The South Secedes
Before the 1860 election, southern states had warned that if Lincoln won, they would secede, or leave the Union. Supporters of secession based their arguments in states’ rights. They believed that since the states had voluntarily joined the United States, they could voluntarily leave the Union. In December, South Carolina became the first southern state to secede from the Union and urged other southern states to follow them. Within months, six other southern states seceded from the Union. The seceding states sent delegates to Montgomery, Alabama to write a new constitution. The new constitution was similar to that of the United States except that it protected slavery, states’ rights, and banned tariffs. The new nation was called the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis was chosen to be the new nation’s president. Having seceded from the Union, the new government made plans to arm themselves to defend their new nation from the north.
Southern states had begun seceding even before Lincoln was sworn into office, not wanting to wait and let him have the chance to abolish slavery, something he had sworn he would not, and could not do. Lincoln tried in vain to get the southern states to rejoin the Union peacefully. In his inauguration speech, Lincoln offered the south a chance to rejoin the Union without punishment. Lincoln reminded the south that the states had no right to leave the Union, and he still considered the Union whole. He argued that time would allow cooler heads to prevail. He said that he had no plans to abolish slavery, and therefore the south had no quarrel with the north. Nor would he invade the south, but instead allow them time to return on their own, without bloodshed. Surely, Lincoln argued, the southerners should remember that the blood of patriots who died to create the United States flowed in the veins of southerners and northerners alike and those bonds would heal the nation and make it whole again.
Yet, the south did not believe Lincoln. The United States military controlled many forts and arsenals in the south. The new Confederate States of American demanded that the Union remove their troops from the south. Lincoln, still believing the south would return peacefully, refused. Southern forces began to move towards the Union forts with troops. War could not be far off.
Fort Sumter – The War Begins
The Civil War began on
The south had demanded that Lincoln remove Union troops from Fort Sumter, a small fort in Charleston, South Carolina’s harbor. Lincoln refused, stating that according to the Constitution, the south could not secede; therefore they were still part of the United States. Lincoln told the south that he would not fire the first shots of any war nor invade the south, but that he would supply the fort with food and medical supplies for the troops there. The southern troops surrounding Fort Sumter learned that Lincoln was sending a supply ship to Fort Sumter. They decided to retake the fort before it could be resupplied.
The morning of
After Fort Sumter, any hope of the south peacefully reuniting the Union was lost. Both the Union and the Confederacy began calling up troops to fight the inevitable war. Comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the two forces, it appeared that the north should easily win the Civil War.
In population, the north greatly outnumbered the south. The north had over 22 million people in 23 states. The south, on the other hand, had only 9 million people living in 11 states. This meant the north could raise more troops to fight the war than the south. By war’s end, the south had only ever had between 600,000 and 1,500,000 troops. Exact numbers are not known because most of the south’s records were destroyed when the Confederate capital at Richmond was burned at the end of the war. The northern armies had over two million troops that fought the war. Clearly, northern forces would outnumber Confederate troops at almost every battle.
At sea, the Confederate forces were worse off. All of the major shipbuilding was in the northern ports. The north was able to build a navy of 671 ships during the war. The south never truly had a navy. The Confederacy relied on the few river boats and raiders it could build during the war. Though the south, and later the north, did develop the ironclads, these ships were only truly suitable for river patrols and often floundered in heavy seas. The south, therefore, mainly relied on privateers, private ship owners who acted as pirates for the south, capturing and sinking Union supply vessels for the Confederacy.
One of the main strengths of the north was its factories. The north was heavily industrialized. The factories of the north could produce all the weapons and materials of war that the Union Army could ever need. Railroads crisscrossed the north, allowing vital supplies and troops to be moved quickly as needed. The south had very few factories at the beginning of the war. Therefore, the south had to rely on weapons it already had, could be bought from Europe, or quickly manufactured in the south’s few factories. With few railroads in the south, southern troops marched to the battlefields, much slower than Union trains moved Union troops. Supplies and war materials swamped the few southern railroads and most materials and war supplies were forced to be transported in horse drawn wagons. Their slow pace further bogging down the overstretched Confederate forces.
