Section #8 - The Civil War
The Civil War: 1861-65
The Civil War
As in its prior wars, America is ill prepared for the outbreak of its own Civil War. The only thing clear from the beginning is that the resources needed to win on the battlefield are heavily stacked in favor of a Union victory.
Resources By Region: 1860
|Future West Point Generals||151||294|
After Ft. Sumter falls, President Lincolns calls for 750,000 volunteers to sign up for a 3 month enlistment on the naïve assumption that the fighting will quickly be over. He then encourages his first Army of the Potomac General, Irwin McDowell, to drive overland and seize the Confederate capital at Richmond. The result is the clash of two green armies at 1st Bull Run, where VMI professor, Thomas Jonathan Jackson stands “like a stone wall” on Henry Hill and the Union troops flee back to Washington for their lives. Thus ends hope for a brief war and southern capitulation.
One day after the defeat, Lincoln calls for 500,000 three-year enlistees and turns control of the army over to thirty-four year old General George McClellan, a man with sterling leadership credentials, but marked by enormous personal vanity and utter disdain for all civilian officials, including the President whom he dismisses as “the original gorilla.” McClellan will prove remarkable at training his troops to fight, and then repeatedly hesitate to send them forward in crucial battles for fear of failure and criticism. Lincoln will be slow to acknowledge his error.
A pause in the intense fighting and a search for a winning strategy follows 1st Bull Run. The Union General-in-Chief, 75 year old Winfield Scott, proposes his “Anaconda Plan,” in effect creating a siege-like cordon on land and sea around the Confederate state and then squeezing the boundaries inward toward Richmond until it collapses. Despite criticism of the time and resources required, Scott’s plan will prevail in the end.
The Confederate plan is reminiscent of Washington’s approach against a stronger foe in the Revolutionary War. Keep the army intact; sacrifice land for time when need be; win a few key battles; seek foreign support; gradually degrade the morale of the enemy; and secure a peace treaty that sanctions independence.
To increase their resources and odds of success, the South hopes to convince three slave states – Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri – to join the eleven already in the Confederacy. The North, meanwhile, strives to block that move.
Maryland is geographically checkmated between Pennsylvania to the north and Washington to the southwest and 4 out of 5 of its enlistees end up in Blue. Kentucky declares its neutrality from the beginning, but Confederate attempts to take the state by force tilt its population toward the Union. Missouri is the scene of constant guerrilla warfare and two pitched battles that determine the outcome: the first in 1861 at Wilson’s Creek where the Confederates prevail and then in 1864 at Westport which secures the state for the Union.
After 1st Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek, fighting over the last six months of 1861 comprises mainly brief skirmishes and minimal bloodshed. This will change dramatically starting in 1862.
Important Battles in 1861
|April 12-13||Ft. Sumter||Va||CSA||1||War becomes inevitable|
|July 11||Rich Mtn||Va||USA||350||First notice of George McClellan|
|July 21||First Bull Run||Va||CSA||3,700||End of hope for quick Union victory|
|Aug 10||Wilson’s Creek||MO||CSA||2,550||Missouri still in play after CSA win|
|Dec 20||Dranesville||Va||USA||250||Ord defeats Jeb Stuart|
The Union cause is on the upswing in the first half of 1862. A Confederate advance in Kentucky is turned back at Mills Springs. Then a little known western General secures control over the Tennessee River in a major victory at Ft. Donelson, where the demands he makes of his former roommate at West Point earn him the lasting nickname of Unconditional Surrender (US) Grant. Seven weeks later he almost loses his army at the savage battle of Shiloh, before engineering a remarkable comeback on Day 2 to drive the rebels from the field. A sketchy rumor of his drunkenness draws criticism from his superior, “Old Brains” Henry Halleck. But an impatient Lincoln responds: “just find out what brand of whiskey Grant drinks, because I want to send a barrel of it to each one of my generals.”
The superiority of the Union Navy is evident, first at Ft. Pulaski, where its Parrot guns and 200 lb. balls collapse the concrete structure and secure a lasting blockade at the port of Savannah. Then comes the fall of New Orleans to the fleet of Admiral David Farragut, later known for his “damn the torpedoes” command at Mobile Bay. The city is occupied by Union troop; Confederate shipping is cut off, and sights are set on controlling the entire Mississippi River and isolating the rebel forces to the west.
To negate the South’s advantage of “interior lines” of defense, the Union attempts to attack simultaneously across widespread geographies, and also masters its sieging skills. In May this pays off at the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, where the loss of two strategically important rail lines that cross the city ends hopes for CSA operations nearby in western Tennessee.
The one bright light for the South lies in the Shenandoah Valley, where the Union will try time and again to shut down the Confederates most obvious invasion route into the north through Maryland and on to Washington. The foil is General Stonewall Jackson, whose win at Front Royal will force the Union to retain troops to defend Washington while launching its Peninsula Campaign against Richmond.
Important Battles: First Half of 1862
|January 19||Mills Springs||KY||USA||160||CSA advance repulsed/Van Dorn kia|
|Feb 6||Ft. Henry||TN||USA||120||Begins fight for control of Tn River|
|Feb 11-16,||Fort Donelson||TN||USA||17,400||Crucial US win/fame for Grant|
|Feb 20-21||Valverde||NM||CSA||105||Union retreat along Rio Grande|
|Mar 6-8||Pea Ridge||ARK||USA||3,400||Union now controls most of MO|
|April 6-7||Shiloh||TN||USA||23,700||Grant saves army on second day|
|April 10-11||Ft. Pulaski||Ga||USA||400||Union blockades Savannah port|
|April 25-May 1||New Orleans||La||USA||0||Farragut leads occupation of city|
|May 25||Front Royal||Va||CSA||810||Jackson control Shenandoah Valley|
|April 29-May 30||Siege of Corinth||Miss||USA||2,000||Loss of RR ends CSA in western TN|
Despite the progress along the western rivers, almost six months have passed since McClellan assumed command of the Army without a significant advance in the east. An exasperated Lincoln finally sets a deadline of February 22, 1862 for coordinated attacks. In response Little Mac reveals a daring plan to transport his troops by sea to the Union’s Ft. Monroe at the tip of Hampton Roads, Virginia, then drive up the Peninsula to capture Richmond in one bold move.
Lincoln fears for the defense of Washington, but agrees to proceed while shifting McClellan’s title to Commander of the Army of the Potomac to focus him exclusively on the operation. After embarking on March 17, the Union troops land and make first contact with the enemy on April 5. At that time. McClellan has 125,000 men facing a total of 11,000 rebels, while complaining to DC that he is outmanned and needs additional support.
The campaign proceeds in slow motion, which allows the confederates to finally assemble a force of 57,000 troops. After eight weeks, the first significant clash occurs when Joseph Johnstone, the overall CSA commander, attacks at Seven Pines, on May 31. The fight ends in a draw, with some 11,000 total casualties. The most important being Johnstone himself, who is replaced by Robert E. Lee, arriving ironically with a prior reputation for caution.
But Lee immediately exhibits the killer instincts that will enable the South to survive against the odds over the next three years. He recognizes that McClellan’s army is spread out along the northern side of the tricky Chickahominy River and launches a series of attacks over seven days to roll up its right flank. The decisive battle here occurs on June 27 at Gaines Mill, a confederate victory that convinces McClellan to abandon the entire campaign and save the army.
