The Events of the American Civil War

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The Beginning of the American Civil War | The Events of the War | The End of the War
Life of Abraham Lincoln | Death of Abraham Lincoln | Legacy of Abraham Lincoln
Jefferson Davis | Robert E Lee | Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson | Ulysses S Grant

The American Civil War began on 12 April, 1861 with the soldiers of the newly formed Confederacy of seceded states firing upon Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Both sides fought valiantly, but the Confederates prevailed. The war had begun as a group of states in the American south seceded from the Union over slavery and the election of Abraham Lincoln - who wanted to limit the expansion of slavery.

There were two sides to the conflict - the Union, the remnants of states left over after most of the south seceded, and the Confederacy, made up of seceded states. The war made more great leaders, deaths and history than any other period in American history.

First Bull Run (Manassas)

By 21 June, 1861 Lincoln had to use the three month volunteers in the army or else they would have left without having served in any major combat. Therefore, Lincoln wanted to send the troops into combat before he sent them home. Many people thought this battle would decisively end the war in favour of the North. The Union commander of the forces, Brigadier General Irvin McDowell complained that his men weren’t experienced or trained enough to go into a big battle. GT Beauregard commanded Confederate forces, and his men were in disorder.

The two armies planned to control the Manassas Railroad Junction, which was near Bull Run. The Union marched on a relatively small brigade under Colonel Nathan Evans, who stalled the Union while the rest of the army assembled. Most of the Confederates retreated when the army faced them. However, an assembly of Virginians under Brigadier General Thomas Jackson stood strong. An officer named Barnard Bee yelled ‘Look! There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!’. From that point on, General Jackson was known as ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.

The retreating soldiers did rally, largely because Jackson’s presence meant that reinforcements were there. These troops attacked the Union’s right flank while the original soldiers charged on the Union. The Confederates yelled a fox-hunter’s call as loudly as they could. This would become known as the ‘Rebel Yell’.

The Union troops became a disorderly mob, running back towards Washington DC as quickly as they could. None of the officers could get the units to respond. The road their retreat was on was clogged with fleeing picnickers and politicians, who had planned to watch the battle while eating their lunches.

After this battle, the first real battle of the Civil War1, the conclusion that this would not be a short war set in. The embarrassing defeat of the Union demoralized the north, but made the idea of a long war, and the recruitment of a large army, more acceptable to the country. The Congress also became more supportive of the war... after all some Congressmen had watched the battle and slowed the army’s retreat with all of the picnickers.

Forts Henry and Donelson

While most of the drama and combat in the Civil war took place in the east, there were plenty of battles in the west. One of the most compelling and interesting of these was the battle of Fort Henry and Donelson.

In Tennessee, there were two major forts. Fort Henry guarded the Tennessee River. Fort Donelson guarded the Cumberland River. These rivers were important, as they were connected to the Mississippi River, and taking control of the Mississippi was vital to the Anaconda Plan.

General Henry Halleck, whose command included Missouri and Kentucky, sent Ulysses S Grant to capture Fort Henry, but a group of gunboats took it when Grant didn’t appear on time. Not much of a battle ensued, because the Confederates fled about 20 miles to Fort Donelson. Fort Henry was the Union’s then.

General Grant took ten days to reach Fort Donelson. He forced the Confederates there to surrender unconditionally. His initials, US, came to mean ‘Unconditional Surrender’2

This brought quite some attention upon Grant, and the Union people made a hero out of him. Abraham Lincoln took note of the good Generalling of Grant. He would prove himself to be one of the very few competent Union Generals in the war.

Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge was the battle for Missouri, which was a slave which remained in the Union. It took place near the border of Arkansas and Missouri, around Pea Ridge and near Elkhorn Tavern. The Federal army was stationed south of the place.

Confederate General Earl Van Doren halved his army and sent them to outflank the Union army on 6 March, 1862. The Union heard of this, and the next day they activated and marched to attack the enemy. They managed to kill or capture three important officers, and in doing so kept the southerners from attacking more that day.

On 8 March, Union Major General Samuel Curtis pushed the Confederates back from Elkhorn Tavern, and they fled the field. For the rest of the war, Missouri lay (mostly) uncontested in Union hands.

Monitor and Merrimack

In the early stages of the Civil War, the Union had a major advantage over the Confederacy in naval warfare. However, the Confederacy managed to create a new kind of ship - the ironclad - and reign over the Union for about one day, until the Monitor and Merrimack faced off. For more information on this, see this entry.


The battle of Shiloh encountered the fiercest fighting yet in the war. This battle changed every battle after it in tactics. After the battle of Shiloh, each army practiced an entirely different kind of war. It also reasserted that this would be a long, rough war.

Following the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson, Confederate General Albert Johnston had to withdraw his forces to Corinth, Mississippi. His wish was to destroy the army of General Grant before it could be reinforced by forces from Ohio. On 2 April, 1862, Johnston began to march towards Grant. Grant had allowed his men to rest and furthermore to enjoy their rest. Grant’s advisors and superiors said that the Confederate army wouldn’t advance. Grant was planning to meet with the Army of the Ohio and mount an offensive in the south. He was preoccupied with planning this, and didn’t even consider that Johnston might attack them. He didn’t fortify his position at all.

Johnston and his men achieved almost total surprise. The Federals organized quickly enough, and resisted the Confederates stiffly. Grant’s right fought around Shiloh Church (ironically, ‘shiloh’ is a Hebrew word meaning place of peace... it was anything but a place of peace during this battle), and fought vigorously. They gave some ground, but did not give in. The left flank was pounded, but held for a rather long time. Union men formed a final line slightly north, at Pittsburg Landing, on the river. They staved off a wave of attackers before the day ended. By the end of the first day, General Johnston was shot and replaced by General Beauregard.

