickett's Charge, called the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy," was practically the last hope of the Southern cause at Gettysburg.
Lee withdrew across the Potomac River. Meade did not pursue quickly, and Lee was able to reestablish himself in Virginia. He offered to Confederate President Jefferson Davis to resign as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, saying, "Everything, therefore, points to the advantages to be derived from a new commander, and I the more anxiously urge the matter upon Your Excellency from my belief that a younger and abler man than myself can readily be attained." Davis did not relieve Lee; neither did Lincoln relieve Meade, though he wrote a letter of censure, saying "Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely."
The battle of Gettysburg lasted three days. Both sides lost nearly twenty-five thousand men each. After Gettysburg, the South remained on the defensive.
On November 19, 1863 Lincoln delivered his most famous speech in the wake of this battle. The Gettysburg Address is often cited for its brevity (it followed a two-hour speech by Edward Everett) and its masterful rhetoric. As with other early Republican documents, it placed its justification in the Founding Fathers. Unlike them, it did not place the justification of emancipation in the Constitution, but in the Declaration of Independence: "All men are created equal."
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Black Americans and the Civil War
The view of the Union towards blacks had changed during the previous two years. At the beginning of hostilities, the war was seen as an effort to save the Union, not free slaves. Several black slaves who reached Federal lines were returned to their owners. This stopped when Major General Benjamin F. Butler, a New Jersey lawyer and prominent member of the Democratic party, announced that slaves, being the property of persons in rebellion against the United States, would be seized as "contraband of war" and the Fugitive Slave Act could not apply. "Contrabands" were, if not always welcome by white soldiers, not turned away.
However, as the struggle grew more intense, abolition became a more popular option. Frederick Douglas, a former slave, urged that the war aim of the Union include the emancipation of slaves and the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union Army. This was done on a nationwide basis in 1863, though the state of Massachusetts had raised two regiments (the 54th and 55th Massachusetts) before this.
The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was the first black regiment recruited in the North. Col. Robert Gould Shaw, the 25 year old son of very wealthy abolitionist parents, was chosen to command. On May 28, the well equipped and drilled 54th paraded through the streets of Boston and then boarded ships bound for the coast of South Carolina. Their first conflict with Confederate soldiers came on July 16, when the regiment repelled an attack on James Island. But on July 18 came the supreme test of the courage and valor of the black soldiers; they were chosen to lead the assault on Battery Wagner, a Confederate fort on Morris Island at Charleston. In addressing his soldiers before leading them in charge across the beach, Colonel Shaw said, "I want you to prove yourselves. The eyes of thousands will look on what you do tonight."
While some blacks choose to join the military fight others fought by other means. An American teacher named Mary S. Peake worked to educate the freedmen and "contraband". She spent her days under a large oak tree teaching others near Fort Monroe in Virginia. (This giant tree is now over 140 years old and called Emancipation Oak). Since Fort Monroe remained under Union control this area was some what of a safe location for refugees and runaways to come to. Soon Mary began teaching in the Brown Cottage. This endeavor, sponsored by the American Missionary Association, became the basis from which Hampton University would spawn. Mary's school would house around 50 children during the day and 20 adults at night. This remarkable American died from tuberculosis on Washington's birthday in 1862.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis reacted to the raising of black regiments by passing General Order No. 111, which stated that captured black Federal soldiers would be returned into slavery (whether born free or not) and that white officers who led black soldiers would be tried for abetting servile rebellion. The Confederate Congress codified this into law on May 1, 1863. President Lincoln's order of July 30, 1863 responded:
It is therefore ordered that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war.
Eventually the Federal forces had several divisions' worth of black soldiers. Their treatment was not equal to white soldiers: at first, for example, black privates were paid $10 a month, the same as laborers, while white privates earned $13 a month. In addition, blacks could not be commissioned officers. The pay difference was settled retroactively in 1864.
