Civil war? What does that mean? Is there any foreign war? Isn’t every war fought between men, between brothers?
2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The first shots being fired on April 12, 1861 when Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina. It isn’t America’s longest or bloodiest war but the fact it was often times very literally brother against brother made it one of our most grim and divisive. We’ll look at the run up to the war, the forces involved in making it happen, comb over some of the more prominent battles, and wrap up with the Reconstruction Era.
The seeds that grew into the Civil War were planted long before Lincoln took office, but let’s go back to his predecessor, Democratic President James Buchanan. He was President during one of the great political shifts in this country. The Democratic Party was mostly pro-slavery. Their power base was in the South. The new Republican Party was pushing back HARD against slave owners and a split was beginning to form in the Democratic Party. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, and the Dredd Scott decision in 1857, the Republican Party began gaining major support from many Northern Democratic voters. Even though Buchanan eventually beat their first ever nominee for the Presidency, they would get the last laugh, as the Democratic Party was now of two minds. Buchanan was not the popular pick for President anyways. Many Democrats wanted to see Stephen A. Douglas nominated and,subsequently, Buchanan spent most of his Presidency fighting Douglas for control of the Party.
Buchanan was viewed as an ineffective pragmatist. Some of it seems unfair considering what he was dealing with. Besides slavery, tariffs were a huge issue. Any decision would benefit one side(North or South) at the detriment of the other. America was still growing and he had to balance expanding the country for the benefit of all and not walking over the settlers and explorers taking us to the West. A big part of that was the issue of slavery in the territories. The Kansas-Nebraska Act basically left it up to the decision of the people in the territories. A simple yes or no vote. But this pissed off a lot of abolitionists who saw it as a give away to pro-slavery interests. The Republican Party was founded as a response to this act. The Dredd Scott decision stated that the federal government had no authority to outlaw slavery in the territories. Buchanan spent a lot of political capital trying to get Kansas to become a state, but he eventually lost the battle to his rival Douglas. The battle over Kansas led to a definable split in the Democratic Party. Buchanan lost much of his Southern base and by the 1860 election, he had no shot of being re-elected. During the Democratic convention, the entire Southern delegation walked out on him and nominated his Vice President, John C. Breckinridge instead. Stephen Douglas eventually won the nomination and a chance to be soundly defeated by the Republican nominee.
Before leaving office, the events that would lead to war occurred at Fort Sumter. Buchanan promised South Carolina he would not reinforce garrisons in the area if they didn’t cause any trouble. South Carolina seemed to agree. The problem is that Buchanan didn’t alert the commander in charge of forces in South Carolina, Major Robert Anderson. A HUGE oversight. Who knows how things would have went if that message had been sent. On December 26, 1860 Anderson moved his command to Fort Sumter. South Carolina was immediately outraged and called for Anderson’s removal.Meanwhile, the North was pressing Buchanan to reinforce Anderson. South Carolina had already declared their secession from the Union days earlier and they felt Anderson would surely come under attack. 5 days later, and AGAIN without talking to Anderson at all, Buchanan ordered reinforcements head to Fort Sumter. The reinforcements left on January 5 and traveled by boat down the coast to Charleston Harbor. On January 9, South Carolina artillery batteries opened fire on the transport. There was no retaliation and the troops turned around and headed back to New York. Again Buchanan was criticized by both sides and he basically spent the last few months of his Presidency doing nothing to help avert or prepare for inevitable war. Never one to take big risks during his political career, Buchanan seemed content to leave the war to his successor.
On march 4, 1861 Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as President of these United States. Lincoln is on a short list of “greatest Presidents of all time”. Some argue he is THE greatest. This is where he would make his bones. Lincoln was a respected orator, having won a series of some of the greatest political debates in America history, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. He gave the fledgling Republican Party a gravitas and authority it did not have before. But Lincoln was disliked in the South. His “House Divided” speech and unwillingness to back expanding slavery in the territories had convinced the South he would try to end slavery the moment he became President. By the time he was elected, several states including South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia had succeeded from the Union. They came together and declared themselves the Confederate States of America. Attempts were made to compromise and bring the Southern states back but Lincoln refused to sign anything that looked like a giveaway to the South. Lincoln did not want to expand slavery but he didn’t want to outlaw it where it already existed either.