The only true advantages the Confederate States of America possessed were their troops themselves. The southern troops were fighting under outstanding officers; many trained at military academies, and had learned their military trade in the U.S.-Mexican War. The south had a strong military tradition. Many wealthy southern families had sent sons to military school. Their experience would be valuable in the course of the war. Southerners were also skilled with weapons. Unlike the city living workers of the north that had mostly never seen a gun, much less fired one before the war, southerners grew up with hunting both for sport, and to provide food for their families. This experience would make a huge difference on the battlefield. Finally, though the south had few factories to make weapons, it did produce mountains of cotton. This cotton could be sold to Europe in exchange for weapons and ammunition necessary to prosecute the war.
To win the war, the south settled on a simple strategy. The south did not need to defeat the north and occupy its cities to win the Civil War. Much like George Washington’s plan for the American Revolution, all the south had to do was keep on fighting until the Union gave up. The Confederacy did not want to conquer the north; it only wished to protect its independence. The Confederacy hoped that if they fought long enough, the people of the north would tire of the expense and loss of life of the war and allow the Confederacy its independence.
The south also sought European assistance. The textile mills of Europe depended on southern cotton. Also, Europe sold a considerable amount of manufactured goods to the south. To force Europe to support the south, and possibly even recognize the Confederacy as independent and put pressure on the Union to let the Confederacy go, the south cut off all shipments of cotton to Europe at the start of the war. Unfortunately, the previous year’s bumper crop of cotton still filled European warehouses. Europe also balked at getting involved in America’s troubles. Europe was happy to buy southern cotton, and sell the south supplies, but it would not enter the war, or support the south further.
The northern strategy to win the Civil War was much different. To win the Civil War, the Union had to force the southern states to rejoin. This meant that the north would have to invade the south, defeat the Confederate forces, and compel them by force to rejoin the Union. General Winfield Scott, veteran of the U.S.-Mexican War drew up the strategy to defeat the south. Called the Anaconda Plan, Scott’s plan was to strangle the south like constricting snake the plan took its name from. The Anaconda Plan called for a naval blockade of the south to keep the south from selling cotton to Europe and getting war materials and weapons from Europe. Next, the plan would divide the Confederacy along the Mississippi River. With the Confederacy cut into two, the Confederate forces would be split and unable to use the Mississippi River to transport troops and supplies. The final part of the Anaconda Plan was to invade the south from all directions, defeating the Confederate forces and compelling them to surrender. The only drawback to the Anaconda Plan was that it would take a long time and be very expensive in terms of money and men. The people of the north wanted a quick solution to the war. No one believed it would last more than a few months at most. Surely, the north could defeat the weaker south quickly, and easily. In the south, people held the same stubborn belief. The south believed that once they fought a battle or two, the softer north would lose its stomach for battle and allow the Confederacy its independence.
Battle of Bull Run/Battle of Manassas
All hopes of a quick end to the war ended with the Battle of Bull Run, called the Battle of Manassas by the north. Wanting a quick end to the war, the Congress forced Lincoln to send the barely trained and freshly called up Union forces to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, only 90 miles south of Washington, D.C.
Union troops clashed with Confederate forces near the town of Manassas Junction in Virginia. As it was also near Bull Run Creek, the south called the battle Bull Run. Union forces outnumbered those of the south. At first, it appeared the Confederate forces would be defeated. The flanks of the Confederate lines began to bow backwards, threatening to break. In the middle, General Thomas Jackson encouraged his men not to give an inch to the Union troops. One Confederate general told his men to do as Jackson’s men were doing. He yelled, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” The southern troops held. From that moment on, General Jackson had earned the nickname “Stonewall,” as he had stood there rallying his troops, ignoring the bullets that that flew around him.
Union troops could not break the Confederate lines. Soon, Confederate reinforcements arrived and were thrown into the battle. The Union troops broke and ran, exhausted from the day’s battle. The Confederate generals ordered a charge. The Confederate soldiers ran forward into the escaping northern troops. As they ran forward, the Confederate soldiers let forth the “rebel yell,” a blood-curdling scream that scared the running union troops. One Union soldier said of the “rebel yell” that the screams sounded like demons from hell were pursuing the Union troops. In panic, first several, then all of the untrained and undisciplined Union soldiers broke and ran, tossing aside weapons and equipment in an effort to run faster from the approaching Confederate forces.
Behind the Union forces, many sightseers had traveled from Washington, D.C. to witness the battle. The sightseers thought the battle would be an easy victory for the north. Many rode fancy carriages from Washington, and even set out picnic luncheons on the grass to enjoy the show. The northerners thought the war could not last but a month or two at the most. They relished a chance to see it before it all ended. As the Union troops broke and ran, they fled through the sightseers. The sightseers quickly began to join the retreat as Confederate forces began running towards them, chasing down and shooting the escaping Union troops.