He retreats south to a strong defensive position at Malvern Hill where he holds off a final onslaught by Lee before retreating to Harrison’s Landing on the James River on July 2. The army loiters there until August, as Lee prepares to attack again up north against General John Pope’s army at what becomes 2nd Bull Run. A sulking McClellan says, and seemingly hopes, that Pope will lose, and on his voyage back to DC he dispatches a mere 10,000 of his troops to offer support. And indeed Pope does lose, causing panic in the capital. A now desperate Lincoln sacks Pope and sees no other choice than to restore McClellan on September 2 to General-in-Chief – much to the delight of the soldiers who still see him as a savior.
Within the span of one month, Lee has flipped the landscape from a Union army within sight of Richmond to a Confederate army within sight of Washington. But he is not done yet. Deciding that the defensive perimeter around DC is too stout, he embarks on what will be the first of his two invasions of the North. His goal is to rampage across Pennsylvania, perhaps destroy B&O railroad lines, rally Marylanders to join the CSA, attract recognition from Britain, and give the southern population a chance to bring in the crops and prepare for the long war ahead.
But here fate turns against him. On September 13 an Indiana regiment soldier spots an envelope on the ground containing three cigars wrapped in a copy of Lee’s “Order 191” detailing his plan for the campaign. On September 17, two day after A.P. Hill wins a momentary CSA victory at Harpers Ferry, Lee’s 38,000 contingent comes up against McClellan’s 87,000 along Antietam Creek in Maryland. It will be the bloodiest single day of the war, and Lee is saved only at the last second by the arrival of reinforcements from Hill. The Union victory at Antietam convinces Lincoln to proceed with his Emancipation Proclamation and the British to reject recognition of the Confederacy as a separate nation.
In October the much detested General Braxton Bragg makes one final attempt to secure Kentucky for the South. But his defeat at the Battle of Perryville ends those hopes for good.
Anger builds within Lincoln’s inner circle against McClellan for refusing to follow up after Antietam with aggressive pursuit of Lee’s weakened army. Finally, on October 26, a movement across the Potomac begins, but it is accompanied by delays and more harping by McClellan about political interference. Having suffered through this whining for 18 months, Lincoln has had enough and sacks McClellan for good on November 7, 1862. Little Mac’s public farewell is surprisingly respectful, while in private he calls Lincoln his “inferior” and his advisors encourage him to run for President in 1864, which he will do.
His successor is the side-burned General Ambrose Burnside. He owns minor successes in North Carolina, but is hesitant at Antietam and (properly) convinced that he’s not prepared for this new overall command. Nevertheless as a lifelong soldier he is ready to follow orders to go for Richmond. Burnside moves his 114,000 troops to the north bank of the Rappahannock River hoping to cross into Fredericksburg, Virginia, before Lee arrives. But the pontoon boats he needs fail to arrive on time, giving Lee a chance to concentrate his 72,000 men above the town.
The river crossing begins on December 11 and is followed by the war’s first major urban combat to take the city. With that accomplished, the Union brigades begin to move across an open field extending 1,000 yards long and 50 feet uphill toward the Confederates entrenched behind a stone wall on Marye’s Heights.
Fourteen different brigades fail to take the ridge on December 13, with casualties totaling 13,000 Union and 5,000 CSA soldiers. The slaughter proves three things. Sheer valor is not enough to carry the day. The old Napoleonic tactics featuring close order cadence-stepped columns of attacking infantry is no longer tenable, given that smoothbore muskets, accurate to 80 yards, have been replaced by rifled weapons, accurate to over 300 yards. And lastly, that a strong defensive position will almost always prevail over those committed to the offense. General James Longstreet will recognize these truths at Fredericksburg; Robert E. Lee will not.
Burnside follows with an ignominious retreat known as the “mud march” before his 81 day command over the Army of the Potomac ends.
But two weeks after the loss at Fredericksburg, Lincoln receives good news from General William Rosecran’s 40,000 man Army of the Cumberland at the town of Murfreesboro, some 35 miles south of Nashville. A battle there, known as Stones River, begins on December 31, 1862, with a surprise attack by General Bragg’s 40,000 troops that is repulsed by last minutes heroics from General Phil Sheridan. Bragg tries again on January 1, with ex-US Vice President John Breckinridge hurling charge after charge against “Old Rosy’s” strong defensive position alongside the Round Forest and the Nashville Pike. Both sides suffer very high casualty rates (one-third of those engaged) before a much criticized Bragg retreats on January 3.
Important Battles: Second Half of 1862
|May 31-June 1||7 Pines||Va||Draw||13,700||CSA command passes to Lee|
|June 27||Gaines Mill||Va||CSA||15,500||McClellan’s invasion fails|
|July 1||Malvern Hill||Va||USA||8,600||Lee stopped before Union flees|
|Aug 28-30||2nd Bull Run||Va||CSA||22,200||The Union loses for a second time|
|Sept 12-15||Harpers Ferry||Va||CSA||12,900||CSA takes control until Antietam|
|Sept 17||Antietam||MD||USA||22,700||Lee’s first invasion north fails|
|Oct 8||Perryville||Ky||Draw||7,600||Final blow to CSA in Kentucky|
|Dec 11-15,||Fredericksburg||Va||CSA||17,900||Burnside’s troops are slaughtered|
|Dec 31-Jan 2||Stone’s River||Tn||USA||23,500||Bragg withdraws after high losses|
As the war drags into its third year, the Confederate treasury is feeling pinched by the cost and Davis authorizes a graduated income tax of 1-2%. This compares to the 3-5% rate that Lincoln instituted in 1862. (By its conclusion, the war will cost each side approximately $3.3 Billion.)
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect on January 1, 1863. It frees all slaves residing in the eleven Confederate states while not changing the status for those in Maryland,
Delaware, Kentucky or Missouri. This move is strongly opposed by Northern Democrats who argue that the fight is about saving the Union, not abolishing slavery – a feeling fully shared by McClellan.
The impact of the Proclamation is significant. Some 200,000 black men (10% of the total force) enlist in the Union army or navy, and many others add civilian support. The order also sanctions seizure of southern slaves as “contraband” or war assets being used against the Union. Except for Lee, the Confederates essentially oppose enlisting their large black population to the end.
January 26, 1863 brings another new commander of the Army of the Potomac in the form of “Fighting Joe Hooker,” with the usual charge to destroy Lee’s army and conquer Richmond.
Unlike Burnsides, Joe Hooker is totally confident that he will “whip Bobby Lee” in no time. He first tries to restore morale among his soldiers, then sets his force of 130,000 in motion. He wisely decides against another attack on Marye’s Heights and instead swings the army west to reach the cross-roads settlement of Chancellorsville, ten miles from Fredericksburg.
On May 1 his first Union brigades head east along the Orange Plank Road and the Orange Pike, expecting to find that Lee has fled. But the gambler in “Marse Robert” has anticipated Hooker’s movement and, leaving only a token garrison on the Heights, he concentrates roughly 43,000 men to shock the Blue troops. And shock they do – to the extent that Hooker, concussed and knocked unconscious by a cannonball striking his headquarters, seems to lose his nerve. After initial skirmishes along the pike he orders his officers – much to their dismay – to retreat into a defensive shell in the heavily wooded area known as the Wilderness.
But “Bobby Lee” is not satisfied with simply halting Hooker; he intends to destroy the entire Union army. In what many consider his most audacious act of the war, he divides his vastly outnumbered command in two and swings Stonewall Jackson and 25,000 men south along a concealed cart-path to come up on Hooker’s vulnerable rear. Around 5pm on May 2, just as the Union soldiers are eating dinner, the screaming Rebel yell breaks over them. The rout is on and it continues until 8pm when Hooker stabilizes his line.