On the second day, Grant was reinforced by Buell’s Ohio army and a reserve division. With fresh forces, Grant was able to launch a counterattack. The Confederates fought back their enemy with heroism. However, Grant had more men and Beauregard was forced to order a retreat.

There were 23,746 men killed, missing or wounded on either side. Had the Confederates won, they would have been able to chase much of the army out of the south and control the vital railroad junction at Corinth, Mississippi.

The Peninsular Campaign

One important piece of strategy for the Union was to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, in order to hurt the Confederacy’s government and morale. Richmond was rather close to Washington, DC, almost in order to taunt it.

George McClellan was not a great general, but his Peninsular campaign was an inspired work. Based on the maps he had, his plan was ingenious. His plan was to march down the peninsula in between the James and York Rivers (having been transported there by the Union’s navy) and to use the navy to defend the sides of the army as it marched west towards Richmond.

However, some things happened. When the Confederacy slapped iron on the sides of the Merrimack, the navy that McClellan was planning to use in the James River was obsolete. However, he continued with his plan, and shipped some 120,000 men to the peninsula. When he had enough of his men, he aimed to destroy the defenses of the peninsula, namely the small Army of the Peninsula’s lines. The leader of this army employed an old trick and made it seem, as best he could, that there were many more soldiers than there actually were.

As this happened, the navy refused to send ships to support McClellan and an entire corps was pulled from the campaign. Since he was weakened and he thought that the Confederate defences were stronger than he was, he decided to besiege the line. He waited long enough to lose the element of surprise, and General Johnston moved his army from Northern Virginia to meet McClellan in the Peninsula. Johnston, who knew the size of the Confederate Peninsula army, said that McClellan (known for being sometimes overcautious and not aggressive enough) was the only person who would have hesitated to attack.

As the siege was about to reach a climax, Johnston suddenly withdrew. McClellan tried to cut off Johnston, and General Sumner fought with Johnston in the battle of Williamsburg. After this, the main Confederate peninsula line was abandoned. Johnston managed to escape from McClellan’s army back to Richmond.

As Lincoln grew tired of the lack of action by McClellan, he ordered an attack on Norfolk, which was the major naval port of the south, and the James River was now clear for reinforcement of the campaign. However, Lincoln held back on promised forces as he thought they may be needed for the defence of Washington, DC.

Heavy rain had made the Chickahominy River, outside Richmond, nearly unpassable, and McClellan had to wait. Johnston attacked McClellan’s men outside of Seven Pines, and was seriously wounded. Robert E Lee assumed control of the Confederate forces. However, the attacks were poorly coordinated and Lee was not able to salvage them.

The counteroffensive against McClellan’s advance came on 25 June, 1862. It was actually a series of battles. It began with the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek, and several very bloody encounters followed. The Union had to retreat from the strong counterassault. The last battle of the Seven Days battle came on 1 July. Richmond was safe from the Union’s attack.

And thus, through a string of bad luck, bad reinforcements, bad intelligence and strong enemy leadership, McClellan’s great Peninsula Campaign failed. It is possible that if Richmond were won (and it could have been), the Civil War would have ended. But it wasn’t, so it didn’t end.

Second Bull Run

After the Peninsular Campaign’s failure, Lincoln relieved McClellan of most of his command, and tried out John Pope. The government decided that all of the major armies should come together and form one enormous force. McClellan and Burnside’s armies were to unite under Pope and his men.

However, Robert E Lee was too good a general to let this happen. He had his two lieutenants, General Jackon and General Longstreet, divide up the forces. He wanted to draw Pope into combat in order to keep a huge army from forming. Jackson’s troops were sent to attack a Federal column at Warrenton Turnpike. Pope believed he had gained the upper hand after a long-ish battle, and hit him with most of his army.

Pope either ignored Longstreet’s troops or didn’t notice them. He sent waves of soldiers to dispatch the Confederates, and there were heavy casualties on both sides. The next day, with Longstreet long ignored by the Union forces, he charged his half of the army in a huge counterattack against Pope. It crushed the US left flank, and they were forced to retreat before Lee crushed them. Lee pursued them, but they ran for Washington DC, and its defences were too strong for the Confederate army.

However, they made their way into Maryland, which led to the battle of Antietam.


Following the battle of Bull Run, Lee saw an opportunity to move the war into the Union’s land. He did this this for several reasons. First, he needed supplies, and they were in the north. Second, he felt that if the European powers saw the CSA win a strong victory in the north, they would help their cause. Third, he wanted to make the state of Maryland secede from the Union. And fourth, they wanted to pressure the north into peace talks.

This was the first major Confederate advance on the North. Lee sent Generals Longstreet and Jackson into Maryland separately. Jackson was to capture Harpers Ferry and then reunite with Longstreet.

Meanwhile, a soldier in George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac found the plan of Lee, and McClellan moved to cut Lee off. He found Lee without Jackson’s army, and Lee attempted to hold him off as long as he could. He was heavily outnumbered, but was able to create a standstill around Antietam Creek, near the town of Sharpsburg on 15 September. The next day, Jackson’s men arrived to help.