The Battle of Bull Run was a complete rout. Union forces were scattered and fled back towards Washington in defeat, leaving their weapons and equipment behind. Washington lay open for invasion by the Confederate troops. However, the battle was equally confusing to the Confederate troops. Southern soldiers were scattered in their attempts to run down the escaping northern soldiers. It took days to round up all the scattered Confederate troops and get them back to their units. In addition, the southern troops were hardly better trained than the northern troops they had defeated. They were tired, and needed rest and training before they could march on Washington.
The Battle of Bull Run crushed northern ideas about a short and relatively easy war. Within days, Lincoln ordered that the militias be trained better, and called for a million more troops to be called up to fight the south. In the Confederacy, the Battle of Bull Run had a different effect. Southern newspapers heralded the defeat of the Union forces and implied that the north had no stomach for war. Other southerners understood that Bull Run had been a lucky victory that could have easily been a loss. Both sides called for more troops to fight the war. Both sides would need them.
The War at Sea
At sea, the Civil War was a one-sided battle. The north possessed most of the shipyards and easily built up its navy. The Confederate forces had few ships available, and did not possess the recourses to construct a large navy. The South relied on privateers to harass northern supply ships, and blockade runners to slip cotton past Union blockades to sell cotton in Europe and bring back much needed war supplies. At the start of the war, the Union had few navy ships at sea and Confederate blockade runners easily slipped past the blockade. However, by the end of the war, the Union had enlarged its navy and captured many southern ports. By the war’s end, a blockade runner only stood a one in three chance of making it though the blockade.
The South’s desire to break the Union blockade led to a revolution in naval technology. The Confederates had captured the Union ship, Merrimack. The Confederacy rebuilt the Merrimack and renamed it the Virginia. The Virginia was the first ironclad. An ironclad is a ship whose sides are covered in thick iron plates to deflect enemy cannon shells. The ironclads were imposing ships. There enormous cannons could tear apart a wooden ship, while the enemy’s gunfire simply bounced off the iron plates.
In the Virginia’s first battle, it sank two Union ships and ran another into shallow water where it grounded. The next day, however, the Union unleashed its own ironclad, the Monitor. The Monitor was an ironclad with a twist. The Monitor also possessed a revolving turret that allowed its cannon to rotate and fire in any direction, unlike the Virginia’s guns that were fixed so that the entire ship had to turn broadside to the enemy to fire. The battle between the Virginia and the Monitor was a stalemate. The two ironclads traded shot for two hours. Unable to sink each other, the ships finally steamed off to their harbors. The south’s only naval advantage had lasted for only one day.
Union Victories in the West
With the naval blockade slowly strangling the Confederacy, and the Union army at a stalemate in the east, the Union forces turned to the west in their hopes to divide the Confederacy along the Mississippi River. Using their new ironclads, the Union forces under General Grant captured forts on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. Capturing these forts allowed Union gunboats and troops to travel into the south as far as northern Alabama.
Confederate forces were forced to retreat after Grant’s victories on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. Grant’s Union troops followed. The result was the Battle of Shiloh. At the Battle of Shiloh, Grant’s troops camped on the banks of the Tennessee River. The Confederate commander decided to attack Grant before Union reinforcements could arrive. The Confederates slammed into Union troops. The fighting was fierce and both sides took terrific losses. At the end of the day’s battle, both sides believed the next day would bring them victory. During the night, a strong thunderstorm lit the valley with lightening and the heavy rains swelled the river till it spilled over its banks. Wounded soldiers of both armies lay helpless in the mud as the water rose over them.
That evening, in the midst of the storm, fresh Union troops arrived. They had been transported on railroads, then gunboats, and finally marching to get to the battleground before morning. The next morning, Grant led the Union troops in the attack. The Confederate forces, outnumbered and exhausted from the previous day’s battle were forced to retreat.
The Battle of Shiloh had seen the fiercest fighting of the war thus far. The Union victory gobbled up more Confederate territory, but at a terrible cost. Grant lost over 13,000 men in the battle, almost one-third of his men. The south’s losses were equally disturbing. Confederate forces lost 11,000 of there men, about one-fourth of the soldiers they began the battle with. Additionally, the Confederate general Johnston was killed, and the retreat forced the south to give up even more of their precious Confederacy.
