American Civil War
Edited by: Robert Guisepi
Warren W. Hassler, Jr.: Emeritus Professor of American History, Pennsylvania State University, University Park. Author of Commanders of the Army of the Potomac and others.
Attempt on Washington, D.C
While Sherman faced Atlanta, waiting for a chance to pierce the lines of the defenders, and while Grant besieged Petersburg, the Confederate high command made a desperate move. Lee sent one of his corps commanders, General Jubal A. Early, to threaten the Union capital. Early went down the Shenandoah Valley, crossed the Potomac River, and took supplies and money from the communities through which he passed. On July 9, at a point on the Monocacy River, 48 km (30 mi) from Washington, Union General Lew Wallace faced Early with a small force. The federal commander courted certain defeat, but he delayed Early long enough to permit troops from Grant’s army to reach Washington and defend the city. Although Early took up a position within sight of the Capitol on July 11, he realized that an assault was hopeless and returned to the valley.
Fall of Mobile
As the summer advanced, the war took a new and decisive turn. On August 5 a federal fleet commanded by Admiral Farragut forced its way into Mobile Bay, in Alabama. Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan, which defended the city, surrendered on August 8 and August 23, and Mobile was closed to blockade-runners and lost to the Confederacy.
Fall of Atlanta
Other Union victories followed. After Early’s threat to Washington, Lee gave him a free hand to operate in the Shenandoah Valley. Lee hoped that Grant would be forced to weaken his grip on Petersburg to meet the new threat. Grant acted as Lee anticipated, but the federal commander sent a general who proved to be more than a match for Early. In three battles, at Winchester on September 19, at Fishers Hill on September 22, and at Cedar Creek on October 19, Philip H. Sheridan not only drove Early’s troops from the valley but also devastated the area so thoroughly that its rich farms could no longer send food and supplies to Lee’s troops.
While the armies went about their deadly business in the spring and summer of 1864, Northern politicians started the machinery for another presidential election. Many people in the North were dissatisfied with Lincoln. Battle losses in the East had been staggering, and Grant had neither destroyed Lee’s army nor taken Richmond. Many Republicans complained that Lincoln was too moderate on the slavery question or was too easygoing in the prosecution of the war. A great many Democrats had come to believe that the South could not be defeated and wanted peace at almost any price.
The Republican National Convention met in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 7. To attract War Democrats, the name of the party was changed to the National Union Party. Although many delegates would have been happy to replace Lincoln, the administration’s control of the party machinery secured his renomination with ease. His running mate was Andrew Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee who had remained loyal to the Union. The platform called for the unconditional restoration of the Union.
On August 29 the Democratic National Convention met in Chicago, Illinois. The delegates hoped to elect their candidate by playing up the war situation as it was at that moment, with Grant’s having failed to take Richmond and Sherman stalled outside Atlanta. The Democratic platform declared the war a failure and demanded that immediate efforts be made to bring the fighting to an end. The delegates nominated George B. McClellan for president and George H. Pendleton, senator from Ohio, for vice president. Ten days later, McClellan accepted the nomination but he refused to support the platform plank that called for peace without the restoration of the Union, thinking that it was an affront to the troops he had commanded.
Election of 1864
The election in the North took place on November 8. As late as August 23, 1864, Lincoln had commented to his Cabinet that it seemed "exceedingly probable" that he would not be reelected. However, he had not foreseen the steady succession of Northern victories. Before November the mood of the people changed. On election day the popular vote was 2,218,388 for Lincoln and 1,812,807 for McClellan. The popular margin was not nearly so large as that in the electoral college, where Lincoln polled 212 to McClellan’s 21.
There was no 1864 presidential election in the South. Under the Confederate constitution, the president was elected for six years, and thus no election was held after 1861.
Sherman’s March to
While holding Atlanta, Sherman had tried time after time to corner the Confederate army that Hood had withdrawn from that city. Hood kept out of reach. Sherman assumed that when Hood left Atlanta, he would strike north into Tennessee. To defend the state and prevent an invasion of the North, Sherman placed Thomas in command of all the troops left behind on the western front.
Thomas concentrated his forces in Nashville, Tennessee. General John M. Schofield, following the Confederates with part of the Union troops, clashed with Hood on November 30 in the bloody Battle of Franklin. Although victorious, Schofield withdrew his troops to Nashville. Hood followed and took up positions on the high ground south of the city.
Thomas made his plans deliberately, so deliberately that Grant, impatient at the delay, almost removed him from his command. On December 15 Thomas struck. The Confederates fought stubbornly but lost ground. The next day, Thomas renewed the attack. The result was a smashing Union victory. Hood’s army was so disastrously defeated that it fell apart. Many of the Confederates drifted back to their homes, the war over so far as they were concerned.