As darkness descends, however, the Confederates suffer a terrible loss. Returning from a reconnaissance mission to plot a night attack, Jackson’s party is hit by friendly fire. Stonewall is struck in the right hand and the left arm, with the latter wound needing amputation. He survives the surgery, but develops pneumonia and is dead eight days later. The loss leaves Lee to go forward with only one top general he trusts entirely, his “warhorse,” James Longstreet.
A beaten Hooker drifts back toward Fredericksburg to re-unite with General john Sedgwick’s corps that has driven CSA General Jubal Early’s token brigades off of Marye’s Heights. But whatever hope remains for victory disappears in a stalemated battle on May 4 at Salem Church.
Back in Washington the military and political knives are already out for Hooker, and he responds by offering his resignation on June 28, confident that Lincoln will turn it down. But with Lee’s army poised to invade the north for a second time, the President is happy to see Hooker go, and turns to his fifth and final Army of the Potomac choice, General George Meade, a proud son of Pennsylvania, who will face Lee in his home state three days hence.
The Battle at Gettysburg is, of course, considered the pivotal engagement of the war. It is also one of the rare instances where the two sides field roughly the same number of fighters, in this case around 75,000. Lee’s second invasion of the north begins after an inconclusive cavalry battle at Brandy Station on June 9. He heads north through the Shenandoah range, while detaching his cavalry under Jeb Stuart to scout the movement of the Union troops, still under Hooker, heading up from Manassas. But Stuart drifts far to the east and loses all contact, leaving Lee blind to enemy maneuvers for eight days, until July 2 when it is too late.
On June 28 he orders Longstreet and his two new corps commanders, Generals A.P. Hill and one-legged Dicky Ewell to concentrate in the vicinity of Gettysburg, an ideal hub given its ten roads leading in and out. Wednesday July 1 finds General Harry Heth leading his brigade toward town after a prior night encounter with Union skirmishers. Heading southeast down the Chambersburg Pike around 8AM he bumps into a small Union Cavalry unit commanded by General John Buford blocking his path. Despite direct orders from Lee to avoid a large-scale engagement, Heth plunges ahead only to find that Buford has been joined by the left wing of Meade’s force under Major General John Reynolds, considered by many the most capable officer in the entire army. Reynolds rushes to the front to deploy his units, most notably the battle-tested Iron Brigade. But as he does so, he is almost immediately shot dead by a bullet to the neck.
The fight is still in progress when Lee arrives on the scene at 2:00PM. He finds Heth halted in his tracks and suffering many casualties, and is about to order a retreat when he spots Ewell’s corps suddenly appearing from the north and behind the Union alignment. The sight of these troops driving into the unhinged Union flank convince Lee to commit his entire army to the battle.
What follows on Day 1 is a rout as the Federals flee east from Ewell toward the town seeking a viable defensive line. They find it around dusk just south of Gettysburg on Culp’s Hill, a 630 foot tall, heavily forested prominence, and Cemetery Ridge, elevated by 80 feet from the city center and extending just under two miles. Lee recognizes that the ridge is the coveted high ground on the field and he tells Ewell to secure it “if possible.” Although his brigade officers are eager to try, Ewell is no Stonewall Jackson, and he vetoes the assault. This hesitancy is the first of several crucial Confederate mistakes that will contribute to defeat.
As Ewell pauses, Union General Winfield Hancock arrives with orders from Meade to defend Cemetery Ridge while the remainder of the army comes up. By midnight, when Meade appears, Hancock has created a semi-circular barrier with strong interior lines along the northern end of the ridge, while spreading other troops to the south. This “fishhook” alignment will serve the Union well over the next two days.
July 2 begins with roughly 50,000 Confederate and 60,000 Federal soldiers mustered for action. Lee’s plan calls for two simultaneous assaults beginning early, one by Ewell at Culp’s Hill on the Union right, the other on its left against the ridge led by Longstreet’s corps. However, things begin to go awry soon enough.
First Longstreet tries to convince Lee that the terrain heavily favors Meade, and that the smart strategy would be to shift the rebel army eastward, establish a well-protected defensive line and wait for Meade to attack it. For Longstreet, this reflects the lessons of Fredericksburg that an entrenched defense will defeat a Napoleon-like offense. After hearing Longstreet out, a confident Lee rejects the advice and orders him to proceed with the original scheme.
But it is 11:00 before the final orders are cut and Longstreet’s men still face a three mile march under cover to get into position. When they arrive a shock awaits them. Instead of the early reconnaissance saying that the planned attack point on the ridge is thinly protected, they find multiple Union brigades strung out almost to the end at Little Round Top. Still Lee has told them to attack and attack they do beginning around 4:00.
What gives them hope is a tactical blunder by the notorious General Dan Sickles who decides to move his troops down from the ridge to a salient in the peach orchard along the Emmitsburg Road. Longstreet exploits this mistake with Lafayette McLaw’s corps driving Sickles backwards into a defensive posture in a wheatfield, where his right leg is shattered by a 12 pound cannon ball. (Sickles will preserve the stump and carry it with him til his death at 93 years.)
McLaw’s assault is so effective that his far left brigade under “Rans” Wright actually reaches Cemetery ridge before being driven back by a heroic charge from the 1st Minnesota regiment, who lose 215 of their 250 man count in the action. But Wright’s success in reaching the ridge plays into Lee’s calculus to try again on Day 3.
Longstreet’s other wing, under the tough Texan John Bell Hood, drives uphill through what is known as the Devil’s Den, a geological phenomenon marked by 200 million year old boulders stacked 20-40 feet in the air. He then sends his right-most brigade numbering 825 men under Evander Law to capture Little Round Top. Oversight has left it undefended until the last second when Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlin moves his 20th Maine with 386 men into position. After repeated CSA assaults, and with his ammunition almost gone, Chamberlain orders “fix bayonets” and leads a wild charge which sends the rebels fleeing the mountain. Had Little Round Top fallen, enfilading fire from CSA batteries there could have swept all the way north along Cemetery ridge.
With Longstreet’s advance delayed, Ewell’s supposedly “coordinated” attack on Culp’s Hill is also held up. It is, however, like “Rans” Wright’s, partially though not totally successful.
By the end of Day 2, each side has suffered about 10,000 casualties and the question becomes whether to continue on July 3. Meade gathers his commanders and asks for a vote which comes out in favor of staying put. He believes that the Confederates will also fight on after three near successes so far, and predicts that the next try will come against the Union center. For Lee, the decision is never in doubt. He sees July 3 as a chance to bag Meade’s army and sue for peace.
Overnight both armies add troops. Flamboyant General George Pickett arrives with his fresh division for the South and John Sedgwick’s corps joins the North. The culmination of the battle is about to take place with Lee committed to sending a 12,500 man force, comprising Pickett’s men and brigades under Johnston Pettigrew, across a mile long field to strike a “copse of trees” at Meade’s center. Longstreet is again dismayed by the prospect and he says this to Lee:
Sir, I’ve been a soldier all my life. I’ve fought from the ranks on up, you know my service.
But sir, I must tell you now, I believe this attack will fail. No 15,000 men ever made could
take that ridge. It’s a distance of more than a mile, over open ground. When the men
come out of the trees, they will be under fire from Yankee artillery from all over the
field. And those are Hancock’s boys (who) have the stone wall like we did at Fredericksburg.
Lee is unmoved and at 1:00 some 140 cannons scattered on the Confederate’s Seminary Ridge line open up a two hour bombardment to soften Meade’s defenses. Much of the impact is lost, however, as the Union troop hunker down for protection on the reverse slope of their ridge.