The Fall of New Orleans
No sooner than the south was learning of the defeat of their forces at the Battle of Shiloh, they learned of an even worse defeat at the Battle of New Orleans. Union Admiral David Farragut had sailed his invasion fleet into New Orleans and captured the city. Farragut’s ships had been forced to sail past burning rafts in New Orleans’s harbor to reach the city. Resistance on shore was weaker however. Citizens of New Orleans lined the harbor to curse at the “Yankee” invaders, never the less, the city fell.
The loss of New Orleans was staggering to the south. New Orleans was one of the south’s most important harbor for trade. It also meant that the south now only controlled a 150 mile stretch of the Mississippi River. If the northern forces could capture the rest, the Confederacy would be divided into two. Already, the Union blockade was hurting southern sales of cotton, and supply of vital war materials from Europe. The south managed by sending the cotton through Texas to Mexico for sale, and brought back the supplies across land from Mexico as well. If that 150 mile stretch of the Mississippi River fell to the Union, even the meager supplies from Mexico would be cut off from the Confederate forces. Only the fort town of Vicksburg, Mississippi held open the Mississippi River for the Confederates. If it fell, the Confederacy would be divided.
The War in the East
In the east, the war was going better for the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee, hero of the U.S.-Mexican War, had sided with the Confederacy. Lee had been a career Army officer for the United States. When the war broke out, Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union Army of the Potomac, the Union’s largest army. Lee spent days worrying over his decision. Lee had always been a loyal soldier, but his home state of Virginia had seceded. If he accepted the command of the Army of the Potomac, he would have to use that army to invade Virginia, his home state. In the end, Lee could not bring himself to attack his home state. Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. armed forces and offered his services to the Confederacy.
The Confederacy quickly accepted Lee’s services and promoted him to general, giving him command of the south’s most important army, the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee had learned his lessons well at West Point, and honed his skills in the U.S.-Mexican War. Though outnumbered at almost every battle, Lee defeated general after general sent to destroy his army. Soon, Union forces feared going into battle if they discovered that General Lee was commanding the Confederate forces against them. Lee’s fame spread like wildfire as his victories mounted up.
The Tide of War Turns
As Lee continued to win victories in the east, the Confederacy continued to lose ground in the west. Furthermore, the Union naval blockade was strangling the south. Lee decided a huge victory in the north might compel the Union to allow the Confederacy its independence. Moving the war into Union territory, Lee hoped, might force Union leaders to let the south go. Already many northerners were bemoaning the loss of life the war had already caused. A victory in the north might also convince Europe that the Confederacy could win and bring European recognition, and aid to its troops as the Battle of Saratoga did for the patriots in the American Revolution. Europe had been impressed with Lee’s stunning victories and its textile mills were shutting down for lack of southern cotton. Europe was leaning towards recognizing the Confederacy as independent. If they did so, it would force the Union to reconsider as European leaders put pressure on the north to recognize Confederate independence. Lastly, the southern states needed a break from the war to harvest crops. Without this time to harvest, Confederate forces would be without much needed food and supplies the next year. With these ideas in mind, Lee planned an invasion of the north.
General Robert E. Lee’s luck had come to an end. As Lee invaded the north, one of his officers lost his copy of the plans of the battle. The plans were found by Union troops and given to General McClellan, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac. The result was the Battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, just 50 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.
The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Armed with Lee’s plans, McClellan crashed into Lee’s forces. The two sides fought all day long. At the end of the day, neither force could claim victory, but 25,000 men lay dead upon the battlefield. With one-third of his forces killed in battle, Lee was forced to retreat with his army back to Virginia. McClellan’s Union army could have chased after Lee, but McClellan was too afraid of Lee’s forces ambushing him as Lee had done in the Peninsular Campaigns. Instead, McClellan let Lee’s forces slip unmolested back into Virginia. For Lincoln, this was a wasted chance that would only prolong the war. Lincoln fired McClellan for his caution, desperate to find a Union general that could defeat Lee.
The Battle of Antietam was at best a draw. Neither side could claim victory on the battlefield. Lee had been forced to retreat, but his forces were still intact. Still, the Battle of Antietam was a political victory for the north. European governments were disillusioned by Lee’s defeat and backed away from plans to recognize Confederate independence. The battle also gave Lincoln a victory in the east. Lincoln had been waiting for such a victory to make an historic announcement.