Lincoln’s first month in office was spent in constant meetings with representatives of the Confederacy. The meetings went nowhere. The Confederacy wanted to sign a peace treaty and be declared independent. Lincoln refused to sign anything that legitimized the Confederate nation. At no point during the war did Lincoln think the Union was not whole. As much as the Confederacy denied it, they were still a part of the Union. Lincoln didn’t want to invade the South and tried repeatedly to get them to come back. It wasn’t happening. In April of 1861, Commander Anderson, at Fort Sumter, sent a request for provisions to Washington. Lincoln, of course, authorized it but the Confederacy took this as an act of war. On April 12, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter and captured it. There was no turning back now.
Let’s take a moment now to look at the Confederacy. By Lincoln’s inauguration, 7 states had seceded from the Union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. After the events at Fort Sumter, 4 more states decided to join them: Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Kentucky was neutral but Confederate troops occupied the state anyways. They attempted to set up their own state government but Kentucky kindly asked for support from Union troops to drive them out. The confederacy never controlled Kentucky during he war. When Virginia seceded, a great many residents in their western counties wanted nothing to do with it. In response, the Union created the state of West Virginia. West Virginia was the first and only state created from people seceding FROM a Confederate state. Missouri, like Kentucky, was occupied by Confederate troops but they too were driven out. Missouri too never seceded even though the Confederacy always claimed it and Kentucky as Confederate controlled states. Missouri, West Virginia, and Kentucky all eventually brought slavery to an end in their own state governments before the Constitutional and federal laws. Other “slave states” choosing not to secede were Delaware, Maryland, and Washington D.C. Imagine D.C. seceding. That would have been rough.
The Confederate Constitution very much resembled the American Constitution but with a few key exceptions. Of course slavery was protected but they kept the ban on foreign slave trading. States in the Confederacy gained rights they never had under the U.S. Constitution but also lost some. One law dictated that no revenue from one state could be used by the central government to help another. One irony is that the Confederate Constitution seemed to prohibit secession. The first and only “President” of the Confederate States was Jefferson Davis. Davis was basically appointed President by the Confederate hierarchy. There was no time to organize an election at that point, though one was planned for a later date, and the Confederacy needed a chief executive. The Confederate Constitution dictated that each President serves one 6 year term with no re-election. I actually kinda liked this idea. The Confederate Congress also very much resembled the Union’s. It was comprised of two houses and the Senate was comprised of two members from each state. Though the Senatorial picks were decided by the state governments. The members of the House were elected by the citizens.
There were only ever two elections held. The Confederacy never had time to get an effective judicial branch installed. It’s structure, duties, and requirements were a constant point of contention among many Confederate states. Don’t need them “activist judges”! The constant ebb and flow of the war early on also saw many jurisdictions changing hands over and over again. The capital of the Confederacy was located in Montgomery, Alabama. Beautiful country out through there. I can see why they picked it. But this lasted a day. The capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia. Meh. Their economy was kinda messed up as well. The Confederacy tried to finance war efforts through taxes on exports, but they really didn’t want to raise taxes too high and piss off the bulk of their citizenry. So they just kept printing money. Of course this led to massive inflation and the South struggled economically all through the war. The fact that European governments were in no rush to lend a hand didn’t help matters. I don’ t think France was ever really interested in destroying a country and a friend they helped create anyways.
The Confederacy had been banking on selling cotton to a needy Britain, but Britain didn’t really need it. Britain did allow both Confederate and Union forces to operate in their territory however. But Britain and France were never going to help the Confederacy. It would mean certain war with America and a loss of one of their biggest importers and economic allies. Both governments flirted with the idea of a separate Confederacy but realized it was a foolish endeavor, always doomed to failure. So they had some semblance of a government, an apparently dedicated army, and a shitty economy. They were basically North Korea. Now, back to the war.
The Declaration of War following the events at Fort Sumter could be seen as the first legal act of the new Confederate government. It was the moment Lincoln had sought to avoid. He was never going to be the first person to order shots fired at his own countrymen. But he was not going to give up any forts still in Union control either. The Confederacy’s attack on Fort Sumter forced his hand and he ordered 75,000 troops to South Carolina to recapture the fort. Once Virginia seceded following the events at Fort Sumter, the Confederacy almost immediately made Richmond their capital. Lincoln ordered more troops to Washington to fortify the city. While traveling south to Washington, Union troops were attacked at a railway by secessionists elements in Baltimore, Maryland. The mayor of Baltimore and other suspected Maryland politicians were arrested and imprisoned. Lincoln had already suspended habeas corpus and when the secessionist group in Maryland petitioned a writ of habeas corpus to Lincoln to free the Maryland politicians, he simply ignored it. Lincoln never wanted to do what he had to do to crush the Southern rebellion. That is the price of leadership though. He was not going to be the man who presided over the disintegration of America.