At 3:00, the rebels emerge from the woods, dress their lines and begin their parade ground advance across the Emmitsburg Pike to play out Longstreet’s premonition. After a half hour of close combat, a small band make it to the copse but are then shot down and driven back with casualties numbering 7,000. As the survivors struggle back to safety, Lee mounts his horse, rides onto the field, and tells them it has all been his fault. (In fact, after the loss, Lee will submit his resignation to Jefferson Davis who firmly rejects it.)
On July 4, the two exhausted armies stay in place, eyeing each other across the blood-soaked field. Rain comes at night and Lee begins his withdrawal. Meade, who has just won a pivotal victory, decides not to chase after the southern army, a choice that draws intense criticism from Washington.
The butcher’s bill for the three days at Gettysburg is around 51,000 casualties tilted slightly against Lee. Officers still leading from the front suffer along with the soldiers. Five senior Confederates (Barksdale, Armistead, Garnett, Semmes and Pender) and five Federals (Reynolds, Zook, Vincent, Weed and Farnsworth) are killed. Hancock is shot from his saddle by troops of his dear friend Armistead. Sickles loses his leg and Hood the use of his left arm. Pickett never forgives Lee for sacrificing his brigade, and Lee never forgives himself for the same reason.
While Gettysburg plays out, Ulysses Grant’s Department of the Tennessee is on the verge of ending its 16 month campaign to conquer the Confederate citadel at Vicksburg, Mississippi, halfway down the river between Memphis and New Orleans. Success will mean complete Union control over the Mississippi River and a permanent barrier between the rebel’s western and eastern armies.
But doing so proves a challenge for Grant, despite having nearly 100,000 men at his disposal – 40,000 to the east of the river and 60,000 camped to the west.
First off, it’s clear that the Navy cannot reduce the fortress, given the enemy cannon looking down on the river from 200 foot high bluffs. So Grant is convinced an overland attack from the east will be required, and he makes his first move in December 1862, sending his 40,000 east-side troops against General John Pemberton’s 22,000 man contingent at Grenada, 100 miles north of Vicksburg. But Pemberton holds, aided by a 3,500 strong cavalry strike against the Union’s supply line by General Van Dorn.
What comes next is a 16 month stalemate during which the determined Grant tries multiple schemes to position his army just east of Vicksburg. Finally in April 1863, he decides on a daring plan to approach the city. On April 16, he sends Admiral David Porter’s fleet downriver at night past the CSA cannon to rendezvous with his three western corps south of Vicksburg. Porter ferries them across the Mississippi, to capture Port Gibson on May 1, and begin a 10 mile march back north to hook up with Grant.
For fourteen days the two wings of the Union army remain divided and out of touch. Although Grant’s goal of attacking Vicksburg from the east is in sight, he fears that the CSA army under Joseph Johnstone near the state capital of Jackson may threaten him from behind. So instead of heading directly toward Vicksburg, he takes Jackson on May 14.
What follows is the final maneuver of the campaign on May 16 where Grant’s superior force overwhelms Pemberton at the battle of Champion Hill. The CSA army then flees back to its citadel and is able to fend off their Union pursuers for the moment. Grant responds with a brutal six week siege that terrorizes and then starves the city into a final surrender on July 4, 1863 – one day after Lee is defeated at Gettysburg.
In hindsight these two battles – Gettysburg and Vicksburg – ending on consecutive days, will end all chances for the South to win the war.
On July 9, the fall of Vicksburg precipitates the surrender by General Franklin Gardner of Port Hudson, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River, 100 miles north of New Orleans. This ends the longest siege of the war, lasting seven weeks under Union General Nathaniel Banks.
Nine days later, on July 18, General Quincy Gilmore makes another attempt to take the rebel’s Fort Wagner guarding Morris Island south of Charleston Harbor. After an 8 hour bombardment from land and sea which lasts until 7:45pm, Gilmore’s infantry charges the fort. The left wing is led by Colonel Robert Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, comprising 1,007 black volunteers. About 600 of them plow across a thousand yards of beach to hit a 20 foot high sand barrier bristling with cannon and canister. Some reach the parapet but are then driven back with 281 casualties, including Shaw. The victory belongs with the rebels, but the courage shown by the black troops signals their important role in the last two years of the war.
Lincoln continues to applaud concurrent strikes at different edges of the Confederacy backed by superior numbers to overcome the rebel’s interior lines advantage. With Vicksburg in his pocket along with Nashville and western Tennessee, he now prods General Rosecrans to move his Army of the Cumberland south to take Chattanooga and the critical N&C railroad line linking the city with Nashville to the northwest and Atlanta to the southwest. Cutting this connection would hinder the rebel’s transport of troops and supplies throughout the region.
“Old Rosy” is re-fitting his troops after the January 1, 1863 victory at Stone’s River and he balks until August 16 before moving out against his long-time foe, Braxton Bragg. Rosecrans’s first maneuver is clever. Instead of crossing the Tennessee River above Chattanooga, he heads west and goes over to the South, positioning his 60,000 men behind Bragg and forcing him to abandon Chattanooga. Further north, at Knoxville, a 24,000 man army under Burnside takes that city on September 3 without firing a shot.
With the Confederates in disarray. Jefferson Davis orders General Longstreet to break away from Lee and come to the aid of Bragg. Like many others, Longstreet has no confidence in Bragg, but he proceeds on September 9 with 12,000 men.
When they arrive, Bragg’s troop count matches Rosecrans’s, and he decides to go on the offensive. He does so at a moment when the Union commands are spread well apart in three locations, General Crittenden to the north, Alex McCook south, and George Thomas in between. With each unit comprising only 20,000 men, Bragg plans to attack them in detail with his 3:1 advantage. When flawed internal communications delay attacks on September 10-13, Rosecrans is able to concentrate in the valley of West Chickamauga Creek, alongside the Lafayette Road in Georgia. With his numerical advantage gone, Bragg decides to proceed anyway, aiming on September 19 to turn Rosecrans’s left flank and drive him south, rather than back to Chattanooga, 8 miles northwest. The two sides battle at close quarters throughout the day with neither prevailing.
Then, around 11:30 on the second day, September 20, a Union staff officer erroneously alerts Rosecrans to an apparent gap on his right flank. After adjusting his lines, an actual fatal gap is created and Longstreet sends his Army of Northern Virginia veterans through it. This lucky break leads to a rout with one-third of the Union forces, including Rosecrans himself, fleeing west through Willoughby Gap to Chattanooga.
Emergency command of the remaining Union troops falls to George Thomas, a Virginian by birth, who is joined by much needed reinforcement from General Gordon Grainer’s rearguard. Thomas rallies his men and forms a tight semi-circle on a nearby ridge where he fights off multiple attacks before a night withdrawal. But for his heroism, Thomas earns his lasting sobriquet as “The Rock of Chickamauga.”
The nearly 35,000 total casualties make Chickamauga the second bloodiest battle of the entire war, exceeded only by the 51,000 who fall at Gettysburg. Four Generals are killed: Smith, Deshler and Helm for the South and William Lytle for the Union. John Bell Hood suffers a second severe wound inside three months, with his right leg is amputated just below the hip.
Both commanders are sharply criticized for the outcome: Bragg for losing Chattanooga and Rosecrans for abandoning his troops.
Attention is now turned toward the city of Chattanooga where Bragg plans to starve the Union out with a siege. This draws a visit from Jefferson Davis on October 6 to hear first-hand from Bragg and his lieutenants. The report spotlights organizational dysfunction. The renowned Nathan Bedford Forrest calls Bragg a “damned scoundrel” and demands a transfer out, which Davis allows. Longstreet is similarly adamant and lobbies to have Joseph Johnston replace Bragg. For his part, Bragg points fingers at executional failures, most notably by General Polk. Despite the obvious drawbacks, Davis sticks with Bragg for the moment lacking good options.