The day after this, on 17 September, the battle really began. Jackson’s forces faced a difficult battle, and they were pummeled by heavy artillery fire. The Union and Confederate men jealously contested their ground. Jackson was hit with heavy casualties all over. Along a sunken road (now known as ‘Bloody Lane’) several Union divisions tried to push their enemies back. General Burnside’s northern soldiers fought to cross a bridge over Antietam creek, which he finally did cross at about one in the afternoon.

Burnside’s troops were threatening Lee’s retreat route, but a division led by General AP Hill arrived, having been left behind at Harper’s Ferry. Hill drove Burnside back, and after this the day - the bloodiest day during the Civil War - ended. Lee withdrew his troops the next day into Virginia. About 23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing as a result of the battle.

Though no side could really claim a victory in the battle, it was a strategic victory for the North. It allowed Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, and the Confederate retreat caused Great Britain to stay neutral for a while.

The Emancipation Proclamation

In the summer of 1862, Lincoln decided to issue an order freeing slaves in the rebelling territories. The result would be to satisfy certain Republicans who wanted the institution gone and to hurt southern economic power. In addition, freed slaves would be able to serve in the Union army. He wouldn’t free slaves in slave states that stayed with the Union, because he feared it might cause them to join the Confederacy. His cabinet advised him against this, fearing it would allow antislavery countries to support the Confederacy, but he intended to do it.

However, his Secretary of State insisted that Lincoln wait until the Union army won a major victory to issue his proclamation. He did just this, and Lincoln saw an opportunity following the Battle of Antietam. He issued it in a preliminary statement on 22 September, and the real statement was issued on 1 January, 1863. Of course, this didn’t free any slaves immediately, because there was no way for Lincoln to enforce the proclamation in the south when he issued it.

This made a new Union goal for the war, not only to preserve the Union but to get rid of slavery in the United States.


Following McClellan’s repeated failures and lapses of judgment, Lincoln replaced him with Ambrose Burnside. Shortly after being given his command, Burnside devised a strategy to attack Richmond through Fredericksburg. His enormous army of 115,000 men ran to Fredericksburg, but were unable to reach it, being on the wrong side of the Rappahannock River. When he arrived at the river, Burnside was opposed on the other side by only a few thousand men, and could have taken the town easily. However, he decided to wait for a set of pontoons to arrive to make a bridge. He wanted to take the town as one army, instead of sending one or two divisions to take the town by an alternate route. He didn’t expect that the Confederates were on the move.

Lee heard of Burnside’s advance and ordered his divided armies (he had split it into commands for Longstreet and Jackson again) towards Fredericksburg. The town was evacuated, and some southern soldiers were positioned around it. However, the bulk of the army, the corps led by Longstreet, was positioned on the hills directly behind the city. Jackson and his men were positioned on the right of Longstreet. While Burnside was pretty much not doing anything, Lee was entrenching his soldiers in the hills behind the city.

The Union began to construct the pontoon bridges, but a brigade firing on the unarmed Engineer regiments made it impossible. Burnside ordered a heavy bombardment of the city to get rid of the Confederate threat. The first element of Burnside’s army crossed the river on 11 December. They quickly controlled the town, and looted it. His plan was to overwhelm Longstreet’s men with superior numbers, then outmanoeuvre Jackson’s men later. Few men agreed that this plan would work out that way, though.

Burnside sent several brigades to their death to attack the nearly impenetrable Confederate line at Marye’s Heights. For a few days, waves and waves of Union soldiers were unsuccessful at getting through Longstreet’s lines. Not one Union man went over the wall protecting the Confederates. On 15 December, Burnside decided to withdraw his men, after this embarrassing defeat.

The Federal morale dropped considerably after this defeat, while the Confederacy’s morale was higher than ever. There were 13,000 Union casualties, and only 5,000 on the other side. This victory gave Lee a feeling as if he and the Army of Northern Virginia were almost invincible, and the Southern public basically agreed.


In January, Major General Joseph Hooker replaced Burnside as the leader of the army of the Potomac. Hooker’s appointment was popular amongst the men, and restored some of the morale lost after Fredericksburg. Hooker reorganized the army, and created a cavalry corps.

He devised a trap for Lee, who had Jackson’s men still in Marye’s Heights beyond Fredericksburg - Longstreet was in Suffolk. Hooker sent his cavalry to end communications between Lee and Richmond. He kept a substantial number of men in Fredericksburg, so that Lee couldn’t leave his hills. Another force was sent to come at Lee’s army from the west. This formed a trap around Lee, and left no retreat, at least not an easy one.

Meanwhile, Hooker sent his main army to advance on Lee’s position, uniting at Chancellorsville - which was the name of a single tavern at the intersection of several roads. Lee didn’t retreat, as Hooker thought he would - it was rather daring, as the Confederates were outnumbered by about a two to one ratio. Lee began to advance on Hooker’s position in the woods. Hooker was left without any cavalry, because the attempts to cut off communication failed at first. He didn’t know when Lee would attack.

Lee sent part of his 60,000 men to guard Fredericksburg and the other part to attack Hooker. They met on 1 May, and Hooker pulled back to Chancellorsville. This was in the middle of an area of heavy woods, and Hooker hoped that bringing the Confederates into the woods would disorganize them.

However, rather than sending his men into the thick woods, Lee sent most of the attacking men under General Jackson to attack Federal camps. Only two divisions were left to stop Hooker. Jackson’s men attacked the right flank of the army, which was unprepared and sitting in its camp. The attack went from early morning of 2 May until dark, when the attack was halted as the Confederate lines were very confused. While planning the next day’s offensive, General Jackson rode out ahead of his lines and was shot by his own men. Jackson was wounded, and his left arm was amputated. He died shortly after. Lee lost his most trusted commander and later said that though Jackson lost his left arm, he (Lee) lost his right.