Lincoln took on many “war time powers’ we would consider a step over the line for a President. Besides the suspension of habeas corpus, he took and appropriated funding well before Congressional approval. His first big move of the war was to form a blockade of all Southern ports. The Union government still considered the South a part of America and it was unprecedented for any President to order a blockade of American ports. Some British blockade runners still made it through but it was devastating to an already rough Confederate economy. They had put an embargo on cotton before the blockade, hoping to entice Britain and France to pitch in, and now they could barely get out 10% of the cotton they had for trade. A royal fuck up. The blockade was part of the “Anaconda Plan” drawn up by General Winfield Scott. It called for a full blockade followed by a direct assault on key fortifications around the Mississippi River,literally splitting the Confederacy in two and taking away a major supply line. Lincoln accepted the blockade but felt his army wasn’t yet ready for a full on conflict. He hoped to break the Confederate economy with the blockade and force their surrender. In April of 1861, the U.S. Navy set up blockades around all major Southern ports.
This set up one of the most famous confrontations of the war. On March 8, the Union navy and Confederate navy met in battle just outside of Chesapeake Bay. During the battle, the Confederacy brought out their newest battle ship, the ironclad CSS Virginia(formerly the USS Merrimack). Ironclads had been in development in various countries for years. With the rise in effectiveness of incendiary artillery, wooden ships were becoming a less attractive option in war. This would be the first time anyone tested their effectiveness in actual conflict. The Virginia tore through the Union’s wooden fleet, their ammo doing minor damage to the ironclad’s metal hull. The Confederacy won that day and seemed to have broken the Union’s blockade. 2 ships were destroyed and the Virginia was baring down on a third when the battle was left due to darkness. The next day would would see the Confederacy’s hold challenged by the Union’s brand new iron clad warship, the USS Monitor.
The Battle of the Ironclads is one of the most famous battles in U.S. history and an important moment in the future of naval combat. When combat resumed the next day the Virginia went straight for the ship it had left disabled the day before, the USS Minnesota. She was intercepted on the way by the Monitor and a great test of human will and ingenuity began. For three hours the Virginia and Monitor exchanged fire. Both ships were not sufficiently armed to battle an armored opponent. Not expecting a battle with another ironclad, the Virginia’s captain had not loaded armor piercing shells. The Monitor was still being tested and was only armed with standard artillery. The fight seemed to turn at one point when a shell from the Virginia somehow found it’s way to the Monitor’s pilot house. The explosion drove shrapnel from the viewing slits into the eyes of the Monitor’s captain, momentarily blinding him. With no effective way to see to navigate, the Monitor temporarily backed off. The Virginia thought they were retreating and turned to address the Minnesota again. However, low tide had set in and the Minnesota had run ashore. She was effectively out of reach. The Virginia withdrew deciding to take the time to repair damage to the vessel. When the Monitor finally righted itself, they saw the Virginia retreating. In the end, both sides claimed victory for the battle. The Monitor did not give chase since it’s only orders where to protect the Minnesota. The two ships would not face each other again and the Union held the blockade.
The Union blockade was soon reinforced by new ironclad vessels and was never really challenged again for the rest of the war. The Confederacy just did not have the means of production to assemble an effective navy to oppose it. So now the Confederacy had a sense of urgency. Their window for “winning” this war was closing. The longer it draws out, the less likely they are to survive. This attitude and emphasis would be seen in the First Battle of Bull Run, the war’s first significant land battle. In July 1861, Union troops began a march toward Virginia, hoping to seize the Confederate capital and bring a quick end to the war. Lincoln really did want to send his troops out so soon. Both sides were having no problem getting recruits, draft or no draft, but the great numbers made it difficult to train and equip them all effectively. Leading this charge for the Union was Major General Irvin McDowell. McDowell’s troops were met at Bull Run by Confederate forces under the command of Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard. Both men were experienced officers but they led inexperienced troops.