CIVIL WAR, 1865 An Overview
The Union moved toward victory during the first four months of 1865. In mid-January, the capture of Fort Fisher, which guarded Wilmington, North Carolina, closed the final significant Confederate port. On the political front, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery on January 31, and a last-ditch effort at negotiating an end to the war failed at the Hampton Roads conference in early February. In February and March, the siege of Petersburg and Richmond continued, while Sherman’s army worked its way northward through South Carolina and into North Carolina. Union success at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1 signaled the end of the long defense of Richmond, after which Lee’s army retreated westward until forced to surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9. With Lee’s surrender, the war was clearly drawing to a close. However, Northern celebrations were quickly silenced when Lincoln was shot on April 14 and died the next day. Large-scale Union raids into Alabama and Northern successes elsewhere further weakened an already reeling Confederacy, and in late April Sherman accepted surrender of the South’s last major field army at Durham Station, North Carolina.
With Hood no longer a threat, Grant planned to have Sherman march north and join the Army of the Potomac in a joint campaign to crush Lee. To clear the way, an expedition was sent against Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. The fort fell on January 15, 1865. The loss deprived the Confederacy of its last strongpoint along the Atlantic Coast and tightened the Union blockade. It also sealed the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, leaving only Galveston, Texas, open to blockade-runners.
Sherman had expected to start north soon after January 1, 1865, but bad weather delayed him until February 1. On that date he moved out with 60,000 men, 2500 wagons, and 600 ambulances. As in the march through Georgia, his men would live off the country. He could expect some fighting but no dangerous opposition, for the Confederates had only 25,000 troops in the Carolinas. Sherman fought only one sharp battle in the campaign. On March 19 at Bentonville, North Carolina, Johnston, restored to command by Lee, attacked one of the advancing Union columns. Sherman quickly concentrated his forces, and Johnston retreated. On March 23 Sherman reached Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he halted.
Burning of Columbia
Sherman’s conduct of the campaign made his name hated throughout the South and left lasting scars. Troops living off the resources of an area were a hardship on civilians. In South Carolina, destruction went far beyond military needs. Northerners believed that the state had started the war and that its people should be made to pay for their sins. Many Union officers tried to restrain their men, but pillaging was common, and the smoking ruins of houses and barns all too often marked the Federals’ path. Fifteen towns were burned in whole or in part, but no act of destruction compared with or caused more controversy than the burning of Columbia, the state capital. Sherman denied that he gave orders to burn the city. The fires in Columbia were most likely begun both by retreating Confederate forces, who wanted to deny supplies to the Northern troops, and by invading Federal soldiers.
Sherman Joins Grant
At the end of March, Sherman left General Schofield in charge and hurried to Petersburg for a conference with Grant. On March 27 and 28, the two met with Lincoln and Admiral Porter to make plans for the final campaign. At this time, Lincoln made his policy clear: He wanted the war brought to an end with no more bloodshed than necessary, and he had no desire to take harsh measures against the Confederates after they had laid down their arms. Grant warned the president that Lee could not be expected to surrender without a last-ditch effort.
Fall of Richmond
Grant planned to extend his lines westward around Petersburg and Richmond to cut the two railroads that still supplied the hemmed-in Confederates. On March 29 the federal commander started his columns. Lee moved troops to counter the threat. On April 1 at Five Forks, 24 km (15 mi) west of Petersburg, Sheridan defeated a Confederate force led by Pickett, capturing much artillery and many prisoners. Fearful of being completely encircled, Lee sent three brigades to Pickett’s support and decided to evacuate Richmond. Learning that Lee had weakened his defenses, Grant ordered a general assault on April 2. The defenders resisted staunchly, giving Lee time to make an orderly withdrawal. Federal troops entered the abandoned city the next day.
THE WAR ENDS
Only two sizable Confederate armies remained. One was in Louisiana, led by General Richard Taylor. The other, commanded by General Edmund Kirby Smith, was in Texas. Taylor surrendered on May 4, and Smith surrendered on May 26, both of them to General E. R. S. Canby. On May 10 Jefferson Davis was captured in Georgia.
ASSESSMENT OF THE
Much has been made of the superiority of Southern commanders. Although Lee was more than a match for every opponent except Grant, Grant overcame the Confederate general by force of numbers and determination of will. Neither side had another corps commander equal to Stonewall Jackson, but Jackson was killed before the war was half over. In the West, the Union commanders clearly outmatched their opposites. No Confederate leader could stand comparison with Grant, Sherman, or Thomas. In naval operations, Foote, Farragut, and Porter had no Confederate rivals.
Little distinction can be made between Northern and Southern morale. Desertion was common on both sides. The North had its Copperheads, its bounty jumpers, and its draft rioters, and millions of Northerners were weary of the war long before its end. In the South, draft dodging and tax evasion were common, and fortunes were made by profiteers who preferred to run luxuries, instead of war supplies, through the blockade.