The decision looks okay as Bragg proceeds to surround Rosecrans in Chattanooga on three sides, placing firepower to the east on Missionary Ridge, to the South on the heights of Lookout Mountain, and across the Tennessee River to the west. The only path left to support the Union is a northern route through wilderness terrain that Bragg views as too treacherous.
Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton see the geographic dilemma facing Rosecrans as well as sharing a belief that he is not up to the challenge. They turn to Ulysses Grant for the answers and give him free rein to try to break the siege. Grant quickly names George Thomas as Rosecrans replacement, and then orders up much needed reinforcements. On October 19, Joseph Hooker navigates his way in from the north with 12,000 men. In mid-November, Sherman appears with another 17,000. At that point the numerical odds no longer favor Bragg.
With the Confederates simply standing by, Grant decides to attempt a break-out from the city. On November 24, he attacks along two vectors. Hooker leads the first and achieves a remarkable ascent of Lookout Mountain, driving the gray troops down the far side in what is called “the battle above the clouds.” The other thrust, upstream against Missionary Ridge, is turned back by stubborn resistance from General Patrick Cleburne, the so-called “Jackson of the west.”
As always, Grant adjusts on the fly and orders Thomas to come out from the city and attack the center of the ridge between the rebels to the north and south. In a charge reminiscent of Pickett at Gettysburg, Thomas’s 20,000 troops plow into the confederates with revengeful shouts of “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” spurring them on.
By nightfall the Union victory is complete and Bragg’s army has fled southeast into Georgia, with Hooker’s 16,000 troops on their heels. All that saves them is an heroic stand by Cleburne’s 4,000 band on November 27 at the Battle of Ringgold Gap some 14 miles below Chattanooga.
On November 29, Bragg submits his resignation which Davis accepts along with a face-saving assignment back in Richmond. After General William Hardee turns down the offer to succeed Bragg, Davis considers Beauregard and Lee before finally settling on Joe Johnston, despite their many prior quarrels which will continue. While Johnston’s command still bears the title of Army of the Tennessee, reality will find him trying to defend Atlanta and Georgia.
Thus ends the pivotal year of 1863 where space and time and resources are running out for the South. Henceforth they will be on the defensive with their only real hope lying in a few victories and possible war fatigue on the part of the northern public.
Important Battles: Second Half of 1863
|April 30-May 6||Chancellorsville||Va||CSA||24,000||Lee’s masterpiece but Jackson lost|
|May 16||Champion Hill||Miss||USA||6,300||Critical win in Vicksburg campaign|
|June 9||Brandy Station||Va||Draw||1,500||Largest cavalry battle of war|
|July 1-3||Gettysburg||Pa||USA||51,000||Meade stops second Lee invasion|
|May 18-July 4||Vicksburg||Miss||USA||37,500||Union takes control of Mississippi River|
|May 21-July 9||Port Hudson||La||USA||5,700||CSA fort falls after Vicksburg|
|July 18||Ft Wagner||SC||CSA||1,700||Threat to Sumter includes black assault|
|Sept 18-20||Chickamauga||Ga||CSA||35,000||Thomas holds after bloodbath CSA win|
|Nov 25||Miss Ridge||TN||USA||12,500||Hooker defeats CSA “above the clouds”|
|Nov 27||Ringold Gap||Ga||CSA||700||Cleburne protects CSA TN retreat|
On February 29, 1864 Lincoln promotes Ulysses Grant to the level of Lieutenant-General, outranking all other officers in the U.S. Only Winfield Scott has preceded Grant to that honor and his was a Brevet promotion. Grant arrives in Washington on March 8 where he is initially unrecognized at the Willard Hotel before meeting the president for the first time that evening. While displaying his usual humility, Grant assures Lincoln that he will take the war to the enemy with words the President loves to hear:
The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him
as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.
Grant begins his tenure with the 100,000 man Army of the Potomac under Meade encamped 20 miles west of Fredericksburg just north of the Rapidan River. He also has four other Union commands at scattered locations: Burnside’s 20,000 man Ohio Army near Manassas; Franz Sigel’s 8,000 men in the Shenandoah Valley; Ben Butler’s Army of the James numbering 33,000 near Richmond; and the 20,000 strong western Army of the Gulf under Nathaniel Banks along the Red River.
Bank’s task in his “Red River Campaign” is focused on taking the Louisiana capital at Shreveport in the northwest corner of the state. In addition to confiscating large quantities of cotton in the area, Lincoln also hopes to move west from there to invade Texas. Banks’ infantry is accompanied by Admiral David Porter’s fleet of gunboats in what will be the largest joint army-navy operation of the war.
The expedition begins heading up the winding Red River on March 11 and, after some 150 miles, Banks reaches the town of Mansfield, 35 miles south of his target on April 8. He is characteristically overconfident that the Confederates will flee. He has also lost touch with Porter’s boats, and his own forces are scattered when he runs into a trap laid by General Richard Taylor. He is the son of the war hero and ex-President, Zachary Taylor, and has been trained to fight by Stonewall Jackson.
Though outnumbered 2:1, Taylor holds a strong defensive position at Sabine Crossroads. A two hour battle ensues before Banks forces break and run for safety, with Taylor in hot pursuit. A stalemated fight at Pleasant Hill follows on April 9 before the extended chase down the river resumes. Porter’s fleet has fared no better than Banks. After learning of the infantry defeat, Porter’s retrograde movement is hindered by low water levels which almost trap his heavy ironclads at Alexandria.
Taylor’s troops harass Banks again on May 16 and 18, before he is able to cross the Atchafalaya River to safety at Ft. DeRussy, near the juncture with the Mississippi. The fort was formerly in confederate hands until Porter took it on May 5. This ends the Red River Campaign, along with Bank’s career both as a military man and a possible presidential candidate.
As Banks fails in Louisiana, another “political general,” Benjamin Butler misses his chance for lasting glory on the Virginia peninsula. On May 5 his 33,000 troops journey up the James River and land at the fishing village of Bermuda Hundred, roughly halfway between Petersburg and Richmond. His assignment is not to attack the confederate capital but to disrupt the critical railroad connecting the two cities.
Incredibly he arrives at a moment when Richmond is only defended by a 5,000 man militia composed of city government clerks. On May 7 Butler captures the vital Port Walthall Junction depot and cuts the railroad. The question then becomes where to turn next?
Instead of testing Richmond, he first swings south toward Petersburg, tearing up more tracks on May 9 at Swift Creek before resistance turns him back to his Bermuda Hundred camp to re-group. On May 13 he moves out, now traveling north along the turnpike toward Drewrys Bluff, seven miles below Richmond. But Butler’s pace is slow and cautious, absent gunboat support. This gives General Beauregard the time to patch together a force of 18,000 under Beauregard to meet and defeat him on May 16 at Proctor’s Creek. This ends the threat to Richmond until the end of the war.
Then there is General Franz Sigel, another political appointee named by Lincoln to satisfy the German population, who joins a list of Union generals coming to grief in the Shenandoah Valley. As Sigel moves south in the valley, intent on capturing the railroad junction at Staunton, he runs into General John Breckinridge at the town of New Market. The battle that follows is recalled for a stand by 247 Virginia Military Institute cadets aged 15-17 to repair a gap in the rebel center. Sigel flees back north to Strasburg, after which an irate Grant sacks him in favor of General David Hunter, who returns to take Staunton on June 5.