The battle began when Union forces attempted a surprise flank on the Confederacy’s left line. The plan was well conceived but not well executed. Despite this fact, the Union army eventually got the Confederacy backpedaling. However, Confederate reinforcements showed up. The withering left flank of the Confederate line was reinforced by a brigade led by a young officer named Thomas Jackson. Colonel Jackson ordered his men to entrench themselves on the line and hold. The fighting was intense. At one point Jackson was struck by a bullet in the hand, but remained to command the line. With the left flank held, the Confederate troops began advancing on the Union line. Inexperienced and unprepared for a major battle, the Union troops retreated back to Washington, where they now realized this was going to be a longer war than they had ever anticipated. After the battle, stories of Jackson’s bravery and conduct during the battle spread across the Confederate army. The troops had their first hero. He was given the nickname “Stonewall” Jackson when a fellow officer was reported to have said during the battle, “Look at Jackson standing there, like a stonewall.” There si dispute as to why that was said. Some feel that the man making that quote, Brigadier General Barnard Bee, was commenting on Jackson’s refusal to move and provide support to his command, choosing instead to hold where he was. Either way, Jackson’s “Stonewall Brigade” became instant celebrities in the South.
The Union made one more attempt at Richmond in spring of 1862, culminating in the Second Battle of Bull Run later that summer, but Confederate forces, now under the command of General Robert E. Lee, again repelled the attack. Emboldened by these victories, the Confederacy planned it’s own invasion of the North. Robert E. Lee is one of the most important figures in the American Civil War. Months before taking command of Confederate forces, Lincoln offered him the same position with the Union Army. Lee refused. The secession of Virginia had made his mind up for him. Like Lincoln, he wanted to avoid war in the worst way, but he could not bring himself to raise arms against his home state of Virginia. Our loss was a great gain for the Confederacy. If any military leader could have brought victory to the Confederacy, it was Lee. A whiz kid at West Point and one of the most highly decorated and regarded officers of the U.S. Army, Lee was a formidable opponent that the Union would have to take very seriously.
But Lee was not a god. He could fail too. In September of 1862, Lee and 45,000 troops marched North toward Maryland. On September 5 they were met in Sharpsburg, Maryland by Union troops under the command of George McClellan. McClellan had lost an earlier engagement against Lee during the Seven Days Battles, a series of conflicts in the run up to the first battle at Bull Run, and now he had his chance at redemption. On September 17, Union and Confederate forces clashed in the Battle of Antietam. It was the bloodiest single day of battle in U.S. history with an estimated 23,000 casualties. The battle was odd in that McClellan commanded far superior numbers but only committed about a third of his total force. Lee sent his entire force into the fray and was able to take command of the battlefield on several occasions. Each Union push was met by an effective flank and, at one point, Lee seemed to have broken the Union’s central line. But Lee could not withstand the constant reinforcing of Union lines. After suffering major casualties on the first day, Lee ordered a strategic retreat the next day, engaging Union forces up front while the bulk of his remaining army retreated South. Despite the apparent victory, McClellan was sharply criticized for his handling of the battle. His casualty totals were ridiculously unacceptable and, with a far superior force, he was unable to completely route Lee’ army, allowing them to escape. Regardless, Lee’s march was halted and the Union had their first major victory. The battle of Antietam was followed by Lincoln’ s Emancipation Proclamation. The Union was riding high. I’m gonna get a little jumbled here as I jump from place to place in the war.
Fighting on the western front was intense all through out the war. Despite a string of victories in Missouri and New Mexico all throughout ’81 and ’82, the Union just could not secure Texas. Much of the fighting was for control of the Mississippi River. If the Union could secure it, Texas and any other Confederate state out west would be cut off. The Union’s main guy out west was rugged General Ulysses S. Grant. Like Lee, Grant was a graduate of West Point and a student of war. Grant had left the army some years earlier to pursue other fields. When war broke out he signed back on to help the Union cause. Grant quickly led the Union to victory in Tennessee and Louisiana but his biggest conquest would be the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi. If the Union captures Vicksburg and through that the Mississippi River, the war is basically over. The Confederacy’s biggest supply line is gone and they will slowly disintegrate. In May of 1863, grant led his forces in an assault on the fortress at Vicksburg. Grant sent two different assaults against the fortress but both were repelled. On may 25, Grant decided to lay siege to the fortress. For nearly forty days Confederate troops held out, but with no hope of reinforcement or resupply they surrendered on July 4. Funny how those things work out. The union now controlled the Mississippi. Grant was the new “it” guy in the Union Army. he may have just delivered the Union victory in the war.