The issue of black prisoners of war was a continual contention between the two sides. In the early stages of the war, prisoners of war would be exchanged rank for rank. However, the Confederates refused to exchange any black prisoner. The Union response was to stop exchanging any prisoner of war. The Confederate position changed to allowing blacks who were born free to be exchanged, and finally to exchange all soldiers, regardless of race. By then, the Federal leadership understood that the scarcity of white Confederates capable of serving as soldiers was an advantage, and there were no mass exchanges of prisoners, black or white, until the Confederate collapse.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga
In September 1863, Union Major General William Rosecrans decided to attempt the takeover of Chattanooga, a Confederate rail center in the eastern part of Tennessee. Controlling Chattanooga would provide a base to attack Georgia. The Confederates originally gave up Chattanooga, thinking that they could launch a devastating attack as the Union Army attempted to take control of it. Rosecrans did not, in the end, fall into such a trap. However, on November 23, 1863, the Union and Confederate Armies met at Chickamauga Creek, south of Chattanooga, upon which a rail line passed into Georgia.
The battle of Chickamauga was a Confederate victory. The Army of the Cumberland was forced to withdraw to Chattanooga, but Union General George Thomas, "the Rock of Chickamauga," and his troops prevented total defeat by standing their ground.
After Rosecrans withdrew to Chattanooga, the Confederates under General Braxton Bragg decided to besiege the city. Rosecrans was relieved of command; Lincoln's comment was that he appeared "stunned and confused, like a duck hit on the head." Meanwhile, by great effort, the Federal forces kept a "cracker line" open to supply Chattanooga with food and forage. Ulysses Grant replaced Rosecrans.
Grant's forces began to attack on November 23, 1863. On November 24 came the Battle of Lookout Mountain, an improbable victory in which Union soldiers, without the initiative of higher command, advanced up this mountain, which overlooks Chattanooga, and captured it. One of the authors of this text had an ancestor in the Confederate forces there; his comment was when the battle started, he was on top of the hill throwing rocks at the Yankees, and when it was over, the Yankees were throwing rocks at him.
By the end of November, Grant and his troops had pushed the Confederates out of East Tennessee and begun operations in Georgia.
Ulysses Grant As General-in-Chief
Lincoln recognized the great victories won by Ulysses Grant. In March, 1864, the President made Grant the general-in-chief of Union Forces, with the rank of Lieutenant General (a rank only previously held by George Washington). Grant decided on a campaign of continual pressure on all fronts, which would prevent Confederate forces from reinforcing each other.
He went east and made his headquarters with General Meade's Army of the Potomac (although Grant never took direct command of this Army). The Army of the Potomac's chief mission would be to whittle down the manpower of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee's army. In May 1864, the two sides met in Virginia near site of the previous year's Battle of Chancellorsville. The terrain was heavily wooded and movement to attack or reinforce was particularly difficult.
During the Battle of the Wilderness, the Union lost eighteen thousand soldiers, while the Confederates lost eleven thousand. Nevertheless, the Union pushed on. The two Armies fought each other again at Spotsylvania Court House and at Cold Harbor. In each case, the Union again lost large numbers of soldiers. Grant then hatched a plan to go around rather than through the Confederate Army in order to capture Richmond. At the last second, due to a hesitation by Major General "Baldy" Smith, the Army of Northern Virginia blocked the Union troops at Petersburg. Grant then decided to siege the city (and Lee's forces) and force it to surrender; if Lee could not move, he could not help other Confederate armies.
The siege took almost one year.
The Georgia Campaign and Total War
Battles for Atlanta
This victory had a significant effect on the election of 1864. Without it, there might have been more support for his Copperhead opponent General McClellan.
The March to the Sea
The ultimate Union strategy emerged with six parts: blockade the Confederate coastlines, preventing trade; free the slaves, destroying the domestic economy; disconnect the Upper South from the Deep South by controlling the Mississippi River; further split the Confederacy by attacking the Southeast coast (Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina), denying access to foreign supply; capture the capital of Richmond, which would severely incapacitate the Confederacy; and engage the enemy everywhere, weakening the army through attrition.
If Richmond had indeed been captured quickly and the war had ended within a few months, the Plantation system and slavery would probably not have changed significantly. Because the South was fighting predominately in its own territory, primarily rural farmland, its soldiers could take or force food and support from the people around them. After the unsuccessful Union attacks in Virginia, Lincoln began to think about the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Union changed its strategy from a quick capture of Richmond to the destruction of the South through total war. In total war, an invading army destroys both military and non-combatant resources important to war. It can involve attacks on civilians or the destruction of civilian property. General William Sherman used total war in his March to the Sea in November and December in 1864.
