The Civil War (1861–1865)

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The Civil War (1861–1865)


The Compromise of 1850

By 1850, several slave states, led by South Carolina, were ready to secede from the United States. The United States annexed Texas in 1845. Annexation ignited a war between the United States and Mexico. That war yielded vast amounts of territory in what is now the American Southwest. Expansion of slavery had previously been limited to Missouri, Florida, and the Arkansas Territory. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 barred slavery in territories north of the parallel of 36 degrees, 30 minutes north. When the law was passed, slavery was viewed as a dying institution. In subsequent years, the economy of Southern states became more tightly bound to slavery. Free states held a majority in the House, while slave states held a majority of Senate seats. Prior to the Mexican-American War, it had become all but certain that free states would eventually outnumber slave states. The territory gained in the Mexican War was in the south. If slavery were expanded into these territories, the slave states could maintain a majority—in the Senate at least. When the issue of annexing Mexican territory first arose, David Wilmot, a Connecticut representative in the House, introduced a provision that any territory acquired from Mexico had to enter as free territory. Defeated in 1846 when it was first introduced, it was regularly introduced and defeated in subsequent sessions.

South Carolina was prepared to withdraw from the United States unless slavery was allowed to expand. Other states in the Deep South, notably Mississippi and Georgia, threatened to join South Carolina. Sensing a constitutional crisis, Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky proposed a compromise using paired bills that would give all parties some of what they wanted. The first pair admitted California as a free state and allowed slavery in territory gained in the Mexican-American War. The second settled the boundary dispute between New Mexico and Texas in favor of New Mexico. In exchange, the federal government would assume debts that the state of Texas accumulated while a republic. The third pair of bills banned slave trading in the District of Columbia, but protected slavery in the district. Slaves could be owned but not bought or sold. The final pair of bills removed congressional authority over the interstate slave trade and strengthened the existing fugitive slave law by federalizing the recovery of slaves. These bills, introduced in January 1850, formed the basis of what was to be called “The Compromise of 1850.” While all of the provisions underwent modification, the final version of the compromise was essentially unchanged from Clay’s original proposals. It gave all parties some of what they wanted, enough to secure passage of the package.

At first it did not look as if the compromise would be passed. President Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) was ready to call the bluff of the slave states. When a delegation from New Mexico arrived with a petition for statehood, Taylor recommended the admission of both California and New Mexico as free states. He was ready to use force to keep unruly states in the Union if needed. Taylor fell ill and died shortly after Independence Day in 1850. He was succeeded by Millard Fillmore (1800–1874), a New Yorker who was willing to accommodate the South. He threw his support behind the compromise.

Advocates on both sides of the slavery issue condemned the package. Henry Calhoun of South Carolina gave a speech denouncing it the day before he died. He claimed it fostered Northern interests at the expense of the South. Too weak to read it, he had James Mason of Virginia read it to him. William Seward of New York, later Lincoln’s secretary of state, gave a speech denouncing the compromise because it strengthened slavery. Many American statesmen, however, supported the package: Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, Sam Houston of Texas, and Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois worked with Clay to secure passage of the package. It was not passed as one big act, however. That effort fell apart on July 31, so the individual parts of the compromise were shepherded through Congress by Stephen Douglas. The result was similar to Clay’s omnibus proposal. The most controversial aspect of the act was the new Fugitive Slave Act, which brought the full weight of the federal government to assist slave owners seeking their “property”—their runaway slaves—in free states. That slaves could be taken into and out of free states without changing their status rubbed a raw nerve with many in the North.

Intended to prevent secession, the Compromise of 1850 forestalled it for only ten years. The pressures that threatened rupture in 1850 caused an explosion in 1860.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed in 1854, nullified the Missouri Compromise and allowed new states entering the Union to decide the issue of slavery for themselves, but failed to satisfy Southern slave owners. It sparked civil conflict in Kansas that was a prelude to the American Civil War.

The architect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, an Illinois Democrat. He wanted a railroad connecting Chicago, Illinois, with San Francisco, California. The railroad needed a federal land grant. That could come as part of a bill to reorganize the remaining territories of the Louisiana Purchase.Passage required the support of at least six slave state senators. They were willing to support Douglas—if the deal were sweetened by allowing slavery in the territories. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 forbade slavery in territories north of the 36 degrees, 30 minutes north parallel.

In January 1854, Douglas introduced a bill reorganizing the territories. It allowed states created from the Louisiana Purchase territories to be admitted to the Union with or without slavery. Popular sovereignty would settle the issue—letting the people living in the territory decide whether they wanted slavery or not. The compromise effectively nullified the Missouri Compromise because both Kansas and Nebraska extended north of the line beyond which slavery was forbidden by the earlier legislation. Unless slaves had been permitted prior to statehood, it was unlikely that a territory would attract enough supporters of slavery to vote for slavery. Southern senators refused to support the bill unless it explicitly repealed the Missouri Compromise’s ban on slavery. Desperate to get the territorial reorganization passed, Douglas added language to do that.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act created two new territories: Kansas Territory opposite Missouri, and Nebraska Territory opposite Iowa. Slavery would be permitted while a territory. Whether slavery would be permitted after statehood was to be decided by popular sovereignty. The pairing implied that Kansas was to enter as a slave state and Nebraska as a free one.

The Act created a political firestorm that split the country. All of the Northern states, except Douglas’s Illinois, either opposed or refused to endorse the bill. All Southern states supported it.Parties split along regional lines. Every Northern Whig voted against the bill. Twenty-four of the thirty-four Southern Whig party members in both houses of Congress voted for it. Southern Democrats overwhelmingly voted for the bill: seventy-two out of seventy-five. Only fifty-eight out of 108 Northern democrats supported it. The totals were enough, barely. It passed the Senate by forty-one to seventeen, but squeaked through the House. There it passed, on May 22, 1854, by a margin of 115 to 104.

The repercussions of the Kansas-Nebraska Act were felt in the 1854 elections. Only seven Northern Democrats supporting the Act were reelected. Many Northern Democrats that voted against the bill left the Democratic Party. The main opposition party, the Whigs, disintegrated. The Northern Whigs joined forces with the Free-Soil Party and disaffected anti-slavery Democrats to form the Republican Party. Most Southern Whigs were swept out of office by Southern Democrats. It was the biggest shift in the political landscape since the disappearance of the Federalists after the War of 1812.

Once the Act was passed, the issue of slavery would be settled upon the prairies of Kansas. Free-soil interests fostered Northern settlement of Kansas, primarily from the Midwest—Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. At the same time, pro-slavery settlers were pouring in from Missouri.

In November 1854, the first election was held in the Kansas Territory. Senator David Atchison, of Missouri, led an invasion of Kansas by thousands of Missouri pro-slavery activists—called “border ruffians” by abolitionists. Few of them owned slaves, but most were willing to resist the anti-slavery efforts by what they considered to be meddling Northerners. In an election later judged to be fraudulent by Congress, the Missourians elected a pro-slavery territorial delegate to the United States Congress. The pattern continued for much of the decade. In 1855, Missouri residents voted in pro-slavery candidates in territorial elections through the weight of illegal ballots. The territorial governor ordered new elections. Fair elections saw free-soil candidates chosen.

The territorial legislature seated the pro-slavery slate. It passed a slave code, criminalized criticizing slavery, and retroactively legalized the border ruffian vote. Free-soil Kansans formed their own territorial legislature and held a convention where they passed a free-soil territorial constitution. By 1856, Kansas had two competing legislatures. The two sides were soon shooting at each other. By 1856, the two sides were raiding the settlements of the other party. The newspapers began writing about “Bleeding Kansas,” as the violence grew.

In 1856, two bills for the admission of Kansas as a state were introduced. The Republicans, controlling the House of Representatives, introduced a bill admitting Kansas as a free state. The Democrats, holding the Senate, offered one admitting Kansas as a slave state. Neither bill became law. The rhetoric in Congress turned to violence when Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina beat Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner unconscious on the Senate floor. In revenge for Sumner’s beating, a group led by abolitionist John Brown (1800–1859) kidnapped five pro-slavery settlers from the village of Pottawatomie Creek. Brown’s men murdered the settlers with broadswords.

For the next four years, Kansas bled. Pro-slavery forces won territorial elections through fraud. The territorial governor would hold new elections, which free-soil majorities won. An official, pro-slavery territorial legislature would be seated. An unofficial free-soil legislature supported by the majority of the territory’s voters would challenge the official legislature. Congress would reject petitions for statehood as a slave state because they were based on patently fraudulent elections.

In 1858, Congress voted narrowly to admit Kansas as a slave state with a provision allowing Kansas voters to reject the pro-slavery constitution by voting on a land grant referendum. Kansans voted overwhelmingly against the referendum, and by extension, the pro-slavery constitution. This deferred statehood for at least two years. The scales were now heavily tipped in favor of free-soil voters. Free-state Kansans organized a Republican party, electing two-thirds of the delegates to a new constitutional convention in 1859. They submitted a free-soil petition for statehood in 1860. Kansas entered the Union as a free state in January 1861. Popular sovereignty had triumphed.

The Dred Scott Decision

On April 6, 1846, Harriet and Dred Scott (1795–1858), slaves taken into free-soil territories, petitioned a Missouri court for their freedom. Dred Scott had also lived in a free state (Illinois) for two years. The case was ultimately decided over a decade later in 1857 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court stripped blacks of American citizenship and declared the Compromise of 1850 unconstitutional, which resulted in permitting slavery in all U.S. territories. The decision made the Civil War all but inevitable.

In 1833, Dred Scott was purchased by St. Louis, Missouri, physician John Emerson. Missouri was a slave state, but Dr. Emerson was a surgeon in the U.S. Army. Assigned to Fort Armstrong, in Illinois, Emerson took Scott with him as a servant. After two years in Illinois, Emerson was reassigned to Fort Snelling in the Wisconsin Territory (later Minnesota). He again brought Scott with him. While at Fort Snelling, Scott married Harriet Robinson, another slave then living at the post. Emerson bought her. Emerson took the couple with him to Louisiana, and then back to Fort Snelling, before leaving the army and returning to St. Louis, Missouri. In 1843, Emerson died, and the Scotts became the property of Emerson’s wife Irene.

Scott Petitions for Freedom

Dred Scott lived for two years in Illinois, a free state, where slavery was illegal. He and his wife Harriet had also lived for several years in the Wisconsin Territory, where slavery was outlawed by the Northwest Ordinance—an act of Congress passed in 1787.

In 1846, the Scotts petitioned a Missouri state court to be declared free persons. They also filed assault and false imprisonment charges against Irene Emerson. Their case was not unusual. Before 1846, Missouri courts settled many similar cases involving slaves taken to free soil in favor of the plaintiffs. But the Scotts had filed suit at a bad time, because the Mexican-American War was beginning at the same time. That war made Texas a slave state and California a free state, and it hardened opinions about slavery on both sides of the issue.

By the time the Scotts’ case was heard, in June 1847, Missouri courts were looking for excuses to refuse freedom to petitioning slaves. Title to the Scotts was clouded. The court dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not prove that they were suing their actual owner.

The two petitions were combined into a single case, which Dred Scott continued to pursue. The case wound its way up and down the state court system. Scott won his freedom in the first case. Emerson appealed the decision. By the time the appeal was heard in 1851, the Compromise of 1850 had been passed. The pro-slavery Missouri Supreme Court viewed the Dred Scott case as a way to challenge the constitutionality of the Compromise of 1850. They returned Scott to slavery in March 1852. Scott then took the case to federal court. He had been sold to a man who lived in New York State but kept his property in Missouri. Since the case crossed state lines, Scott’s attorneys claimed federal jurisdiction. In 1854, the federal court in St. Louis allowed Scott the legal standing to sue in federal court. In the subsequent federal case, the judge ruled that Scott was subject to the laws of Missouri, not Illinois, and remained a slave. In May 1854, the case was appealed, and on December 30, 1854, it went to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Ruling

The Supreme Court heard the case two years later, in December 1856. Five justices were pro-slavery southerners, two were northern Democrats sympathetic to the South, and two were anti-slavery Republicans. Three questions were involved: First, were African Americans citizens? Second, what was the status of slaves in free territories? Third, were congressional acts that banned slavery in territories constitutional? The verdict split along party lines.

The Supreme Court ruled on March 6, 1857, that blacks, free or slave, were not citizens of the United States and thus had no legal standing to sue in the courts. It also ruled that laws barring slavery in territories were unconstitutional, which eliminated the question of whether slaves taken to free territories became free themselves. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled that Scott’s residence in a free state did not make him a free man because he was subject to Missouri laws and once again a slave when he returned to Missouri.

Implications and Consequences

The ruling deprived free blacks of rights they had possessed since the establishment of the United States. It overruled state constitutions in five states that explicitly gave free blacks equal status with whites. In addition, it explicitly permitted slavery in all U.S. territories. According to the ruling, the Constitution’s due process clause meant that a slave owner could not be deprived of property, even slaves, by simply moving it across state lines into a free state. Many in free states interpreted this as de facto legalization of slavery throughout the United States.

The Dred Scott decision meant that the Union would not long endure half-slave and half-free. It would have to become one or the other. The ruling forced the preferences of the slave-owning third of the population of the United States on the majority. With little room for compromise, a war to settle the issue became virtually inevitable.

After the decision, the Scott family was returned to Irene Emerson—who sold them to Taylor Blow, a friend of the Scotts (and their original owner) who had financed the initial lawsuits. Blow then set them free. Dred Scott did not long enjoy freedom. He died in 1858, three years before the Civil War began.

The Harpers Ferry Raid

The Harpers Ferry Raid inflamed passions on both sides of the issue of slavery and hastened the start of the Civil War. On the evening of October 16, 1859, eighteen men entered Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Led by fanatic abolitionist John Brown, their goal was to capture the federal arsenal. With the weapons they obtained from the arsenal they planned to arm slaves in Virginia and ignite a slave rebellion. The raid failed. Within two days, the raiders were dead, prisoners, or fugitives.

The Plan

The Harpers Ferry raid was conceived by John Brown, a militant abolitionist. Brown participated in violent antislavery activities in Kansas. By 1858, Brown left Kansas and was back East trying to get support for a slave revolt. His plan called for arming slaves in a mountainous section of the South and having them establish a mountain stronghold from which to spread rebellion.

To find sufficient arms for slaves willing to fight, Brown planned on capturing an arsenal. Brown’s attention focused on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, (now West Virginia). In a slave state, near mountains, it was one of the largest and most modern munitions plants in the United States. It held a stockpile of 100,000 rifles.

Six prominent abolitionists—Franklin Sanborn, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Theodore Parker, George Luther Stearns, Samuel Gridley Howe, and Gerrit Smith—helped support Brown’s activities in Kansas. All were men of means. Several were quite wealthy. Known as the Secret Six or the Committee of Six, they financed Brown’s raid. Stearns diverted money intended for Kansas to purchase arms for Brown’s raid, including two hundred Sharp’s carbines. Brown ordered one thousand pikes. The Sharp’s carbines and pikes were to arm a “brigade” that would take and hold the federal arsenal.

In June 1859, Brown rented a farm in Maryland near Harpers Ferry for his “army.” Brown found recruiting slow. By October, his force had but twenty-one men—sixteen whites and five blacks. Twelve had fought with Brown in Kansas. Three were his sons. Brown and his wealthy white supporters failed to rally blacks to Brown’s cause. Brown attempted to recruit Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), a prominent ex-slave, abolistionist, and an old friend. Douglass, more pragmatic and realistic than the Secret Six, felt Brown’s plan was doomed. Douglass discouraged other blacks from participating.

Douglass was right. Harpers Ferry was indefensible and difficult to escape from. Unfordable rivers ran on three sides of the town, trapping anyone in Harpers Ferry. Even if Brown could raise a garrison large enough to hold the town, Harpers Ferry was surrounded by low mountains. Rifles and artillery on those heights would make defense of the town untenable.

The Raid

Leaving three followers to guard his base, Brown and seventeen others snuck into Harpers Ferry after dusk on October 16. Brown and his raiders quickly captured the arsenal. It was guarded by an unarmed night watchman. Brown sent a patrol out to round up hostages, including Lewis Washington, a great-great-grandnephew of President George Washington. By dawn he had over forty hostages.

The plan fell apart soon after the hostages arrived. An eastbound Baltimore and Ohio train approached the station at Harpers Ferry. The baggage master, a free black, tried to warn the train. He was shot dead by one of Brown’s men. The train was allowed to proceed to Washington, D.C., after witnessing the shooting.By midmorning on October 17, the town and surrounding countryside were aware of the raid. Farmers, townsmen, and militia converged on the town. They occupied the heights around Harpers Ferry, sniping at the raiders. Eight raiders and three townsmen were shot dead. Two of Brown’s sons were killed.

By evening it was apparent the raid had failed. Seven raiders slipped out, including slaves impressed into Brown’s army. Five made good their escape. Two were captured. Brown and the rest of the raiders retreated with their hostages into a brick fire-engine house and barricaded themselves in. That night, a company of U.S. Marines arrived from Washington, D.C., commanded by Army Colonel Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) and accompanied by Army Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart (1833–1864). On the morning of October 18, the marines stormed the building. They used cold steel to avoid the risk of shooting the hostages. In a few minutes, two raiders were dead, Brown was badly wounded, and four men were taken prisoner.


Brown and the captured raiders were tried by the State of Virginia for murder, inciting slave rebellion, and treason against the State of Virginia. The trial lasted only a few days. All were convicted and sentenced to death. The sentences were carried out as quickly as the trial. John Brown was hanged December 2, 1859; four others were hanged on December 16, and the remaining two were hanged on March 16, 1860.

Attention turned to Brown’s moneymen. One, Parker, was in Britain, dying of tuberculosis. Four others—Sanborn, Stearns, Howe, and Smith—fled to Canada. Higginson alone remained in Massachusetts, daring anyone to prosecute him. After Brown was hanged, the four in Canada returned. Sanborn again fled to Canada when a Senate committee began investigating the raid, searching for a conspiracy. Neither Sanborn nor Higginson testified before the committee. Sanborn got his subpoena voided. Higginson was not called. Howe and Stearns testified, but denied prior knowledge of Brown’s plan. There the matter was allowed to lie. The senators realized that proving a conspiracy existed would cause serious problems.

Many Northerners viewed Brown as a martyr to the cause of freedom. Many Southerners viewed Brown’s action as proof that the North would ignore the law to eliminate slavery. It set the stage for secession after the 1860 election.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe was the daughter and wife of abolitionist Congregationalist clergymen. In reaction to the Compromise of 1850, especially the strengthened Fugitive Slave Act, she wrote a story dramatizing the plight of slaves. It was based, in part, on her experiences with slavery in Kentucky and with runaway slaves in Cincinnati, Ohio. The story was Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Stowe’s story was originally serialized in an abolitionist newspaper. Stowe was encouraged to have it republished in book form. As a book, it quickly became very popular. In its first year in print, 300,000 copies were sold in the United States. By the start of the Civil War, two million copies—the equivalent of a book selling 20 million copies today—had been sold.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin hardened opinions on slavery. While it is difficult to measure the number of Northerners it turned against slavery, it struck a raw nerve in the South. The book was denounced, and no fewer than fifteen novels defending slavery as an institution were subsequently written by Southern authors.

While its influence is hard to measure, it was real. When Lincoln met Stowe in 1862, he is reported to have joked, “So you’re the little lady who started this great war.”

Major Figures

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was the sixteenth president of the United States. He ascended to the presidency of the United States at a time of great crisis. He had the greatest plurality of the popular vote but got less than 40 percent of the vote in a four-way race. He did not receive a single popular vote in ten southern states. Nevertheless, he achieved an absolute majority of electoral votes, which gave him the presidency. It was the first time a candidate from the Republican party was elected president and only the second election in which that new party fielded a candidate for that office. Virtually as soon as the results became official, Southern states began seceding from the Union, beginning with South Carolina on December 20, 1860. The motivation was Lincoln’s election.

A major plank in the Republican platform was abolition of slavery. The act of the nation’s electing a president from an abolitionist political party was seen as sufficient justification for secession. Lincoln did not assume the presidency planning to enforce abolition—or even planning to contain slavery, except for preventing its spread into the territories. By the time Lincoln was inaugurated, in March 1861, however, seven states—the lower South and Texas—had seceded.

Initial Steps

Lincoln initially sought non-confrontational means to preserve the Union. He was determined to keep under Union control all federal property, such as the national government, but virtually all mints, armories, custom houses, and military and naval installations in the seceding states had already been seized by the rebels. Only two offshore forts remained in federal control: Fort Pickens, off Pensacola, and Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor.

When firebrands in South Carolina fired upon and then captured Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for 75,000 militia to put down the rebellion. This led four additional states from the upper south to secede. Lincoln was faced with the task of restoring a divided Union without having the means at hand to do so.

Restoration of the Union was the task that consumed the rest of his life. For Lincoln, the war was less about slavery than about the preservation of the Union. In an 1862 letter to New York City newspaper editor Horace Greeley (1811–1872), Lincoln wrote, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

War Leader

Lincoln’s first job was to see that an army was built and to find a commander who was capable of doing that job. Initially impatient to achieve that goal, he made significant mistakes early in the war. He allowed political considerations to dictate the choice of leaders and also pressed the initial leader of the Union Army into precipitate action that led to the disaster at Bull Run.

He educated himself in military strategy as president using the same method by which he taught himself law as a young man—he pored over books of strategy and consulted with experts in military affairs. Lincoln realized that a Northern victory depended on destroying the Southern armies, not just occupying territory. He began searching for generals who shared this vision.

Lincoln kept trying out and discarding commanders for the Union armies until he found leaders who could fight—and fight effectively. Once convinced of a general’s competence, he stuck with the man, despite any criticism. When others complained that General Ulysses S. Grant was a drunk, Lincoln stated: “I cannot spare this man—he fights.”

Lincoln and Emancipation

As casualty lists mounted, especially after the Seven Days Battle campaign in 1862, Lincoln realized that reconciliation would not draw the seceding states back into the Union and that simple preservation of the Union did not justify the cost in blood. He then transformed the war into a crusade to abolish slavery.

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that was as much a military tool as a political one. It only freed slaves in territories under rebellion. It preserved slavery in portions of the nation then under federal control. It was issued as a military proclamation under his power as commander-in-chief. Doing this prevented a political fight in Congress. The Emancipation Proclamation was presented as a tool for depriving those states in rebellion of resources—their slaves. It also prevented European recognition of the Confederacy until the Confederate states eliminated slavery—the “state’s right” over which the Southern states seceded.

When Lincoln’s tenacity bore fruit after four years of bloody struggle with the military collapse of the Confederacy, Lincoln again opted for conciliation. In his second inaugural address, he called for an end to the conflict “with malice toward none; with charity for all.” He endorsed the generous terms offered to Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox Court House by General Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885). Lincoln’s vision of a charitable peace was forgotten after his death. Days after the Confederate surrender on April 9, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. He was shot while attending a play on April 14 and died the next day. His death shifted government to the Radical Republicans who were more interested in retribution than reconciliation.

Early Years

The two men that led the United States and the Confederacy, respectively, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, had similar origins. They were born less than one hundred miles apart in central Kentucky and less than a year apart, both to farm families.

Lincoln was born seven months after Davis, on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin in Hardin County (now LaRue County), Kentucky. Lincoln came from humble origins. His mother, Nancy Hanks, was illegitimate, and his father, Thomas Lincoln, was illiterate. Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine; his father remarried. The family had moved to Indiana when Lincoln was seven. A few years later, Thomas Lincoln moved the family to Illinois. After a few years in a one-room schoolhouse, Abraham Lincoln educated himself, eventually learning law and becoming a successful lawyer.

Lincoln was also fascinated with technology. He is the only president to have held a patent—for a never-manufactured device to help steamboats maneuver in shallow water. He carried this interest into the White House. Lincoln oversaw the enactment of legislation to authorize a transcontinental railroad and the land-grant college system.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis (1808–1889) was president of the Confederate States of America. He was no one’s first choice to become president of the Confederate states—not even his own state’s. Davis’s ambition was to command the Army of the State of Mississippi and later, perhaps, become the supreme commander of the Confederate Army. Becoming a general was a goal of his youth.

Davis allowed himself to be appointed president—the compromise candidate who was acceptable to both radical and moderate politicians. He became the Confederacy’s president on February 9, 1861, and served as interim president until he was elected to the position in October. Inaugurated in March 1862, he was the only president during the Confederacy’s brief existence.

Strengths as President

Davis oversaw the creation of both a national army and the civil branches of a national government. The South was handicapped in its fight with the North. The agrarian South had 40 percent of the population of the Union states and perhaps 10 percent of the industry. Davis began initiatives to overcome the manufacturing gap and prepared to fight a defensive war. The North had to invade in order to subdue the South.

Davis built a government, an army, and an economy. He appointed his initial cabinet from each of the other original Confederate states; no one else from his state, Mississippi, was appointed. His cabinet included several other politicians who had been considered for the presidency. He built a Confederate Army by nationalizing state forces into a national army. Davis also instituted a more rational system for the appointment of officers than was used in the North, one that valued military experience more than political connections.

Davis had opposed secession in 1860, but after Mississippi moved to secede, Davis became one of the foremost proponents of the Confederacy. As president, Davis also put the Confederate economy on a war footing, using Southern exports as an economic weapon. He seized otherwise unavailable supplies from civilian owners when they were needed for military purposes. He encouraged the enactment of a conscription act in March 1862, a full year before the Union passed a similar national conscription act.

At the very end of the Confederacy, in 1865, too late to make a difference, Jefferson Davis pushed a bill through the Confederate legislature to permit black slaves to enlist in the Confederate Army. Blacks would receive freedom for enlisting. This voided the major reason for secession. But Davis had become so wedded to the cause of the Confederacy that he was willing to destroy the institution of slavery—the very cause of its existence—to see it continue.


Davis had significant weaknesses as president. He was autocratic and possessed a fiery temper. These traits served a military leader well, but the presidency was a civilian job. To work effectively with a legislature, a president needed to be a consensus builder and conciliator. Instead, Davis alienated many potential allies within the Confederacy’s civil government. Davis also saw the president’s role as commander-in-chief as a more active one than was appropriate. Davis wanted to be a battlefield general instead of a civilian president. He actively meddled in the tactical decisions of his generals, often to the detriment of events on the battlefield.

While Davis established commands spanning operational theaters, he failed to provide a grand strategic plan for the defense of the Confederacy. He also allowed personal pique to affect his choice of commanders. Several highly talented Confederate generals sat out critical parts of the war because Davis did not like them or was angry at them. Initially, these weaknesses were unimportant, because the Union lacked the army or military leaders to mount effective offensive operations. As time passed, Davis’s strategic shortcomings combined with Lincoln’s strength as a wartime president to undermine the Confederacy.