But all of these ancillary fights will pale in comparison to the epic chess match between Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee now underway. From the start, the odds favor the Union. Grant is able to muster 120,000 troops to about half that number for Lee. Given his iron control over all Federal troops he is also able to order the coordinated attacks long sought. And unlike the trio of Banks, Butler and Sigel, Grant has General William Sherman, just the man to carry them out. So as Grant heads into Virginia from the north, Sherman assails Georgia from the west.
Orders for the Army of the Potomac, with Meade and Grant working in tandem, are to engage Lee and follow him wherever he goes. The Union’s first move is across the Rapidan River on May 4 into the same thickly forested Wilderness area near Chancellorsville where Lee outsmarted Hooker. This time it’s the rebels who strike first with the corps of Ewell hitting Sedgwick in the flank along the Germanna Ford Road and A. P. Hill pressuring Hancock further south on the Orange Plank Road. But by dusk the attack peters out in the face of the Union’s 2:1 numerical advantage along with hellish brush fires and muzzle smoke that reduce visibility for both sides. The following day, May 5, Hancock drives Hill all the way to Lee’s headquarters, where the emotional General mounts his horse intending to lead a charge of his own. As his men shout “Lee to the rear,” Longstreet’s corps arrives to prevent disaster.
Lee’s troops are beginning to gain momentum when tragedy strikes. This time it is Longstreet, not Jackson, who is wounded by friendly fire, a minie ball which passes through his right shoulder and into his neck. He falls to the ground and nearly chokes to death on his own blood before a surgeon is able to stem the hemorrhage. It will be five months before he returns.
The rest of May 6 belongs to Lee with Union losses so far mounting to 17,000 against only 8,000 confederates. The next day both armies rest in place before Grant breaks camp, with his battered troops assuming he will head back north in defeat. Instead he hears huzzahs as he turns them south. As at Shiloh in 1862 and Vicksburg in 1863, Grant’s philosophy is unchanged:
In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten.
Then he who continues the attack wins.
His intent now is to keep placing his army between Lee and Richmond knowing that the confederates will be forced to follow him. The next destination is Spotsylvania Court House some ten miles to the southeast. Lee anticipates the move and races to reach the crossroads there ahead of the Federals. The new 1st Corps commander, General Richard Anderson, arrives at 8:00 AM on May 8 and the rebels form a tight defensive salient known as the “Mule Shoe” for its shape and “Bloody Angle” for its casualty count. On May 9, Major General John Sedgwick, peering through field glasses at rebels on a far hill, says to his aide, “they couldn’t hit an elephant from that distance,” just as a sharpshooter ball strikes him under his left eye.
Grant proceeds to send wave after wave against the gray defenders for ten days without success. Still he sends a letter to Lincoln signaling his determination:
I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.
Before breaking his promise on May 18, Spotsylvania has becomes the second deadliest battle of the war, with Union losses at 18,400 and rebel losses at 12,700. Besides Sedgwick, the Federal lose two other senior officers, Tom Stevenson and James Rice, while the grays lose Junius Daniel and Abner Perrin.
While Lee is steadily being worn down through attrition, Grant is able to replace the losses.
To continue one step ahead of Lee, General Phil Sheridan proposes a daring expedition toward Richmond, to threaten the city, tear up more railroad lines and possibly destroy Jeb Stuart’s corps for good. Meade is hesitant but Grant agrees with Sheridan: a well-armed cavalry can become a weapon of attack, not simply a screening or scouting device.
Sheridan sets out with a 10,000 man force and travels 45 miles south by May 11 to reach the crossroads of Telegraph and Old Mountain Roads, site of the abandoned Yellow Tavern Inn. Stuart, with half as many men is there to meet him. During the clash that follows, Stuart is shot, a .44 caliber ball passing through his stomach and out his back. He is put on an ambulance and seven hours later arrives at a doctor’s home in Richmond, before dying the next day. Although his men hold out against Sheridan at Yellow Tavern, the loss of Stuart, 6 days after Longstreet is wounded, is another devastating blow to Lee’s officer corps.
On May 21, Grant abandons the Spotsylvania trenches, sidling well east past the right flank of the Mule Shoe, and again marching south. Lee responds with a more direct route to the Anna River where he hopes to go on the offensive. But Grant counters with another shift which takes him onto the old battlefields where Lee baffled McClellan in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign.
This time the action centers on a seven mile front extending between the Chickahominy and Totopotomoy Rivers. The first Union objective is to secure the five crossroads where travelers, not requiring hot food, could find shelter at the Cold Harbor Inn. Sheridan captures this area on May 31 albeit fearful of the gray infantry around him. Grant intends to attack at dawn on June 1, but botched communications delay the action and little progress is made that day or the next amidst heavy rains. But while Grant pauses, Lee adds 15,000 reinforcements from Richmond and sets up trenches and breastworks to face the onslaught.
On June 3 a thoroughly frustrated Grant makes the same rash mistake as Lee at Gettysburg. His commanders signal concerns about a frontal attack, and legend has it that many soldiers pin their names to the back of their uniforms to inform burial details. But at dawn, 60,000 men, half his army, hurl themselves at the dug in Confederates. In less than 10 minutes the casualty count reaches 7,000, far outstripping the carnage rate of Pickett’s charge. Around noon Grant calls off the battle, writing his misgivings years later in his memoirs:
I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made…No
advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.
When word of the losses reaches Washington it provides ammunition for the Peace Democrats and the man they will nominate to run against Lincoln in 1864, George McClellan.
For nine more days the two armies remain in place, a precursor to the trench warfare that marks the rest of the Civil War and what’s to come in World War I.
When Grant finally departs on June 12, Cold Harbor becomes the last major victory of the war for the Army of Northern Virginia.
Lee knows that he must find a way to divert Grant before attrition wears his army out. On June 13, Lee dispatches General Jubal Early along with 9,000 men to link up with another 6,000 under Breckinridge and head north into the Shenandoah Valley. Once there, they are to battle David Hunter’s blue troops and, if possible, threaten Washington. The hope being that Lincoln will be forced to slow Grant down by diverting some of his units to defend the capital.
Back at Cold Harbor, Lee’s showing convinces Grant to reject a direct move on Richmond in favor of coming at it through Petersburg some 25 miles to the south. In turn, he sends his army in a wide arc to the east toward the James River where an engineering marvel awaits. It is a 700 yard bridge across the river consisting of 101 pontoons held in place by several schooners and constructed in seven hours flat on June 14.
Once over, the first 18,000 troops under “Baldy” Smith move toward Petersburg from the south and east. They quickly reach the “Dimmock Line,” built in 1862 to defend against McClellan’s invading army but never utilized. It is a virtual fortress extending for ten miles around the city with dense walls fronted by dry moats. When General Smith arrives on June 15, there are only 2,000 confederates present, and the city could be his with one aggressive push. But Smith is unaware of the vulnerability and delays for three days until the rest of the blue army is up. By that time General Beauregard has organized an impregnable 15,000 man defense which convinces Grant to favor a siege which will last for ten months.
His first squeeze comes from the east on July 30 after a month-long tunneling operation to plant 320 kegs of gunpowder under the rebel’s defense line. The shaft extends for 511 feet and is 20 feet underground. Just before 5AM the explosion goes off, leaving a 30 foot deep Crater (hence the battle name) extending for 60×40 yards and instantly killing about 275 gray soldiers. But instead of following up by rushing around the edges of the crater, the poorly organized Union troops try to rush through the depression and the rebels slaughter them in what they call a “down home turkey shoot.”
Grant next turns his attention to shutting down the rebel supply lines south of the city. On August 18-21, Gouvernor Warren, a hero at Little Round Top, defeats A.P. Hill at Globe Tavern, severing the Weldon Railroad’s eastern tracks.