On 3 May, JEB Stuart, who took control of Jackson’s men, attempted to push through US lines to reunite with Lee. The Union men fought with valour to defend their lines, but Hooker ordered them to retreat towards Chancellorsville. Lee was about to start a final push and attack Chancellorsville, but he was distracted by a group of Union men who had broken the lines at Fredericksburg. By the time he returned to attack Hooker, he had withdrawn his troops and retreated.

Chancellorsville is widely considered to be Lee’s finest work of leadership. Though he lost his trusted lieutenant Jackson of pneumonia on 10 May, he hit Hooker with 17,000 casualties and received only 14,000.

Vicksburg Campaign

See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket... We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.

-Abraham Lincoln

As a part of the Anaconda Plan, Vicksburg, located on the eastern bank of the lower Mississippi had to be taken. Taking Vicksburg would mean the capture of the Mississippi, which would divide the south in half and cut off supply lines. It would have been essential to winning the war. No Union ship could navigate the length of the Mississippi because guns from Vicksburg would fire upon it as it passed.

Lincoln dispatched one of his more successful generals, Ulysses S Grant, to take Vicksburg. Several attempts had been made to take Vicksburg before it finally fell. He devised a new strategy to take the city.

His army marched south of the city on the western bank of the river. Grant marched south along the east side of the river. Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter was north up the Mississippi River past the Vicksburg batteries on 16 April, 1863. Grant tried to cross the river at Grand Gulf on 29 April, but heavy fire there forced him to move on. He then went east over the river near Bruinsburg on 30 April.

By late afternoon Grant had landed on the other side of the Mississippi without opposition. They marched through the night so that the Confederates couldn’t take down bridges or mount an opposition. Around midnight, shots were fired between Confederates around the AK Shaifer House, until both sides stopped firing in preparation for the battle that would come that morning. Around 5.30am, the battle began, but the Confederates were heavily outnumbered. At 5.30pm, 12 hours later, the Confederates began to retreat and the battle ended. This was the battle of Port Gibson, and there were 875 casualties in Grant’s army. This allowed the Union to continue their advance and forced the Confederates to abandon the Grand Gulf, which Grant would use as a supply base.

Grant wanted to attack Vicksburg from the south, but first attack the railroad line in between Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi to stop communication and supplies. It would essentially isolate Vicksburg. On the way, the Union men encountered a small force of Confederates, resulting in what was called the battle of Raymond.

After Raymond, Grant moved to capture Jackson, Mississippi. He decided that rather than breaking the railroad line between Vicksburg and Jackson, he could destroy Jackson as a communication and supply centre, and prevent Vicksburg from receiving any reinforcements positioned in the city. Around the time Grant moved towards Jackson, Confederate General Joseph Johnston arrived in the city to organize the forces in the state.

Johnston realized he was too late to do any good, and ordered Jackson to be evacuated, while troops delayed Grant’s advance. Grant’s army encountered some resistance from enemy artillery, but took the city relatively easily. There were very few casualties in the battle. He destroyed telegraph lines, railroad lines, machine shops and factories. Grant was able to move to Vicksburg now.

Grant began to march west, and on 16 May he heard that Confederates were moving east to meet his advance. At about 7.00am the Confederates fired on the Union near a plantation and the battle of Champion Hill began. The Confederates were commanded by Lieutenant General John Pemberton, who had them in a long formation, with an unprotected left flank. Sure enough, Grant focused on the left flank around Champion Hill, and Pemberton raced to send men there. Around 9.00am, the two sides met, and the Union artillery bombarded its enemy. After about an hour, Grant ordered an attack of two divisions. Shortly, Grant had gained a distinct advantage and used his superior numbers to force the Confederates to retreat.

Grant’s 32,000 man army suffered 410 killed, 1,844 wounded and 187 missing. Pemberton lost 381 to death, 1,018 were wounded and 2,441 men were missing. However, failing to stop Grant here assured Confederate defeat at Vicksburg.

The next day, Grant encountered a brigade of Confederates guarding a few bridges over the Big Black River, who had been told to hold the bridges for a retreat from an army that wasn’t retreating that way. The Federals quickly ran out the Confederates and captured quite a few men and artillery. The Confederates managed to keep Grant from running after them by burning the bridge behind them.

On 19 May, Grant made his first attack on Vicksburg by sending Sherman’s men forward. His artillery pounded the Confederates, but they sent him back. Realizing that he had made a mistake in ordering men forward too quickly without enough intelligence, Grant waited until 22 May to attack Vicksburg again. Artillery attacked Vicksburg again, for four hours, and then Grant ordered part of his men forward, but were again sent back, with Union casualties of around 3,000 men.

Following the two unsuccessful attempts to storm Vicksburg, Grant decided to lay siege on it. A long line of Union men dug fortifications to isolate the city from the outside world. They crept up closer and closer to the city. The plan was to dig a long tunnel below the Confederate fortifications and use explosives to blow a hole in the defences. That was the plan.

On 25 June, the explosives were detonated, and Grant’s men rushed to take advantage of this hole. For 26 hours, both sides fought to control the gap, but the Union men were pushed back by the fierce defenders. On 1 July, another hole was made with the same method, but there wasn’t a big rush to control it on the Union side.

Meanwhile, the city of Vicksburg was becoming weary of the siege, and its defenders were spread thin. No Confederate soldiers had come to the relief of Vicksburg yet, and they feared that they never would.