The Emancipation Proclamation
The Union armies had done well in the west, but Lincoln had needed a victory closer to home in the east to assure the north that victory was obtainable before he could take radical action to change the very nature of the Civil War. The Battle of Antietam was the victory that Lincoln was waiting for to make his most historic announcement. On
The Emancipation Proclamation changed the very nature of the Civil War. Before the proclamation, the Civil War was a war to reunite the states of the Confederacy to the Union. After the proclamation, the Civil War had become a war to end slavery. Prior to the war, Lincoln had said that he could not eliminate slavery where it existed, and he could not. The Constitution, and Supreme Court cases like Dred Scott vs. Sanford, had show that slavery was legal, and could not be eliminated, or kept from expanding to new territories. But, the territories of the south were a self-proclaimed and independent country at war with the United States. Lincoln could do as he pleased with a foreign nation once he conquered it.
The Emancipation Proclamation could do nothing to the slaves of the north. The northern slave owners’ rights were still protected by the Constitution. And, Lincoln’s Union armies still had to defeat the Confederacy to free the slaves of the south. However, Lincoln knew that the states of the north overwhelmingly supported abolition. Once the south was defeated, they could be brought back into the Union with stipulation that they would have to pass an amendment that would eliminate slavery forever. Also, the Proclamation turned the Civil War into a war for freedom, as well as a war for reuniting the south. Abolitionists of the north rallied to Lincoln’s cause and rededicated themselves to defeating the Confederacy.
The Emancipation Proclamation also changed the attitudes of foreign countries. England had already made slavery illegal in their country. England needed southern cotton for its textile mills, but their people were against slavery as well. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made the England turn its backs upon the Confederacy and more favorably support the Union.
The Emancipation Proclamation also allowed for free African-Americans of the north to enlist in the Army to fight against the Confederacy. Perhaps no one else could have been better motivated to fight against slavery than the people who had once suffered under it. Many African-Americans answered Lincoln’s call to arms, and lined up to fight against slavery.
The Battle of Gettysburg
The Turning Point of the War
The Battle of Antietam gave Lincoln his much needed victory to announce his Emancipation Proclamation. However, the war against the Confederacy was going poorly in the east. Union victories in the west were important, and part of General Winfield Scotts’ Anaconda Plan in action. But the war in the east was favoring the Confederacy. Lincoln grew tired of newspapers reporting his Union armies’ defeats in the east at the hands of General Robert E. Lee. Lincoln replaced general after general trying to find a leader capable of defeating the seemingly invincible General Lee.
General Robert E. Lee was winning victories, but at a terrible cost. The Confederacy could not support its armies in the field, and it could not replace men lost in combat as easily as the heavily populated north. Lee also received horrible news, his most able commander; General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had been shot by his own forces by mistake in the dark, believing he was the enemy.
General Lee worried that if the war drew on much longer, it would be a benefit to the north. The north seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of men, weapons, and money with which to fight the war. The Confederacy was short on men, supplies, and with the northern blockade and victories along the Mississippi River, short on money and materials that the south received from Europe in exchange for cotton. And, with the Emancipation Proclamation, chances of European recognition and aid were drying up fast.
Lee’s solution was to win the war quickly before Confederate losses drained away all of the south’s resources and manpower. To do this, Lee decided to invade the north again. It was a gamble. If Lee could invade the north and rack up an impressive string of victories against the Union armies, he might be able to get the northern politicians to settle for a negotiated peace that would leave the Confederacy as an independent nation. The war had drug on much longer than northern people or their politicians had thought possible. The losses of life were huge. Already, there had been draft riots and food shortages. Discontent in the north might be used to Lee’s advantage if he could invade the north and win a series of decisive battles.
The Confederate armies under General Robert E. Lee invade the north in the early summer of 1863. By June, his forces had entered Pennsylvania. The Confederate forces were very short of supplies, and they learned of a supply of shoes in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Units were sent to investigate this claim and ran into Union forces there. The result was the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Battle of Gettysburg raged for three days. Union and Confederate forces were thrown into battle often as soon as they finished marching to the battleground. The south was desperate for a victory, and the Union forces were determined to not to loose a battle on northern territory. In all, 90,000 Union forces under the command of General Meade clashed with the 75,000 Confederate forces under General Lee.