Once Atlanta was taken, General Sherman and four army corps disconnected themselves from any railroad or telegraphic communications with the Union and headed through the state of Georgia. Their objective was Savannah, Georgia, a major seaport. Sherman's strategy was to inflict as much damage on the civilian population of Georgia as possible, short of killing people. To accomplish this, he issued orders to "forage liberally on the country." Many of his soldiers saw this as a license to loot any food or valuable property they could. Sherman officially disapproved of this.
Sherman's army carved a path of destruction 300 miles long and over 60 miles wide from Atlanta to the coastal city of Savannah. It destroyed public buildings and railroad tracks wherever it went. Troops heated railroad rails to white heat and twisted them around the trees, creating "Sherman's neckties." Sherman's strategy separated his forces from the main body of the Union army, yet maintained the men with food and weapons. It not only aided his regiments without supply lines -- Southern destruction of supply lines had previously halted Northern advances -- but destroyed supply caches for Confederate forces in the area as well. But this destruction combined with Southern army raids to throw non-combatants into starvation.
The Confederate forces were unable to take on Sherman's forces. He reached the city of Savannah on December 24, 1864, and telegraphed President Lincoln "I present to you the city of Savannah as a Christmas present."
Moving through the Carolinas
Sherman's forces then moved north into South Carolina, while faking an approach on Augusta, Georgia; the general's eventual goal was to coordinate his forces with those of General Grant in Virginia and entrap and destroy Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The pattern of destruction by the Union soldiers continued, often with a more personal feeling of vengeance. A Federal soldier said to his comrades, "Here is where treason began and, by God, here is where it will end!"
On February 17, 1865, Sherman's forces reached Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. After a brief bombardment, the city surrendered. However, a large stock of whiskey was left behind as the Confederates retreated. Drunken soldiers broke discipline; convicts were let loose from the city jail, and somehow fires broke out, destroying much of the city.
Hood's Invasion of Tennessee and the Battle of Nashville
The battle of Spring Hill was fought on November 29, 1864, at Spring Hill, Tennessee. The Confederates attacked the Union as it retreated from Columbia. The Confederates were not able to inflict significant damage to the retreating Union force. So the Union Army was still able to make it safely north to Franklin during the night. The following day the Confederates decided to follow the Union and attack a much more fortified group at the Battle of Franklin. This did not prove to be a wise decision, as the Confederates suffered many casualties.
The Battle of Franklin was fought on November 30, 1864 at Franklin, Tennessee. This battle was a devastating loss for the Confederate Army. It detrimentally shut down their leadership. Fourteen Confederate Generals were extinguished with 6 killed, 7 wounded and 1 captured. 55 Regimental Commanders were casualties as well. After this battle the Confederate Army in this area was effectively handicapped.
In one of the decisive battles of the war, two brigades of black troops helped crush one of the Confederacy's finest armies at the Battle of Nashville on December 15-16, 1864. Black troops opened the battle on the first day and successfully engaged the right of the rebel line. On the second day Col. Charles R. Thompson's black brigade made a brilliant charge up Overton Hill. The 13th US Colored Troops sustained more casualties than any other regiment involved in the battle.
The Battle of Fort Pillow was fought on was fought on April 12, 1864, at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River at Henning, Tennessee. The battle ended with a massacre of surrendered Union African-American troops under the direction of Confederate Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The End of the Confederacy
The Siege of Petersburg
The Siege of Petersburg, also known as The Richmond Petersburg Campaign, began on June 15, 1864 with the intent by the Union Army to take control of Petersburg which was Virginia's second largest city and the supply center for the Confederate capital at Richmond. The campaign lasted 292 days and concluded with the occupation of Union forces on April 3, 1865. Thirty-two black infantry and cavalry regiments took part in the siege.
First Battle of Deep Bottom
The First Battle of Deep Bottom is also known as Darbytown, Strawberry Plains, New Market Road, and Gravel Hill. It was part of The Siege of Petersburg, and was fought July 27-29, 1864, at Deep Bottom in Henrico County, Virginia.