On 3 July, white flags were raised over the city and General Pemberton rode to Grant to surrender. They discussed terms under an oak tree, and before the day was out Grant sent mild surrender terms to Pemberton. He decided these were the best terms he could get, and officially surrendered Vicksburg. At 10.00am the next day, 4 July, on the anniversary of the signing of the US Declaration of Independence, the northerners marched into the city and took possession of it.

This victory came one day after Robert E Lee withdrew his army from the battlefield of Gettysburg. These two days marked the beginning of the end of the Confederate hopes for independence.


In classic military terms, the American Civil War Battle of Gettysburg was a 'meeting engagement3' gone horribly wrong.

With Confederate troops spread in a 45-mile long arc from the Pennsylvania town of Chambersburg in the west and Carlisle in the east, the Southerners' invasion had gone extremely well for a few weeks. However, the Confederate commander General Robert E Lee did not know the location of the 90,000-man Union army that was pursuing him because his cavalry (the intelligence gathering branch of mid-1800s armies) was far out of position to the east. In fact, the entire Federal army was between Lee's cavalry and his own 75,000-man army.

When a spy convinced Lee that the Union army was closer to some parts of the spread out Rebel army than they were to each other, Lee immediately ordered his forces to consolidate near the small village of Cashtown, just west of Gettysburg. As the county seat of Adams County, Gettysburg was a market town with roads from the surrounding countryside radiating into it from all points on the compass most of the Confederate forces headed toward Gettysburg and then planned to move on to Cashtown to link up with the rest of Lee's army.

As the Southerners were attempting to consolidate their forces, the Union army was seeking out the location of the Confederate army. Thus a classic meeting engagement occured at Gettysburg when Confederate troops under General Henry Heath ran into Union cavalry under the command of General John Buford. They took cover and began firing at each other.

Then things went horribly wrong. Both sides rushed to reinforce their men and more and more soldiers began to be drawn into the fight. Before too long, both commanding generals found that their entire armies had been drawn into a full-fledged battle, beginning on 1 July, 1863.

On the first day's fighting, the Confederates drove the Federal troops through the town of Gettysburg and into the hills to the south and east of town. Had the Southern troops been able to capitalize on their early momentum, they might have swept the Union troops from the field; however this was not the case.

On the second day's fighting, the Union troops maintained a defensive position along the high ground south and east of town and waited for the Southerners to attack. Confederate General Robert E Lee ordered his troops to attempt to turn the right flank of the Union lines but the effort failed. So he ordered an attack on the left flank, which was anchored by the highest ground on the battlefield - the hill known as Little Round Top. This effort was also unsuccessful.

On the third day, Lee ordered a frontal assault on the centre of the Union lines, believing that after hitting both flanks, Federal General George Meade would strengthen both positions and leave the centre relatively weak. After an artillery barrage that was supposed to soften up the Union lines but overshot the mark, the Rebels engaged in an historic charge into the face of the enemy's cannons and infantry.

Pickett's Charge, as it came to be known, was a complete disaster and the Confederates pulled back and shortened their lines to face the inevitable Union counterattack. But Meade had had enough and held his ground, allowing the Southerners to slip away and eventually escape back to Virginia on 4 July.

Historians agree that these three days in Pennsylvania turned the tide of the war. In fact, the small copse of trees that the Confederates reached at the climax of Pickett's Charge is known as the 'high water mark of the Confederacy'.

In November, President Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg and gave his famous speech. One hundred years later, President John F Kennedy declined an invitation to speak at the cemetery where Lincoln uttered his famous 258 words and Kennedy joined Lincoln as a victim of an assassin's bullet.

The New York Draft Riot

On 3 March, 1863 Lincoln issued the Enrolment Act of Conscription. It included the possibility for wealthy citizens to buy their way out of service, and blacks were exempt from the draft. By this time, New York City, which already had a sizeable anti-war Democrat population, was tired of the long war. New York State’s governor Horatio Seymour was strongly against the war.

On 11 July, the first people to be drafted in New York were announced. The strong Irish community, which was poor, hated the idea that rich citizens didn’t have to serve. Some people who were prejudiced against blacks, didn’t see why they should fight for slaves. This made for a very volatile situation.

After the draft was announced, a huge mob of some 50,000 people stormed through the East Side of New York City, looting, lynching and burning down buildings - black orphanages and churches. Whole families of blacks were chased and lynched, and a Mohawk Indian was even killed by mistake. However, the Union army was sent in to extinguish the riot, and opened fire on rioters. All in all, $1.5 million of damage was inflicted and nearly 1,000 people were wounded or killed.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga

Following a Union offensive in Tennessee in which the Union ran out Confederate commander Braxton Bragg, Major General William Rosecrans began to attempt to remove the Confederates from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He sent three corps to take Chattanooga, on separate routes. Instead of hitting the well fortified east, he moved to attack the west.

Bragg was unable to muster the forces necessary to launch a counteroffensive, but decided to stay and defend Chattanooga. However, Rosecrans chased the Confederates out of the important city. The Confederates retreated south, with their line spreading along Chickamauga Creek. Bragg wanted to break the Union line and make his way into Chattanooga again. On 17 September, he moved towards the Union men, and fighting began on 18 September. Fighting through the next day, Bragg was unable to break the Union line.