The Union forces were positioned on the high ground outside of Gettysburg. Lee’s forces attacked over and over again for three days up the gentle slope to the hills where Union cannon and infantry relentlessly fired back at them. As one last and daring attempt to break the Union lines, General Pickett led his 13,000 men up the slope to the Union lines. Pickett’s Charge, as the attack became known was a disaster for the Confederacy. Pickett’s men lost half of their men in the advance to the Union barricades atop the ridge, but were unable to overwhelm the Union troops there. Pickett called a retreat. Only one in four of Pickett’s men made it back to Confederate lines. Of the 13,000 men of his regiment that had charged up the hill, almost 10,000 lay dead, wounded, or were captured upon the battlefield.
Pickett’s Charge was the straw that broke the camel’s back at Gettysburg. General Lee was forced to retreat to Virginia; his plans of ending the war with a victory in the north had been crushed. General Meade, like his predecessors, feared ambush by the retreating Confederate forces and did not pursue Lee’s forces as they retreated. Lee was able to escape with his forces unmolested. The North had lost 23,000 men in the three days of battle. But, the south’s losses were even greater. Lee had lost 28,000 men; over one-third of his forces had been destroyed in the three days of battle.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War. The battle was the last real chance the Confederacy had to win the war. From this point forward, all the south could do was fight a defensive battle, and prolong the inevitable. But, it was not just the battle that had changed the war, it was also the tactics. Lee’s tactics were great, but they were outdated. Huge frontal attacks had been the key to victory since before the days of the American Revolution. However, technology had changed that. Improvements in weapons such as rifled barrels and repeating rifles had made Lee’s tactics outdated. And, these new weapons needed factories to manufacture them. The north had thousands of factories, the south had few. Therefore, the north could keep up with the changing pace of weapons technology and the south could not. The north could adapt its strategy to take advantage of these weapons. The south could not.
The Gettysburg Address
President Lincoln traveled to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg four months after the battle. Soldiers and civilians were still collecting up the bodies of the dead for burial in the hills and woods surrounding the town. At Gettysburg, Lincoln gave one of his most influential speeches, The Gettysburg Address. The Gettysburg Address was a short speech. In it, Lincoln dedicated the cemetery in which the northern and southern troops were being buried as a national cemetery. And in his speech, Lincoln challenged the nation and all of America’s future generations with the charge of remembering the dead that were buried there, that their deaths not be in vain, but to remember that they gave their lives for this nation and to secure the blessings of democracy for future generations. Lincoln closed his speech with the hope that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, for the people, and by the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln had implied that the Civil War was a test of democracy. Should the Confederacy win the war, it would prove that democracy failed, should the Union be victorious, it would prove that democracy could survive.
The Siege of Vicksburg
The same day that Pickett led his 13,000 men into the Union lines, and sealed the fate of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, the Union received more good news. General Ulysses S. Grant had defeated the Confederate forces at Vicksburg. Grant had previously won battles along the northern length of the Mississippi River, and Admiral Farragut’s forces had captured New Orleans, but the fortress town of Vicksburg held open a narrow 150 mile long corridor of the river for the Confederacy. Grant had tried several attacks on the fortress city and been repulsed. Grant decided to settle in for a long siege. Grant’s troops surrounded the city and denied any food or supplies to enter. The Confederate troops and civilians in Vicksburg held out for a month and a half. By the end, they Confederates within the city were reduced to eating dogs, mules, and even rats. With no chance of help arriving and Grant’s troops and ironclads shelling the city day and night, the town of Vicksburg finally surrendered.
The Siege of Vicksburg fulfilled one part of the Anaconda Plan; it had I divided the Confederacy into two along the Mississippi River. The Union now controlled the entire length of the Mississippi River and patrolled it with ironclad gunboats. Confederate forces were denied their vital supplies from Mexico that had been bought with southern cotton from reaching the Confederate forces in the east.
The Siege of Vicksburg also gave Lincoln a new commander. Lincoln had tried general after general in the east to defeat Lee. Even when the north had won battles, such as Gettysburg, Union generals allowed Lee’s forces to escape rather than pursue them and crush them after a loss. Grant had been able to win victory after victory in the west. Surely here was the man to defeat Lee. Lincoln ordered General Grant to come east and take over command of the Union Army of the Potomac.