The South had two important advantages. First, it did not need to conquer the North. It could win the war simply by defending its soil and by waiting for the North to become so discouraged by repeated failures that it would grant independence. Second, the South could operate with shorter interior lines, thus making better use of its fewer men.
A Costs of the War,
Human suffering also extended beyond the military sphere and continued long after fighting ceased. During the conflict, thousands of black and white Southerners became refugees, losing many of their possessions and facing an uncertain future in strange surroundings. Far fewer Northern civilians experienced the war so directly, although the citizens of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, saw their town burned by Confederate cavalry in 1864. An unknown number of civilians perished at the hands of guerrillas, deserters, and, less frequently, regular soldiers in both armies. After the war, many thousands of veterans struggled to cope with lost limbs and other wounds. Thousands of families faced difficult financial circumstances due to the death of husbands and fathers. The United States government made available small pensions for disabled veterans and widows of soldiers, and southern states did the same for former Confederate soldiers and their widows. In neither instance, however, were the funds sufficient to provide for all the needs of a family.
The war generated spending on a scale dwarfing that of any earlier period in American history. In 1860, the federal budget was $63 million; in 1865, federal government expenditures totaled nearly $1.3 billion—a 200-fold increase that did not include the money spent by the Confederate government. An estimate in 1879 placed war-related costs to that date for the United States at $6.1 billion, including pension payments that would continue for many years. Figures for the Confederacy are very unreliable, but one estimate places expenditures through 1863 at $2 billion. After 1863, records for Confederate expenditures are not available. Whatever the total figure, there is no doubt that expenditures and indebtedness grew to a size that were not imaginable before the war.
The war also caused wide-scale economic destruction to the South. The Confederate states lost two-thirds of their wealth during the war. The loss of slave property through emancipation accounted for much of this, but the economic infrastructure in the South was also severely damaged in other ways. Railroads and industries in the South were in shambles, more than one-half of all farm machinery was destroyed, and 40 percent of all livestock had been killed. In contrast, the Northern economy thrived during the war. Two numbers convey a sense of the economic cost to the respective sections: between 1860 and 1870, Northern wealth increased by 50 percent; during that same decade, Southern wealth decreased by 60 percent.
Effects of the War,
The war touched the lives of almost every person in the United States. Women assumed larger responsibilities in the workplace because so many men were absent in the armies. In the North, they labored as nurses (previously a male occupation), government clerks, and factory workers and contributed to the war effort in other ways. Southern white women also worked as clerks and nurses and in factories, and thousands took responsibility for running family farms. Several hundred women disguised themselves as men and served in the military, a few of whom were wounded in battle. Although the war opened opportunities for work outside the household, its end brought a general return to old patterns of employment. Still, the war remained a major event in the lives of women as it did for the men in uniform.
Slave men and women in the South shouldered a major part of the labor burden, as they always had, and made it possible for the Confederacy to put nearly 80 percent of its military-age white men in uniform, a level of mobilization unequaled in American history. No group was more directly affected by the outcome of the war than the almost 4 million black people who were slaves in 1861. They emerged from the conflict with their freedom, which was confirmed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865. However, blacks did not have equal rights until long after the war.
The war also touched children in profound ways. Fathers and brothers left home to fight, and thousands of boys 17 years old or younger entered military service as drummers, musicians, or soldiers in the ranks. Children behind the lines followed the progress of the war, pretending to be soldiers or nurses. All too often, they were affected by the loss of parents or siblings. Many grew to adulthood with a sense that whatever they might face in life, it would be less important than the great national crisis in which their fathers fought.
Long-Term Effects of the War
The war was followed by twelve years of Reconstruction, during which the North and South debated the future of black Americans and waged bitter political battles. In 1877, the white South tacitly conceded national power to the Republican Party in return for the right to rule their own states with minimal interference from the North. Republican domination of presidential politics and a solidly Democratic white South were two legacies of the war and Reconstruction. Despite ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, black Americans failed to win equal rights during the acrimonious postwar political debates. As the 19th century closed, they faced a rigidly segregated life in the South and hostility across most of the North.
Despite the destruction, the war did settle the question of secession. Since 1861 no state has seriously considered withdrawing from the Union. In addition, the war brought slavery to an end. After the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, there was widespread acceptance of the fact that Union victory would mean general emancipation. Since the proclamation was a war measure that might be held unconstitutional after the war, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery, was passed by both houses of Congress early in 1865. It was ratified by three-fourths of the states and was formally proclaimed in effect on December 18, 1865.
In conclusion, it must be remarked that the Civil War did not raise blacks to a position of equality with whites. Nor did the war bring about that emotional reunion that Lincoln hoped for when he spoke in his first inaugural address of "the bonds of affection" that had formerly held the two sections together