An example is the 1864 Atlanta campaign. The Union Army was led by William T. Sherman (1820–1891), a general plucked from professional obscurity—in part through Lincoln’s efforts. He was opposed by an army led by Joseph Johnston (1807–1891), a man Davis disliked. Johnston delayed Sherman, refusing to fight pitched battles, except when he held an overwhelming advantage.

Frustrated by a summer of skirmishing as Sherman continued advancing toward Atlanta, Davis relieved Johnston, replacing him with the more aggressive John B. Hood (1831–1879). Hood sought battle with Sherman and was trounced. This allowed Sherman to take Atlanta. The victory shifted the victory in the 1864 presidential election in the North from peace candidate George McClellan (1826–1885) to Abraham Lincoln, who was reelected. Had Johnston remained in command, he might have lost Atlanta, but it would have fallen later, too late to affect the 1864 elections.

Early History

Jefferson Davis was born on June 3, 1808, in a farmhouse in Christian (now Todd) County, Kentucky, seven months before Abraham Lincoln’s birth and less than one hundred miles away. Davis’s family moved to Mississippi when he was an infant. Like Lincoln, Davis helped on the family farm, working in his father’s cotton fields until he was sent to school at the age of eight.

After attending Transylvania University in his teens, Davis received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduating in 1828, he served as a lieutenant in a post in the Northwest Frontier, where he met and married Sarah Knox Taylor, the daughter of post commandant Colonel (and later President) Zachary Taylor.

Sarah’s father disapproved of Davis as a husband, so Davis left the army in order to marry her in 1835. Davis and his wife returned to Mississippi and established a plantation, Brierfield. His wife died of malaria only three months after returning. After living in seclusion at Brierfield for ten years after his wife’s death, Davis remarried, entered politics, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He resigned in 1846, when the Mexican-American War began to command a volunteer regiment from Mississippi. He served under his first father-in-law, Zachary Taylor, at Monterey and Buena Vista during that war.

Returning to Mississippi a war hero in 1848, he spent the next twelve years in and out of politics. He served as a Mississippi’s U.S. senator and as secretary of war during the Pierce Administration. As the secession issue heated up in the late 1850s, Davis cautioned against it. When Mississippi left the Union, however, he threw himself into the cause of the new nation that his adopted state joined.

Post-War Life

On May 10, Davis was captured in Georgia while attempting to flee the U.S. Army. He was held prisoner for two years and then released. The federal government decided not to try him for treason. He returned to Mississippi and wrote his memoirs. He died in New Orleans on December 6, 1889.

General Robert E. Lee

Robert Edward Lee (1807–1870) was the general in chief of the Confederate armies in the Civil War. Lee was born on January 19, 1807, in Stratford, Virginia. He was the son of American Revolutionary hero and former governor of Virginia Henry Lee (1756–1818)—known as “Light-Horse Harry”—and Ann Hill Carter, daughter of a respected Virginia landowner. By the time Robert, the couple’s fifth son, was born, the Lee family had fallen on hard times. Lee’s father had made a series of bad investments and lost the family fortune, and he was sent to debtor’s prison when Robert was still a toddler. After his release, the family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, for a time, but Henry later moved to the West Indies for health reasons, leaving his family behind with young Robert as acting head of the household. Henry Lee died in 1818.

Without the benefit of financial support from his family, young Robert Lee decided on a career in the military. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1825, where he excelled as a student, both academically and militarily, graduating second in his class. Two years after graduating, he married Mary Custis, a descendant of Martha Washington. The couple had seven children together in their plantation home in Virginia.

U.S. Military Services

Lee first distinguished himself as a man of unusual military talent during the Mexican War (1846–1848), where he served under General Winfield Scott (1786–1866), conducting scouting missions that led to the capture of Mexico City. Scott was impressed with the young captain and came to rely on his reconnaissance skills. It was during this war that Lee developed a reputation as a brave and capable leader.

In 1859, Lee took a central role in an event that pushed the nation down the path to civil war. Militant abolitionist John Brown and his followers raided the armory at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in an attempt to launch an armed slave insurrection. Lee and his troops were sent to Harpers Ferry to end the skirmish. Brown refused to surrender, and Lee’s forces stormed the building. Within minutes, Brown and his small band were subdued. The event outraged southerners, who were concerned that Brown’s violent attempt was the beginning of a northern effort to put an end to slavery. Southern states began to talk about secession.

Although Lee was a dedicated Virginian, he believed slavery was morally wrong. He had inherited slaves from his wife’s father, but, following the dictates of his own conscience and the terms of his father-in-law’s will, he freed them in 1862—before the Emancipation Proclamation, before the end of the war, and before many of his northern counterparts (including some top Union generals) freed their own slaves. He also found the idea of leaving the Union and rebelling against the federal government unthinkable, and he hoped Virginia would opt to remain part of the United States.

In 1861, the southern states began seceding from the Union. With civil war erupting, General Scott began gathering his most talented officers; Lee was at the top of his list. Scott recalled Lee to Washington with the intention of giving him command of the Union Army, a remarkable vote of confidence given that Lee was only a colonel at the time and had never commanded an army. The appointment could have been the crowning glory of Lee’s thirty years of devoted service in the U.S. military.

Confederate Military Service

When Virginia seceded on April 17, 1861, Lee was faced with a wrenching dilemma. He could either uphold his oath of loyalty to the U.S. government, accept Scott’s commission, and lead forces against the South, or he could resign and fight for his home state against the army to which he had devoted his life. Lee decided he could not fight against the South, writing to his sister, “With all my devotion to the Union … I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the [U.S.] Army.” It was a decision of tremendous historical significance. Military historians count Lee as one of America’s greatest generals; the top Union generals, however, ranged from mediocre to incompetent, a fact that quickly became apparent when hostilities broke out. Had Lee accepted Scott’s orders and commanded Union forces, it is likely the South would have been subdued quickly. As it was, the South moved speedily to recruit the talented Lee. By 1862, he was made military advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In May 1862, General Joseph Johnston was seriously wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia. General Lee immediately replaced him and enthusiastically took his new command, renaming Johnston’s army the Army of Northern Virginia. By July, his forces stopped the Union Army from advancing on the Confederate capital of Richmond during the Seven Days Battles and forced Union General George B. McClellan to retreat.

Lee’s army was always outnumbered and outgunned, but his attacks were strategically sound, aggressive, bold, and merciless. Before McClellan could reorganize, Lee swiftly attacked at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 1862). An easy victory prompted Lee to march into Maryland—his first foray into northern territory. It was a bold move, but it proved disastrous. The Battle of Antietam (September 1862), fought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, was technically a wash, but since Lee had to retreat, it was viewed as a Union victory. It was also the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, costing Lee almost his entire army. France and Britain, which had been considering formal diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy, decided after the battle to wait a little longer to see how events played out. Sensing the momentum of the war had shifted in favor of the North, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22.

Lee was down, but he was not yet defeated. In December 1862, he scored yet another victory, this time at Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Union forces hoped to crush his remaining army. Lee implemented a defensive plan that forced the Union to abandon its offensive, giving General Lee the rest of that winter to rebuild his army. By spring 1863, the Union was again on the attack. In April, General Joseph Hooker (1814–1879) was poised to take Chancellorsville, Virginia, but Lee made a surprise advance, putting Hooker on the defensive. After three days of furious fighting against a numerically superior force, Lee’s troops forced a Union retreat. His improbable victory at Chancellorsville is considered his greatest triumph.

Emboldened, Lee again attempted to push the fighting onto northern soil. In June 1863, Lee marched his army into Pennsylvania. On July 1, 1863, he clashed with the forces of Union’s new commander, General George Gordon Meade (1815–1872), in the small town of Gettysburg. The three-day battle was brutal. Lee was forced to retreat, leaving a third of his army (28,000 men) dead on the field.

In the spring of 1864, Lee met his match: General Ulysses S. Grant. The two engaged in small but deadly skirmishes and bloody battles as the two armies fought in Virginia, starting with the Battle of the Wilderness. President Lincoln sent Grant to take Richmond and squash Lee, but Lee was able to block Grant’s maneuvers. Grant finally managed to force Lee to retreat to Petersburg, a town on the outskirts of Richmond.

Grant turned the battle into a nine-month siege. Although Lee’s army did not starve, they were unable to participate in the war. In April 1865, Lee made an attempt to evacuate his men and head west, but Grant cut him off. On April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered his tired and weak army to Grant at the courthouse in Appomattox, Virginia. Grant accepted Lee’s surrender graciously, allowing his officers to retain their horses and sidearms. Lee returned home.

After the War

Lee worked diligently to heal the wounds of the nation and to revitalize a shattered region. “Abandon your animosities,” he famously urged southerners, “and make your sons Americans.” Because of his concern for how the war would affect the younger generation, he accepted the position of president of Washington College, later named Washington and Lee University in his honor. He held the position until his death from heart failure on October 12, 1870.

Even before his death, Lee had become a legend. His renown only grew as years passed. To those in the former Confederate states, he was a potent symbol of the “Lost Cause.” Stories of the valiant General Lee on his iron-gray horse, Traveller, thrilled generations in the post-war South, for whom Lee was like an idol. In the North and abroad, he came to be viewed as one of America’s great leaders, admired by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

A few months after the Civil War, Lee submitted an application to have his U.S. citizenship restored. His wish was never granted during his lifetime. Somehow, the application was lost for more than one hundred years, only to be found by a clerk sorting through papers at the National Archives in Washington. The rediscovered application was approved by an act of Congress, and, with the support of President Gerald Ford, General Robert E. Lee once again became a U.S. citizen on July 22, 1975.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) was the leading general of the Union armies during the Civil War and eventually the eighteenth president of the United States. Born Ulysses Hiram Grant, he had reversed his name to Hiram Ulysses when he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There, his name was listed as Ulysses S. Grant, and he remained Ulysses S. Grant for the rest of his life.

Two things where Grant did succeed were decisive—commanding an army in combat and defeating the Confederacy. These earned him a place in history and two terms as the president of the United States—another thing at which he would fail.

Service in the Civil War

When the Civil War began, Grant was working as a clerk in a leather goods store. He joined a company of volunteers in Galena, Illinois, and was elected captain on the basis of prior service in the U.S. Army. Primarily because of the shortage of trained officers, Grant was soon promoted to colonel, and he commanded a regiment of Illinois volunteers. He was given command of a brigade in Missouri a month later and then promoted to brigadier general. His promotion was more a sign of the desperation of the Union Army than an endorsement of him. He had left the Army abruptly amid rumors of drunkenness during the 1850s and had failed at various businesses after leaving.

Grant handled his brigade well at Belmont, Missouri, where they fought an indecisive action. Grant’s commander, General Henry Halleck, then approved a plan drawn up by Grant to take two Confederate forts: Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. Working with naval river gunboats under the command of Flag Officer Andrew Foote, Grant and Foote forced the abandonment of Fort Henry and captured Fort Donelson in February 1862. Donelson’s surrender yielded fifteen thousand Confederate prisoners. It was the first significant military success by the North.

Grant pushed aggressively down the rivers to exploit his success. Surprised by a Confederate Army at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, and pushed back to the landing, Grant held his position at the end of the first day of the Battle of Shiloh. The next day, April 7, 1862, Grant counterattacked, scattering the Confederate Army facing him.

Late 1862 saw Grant marching against Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River. He was unsuccessful then, but he was tenacious. Working closely with the Navy, he besieged the river port, cutting it off from the Confederacy. Repelling Confederate attempts to relieve the siege, Grant starved the town into its surrender on July 4, 1863.

Lincoln was seeking aggressive, competent commanders for the U.S. Army. Grant was both. He had utterly destroyed two major Confederate armies at Fort Donelson and Vicksburg, in both cases accepting nothing less than unconditional surrender. He had demonstrated determination in the face of adversity at Shiloh. He had distinguished himself as a master of maneuver in the Vicksburg Campaign.

Lincoln promoted Grant to general-in-chief of the Army in March 1864. Grant attached himself to the Army of the Potomac, launching a series of new offensives intended to destroy the Confederacy. Grant led his army against Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital. Grant’s goal was less the capture of the enemy’s capital than the tying up of Confederate forces to defend this strategically unimportant but psychologically critical objective.

Grant realized that the war would be won west of the Appalachians, but he also knew that the Confederacy would focus its efforts on him. His grinding offensive on Richmond absorbed the attention of the South’s most talented general, Robert E. Lee, and it forced the Confederates to commit reserves to defend Richmond rather than the rest of the Confederacy. Whether he won or lost each battle, Grant stuck to Lee after each engagement, preventing Lee’s army from recovering.

By Grant’s focusing the Confederacy’s attention on him, he allowed the armies led by his lieutenants, the generals William T. Sherman, George H. Thomas, and Philip H. Sheridan to ravage the Confederacy. Sherman, commanding in the west, surrounded and captured Atlanta, Georgia, in September 1864. He then took one army and marched across the heart of Georgia to Savannah. Reaching Savannah, Sherman marched north, capturing and destroying Charleston, South Carolina, before going on to link up with Grant. Sheridan, in an independent campaign, marched through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, using scorched-earth tactics to burn Lee’s granary. Thomas repelled an offensive led by Confederate General John B. Hood. After destroying the Confederate Army at Nashville in December 1864, Thomas marched into Alabama.

The combined effect of these offensives gutted the Confederacy. Before Sherman could reach Grant, Lee’s army had collapsed, fleeing the Petersburg lines they held for over six months. With the war at an end, Grant offered Lee terms as magnanimous as his previous terms had been unconditional. He allowed Lee’s men to return home on parole, Lee’s officers to retain their personal arms, and everyone to keep their horses—so they could use them for the season’s plowing.

Early Career

Grant’s career prior to the war had been undistinguished. Born in Ohio on April 27, 1822, Grant received an appointment to West Point in 1839. He graduated in 1843 in the bottom half of his class and was assigned to the Fourth Infantry. During the Mexican-American War, he served with General Zachary Taylor’s army at Palo Alto, and then with Winfield Scott in the Veracruz-Mexico City campaign.

Post-War Life

After that war, Grant served on various frontier posts in Michigan, the Oregon Territory, and California. Frustrated by lack of advancement and separation from his family, he quit the Army. He left under a cloud, dogged by accusations of drunkenness. He then started and failed at several businesses before finally being hired as a clerk in his father’s store.

After the Civil War, Grant’s reputation was quite good. Persuaded to run for president, he won that election and was reelected. He understood politics poorly and filled his cabinet with men more interested in serving themselves than the United States. While Grant was personally honest, his Administration was one of the nation’s most corrupt.

After leaving office in 1876, a series of bad business decisions left him bankrupt. He restored his family’s fortunes as a writer, first writing magazine articles about his Civil War experiences. Encouraged by Mark Twain, Grant finished his two-volume memoir on his deathbed. Grant died days after finishing the work on July 23, 1885.

John Brown

John Brown (1800-1859) was a staunch abolitionist. For some, the Civil War did not start with the first gun fired at Fort Sumter. They considered its starting point six months earlier, when Brown and eighteen others raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, on October 17, 1859. Their objective was to arm slaves and start a slave revolt.

Early Life

Brown was born on May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut, to a family with deep roots in Puritan New England. His father, Owen Brown, a tanner, moved the family to the Western Reserve region of Ohio in 1805. John Brown wanted to become a preacher, following the Calvinistic Protestantism of his father. Eye problems forced him to withdraw from the seminary where he was studying. Instead, he followed in his father’s footsteps, also becoming a tanner.

Brown inherited a dislike of slavery from his father, a dislike that grew into an obsession with the emergence of the abolitionist movement in the 1830s. His “Old Testament” Christianity led him into vigilantism. If a sin was committed, John Brown saw it as his responsibility to smite the wrongdoer.

Abolitionist Efforts

Brown allied with William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) in 1831, shortly after Garrison began publishing his abolitionist newspaper,The Liberator. By the middle of the 1830s, Brown was a stationmaster on an Ohio branch of the Underground Railroad, a conduit for spiriting runaway slaves to Canada. Throughout the 1840s, Brown’s interest in the abolition movement grew, even as business failures bounced him from Ohio to Pennsylvania to Connecticut. He became increasingly radicalized, advocating violence in order to secure an end to slavery.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 gave Brown a stage to test his theories. The law left the issue of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska to be decided by the inhabitants of the two future states. Kansas became the focus of both pro- and anti-slavery settlement in an effort to sway the state into one camp or the other. In 1855, John Brown, with his five sons, moved to Kansas to join the struggle. Missouri interests had established a pro-slavery territorial government through fraudulent means. Brown was determined to reverse that verdict through violence, if all else failed.

On May 23, 1856, Brown and seven men, including four of his sons, raided the pro-slavery community at Pottawatomie Creek. They hacked five pro-slavery men to death. In the months following the Pottawatomie Creek massacre, Brown and his band lived in the Kansas wilderness, conducting guerilla raids against pro-slavery settlements, helping “Bleeding Kansas” to bleed.

Harpers Ferry Raid

After a defeat at Osawatomie on August 30, 1856, Brown and his adherents left Kansas. Despite national notoriety and a federal bounty of $250 on his head, Brown lived unmolested by federal authorities for the next three years. Sheltered by influential abolitionists, Brown planned his next stroke—raising a slave rebellion in the South.

Six wealthy abolitionists funded Brown’s plan and sheltered him. The “Secret Six” included Samuel Gridley Howe (husband of Julia Ward Howe) and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a Transcendental minister who later commanded a black Union regiment in the Civil War. Brown was to raid a federal arsenal in the South, steal the arms in it, and distribute the arms to slaves willing to fight for their freedom. The plan called for the blacks to withdraw to the mountains, in imitation of successful slave revolts in both Haiti and Jamaica. Harpers Ferry, in the Appalachian foothills, was chosen.

The Secret Six, as well as Brown’s commandos, were all white men. They failed to rally one black person to their cause. By 1858, Douglass was advocating armed resistance to slavery, but he viewed Brown’s plan as foolish.

Ignoring the advice of their black allies, Brown’s party pushed ahead. The raid was a dismal failure. The first man killed by Brown’s party was a freed black. Harpers Ferry proved the “perfect steel-trap” Douglass had predicted. Brown was captured. The rest of his party was either killed or captured. The trial following the raid further inflamed passions on both sides of the slavery issue. Brown and his party were tried on charges of treason, murder, and fomenting rebellion. The trial was rushed in order to prevent a lynch mob’s justice for Brown. The trial concluded on November 2 with Brown found guilty. Brown used the trial as a platform to play the Old Testament patriarch and martyr—a role given weight in the North due to the haste in which the trial was conducted. Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859. Nor did the trial satisfy the South. The Secret Six who financed the raid went untouched. This fact radicalized Southern secessionists and accelerated the pace towards war.

“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

After the Civil War started, John Brown was celebrated as a martyr in the North. Soldiers adapted the tune of a camp meeting hymn into a marching song, “John Brown’s Body.” The lyrics were uninspired. Each verse consisted of three repeated lines, such as “John Brown’s body lies a-mold’ring in the grave.” Every verse concluded with the line, “His soul goes marching on.”

In November 1861, while working for the United States Sanitary Commission, Julia Ward Howe and some companions heard a group of soldiers singing the song and joined in. Afterwards, one companion urged Howe to write more fitting lyrics for the stirring tune.

The next morning, Howe rose at dawn and jotted down a new set of lyrics on a sheet of Sanitary Commission stationery. The result was the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was published in the February 1862 Atlantic Monthly. It captured the public’s imagination and became the unofficial anthem of the Union Army.

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

Thomas J. Jackson (1824–1862) was a Confederate general. At the Civil War’s outset, he was an obscure professor at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). When Virginia joined the Confederacy in April 1861, the VMI Corps of Cadets was mobilized. Professor Jackson became Major Jackson and began his march into history.

Service in the Civil War

Jackson was soon promoted to colonel and sent to capture the U.S. Military Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. After that, he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of a brigade of Virginia volunteers. In July 1861, he commanded that brigade at the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run).

It was there that Jackson gained the nickname “Stonewall.” His brigade stopped a Union assault that would have carried the day. Later, one of the regiments in his brigade, wearing blue uniforms that caused a Union battery to mistake it for Union troops, destroyed the battery, causing the disintegration of the Union line at that point. It was the assault that led to Confederate forces routing the Union Army. The victory led to Jackson’s promotion to major general and an independent command in the Shenandoah Valley, the Confederacy’s granary. Early in 1862, he launched an offensive against Union troops holding the Shenandoah. Outnumbered, he used a series of fast marches to outmaneuver his opponents and destroyed the Union forces.

In a brilliant campaign, he cleared the valley of Union forces by the middle of June 1862. He prevented reinforcement of McClellan’s army in the Peninsula Campaign, threatened Washington, D.C., and crushed General Nathaniel Banks (1816–1894) at battles at Front Royal and Winchester. Jackson carried off so many Union supplies that thereafter, Banks was known as “Commissary” Banks, because he supplied Jackson’s army.

Jackson’s force was then moved by railroad to reinforce Robert E. Lee’s troops facing McClellan in the peninsula. At the Seven Days Battle, Jackson and his force were uncharacteristically sluggish. Exhaustion was the best explanation. Despite this, Lee’s army defeated McClellan. When Lee reorganized his army, Jackson was given command of one of the corps.

In August, Jackson was rested and back in form. He moved his infantry—which was being called “foot-cavalry” for the speed with which it moved—in a swift encircling march that allowed Jackson to destroy Union General John Pope’s supply base at Manassas Junction on August 27. He held his position at Groveton over the next two days, after which Lee and the rest of the corps rejoined him. The Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) took place on August 29 and 30. This battle drove Union forces north of the Potomac

Jackson also participated in Lee’s first invasion of the North, into western Maryland. Jackson occupied Frederick, Maryland, an event inaccurately memorized in John Greenleaf Whittier’s (1807–1892) 1864 poem “Barbara Frietchie.” (Frietchie actually waved her flag to Union troops a week after Jackson occupied the town, but it was romantically conflated with Jackson.)

Jackson fought stubbornly, but not brilliantly, at the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) on September 17, 1862. Jackson’s men bloodily repulsed numerous Union assaults, while the corps commanded by Longstreet was flanked. A Confederate route was prevented by reinforcements. Lee’s army was in a precarious position at the end of the battle and quickly withdrew back to Virginia.

In May 1863, the Army of the Potomac again invaded Northern Virginia, commanded by a new leader, General Joseph Hooker. Lee’s troops were outnumbered two to one. At Chancellorsville, Hooker attacked Lee. Lee sent Jackson on another flanking march. On May 2, Jackson fell upon the Union Eleventh Corps. One of the weakest corps in the Army of the Potomac, many of its regiments were made up of German immigrants who spoke English poorly. The Eleventh Corps had been placed on Hooker’s right flank to keep it out of trouble. Surprised by Jackson’s twilight attack, the corps panicked and fled the field. Hooker was forced to withdraw in order to save his army.

It was Jackson’s last battle and his most brilliant. Jackson was shot and wounded by one of his own guards while conducting a reconnaissance. His left arm was amputated. While recovering from surgery, Jackson contracted pneumonia. Weakened from the wound and operation, he died on May 10, 1862. It was a loss that crippled Lee. Lee wrote of Jackson’s injury “I have lost my right arm.”

Early Life

Jackson was born on January 21, 1824, in Clarksburg, Virginia, (now part of West Virginia). He was orphaned as a child and brought up by relatives. He received little formal education while growing up, but in 1842, at age eighteen, he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in the top third of his class in 1846, and was commissioned a lieutenant of artillery.

The Mexican-American War had started. Jackson was immediately sent to Winfield Scott’s command. In Mexico, Jackson distinguished himself at the battles of Veracruz, Cerro Gordo, and Chapultepec. He was promoted to brevet major, a meteoric rise for someone right out of West Point. After the Mexican-American War, he remained in the Army until 1852, when he accepted a position as professor at VMI, in Lexington, Virginia.

Jackson was punctilious, eccentric, secretive, and a stern disciplinarian. His cadets considered him humorless, but he could be warm to his intimates. He was also a devout Presbyterian who considered his victories to be bestowed by God and his enemies to be kin to the devil.

George B. McClellan

George B. McClellan (1826–1885) was a general in the Union Army. McClellan transformed the dispirited Union troops that lost the First Battle of Bull Run into a potent force. He created an army too strong for the Army of Northern Virginia to destroy. Ironically, McClellan could not defeat the Confederate Army, primarily due to his own timidity and indecisiveness.

In Western Virginia

When the Civil War began, McClellan was president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. He quit that position to accept a commission as a major general of Ohio volunteers.

With a small force of Ohio militia, he was given the task of securing the western portion of Virginia for the Union. It was mountainous territory, where plantation slavery was uneconomical, and its economy was tied to Pennsylvania and Ohio. McClellan was fortunate. The area had a large pro-Union population. Confederate forces there were commanded by two of the Confederate Army’s lesser lights—Colonel John Pegram and General John B. Floyd (President Buchanan’s secretary of defense in 1860 and 1861).

McClellan’s talented subordinate—William Rosencrans (1819–1898), then a colonel—defeated Pegram at Rich Mountain in July 1861 and Floyd, at Fairfax, in September. The campaign cleared the Confederates out of what later became West Virginia. McClellan got most of the credit.

Command of the Army

The Union debacle at the First Battle of Bull Run was followed by continuing disorganization and demoralization in the Army of the Potomac. McClellan was then called east and was given command of the U.S. Army, relieving the retiring General Winfield Scott.

McClellan proved an excellent organizer and trainer. He reorganized the armies around Washington and regularized the Army’s quartermaster corps to ensure his troops had adequate food and supplies. He also drilled and trained the Army of the Potomac, turning it into a powerful offensive weapon. He then proved unenthusiastic about using the weapon he had created. McClellan always had another reason to keep it in camp, training. At first, Lincoln encouraged McClellan. Then he prodded him. Finally, on January 27, 1862, Lincoln ordered McClellan to move.

It took McClellan another month to execute that order. He marched the Army of the Potomac out of Washington in early March. He stopped at Manassas after discovering that the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, had withdrawn to Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The Peninsular Campaign

On March 11, he moved the Army of the Potomac by sea to Fort Monroe, Virginia, at the tip of the Peninsula formed by the James and York Rivers. McClellan crawled up that peninsula at a snail’s pace, intimidated by phantoms of superior Confederate forces. He spent one month, beginning on April 5, 1862, besieging lightly held Yorktown. Most of the rest of the next month was spent crawling to within ten miles of Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital.

The Army of Northern Virginia counterattacked at the Battle of Fair Oaks (or Seven Pines). McClellan’s Army of the Potomac easily beat off the attack, and Joseph Johnston was injured during the battle. He was replaced by General Robert E. Lee, who held a staff position as an advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

McClellan slowly went about preparing the Army of the Potomac to besiege Richmond. Lee planned a counteroffensive intended to surround the Army of the Potomac and destroy it from behind. The result was the Seven Days Battle, fought between June 25 and July 1, 1862. A series of seven battles was fought during that time, most of which were won by the Army of the Potomac. After each action, convinced that he had lost and was about to be surrounded, McClellan retreated. The Seven Days Battle climaxed with the Battle of Malvern Hill. McClellan’s army crushed a Confederate attack against its fortified position. Against the desire of his Corps commanders, McClellan again retreated down the peninsula and finally withdrew the army back to Washington.