The Union Victorious
In 1864, Lincoln named General Grant as commander of all of the Union armies. Lincoln saw Grant as the only Union general capable of quickly defeating General Lee and putting an end to the war. General Grant wasted no time. Grant’s plan to finish off the Confederacy was simple. Grant’s armies would attack Lee’s Confederate forces without stop, pushing Lee’s forces ever deeper into the South. Grant then ordered General William Tecumseh Sherman to push through the heart of Georgia all the way to the Atlantic coast, bottling up Lee’s forces between the two great Union Armies.
General William Tecumseh Sherman waged a new type of warfare. As Sherman’s army marched the 300 miles across Georgia from Tennessee to the Atlantic coast, they destroyed everything in their path. Sherman’s new tactic was called total war. Total war is the concept that everything that could help the enemy be destroyed. Crops were burned in the fields, and cattle and farm animals taken to feed Sherman’s army, or killed and left to rot. This denied the Confederate troops much needed food and supplies. Buildings, railroads, plantations, and every structure built by man was torn down or burned to deny the enemy the use of them. Sherman wanted to not only deny the enemy their use, and needed supplies, but he also wanted to turn the Confederacy’s people against the war. The south was tired of war, and as Sherman destroyed everything in a 300 mile long, 60 mile wide corridor on his march to the sea, the Confederacy’s people stopped supporting the Confederate army and instead simply prayed for the war to end.
After Sherman’s army destroyed Georgia, it turned north. Now, Lees’ forces were quickly being surrounded. Grants Army of the Potomac was chasing Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia further into Virginia, almost to the very gates of Richmond, the Confederate capital. With Grant’s army to the north of him and Sherman’s army to the south, Lee had but one hope, to turn west and loose his pursuers in the Appalachian Mountains, and quickly before General Sheridan’s army arrived from the Shenandoah Valley to the northwest.
Lee fought valiantly to keep Grant’s troops away from the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Yet Lee had little hope. Lee’s army was down to 55,000 tired, malnourished men and very little ammunition. Lee’s men fought like tigers, but were outnumbered. Grant’s Army of the Potomac alone had twice as many men as Lee had. If the Union forces under Sheridan and Sherman were able to trap Lee at Richmond, Lee would be outnumbered four or five to one, and trapped against the sea.
As Lee looked at his desperately tired and worn out troops, he faced a choice. His men would follow him as long as he ordered them to fight. At best, he could drag the war out another year fighting in the mountains, but at what cost? The Confederacy was lost. The Union had won the war. All that was left was for the south to surrender.
General Lee surrendered his forces to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Lincoln had allowed General Grant to be gracious to the Confederate forces in defeat; after all, they would soon all be Americans again. Grant allowed the Confederate forces to go home. Those that owned horses or mules were allowed to return with them to assist in the harvesting of crops that the south would need the following winter or else thousands of southerners would be left to starve. As General Lee left Appomattox Courthouse, Grant took pity on the dirty and malnourished Confederate forces he had so long fought and ordered his army to feed the Confederates before allowing them to depart for their homes.
President Lincoln had held the nation together during the darkest days of the Civil War. Lincoln had planned to allow the south to rejoin the Union without punishment. He knew that both the north and south would have to work together to rebuild the nation after the loss of life and destruction of five long years of war.
Lincoln had also changed the course of the war with the Emancipation Proclamation. With that one act, Lincoln changed the war from a conflict to reunite the nation, to a war to eradicate slavery. Lincoln planned to have the north propose a new constitutional amendment to eliminate slavery, and make the southern states ratify the amendment before they were allowed to rejoin the United States.
Sadly, Lincoln never saw the end of slavery. Only five days after Lee had surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, ending the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The day of his assassination, Lincoln and his wife were attending a popular new comedy play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. After so brutal a war, it is easy to imagine President Lincoln wishing for a night of comedy and entertainment to celebrate his victory over the Confederacy. As Lincoln and his wife sat in a theater box over looking the stage, John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate supporter, entered from behind Lincoln, and fired a pistol into the back of Lincoln’s head.
As President Lincoln crumpled to the floor, Booth leapt out of the theater box to the stage below. As he fell, Booth, himself an actor, yelled out a phrase in Latin that meant, “Thus be it ever to tyrants.” Booth fractured his leg in the fall to the stage below, but in the confusion was able to escape out the back door and leapt upon a horse he had hidden there. Booth rode off into the night while the theater was thrown into confusion by the sight of the nation’s president slain before them all, and Lincoln’s wife crying at her slain husband’s side.