The Battle of the Crater was part of the Siege of Petersburg and took place on July 30, 1864. The battle took place between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of Potomac. The battle was an unusual attempt by the Union to penetrate the Confederate defenses south of Petersburg, VA. The battle showed to be a Union disaster. The Union Army went into battle with 16,500 troops, under the direct command of Ulysses S. Grant; the Confederate Army was commanded by Robert E. Lee and entered battle with 9,500 troops. Pennsylvania miners in the Union general Ambrose E. Burnside's Ninth Corps, worked for several weeks digging a long tunnel, and packing it with explosives. The explosives were then detonated at 3:15 on the morning of July 30, 1864. Burnside originally wanted to send a fresh division of black troops against the breach, but his superiors, Ulysses S. Grant, ruled against it. The job, chosen by short straw, went to James H. Ledlie. Ledlie watched from behind the lines as his white soldiers, rather than go around, pile into the deep crater, which was 170 feet long, 60 feet across, and 30 feet deep. They were not able to escape making the Union soldiers easy targets for the Confederates. The battle was marked by the cruel treatment of black soldiers who took part in the fight, most of them were captured and murdered. The battle ended with a confederate victory. The Confederacy took out 3,798 Union soldiers, while the Union were only able to defeat 1,491 Confederate soldiers. The United States Colored Troops suffered the most with their casualties being 1,327 which would include 450 men being captured.
Second Deep Bottom
The Second Battle of Deep Bottom was fought August 14-20, 1864, at Deep Bottom in Henrico County, Virginia; it was part of the Siege of Petersburg. The battle is also known as Fussell's Mill, Kingsland Creek, White's Tavern, Bailey's Creeks, and Charles City Road. General Winfield Scott Hancock came across the James River at Deep Bottom where he would threaten Richmond, Virginia. This would also cause the Confederates to leave Peterburgs, Virginia and the trenches and Shenandoah Valley.
Retreat from Richmond
Sherman did not stop in Georgia. As he marched North, he burnt several towns in South Carolina, including Columbia, the capital. (Sherman's troops felt more anger towards South Carolina, the first state to secede and in their eyes responsible for the war.) In March 1865, Lincoln, Sherman, and Grant all met outside Petersburg. Lincoln called for a quick end to the Civil War. Union General Sheridan said to Lincoln, "If the thing be pressed I think Lee will surrender." Lincoln responded, "Let the thing be pressed."
On April 2, 1865, the Confederate lines of Petersburg, Richmond's defense, which had been extended steadily to the west for 9 months, broke. General Lee informed President Davis he could no longer hold the lines; the Confederate government then evacuated Richmond. Lee pulled his forces out of the lines and moved west; Federal forces chased Lee's forces, annihilated a Confederate rear guard defense, and finally trapped the Army of Northern Virginia. General Lee requested terms. The two senior Army officers met each other near Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9th,1865. The men met at the home of Wilmer McLean. The gathering lasted about two and half hours. Grant offered extremely generous terms, requiring only that Lee's troops surrender and swear not to bear arms till the end of the War. This meeting helped to nearly end the bloodiest war in American history.
General Sherman met with Confederate General Robert E. Lee to discuss the surrender of Confederate troops in the South. Sherman initially allowed even more generous terms than Grant. However, the Secretary of War refused to accept the terms because of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by the Confederate John Wilkes Booth. By killing Lincoln at Ford's Theater, Booth made things worse for the Confederacy. Sherman was forced to offer harsher terms of surrender than he originally proposed, and General Johnston surrendered on April 26 under the Appomattox terms. All Confederate armies had surrendered by the end of May, ending the Civil War.
Besides the Fighting
Not all the important events of the Civil War took place on the battlefield.
As far back as the 1850s Whig interests had introduced three bills to Congress: a homestead act, a Pacific railroad act, and grants to establish agricultural and technical colleges. These measures were seen as remedies for the depression of 1857. Southern interests had vetoed all of them. Now Republicans took advantage of a legislature free of slave interests.
On May 20, 1862, the United States Congress passed the Homestead Act. Now any adult American citizen, or a person intending to become an American citizen, who was the head of a household, could qualify for a grant of 160 acres (67 hectares) of land by paying a small fee and living on the land continuously for five years. If a person was willing to pay $1.25 an acre, the time of occupation dwindled to six months.
The Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 enabled the United States Government to make a direct grant of land to railway companies for a transcontinental railroad, as well as a payment of $48,000 for every mile of track completed and lower-than-prime rate loans for any railway company who would build such a railway. The Central Pacific and the Union Pacific began to construct lines. The two railways finally met four years after the war, in Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869.
The third major bill of these three, which established a land-grant university, is discussed below.