Lincoln did not formally relieve McClellan. Instead, Lincoln gave most of the Army of the Potomac to General John Pope. After Pope was defeated by Lee at the Second Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas), the Army of the Potomac was returned to McClellan.

Antietam and Its Aftermath

In September 1862, Lee invaded western Virginia. McClellan went after Lee in a sluggish repetition of his behavior in the Peninsula. McClellan got a copy of Lee’s orders to his subordinate commanders—it was captured from a Confederate courier. This allowed McClellan to trap Lee near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17.

McClellan’s army outnumbered Lee’s by 90,000 men to 55,000, and Lee’s total included reinforcements that arrived late during the resulting Battle of Antietam. Had McClellan attacked promptly, he would have outnumbered Lee three to one. Instead his hesitation caused a bloody and indecisive battle. Total casualties on both sides exceeded 3,600 dead and 17,000 wounded. McClellan’s timidity reasserted itself. Instead of destroying the Army of Northern Virginia, McClellan was satisfied with holding the battlefield, and he allowed Lee’s Army to escape. Having “defeated” Lee once, McClellan proved even more reluctant to risk another battle. Lincoln finally relieved McClellan in November 1862. McClellan never again served in an active role in the U.S. Army.

Although a strong supporter of the war, McClellan agreed to run as the Democratic candidate for president, on a peace platform. He lost the election, receiving 21 electoral votes to Lincoln’s 212.

Early Life and Post-War Career

Born on December 3, 1826, McClellan graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, second in the class of 1846. Receiving an engineering commission, he served with distinction in the Mexican-American War. Afterwards, he served as an engineering instructor at West Point.

Between 1850 and 1857, when he resigned from the Army, he participated in a number of significant engineering projects, served as an official observer from the U.S. Army during the Crimean War and designed the standard cavalry saddle used by the Army well into the 1880s—the “McClellan saddle.” Between 1857 and the start of the Civil War, he was chief engineer and then vice president of the Illinois Central Railroad before becoming president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad.

After the Civil War, McClellan was chief engineer for the New York City Department of Docks and governor of New Jersey from 1878 to 1881. He died on October 29, 1885, in Orange, New Jersey.

Albert Sydney Johnston

Albert Sydney Johnston (1803–1862) was a general in the Confederate Army. Johnston refused an opportunity to serve as second in command of the U.S. Army in 1861. He then probably had more combat and campaign experience than any other officer in the U.S. Army except General Winfield Scott. Instead, after his adopted state of Texas left the Union, Johnston resigned his commission. He then accepted a commission as a general in the Confederate States of America. Johnston was sent west, with orders to raise a Confederate Army in Kentucky, a then-neutral border state. The expected pro-Confederate rising did not occur. Instead, the state was tipped into the Union camp.

Command in the West

Johnston was placed in command of the Confederacy’s western front (from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River valley). Despite a lack of troops, munitions, and supplies, Johnston patched together a defense. He relied on a series of riverfront fortifications to block a Union advance. These proved inadequate. The North built a series of river gunboats protected by iron armor or thick layers of wood. These ironclad and timberclad gunboats mounted guns heavy enough to defeat the earthwork fortifications the South could make. Because of superior mobility, the Union could mass forces to outnumber Johnston’s individual garrisons.

Under Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote and Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, the Union mounted a series of combined operations on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers in February 1862. Johnston lost Forts Henry and Donelson, losing the Donelson garrison as well as the fort. He reorganized his remaining troops into the Army of the Mississippi and fell back on the railroad junction at Corinth, Mississippi. He was able to scrape together about fifty thousand men. Ten thousand were used for the garrison, leaving a field force of forty thousand men.


Aware that he would be outnumbered by greater than two to one, after Union forces concentrated, Johnston resolved to attack first. He believed that Grant had 33,000 men at Pittsburg Landing, on the Tennessee River, about twenty-five miles from Corinth. Johnston marched quickly across the country, covering the distance in a day and a half.

His attack, which started hours before dawn on Sunday, April 6, 1862, was a total surprise. Grant actually had 39,000 troops at Pittsburg Landing, but 6,000 would reach the battlefield, later called Shiloh after a church there that was used as the Confederate headquarters, on the first day of the battle. Johnston’s attack swept the Union Army virtually to the banks of the Tennessee. By nightfall, both armies were exhausted, and each side had suffered heavy casualties. Albert Johnston was among them. A wound years earlier had injured his sciatic nerve and left him insensitive to pain in his leg. A bullet had struck him in the leg during that first day of battle. Unaware of how serious the injury was, Johnston continued directing the battle until he passed out from loss of blood. He died soon after.

Johnston died at the apparent moment of triumph. Reinforced by fresh troops, Grant counterattacked the next day. Had Johnston been in command, Grant would likely still have won. Absent Johnston’s leadership, the Confederate defeat was as total as it appeared the Union loss had been the previous day.

Early Life

Johnston, born in Washington, Kentucky, on February 2, 1803, entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at age 19. Graduating in 1826, Johnston served in the Army for the next eight years, seeing action in the Black Hawk War. He resigned in April 1834 when his wife became ill. After she died, he became a farmer in Missouri, but soon moved to Texas. In Texas, he joined the army of the Republic of Texas. By January 1837, he was the senior brigadier general in that nation’s army. He commanded the Texas Army and served as the Republic’s secretary of war before returning to farming in Brazoria County.

Because of the American annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War began. Johnston returned to the U.S. Army, commanding the First Texas Rifles. When that war ended, he alternated between farming and serving in the U.S. Army until the outbreak of the Civil War.

His most notable achievement in that period was commanding the expedition that reestablished federal authority in Utah in 1857–1858. Johnston’s combination of firmness and tact brought the “Mormon War” to a blood-free conclusion. Johnston was then given command of the Department of the Pacific in 1860. He remained at that assignment until he resigned his commission in 1861 after Texas seceded from the Union.

David Farragut

David Glasgow Farragut (1801–1870), the adopted son of War of 1812 naval hero David Porter (1780–1843), served in the U.S. Navy for nearly sixty years. He contributed significantly to the Union victory in the American Civil War. Congress rewarded him by making him the U.S. Navy’s first admiral.

In 1861, Farragut was living in Norfolk, Virginia, where he planned to retire. Although a Southerner by birth, and fifty-nine when Virginia seceded from the United States, Farragut’s loyalty went to his country, not his state. To pro-secession neighbors pressuring him to “go South” he declared, “You fellows will catch the devil before you get through with this business.” Then he moved to New York with his family and awaited a call from the Navy.

It took over six months. Farragut was suspected by some in the Navy Department of having Southern sympathies. Because of the recommendations of his foster brother, Commander David D. Porter (1813–1891) and Assistant Secretary for the Navy Gustavus Fox (1821–1883), the Navy finally offered Farragut command of the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron in December 1861. His foster brother commanded a flotilla of mortar boats in Farragut’s squadron.

New Orleans and the Mississippi

Farragut arrived in the Gulf in February 1862, assigned the task of capturing New Orleans. He first attempted to reduce the forts guarding the approaches to New Orleans, Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip. A five-day bombardment by the mortar boats that consumed nearly seventeen thousand explosive mortar shells failed to reduce even Fort Jackson, down stream from Fort St. Philip.

Farragut had orders to reduce both forts before proceeding to New Orleans. Instead, he simply steamed past the the two forts, realizing they would fall if New Orleans was captured. He started his run at 2:00 a.m. on April 24, 1862, taking little damage. The Confederates in New Orleans sent a small force of steam rams and the ironclad Louisiana to oppose Farragut, but he brushed them aside. Farragut’s fleet anchored at New Orleans at 1:00 p.m. on April 25. Aboard were six thousand Union soldiers led by Major General Benjamin Butler. New Orleans surrendered without resistance. Cut off, Forts Jackson and St. Philip followed suit. The capture had political as well as military significance. Farragut was promoted to rear admiral in July 1862.

Farragut then established control over the lower Mississippi River. He could reach Vicksburg, Mississippi, with his flotilla, and he did so. On several occasions he ran the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg, cooperating with General Ulysses S. Grant, whose campaign to capture Vicksburg ended with its surrender on July 4, 1863. This gave the Union control of the Mississippi River, splitting the Confederacy in two.

Mobile Bay

In 1864, Farragut led a campaign to retake Mobile, Alabama. It was the last major Gulf Coast port east of the Mississippi that was still in Confederate hands. The approaches to Mobile Bay were blocked with pilings, were mined, or were under the guns of Fort Morgan, a pre-war coastal fortification that had been heavily reinforced.

As on the Mississippi River, Farragut chose to run the batteries. The safe channel was narrow. The monitor Tecumseh struck a mine (or torpedo as they were then called) when it came opposite Fort Morgan. Sinking instantly, it took most of its crew with it. The lead ship, steam sloop-of-war Brooklynstopped, putting the line in confusion. Ignoring the mines, Farragut ordered his flagship, the Hartford, out of the safe channel and into the harbor. To a warning shouted from the Brooklyn, Farragut shouted, “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead!” The rest of the column followed the Hartford into the harbor.

A few mines touched the Hartford. None exploded. In Mobile Bay, the squadron attacked a Confederate naval force that included the ironclad Tennessee. Farragut had three other monitors. The CSS Tennessee, commanded by Admiral Franklin Buchanan, and the rest of the Confederate ships, were battered into submission. As with New Orleans, once Mobile was captured, the forts defending Mobile Bay soon surrendered.

The Battle of Mobile Bay ended Farragut’s active career. He was promoted to vice admiral in December 1864, and to admiral—a rank created for him—in July 1866. He made a goodwill tour of Europe in 1867–68, in failing health. He died visiting Portsmouth Naval Yard in New Hampshire on August 14, 1870.

Early Life

James (later, David) Glasgow Farragut was born on July 5, 1801, near Knoxville, Tennessee. His father, Jorge Farragut, was an officer in the Revolutionary Navy, and a sailing master in the U.S. Navy. His father served at New Orleans, and the future David Farragut spent much of his youth there. Jorge Farragut’s wife died in 1809, and thereafter James was raised by a close family friend, Captain David Porter. In 1814, to honor his foster father, James changed his first name to David.

In 1810, Farragut received an appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy aboard Porter’s ship, the frigate Essex. David Farragut served on the Essex during its Pacific voyage during the War of 1812. He was aboard the Essex in Valparaiso Harbor when it was captured by the British warships Cherub and Phoebe.

Farragut spent the rest of his life as a naval officer, mostly at sea. Promotion in peacetime was slow. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1825, commander in 1841, and captain in 1855. During that thirty-year period he served in the United States, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the Brazil Station. Between 1854 and 1858 he was in California, where he established the Mare Island Navy Yard. In 1860 he was back at Norfolk, Virginia, where he established his home. During and after the Civil War, his residence was in Washington, D.C.

Jubal Early

Jubal Anderson Early (1816–1894) was an officer in the Confederate Army. Early began the Civil War strongly opposing secession. When Virginia joined the Confederacy, Early followed his home state. By war’s end, he was a wholehearted believer in the Confederacy and remained so for the rest of his life. At his death nearly fifty years after the war’s end, Early had emerged as the foremost proponent of the mythology of the “Lost Cause.”

Early Confederate Service

Early was a lawyer in Virginia as the 1860s began. He had dabbled in politics as well, serving in the Virginia legislature in the 1840s. When Virginia held a convention in April 1861, to consider the issue of secession, Early attended as a delegate. Initially, he opposed secession—vociferously, as with everything about which he had an opinion. After South Carolina troops fired on Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, Lincoln called for 75,000 militia to put down the rebellion. Early equally vociferously swung to supporting secession.

After Virginia seceded, Early offered his services as an officer to the Confederate government. Early had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1837, and Virginia made him a colonel. Commanding the Twenty-fourth Virginia Infantry at the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas), he turned in a creditable performance and was quickly promoted to brigadier general.

He commanded a brigade in Ewell’s Division of the Army of Northern Virginia for most of 1861 and 1862, fighting at Williamsburg, Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run (Manassas), and Antietam (Sharpsburg). After Brigadier General Alexander Lawton, commanding Ewell’s Division (Ewell had been wounded at Groveton in August 1862), was wounded at Antietam, Early assumed command of the division during the battle.

Having done well as division commander at Antietam and Fredericksburg, in December 1862, Early was promoted to major general. He commanded Ewell’s old division—now named Early’s Division, at both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in 1863.

Independent Command

During the Wilderness Campaign, Early received another battlefield promotion, taking command of A. P. Hill’s Corps after Hill (1825–1865) was wounded. In May 1864 he was promoted to lieutenant general and then sent to an independent command in the Shenandoah Valley, Second Corps. His assignment was to relieve pressure from the Army of Northern Virginia, besieged at Petersburg. He carried out orders in spectacular fashion. Starting on June 12, 1864, Early swept down the Shenandoah Valley, chasing Union General David Hunter before him. Breaking out of the Valley at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, he crossed the Potomac River and struck for Washingtion, D.C., which was lightly defended.

A smaller Union force, commanded by Major General Lew Wallace, with six thousand men, met Early’s Second Corps at Monocacy, Maryland. Wallace’s troops were thrown together from two different corps, and many men were recruits. It took Early two days to defeat Wallace. At a terrible price to his own command, Wallace bought time for Grant to shift reinforcements to Washington.

Early reached the District of Columbia on July 11, but by then the capital’s garrison had been reinforced and was too strong to defeat. After a few days of skirmishing around Fort Stevens, Early fell back to the Shenandoah Valley. Early had free reign in the Valley for the next few weeks. He ranged as far north as Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, which he burned on July 30, 1864. Finally, Grant tired of Early’s raids. He sent Major General Philip Sheridan to take command of the Army of the Shenandoah, two corps totaling 43,000 men. After a few weeks of skirmishing, the two armies met at Winchester, Virginia, on September 19, and at Fisher’s Hill on September 22. Early was defeated on both occasions.

Retreating south in the Shenandoah Valley, Early managed to surprise Sheridan’s army at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. The Confederates routed the Union Army and took their camp. The starving Confederate soldiers then broke ranks to loot the Union camp. While they were doing that, Sheridan rallied his men and counterattacked. Early was defeated yet again.

Cedar Creek gave the Union the initiative in the Shenandoah for the rest of the war. Early fought on unsuccessfully. Finally on March 5, 1865, Early’s Second Corps was destroyed at Waynesboro. Lee relieved Early, who headed for the west.

Early Life

Jubal Early was born on November 3, 1816, in Franklin County, Virginia. He attended West Point, graduated in 1837, and received an artillery commission. He participated in the Seminole War, in Florida. He remained in the Army until 1840, when he resigned his commission.

For the next twenty years, he was a lawyer in Virginia and a sometime politician. He served in the Virginia legislature in 1841 and 1842. During the Mexican-American War, he was a major in a Virginia militia regiment. Early saw little action. His regiment mainly served on garrison duty in northern Mexico. After the war ended in 1848, he returned to civilian life and his law practice.

Post-War Career

After the Confederate surrender, Early refused to surrender. He went to Texas and then to Mexico. After that, he sailed to Canada and lived there for two years. He wrote his war memoirs while in Canada, finally returning to the United States in 1867. He received a federal pardon in 1868 but remained an unreconstructed Confederate for the rest of his life.

Once back in the United States he began championing the “Lost Cause” movement. Early served as president of the Southern Historical Society. He never became reconciled to Confederate defeat. Early also led an effort to blame the defeat at Gettysburg on James Longstreet (1821–1904). Longstreet had accepted Reconstruction after the war, incurring the ire of unreconstructed Confederates.

Early spent much of his post-war life in New Orleans, participating with General P. G. T. Beauregard in running the Louisiana Lottery. Early died in Lynchburg, Virginia, on March 2, 1894.

Ambrose Burnside

Ambrose Burnside (1824–1881) was a general in the Union Army. Burnside served as a corps commander for much of the Civil War, briefly commanding the Army of the Potomac. While not the sole reason for a drawn result at Antietam, defeat at Fredericksburg, and disaster at the Battle of the Crater, his contribution to each of these outcomes was significant.

The Rising Star

In 1861, Ambrose Burnside quit a position with the Illinois Central Railroad to raise a regiment of volunteers in Rhode Island, where he had run a factory in the 1850s. Burnside was then given command of a brigade, which he led at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in July of that year. Burnside’s brigade performed creditably, although it participated in the retreat at the battle’s end.

After McClellan assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, Burnside proposed an amphibious operation to capture the Sea Islands off the Carolinas. Promoted to major general, he was given a division and captured Roanoke Island, New Berne, and Beaufort, North Carolina, between February and April 1862.

Ordered back to Washington in July after the Seven Days Battle, Burnside was given command of the Ninth Corps in September 1862, which participated in the Antietam Campaign. He commanded the Union right flank at South Mountain, on September 14. At Antietam on September 17, his Corps was on the Union left flank. He spent most of the battle trying to force a passage across a stone bridge on Antietam Creek. This was unnecessary. The creek could be forded without using the bridge. The time wasted allowed Confederate reinforcements to reach the field in time to prevent the Army of Northern Virginia from being defeated. This allowed Lee to slip away after dusk. The battle was the first indication that a command much larger than a division was beyond Burnside’s capabilities.


When McClellan was relieved of command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862, Lincoln gave the Army to Burnside. Burnside accepted with great reluctance. He felt he was not up to the task. Burnside’s instincts were right. He proved a failure. He reorganized the Army, creating three “Grand Divisions,” each with two corps and a cavalry division or brigade. The organization proved unwieldy. He launched a December offensive, marching quickly to the Rappahannock River.

He launched an assault across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 13, 1862. Although Burnside successfully crossed the river, instead of reinforcing successes south of Fredericksburg, he concentrated his attack on a fortified Confederate position on Marye’s Heights, behind the city of Fredericksburg. The assault on the bluffs was repelled. The Union Army took almost as many casualties as they did at Antietam; the Confederate forces had considerably fewer casualties.

Relieved of the Army of the Potomac after Fredericksburg, he was given command of the Army of the Ohio. He was more successful with a smaller command. Burnside stopped a Confederate cavalry raid into Ohio in July 1863, and then cleared Eastern Tennessee of Confederate forces. In November 1863, he stopped General James Longstreet outside Knoxville, preventing a junction between Longstreet and General Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga.

Later Career

While in Ohio, he cracked down on people and newspapers critical of the war. This included imprisoning Clement Vallandigham, a prominent war critic. Most of his actions were subsequently overruled by Lincoln.

In January 1864, he returned to the Army of the Potomac, again commanding the Ninth Corps. He initially did well. However, during the siege of Petersburg, he oversaw one last debacle—the Battle of the Crater, on July 30, 1864.

Burnside had a mine placed under the Confederate fortifications. While the Confederate line was successfully destroyed, the subsequent assault was repulsed and the Army suffered heavy casualties.

The attack failed for several reasons, not just Burnside’s lack of skill. Burnside was forced to switch a brigade of black soldiers that had trained for the assault at the last minute because the government feared the political impact of high casualties in a black regiment. The new brigade, badly led and poorly prepared, was trapped in the crater formed by the mine. Burnside reinforced the failure by ordering reserves into the crater even after it became apparent success was impossible.

A court of inquiry blamed the failure on Burnside. He left the army in 1865.

Early Life

Burnside was born in Liberty, Indiana, on May 23, 1824. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1847, too late to serve in the Mexican-American War. He remained in the Army until 1853, when he resigned to open a firearms factory. He invented the breech-loading “Burnside” carbine and manufactured it in Bristol, Rhode Island. His factory went bankrupt in 1857, and he got a position with the Illinois Central Railroad due to the influence of his friend, George B. McClellan.

He served as governor of Rhode Island from 1866 until 1869, and as senator from Rhode Island from 1871 until 1881. He died in Bristol, Rhode Island, on September 13, 1881.

Burnside wore long side-whiskers, which became known as “Burnside whiskers.” The term later evolved into “sideburns,” a term used today.

The Burnside Carbine

Ambrose Burnside’s most significant contribution to the Union victory in the Civil War came not from his battlefield performance but from the breech-loading carbine that he invented prior to the war.

Breechloaders could be used while mounted, giving cavalry units a reach they lacked with sidearms or sabers. Additionally, breech-loading carbines could be used from a covered position when dismounted. This allowed cavalry to ride to a defensive position, dismount, and then hold the weapon.

The first breech-loading carbines issued by the U.S. Army had one major problem. Cartridges would stick in the breech in combat, making the carbine useless. Burnside’s design eliminated this problem. It used a tapered cartridge with an ejector. It fouled (became clogged with burnt powder) less than the earlier Hall’s design.

The U.S. Army purchased over 43,000 Burnside carbines during the Civil war—enough to equip over fifty cavalry regiments. It was eventually superseded by the later Sharps and Spencer designs, which were the only two weapons more frequently used by Army cavalry units.

Joseph Hooker

Joseph Hooker (1814–1879) was the third commander—after George B. McClellan and Ambrose Burnside—of the Army of the Potomac. He is chiefly, and perhaps unfairly, remembered as the general who commanded the Army of the Potomac during its defeat at Chancellorsville.

He was serving as a colonel in the California militia when the Civil War began. A West Point graduate, he applied for and received a brigadier general’s commission. He commanded a division defending Washington, D.C. Hooker distinguished himself as a division commander in the first half of 1862, fighting with distinction in the Peninsular Campaign and at the Second Battle of Bull Run (or Second Manassas). On May 5, 1862, after the Battle of Williamsburg in the Peninsula, he was promoted to major general. Following Second Manassas, he took command of the First Corps in the Army of the Potomac.

Corps Commander

His corps played an active role in the Maryland campaign of September 1862. Hooker aggressively led his corps at the battles of Stone Mountain (September 14) and Antietam (Sharpsburg, September 17), gaining the nickname “Fighting Joe.” Though wounded at Antietam, he soon returned to active service.

At Fredericksburg, in December 1862, Hooker commanded the Center Grand Division. This consisted of two corps (Third and Fifth Corps) and a cavalry brigade. Hooker’s force was given the most difficult task during the Battle of Fredericksburg—an uphill assault against entrenched Confederate positions at the top of Marye’s Heights, which overlooked Fredericksburg, Virginia. Hooker opposed General Ambrose Burnside’s battle plan prior to action, a position justified by the results at Fredericksburg. Most of the Union causalities were incurred during the failed assault on Marye’s Heights.

Army Commander

Following Fredericksburg, Burnside was relieved of command and Hooker was given command of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker abolished Burnside’s unwieldy “Grand Divisions.” He concentrated the Union cavalry into a corps, establishing it as an independent command. Hooker instituted corps and division uniform patches. The distinctive insignia aided identification of units and built unit morale. Much of the Union Army soon imitated the practice.

In April 1863, Hooker marched the Army of the Potomac south. This new offensive to capture Richmond was stopped just after he crossed the Rapidan River on May 1, 1863. In a three-day battle centered on Chancellorsville, Virginia, General Robert E. Lee split the badly outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia into two parts. With the larger part, Lee held Hooker’s army. The rest of Lee’s forces, commanded by “Stonewall” Jackson, made a wide flanking march, hitting the Union Eleventh Corps from an unexpected flank. It routed, forcing the rest of the Army of the Potomac to retreat.

An enemy shell had landed near Hooker at the opening of the battle. Hooker probably suffered a concussion, leaving him incapable of running the battle at this critical stage. It also allowed Lee to hold Hooker while Jackson flanked them. Hooker’s inactivity cost the North the battle and cost Hooker command of the Army of the Potomac. He resigned in June.

After Chancellorsville

In September 1863, Hooker was given the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, sent to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Hooker distinguished himself at Lookout Mountain on November 23, 1863.

General William T. Sherman took charge, after General Ulysses S. Grant moved east. Hooker’s corps was part of Sherman’s Atlanta campaign in 1864. Sherman had little faith in Hooker’s abilities as an army commander. After capturing Atlanta, Sherman prepared for his march to the sea. Sherman named General William Howard commander of the Army of the Tennessee, passing over Hooker for this command. Hooker requested relief, and it was granted. From then until Hooker retired from the army in October 1868, he commanded various non-combat, administrative Army departments. He died in Garden City, New York, on October 31, 1879, eleven years after retiring.

Early Career

Joseph Hooker was born on November 13, 1814, in Hadley, Massachusetts. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in the upper part of his class in 1837. Appointed a lieutenant of artillery, he served in the Seminole War, as adjutant at West Point, and in the Mexican-American War. During that war, he served under both Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, and was promoted to captain.

After the Mexican-American War, Hooker served the Army in various western posts until he resigned in 1853. Before the Civil War, he ran a farm near Sonoma, California, was superintendent of military roads in Oregon, and was a colonel in the California militia.

William Tecumseh Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891) was the right-hand lieutenant of the Union’s greatest general, Ulysses S. Grant, to whom Sherman was devoted. Sherman went on to lead a war-winning, major independent command.

At the start of the Civil War, Sherman was superintendent of the military academy in Alexandria, Louisiana, that later became Louisiana State University. When Louisiana seceded, Sherman quit his post and moved to St. Louis, Missouri.

In May 1861, Sherman received a commission as colonel and command of the Thirteenth Infantry. Given the Third Brigade, First Division, in the Army of the Potomac, he commanded the brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in July 1861. In August, he was promoted to brigadier general, and in October, he was given an independent command in Kentucky.

Vastly overestimating Confederate capabilities, Sherman allowed uncertainty to paralyze him. He lost the confidence of the soldiers under his command, and in himself, suffering what some considered a mental breakdown. Relieved of command in November, Sherman was sent to the Western Department, where he commanded the District of Cairo (Illinois).

With Grant

Sherman asked for and was given command of a division in Grant’s Army of the Tennessee in March 1862. He allowed his division to be ambushed at Pittsburg Landing on April 6, 1862. At the resulting Battle of Shiloh, Sherman fought bravely and rallied his troops. At day’s end, the Confederate Army failed to drive the Army of the Tennessee into the Tennessee River, in large part due to Sherman. Then, led by Grant, he participated in the next day’s counterattack that swept the Confederates from the field.

For the next two years, Grant and Sherman fought as a team. He was Grant’s leading lieutenant in the Vicksburg campaign. Sherman took part in the 1862 Corinth campaign and then moved to Memphis to transform that city into a Union stronghold. Sherman spearheaded Grant’s first assault on Vicksburg, a direct attack from the north. There, Sherman was repulsed at Chickasaw Bluff on December 29, 1862.