The win at Vicksburg was just one of two major defeats for the Confederacy that month. The second was back east in probably the most famous battle on American soil, Gettysburg. When most people think of the Civil War, they think first of Gettysburg. The Battle of Gettysburg began on June 1, 1863. General Robert E. Lee had once again ventured North, to Pennsylvania, and he was again met by a large Union defense under the command of George Meade. Lee was feeling good after decisive victories in Virginia and he was again ready to invade the North. Meade was not afraid though. He respected Lee but was confident in his own abilities and those of his men. Lee, it could be said, was a little too confident. He had made a habit of defeating superior forces and thought his men to be “invincible”. Given his dramatic victories up to that point, it might have been a well deserved arrogance. This battle would test the limits of both men and decide the future of the war.
Union troops were expecting Confederate troops to approach first from the northwest. A brigade under the command of John Buford was on the front line awaiting the Confederate forces. Buford’s unit was there to harass the Confederate force as they entered the battlefield. Buford aligned his men on hills and ridges overlooking the Confederate entry point and awaited their appearance. Early on July 1, Confederate recon forces appear about a mile to the west of Gettysburg. They are met by troops led by Captain Rufus Dawes. The fighting begins immediately. The Confederate forces take cover in a railroad ditch and begin assaulting the advancing Union troops. Dawes keeps his men focused and moving forward. They are at a severe disadvantage charging the hunkered Confederate troops. Smoke from the conflict clouds the battlefield. The Union flag bearer marches out front to lead the troops. In many depictions of battle in the Civil War you always see someone carrying the respective flags. The flag gives disoriented soldiers something to follow and a path to march when visibility is low. A “standard bearer” is a tradition dating back as far as ancient Rome. It is also a bullet magnet. Dawes lost many men simply trying to keep the flag moving. Finally his troops reach the trench. A battle breaks out over possession of the Confederate flag. After 20 minutes of intense fighting, Dawes’ troops secure the Confederate flag and force the surrender of the Confederate troops.
This was just a tiny incident in a day of epic battle. All Around Gettysburg 28,000 Confederate troops are closing in around 20,000 Union soldiers. Before we get into the bulk of the battle let’s set it up. General Lee had launched his second invasion of the North. Lee wanted to win the war right now. He felt moving the bulk of fighting to the North would cause enough disruption that some Northern governors may lose their taste for war. He also wanted to pull Union attention away from the besieged fortress at Vicksburg and give them a chance to resupply and hold the Mississippi. So he took 75,000 soldiers and marched north. A battle inside the city was probably not a part of Lee’s plans though. The battle started by “accident”. Gettysburg was in the middle of several roads leading to troop lines on both sides. When a small group of Confederate forces approached Gettysburg to recon the area, they noticed Buford’s cavalry approaching from the south of the city. But they didn’t know it was a Union brigade at first, they figured them to be Pennsylvania regular militia. Lee had given strict orders to not engage any forces anywhere until the bulk of his army was in the area. Despite that, the Confederate troops decided to mount a forceful recon of the city to determine the makeup and size of the enemy force in the area.
Which brings us back to General Buford’s first strike force on the ridges around Gettysburg. With battle eminent, generals on the Union side were rushing to set up troop lines and reinforcement procedures. Buford’s men were meant to hold the Confederate charge long enough for Union forces to assemble in strategic positions. This effort, like all Union efforts that first day, did not go well. Union forces were just not ready to engage the bulk of Lee’s army and it was now streaming straight toward Gettysburg. Even the advance force proved too much for hastily put together Union defenses. Buford was forced to fall back multiple times and Confederate forces took the ridge. From there the Confederate army closed in on the city from the north and west. Fragmented divisions of Union soldiers were overwhelmed by superior numbers. In the first few hours of fighting the Union army lost close to 9,000 men and left the city. The first day of conflict ended in a decisive Confederate victory and their flag flew over the town of Gettysburg. But this was just the beginning.