That same evening, other Confederate sympathizers struck in a coordinated attack upon the government. A would be assassin stabbed Secretary of State William Steward. Steward recovered from his attack, however. Another would be assassin tried to assassinate Vice-President Johnson, but by that time the alarm had gone out and the assassin was captured.
Union troops tracked down Booth. Booth had fled Washington, D.C. and had hidden away in a tobacco storage house on a plantation near Port Royal. Union troops surrounded the tobacco storage house. They intended to take Booth alive and try him for the murder of President Lincoln, and to try to get information from him about other conspirators in the attacks. However, Booth refused to leave the warehouse. Union troops next tried to force him out, and set fire to the warehouse, certain that Booth would flee from the fire. As the fires began to consume him, Booth tried to escape the flames. As he did so, a Union sergeant fired, striking Booth in the back of the head, a wound similar to that which he had inflicted upon President Lincoln.
Booth was pulled from the fire, injured, but still alive. He was given water, which seemed to revive him somewhat, and stated “Tell mother I die for my country.” As they tried to keep Booth alive, he continued, “I thought I did for the best.” The Union troops’ attempts to keep Booth alive to stand trial were to no avail. Booth’s wound was too serious. As Booth lay dying, he tried to look at his hands. As his vision left him in the last seconds of his life before death, Booth uttered his final words, “Useless! Useless!”
Booth’s last words might have been just a dying man’s inability to see, but what prophetic words they were, and what a useless act John Wilkes Booth had fostered. The Confederacy he so loved lay in ruins. His assassination of Lincoln would actually cause even more harm to befall the south. Without President Lincoln to guide the Confederacy back into the Union easily, without punishment, vengeful northern politicians would be left to take their hurt and anguish out on the now defenseless south.
Friends of John Wilkes Booth told authorities that Booth had often spoke of the ancient villain Erostratus. Erostratus had destroyed an ancient temple in Greece, solely for the purpose of having history remember his name. Booth told his friends that he admired Erostratus, for history had long forgotten the name of the man who had built the magnificent temple, but remembered the name of the villain that had destroyed it. If Booth was seeking immortality by having his name remembered for all time as a villain, then Booth got his wish. John Wilkes Booth will be forever remembered. He will be remembered as the villain that murdered one of the greatest presidents of the United States of America, and cast his beloved Confederacy, and the rest of the nation, into further darkness.
Effects of the Civil War
The effects of the Civil War upon the nation were significant. Slavery would be ended, but at a terrible cost. The exact number of death caused by the Civil War and its aftermath will never be known. However, approximately 620,000 soldiers died in the war. The north lost approximately 360,000 soldiers. Estimates for Confederate battlefield deaths are varied because the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, and most of the Confederate records there were destroyed by fire. However, most historians agree on a number of around 260,000 Confederate soldiers died during the war. Another 275,000 Union soldiers and 260,000 Confederate soldiers were wounded in the war and most were plagued by their painful scars and amputations for the rest of their lives. Altogether roughly 3,000,000 soldiers fought in the Civil War. Those three million soldiers amounted to about ten percent of the entire population of the United States at the time. To contrast that figure, today, in 2005, the United States Military has just around a million men and women serving in its military and the population is roughly 293 million. That means that our nation currently only has 0.34 percent, one-third of one percent, of its population in active military service.
The war had economic consequences as well. The government spent more in four years of the Civil War than it had in the previous eight decades. Many years would go by before the government had paid off the Civil War debt. Thousands of acres of farmlands lay uncultivated across the south, and southern cities, railroads, and ports lay in ruins. The plantation economy of the south had been dependant on slavery, without slavery, the South would have to find a new way to farm its crops. It would take many years to rebuild the south.
However the war had some positive effects as well. Americans had struggled through a bitter war, but had been tempered in the struggle. The authority of the federal government would no longer be challenged, and the concept of states’ rights severely limited. The war caused the federal government to expand to meet the needs of the war. After the war, the government continued to grow to meet the demands of reconstructing the south, and began to take a more important role in the day-to-day lives of the citizens of the United States. The war also made Americans think of the nation first and their home states a distant second. People began to believe that the United States as a nation was more important than the individual states that made up the nation. Finally, the war had caused a boom in industry in the north, and to a lesser degree in the south, to produce the weapons and materials needed to fight the war. After the war, these industries turned to making consumer goods and the economy of the nation thrived.