The winter of 1863 saw Grant and Sherman attempt to move on Vicksburg several different ways. Finally, in late April, tired of unsuccessfully attacking Vicksburg from the north, Grant decided to run his army past the Vicksburg batteries and attack the town from the south. Sherman, then commanding the Fifteenth Corps, diverted Confederate attention with a demonstration in front of Vicksburg as the rest of Grant’s army slipped south. Sherman rejoined Grant at Port Gibson and participated in the subsequent Vicksburg campaign that led to the capture of the town on July 4, 1863. Following Vicksburg, Sherman was promoted to brigadier general of regulars. With Grant, he moved east, helping to relieve General William Rosecrans’s army trapped in Chattanooga. Sherman became commander of the Army of the Tennessee in October, when Grant was promoted to command of all western forces.

After the Battle of Chattanooga on November 24–25, 1863, Sherman continued moving the Army of the Tennessee east. He relieved Ambrose Burnside, besieged in Knoxville by James Longstreet. In February 1864, Sherman led an inconclusive effort on Meridian, Mississippi.

In March 1864, Grant was promoted to commander of the Army. Sherman again replaced him, this time as commander of forces in the west. Sherman had command of 100,000 men in three armies: The Army of the Cumberland (General George Thomas), the Army of the Tennessee (General John McPherson), and the Army of the Ohio (General John Schofield).

Independent Command

Grant moved the Army of the Potomac towards Richmond. To focus attention on this effort, Grant moved straight toward Richmond, without maneuvering. Grant’s campaign was intended to suck up Confederate reinforcements. With the Confederates distracted by Grant and the siege at Petersburg, Virginia, Sherman went after Atlanta, Georgia.

The seventy-four-day campaign pitted two masters of maneuver—Sherman and Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston—against each other. Except for a disastrous frontal assault against a fortified Johnston at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, Sherman attempted to maneuver around Johnston. Johnston skillfully parried in a series of running battles fought between Chattanooga and Atlanta. The duel might have continued until after the 1864 elections, but Jefferson Davis, frustrated by Johnston’s refusal to strike at Sherman, replaced him with the pugnacious John Bell Hood, who did so. On July 28, Sherman defeated Hood’s army at Ezra Creek, forcing Hood back into Atlanta. Atlanta fell to Sherman in September. The victory helped to power a Republican sweep of the November elections. On November 15, 1864, Sherman left Atlanta after burning buildings of military significance. The fires spread and consumed much of the town.

Sherman left a force under General Thomas to protect Tennessee from the Confederate Army. Sherman took 78,000 men, minimal food, and plenty of ammunition, and began a march to Savannah, Georgia. Abandoning supply lines, Sherman fed his men by raiding civilian food stocks. He also destroyed anything he encountered of military value. Sherman arrived in Savannah on December 10, reestablished supply lines, and then captured Savannah on December 21, 1864. He then turned his army north, capturing Columbia, South Carolina, on February 17. He continued north into North Carolina with the intention of joining Grant.

Sherman again faced Johnston, who had shifted to the Carolinas after Atlanta. Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 26 at Durham Station, North Carolina. Sherman gave Johnston the same terms Grant offered Lee at Appomattox.

Postwar Career and Early Life

After the war, Sherman continued in the army, rising to its commander in 1883. He retired from the army in 1884. When the Republican Party attempted to make him its presidential candidate, he refused. He wrote his memoirs in 1885, moved to St. Louis in 1886, and moved later to New York City. He died there on February 14, 1891. One of his pallbearers was his one-time enemy, Joseph Johnston.

Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on February 8, 1820. He was the son of a state supreme court judge. After his father’s death in 1829, Sherman was raised in the home of a family friend, Senator Thomas Ewing. Sherman married Ewing’s daughter Ellen in 1850.

Sherman graduated from West Point in 1840. He fought against the Seminoles in Florida. In 1846, at the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, Sherman was sent by sea to California. He remained in California until 1850, when he returned to Missouri. He quit the Army in 1853 to become president of a San Francisco bank. The parent bank in New York went bankrupt in 1857. In 1859, Sherman went to Alexandria, Lousiana, to become superintendent of a military academy there.

George Meade

George Gordon Meade (1815–1872) was a general in the Union Army and the last commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade combined colorlessness with competence. He never gained his men’s devotion the way Robert E. Lee or George McClellan did. He never gained a wide and favorable public reputation, as did Stonewall Jackson or Philip Sheridan. But no general was more respected by his peers than George Meade—even by his enemies. Confederate Lieutenant General Daniel Hill wrote, “Meade was one of our most dreaded foes; he was always in deadly earnest, and eschewed all trifling.”

Brigade Commander

At the beginning of the Civil War, George Meade was a captain in the topographical engineers. Initially, like many in the regular army, he was kept at his peacetime post in Michigan. In the expansion of the army after First Bull Run (or Manassas), Mead was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and given command of a Pennsylvania volunteer brigade.

He took part in McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign in 1862, demonstrating both competence and bravery. He fought at Mechanicsville, Gaines’s Mill, and Glendale during the Seven Days Battle. At Glendale on June 30, he took command of his division after the loss of its commander and other officers more senior to Meade, leading it effectively before being badly wounded himself that day.

Despite the seriousness of the wounds he had suffered at Glendale, Meade was back in command of his brigade at Second Bull Run (Manassas) on August 29 and 30. During the Antietam campaign in September, Meade initially commanded the Third Division of General Joseph Hooker’s First Corps. Meade took command of the First Corps at Antietam (Sharpsburg) after Hooker was wounded during the battle.

It was a temporary position. The Battle of Fredericksburg saw Meade back in command of the Third Division, First Corps. Hooker replaced Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac after Fredericksburg. Hooker reorganized the Army of the Potomac. Meade was given command of the Fifth Corps, which he led at Chancellorsville.

Gettysburg and Army Command

Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, many leaders in the Army of the Potomac lost confidence in Hooker. On June 27, 1863, Hooker resigned as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln accepted the resignation and gave Meade command of the Army of the Potomac. It was an unpromising time to take command. General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was invading Pennsylvania. The Army of the Potomac was strung out along roads in both Maryland and Pennsylvania, reacting to the invasion. Meade had to fight the campaign using Hooker’s disposition of the Army of the Potomac and choice of staff officers.

The two armies met at a Pennsylvania crossroads town, Gettysburg. In the three-day battle that took place from July 1 to July 3, Meade demonstrated great tactical skill. He chose excellent positions for the Union Army to fight and displayed shrewd judgment in committing reserves. The result was a significant tactical defeat for the Confederacy.

Meade was criticized for not conducting an aggressive pursuit after the battle. His decision not to pursue the enemy was due in equal part to his reluctance to endanger the victory won and his unfamiliarity with the Army he had just been given to command. He was fighting with someone else’s army, one he had assumed command of a week earlier. It was not a job he had sought or really desired. After hearing the criticism, Meade offered to resign. Gettysburg proved a turning point. Meade’s resignation was rejected, and he was voted the formal thanks of Congress in January 1864. Meade continued to command the Army of the Potomac until the end of the war in April 1865.

The Army of the Potomac remained an independent command for only a few months after Gettysburg. When General Ulysses S. Grant was given command of the Union Army in March 1864, he attached himself to the Army of the Potomac. From that point on, Meade was subordinate to Grant.

Meade filled that role ably and loyally. He managed the tactical dispositions of the army through the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, allowing Grant to focus on grand strategy. He was promoted to major general in the regular army in August 1864.

Post-War Career

After the war, Meade had a variety of administrative roles, commanding the Division of the Atlantic (until August 1866), the Department of the East (August 1866 to January 1868, and from March 1869 until his retirement), and the Third Military District (January 1868 to March 1869). The Third Military District consisted of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Meade died on November 6, 1872, in Philadelphia from complications of the wound he had received at the Battle of Glendale in 1862.

Early Life

Meade was born on December 31, 1815, in Cadiz, Spain, where his father was serving as a representative of the U.S. government. After returning to the United States, the family moved to Philadelphia, where he grew up.

George Meade did not intend to embark on a military career. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point because it offered a free education. He graduated in 1835, receiving an artillery commission. He was immediately sent to Florida and served in the Seminole War. He resigned his commission in 1836 and spent the next six years doing surveying and engineering work for railroads. He also participated in surveying the borders of Texas and Maine.

In 1840, he married, and then, to better provide for his family, rejoined the Army in 1842 as a lieutenant in the topographical engineers. Except for military service during the Mexican-American War between 1846 and 1848, Meade remained in the topographical engineers until the start of the Civil War.

During the Mexican-American War, he served with General Zachary Taylor. Meade fought at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterrey. He was brevetted first lieutenant at Monterrey for gallantry. After the Mexican-American War, he returned to engineering and surveying duties. He served in Philadelphia, in Florida, and in the years immediately before the Civil War, in the Great Lakes District.

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865) assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865. Booth was tracked on April 26, 1865, to a tobacco shed in Port Royal, Virginia, by Army forces pursuing him. Rather than surrender, Booth chose to fight, and he was shot as the shed caught fire and burned down around him.

Booth was a well-known and well-regarded actor who performed in theaters in the central Atlantic states. He had appeared on stage between 1855 and 1864 in cities from Philadelphia to Richmond and had played leading roles for stock theater companies that circulated among the major cities in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Booth inherited the acting tradition. His father, Junius Brutus Booth was regarded as England’s premier Shakespearian actor before emigrating to the United States. Booth’s brothers, Edwin and Junius Brutus Jr. were also noted actors. His older brother Edwin assisted John Wilkes in starting his acting career.

The Kidnapping Conspiracy

Born in Maryland, Booth strongly identified with the South. He sympathized with secession, as did many others in eastern Maryland. When the Civil War started, Maryland remained in the Union. Many pro-secession Marylanders went south and joined Confederate units. Booth did not. He apparently promised his mother that he would not become a soldier. He worked covertly for the Confederacy, though, providing aid and intelligence out of Washington and Baltimore.

In May 1864, Booth quit the stage. His stated reason was to run an oil business in Pennsylvania. It was more likely that he wanted extra time for the Confederate cause. He visited Montreal in October 1864, where Southern sympathizers in the North often met with Confederate agents. No record exists of what happened there.

Shortly after returning to Maryland, Booth moved to Washington and became part of a team of people planning to kidnap President Lincoln and exchange Lincoln for Confederate prisoners. The circle involved many who were later implicated in conspiring to carry out Lincoln’s assassination: Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Lewis Powell, Michael O’Laughlen, John Surratt, and John’s mother, Mary Surratt. Mary Surratt ran a boarding-house where the conspirators would meet.

Louis Weichmann, a boarder in the Surratt house and wannabe conspirator, testified that they planned to kidnap Lincoln as he visited an Army hospital on March 17, 1865. Lincoln changed his plans that day, attending instead a luncheon at the National Hotel.


The collapse of the Confederate lines at Petersburg, Virginia, the subsequent capture of Richmond, and the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia overtook the kidnapping plan. By April 11 there was no Confederate government to negotiate an exchange of Lincoln for Confederate prisoners of war. The conspiracy changed to assassinating Lincoln and his cabinet.

Booth’s bigotry partly motivated the assassination. Lincoln made a speech on April 11, stating his preference for enfranchising literate blacks and black veterans. Booth, in the audience, vehemently opposed this. He told a friend, “That is the last speech he will ever make.” On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, President Lincoln attended a showing of the comedy Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater, near the White House. Booth, a friend of the owner, had a pass to the theater. Booth snuck into the Presidential box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Lincoln died the next day.

Booth leapt onto the stage from the box. He snagged his foot on a flag draping the box and landed heavily, breaking a bone in his foot. Before staggering offstage, he shouted, “Sic semper tyrannus” (Thus always to tyrants), the Virginia state motto. Booth left the theater, retrieved his horse, and then rode to the Washington Naval Yard. There he met David Herold and rode out of Washington.

Booth failed to recruit all of the kidnapping conspirators into the assassination plot. Besides Herold, Booth convinced Powell and Atzerodt to join him. Atzerodt was to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875), and Powell was to kill the Secretary of State William Seward (1801–1872). Atzerodt’s nerve failed; he never attacked Johnson. Powell broke into Seward’s house and badly injured Seward with a knife. Believing Seward mortally wounded, Powell left and fled Washington. Seward recovered, leaving Lincoln the only target killed.

Booth and Herold recovered supplies and weapons cached at a tavern in Surrattsville, Maryland (now Clinton, Maryland) and then fled into Virginia. En route, they stopped at Dr. Mudd’s house in Benedict, Maryland, and spent the night. Mudd splinted Booth’s broken foot, unaware of Lincoln’s assassination.

Booth and Herold left the next day, fleeing across the Potomac into Virginia. Mudd told authorities of Booth’s visit to him on Easter Sunday, after Booth left his home the previous day. Union cavalry tracked Booth and Herold to a tobacco barn owned by Richard Garrett, in Port Royal, Virginia, on April 26, 1865. Herold surrendered. Booth refused to surrender. The barn was set on fire to drive Booth out. Spotted inside the barn, Booth was shot and wounded by one of the soldiers in the pursuit and dragged out of the barn. He later died in Garrett’s house.

The Fate of the Conspirators

Mudd, Herold, Atzerodt, Powell, Mary Surratt, Arnold, Edmund Spangler (who aided Booth’s escape in Maryland), and O’Laughlen were caught by the federal dragnet after Lincoln’s assassination. John Surratt escaped to Canada and was eventually captured in 1866 in Alexandria, Egypt. The eight caught immediately after the assassination were tried by a military tribunal, an action to which even some of Lincoln’s supporters objected. John Surratt was tried in 1869 in a civilian court in the District of Columbia.

All eight defendants in the military tribunal were convicted. The guilt of Herold, Atzerodt, and Powell was clear. They were condemned to death. Mary Surratt was convicted of aiding the assassination attempt by providing Booth with the weapons and supplies that he and Herold picked up at a tavern she owned. She, too, was condemned. All four were hanged on July 7, 1865.

The guilt of the others was more questionable. All had likely participated in the kidnapping conspiracy, although all denied it. Arnold and O’Laughlen almost certainly knew of the assassination plan, even if they did not participate in it. Mudd may not have known about it. Spangler probably did not. Arnold, O’Laughlen, and Mudd were sentenced to life imprisonment; Spangler was sentenced to six years in prison.

O’Laughlen died of yellow fever in 1867. The other three were pardoned by President Andew Johnson in 1869.

John Surratt, who participated in the kidnapping plot and probably knew about the assassination plot, was the luckiest conspirator. His trial on the assassination charge ended in a hung jury, and charges were dismissed. The statute of limitations had run out on other charges.

Major Battles

Fort Sumter

When South Carolina artillery opened fire upon Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, the barrage was intended to start a war. Confederate forces had already been informed by Major Robert Anderson, Fort Sumter’s commander, that he intended to surrender within the week if he was not resupplied. Although a supply ship was approaching Charleston, it was known to be unarmed and known to be carrying only food and other provisions for the garrison. It could have been turned away with a few warning shots, and Anderson would then have hauled down his flag.

Pro-secession firebrands were playing a larger game. By reducing the fort, they hoped to prompt a military counterreaction by the federal government. This would push the slave states that remained with the United States to join the Confederacy.

The Fort

A masonry fort, Fort Sumter stood on an artificial island in Charleston Harbor. Started in 1829 and still incomplete in 1861, it dominated the approaches to Charleston. Even without its intended battery of guns, whoever owned Fort Sumter controlled the approaches to South Carolina’s biggest seaport.

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the United States and began seizing federal property. Major Anderson, a native of a slave state (Kentucky), commanded the Army’s garrison in Charleston, sixty-five artillerymen. He was ardently pro-Union. The garrison was stationed at Fort Moultrie, a battery on Sullivan’s Island, a sand spit attached to the mainland by swamp.

Moultrie protected Charleston from a seaward attack. It could not be defended against an assault from inland. Militia forces in both Charleston and Moultrieville on Sullivan’s Island threatened Moultrie.

Evacuation and Siege

Under cover of darkness, on December 26, 1860, Anderson evacuated Fort Moultrie, transferring his men to the unfinished Fort Sumter. Local construction workers at Sumter were hustled into the boats used to transport the Union garrison to the island. Charleston exploded in rage. Three months of siege began.

One attempt was made to reinforce and resupply Fort Sumter by the outgoing Buchanan Administration. The unarmed Star of the West was sent, arriving on January 9, 1861. As it steamed down the main channel of Charleston Harbor to Sumter, a battery on Morris Island, south of the port, opened up. Warning shots splashed in front of the Star of the West. Anderson had mounted enough of Sumter’s guns to have suppressed this battery. Unwilling to start a war on his own initiative, Anderson kept Sumter’s guns silent. Unsupported, the Star of the West turned around and returned to Washington, D.C.

The North Considers Its Course of Action

By Lincoln’s inauguration, in March 1861, Fort Sumter was short on food and running low on necessities, items like candles and matches. Without relief, it would be forced to surrender. In his Inaugural Address, Lincoln pledged to keep the remaining federal properties in the part of the United States that was revolting against the federal government.

Six states had joined South Carolina in forming the Confederate States of America. The federal government had lost control of all its possessions in those seven states, except for two remote naval anchorages in the Florida Keys, Fort Pickens in Pensacola Harbor, and Fort Sumter.

Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, on his own initiative, assured Southern authorities that the United States planned to evacuate Sumter. General Winfield Scott, the Army’s commander, urged its abandonment. Sumter could not be held if subjected to a determined assault from the mainland. Yet it was federal property. Lincoln pledged to hold it. Evacuation would demoralize those in the North who wished to maintain the Union. It would embolden those in the Confederacy, fixing their determination to remain independent. Lincoln decided he could not give up Sumter without a fight.

Besides the southern states that were in rebellion, six of the seven remaining slave states were balanced on a knife’s edge. If Lincoln ordered the Navy to shoot its way into Fort Sumter, they would probably succeed in relieving Sumter, but the North would carry the burden of being the aggressor. The remaining slave states would probably then join the rebellion.

On April 6, Lincoln announced that he was sending supplies to Sumter aboard an unarmed ship. It would only carry supplies—no ammunition or reinforcements—just food. It was a brilliant solution. The supplies, if delivered would sustain the garrison for months. Lincoln could use that time to work towards voluntary reconstruction of the Union. If the ship was fired upon, it would start a war, with the onus of starting it shifting to the South.

Southern Reaction

The rebelling states were in a precarious position. If the Upper South—with industrial centers in Missouri, Tennessee, Maryland, and Virginia, and the agriculture and population of Kentucky and North Carolina—remained in the United States, the seven states of the Confederacy would become weak and impoverished. Reconstruction would follow. To remain independent, the Confederacy needed war to force the Upper South out of its neutrality and into the Confederacy.

On April 9, the Confederate government ordered General Pierre Beauregard, the commander of Confederate forces at Charleston, to capture Sumter before the arrival of relief. Beauregard sent a summons to Anderson that demanded the fort’s surrender. Anderson refused, stating he would not surrender before running out of food—which would happen in another week.

The Confederates could have starved the garrison out. They could also have driven away the Star of the West and kept it from reaching Fort Sumter, just as they had previously. The Confederate government did not want a peaceful resolution. Beauregard ordered his batteries to open fire at dawn on April 12. A thirty-six hour bombardment followed. Thousands of shells were fired at Sumter, crumbling the obsolescent masonry walls. The unarmed relief ship arrived during the bombardment, and it could not deliver its supplies to the fort.

On April 14, Anderson surrendered. It was more because Sumter was almost out of food and ammunition than due to the Confederate bombardment. It had failed to cause a single casualty. The garrison was allowed to fire a salute and was given passage back to the North.

Results and Aftermath

The battle had the desired result for the Confederacy—sort of. The Confederacy had the war it sought. Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the insurrection, and Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee joined the Confederacy.

Missouri and Kentucky stayed with the Union, despite large pro-Confederate minorities. Maryland, the remaining land link to Washington, D.C., was not given a choice. Its pro-Confederate east was occupied. The result was a smaller Confederacy than the firebrands had sought—but one capable of fighting a long war.

The First Battle of Bull Run

The First Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas), on July 21, 1861, was the first major battle of the Civil War. It was a contest of young armies in which the advantage swung wildly from one side to the other. At day’s end, the Union Army—which had almost swept the Confederates from the field—was instead routed. A small battle by later standards, it was a warning to both sides of a long and bloody conflict.

As the spring of 1861 passed into summer, virtually everyone—North and South—expected a quick end to the Civil War. As July began, General Irvin McDowell had thirty thousand men in Washington. An additional Union Army, fifteen thousand men commanded by General Robert Patterson, threatened the Shenandoah Valley. Opposing McDowell were 21,900 men covering Manassas Junction in Virginia, commanded by Confederate General Pierre G.. T. Beauregard, a hero of Fort Sumter. General Joseph E. Johnston’s 11,000 men guarded the Shenandoah Valley.

Lincoln’s first militia call in April was for 75,000 men to serve for ninety days. Many of those answering that call would be back home at the end of July. They wanted the war settled. Northern newspapers urged “On to Richmond,” the Confederate capital, in Virginia. Expectations were just as unrealistically high on the Confederate side. One Southerner was worth any ten Yankees, the belief ran. Beauregard urged a march on Washington. This became moot when he learned that McDowell was coming out to fight.

On To Richmond

McDowell was ordered to take Richmond. He marched twenty thousand men out of Washington on July 16, 1861. He left the rest to guard the capital. McDowell felt his army was unready. It took two days to reach Centerville, Virginia, twenty miles away, and an additional two days to prepare the army to attack across Bull Run—a creek seven miles to the west.

The delay proved fatal. On July 16, Beauregard had only ten thousand men covering Bull Run, near Manassas Junction, where roads from Washington to Richmond converged. The lull allowed time to shift eight thousand men from the Shenandoah to Manassas. Despite these reinforcements and the advantage of defending from prepared positions, Beauregard still almost managed to lose.

McDowell launched his attack before dawn on July 21. A flanking march took ten thousand Union soldiers across Bull Run north of the Confederate Army’s positions. They surprised 4,500 Confederates on Beauregard’s left flank. Both sides fought hard, with Union troops tenaciously attacking and Confederate troops doggedly yielding ground.

By noon, Confederate forces had been pushed south of the Warrington Turnpike. The remainder of the Union Army, which had been marching up and down Bull Run against the Confederate right began crossing the creek and attacked. The Confederate line wavered. Men fled the field, carrying word of a Confederate defeat. The Confederate line was about to collapse.

The Tide Changes

Three things changed the course of the battle. In the center, holding high ground on Henry Hill, was a Virginia brigade commanded by Thomas Jackson, a Virginia Military Institute professor who had joined the Confederate Army. Using the natural advantage offered by the heights, Jackson’s Brigade held. The rest of the Confederate line formed up around Jackson, whose stand earned him the nickname “Stonewall.”

The Union troops were tiring. They had marched six miles in order to begin an attack at 2:00 a.m. By 1:00 p.m., most had been fighting for ten hours. Finally, fresh Confederate reinforcements were reaching the scene.

At 2:00 p.m., the Confederates counterattacked in an action started by brigade commanders on the scene. By this time, the battle was out of Beauregard’s control. The first counterattacks ended in confusion. Units on both sides shared uniforms of the same color or cut, and Confederate advances stalled twice due to a fear of firing on friends.

Fortune finally favored the Confederacy when a regiment in Jackson’s brigade charged. Wearing blue uniforms, they were thought to be Union troops by an artillery unit providing support to the Union line. They realized their mistake when the Confederate regiment was on top of them. The Confederate regiment destroyed the battery and then rolled up the Union line. Panic ensued. Union troops had fought bravely all day, but they were tired. Union reserves were already committed, so McDowell lacked the force needed to plug the gap. The Union line collapsed and the troops fled. Some ran until they reached Washington. Part of then-Colonel William T. Sherman’s brigade fell back slowly. Aided by several companies of regulars, they provided a rearguard. This allowed McDowell to establish a defensive line at Centerville the next day with his reserves.


There was little point to remaining in Centerville, so McDowell withdrew his force back to Washington. Richmond would not again be threatened with invasion for another eight months.

Both sides suffered significant losses. Each army committed around eighteen thousand men to the battle. McDowell’s army experienced nearly three thousand casualties; among these casualties, thirteen hundred men were taken prisoner. Nearly two thousand of the Southern forces were killed or wounded. It was the first hint for either side that casualty rates would be much higher than in previous American wars of that century.

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff, fought on October 21, 1861, was typical of minor actions fought in the Civil War’s first year. A Union debacle, it was little different than many such debacles—for both sides—in the opening year of the war. It is memorable only because of its aftermath.

It led to the resignation of Winfield Scott as the U.S. Army’s commander. Additionally, the general commanding the division to which the brigade that fought at Ball’s Bluff belonged was arrested by order of the U.S. Congress. Imprisoned for over seven months, he was released without charges. This peculiar outcome was as much the result of the personalities involved as the events that occurred on October 21.

Guarding Washington, D.C.

In October 1861, Brigadier General Charles P. Stone commanded a division in the Corps of Observation, defending Washington, D.C. Stone’s division was guarding Potomac River crossings around Poolesville, twenty-five miles northwest of the capital. Responding to a reported Confederate movement near Dranesville, south of the Potomac, Stone pushed a small detachment across the Potomac. It occupied the heights above Ball’s Bluff, threatening Leesburg. It was intended to draw Confederate forces away from Dranesville.

On October 21, Stone sent a brigade commanded by Colonel Edward D. Baker to support this detachment. Baker was a political supporter of Lincoln. He resigned as Oregon’s senator to join the Union Army. With no formal military training, Baker served in the Black Hawk War and commanded a brigade in the Mexican-American War. Stone authorized Baker to either withdraw the detachment—which had succeeded in attracting the attention of a Confederate brigade—or reinforce the detachment with his brigade. He chose the latter course of action.It took a long time for Baker to move his brigade across the Potomac. He had one flatboat that could carry sixty men, two that could each hold twenty-five to forty men, and a skiff that could take four men. By noon, Baker had ferried fourteen hundred men across the Potomac to join the three hundred already there. He sent the rest of his brigade to Edward’s Ferry with orders to distract the Confederates.

The diversion failed. A Confederate force commanded by Brigadier General Nathan Evans concentrated at Ball’s Bluff. Both sides had roughly seventeen hundred troops, but Union forces were pinned to a thin crescent anchored on Ball’s Bluff. They had no depth, no maneuvering room, and a broad river to their rear. The Confederate brigade was sheltered by woods around Ball’s Bluff.

The Attack

At 3:00 p.m., the Confederates attacked, pushing the Union forces back. The Union regiments began giving ground in good order, falling back slowly. Their problem was that they ran out of ground to give. Baker ordered his brigade back across the Potomac, but even overloaded, the boats could only take about one hundred men in one trip. A few hundred were able to escape to Harrison’s Island in the middle of the river before Confederate pressure grew too strong.

Suddenly the Union line broke. The retreat became a rout, with every man for himself. Men fled to the river, swollen by recent rains. They threw themselves in, attempting to swim across. Forty-nine men were killed and over eight hundred captured or missing and presumed drowned. Of those that reached the other side of the Potomac, 158 were wounded. Among the dead was Colonel Baker.