On 20 September, General James Longstreet, one of Lee’s trusted subordinates, and his corps were brought to assist Bragg. That day, Longstreet’s men helped the assault on Rosecrans. However, in shifting his troops around, Rosecrans left a gap in his line and the Confederates took advantage of it. Rosecrans was driven from the field and General George Thomas took over, and stubbornly held the line until dark. After dark, he withdrew to Chattanooga and left his enemies to the surrounding hills.

This engagement resulted in 34,624 casualties, with about 16,000 US casualties and 18,500 CSA casualties. President Lincoln changed a few titles as a result of this battle. Ulysses S Grant was given control of all western armies and General Thomas was assigned to hold Chattanooga.

Following Chickamauga, with the Confederates in a position to control access to Chattanooga, it looked like the Union forces in Chickamauga might starve. In order to control Chattanooga and keep the army there, General Grant’s men were sent to end the Confederate siege.

On 24 November, 1863, Lookout Mountain was lost by the Confederates. Lookout Mountain is a high hill in the Tennessee Valley, naturally protected on all but one side, because an army wouldn’t be able to march up the other three steep sides. Sometimes, fog comes down into the valley, but below the tall mountain. As it happened, Lookout Mountain was above a layer of fog on 24 November, 1863. For this reason, the battle of Lookout Mountain was named ‘The Battle Above the Clouds’.

Union General Joe Hooker was moving 12,000 men when he spotted a number of enemy soldiers, about one tenth his army in number. Though vastly outnumbered, they withdrew under orders of Bragg. Not much fighting really took place, but the poetic name of the battle and meteorological coincidence of 24 November have made it a memorable part of the war.

A few other engagements, most notably Missionary Ridge, left the Union firmly in control of Chattanooga. The city would be used on a supply line and as a staging area for future operations in the lower south, specifically Sherman’s March.

Grant’s 1864 Campaign

The Wilderness

On 2 May, The Army of the Potomac, which had begun yet another invasion of the south, crossed the Rapidan River. The strategy of this attack was similar to the strategy that resulted in the disastrous (for the Union) battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. This army was led by Ulysses Grant and George Meade, in four corps, led by Generals Warren, Sedgewick, Hancock and Burnside. Lee, however, had problems with finding experienced and able subordinates, especially with the death of Thomas Jackson earlier. He placed Generals Hill, Longstreet and Ewell in charge of his corps

As the Union men crossed the Rapidan, Lee spotted them and ordered an advance to meet them in the Wilderness. In the thick woods, he believed the Union men would be unable to move quickly or use their superior artillery. On 5 May, the battle began. Ewell was on the left flank and fought Warren’s Union Corps. Hill fought Hancock’s Corps and was hit very hard. Longstreet was marching in from a position about 25 miles away.

On 6 May, the Union’s strength in numbers was beginning to crush the Confederates. However, before noon Longstreet’s fresh men arrived and attacked the tired Union men under Hancock. He pushed his enemy back considerably, but the attack couldn’t last, as he didn’t have enough men. Longstreet, who was wounded in fighting, pulled back and the battling on this side eased. The other side’s fortunes were turned with a major assault led by John Gordon, though it was too late in the day to continue the assault.

The battle ended after this attack, because neither side was willing to resume an attack. It was considered a draw, in the sense that Lee inflicted much higher casualties on his enemies, but Grant did not retreat and held his position. This made this campaign unique as opposed to Burnside retreating after Fredericksburg and Hooker withdrawing after Chancellorsville. Grant, however, boldly turned towards Fredericksburg.

Confederate casualties were relatively light, at about 7,500. Union casualties were about 10,000 more than its adversary.

Spotsylvania Courthouse

After The Wilderness, Grant moved towards Spotsylvania Courthouse, a landmark on his march to Richmond. The fifth Union corps led their march and, as luck would have it, the First Confederate Corps led their army’s march towards Spotsylvania Courthouse as well. Lee knew that this was where Grant was headed. Grant progressed slowly, while the Confederates raced to Spotsylvania Courthouse without sleep. In addition, a cavalry unit under Fitzhugh Lee ambushed and attacked the Union men.

The Confederates reached Spotsylvania Courthouse first. As the Union approached it, all they saw was Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, and charged to attack. What they didn’t see was the Confederate army behind them. The rest of the day, each side set up lines along Brock Road, and set up entrenchments and earthworks. The Confederates had their fortifications laid out over five miles, with one flaw. There was a bulge of fortifications laid out as a circle with a flat end, known as the ‘Mule Shoe’.

On 10 May, Colonel Emory Upton led 12 regiments through the woods, and when he was about 200 yards away from the enemy, sent his men to attack the Mule Shoe formation. A brigade of Georgians ran, and Upton nearly reached the centre of the formation before the Confederates ran him out. This attack had two major effects on the commanders. Lee realized that the Mule Shoe was very weak, and Grant considered the effects of a larger attack force on the Mule Shoe.

On 11 May, the Confederates, believing that Grant was withdrawing, removed their artillery from the Mule Shoe. However, they mistook the positioning of an attack as a retreat. On 12 May, about 20,000 Northerners swept the Mule Shoe and took most of it prisoner. However, Lee saw that the Union men were rapidly becoming disorganized, escorting captured Confederates and going through the trenches.

Lee launched a counter strike against the Union, led by John Gordon. Before noon, the Confederates had managed to regain most of their lost ground. However, the Sixth Union Corps retaliated and fought bitterly in close quarters against the Southerners. Waves of Union men fiercely attacked a specific area slightly west of the apex of the Mule Shoe. This was known as the Battle of the Bloody Angle. Several units of men that were being attacked were behind solid log structures. Attacks were unrelenting, with bayonets used for stabbing and guns ends used for clubs when their ammunition was depleted. Fighting did not end until about 2:00 AM, at which point the Union took the area.