Outside of town the Union is digging in for the battle to come the next morning. Rufus Dawes and his Iron Brigade are building fortifications on the hills outside the city. Confederate commander Dick Ewell receives orders from General Lee to capture the hills “if possible”. Ewell decides it is not at the current time. He chooses to wait for reinforcements. A momentous decision. Had Ewell occupied the hill, the Union army would have had no choice but to fall back and find a new place to defend. Probably one nowhere near as good as the hills. Giving the Union time to fortify their position proved a costly mistake for the Confederate army.
So, day 2. Things get crazy. Things get off to a bad start for the Confederacy as no reports from scout troops are coming back to the army. Lees’ cavalry, charged with scouting and pushing back on the Union’s left flank, is plundering supplies miles away from the battle. Just one of many intelligence blunders that would mark the Confederacy’s day. Several times Confederate troops received little or no information on Union movements and almost walked right out in front of Union forces. Without his cavalry, Lee struggles to effectively command his generals. I wonder if the cavalry leader was later choked to death by Lees’ hubris? I can’t find mention of that anywhere. Anyways, Confederate troops were sometimes marching hours out of their way to get a new direction around Union forces. All this time Meade is further fortifying his defense. The time lost navigating unscouted territory greatly increased the Confederacies losses that day.
The Union was not without it’s own miscues. In particular was General Dan Sickles, notorious asshole and accused murderer. He was the first person in U.S. history to plead temporary insanity as a legal defense in a trial on charges of murdering his wife’s lover. Against direct orders he breaks Meade’s carefully built line and advances his troops. In one of the most retarded moves in military history, Sickles basically moves his command out in the open and watches as it is utterly destroyed by Confederate artillery fire. Then, and I shit you not, his leg is literally blown off by a cannonball. So, yeah, that happened. It could have proved disastrous but the Union was ready for Lee’s assault. Lee ordered a dual front attacking the Union’s left and right flanks. The Confederacy struggled all day to claim both. On the left flank the heroics of Joshua Chamberlain and his men in holding Little Round Top, drove back the Confederate assault. More miscommunication among Confederate officers on the right flank lead to eventual retreat as well.
On the second day of battle, the Union held. Epic is the only word that can describe that second day. It was the largest coordinated assault in American military history. The casualties were enormous. Over 21,000 men alone assaulted the Union’s left flank. At several points the Confederacy had victory in their grasp but determined Union forces pushed them back. Sometimes engaging in hand to hand combat. There is no relenting on the third day of conflict. Lee orders the same basic attack. It fails miserably. An assault dubbed “Pickett’s Charge”, last effort to break Meade’s main line, never had a chance of success. The day two casualties were so high for the South that they just couldn’t mount the charge they wanted. Lee’s army retreated South.
Gettysburg was a costly defeat for the Confederacy. Lee had the army he needed to “conquer the North” and he couldn’t do it. Lee lost nearly a third of his army and most of his officers. His defeat was a great blow to morale in the Confederate army. Combined with the capture of Vicksburg, July 1863 was really the month the war began to end. The Union spent most of the rest of 1863 fortifying newly captured Confederate territory and pushing Confederate forces as far west of the Mississippi as possible. In 1864, Ulysses S. Grant becomes the supreme commander of Union forces. Grant brought in close friend and fellow officer William Tecumseh Sherman to command most of his western army. Grant found a kindred spirit in Sherman. Both believed in the principle of total war and had no problems getting their hands dirty. Grant knew why Lincoln put him in charge of his armies. He wanted this war over. Now. Grant proposed to assault the entirety of the South and utterly destroy their ability to make war. Grant still wanted the Union armies to take care around civilians but do burn down any and all homes, farms, and railroads.
Part of Grant’s plan involved a legendary piece of American history, Sherman’s March to the Sea. After the fall of Vicksburg, the Union was picking off Confederate cities one by one. After capturing Atlanta in November of 1854, and burning it to the ground, Sherman makes his way south to the port city of Savannah, laying waste to everything around him. Sherman crushed the psyche of the South. He was like a great dragon breathing fire, an unstoppable force of nature. The crippling of Atlanta and he capture of Savannah greatly wounded the Confederacy’s ability to make war. Even more so it ended many Southern citizens will to see the war continue. They had seen the Union army in full force and they did not like it. Sherman then swung around through the Carolinas defeating the forces in the area. Eventually regrouping with Grant’s main force who were assaulting Lee’s army in Virginia. Lee spent much of 1864 retreating. On April 1, the Confederate army abandoned Richmond, Virginia and Grant captured the Confederate capital. At this point Lee admitted that victory was now impossible. On April 9, 1864 Lee surrendered his army to Grant at a a courthouse in Appomattox, Virginia. The war is over. In about a year, Grant had completely crushed the Confederate army. Where was this guy three years earlier?