The Aftermath

The impact in Washington was out of all proportion to the casualties suffered or the military realities of the battle. Congress was shocked by the death of Edward Baker, a man well-liked by his former colleagues. Drowned soldiers from the battle washed up on the shores of the Potomac near Washington, further inflaming the emotions of Congress.

General George B. McClellan, General Stone’s superior, considered the circumstances of the battle and concluded that Stone had done nothing wrong. Stone had given a subordinate a job—including the freedom to do the job as the subordinate best saw fit. That subordinate, Colonel Baker, made an error in judgment that led to defeat. That error illustrated the first rule of war—bad things happen.

McClellan refused to order an investigation into Stone’s conduct at Ball’s Bluff. because he believed that a formal inquiry was unnecessary. Congress was dissatisfied by this decision. Baker had been a good friend, and Congress felt that someone must be at fault. The Committee on the Conduct of the War—a joint commission of both representatives and senators—conducted its own investigation of Ball’s Bluff. Sessions were held secretly. Witnesses were questioned, and cross-examination was not permitted. Stone was not permitted a defense, or even informed of who the witnesses were or what they said.

The Committee issued a warrant for General Stone’s arrest on January 29, 1862. Over McClellan’s protests, it was executed on February 9. Stone was imprisoned at Fort Lafayette, New York. He was later transferred to Fort Hamilton, New York. He was held in solitary confinement. No charges were filed against Stone. He was guilty of no crime—other than incurring congressional anger. After 189 days in legal limbo, Stone was released. Other members of Congress passed a law in July 1862 that forbade any officer or soldier from being imprisoned for longer than thirty days without charges.

Monitor vs. Merrimac

On March 7, 1862, the CSS Virginia sailed from Norfolk, Virginia. The previous day it destroyed two Union warships blockading the Chesapeake River, the frigate Congress and the sloop Cumberland. Both were obsolescent wooden sailing warships. The Confederates had missed the real prize—the wooden steam frigate Minnesota, a sister to the USS Merrimac, from which the Virginia was built.

The Minnesota was hard aground. It could be sunk the next day, and the Virginia would then clear away the rest of the Union blockade. Lieutenant Catesby Roger Jones, who replaced the injured Captain Franklin Buchanan as Virginia’s commander, was startled when he neared the Minnesota. A craft was in front of it. It looked like a tin can box sitting on a raft. It was the Union ironclad Monitor. In the ensuing battle—the first between ironclad warships—naval warfare changed forever.

The Virginia

When Virginia seceded from the United States in April 1861, it seized the Norfolk Naval Yard, the largest Navy installation in the Confederacy. The steam frigate Merrimac, one of seven screw-propelled wooden steam frigates in the U.S. Navy, had been undergoing refitting in Norfolk.

Before evacuating, Navy officials had burned the Merrimac. It sank at the dock, preserving the lower hull and engines. Confederate naval engineers raised the hull and found it was still useful. One wooden warship with unreliable engines—they had not been improved by three months underwater—was not going to be able to drive away the blockading Yankees.

The Merrimac was converted to an ironclad. The hull above the berth deck was removed and replaced with a long wooden citadel in which cannon could be mounted. This structure was rounded at the ends and sloped forty-five degrees. Four inches of iron armor—two layers of two-inch iron plate rolled at Richmond’s Tredegar Iron Works—was bolted to the sides and the upper hull. The ship’s deck was sheathed in a thinner layer of armor. The ship was armed with a battery of six nine-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and four seven-and-one-half-inch Brooke rifled cannon. Commissioned as the Virginia, the ship was ready for action at the end of February 1862.

The Monitor

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells (1802–1878) heard rumors that the Confederates were building an ironclad. He responded by putting out a request for an armored warship. Three contracts were signed. Two were for ships like the Virginia. The third was revolutionary: an armored, rotating turret mounted on a low, flat iron hull.

The ship’s designer, John Ericsson (1803–1889), was disliked by the Navy establishment. It took the intervention of both Lincoln and Wells to get Ericsson a contract. Even then, the terms were against Ericsson. He was given one hundred days to finish the ship and faced a penalty for every day it was late. He would not be paid in full until the Navy was satisfied with its performance. Ericsson signed the contract on October 4, 1861. Construction started in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on October 25, 1861. Coordinating the different subassemblies was at least as challenging an engineering feat as designing the ship. Eight inches of armor protected the turret. Two steam engines had a horsepower of 320.

The ship was launched on January 30, 1862, floating at exactly the draft Ericsson designed it for: eleven feet, four inches. It was named Monitor, because, in Ericsson’s words, it “would prove a severe monitor” on the Confederacy. Outfitting took an additional month. The Monitorleft New York Harbor on March 4.

The Battle

The Monitor arrived at Hampton Roads at the entrance to the James River one day after Virginia’s first sortie. On March 6, the Virginia, commanded by Captain Buchanan, steamed out of Norfolk into Hampton Roads (the harbor). TheVirginia first encountered two wooden sailing ships. It disabled the frigate Congress with a broadside of heated shot. Then Virginia turned and rammed the Cumberland, once a frigate but converted to a smaller sloop-of-war in the 1850s.

As the Cumberland sank, the Virginia turned its attention on the Congress. The frigate’s captain had it run aground to keep the deep-draft Virginia from ramming it, but the Virginiafired red-hot shot at the wooden frigate until it caught fire and burned. Other Union warships, including the Roanoke, the Minnesota—sisters to the Merrimac—and the sail frigate St. Lawrence fled up Hampton Roads. The Minnesota ran hard aground, becoming easy prey for the Virginia. It was late in the day, and Buchanan was injured. The Minnesota would be there the next day. So was the Monitor. It had arrived during the evening of March 6 and positioned itself between the Minnesota and the enemy.

A long and indecisive duel between the two ironclads developed. Even at minimum range, the Virginia’s Brooke rifles just dented the Monitor’s turret. The Monitor, ordered to use reduced charges with its untested eleven-inch Dahlgrens, could not penetrate Virginia’s armor. The Virginia was too unwieldy to ram the Monitor, and the Monitor lacked a ram. At noon, after nearly four hours of blazing away at each other, the Virginia turned towards Norfolk and sailed home.


The two ships never met again. The Virginia was scuttled on May 11, 1862, when Norfolk was evacuated following McClellan’s invasion of the James Peninsula. The Monitor sank in a storm on December 31, 1862, while being towed to South Carolina to aid in the blockade there. Yet the battle changed naval warfare forever. The wooden warship was obsolete. Armor and turrets would rule the seas for eighty years, until another technological revolution—aircraft—replaced the armored warship.


At dawn on Sunday, April 6, 1862, a Confederate Army was set to attack. AUnion force camped near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River was unaware of the enemy at its doorstep. Brigadier General William T. Sherman, who was commanding the camped force while General Ulysses S. Grant was away, ignored reports of a Confederate offensive. Union guards spotted the enemy. Shots rang out. The Confederate commander, Albert Sydney Johnston, ordered a general attack. He told his officers, “Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee.” The battled remembered as “Bloody Shiloh” had begun.

The Situation

Shiloh had its roots in Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry, months earlier. The Union’s first major offensive victory left the Cumberland and Tennessee River valleys open to the Union. Grant pushed down the Tennessee, establishing a camp at Pittsburg Landing near the Mississippi state border. Grant had 44,000 men and planned a summer offensive toward the Mississippi. He was waiting for reinforcements—25,000 men commanded by Don Carlos Buell—before proceeding.

General Albert Sydney Johnston, commanding the Confederacy’s Army of the Mississippi, had forty thousand men. He knew that once Buell reinforced Grant, the Confederate Army would be badly outnumbered. Johnston decided to attack Grant before the reinforcements arrived. Marching overland from Corinth, Mississippi, his army camped in the woods around Shiloh church, on the evening of April 5, 1862. They set up to attack the Union position the next morning at dawn. The Union Army was unaware of its peril. Grant was absent, having gone to Savannah, Tennessee to confer with Buell. Sherman, in charge at Pittsburg Landing, had discounted rumors of a Confederate offensive. The six divisions were in camp formation.

The First Day—Confederate Attack

Johnston’s army came screaming out of the woods just before sunrise. The attack was a complete surprise. Some Union regiments formed a line and fought. Others simply ran to the Tennessee River. Sherman, in the center, rallied the men in his division. Hotly pressed, they slowly fell back before the Confederate onslaught. On the left, anchored by the Tennessee River, the division commanded by General Stephen Hurlbut was pushed through a peach orchard and an oak thicket, where the firing was so thick that the place became known as “The Hornet’s Nest.” The division connecting the Union’s center and left, commanded by Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss, managed to hold the Confederates at a natural defensive line created by a sunken road. The Confederates massed sixty-two guns there and blew Prentiss’s men out of the sunken road.

Once word of the attack reached Grant, he returned to Pittsburg Landing and took charge. By the afternoon, the Union Army had been pushed back two miles. It never came to a complete rout—mainly due to the tenacity shown by Sherman, Grant, and Hurlbut. They steadied their men, creating a new defensive line. The Union line was so close to the river that the timberclad gunboats Lexington and Tyler could provide artillery support.

The battle was not completely going the Confederate’s way, however. Having cracked the Union center, Confederate troops swept over Prentiss’s camp. Many Confederates had not eaten in over a day. They stopped to eat the food in the northern camp, giving Prentiss time to rebuild his line. Then General Johnston was wounded. Unaware of the wound’s seriousness and eager to continue directing the battle, Johnston ignored the injury. As a result, he bled to death. Command fell to General Pierre G.. T. Beauregard.

The Second Day—Union Counterattack

As night fell and the fighting ceased, the Union line held. Sherman went to Grant. He wanted to urge a withdrawal and started by telling Grant, “Well, Grant. We’ve had the devil’s own day of it, haven’t we?” Grant simply replied, “Yes.” After a moment’s silence, Grant added, “Lick ’em tomorrow, though.” And that is what they did. Reinforcements, supplies, and ammunition had poured into Pittsburg Landing. One of Grant’s division’s at Pittsburg Landing marched the wrong way and then countermarched back slowly. It had not fought at all the first day. That gave Grant 6,000 fresh troops. Additionally, Buell landed his troops—25,000 strong—during the night.

The Union soldiers had been fed and had full cartridge boxes. The Confederates were exhausted. They fought all day after marching twenty miles. They were low on ammunition and had no food. For many, all they had eaten that day was food taken from the enemy’s campsites. Their sleep was disturbed by rain and by the Union gunboats, which fired into the Confederate camp throughout the night—one shell every ten minutes. Despite these disadvantages, the Confederates fought stubbornly on April 7, yielding slowly until the weight of the Union attack pushed them into retreat. Grant, uncharacteristically, did not order an aggressive pursuit. He viewed his men as being too tired for an effective pursuit. He had won a victory, but not annihilation of the enemy.


Casualties were heavy. Both sides lost over seventeen hundred, and eight thousand were wounded. The South took nearly three thousand prisoners, the North almost one thousand. It was the largest, bloodiest battle of the war fought to that date. Strategically, Shiloh was a Union victory. The Confederacy was thrown on the defensive. Although some in Washington wished to relieve Grant after Shiloh, Grant was supported by Lincoln and returned to the offensive. He was never again surprised on a battlefield.

The River Fleet

A key to both the Union victory at Shiloh—and the Shiloh Campaign—was Union control of the navigable rivers in the Mississippi Basin. Early in the war, the U.S. Navy—and in some cases, the Army—commissioned construction of casemated gunboats, gunboats that were protected by either iron armor (ironclads) or thick layers of timber (timberclads). These ships carried batteries of heavy guns that were able to reduce earthwork forts and field artillery.

The Confederacy attempted to do the same, but the greater industrial capacity of the northern river ports won the production war for the Union. The Confederacy had to commit its naval forces piecemeal. They were quickly destroyed, captured, or neutralized. Except for places like Vicksburg, where high bluffs allowed Confederate batteries to be untouched by river gunboats, the Union ruled anywhere there was water to float a keel.

At Shiloh, this advantage gave Grant his victory. The timberclads Lexingtonand Tyler, immune to enemy fire from shore, gave Sherman’s men cover under their heavy guns. This allowed the Union forces to re-form and regroup. Boats brought badly needed reinforcements, ammunition, and supplies for the next day’s counterattack. The river fleet also allowed Grant to exploit his victory in the future by providing supply lines that the Confederates could not cut.

The Seven Days Battle

The Seven Days Battle was the climax of Major General George B. McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign, his 1862 attempt to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. It also saw the emergence of Robert E. Lee as a battlefield force for the Confederacy. McClellan and the Union Army of the Potomac started the Seven Days Battle close enough to Richmond to hear its church bells. At its end, they were penned up at Harrison’s Landing at the southern tip of the peninsula formed by the James and York Rivers.

The Union forces beat the Confederate armies commanded by Robert E. Lee in five of seven battles fought over the week of June 25 through July 1, 1862. Because of McClellan’s timidity, each tactical success was transformed into a strategic defeat. It was one of military history’s most powerful examples of the role psychology plays on the battlefield.

Lee took charge of Confederate forces in northern Virginia on May 31, 1862, when General Joseph E. Johnston, who had commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines. General McClellan pushed the Union Army of the Potomac to within ten miles of Richmond. While Richmond was not yet under siege, McClellan was preparing to attack the Confederate capital. Lee’s forces were outnumbered by McClellan, even after Lee withdrew forces from the Shenandoah Valley. Lee could not win a war of attrition with McClellan. He decided instead to destroy the Union Army through maneuver.


Lee’s attack started on June 26. Part of McClellan’s army, Brigadier General Fitz John Porter’s Fifth Corps, with thirty thousand men, was separated by the Chickahominy River. Lee decided to start by attacking it, to destroy the Army of the Potomac a piece at a time.

Part of Lee’s army launched diversionary attacks against McClellan’s main body. Lee sent four divisions to attack Porter. Stonewall Jackson’s division was supposed to envelop Porter, but Jackson and his men were exhausted by previous fighting in the Shenandoah Valley earlier in June. They moved sluggishly. Instead, General A. P. Hill’s division attacked Porter east of Mechanicsville. The Confederates threw ten thousand men against thirty thousand. Hill was repulsed with heavy casualties. McClellan, believing the Army of the Potomac was outnumbered, ordered a retreat. Porter fell back to Gaines’s Mill.

Gaines’s Mill

Lee attacked Porter again on June 27. Jackson was again supposed to open the Battle of Gaines’s Mill with a flank attack on the Union forces. Jackson again moved sluggishly. This time, Major General D. H. Hill’s division launched a frontal assault on Porter. Hill’s first assault was crushed, but Lee reinforced the attack Late in the day, Lee ordered a final assault. The Union line crumbled. Dusk ended the fight. Porter moved his corps south of the Chickahominy.

Savage Station

McClellan, completely unnerved, abandoned his fortifications and ordered a general withdrawal early on June 28. McClellan pulled out so quickly that initially Lee did not realize what had happened. When Lee understood, he pursued the Union forces. As McClellan retreated to Glendale, part of Major General John B. (Jeb) Magruder’s division encountered the Union rearguard: Brigadier General Edwin Sumner’s Second Corps. Despite the disparity in force, Magruder’s men attacked Sumner at Savage Station on January 29 and were repulsed.


McClellan continued his retreat anyway. On June 30, Lee attempted to cut off the Union Army from its supply line by attacking at Glendale. Jackson was again supposed to flank the Union right, while divisions led by A. P. Hill and Major General James Longstreet bulldozed the Union left flank.

Again, Jackson moved slowly. He parked his division at the edge of White Oak Swamp. His division remained a spectator to the day’s events. Longstreet and A. P. Hill’s divisions attacked, crushing the Union forces in front of them. Reinforcements that rushed from the Union positions in front of White Oak Swamp stabilized the Union line. By day’s end, both sides took comparable casualties, and the Confederates were forced to regroup. Lee planned to resume the battle on the next day.

Malvern Hill

On July 1, McClellan fell back to Malvern Hill, a superb defensive position. The Union artillery outnumbered the Confederate guns. They also had advantages of height and could see and hit anyone approaching with artillery fire from a long way off. Lee decided to attack anyway. He opted to precede any assault with an artillery barrage. An artillery duel developed in which Union counter-battery fire disabled many Confederate guns.

Lee initially canceled his assault on Malvern Hill. Late in the afternoon, he observed movement there. He decided that the Army of the Potomac was withdrawing. To keep the Union Army from escaping, Lee ordered an infantry assault on Malvern Hill. That decision was a mistake. Three Confederate divisions attacked the entire Army of the Potomac. The attacks were launched piecemeal and were uncoordinated. They were repulsed, and there were heavy Confederate casualties. Lee suffered 5,000 casualties to McClellan’s 3,200. The Union won a decisive victory.

Despite this, McClellan—to the dismay of his Corps commanders—ordered yet another retreat. He was convinced that the Confederate Army, now three-quarters the size of the Army of the Potomac and exhausted by a week’s worth of fighting, outnumbered him two to one. McClellan fell back to Harrison’s Landing, where his supply base could be protected by naval power. The Peninsular Campaign was over.


Lee’s army suffered 20,000 casualties, including 3,300 dead. Union losses were lighter—only 16,000 casualties, with only 1,700 dead. However, nearly 6,000 men in the Army of the Potomac were missing; most were prisoners of war taken during the precipitous retreat. At the end of the Seven Days Battle, the Union was stronger, relative to the Confederate Army, than it had been when it started. They still had 90,000 effective soldiers. The Army of Northern Virginia had been reduced to 70,000. But the numbers did not matter. Neither did it matter that the Union won almost every battle fought during the Seven Days. Until the Army of the Potomac found leaders as resolute as Lee, they would continue losing battles that they should have won.

The Second Battle of Bull Run


The Second Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas), fought August 29–30, 1862, had significant results. It ended the first attempt to replace George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac and set the stage for Robert E. Lee’s 1862 invasion of Maryland.

The battle had its origins in McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign. When McClellan took the Army of the Potomac to Virginia, the nation's capital and western Maryland were exposed. While in the field, McClellan could not discharge his responsibility as commander of the U.S. Army. Lincoln brought Major General John Pope from his Mississippi command and gave him command of the Army of Virginia. Initially, that army was made up of three corps—Nathaniel Banks’s and John C. Fremont’s corps covering the Shenandoah Valley, and Irwin McDowell’s corps guarding Washington. Lincoln then transferred General Henry Halleck to Washington and made Halleck general in chief of the U.S. Army. Halleck had commanded forces in the West.

During the Seven Days Battle, Robert E. Lee’s outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia hustled McClellan’s Army of the Potomac from a position twenty miles from Richmond to Harrison’s Landing at the tip of the Peninsula. The retreat had been mainly due to McClellan’s timidity. McClellan was too popular to replace and too timid to produce decisive results. Halleck entrusted the more aggressive Pope with leading the next thrust on Richmond.

Pope had made enemies within his own ranks. When he arrived, Fremont, who was senior to Pope, quit in a huff. Franz Siegel replaced Fremont. Pope then alienated the common soldiers by giving a series of bombastic general orders and questioning their courage. Additionally, many officers loyal to McClellan were looking for ways to take this western interloper down a peg.

Pope’s campaign got off to a good start. He began his advance in early August with his original three corps, around forty thousand men. Opposing him was General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson with three divisions of around twenty thousand men. Banks’ corps actually surprised Jackson at Cedar Mountain, Virginia, on August 6, 1862, even routing Jackson’s original command, the Stonewall Brigade.

Jackson broke away, and both sides maneuvered for a week. In the interval, Lee brought up his army from the Peninsula, where it had been watching the Army of the Potomac. Now both armies numbered around 55,000, but Pope expected massive reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac. Rather than relieve McClellan, Halleck detached individual corps from the Army of the Potomac, transferring them to Pope’s Army of Virginia. McClellan was left in Washington with an empty command.

Lee realized he had to strike before Pope received these reinforcements. He split his command, giving half to Jackson. On August 25, Jackson marched up the Rappahannock to Salem, Virginia, and then east through the Manassas Gap. Pope’s cavalry failed to detect the movement, and Jackson moved his corps of 24,000 men a remarkable fifty miles in two days.

Jackson’s “foot cavalry” fell upon the Union supply depot at Manassas Junction capturing it August 27. They gorged on the food there, carried off what supplies they could, and burned the rest. Jackson then disappeared again. While Pope’s scattered cavalry sought in vain for Jackson, Pope dithered. He did not believe Jackson was at his rear until the telegraph line to Washington went dead. Pope marched and countermarched his men into exhaustion, chasing phantoms between Cedar Run and Bull Run. Finally, he fell back on Manassas.

McClellan suggested reforming the Army of the Potomac in Washington, under his command. Concentrating what forces were in the immediate vicinity would allow Lee to surround and destroy Pope. McClellan was willing for the Union to lose an army if it removed a rival general.

The Battle

By the evening of August 28, Pope made contact with Jackson, who had set up a defensive line west of the First Bull Run battlefield at Groveton. A fierce firefight developed at dusk. Pope force-marched his corps to Manassas in order to destroy Jackson before he slipped away. Jackson knew the corps commanded by Lieutenant General James Longstreet would join Lee on August 29, so Jackson baited Pope and enticed him to attack.

Pope launched his attack the next morning. He outnumbered Jackson by at least two to one. In his eagerness to beat Jackson before he could run, Pope launched a series of piecemeal attacks as each unit arrived. Jackson’s 22,000 men had to fight only 32,000 Union troops on August 29. Jackson never felt the full force of the Union Army. The piecemeal attacks almost beat Jackson—a coordinated thrust would have succeeded.

The rest of Pope’s army, an additional thirty thousand men, never engaged. Part of the problem was due to Fitz John Porter, commander of the Fifth Corps and a McClellan partisan. When first ordered to join Pope, Porter dawdled. On August 29, worried about Longstreet and contemptuous of Pope, Porter ignored the fighting to the north—waiting with ten thousand men for an attack from Longstreet that never came. McDowell’s twenty thousand men on Porter’s right were also tardy in reinforcing the battle. As night fell, a few of Jackson’s brigades fell back a little into stronger defensive positions. Pope misinterpreted the withdrawal as a general retreat. The next morning he launched a general attack on Jackson.

Pope’s attack almost succeeded, but Longstreet was now on the scene, flanking the Union left. When Jackson was at the breaking point, Longstreet hit the Union left with everything he had—24,000 men in five divisions. The Union line reeled back. To prevent Longstreet from flanking them, the line bent like a fishhook around the Henry House—scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the First Bull Run battle. A twilight stand by Pope’s men finally stopped the Confederate advance.

Pope pulled back across Bull Run that night. Lee attempted to trap his enemy as it returned to Washington, but his men were too tired, and the Union Army was too strong. Fresh troops were available from the Army of the Potomac. Lee finally pulled back on September 2.


The Union suffered sixteen thousand casualties to the Confederacy’s ten thousand. What was worse, the Union soldiers were sullen and demoralized. Lee’s army, while tired, was still full of fight.

Despite McClellan’s conduct, Lincoln believed McClellan wanted Pope to fail. Lincoln merged Pope’s army back into McClellan’s and sent Pope to the western frontier to fight Indians. McDowell was relieved of his command. Charges were filed against Porter. But McClellan was back, and the army loved it. Within days, the Army of the Potomac was ready to fight again. It was just as well, because Lee was invading Maryland.


On September 17, 1862, two armies met at Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on what would prove to be the bloodiest day of battle in the Civil War. The Confederacy was never so close to winning the Civil War as it was when the sun rose that day. By the time the sun set, the Confederate offensive had been shattered. Lincoln used the result to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, transforming the war into a crusade against slavery and preventing European recognition of the Confederacy.

Lee decided to invade the North after Second Bull Run (Manassas). He planned to move into Maryland, which with luck would switch sides. Britain was ready to recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation. A successful invasion of the United States would convince Britain the Confederate States of America was a viable nation.

Lee marched north with 55,000 men on September 4, 1862. Desertion and straggling cost him 10,000 soldiers in the first week. By September 7, Lee was in Frederick, Maryland, upland country with few slave owners. The majority of the population supported the Union. Lee found few recruits. Lee learned that 10,500 Union soldiers still held the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He had expected the garrison to withdraw once he was in their rear, but it dug in. It was a poor defensive position. Harpers Ferry was surrounded by ridges and deep rivers. Whoever held the heights commanded Harpers Ferry. On September 9, Lee split his army into four parts. Three parts would surround Harpers Ferry. Lee, with the remainder of the army, would screen the mountain passes. By the time the Army of the Potomac figured out what was going on, Lee would be gone.

After Second Bull Run, morale in the Army of the Potomac collapsed. Lieutenant General George McClellan was restored to command of Union forces in the East. When McClellan learned that Lee was in Frederick, the Army of the Potomac began a lumbering pursuit. McClellan reached Frederick after a week’s march, on September 13. The Marylanders in Frederick greeted the Union troops as liberators, restoring the Army’s morale. McClellan got another gift in Frederick: Lee’s plan of battle. Orders containing them were found in a nearby farm and sent to McClellan. McClellan knew where Lee was marching, when, and with what units.

McClellan moved swiftly (for him, that is) in pursuit. McClellan thought Lee outnumbered him two to one (in actuality, McClellan had 90,000 to Lee’s 45,000). McClellan wanted to trap part of Lee’s army before it outnumbered the Union forces. McClellan pushed through at South Mountain and Crampton’s Gap on September 14. Lee, realizing his danger, began gathering his scattered army near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Part of his army was stuck at Harpers Ferry and fighting the Union garrison.

Beaten at South Mountain, Lee wanted a battlefield victory before returning to Virginia. On September 15, Harpers Ferry surrendered. Lee decided these additional troops would enable him to fight it out with McClellan’s larger force at Sharpsburg. McClellan arrived on September 16. He spent the day disposing his troops along Antietam Creek, east of Sharpsburg. The battle that was fought the next day was the war’s only set-piece engagement voluntarily entered by both armies.

Despite a day to plan the battle, McClellan let control slip away from him. The Union attacks were launched sequentially by corps. First, Major General Joseph Hooker’s First Corps launched an attack from the Union right. It fought unsupported for ninety minutes. About the time Hooker’s attack petered out, Joseph Mansfield’s Twelfth Corps, just to Hooker’s left, renewed the attack. As they fell back, exhausted, it was the turn of the Second Corps.

The blows these attacks dealt shattered the Confederate line each time. Between attacks, Lee reformed his line and committed reserves to the most threatened areas. Many reinforcements came from the Confederate right. There, the Union Ninth Corps, commanded by Ambrose Burnside, spent the morning just listening to the gunfire to their right. When they finally attacked at 1:00 p.m., they stalled on a narrow bridge spanning Antietam Creek instead of fording the stream.