The federal government started a draft lottery in July 1863. Men could avoid the draft by paying $300, or hiring another man to take their place. This caused resentment among the lower classes as they could not afford to dodge the draft. On Monday, July 13, 1863, between 6 and 7 A.M., the Civil War Draft Riots began in New York City. Rioters attacked the draft offices, the Bull's Head Hotel on 44th Street, and more upscale residences near 5th Avenue. They lynched black men, burned down the Colored Orphan Asylum on 5th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets, and forced hundreds of blacks out of the city. Members of the 7th New York Infantry and 71st New York Infantry subdued the riot.
While Lincoln proved to be instrumental in the emancipation of blacks, the Native Americans were not so lucky. Lincoln was responsible for the largest mass hanging in United States history. Thirty-eight Native Americans from the Santee Sioux tribe were hung on December 26, 1862. The US government failed to honor its treaties with the Indian Nations. They were supposed to supply the Indians with money and food for signing a treaty to turn over more than one million acres of land. Instead the agents kept the money and sold the food that was supposed to go the Indians to the white settlers. The food that was given to the Indians was spoiled and unfit for human consumption. Subsequently, the Indians went off the reservation in hunting parties to try to find suitable food. One of the Indian hunting groups took some eggs from a white settler's land and that caused this extreme government action. Authorities in Minnesota asked President Lincoln to order the execution of all 303 Indian males. However, Lincoln was afraid of how Europe would react so he tried to compromise. They would only execute those who were in the group. Lincoln also agreed to kill or remove every Indian from the state and provide Minnesota with 2 million dollars in federal funds. Ironically, he owed the Sioux only 1.4 million dollars for the land.
On April 22, 1864, the U.S. Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864 which mandates that the inscription "In God We Trust" be placed on all coins minted as United States currency.
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler becomes the first black woman to receive a medical degree.
In the Morrill Act of 1862, the government granted land to Union states to sell for funding educational institutions. This excluded the states which had seceded from the Union. The schools would teach military tactics, agriculture, and engineering. This answered the Republican campaign promise of 1860. These "Land Grant Universities" were proposed to spread small farm prosperity, as opposed to the large, inherited plantations, and to increase industrial innovations across a wider area.
In the 1860s, most schools were small, multiple grades were taught in one classroom at one time. Paper was expensive, and the more prosperous schools had students write their problems on individual student slates. Memorization was a common means of learning, and student knowledge was measured by oral recitation. Teachers often punished "bad children" with the dunce cap, a rap on a palm with a ruler, hitting or spanking, or even striking a child with a rod or a whip. Corporal punishment was seen as simply one way of enforcing obedience. Teacher and parent both generally agreed that obedience was the trait of good children.
Farming was still a major form of employment in America. It had been so since the first semester, the time when students were allowed to be in school because the crops had been sown. Students worked in the fields during harvest time, and most left school for good to work on a farm. Abraham Lincoln himself, as a youth on the frontier, had had little schooling. Yet despite these brief periods of education, the reading levels were actually quite high. By the fifth grade students were sometimes reading books that we would consider college level, and Latin was still a part of many curricula.
Academies during this time provided education for children between the ages of thirteen and twenty. These academies offered an array of classes. Most of the academies kept the boys and girls separate. There were also seminaries, or private schools, which might cater to boys or girls. Girl's schools varied widely. Emily Dickinson's school, Amherst Academy, taught Mental Philosophy, Geology, Latin, and Botany. Some schools left girls idle, with not even what we would call physical education. Others taught non-intellectual, "feminine" skills such as deportment, needle craft, and perhaps arts and crafts. The Home Economics movement, inaugurated by Catherine Beecher, advocated teaching homemaking skills in school. It also promoted female physical education. In contrast, feminists such as Susan B. Anthony and Emma Willard, and reformers such as Jane Addams and Mary McLeod Bethune, wanted to expand women's education into the plane of men. These women helped establish the higher education institutions where women were able to take classes not otherwise offered to them. The first co-educational college was Oberlin College, established in 1833. The first all-women's college was Vassar College in 1861.
Questions For Review
1. What are the four principal causes of the Civil War?
2. Why did Sherman feel compelled to adopt the total war strategy in his March to the Sea? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy?
3. The Morrill Act of 1862, the Homestead Act of 1862, and the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864: why did slave-holding Southern interests oppose their predecessors? What effect did they have?
- MacPherson, 381.
- McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. The Oxford History of the United States, Vol VI. C. Vann Woodward, General Editor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. p. 193