For a few more days, Grant looked for a weak spot in the Confederacy’s defences. He couldn’t find one, but refused to retreat. On 20 May, Grant began sending his army to find a different route to Richmond. Though his favoured route was blocked, Grant’s hammering on Lee was beginning to weaken the entire Confederate effort. There were about 10,000 reported casualties on the Confederate side, and Lee lost many of his officers. To keep the numbers of the Army of Northern Virginia up, soldiers from other places in the war were relocated. The Union suffered about 18,000 casualties, but that was much smaller proportionally than the Confederate army’s losses.

Cold Harbor

After Spotsylvania Court House, Grant continued towards Richmond. After losing a smallish battle at North Anna River against the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant repositioned southeast and then fought with Lee along the Totopotomoy Creek. However, Philip Sheridan’s Federal Cavalry took control of the important crossroads at Cold Harbor on 1 June.

After this, the two armies moved their armies to Cold Harbor. If the Union held Cold Harbor, about ten miles from Richmond, the Confederate capital would likely fall. The Confederates built a long, strong line of fortifications to protect the crossroads.

On 3 June, Grant ordered an assault on the Confederate forces. The Union men marched up to the impregnable fortifications. The Confederates couldn’t believe that they had been ordered to attack them, as they knew they would be slaughtered. About 7,000 men were killed or wounded on the Union side, with only 1,500 Confederate casualties. One Confederate General said it was not war, it was murder.

Grant ordered another attack, but soldiers refused to go forward. A captain said ‘I will not take my regiment in another such charge if Jesus Christ himself should order it!’ Grant forever regretted the charge at Cold Harbor. Grant didn’t order another attack, but had his troops entrenched for ten days. When he realized Lee wouldn’t order an attack, he revised his strategy to attack Petersburg, another important railroad gateway into Richmond.

Richmond and Petersburg

Grant knew he couldn’t win a battle against Lee when his enemy was entrenched, which was one of the reasons he chose to go to Petersburg following Cold Harbor. Quick action would prevent his enemy from digging earthworks and fortifications. Grant managed to move his army without Lee being able to see it or move against it. Finally, Lee had given Grant an opening. On 12 June, Grant had begun withdrawing his army towards Petersburg. In fact, when Lee saw Grant had left, he thought he had gone to the Chickahominy swamps.

Within a few days, Union engineers had built a bridge across the James River and Grant’s army had crossed it. The first assault on the city was costly for Grant, and reinforcements under Benjamin Butler did not arrive quickly enough to make a hole in Petersburg’s defences. Had the first attack succeeded, as it could have, the only defenders of Petersburg were inexperienced militia men and young people. Lee wasn’t going towards Petersburg to reinforce the city, because he thought Grant was going to launch a direct assault on Richmond.

Grant attacked Petersburg again on 15 June, with a corps led by ‘Baldy’ Smith. Smith was delayed from attacking for a few hours due to a skillful southern regiment and other factors. He managed to tear a huge hole in the Confederate defence, but decided that it would be more wise for General Hancock’s men to go into the hole, as those men were rested and ready for battle. However, it took him three hours to mobilize Hancock’s men and by that time it was to late to continue the attack. The Union men had let a great opportunity go by.

Attacks came again the next day, but on 17 June, Grant had his last chance to take Petersburg before Lee would arrive and greatly supplement its garrison. After this day’s actions failed, Grant decided that the city was too strong to be won through a battle. He did not want a repeat of Spotsylvania, and was very cautious about attacking entrenched Confederates. He decided to lay siege on Petersburg. Union entrenchments were strong and close to the city.

A few skirmishes, raids and smaller attacks took place away from Petersburg. Grant was very busy, however. During the siege he ordered several important attacks in different parts of the country, as General-in-Chief of Union forces. He ordered Sherman’s March, the attack on Nashville and Sheridan’s attack at Shenandoah Valley.

He was also busy with an elaborate plan to destroy part of the Confederate line. A group of miners in the 48th Pennsylvania regiment gave him a plan to tunnel under the Confederate line and detonate a mine. Grant approved, and they begun digging at the end of June. After a month, the regiment was ready. Grant sent a unit of cavalry towards Richmond to divert forces from Petersburg. He had a very strong attack force ready. On 30 June, tons of black powder were detonated, and a huge crater was left. Union forces came out of the crater, but the Confederates gained their composure and stood around the crater, killing hundreds of men as they came out. It did not go as planned, and was considered a disaster - largely because the doubt and lack of cooperation from Union officers. There were about 5,300 casualties as a result of this battle, and most of them were on the Union end.

Grant patiently waited. His men had plenty of food, but on the other side of the lines, the Confederates went hungry. Lee had to wait patiently, as he was in no position to launch an attack. Grant keeping Lee inside Petersburg allowed for easy Union action elsewhere, especially Sherman’s March. Lee saw that the situation was getting worse, and with fewer men (due to skirmishes, disease, battles and desertions) he was rapidly becoming prisoner to Grant instead of a defender against him.

After a slow winter, Grant remained as resolute as ever. His 1864 campaign ran into the next year. Lee realized that the destruction of the Confederacy was imminent unless he did something extraordinary. He planned a bold attack to break Grant’s hold on Petersburg, attacking the Union’s centre-right, but the Federal troops responded and fought back Lee, who lost about 5,000 soldiers and some of their fortifications.