Despite Lee’s best efforts, and the courage of his soldiers, by 1:00 p.m. the Confederate center collapsed. One final Union push would have crushed the Army of Northern Virginia, trapped as it was on the north bank of the Potomac. That final push never came. McClellan refused to commit his reserves. The battle continued on the Union left, where Burnside had finally pushed across the creek. As this attack was picking up steam, a fresh Confederate division arrived from Harpers Ferry. It proved to be just enough to stop Burnside.

Both sides had suffered enormous casualties by dusk, with approximately 23,000 dead and wounded. McClellan was content to let Lee withdraw back to Virginia across the Potomac the next day.

The Emancipation Proclamation

Heavy casualties in 1862 left many fighting for the Union reluctant to return to the pre-war status quo. Some felt allowing slavery to continue in a reunited nation would court future ruptures. Many Northerners wanted the South punished for seceding. Depriving Southerners of their largest capital asset—the slaves they owned—would serve that goal.

Lincoln’s overarching war goal was reestablishment of the Union. As the cost of the war increased, and more Northerners wanted more than just reunification, Lincoln sensed that emancipation would further that goal, not hinder it. Making abolition a war goal would make it difficult for European nations to recognize the Confederacy. England had been the leading proponent of abolition for over fifty years.

In July 1862, Lincoln proposed emancipation to his cabinet. William Seward, the secretary of state, objected—not to the concept, but to the timing. He stated that if Lincoln declared emancipation while the Union was losing battles, it would look like an attempt to stave off defeat. Wait for a victory, Seward urged. Lincoln agreed with the logic. He wrote the Emancipation Proclamation in July, but he put it in his desk to await the right opportunity. He waited until September 27, when Antietam finally provided the needed victory.

The Emancipation Proclamation was couched in military terms. Lincoln used his authority as commander-in-chief to deprive those in rebellion of property if they continued to defy federal authority. While unpopular in the loyal slave states, it did not deprive them of property—keeping them in the Union tent. Its chief effects were to keep Britain neutral (because the Confederacy would not abandon slavery) and to provide the Union Army with a new manpower pool—blacks who could now join as soldiers. By the war’s end, over 175,000 blacks had joined the army—a total that was greater than both armies at Antietam.


The Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, was one of a series of bloody clashes fought between Richmond and Washington that ended virtually identically. Following a hard day’s fighting, one of the two armies, generally the Army of the Potomac, was battered into defeat. The other army would be too exhausted to exploit the victory. Both armies would withdraw, regroup, and fight again in a few months.

In September 1862 at Antietam, it was the Army of Northern Virginia’s turn to be defeated. Had General George McClellan, commanding the Army of the Potomac, followed up the victory on the next day, the war would have ended then and been a Union victory. McClellan allowed General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates to slip back across the Potomac, where they were pinned. He then spent the next two months doing nothing. Lincoln, tired of trying to “bore with an auger too dull to take hold,” relieved McClellan on November 7. Lincoln named Major General Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside accepted with reluctance. He had turned down the job twice before.

Burnside reorganized the Army of the Potomac into three “Grand Divisions” that contained two army corps, each with attached cavalry. It was an unwieldy structure that added another layer of command between combat units and Burnside’s headquarters. Nevertheless, within a week of taking command, Burnside had the 110,000 men of the Army of the Potomac marching towards Richmond.

Lee took good advantage of the pause offered by McClellan. After Antietam, the Army of Northern Virginia had perhaps 35,000 effective soldiers. By adding troops left to cover Richmond, new reinforcements, and thousands of stragglers returning after the invasion of Maryland, Lee’s army was up to 75,000 by early November. He had to scatter that army across Northern Virginia to cover all of the potential Union approaches.

The campaign began with Burnside outmaneuvering Lee. Burnside ignored the Orange and Alexandria Railroad route that was used in two previous invasion attempts. Instead, he moved the Army of the Potomac to Falmouth, Virginia, across from Fredericksburg. Burnside reached Falmouth on November 17. He caught Lee unprepared. The only thing between Burnside and Richmond was a thin screen of Confederate troops and the Rappahannock River. The pontoon bridges needed to cross the river got lost on the way and arrived a week later. Burnside’s army camped on the Rappahannock’s north bank while Lee moved his army to the heights behind Fredericksburg. By the time the pontoons arrived, Lee’s 75,000 men were dug in.

Burnside considered his position for another week. Burnside had to attack. That is why he was given the army. Burnside could have shifted the Union Army above or below the Confederate Army and could have crossed unopposed. Burnside decided to again surprise Lee. Crossing the river at Fredericksburg was the last thing Lee expected. That is where Burnside crossed. He bridged the Rappahannock in the pre-dawn hours of December 11, using massed artillery to protect the engineers building the pontoon bridges.

The crossing was unexpected because it was foolish. Lee had General James Longstreet’s corps dug into Marye’s Heights behind Fredericksburg and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps on Prospect Hill to the south of Fredericksburg. Lee, never one to interrupt an enemy in folly, allowed Burnside’s army to cross without real opposition.

Burnside had packed two Grand Divisions, “Right,” commanded by Major General Edwin Sumner, and “Center,” led by Major General Joseph Hooker, into Fredericksburg. He sent the “Left” Grand Division, commanded by Major General William Franklin, south of Fredericksburg, opposite Prospect Hill. The attack started early on December 13 but did not get moving until heavy fog lifted at about 10:00 a.m. The result was disaster. Franklin had an opportunity to push Jackson off Prospect Hill—or better yet, exploit the gap between the two Confederate corps and flank Longstreet. But Franklin spent the day in half-hearted thrusts, ignoring orders from Burnside to attack.

Fredericksburg, where four Union corps charged up steep bluffs, became a slaughterhouse. All day long, brigades charged the approaches to Marye’s Heights and were mowed down before they reached the enemy. Seventy percent of the nearly thirteen thousand casualties the Union Army suffered at Fredericksburg fell in front of Marye’s Heights. As evening approached, Burnside, distraught at the losses, wanted to lead a final, desperate charge up the hill with his old command, the Ninth Corps. He was talked out of it by subordinates who realized it would only add more casualties.

Lee’s army suffered less than 5,400 casualties, but they represented a large number of those committed to the battle. Because of the Union concentration at Marye’s Heights and Franklin’s reluctance to engage, only 20,000 of the 75,000 Confederate troops actively fought.

Burnside withdrew back to Washington the next day. He had not only lost a battle—he lost the confidence of his army. He attempted one more offensive in January 1863. It bogged down—literally. Roads disintegrated into mud. The “Mud March” created more bickering between Burnside and his generals. Burnside resigned thereafter and was replaced by Joseph Hooker.

The Rifled Musket

The high casualty rates in the Civil War were due in part to new weapons. Artillery was still the battlefield’s king, but development of the percussion cap and the minié ball increased the musket’s deadliness.

The percussion cap replaced the flintlock, which struck a flint against steel to make sparks. Percussion caps contained a chemical that flared when struck, igniting the gunpowder in a rifle. Highly reliable, they worked even in a downpour. Flints were touchy, and often broke. They were less likely to work in damp weather.

The minié ball, invented by a French officer, Claude-Etienne Minié (1804–1879), was a conical lead bullet with a small steel ball in the base. The bullet, slightly smaller than the gun barrel, fell easily into the gun. When the gun was fired, the ball, forced against the lead, flattened the bullet, slightly widening it. If the barrel was rifled—that is, if it had spiral grooves that spun the bullet to stabilize it—the bullet spread into the rifling. This allowed a rifle to be loaded as quickly as a smoothbore musket. Everyone could be equipped with long-range rifles.

A rifled musket could fire almost as far as a field artillery piece. Long-range marksmanship by line soldiers was generally wretched, but the sheer volume of fire that was possible meant that inaccuracy did not matter. Infantry could hit the enemy effectively at ranges previously impossible. Tactics, especially at the start of the Civil War, were still based on the effective range of a smoothbore, and casualties multiplied as a result.

The Battle of Chancellorsville

The Battle of Chancellorsville, fought May 1–4, 1863, was Robert E. Lee’s finest victory. Badly outnumbered, Lee split his army. While Lee attacked the Union Army and prevented its advance, Lee’s lieutenant, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, marched around the Union Army and struck from behind, routing it. The battle cost Joseph Hooker, the Union commander, his job. It cost Lee “Stonewall” Jackson, who was mortally wounded during the battle.

Union commanders started fighting among themselves after the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg, in December 1862, and the demoralizing “Mud March” a month later. Army commander Ambrose Burnside felt, with some justification, that he had been badly served by his generals. General William Franklin ignored orders to attack at Fredericksburg. Franklin, loyal to the former commander of the Army of the Potomac, George McClellan, led a faction of officers seeking McClellan’s reinstatement. A second faction grew around General Joseph Hooker, who wanted to replace Burnside. The acrimony exploded on January 24, 1863. Burnside demanded that Lincoln relieve the disloyal generals and threatened to resign if Lincoln did not do so. Lincoln removed Burnside and several officers more loyal to McClellan than to the army, including Franklin. Other officers resigned out of loyalty to Burnside, Franklin, or McClellan. Joseph Hooker replaced Burnside. Hooker reorganized the army, abolishing Burnside’s unwieldy “Grand Divisions,” and he also combined the cavalry into corps. Hooker overhauled the commissary structure, instituted leave policies, and restored the morale of the Army of the Potomac.

Lee spent the winter preparing his army. He reorganized his artillery. Lee wanted to attack, but two divisions of the Army of Northern Virginia, along with General James Longstreet, had been sent south. The Army of the Potomac was too strong for Lee to attack with the 55,000 men he still had. Lee’s army waited in Fredericksburg, Virginia, opposite the Union Army camped on the north bank of the Rappahannock.

At the end of April, Hooker sent 10,000 cavalry on a wide sweep north across the Rappahannock. He sent General John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps to pretend to cross the Rappahannock south of Fredericksburg with 40,000 men. The rest of the army, Hooker and 75,000 men, went stealthily north, crossing the Rappahannock at United States Ford, north of Fredericksburg.

By April 30, Hooker’s army was deep within thick woods, known locally as the Wilderness. The Army of the Potomac held the crossroads at Chancellorsville, controlling roads that were the only practical way of moving troops through the tangled thickets. Having flanked Lee’s army, Hooker stopped and waited for the outnumbered Lee to retreat. Lee attacked. Leaving a thin screen of 10,000 men commanded by Major General Jubal Early at Fredericksburg, Lee hustled west with 45,000 men. The armies made contact near the southern edge of the Wilderness late on May 1.

Hooker’s generals wanted to push into the open fields south of the Wilderness in order to use the Union artillery superiority. Instead, Hooker pulled deeper into the Wilderness and waited for Lee to attack. Lee sensed that Hooker was going to remain inactive. He looked for a place to attack. Lee’s cavalry commander, Major General J. E. B. Stuart, found it. The Union right flank—held by the Union Eleventh Corps—was hanging in the air. If they could reach it, they could hit Hooker from behind. Lee kept fifteen thousand men to focus Hooker’s attention south. He then sent Stuart’s cavalry, and thirty thousand infantry and artillery commanded by Stonewall Jackson, on a day-long march around the Union Army.

Hooker had no cavalry—it had been sent off on a useless raid. Union troops saw the Confederates moving to the west. Union troops attacked the tail of Jackson’s column, which broke off to the north. Hooker convinced himself that Lee was finally retreating. Lee’s hammer hit the Union Army at 5:30 p.m. on May 2. Jackson’s men came screaming out of the woods, hitting the exposed flank of the Eleventh Corps. This corps was made up primarily of German immigrants. It had a poor reputation, and a commander, Major General Oliver Howard, with whom the men were at odds.

The corps routed, with Jackson’s men in pursuit. Lee attacked from the south to pin down Union troops, adding pressure. The Confederates advanced two miles, stopped by darkness and a new defensive line. The line was cobbled together with elements from four corps. In the confusion, Stonewall Jackson was shot by one of his own men returning from a midnight reconnaissance. Jackson lost an arm and then contracted pneumonia while recovering. He died on May 11.

Hooker stayed on the defensive through May 3. Sedgwick, who had transferred ten thousand men to Hooker on May 1, pushed across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg on May 3, launching three divisions against Marye’s Heights. Sedgwick’s men carried the Heights on their third assault. Sedgwick was in Lee’s rear. An attack by Hooker would have won the battle. It never came. Hooker was knocked unconscious by a cannonball hitting his headquarters. Recovering consciousness, he refused to relinquish command. In a daze for the rest of the day, Hooker again withdrew.

Lee reacted to Sedgwick’s threat, dispatching first one and then another division to Early. By afternoon, Lee had only 25,000 men opposing Hooker’s 75,000. Hooker began withdrawing across the Rappahannock on May 4. Sedgwick, holding west of Marye’s Heights, beat off an uncoordinated attack by 21,000 Confederates on May 4. Learning that Hooker was withdrawing, Sedgwick also withdrew north.

Lee’s stunning victory was costly. Lee lost Jackson. Lee’s army suffered 22 percent casualties—thirteen thousand men dead, wounded, or captured. The Union Army took seventeen thousand casualties in the fighting, but had started with more men. Additionally, the Army of the Potomac did not feel beaten. They felt cheated of a victory by Joseph Hooker’s blunders.

Chancellorsville increased Lee’s contempt for his enemy’s abilities. He now believed one of his men could whip three Yankees. Lee knew he would lose a war of attrition—even at the exchange rates in Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Lee decided to take the offensive. He marched north, invading Pennsylvania.

The Battle of Jackson

The Battle of Jackson, fought on May 14, 1863, proved the key to Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s attempt to isolate and capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. The capture of the vital Mississippi railroad junction at Jackson separated Confederate forces in the river port of Vicksburg from those in the field and cut off their supplies.

Grant spent the last half of 1862 and the first three months of 1863 trying to land an army on the Mississippi side of the Mississippi River in order to attack Vicksburg. He found no dry land north and east of Vicksburg suitable for safely landing his army and no way to reliably supply an army south of Vicksburg. He decided to move south of Vicksburg and travel light, bringing ammunition and a minimal amount of rations. He could move enough ammunition through the back bayous on the Louisiana side of the river and live off the land for food.

Grant ran the batteries of Vicksburg on April 16. He used the transports to ferry—from the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River across to the Mississippi side—an army that had marched overland, and he used river gunboats to protect the landing. By May 1, his army was sitting in Port Gibson, Mississippi, thirty miles south of Vicksburg. Grant soon had forty thousand men there. With those men, Grant had to besiege and capture the thirty thousand men in Vicksburg commanded by Lieutenant General John Pemberton (1814–1881). Pemberton’s men were scattered among several garrisons, so until they concentrated—outside of Vicksburg—they were no threat. However, General Joe Johnston, commanding in the West, had an additional thirty thousand to forty thousand men that Pemberton could call upon. Johnston’s field forces were scattered throughout Mississippi, but once he knew where Grant was going, he could concentrate them. The real threat was posed if Grant found himself trapped between Pemberton and Johnston.

Instead of moving directly against Vicksburg, which Pemberton expected, Grant decided to neutralize Johnston first. Key to this was Jackson, Mississippi, the state capital and a major railroad junction. If he destroyed the locomotives and rail yards there, it would be difficult for Pemberton to concentrate a field army against Grant and impossible to supply Vicksburg.

Grant marched from Port Gibson on May 7 and headed towards Jackson. He took a minimum of baggage—soldiers carried rations for three days, and the wagons that accompanied the army carried only ammunition. Food would be supplemented by foraging. Pemberton, expecting Grant to move against Vicksburg, held his forces behind the Big Black River. If the river protected Pemberton from Grant, it also shielded Grant from Pemberton. It was May 10 before Pemberton learned that Grant was headed towards Jackson. By the time Pemberton was moving, Grant was already at Raymond, Mississippi, twelve miles from Jackson. Grant’s army brushed aside a Confederate brigade guarding that town.

On May 9, Richmond ordered Johnston to come to Pemberton’s aid—but provided little other information. Johnston, in Tennessee, gathered up some forces and headed towards Jackson. On May 13, he was fifty miles east of Jackson when he received a telegraph from Pemberton. Sent May 1, it revealed that Grant was on the march. It was the first time Johnston learned about Grant’s new offensive. He hustled to Jackson with what forces he had at hand—perhaps six thousand men. But it was too late. Grant had sent two corps to attack Jackson. Brigadier General John McClernand’s corps was approaching from Corinth, Mississippi. Brigadier General William Sherman’s corps was moving along the Raymond road. In all, the Union forces totaled 25,000 men.

The attack was launched in a driving rainstorm. McClernand hit first. General John Gregg, commanding the Confederate defenders, sent all his men against McClernand, unaware of Sherman. When Sherman’s corps appeared on his flank, Gregg peeled off what troops he could muster to stop Sherman. The weight of Union numbers pushed the Confederates into prepared entrenchments. The battle raged all morning and into the early afternoon, and Gregg played for time as he evacuated supplies. Finally, at 2:00 p.m. he received word that the wagon train was gone, and he fell back, covering their retreat.

The Union Army spent the night in Jackson. The next day, Grant pulled most of his army out, marching west to face Pemberton, who was finally coming out to meet Grant. Grant left Sherman behind with orders to destroy the railroad yards. Sherman’s men carried out those orders with enthusiasm. They wrecked railroad facilities and burned factories, machine shops, and foundries capable of producing military goods. A fair number of houses also caught fire. By the time they were done, Sherman’s men were calling Jackson “Chimneytown.” The damage was beyond the South’s capability to repair with an enemy army nearby. Grant completed Vicksburg’s isolation at the Battle of Champion’s Hill two days later. Johnston and Pemberton were defeated. Johnston ordered Pemberton to abandon Vicksburg. Instead, Pemberton fell back to the Vicksburg fortifications.

Pemberton attempted to stop Grant’s advance one more time at the Big Black River on May 17 and was equally unsuccessful. Grant successfully isolated Vicksburg and starved it into surrender six weeks later. Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863.

The Railroad War

The Civil War was the first war in which railroads played a major role. Only railroads and riverboats could carry the supplies needed for the tens of thousands of soldiers, and unlike riverboats, railroads could go anywhere.

Jackson, Mississippi, was important because it was a railroad junction—and because it was a Confederate railroad junction. The South had fewer miles of track and fewer locomotives than the North, and it had less capacity to replace losses. If a Union Army threatened a railroad junction, there would be a fight.

Consistently throughout the Civil War, the Union made better use of railroads than did the South. It forced northern railroads to cooperate by using a standard gauge. It also created the U.S. Military Railroad to operate trains in captured areas and a special branch of the Engineering Corps to keep railroads operating. If Confederate raiders destroyed a line, the Union could repair it in just days.


After a surprising victory at Chancellorsville, General Robert E. Lee led his forces once more into northern territory. The Army of Northern Virginia (75,000 men)—organized into three corps under Generals James Longstreet, Richard Ewell (1817–1872), and A. P. Hill—marched into Pennsylvania. On June 30, 1863, Confederate and Union soldiers spotted each other just west of Gettysburg. Both sides returned to their camps without fighting.

The next day, the Battle at Gettysburg would begin, pitting Lee against General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac, a force of 95,000.

Day 1: July 1, 1863

The first engagements of the battle were somewhat disorganized. Confederate troops, under Major General Henry Heth’s command, struck General John Buford’s cavalry early in the morning in an attempt to drive them out of Gettysburg. Buford was able to hold off the troops for a while, but he eventually retreated. At about the same time, Union General John F. Reynolds saw Confederate troops and committed his two corps (First and Eleventh Corps) to move into Gettysburg and engage in battle. By late morning, Heth was forced to retreat. The Union had gained the upper hand early, but Reynolds was killed early in the fighting.

After Heth’s failed attack, Brigadier General Robert Rodes launched an immediate and uncoordinated attack on the First Corps. General Lee arrived on the battlefield after noon. He had hoped to delay or avoid battle, since he lacked information about the terrain and the size of the opposing force. Yet when he arrived, the fighting was in full swing, and he had no choice but to organize it as best he could. He allowed Heth to support Rodes in his fight with First Corps; both of their brigades took heavy losses in fierce fighting. At the same time, Lee sent Major General Jubal Early to attack the Eleventh Corps. Early quickly forced the federals to retreat to Cemetery Hill in considerable disorder. By late afternoon, both the First and Eleventh Corps were retreating. At the end of the first day of fighting, more than 9,000 Union soldiers and approximately 6,800 Confederate soldiers were dead or wounded, and Confederate forces had won the day—but not the battle.

General Meade received word of the day’s events and readied reinforcements during the night. Fighting would resume the next morning, and six of the seven Union corps would be prepared for battle.

Day 2: July 2, 1863

General Lee was optimistic because of the previous day’s success, but still troubled by his lack of information about the opposing army. Early morning reconnaissance had revealed that the Union Army was holding a horseshoe-shaped position along Cemetery Ridge. Lee planned his attack accordingly. He would send General James Longstreet with two divisions to attack the Union flank on the left. Lieutenant General A. P. Hill’s men would follow and attack the center. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell was ordered to attack Cemetery Hill from the north and pin the Union in place. Lee gave Ewell instructions to engage in a full-scale attack for control of the hill “if practicable,” but Ewell was overly cautious and did not press his attack. Historians consider Ewell’s failure to gain control of Cemetery Hill one of the decisive tactical mistakes of the battle.

What Lee did not know was that Meade had regrouped overnight. Almost the entire Army of the Potomac was waiting for him. Meade had also positioned his troops to take advantage of the natural terrain, using small hills and the forests for cover. Longstreet reached his position in the late afternoon. He charged and broke through the lines of Major General Daniel Sickles’s troops at Peach Orchard and pressed the fighting on to Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, where his advance was finally halted by the arrival of the Union’s Sixth Corps. Just to the north, Ewell tried to take Culp’s Hill, but was repelled. Early sent his brigades up Cemetery Hill, where he was attacked by Second and Eleventh Corps and driven back.

By then end of the second day of fighting, Lee’s forces had gained little ground and more than 16,500 men, about equal numbers on both sides, were killed, wounded, or missing.

Day 3: July 3, 1863

Determined to continue striking, the still-confident Lee planned for an early attack on the Union center at Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet would lead the attack, while Ewell once again would try to take Culp’s Hill. It was a well-designed plan, but General Meade was more than ready.

At 1:00 p.m., Longstreet began an artillery bombardment of the Union lines. The Union Army answered with its own cannons. For the next two hours, a deafening artillery duel ensued, with Confederate forces pitting their 140 cannons against the Union’s 80. Thick clouds of smoke covered the field, hindering the view. The Confederate forces kept shooting blindly through the smoke and soon ran out of ammunition; the Union Army had stopped firing to conserve ammunition. When the smoke cleared, the Confederate infantry massed a desperate, doomed, legendary attack known as “Pickett’s Charge” in which General George Pickett (1825–1875), with a farewell salute from Longstreet, led fifteen thousand men on a mile-long march across an open field and up toward Cemetery Ridge, where most of them met their death. The Union cannons tore the infantry to shreds, but the Confederates pressed on, engaging the Union troops in small-arms fire and hand-to-hand combat, all the way to the Union lines. By the time they got there, their forces had dwindled and they were unable to break the lines. The attack was a failure and the losses extreme: Nearly six thousand Confederate soldiers were killed or captured.

Attacks by Johnson, Ewell, and Stuart had also failed, and the battle was effectively over. The Union forces had handed General Lee a crushing defeat, crippling his army. Overall, Confederate casualties were close to 28,000. Meade’s Army of the Potomac suffered horribly as well, with nearly 23,000 men—about one in four—lost.

The Gettysburg Address

President Abraham Lincoln’s speech at the battlefield of Gettysburg, known as “The Gettysburg Address,” is perhaps the single most famous presidential speech in American history. Lincoln made the speech just four months after the gruesome battle, and in just a few hundred words captured the nation’s best hopes for a positive outcome to the devastating war:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


On July 4, Lee maintained his position, expecting that Meade would press his advantage. He did not. The battlefield was a disaster: dead bodies, blood-filled trenches, the wounded groaning in agony. That night, a heavy rain allowed Lee to make his retreat across the Potomac to Virginia. Meade slowly pursued him, but did not attack.

The Siege of Vicksburg

The capture of Vicksburg, on July 4, 1863, cut the Confederacy in two. It was the culmination of nearly nine months of campaigning and a six-week siege. It made Ulysses S. Grant’s reputation and set him on the road to command of the Union Army. Combined with the Union victory at Gettysburg on July 3, Vicksburg was seen as the war’s turning point.

Vicksburg, located on high bluffs above the Mississippi River, was called the Gibraltar of the West during the Civil War. Guarded by swamps impassible to an army on the north and its bluffs on the river side, it could only be approached from the south and east. Batteries mounted on the bluffs made passing Vicksburg hazardous, even for armored ships. The Confederacy held Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Lousiana, to the south, and it also controlled the two hundred miles of the Mississippi between the two. Food, supplies, and men from the Trans-Mississippi region could reach the rest of the Confederacy. Vicksburg was a prize the North wanted badly.

Grant tried to approach Vicksburg from the east in the fall of 1862. He found that his supply lines—which depended upon railroads rather than riverboats once south of the Tennessee River—were easily broken by Confederate raiders and guerrillas. For the rest of 1862, Grant sent a corps commanded by William T. Sherman up the Yazoo River, north of Vicksburg, and then across Chickasaw Bayou. On December 29, 1862, Sherman assaulted Confederate positions on the bluffs above Chickasaw Bayou and was repulsed. Grant tried moving south down the Yazoo, reaching it from Yazoo Pass. He was stopped at Greenwood, Mississippi. Grant established himself on the Louisiana side of the Yazoo, opposite Vicksburg, but could not run supplies past Vicksburg. He dug a bypass canal to allow his shipping to go around Vicksburg, but the canal would not fill.

Grant could get some supplies overland through Louisiana, but not enough to feed his army. He could bring only enough to supply it with ammunition. In April 1863, Grant made a bold move. On April 16, Grant had ships run the batteries at Vicksburg. Once south of Vicksburg, they ferried his army from Louisiana to Mississippi. The ships could probably not return north of Vicksburg, against the current. That would not matter—if Grant could take Vicksburg.

To confuse the Confederates, Grant made an infantry pretend to cross the Mississippi north of Vicksburg and sent a brigade of cavalry, commanded by Benjamin Grierson, to raid the Confederate supply lines to Vicksburg. Grierson’s raid dispersed Confederate forces throughout central and southern Mississippi as they attempted to stop the Union cavalry from reuniting with Grant. Grierson took his brigade to New Orleans rather than return to Grant.

While the Confederates were vainly pursuing Grierson or reacting to the faked landing at Chickasaw Bayou, Grant landed 23,000 men near Grand Gulf, Mississippi. Grant soon had 40,000 men on the Mississippi side of the river and was on the march. He captured Port Gibson, ten miles inland, on April 30. Shielded by the Big Black River, Grant cut north, taking Raymond and then Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson, the state capital, was a railroad junction. Whoever held Jackson held the only supply line to Vicksburg. Grant’s army fought and drove off a smaller force commanded by Joseph Johnston that was holding Jackson.