The South braced for retribution but none came. Lincoln allowed the Confederate troops to return home and rebuild their lives. Many wanted to see the South punished for it’s rebellion but Lincoln was more interested in the country as a whole. He installed military governors in certain states and immediately began Reconstruction era policies to rebuild the South. With slavery now abolished, the South was struggling to find it’s way. Lincoln proposed massive rebuilding efforts and a “safety net” for Southerners who had lost everything. Even if the South still despised Lincoln for wiping away their way of life, they had to greatly appreciate it his benevolent attitude after the war. Lincoln could have thrown thousands in prison and executed hundreds of others. All were given a pardon and allowed to help rebuild the South. Lincoln, of course, was assassinated on April 14, 1865 before seeing a great many of his proposals put into effect.
His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, thought he would become a hero to the South. He was wrong. Lincoln was holding back all the political efforts to penalize and crush the South. When they were fearing the worst, Lincoln extended the hand of friendship and unity. The next President may not be so forgiving and Booth had given them more than enough reason to fly into a blind rage. He had nowhere to flee. Despised in the North and the South For almost two wees Booth hid from pursuing federal troops. On April 26, booth was cornered at a farmhouse in rural Virginia. Troops set the barn on fire to draw him out. During the confusion, Booth was shot and mortally wounded. A bullet pierced his vertebrae and he bled out on the farmhouse porch. Booth’s last request was that the soldiers raise his hands to where eh could see them. He then said, “Useless. Useless.” and passed away. The Presidents who followed Lincoln tried to carry on his legacy of Reconstruction with mixed results. few of them had the presence and oratory skills Lincoln possessed. Or his enormous heart and pride for the country. Casualty figures from the war are staggering for it’s time. Some reports place the number dead at over 600,000. Today that would be like losing 6 millions soldiers. Another 400,000 were injured or incapacitated. The South lost 30% of their male population between the ages of 18 and 40.
So, did the South ever really have a chance to win this war? No. They never stood a chance. Even if Gettysburg and Vicksburg had gone the Confederate’s way, they still had yet to face the full fury of the Union army. When it was brought to bear under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant, the Confederacy had no answer for it. They watched the South burn down around them. We struggle today in long guerrilla campaigns overseas but these forces often times have a state backer. The South had nothing. Lincoln quickly worked to end any thought of Britain, France, or any other foreign power entering on the side of the South. Eventually their economy and entire way of life would have collapsed. And we make a lot of Lee vs. Grant or Lee vs. Meade, but it was always Lee vs. Lincoln. Lincoln was constantly in control of his Union troops and helped devise and execute almost every military strategy. When it no longer looked like a “quick victory”, he put Grant in charge of his forces and set him loose on the South. The Union’s greatest personnel advantage was always Abraham Lincoln. A Commander in Chief in every since of the word. And let’s say the South “won” and got their independence. It would have been a temporary victory. Their economy was in shambles and cotton wasn’t “king” anymore. Their entire “country” would have crumbled from within.
Did we learn any lessons from this war? I’d like to think so. But the South never really got over the war — financially, culturally, or mentally. You still find “Confederate sympathizers” 150 years later. Progress was made to unite the manufacturing base of the North with the agricultural base of the South and give everyone equal share. When the manufacturing sector began leaving this country in the later part of last century, the South was again the hardest hit. And again, they blamed it on the North. The North, having not learned anything either, blamed it on the South. Only this time the North is the Democrats and the South is the Republicans. Another quaint irony(?) is the current Republican legislative mindset. Many of their policies resemble those drawn up by the Confederacy. The very entity the Republican Party sought to crush.
Well, hope you enjoyed this little piece of history. The American Civil War was not just a seminal moment in American history but the history of the world. The outcome would change global politics for centuries to come. With the issue of slavery all but decided, the nation pushed west faster than we ever had before. The South was no longer a holding bin for the North but an equal partner in the expansion. Slave owners and plantation politics no longer controlled national policy. America came out more united than they had been going in and would go on to be the world’s eminent superpower. So thanks for that slap in the face, Confederacy. It was just what we needed.