As Grant tightens his stranglehold on Petersburg, the other half of the Union anaconda, the Army of Mississippi, is on the march under William Sherman who says “I intend to make Georgia howl.” Starting on May 4 he brings his 110,000 troop across the Tennessee border with Joe Johnston’s 45,000 grays in his front.
Johnston is an inveterate complainer but also a skilled military professional. He proceeds to fight several solid battles with his outmanned army, while getting only criticism from his long-time nemesis, Jefferson Davis. He is able to stall Sherman, first at Resaca on May 13-15, then at New Hope Church on May 25-28, at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27 and Marietta on July 3. Among the casualties at Marietta is General Leonidas Polk, Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana and constant critic of Bragg, who is torn nearly in half by the direct hit of a Union artillery shell.
Just as Sherman prepares to strike Atlanta, Jubal Early’s detached command is joined by John Breckinridge and together they meet General Hunter at Lynchburg, Virginia, two-thirds of the way down the Shenandoah Valley. As the fight dies down, Hunter, thinking he is outmanned, retreats to the west leaving the rebels with a clear path up the Valley. Ewell proceeds to move through Winchester and swings east to capture Harpers Ferry and Frederick, Maryland.
When Lincoln learns of Early’s advance, he order Grant on July 6 to send 5,000 veterans under General Horatio Wright from Petersburg to the capital. But first, General Lew Wallace (later author of Ben Hur) on his own initiative rushes a makeshift band of 2,000 out to block the roads to Baltimore and Washington. On July 9 “Old Jube” easily wins the Battle of Monocacy over Wallace and some early arrivals from Wright. But the victory delays his march on DC by a day and he rests his worn command at Silver Springs, the mansion of Union General Francis Blair, located six miles west of the Capitol dome. The city itself is in a panic, and a gunboat sits on the Potomac preparing to evacuate Lincoln if the city falls. But it does not.
When Early rises on the morning of July 11, he sees Union battle flags and Wright’s troops arrayed across his front. By dusk that day his assaults have been turned back, including one where, according to tradition, a sharpshooter kills a soldier standing on a rampart alongside Lincoln himself, there to observe the action first-hand. On July 12, after the stand-off continues, Early decides that the time has come to retreat, having accomplished all the goals originally set out by Lee.
The loss at Marietta on July 3 finds Johnstone falling back to the banks of the Chattahoochee River to defend Atlanta. But before he can try, Jefferson Davis sacks him on July 17 and turns the army over to John Bell Hood, convinced that the Texas warrior will go on the offense.
The one armed, one legged Hood begins immediately, sending General Hardee north to attack George Thomas at Peachtree Creek on July 20, but he is turned back. The next try for a break-out, the Battle of Atlanta, is fought two days later east of the central city. The confederates send eight different brigades against a strong L-shaped line around Bald Hill manned by troops under the able command of James Birdseye McPherson. As the popular General scouts in the woods he accidently runs into rebel skirmishers who shoot him in the back as he tries to flee. McPherson thus joins Reynolds, Joseph Mansfield, and John Sedgwick as the highest Union generals killed in the war. Despite his death, McPherson’s troops hold, with Hood suffering another 5,500 man loss before retreating back to a city in chaos.
Hood next tries west of the city at Ezra Church, but it too fails. With Sherman nearing total encirclement of the city, Hood fights the final battle of Atlanta on August 30 at Jonesboro, 15 miles to the south. When it too fails, his rapidly dwindling muster stands at 35,000 against Sherman’s 100,000, and he reluctantly decides to abandon the city.
The fall of Atlanta on September 1 is a relief to Lincoln and the Republicans in Washington after weeks of citizen distress over the casualty count being racked up by Grant. The anxiety is so great that on August 23, the President pens an unsent letter predicting that he is about to lose the 1864 election to the Copperhead Peace Democrats led by George McClellan. But the good news from Atlanta plus strong voting support from the soldiers give Lincoln a comfortable 55%-45% margin in November. This means the war will end on the battlefield not the ballot box, and that the reelected president will push for the 13th Amendment freeing all slaves.
At long last, Hood slips out of Atlanta to the south and meets with Jefferson Davis at Palmetto, Georgia on September 25 to discuss strategy. They agree on a scheme whereby his army would move north through Tennessee and Kentucky then down to Virginia to unite with Lee and crush Grant. The whole thing is both desperate and far-fetched as is soon apparent.
Hood’s only chance lies in reaching Tennessee before the Federals can transport enough troops to block his “invasion.” But speed is lacking and by the time the confederates reach Columbia, 45 miles below Nashville, General John Schofield has arrived some 28,000 strong. Hood flanks Schofield and sets a trap ahead of him at Spring Hill. But sloppy coordination on November 29 allows Schofield to march on by totally unscathed.
Hood is apoplectic over the blunder and even accuses his army of no longer having the courage for a stand-up fight. To change that he marches into the town of Franklin on November 30 and at 3PM launches a series of headlong charges against Schofield’s entrenchments. Disaster follows with Confederate casualties at 6,000 men and six generals killed in action: John Carter, John Adams, Hiram Granbury, States Rights Gist, Otho Strahl and, worst of all, Patrick Cleburne, shot in the side after a cannon ball downs his second mount of the day. All six generals are said to have been laid out on a nearby porch at the Carnton Plantation before being shipped home for burial.
An unrepentant Hood moves to Nashville where he suffers even more casualties in a loss to George Thomas’s troops on December 15-16.
By then, Sherman has passed through Atlanta and begun his famous “March to the Sea.” He forms two army wings, under Generals Slocum and Howard, and drives southeast toward the port of Savannah. He reaches the outskirts on December 10, 1864, captures Ft. McAllister, and seizes the city on December 20 — as “a Christmas gift” to Lincoln.
Between Sherman at Savannah and Grant at Petersburg, the South is in dire straits as 1864 closes.
Important Battles: 1864
|Feb 20||Olustee||Fla||CSA||2800||Union turned back in Florida|
|April 8||Mansfield||La||CSA||1,200||Red River Campaign a failure|
|May 5-7||Bermuda Hundred||VA||USA||500||Petersburg-Richmond rr cut off|
|May 5-7||Wilderness||Va||Draw||29,800||Overland campaign begins|
|May 7-13||Rocky Face Ridge||Ga||USA||1,400||Sherman advance toward Atlanta|
|May 11||Yellow Tavern||Va||USA||1,200||Sheridan stopped but Jeb Stuart killed|
|May 12-16||Drewrys Bluff||Va||CSA||6,600||Slow Butler loses chance at Richmond|
|May 13-15||Resaca||Ga||Draw||6,000||Johnston retreats after slowing Sherman|
|May 8-21||Spotsylvania||Va||Draw||31,100||Mule Shoe defended but Grant moves on|
|May 23-26||North Anna||Va||Draw||5,500||Grant again delayed briefly|
|May 25-26||New Hope Church||Ga||CSA||2,100||Johnston wins one then falls back|
|June 10||Brice’s Crossroads||Miss||CSA||2,700||300 miles west of Atlanta a CSA victory|
|May 31-June 12||Cold Harbor||Va||CSA||15,500||Grant regrets charge but dodges south|
|June 15||Dimmock Line||Va||CSA||—||Petersburg saved by Union pause|
|June 17-18||Lynchburg||Va||CSA||900||Hunter’s retreat opens Early DC path|
|June 27||Kennesaw Mtn.||Ga||CSA||4,000||Johnston stop assault but again retreats|
|June 6 – July 3||Marietta||Ga||USA||??||Sherman presses on; Polk killed|
|July 9||Monocacy||MD||USA||2100||Early almost reaches Washington|
|July 14-15||Tupelo||Miss||USA||1,900||Union redeems loss at Brice’s Crossroads|
|July 20||Peachtree Creek||Ga||USA||4,400||Thomas defeats Hardee breakout|
|July 22||Atlanta||Ga||USA||9,200||CSA supply lines cut but McPherson killed|
|July 30||The Crater||Va||CSA||5,300||Union men shot down in the crater|
|Aug 18-21||Globe Tavern||Va||USA||5,900||Weldon RR line to Petersburg cut|
|Sept 2||Fall of Atlanta||Ga||USA||—||New CSA commander Hood exits the city|
|Sept 19||Opequon||Va||USA||8,630||Largest Valley fight ends rebel control|
|Sept 29-30||Chaffin’s Farm||Va||USA||5,400||Butler holds Ft Harrison near Richmond|
|Oct 19||Cedar Creek||Va||USA||8,600||Another Valley loss by Early to Sheridan|
|Oct 23||Westport||MO||USA||3000||Decisive end to CSA in Missouri|
|Nov 30||Franklin||TN||USA||8,600||Disastrous Hood charges; Cleburne KIA|
|Dec 13||Ft. McAllister||Ga||USA||200||Sherman takes Savannah|
|Dec 15-16||Nashville||TN||USA||9,000||More futility from Hood before sacked|
On January 1, 1865, the U.S. House passes the 13th Amendment freeing all slaves, and it will be ratified eight months after the war ends.