Grant had about forty thousand men. Johnston, who commanded Confederate forces in the west, could probably have concentrated seventy thousand men there. The Confederate forces were scattered all over Mississippi. General John Pemberton had thirty thousand defending Vicksburg. Johnston had twenty thousand scattered north and east of Grant. Johnston could have scraped together another twenty thousand elsewhere. Realizing he could not get enough men there fast enough, Johnston ordered Vicksburg abandoned. Pemberton could still get his army out of the city after Grant took Jackson, but once Grant crossed the Big Black River, Pemberton would be trapped. Pemberton disobeyed Johnston, choosing instead to hold Vicksburg. Leaving ten thousand men to garrison the Vicksburg fortifications, Pemberton moved east with twenty thousand men to rout Grant.

The two armies met at Champion’s Hill on May 16. Grant had only two corps with him. (The third, Sherman’s 11,000 men, was destroying the railroad yards at Jackson). Even then, Grant’s 29,000 men outnumbered Pemberton nearly three to two. The battle cost Pemberton nearly four thousand casualties. At the end of the battle, one of Pemberton’s divisions had been separated from Pemberton. It joined Johnston’s forces, but the rest of Pemberton’s command was forced back to Vicksburg. By May 18, Grant had Pemberton trapped in Vicksburg.

Grant stormed the Confederate entrenchments on May 19 and May 22. Both attacks were repulsed, but Grant was not worried. He could starve his opponent in a short period of time. Once Vicksburg was surrounded, Grant controlled the approaches barred previously by Chickasaw Bluff. Grant reestablished a direct supply line using the Yazoo River. Grant sent part of his army to hold the Big Black River and prevent Johnston from lifting the siege. He then settled down to wait out Vicksburg. For the next six weeks, Grant waited while the Confederates tried to supply Vicksburg. They tried to capture the Union supply depots on the Louisiana side of the river. They were repulsed at both Milliken’s Bend and at Miller’s Point. Even if they had succeeded, it would not have mattered. Grant’s supply line ran down the Mississippi side of the river. Johnston maneuvered along the Big Black River but was unwilling to attack across it without significant reinforcements. He never got them.

On July 2, Pemberton gave up. Surrender arrangements took an additional two days, so Vicksburg formally surrendered on July 4. Grant demanded—and received—unconditional surrender. He released the garrison of thirty thousand on parole—they pledged not to fight again until they were exchanged for Union prisoners of war. Doing that was easier than having to feed them as prisoners. Grant also hoped the released prisoners would discourage others from joining the Confederate Army.

The surrender of Vicksburg made Port Hudson untenable. The Confederate garrison there surrendered to Nathaniel Banks’s besieging force on July 9. The capture of Vicksburg divided the Confederacy in two. While both sides of the Confederacy continued to fight, each half could no longer assist the other half. It marked the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.


The Battle of Chickamauga, fought on September 19–20, 1863, reversed the tide of Confederate defeats in 1863. It revived Confederate spirits, which were flagging after Gettysburg and Vicksburg. The Confederate victory at Chickamauga allowed General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee to besiege the Union Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga.

Following Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Lincoln felt that one more major Union victory would cause the Confederacy to quit. General William Rosecrans, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, was ordered to take Chattanooga, Tennessee. This would further divide the Confederacy, deprive them of a manufacturing center, and open pro-Union eastern Tennessee to the North. Rosecrans launched his offensive on August 16, 1863. He maneuvered the Confederate forces, commanded by Braxton Bragg, out of Chattanooga, by threatening Confederate supply lines through quick marches. Rather than allow himself to be trapped in Chattanooga, Bragg withdrew to northern Georgia.

The Chickamauga Campaign

Rosecrans began an aggressive pursuit of what he assumed was a broken and retreating Confederate Army. Rosecrans broke the Army of the Cumberland into its corps, sending them independently in an attempt to encircle Bragg’s army.

Bragg’s army was neither broken nor demoralized. His 48,000 men were being reinforced by two divisions of men commanded by General James Longstreet, from the Army of Northern Virginia. With these, Bragg outnumbered the Army of the Cumberland, which had 56,000 men. Bragg began looking for ways to catch one of Rosecrans’s corps, unsupported by the others.

Rosecrans occupied Chattanooga unopposed on September 9, 1863. Over the next four days, Bragg sprung two trapping attacks on Rosecrans’s isolated corps. In both cases, the Union forces escaped destruction because Bragg’s subordinate generals refused to press their attack. The attacks warned Rosecrans of his peril. Rosecrans concentrated his forces south of Chattanooga: the Fourteenth Corps, commanded by George Thomas; the Twentieth Corps led by Alexander McCook; and the Twenty-first Corps under Thomas Crittenden.

First Day’s Battle

Thomas force-marched his corps northeast along the Chickamauga Creek to join Crittenden’s corps. Crittenden had been holding a position on the creek, exposing the road to Chattanooga. Thomas moved into the Union left, centered on the Lafayette-Roseville road during the evening of September 18, blocking the Confederate Army.

On September 19, the Army of Tennessee fell on Rosecrans’s army. Bragg attempted to turn the Union left. Weakly held the day before, Thomas now anchored it. All day long, Thomas’s men stood up against division-sized attacks. The terrain was woods that were so thick that regiments could not see or cooperate with each other.

Second Day’s Battle

The next day, September 20, Bragg gave General Leonidas Polk tactical command of the Confederate right, and Longstreet command of the left. Polk’s assault started late. At 11:30 a.m., Bragg ordered Longstreet to attack. Longstreet charged. The woods had concealed a Union division from the eyes of Rosecrans’s staff. Assuming there was a gap in the line, a second division had been ordered into the gap. Longstreet’s charge hit the division as it was on the move and vulnerable. The Union soldiers broke and ran. Soon the entire Union right joined the panicked flight. Four divisions routed. Rosecrans’s, Crittenden’s, and McCook’s headquarters were overrun, with the staff and commanders streaming north. Longstreet sensed an opportunity to destroy a Union Army. He sent in his reserves and asked Bragg for more men. Bragg had nothing to give Longstreet.

It should not have mattered. Longstreet was attacking George Thomas, though. Thomas was not panicked by the bad news to his right. Thomas sent what few reserves he had to form a new line to guard his open flank. Dug in, Thomas was determined to hold his position or die in place. Thomas was assisted by General Gordon Granger, commanding the Union reserve. As the rest of the Union Army streamed north in panic, Granger marched his men to the sound of the guns. His four thousand men gave Thomas the fresh troops he needed to stop Longstreet. Longstreet’s men threw themselves against Thomas’s line again and again that day. They were repulsed each time. Dusk ended the battle. Thomas took his command and fell back in good order to Chattanooga, joining the rest of Rosecrans’s army.


Bragg did not immediately follow up. He had lost one-third of his army in the battle and was unnerved by the losses. Rosecrans was in no better shape and was soon relieved. Lincoln described Rosecrans as “stunned like a duck hit on the head.” Rosecrans waited passively in Chattanooga. Union losses at Chickamauga totaled sixteen thousand dead, wounded, or captured.

Bragg besieged the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga, which was surrounded by mountains and rivers. Bragg cut off both river traffic and railroad communication with Chattanooga, to starve the Union Army into surrender.


The Chattanooga campaign began with a Union Army besieged in a major city and ended with the Confederates beginning a long retreat to Atlanta, Georgia. In two decisive battles fought around Chattanooga, Tennessee—Lookout Mountain on November 24, 1863, and Missionary Ridge November 24–25—three Union armies, with Ulysses S. Grant in overall command, routed the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

After Chickamauga, fought September 18–20, the Army of the Cumberland retreated to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Nestled in a bend in the Tennessee River, Chattanooga was at the bottom of a bowl formed by Raccoon Mountain to the northwest, Lookout Mountain to the southwest, and Missionary Ridge to the east and south. All roads and railroads to Chattanooga were south of the Tennessee River.

General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee occupied Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. This cut Union supply lines, both overland and on the river. He also sent fifteen thousand men under General James Longstreet to besiege the twelve thousand–man Army of the Ohio in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Army of the Cumberland had 30,000 to 40,000 men left after Chickamauga. Bragg had somewhere between 43,000 and 47,000 men. Bragg lacked the force to storm Chattanooga, but he had more than enough men to starve them out. He entrenched and waited for Union supplies to run out. The North did not wait inactively. Immediately after Chickamauga, the Union Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, commanded by Joseph Hooker, were detached from the Army of the Potomac and sent west. It took only eleven days to move them to central Tennessee.

Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to overall command in the west. He moved his headquarters to Tennessee, joining Hooker. Grant relieved Rosecrans, replacing Rosecrans with Major General George Thomas. From Mississippi, Grant ordered two corps of the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Major General William Sherman to Tennessee. While waiting for Sherman to arrive, Grant sent Hooker and the Eleventh Corps, disgraced at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, to capture Raccoon Mountain. In a hard-fought night action October 28–29, the Eleventh Corps took the mountain, opening a new supply line to Chattanooga. Grant then stockpiled supplies in Chattanooga until Sherman arrived in mid-November. By then Bragg’s forces had been weakened by detaching Longstreet’s two divisions. It was further demoralized by bickering among the Confederate commanders. Bragg suspended three generals due to sluggish performance and lost Nathan Bedford Forrest, who transferred out.

On November 23, Grant attacked. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland advanced onto Orchard Knob, clearing out the Confederate outpost line in front of Missionary Ridge. The next day, November 24, Grant had the wings of his army attack. To the right, Hooker, with the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps and two divisions of the Army of the Cumberland, attacked Lookout Mountain. Described later as “The Battle Above the Clouds,” the battle was fought in a heavy mist that restricted visibility. Confederate forces on the mountain were outnumbered six to one, and Hooker rapidly took the crest. On the left, Sherman’s army crossed the Tennessee and took Battery Heights on the Confederate far right. The Union Army was positioned to assault Missionary Ridge from both flanks on the next day.

The next day Sherman launched his assault on the Confederate right as scheduled in the morning. Hooker’s attack on the Confederate left started off late and slowly. By mid-afternoon Sherman was slowly grinding up the northern slope of Missionary Ridge. Hooker was stalled. Grant decided that he needed a diversion to pin Confederate reserves. The Confederates had three lines of entrenchments in the center of Missionary Ridge. Grant felt a frontal assault would be suicide. He ordered Thomas to feign an attack on the Confederate entrenchments, and then withdraw.

Four Union divisions, 23,000 men, charged across an open field. Defying orders, they then pressed the attack, charging up the mountainside. Beaten at Chickamauga, they had something to prove. As the Union soldiers charged up the mountain, the Army of Tennessee panicked. They broke and ran. Thomas’s soldiers charged after them screaming “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” They soon cleared all three sets of entrenchments and held the ridge. The Confederate center routed, not regrouping until they retreated thirty miles. One Confederate division, Patrick Cleburne’s, retreated in slowly, preventing the exhausted Northerners from immediately pursuing Bragg’s army.

Longstreet was forced to lift his siege at Knoxville. He and his men rejoined the Army of the Northern Virginia. Bragg was relieved, replaced by General Joseph Johnston. Grant was promoted to General of the Armies, and then moved east. Sherman assumed supreme command in the west, controlling the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Ohio.

The Atlanta Campaign

Once Chattanooga was secure, the Union’s next target was Atlanta. In May 1864, Sherman took the armies he commanded south. He had 110,000 men. His opponent, Johnston, had 65,000 men in two corps. Johnston, badly outnumbered, played for time. If he could keep the North from taking Atlanta before the 1864 election, a Peace Democrat might win and so would the Confederacy.

On May 4, Sherman started south. For seventy-four days Johnston fought a brilliant delaying campaign. Sherman fought an equally brilliant war of maneuver. Johnston fortified Dalton, Georgia. Sherman flanked Dalton. Johnston fell back to Resaca. Sherman marched around him. Johnston attempted a counterattack at Cassville, but General John B. Hood fell back when a column of lost Union solders appeared in Hood’s flank.

Johnston found the defensive position he needed at Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman swung west to Dallas, Georgia. Johnston followed. The armies skirmished at New Hope Church on May 27. Sherman swung back to Kennesaw Mountain, made a frontal assault on June 27, and was bloodily repulsed. Sherman then flanked Johnston’s army. It fell back to the Chattahoochee River, and then into strong fortifications north of Atlanta. It was mid-July. Sherman was at the end of a long supply line. With Johnston’s army intact, Sherman could not storm Atlanta. The Confederates could hang on until winter.

On July 17, Jefferson Davis relieved Johnston, replacing him with Hood. Hood would attack instead of standing on the defensive. It was what Sherman wanted. Hood launched three sharp counterattacks against Sherman on July 20, 21, and 28. Each time he left his fortifications Hood got drubbed. Sherman began maneuvering around the weakened Hood. By late August, Sherman threatened the last rail line into Atlanta. Rather than allowing his army to be trapped, Hood evacuated Atlanta. Sherman occupied Atlanta on September 2, 1864, in time to lift Lincoln to victory in the November elections.

The Battle of Mobile Bay

By 1864, Mobile, Alabama, was the last remaining major Gulf Coast port west of the Mississippi still held by the Confederacy. The Battle of Mobile Bay led to the Union capture of the forts guarding the approaches to the port. It closed the last Gulf Coast destination for blockade runners wishing to offer succor to the eastern half of the Confederacy. It was Admiral Daniel Farragut’s crowning victory.

Mobile was second only to Wilmington, North Carolina, as a destination for blockade runners. Blockade was ineffective at Mobile. There were too many ways to reach Mobile Bay. Once inside, Confederate batteries protected them. If these forts could be taken, Mobile could be blocked, but they could only be taken from inside Mobile Bay.

Admiral Daniel Farragut, commanding U.S. Navy forces in the Gulf, had his eyes on Mobile since capturing New Orleans two years earlier. He had only received permission to attack it in 1864. Farragut first moved against Mobile Bay in January 1864.

The approaches to Mobile were guarded by three forts. Fort Powell, an earthwork fortification with six guns, covered shallow Grant’s Pass. Only light draft vessels could go that way. The main channel into Mobile Bay was protected by two prewar fortifications. Fort Morgan, on Mobile Point, was a powerful masonry star-shaped fort. It held forty guns in its casemates, and seven more on a water battery. On the opposite shore, on Dauphin Island, stood the smaller Fort Gaines. It held sixteen guns. Farragut planned to run the main channel between the forts, land soldiers in the rear, and take them from the Mobile Bay side. In January, the soldiers he needed were committed to General Nathaniel Banks’s Red River expedition.

The Confederates had built a powerful ironclad, the Tennessee in Selma, Alabama. By March 1864, it guarded Mobile Bay. It had only seven guns and was slow, barely seaworthy, and difficult to maneuver. Despite that, it could destroy any fleet made up only of wooden vessels—all Farragut then had. The Tennessee was backed up by three paddle-wheel gunboats mounting four to six guns. This fleet was commanded by Admiral Franklin Buchanan, the first captain of the CSS Virginia.

Farragut needed his own ironclads to force the channel. Promised four, it took until July before they began to arrive. A single-turret monitor, Manhattan, arrived on July 20, followed soon after by the twin-turret sister ships, the Chickasaw and the Winnebago. On August 2, the troops Farragut needed arrived, 2,000 men under Major General Gordon Granger. Farragut decided to launch his attack without waiting for the fourth monitor, the Tecumseh, a sister to the Manhattan.

On August 3, Granger’s troops landed on Dauphin Island and surrounded Fort Gaines. Farragut spent the next three days sending parties into the main channel, removing the mines—or torpedoes, as they were then called—from the path he intended to take. While not all were removed, a clear path was found. Farragut learned that many of the torpedoes were inactive—incapable of exploding.

The Tecumseh arrived the night before Farragut intended to attack. Farragut added her to the attack plan, putting the Tecumseh ahead of the other monitors. Fog delayed Farragut’s run until 5:30 a.m., after sunrise on August 5. The monitors approached in one column, and the rest of Farragut’s fleet in a second column. These wooden ships were lashed together in pairs, with the larger ship in each pair on the starboard side, exposed to Fort Morgan. If one ship in a pair lost its engines in the channel, the other ship would pull it free.

For months, Farragut and his captains had been practicing his attack on a mapboard with wooden ships. The captain leading the line, Commander Tunis Craven of the Tecumseh, had missed those sessions, arriving the night before the battle. As he came to a buoy in the channel marking the edge of the minefield, he turned the wrong way—into it. Within a minute he struck a torpedo. A few seconds later, the Tecumseh sank, with most of its crew still aboard.

The Union line churned in confusion. The Brooklyn, leading the line of wooden ships, stopped with Fort Morgan at point blank range and blocked the channel to starboard. Farragut ordered his flagship, the Hartford, to steer left of the Brooklyn. Warned that this would take them into the minefield, Farragut shouted, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

The Hartford cut a path through the field. The rest of the Union line followed exactly astern, letting Farragut sweep the course. The Hartfordwas more fortunate than the Tecumseh had been. The torpedoes that touched her hull were duds. The Union line was soon past the torpedoes and the guns of Fort Morgan. The Tennessee and its consorts then challenged the entire Union fleet. The three Confederate gunboats were quickly sunk, captured, or driven to Mobile. The Tennessee continued its fight alone. The Tennessee attempted to ram the Hartford, but the wooden ship was faster and more maneuverable than the ironclad.

Buchanan broke off the attack, retiring under the guns of Fort Morgan. It was 8:30 a.m. Farragut anchored the Hartford, intending to send hands to breakfast before resuming his attempt to destroy the Tennessee. Buchanan returned at 8:50 a.m. He fought a long single-handed battle against three Union monitors and fourteen wooden warships. He had seven guns. Farragut’s ships had 157, most of which were heavier than the guns of the Tennessee. The Tennessee fought the unequal contest for more than an hour. By the time it surrendered, it had lost steam, lost steering, and over half of its guns could no longer fire. It had been repeatedly rammed by Union warships. Buchanan was wounded. The captain, J.D. Johnson, surrendered the ship.

The Union fleet turned its attention to the three forts. Fort Powell evacuated on the night of August 5 after being bombarded that day. Its magazines were exploded, to make it useless to the North. Fort Gaines, besieged by land and cut off by sea, surrendered on August 8. Fort Morgan took longer. Its commander initially refused to yield. He surrendered on August 23, after a two-week siege in which Granger’s men pushed trenches up to the edge of the fort. With the forts held, there was no need to take Mobile itself. Mobile was closed to shipping. The islands and Mobile Point could easily be held with the small forces Granger had. Occupying Mobile would take a larger force.

The capture of Atlanta on September 2, 1864, and the Battle of Mobile Bay restored the flagging political fortunes of Lincoln and the Republican Party. The war looked winnable to Northern voters. The two victories powered a Republican sweep in 1864’s November election.

Sherman’s March

After Sherman took Atlanta, he had difficulty defending his supply lines. Rather than retreat to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he split his army in half. He sent half to Chattanooga. With the rest, abandoning his supply lines, he marched across country to Savannah, Georgia. In a five week campaign, he cut a swath across Georgia that cut the heart out of the Confederate will to fight on. Then, having taken Savannah, Sherman took his army north to join Grant. It was the campaign that ended the war.

None of this was apparent in early November 1864. Sherman took Atlanta in September 1864, but he did not destroy General John B. Hood’s Army of Tennessee. Sherman’s narrow supply line ran over one hundred miles to Chattanooga. It was vulnerable to guerrillas as well as to Hood’s army. Prudence dictated abandoning Atlanta. Sherman felt that withdrawing back to Chattanooga would send a message of weakness. Sherman wanted to abandon his supply lines and march through the Confederacy to the Atlantic coast with an army. On October 9, Sherman telegraphed his proposal to Grant:

I propose that we break up the railroad from Chattanooga forward, and that we strike out with our wagons for Milledgeville, Millen, and Savannah. Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people, will cripple their military resources. By attempting to hold the roads, we will lose a thousand men each month, and will gain no result. I can make this march, and make Georgia howl!

Sherman spent the month it took to get permission to make the attempt preparing. He had sent his sick and wounded north and divided his forces in half. He left sixty thousand men with Major General George Thomas, who was charged with shielding Tennessee and Kentucky from Hood. Sherman lightened the load of the army he was taking. Baggage was reduced to a bare minimum. Wagons carried mainly ammunition. Soldiers were issued rations for three days. The rest would come from the Confederates. It was harvest season in Georgia. On November 15, Sherman left Atlanta and headed toward Savannah. Before leaving, his Army burned every building of military value. The fires spread, and many private buildings and houses burned.

As Sherman moved south, Hood invaded Tennessee. The only forces opposing Sherman were 3,500 Confederate cavalry commanded by Joe Wheeler and several thousand members of the Georgia militia. Sherman broke his army into four infantry corps that marched independently along parallel courses. Sherman’s army cut a lane of destruction across Georgia that was between twenty-five to sixty miles across. Along the way, farms were stripped of food. Railroads tracks were torn up—sometimes for tens of miles when the advance paralleled the railroad. Public buildings, warehouses, and any industrial buildings that could aid the Confederate military were torched. Livestock was “conscripted” into the Union Army. Slaves were freed. Young, able-bodied blacks were encouraged to join the march and serve as pioneers. In addition to the destruction wrought by Sherman’s army, deserters from both the Confederate and Union armies, and runaway slaves, trailed behind Sherman. The deserters looted anything the army missed, and many of the slaves took their opportunity for revenge, burning whatever was still standing.

Sherman advanced five to fifteen miles each day. The Confederate Army could not stop Sherman. Their first-line troops were tied down on the frontiers of the Confederacy, fighting Union forces pressing on the Confederacy. What few local troops could be called upon were either teenagers or grandfathers. The one time the Georgia militia faced Sherman’s army on the battlefield, on November 22 at Griswoldville, they experienced a bloody repulse. Sherman reached Savannah in mid-December. By then his army had exhausted the food they brought with them and were subsisting on anything they could capture, mainly rice. Sherman stormed Fort McAllister, which guarded Savannah, on December 13. He captured it, opening communications with the sea. Sherman resupplied his army in anticipation of storming Savannah. Instead, on December 20, the Confederates evacuated Savannah. Sherman sent a telegraph to Lincoln stating, “I beg to present you as a Christmas-gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty five thousand bales of cotton.”

After resting a month in Savannah, Sherman left a garrison to hold the port. On February 1, 1865, Sherman took sixty thousand men north, heading to join Grant in Virginia. He left a path across South Carolina so destroyed that it made Georgia look untouched. His men blamed South Carolina for starting the war, and were determined to make the state pay for it. Sherman cut through South Carolina, avoiding the remnants of the Confederate Army, now commanded by Joseph Johnston. Bypassing Charleston for Columbia, he forced Charleston to surrender to blockading Union forces by destroying the railroads that supplied the city.

Sherman reached Virginia after the war ended, an end hastened by his march. By demonstrating the inability of the Confederacy to stop an army in its rear, he demoralized the Confederacy. Destruction of the Southern transportation and industrial infrastructure weakened the Confederate ability to react militarily.

The Siege of Petersburg

The siege of Petersburg, Virginia, lasted ten months, from June 1864 until the beginning of April 1865. Grant intended to pin down the Confederate Army at Petersburg. Petersburg was intended to deplete Confederate reserves throughout the South. The siege gave other Union armies, most notably that of Sherman in Tennessee and Georgia, freedom of movement. Grant got little glory from Petersburg, but Petersburg did what Grant intended.

With the spring of 1864, the Union launched a new grand strategy to destroy the Confederacy. Northern armies in Virginia, Tennessee, and Mississippi would launch simultaneous offensives. Grant stayed in the east, supervising a three-army drive to Richmond. Grant took the Army of the Potomac, commanded by George Meade, from Washington, D.C., to Richmond, Virginia. General Franz Siegel was to take the Army of the Shenandoah down the Shenandoah Valley, joining Grant at Richmond. General Benjamin Butler was to land the Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia, south of Richmond and drive north.

Grant Moves South

On May 1, 1864, Grant crossed the Rappahannock River with the Army of the Potomac and began his drive south. At The Wilderness, near Hooker’s Chancellorsville battlefield, Robert E. Lee gave Grant a more severe trouncing than Lee had given Hooker the year before. Grant continued south. The two armies fought at Spotsylvania, Virginia, and Grant’s men got the worst of it again. Grant continued south. So it went, through Virginia. The two armies would fight. Grant took heavier casualties than Lee. At the battle’s end, Grant’s army then sideslipped to its right, attempting to flank Lee. Lee marched past Grant to block the road to Richmond. The two armies fought again. The process was repeated. Grant could not crush Lee’s army with a frontal assault. Grant had to flank it. The other two prongs of the attack went awry. Siegel got beaten in the Shenandoah, and Butler got unable to move at Bermuda Hundred.

Counterbalancing that, Union cavalry finally outclassed the Confederate horsemen. In one raid, Union cavalry under Sheridan destroyed most of Lee’s stockpiled food, munitions, and half of the rolling stock in northern Virginia. They also killed Confederate cavalry genius J. E. B. Stuart. Grant was losing troops faster than Lee, but Grant could replace his losses. Lee could not.


In mid-June, Grant reached Petersburg, a major railroad junction. Taking Petersburg would cut all but one of the railroads to Richmond. The remaining line could not carry enough. Richmond, the Confederate capital, would have to be evacuated.

On June 9, the Army of the James attacked Petersburg. Butler sent only 4,500 men against the Confederate defenders, one brigade with 2,500 men. Butler’s attack should have succeeded, but he had not pressed hard. Then on June 15, the Army of the Potomac arrived. At first, Petersburg had only 5,500 defenders against two Union corps—one each from Butler’s and Meade’s armies. The Second Corps (Army of the Potomac) failed to arrive on the first day of the battle, June 15. Only the Eighteenth Corps (Army of the James) attacked. It captured part of the Confederate trenches but stopped after reports that Confederate reinforcements had arrived. Between June 15 and June 18, the entire Army of the Potomac reached Petersburg, ahead of Lee’s men. Petersburg’s defenders, led by General P. G. T. Beauregard, bluffed Grant with wooden cannon and by constantly moving the few troops he had. By the time Grant realized how weak the Confederate line was, Lee had arrived.

Both sides settled in for trench warfare. Grant began methodically extending his lines south of Petersburg, cutting off the railroads into the city one by one. He also kept testing the Confederate trenches, probing for a weak spot. The probing assaults included the Battle of the Crater, on July 30, 1864. A regiment made up of Pennsylvania miners dug a tunnel under the Confederate lines. Filled with explosives, the mine was set off in the pre-dawn hours of July 30, and the breach was stormed.

Originally, black troops were to have stormed the breach. They had trained for weeks. At the last minute, an untrained white regiment was substituted—for political reasons. The effect heavy black casualties would have in the North provoked the change. The white troops got stuck in the crater. The Confederates quickly recovered from their shock. Both the white troops and the blacks sent to rescue them were slaughtered.