Grant also sent Philip Sheridan to attack the Confederates. At the Battle of Five Forks, half of the engaged Confederates surrendered. On 2 April, Grant stuck again at the Confederate defences, and Lee was forced to leave Petersburg that month, and decided to march to meet General Johnston's army in North Carolina in order to stop General Sherman. He left Richmond, with a smaller army that included a few black men4.

After about nine months, the Siege of Petersburg was over, and Richmond was left open to the Union for the first time. It is said that Jefferson Davis was in church when someone whispered to him that Petersburg fell, and he ran out of the service to prepare the Confederate government’s retreat. Everyone knew that as Petersburg fell, Richmond fell.

Indeed it did. Most of the Confederate government left the city, as well as many of the city’s residents and its defenders. They left behind them great fires. Abraham Lincoln himself came to watch as the Union army marched into the city on 3 April. Finally, one of the most basic goals of the Union was accomplished - capture of Richmond. It was in ruins, as was the Confederate morale and government. Lincoln went to the home of Jefferson Davis and sat at his desk. The war was almost over.

Finishing them Off

While Grant had Lee pinned in Petersburg, several operations were made in the south. These destroyed the economic power and infrastructure of the south, killing morale and the ability to raise an army, which were the basic things that the south would need to defeat Grant at Petersburg.

Sherman’s March to the Sea

William Tecumseh Sherman was one of the best known generals of the war, and has always been something of an mystery. He was not clean shaven5, had a loose imagination, caused several major blunders, and yet advanced to a lofty position in the Union Army. What can be said of him is that, when called upon, he got the job done.

Because of a good relationship with Grant and able service in his campaigns, Sherman was given command of all Union armies in the west, a title Grant himself held at one point. After forcing Joseph Johnston’s army to Atlanta, he ordered everything of military value in that city to be burnt. He sent part of his army to chase after Johnston’s army (now under command of John Hood) while he began his famous march to the sea. He extended his army to be 60 miles wide and 62,000 men strong. He had them destroy everything of military value as they passed it. Sherman left Atlanta on 12 November, 1864. He had chosen to go to Savannah, Georgia, though he could have gone to Charleston, South Carolina. Legend says that he chose Savannah because he had a girlfriend in Charleston.

The Confederates were unable to muster a meaningful resistance to Sherman. A small number of untrained and inexperienced militiamen couldn’t stop his well trained army. On 10 December, he captured Savannah (which sat on the Atlantic) as the city’s defenders fled. He famously presented the city as a Christmas gift to President Lincoln and the Union. On 17 February, Sherman’s men - who reserved a special hatred for South Carolina, because it was the first state to secede - burnt down two-thirds of Columbia, South Carolina. He continued into North Carolina later.

The Confederates were desperate to stop Sherman’s march. Under Johnston, they hit Sherman on 19 March with all their available troops. The Union men were able to hold their line that day and the next, and on 21 March launched a counterattack that forced Johnston to retreat.

Sherman’s march broke the southern morale and the pride that they would be able to protect their homes. He was demonized by the Confederates. The north, however, saw him as a hero. More than anything else, his march hurt psychologically, though destroying crops and important buildings in cities seriously hurt the south’s economy. Desertions also increased in the Confederate army, weakening its military strength significantly.

Mobile Bay

A large, roughly triangular bay juts into the state of Alabama and out into the Gulf of Mexico. This is Mobile Bay. It is pretty well protected by land, and was a key Confederate naval base during the Civil War, used for blockade running by southerners. Closing the bay would help secure a full blockade of the south and close the original Anaconda Plan overall strategy.

By late 1864, the Union deemed it necessary to take Mobile Bay, and dispatched Admiral David Farragut and Major General Gordon Granger to take it. The first action was by Farragut. His fleet consisted of 14 wooden ships and four ironclads that were in the design of the Monitor, from the famous battle of the Monitor and Merrimack.

As he moved into Mobile Bay, he ordered his men to steer ‘eastward of the easternmost buoy’, as there were torpedoes (not torpedoes as we know them today, but more like underwater mines) and other things to stop ships in between the buoys. However, a torpedo hit the ironclad USS Tecumseh and it sank (even though conventional knowledge said that ironclads were unsinkable). Almost all of the Tecumseh crew died as it sank.

Farragut boldly continued on in his flagship, the Hartford, proclaiming ‘Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead’. This phrase became one of the most famous in US Naval history, along with John Paul Jones saying ’I have not yet begun to fight!’ during the American Revolutionary War.

Farragut easily won a naval battle with the Confederate navy of three wooden ships and one ironclad. Meanwhile, an attack force led by Major General Granger captured three forts, the last one falling on 23 August.

The End of the War

For information about the period following the war, including surrendering, President Johnson's Impeachment and the war over Reconstruction, see this entry.

1Fort Sumter can hardly be considered a battle.2Grant's initials at birth had been HUG, but he didn't like them. By a mistake, his name was written as USG on an appointment to West Point Military Academy, and he never corrected the mistake.3A meeting engagement is occurs when opposing sides in a conflict literally walk right into each other and begin shooting.4The Confederate government very narrowly passed a bill to allow blacks to be included in the army in order to win the war.5Perhaps at this point it should be noted that while Lincoln had little success in finding competent generals, the ones he did find useful - such as Grant and Sherman - always seemed to have scraggly or stubbly chins, while one of the least competent at all, Ambrose Burnside, appeared to take pride in his pronounced sideburns (Burnside... sideburn, geddit?).

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