On the battlefield, the Confederacy has just under 14 weeks left to survive.
Grant’s next move at Petersburg is against Lee’s water-route supply line at Ft. Fisher, on the southern tip of the Cape Fear River. The task of reducing the fort goes to General Butler’s infantry and Captain David Dixon Porter’s navy. The structure is imposing, one mile in length and protected by sand berms 20 feet high. On the night of December 23 Butler sends a ghost ship, the USS Louisiana, loaded with 200 tons of powder, to try to blow up the fort, but the explosion fails to make a dent. A 2200 man infantry attack comes next but it is repulsed and Butler signals that he cannot succeed. Grant responds by sacking him and sending General Alfred Terry to resume the assault. After more bombardments from Porter, a combination of marines and army troops finally breech the defenses on January 15.
The following day, January 16, the CSA Senate goes around Davis and puts Lee in charge of all
Its remaining soldiers – the 17,000 in South Carolina under Beauregard and his own 35-45,000 around Petersburg. In February Lee comes out in favor of enlisting black soldiers to add much needed manpower. But most of the South fears this and only a few companies are ever formed.
On March 4, Lincoln delivers his Second Inaugural Address which ends with its moving plea to cease all hostilities and come together again as one united nation. This signals his hope that the Reconstruction period will be peaceful and avoid the revengeful terms being proposed by radical Republicans, especially Benjamin Wade and Henry Winter Davis.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives
us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s
wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his
orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves
and with all nations
While the politicians argue over post-war policy, Grant’s siege tightens for two more months, and a desperate Lee recognizes that he must try to escape the city. His hope is to breakout through a salient on his left, then move north for a frontal attack on Grant’s HQ at City Point 10 miles northeast on the James River. The first barriers in his way, however, are several small Union forts, with Ft. Stedman at the apex.
At 4:15am on March 25. John B. Gordon leads his 10,000 men in a successful night attack on Stedman. But the resistance stiffens, and, with the sun up, improved battery fire from two flanking forts (Haskell and McGilvery) halt Gordon’s progress by 7:00am. Then a heroic charge by General George Hartranft, sends the confederates all the way back to Petersburg. With that, the Army of Northern Virginia’s last significant offensive is over.
Lee’s only remaining option now lies in escaping west toward Five Forks, some 12 miles from Petersburg. On March 29 he abandons the city, sending George Pickett’s cavalry to screen the movement of his perhaps 25,000 remaining infantrymen.
Grant reacts quickly, sending Phil Sheridan and Governor Warren to chase them down. On March 29 the rebels beat off an attack at Dinwiddie Court House. On April 1, General A. P. Hill is killed along the Boyden Plank Road supply line. That same day the gray army reaches Five Forks, with orders from Lee to “defend it at all hazards.” But this quickly proves impossible and by nightfall on April 2 the Yankees control the field.
Lee knows that Richmond is about to fall, and he sends a warning telegram to Jefferson Davis who receives it in church on Palm Sunday. The next day, April 3, it is over, and both Lincoln and Grant visit the city. The President strolls the streets with little protection and freed blacks flock to touch and praise him. To one such supplicant he says:
Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.
The proud Lee still refuses to give up, hoping that a further move west will allow him to link up with Joe Johnston’s remaining troops being chased by Sherman into North Carolina. But the time for that has passed. On April 5 Lee’s contingent is forced to flee Amelia Courthouse for Saylor’s Creek where some 6,000 troops and most of his supply train fall into Union hands on April 6. A distraught Lee asks out loud if “the army has been dissolved” before trudging on to Appomattox Court House.
On April 7 Grant closes on him and sends a note under a white flag proposing a surrender to avoid the “needless effusion of more blood.” Lee consults with his remaining officers, among them General Gordon, his nephew and cavalry chief, Fitzhugh Lee, and his “old warhorse,” James Longstreet who, despite his long-time personal friendship with Grant, tells Lee:
General, if he does not give us good terms, come back and let us fight it out.
On the afternoon of April 9, the two men meet at the home of Virginian Wilber McLean, who
fled to Appomattox after his prior home was bombarded on the 1st Bull Run battlefield. The 43 year old Grant arrives first, dressed in his characteristically disheveled uniform; the 59 year old Lee then appears in his finest grays, ram-rod erect with an elegant saber at his side. Both men feel awkward and briefly reminiscence about a prior meeting during the Mexican War. Then Lee asks Grant to write out the proposed terms of surrender in his own hand.
As a goodwill gesture, Grant ensures Lee that his officers would not surrender their swords and that many of the men could keep their horses, baggage and side arms. Lee reads the document, signs it, and shakes hands. All present tip their hats as he mounts up to bring the sad news to his soldiers. Three days later the final ceremonies take place. After the confederates stack their arms for the last time, the twice wounded Bowdoin professor, Joshua Chamberlain, orders a final “carry arms” salute to honor a worthy foe and begin the long road back to peace.
But achieving peace will not be easy. Five days after the surrender, on Good Friday, April 14, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated by the confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, at Ford’s Theater in the capital. With that single act, the gracious terms offered by Grant at Appomattox will give way to the more draconian measures of the radical Republicans.
Important Battles: 1865
|Jan 15||Ft. Fisher||Va||USA||320||Loss ends Petersburg sea support|
|Feb 5-7||Hatcher’s Run||Va||USA||2700||Boyden Plank Road supply line cut|
|Feb 17||Columbia||SC||USA||—||No shots fired but fires break out|
|Feb 18||Ft. Sumter||SC||USA||—||Charleston is back in US control|
|Mar 19-21||Bentonville||NC||USA||4100||Johnston’s last try to beat Sherman|
|Mar 25||Ft. Stedman||Va||USA||1500||Try at Petersburg breakout fails|
|April 1||Five Forks||Va||USA||3800||Dying CSA defense fails|
|April 2||Richmond||Va||USA||—||Richmond and Petersburg fall|
|April 6||Sayler’s Creek||Va||USA||8,800||7,700 CSA captured|
|April 9||Appomattox||Va||USA||350||Final skirmish before Lee surrender|
|April 26||Durham||NC||USA||—||Johnston surrenders his troops|
|June 19||Galvaston||TX||USA||—||USA control of Texas frees all slaves|