Grant continued to probe the Confederate lines throughout the rest of 1864 and into 1865. He succeeded in bleeding Lee’s army and forcing it to spread it thinly. Lee had to hold fifty-three miles of trenches with 44,000 men.

The United States’ Colored Troops

Petersburg saw the first large-scale use of black troops in the Union Army. When the war began, blacks were not allowed to join the army. It was a white man’s war. Attitudes towards allowing blacks to fight shifted in 1862, due to the growing casualty lists. By the summer of 1862, increasing numbers of white Northern soldiers were willing to divide “the right to be killed” with blacks.

After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, commanders began raising “colored” or “African-descent” regiments to fill out their lines. At first this was done unofficially, but after January 1, 1863, the U.S. Army began recruiting blacks in large numbers. They were organized into regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops. Men and non-commissioned officers were black. The officers were white, but all were combat veterans. All had to pass an examination demonstrating competence. The combination of enthusiastic men and experienced officers yielded outstanding units.

At first, few officers trusted the colored regiments. Their battlefield performance, however, converted many Army commanders, including George Thomas, Benjamin Butler, and Ulysses S. Grant into believers. By the time of the Petersburg Campaign, brigades and divisions of black soldiers were being used. By war’s end, 178,975 blacks had enlisted in the U.S. Army. An additional 25,000 enlisted in the Navy (which had accepted blacks from the beginning). They provided the manpower needed to keep the Union Army going in the last year of the war.

Five Forks

The Battle of Five Forks, fought April 1, 1865, ended the siege of Petersburg. It was a flanking attack, wide to the right of General Robert E. Lee’s Petersburg, Virginia, entrenchments. In the battle, two corps commanded by Major General Philip Sheridan smashed Confederate forces anchoring Lee’s right flank. The battle forced the Army of Northern Virginia out of its Petersburg fortifications and onto the road to Appomattox Court House and surrender.


By March 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant’s armies outnumbered their Confederate enemies three to one. Grant could call on 128,000 men but Lee could get only 44,000. Despite that disparity, Grant could not force Lee out of Petersburg. The siege had begun the previous June, and the two armies had remained locked in those lines for ten months. At first this stalemate served Grant’s strategic purpose of tying down Confederate reserves. By January 1865, the rest of the Confederacy was in disarray. Grant wanted to end the siege and capture or destroy Lee’s army. Yet push as he might at the Petersburg lines, Grant could not crack them.

The last railroads linking Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia, with the rest of the Confederacy ran north of a crossroads town named Five Forks. Take Five Forks, and Richmond’s supply line was cut. General Grant sent Sheridan with the Cavalry Corps and Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps to Five Forks. Sheridan’s orders were not focused on capturing the railroad, however. Grant had a more ambitious goal. Sheridan was ordered to take Five Forks and move onto—not into—Lee’s rear. Sheridan was not just to block Lee’s retreat. He was expected to attack Petersburg from the rear.

The Battle

Sheridan began his march on March 31 across rain-sodden fields and roads. He crossed the Boydon Plank Road at Dinwiddie Courthouse, plodding northwest through muddy country. On the previous day, Grant cancelled the attack due to the rain, but Sheridan rode to Grant’s headquarters and convinced Grant to allow Sheridan to continue. The delay caused by the weather and Grant’s hesitancy allowed Lee time to react. He sent General George Pickett with twelve thousand men to guard Five Forks. To Sheridan, this was a plus—it gave him a bigger target to destroy.

Sheridan’s cavalry hit Pickett’s men at noon on March 31. Soon Warren’s leading infantry on their right also made contact with Pickett. Two hard-fought actions ensued with the Confederates winning each. They inflicted four hundred casualties on the cavalry and fourteen hundred on the infantry, including eight hundred captured. The setbacks did not discourage Sheridan, who knew how limited Lee’s manpower pool was. He planned to resume the attack the next day. When the sun rose on April 1, Warren’s corps was not in position. The late arrival delayed the attack until afternoon. Warren reported that he would not be ready to attack until 4:00 p.m.

Pickett had fallen back to a position on the north side of White Oak Road, with orders to hold Five Forks at all cost. By 1:00 p.m., the Northerners had not arrived, and most were convinced they would not come that day. Pickett, with his staff, disappeared for a leisurely lunch without telling subordinate commanders where he was going. The Union line lurched into battle at 4:00 p.m. The Fifth Corps attack stalled in a confused tangle when one of its columns opened a gap in the Union line. At the point it was about to collapse in confused retreat, Sheridan rode to the front line and rallied the infantry. As the Union line steadied and resumed its advance, a late-arriving Fifth Corps infantry division arrived on the Confederate left, flanking the Confederate line. In the next half hour, the Fifth Corps cracked the Confederate line and took 3,400 prisoners, more than a quarter of Pickett’s force. Union cavalry soon increased that number to 5,000 as the Confederate right gave way. Pickett returned from his meal only after half his command had been destroyed. Sheridan completed the rout by sending the Fifth Corps storming north to take the Southside Railroad. By now the Corps was commanded by General Charles Griffin. Sheridan was furious at what he perceived to be the dilatory behavior of the Corps under Warren. He summarily relieved Warren.

Lee counterattacked the next day—or tried to. Initially unaware of the magnitude of the disaster at Five Forks, Lee sent 2,000 men to reinforce Pickett and secure the Southside Railroad. It was too little, too late. Lee soon learned that his last rail line was about to be cut. He began to prepare his army to withdraw. As a result of Five Forks, both Petersburg and Richmond fell. With the last supply line cut, neither could be held. Lee’s army, harassed by Sheridan’s cavalry, fell back along the Appomattox River until it was trapped at Appomattox Court House, where Lee finally surrendered the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The War Ends

Finally, on April 1, 1865, a flanking attack at Five Forks cut the last railroad to Petersburg. Lee prepared to retreat. Grant ordered a general assault on the Petersburg lines on April 2. The attack broke through the Confederate right. Petersburg fell that day. Richmond was evacuated the same day. Lee’s army retreated up the Appomattox River valley, closely pursued by Grant. Finally it was trapped against the river at Appomattox Court House. On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered his army to Grant. The surrender was one week after the assault that took Petersburg.

The Home Front

The Pacific Railroad Acts

In 1862 and 1864, the U.S. Congress passed two Pacific Railroad Acts. Designed to foster the construction of a transcontinental railroad, the acts offered financial assistance and rewards to railroad companies building a railroad linking Omaha, Nebraska, with the California coast.

By the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the United States spanned the North American continent. States were established on the Pacific coast in the 1850s. Between the Pacific coast and the populated eastern half of the United States was a wide expanse of unpopulated prairie then called the Great American Desert. No navigable waterways crossed the mountains west of the plains. Reaching California or Oregon required an overland wagon ride, or months of travel by sea. A railroad spanning the continent would simplify communication and transportation. During the 1850s several plans were drawn up for such a railroad. The question was where to build it.

The Southern states favored a route across Texas, through the New Mexico and Arizona territories, and then to Los Angeles. In 1853, the United States even purchased the portion of what is now Arizona south of the Gila River to facilitate building a railroad along this route. The route went through some of the harshest deserts in the United States. It also failed to link the most heavily populated sections of California—around Sacramento and San Francisco—with the East. Northern interests favored a central route—preferably running from Kansas City, Missouri, to Sacramento. As with much involving sectional divides, nothing was settled in the 1850s.

Lincoln’s election and the Civil War changed the situation. Lincoln was the most technologically oriented president of the nineteenth century. He owned a patent and had made most of his reputation and fortune as a lawyer in railroad cases. He knew as much about transportation systems as many engineers. He was also passionately committed to seeing a transcontinental railroad completed. The absence of Southern representatives and senators after the Civil War began had eliminated factional arguments in Congress about where to run the railroad. No one was much interested in the southern route.

The Act of 1862

In October 1861, a California railroad engineer, Theodore Judah (1826–1863), came to Washington with a plan for a transcontinental railroad—at least the California end. He surveyed a course through the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains that looked achievable. All that was needed was a railroad from the east to link with.

Lincoln used Judah’s concept as the basis for the Pacific Railroad Act. The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 was passed on July 1, 1862. It authorized two railroads to build a line connecting California to the East. Judah’s Central Pacific Railroad would start from Sacramento and follow the route charted by Judah. A second railroad would start from Omaha and build westward. The government would charter a new railroad, the Union Pacific, to build and run that railroad. Why Omaha and not Kansas City? Missouri was a battleground during the Civil War, so starting from Kansas City was not possible. The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad that ran to Kansas City later got land grants as a consolation prize.

The two railroads were to meet somewhere in the Utah Territory. To help each railroad, the Act provided loans, to be financed with government bonds, consisting of $16,000 for every mile of track laid on flatlands, $32,000 for every mile of track laid in the foothills, and $48,000 for each mile of track laid in mountainous terrain.

The bonds were financed with land grants. For each mile of track laid, a railroad would receive every other square mile for ten miles on each side of the track. Each mile of track laid gave the railroad ten square miles of public land.

The Act of 1864

By 1864, the Central Pacific had laid only eighteen miles of track. The Union Pacific had not started building. A second Pacific Railroad Act was passed on July 2, 1864. It gave the railroads mineral rights on their land grants, allowed them to issue bonds equal in value to the government bonds, and increased the land grant from ten miles on either side of the track to twenty miles.

It authorized the Union Pacific to build track up to 300 miles west of Salt Lake City, and the Central Pacific to build up to 150 miles east of the California-Nevada border. The end of the railroad was ambiguous. These overlapped considerably. It was hoped the competition would speed construction. Finally, the act required the track to be completed by 1876—the nation’s centennial.

Construction began almost immediately after the second act passed. Lincoln gave the railroad one more gift. He set the size of the track at four feet, eight and one-half inches, now “standard grade” for railroads. Construction took off after the Civil War ended. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific met at Promontory Point, in Utah Territory, on May 10, 1869.

Anti-Draft Riots

In 1863, the North was facing a manpower pinch. Most of those who were going to volunteer for service had done so. Congress passed a conscription act. It caused riots.

The Enrollment Act of 1863, passed on March 3, 1863, was not the first conscription act of the Civil War. The Confederacy passed a conscription act in 1862. Congress passed a militia conscription act on July 17, 1862. The militia conscription act of 1862 was an indirect draft. It levied a quota on each state, which could be filled by either volunteers or conscripts. The states were responsible for finding men, not the federal government. If they found enough volunteers—in 1862, most states found enough to fill their quotas—they need not use conscription. Four states—Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin—resorted to a militia draft to meet their quota. There were riots protesting the draft in all four. Resistance was centered in Irish Catholic areas of Pennsylvania, German Catholic townships in Wisconsin, and the “butternut” areas of Ohio and Indiana.

Butternuts, so-called from the butternut oil they used to dye their homespun clothing, were people who had moved to the counties along the Ohio River from Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina. Poor, and insular, they resented the “Yankees” in the upstate areas who were from New England. They mistrusted abolitionism, disliked blacks, and opposed the war. Mobs in these areas killed two draft officers and wounded a commissioner. Lincoln instituted martial law and suspended habeas corpus in the rioting regions. Troops were sent in. The riots were put down, and the meeting of militia quotas proceeded. With the Enrollment Act, the reaction was more violent. The federal government was running it, not the states, and it was a pure conscription law. All male citizens between age twenty-one and forty-five were subject to it. Volunteers did not count against the draft quota.

The law had clauses that inflamed class tensions. A man could buy exemption—called a commutation—from one draft call for $300.00. The bill authorized four draft calls. Someone paying for exemption in one call was still liable to be drafted in future ones. Alternatively, a drafted man could find a substitute. A substitute was someone not subject to the draft who agreed to serve in place of the drafted man. Generally, these were eighteen through twenty-year-olds or non-citizen immigrants. A substitute exempted a man from all future draft calls. The commutation fee—$300.00—equaled the working man’s average annual wage in 1863. Substitutes charged at least as much. Many claimed the rich were exempt from fighting the war. “A rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight” was a frequently used slogan. Southern conscription acts also included a substitution clause that excluded those in upperclass professions, including those who worked as government bureaucrats, doctors, and clergymen. Southern resistance to conscription was exercised by fleeing before being conscripted or deserting afterwards rather than rioting. In the North, the Enrollment Act led to rioting.

The biggest riot took place in New York City and started on July 13, 1863. New York had a large concentration of unskilled workers. There was a labor shortage, but price increases had raced ahead of wage increases. Labor strikes left these workers in a sour mood. These laborers could afford neither substitutes nor the commutation fee. Many were Irish Catholics who viewed the war as being for the benefit of blacks who would displace them from their jobs. On July 11, a draft lottery was held in New York City. Most of the troops that normally garrisoned the city were in Pennsylvania, chasing the Confederate Army after Gettysburg. Laborers spent Sunday, July 12, in bars, drinking and nursing their resentments. They pledged to resist the draft.

Widespread rioting began Monday and continued for four days. Mobs attacked those they blamed for their problems: the government, the rich, blacks, and supporters of the war. Blacks were lynched or beaten. An orphanage for black children was looted and burned. Pro-war newspaper offices were attacked. People whose dress indicated they were well-to-do were attacked because they were “rich.”

Opportunism and suspicion of industrialization accompanied the rioting. Stores were looted. Street-sweeping machines and self-loading grain elevators were burned, because they deprived unskilled laborers of jobs. Protestant churches were burned by Irish Catholic rioters. The city police lost control. By July 15, army regiments rushed in by the War Department arrived in New York City. Many had fought at Gettysburg two weeks earlier. Unamused by those unwilling to share the risks they faced on the battlefield, the soldiers in these units viewed the rioters as a different form of rebel. They settled the riots with massed rifle fire.

By July 17, an uneasy peace returned to New York City. Over one hundred people had died. The federal government packed the city with twenty thousand troops to enforce quiet and resumed the draft on August 19. The city council allocated money to pay commutation fees for drafted men—eliminating the need for further rioting.

International Context

European Imperialism

The middle of the nineteenth century saw a rise in European imperialism. European technology had surpassed that of the rest of the world in the 1600s. Europe’s military superiority over the rest of the world grew so large by 1800 that European nations could dominate the rest of the world—if they ever stopped fighting each other.

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 started such a period of domination. While wars were fought in Europe throughout rest of the nineteenth century, they were local and short. A nation might fight a neighbor, but other nations rarely joined in. Even when they did, such as during the Crimean War of the 1850s, where England, France, and some Italian states joined Turkey in a war against Russia, these European wars were limited in scope. The result was that European nations turned their efforts outward, attempting to control remote territories that held valuable resources. Some nations expanded overland. Russia moved east into Siberia and across the Bering Strait into Alaska. Most attempted to establish overseas empires. Britain expanded the overseas colonies that it had established previously in Australia, the Americas, and India. France began establishing colonies in Africa—most notably, Northern Africa, part of the former Barbary States—and in the Far East.

The Western Hemisphere was generally excluded from this expansion. Prior to the nineteenth century, much of North and South America had been colonized by Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain. Starting with the American Revolution in 1775, and ending with a set of revolutions against Spain in the 1820s, however, most of the countries in North and South America established themselves as independent nations. By the 1840s, parts of North and South America that were still possessed by European powers—notably the British, French, and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, along with Canada—wanted to remain attached to the colonizing nation. Cuba, for example, remained attached to Spain because it feared annexation by the United States. Canada had fought to remain British during the War of 1812.

The independence of nations in the Western Hemisphere was fostered by the Monroe Doctrine. It declared “that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” The United States was willing to fight to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. Britain, the world’s most powerful nation in the nineteenth century, supported the doctrine because it prevented European rivals from gaining a foothold in the New World.

When the United States became absorbed in the Civil War, it was too busy to worry about the Monroe Doctrine. Some nations took advantage of that in pursuit of their imperial ambitions in the Americas. One such nation was France. It was then ruled by Napoleon III (1808–1873), a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. It invaded Mexico in 1862, when the United States was fighting the Civil War. Trying to protect the nation’s economy, the Mexican government of Benito Juárez (1806–1872) had suspended payment on foreign debts in 1861. To force payment, British and Spanish forces jointly blockaded the Gulf port of Veracruz in January 1862. France invaded and occupied the Yucatan port city of Campeche in March 1862. They then attempted to conquer Mexico.

Once it became clear that conquest, not payment, was France’s goal, Britain and Spain withdrew from the endeavor. France persisted, despite initial defeats. The French attacked Veracruz in January 1863 and occupied Mexico City in June that year. By 1864, France controlled much of Mexico. In 1864, rather than set Mexico up as a French colony, France set up a puppet government. They installed Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, Archduke of Austria as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (1832–1867). The United States objected to French intervention in Mexico but was unable to do much while the Civil War was raging. In 1864, Congress passed a resolution condemning France. Lincoln directed increased activity against Texas in an effort to return it to Union control, but he had limited success. By late 1864, the United States controlled the mouth of the Rio Grande River and not much more.

With the end of the Civil War in 1865, the United States began actively working to remove French influence from Mexico. General Philip Sheridan was sent to the Texas-Mexico border with an army of fifty thousand men. The army began patrolling the border and supplying arms to Mexican nationalists opposing Maximilian and the French. Finally, in February 1866, the United States demanded that France leave Mexico. The U.S. Navy blockaded the Mexican coast, and the Army prepared to cross the border in support of Benito Juárez’s government. Rather than fight the United States, Napoleon III yielded. He withdrew French troops from Mexico and urged Maximilian to leave. Maximilian chose to stay. Without French troops and support, his government was quickly defeated. The Mexican republic was restored in June 1867.


The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

The impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson marked the first time Congress attempted to remove a U.S. president from office. Johnson survived. His opponents fell one vote short of the necessary two-thirds majority required to convict and remove a president. The result led to the office of the president gaining strength, although Andrew Johnson was weakened by the trial.

Andrew Johnson

After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Vice President Andrew Johnson became president. Johnson was only the second man to assume the presidency in that manner.

Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, remained loyal to the United States during the Civil War. He was the only senator from a seceding state that remained in the United States Senate. He was subsequently appointed military governor of Tennessee, and Lincoln, a Republican, had picked Johnson as part of a wartime national-unity ticket in 1864. However, Johnson supported slavery. He cosponsored the 1861 Crittenden-Johnson resolution. Passed by Congress, it foreswore abolition, stating that the North had no interest in changing the domestic institutions of the seceding states.

By the end of the war, Johnson was still opposed to giving blacks rights equivalent to whites. Johnson favored a mild reconstruction. He wanted to return local control to the southern states quickly. Johnson wanted to restore full American citizenship even to those who had fought the United States if they swore an oath of loyalty. Lincoln also favored a mild reconstruction. Lincoln was the leader of the moderate wing of the Republican Party and had earned credibility and political capital as the president who led reunification. Johnson had no political base and was an outsider.

Conflict with Congress

This put Johnson on a collision course with a more radical Congress. Congress was determined both to give blacks equality and use them to guard against future Southern separatism in the former slave states. When Johnson vetoed a civil rights act in 1866, Congress overrode the veto and then reintroduced the bill as the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The elections of 1866 produced a Radical Republican landslide. Congress became more militant in its opposition to Johnson. It passed three acts intended to tie the president’s hands. The one relevant to Johnson’s impeachment was the Tenure of Office Act. It stated that any federal official who required Senate confirmation could not be removed from office without consent of the Senate. The act was ambiguous. It remained silent on whether it applied to those appointed by Lincoln and retained by Johnson. It also defined presidential defiance of the law as a “high misdemeanor.” This gave grounds for impeachment and removal of a president who violated it. Johnson vetoed the law. His action was supported by his entire cabinet, including Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war. Stanton even helped Secretary of State William Seward write a veto message. The veto was overridden by Congress.

Stanton’s later removal by Johnson in February 1868 triggered impeachment. Stanton and Johnson fought throughout Johnson’s presidency. Johnson finally replaced Stanton with General Alonzo Thomas in February 1868. Congress reacted by passing a bill of impeachment, citing Johnson’s violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Eleven articles were included in the bill.

The Impeachment Trial

A Senate trial started on March 5, 1868. The Senate then consisted of fifty-four members—forty-two Republicans and twelve Democrats. Thirty-six votes were required to convict the president of the impeachment charges. Johnson was given sixteen days to prepare a defense. The House impeachment managers argued that Johnson could be removed for violating the Tenure of Office Act.

Johnson’s defense was based upon two major arguments. The first was that it was not clear that Stanton was covered by the Tenure of Office Act. Stanton had been confirmed by the Senate while Lincoln was president, and he was retained, without confirmation, by Johnson. Since Stanton had not been appointed by Johnson and subsequently confirmed, there was no need to have the Senate uphold the removal. Even if Stanton was covered by the Act, it was ambiguous. To remove a president for a violation that not even Congress could agree was violation was unfair. The second argument was that the Act violated the Constitution. Under the Constitution, a president had a duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Retaining a cabinet official in whom a president had lost faith conflicted with that responsibility.

Two extra-legal issues were involved in the impeachment. The first was whether impeachment could be used as a means of removing a president in whom confidence had been lost. Was impeachment the equivalent of a vote of no confidence? Was it predicated on presidential misbehavior? The second was the issue of who would replace the president. Johnson had been Lincoln’s vice president, assuming the presidency when Lincoln was assassinated. He served almost all of Lincoln’s second term and did so with no vice president. According to existing law, Johnson would be replaced by the president pro tempore of the Senate, Benjamin Wade. Wade was a Radical Republican and extreme abolitionist. Neither issue had the force of law. They were not raised at the trial. Both were considered by senators in voting to convict or not to convict.

On May 16, 1868, the Senate voted on one of the articles of impeachment. It was defeated by one vote (thirty-six votes for impeachment were needed). The vote was thirty-five to nineteen. All twelve Democrats voted against conviction. Seven Republicans joined them. The trial was then adjourned for ten days. On May 26, the trial reconvened. Two more articles of impeachment were defeated by an identical vote. A Senator then moved that the trial be ended. The motion carried thirty-five to nineteen vote. The Senate then voted to end the trial.

What factors led to acquittal? The complexity of the law was one. Several senators agreed that no president should be removed for violating such a vague law. Others were reluctant to remove a president for political reasons. Overturning an election for non-judicial reasons was viewed as politically destabilizing. One or two may not have wanted Benjamin Wade as president. By the failure to get one more vote for conviction, Andrew Johnson remained president.


The Carpetbaggers were Northerners who moved South during Reconstruction. The term was meant as an insult. It referred to a cheap piece of luggage used in the mid-nineteenth century, a soft-sided bag made of carpet fabric. The implication was that a carpetbagger was someone who could fit all of his possessions into one piece of luggage—the cheapest available.

Many carpetbaggers went south to invest in or develop new industries there. Others viewed reforming the South as a moral crusade. Some went to exploit the economic opportunities offered by the Northern occupation of the former Confederacy. As the Lost Cause myth—a romantic, nostalgic idea that tried to reconcile an idealized Southern past with the post-war reality of defeat—grew in the 1890s and 1900s, carpetbaggers were increasingly identified with the minority who cheated Southern whites during Reconstruction.

Most carpetbaggers were Republican. The majority made common cause with freedmen (former slaves) and scalawags (Southerners who joined the Republican Party and supported the Northern agenda). Carpetbaggers’ influence vanished after Reconstruction ended.


Following the Civil War, the Union was left with the problem of governing the seceding states. There was general agreement that these states could not resume their previous status. The seceding states had to be reconstructed. Reconstruction became the process by which the states of the former Confederacy were readmitted to full statehood. It gave its name to the postwar era, from 1865 through about 1875.

Lincoln, leading the moderate Republicans, had originally planned a quick readmission to the Union of the rebelling states. He favored avoiding vengeance and quickly ending the bitterness—North and South—caused by the war. Lincoln’s assassination prevented achieving this goal. It removed the leader of the moderate Republicans and created a reservoir of anger in the North.

Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, attempted to follow the course set by Lincoln. His efforts were undercut both by his lack of standing in the Republican Party (Johnson was a Democrat and had run with Lincoln on a “unity” ticket), and by the Southern states themselves. As the Reconstruction state governments—run by former Confederates—took over, they instituted “black codes.” These laws limited the rights of freed slaves. In several states, blacks were slaves in every respect but name.

The black codes prompted a reaction in the North. In 1866, a Radical Republican flood swept the elections. It gave Congress the votes required to override Johnson’s vetoes of civil rights legislation. Even before the election, Congress had passed a civil rights bill over Johnson’s veto. It outlawed many of the provisions in the black codes. After the election, Congress took control of Reconstruction. It dissolved many of the southern state governments organized under Johnson and returned the South to military control.

Two new constitutional amendments were introduced. The Thirteenth Amendment had already been ratified in 1865 and had outlawed slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed American citizenship to all people born in the United States or naturalized. It was ratified in 1868. The Fifteenth Amendment stated that the right to vote could not be denied because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. It was ratified in 1870. These gave blacks unconditional rights of citizenship.

The Radical Republicans also reorganized the former Confederate states into five military districts run by the Army. Only Tennessee, in which a large minority had been Unionist during the Civil War, and a state that had been largely occupied by the Union Army during the war, escaped military rule. It was readmitted as a state in 1866.

The states in military districts were placed under martial law until they were readmitted to full statehood. The Army supervised local governments and elections. It also oversaw the process by which states were readmitted. It set the voter rolls and excluded from those rolls those who had sworn an oath to uphold the United States who subsequently rebelled against the United States. This effectively disenfranchised most prewar political office holders as well as former United States officers who resigned their commissions and served the Confederate Army. The Army also ensured that freedmen were allowed to vote.

At the time, this was a radical policy. Many whites did not then believe blacks to be fully human. Allowing blacks the vote—and the right to serve in state legislatures—created anger and even violent resistance by the white population of the former Confederacy. The Army protected both blacks and public office holders in military districts from this violence. The Army succeeded, but often at the price of further alienation of Southern whites.

Gradually, the rebelling states were restored to full statehood. This generally meant a state had to ratify the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, modify the state’s constitution to recognize the rights granted in the U.S. Constitution, and hold free elections that were open to blacks. Between 1868 and 1870, all ten of the states under martial law were restored to full statehood. For blacks, it proved a hollow triumph. They enjoyed a brief decade of political relevance. Southern whites abandoned open resistance to the federal government and to black franchise for about as long as it took to remove martial law. Once civilian government was restored, it generally took only a few years for the Democratic Party—with its opposition to the black franchise—to reestablish its primacy. Between 1871 and 1877, the Democratic Party gained a majority in each of these ten states.

Reconstruction ended in 1877 when Democrats agreed to accept the disputed 1876 election of President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) on the condition that federal troops would be withdrawn from the South. Shortly afterward, barriers to black franchise would rise and laws that increasingly discriminated against blacks were passed. The Republican Party, with roots in emancipation and seen as the party that fostered the northern invasion, became marginalized in the South. It would not be until the 1960s that political balance appeared in these states again.



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The Civil War (1861–1865)

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