1861: The War Begins
1861: The War Begins
As both the Union and the Confederacy began to build their armies for the coming conflict, a strange mood of excitement rippled across the divided nation. People in the North and the South had been struggling against each other for so long that it seemed like a great relief when it became clear that the clash between the two sides was going to be settled once and for all. In addition, many Americans of the nineteenth century held a romantic and glamorous idea of war. Young men all across the divided nation saw the coming conflict as a chance to fight for a heroic cause.
This enthusiasm for the approaching war also could be traced to the confidence that both sides felt about their ability to win. Southerners believed that the North would field an army of weaklings with no real appetite for fighting. Northerners, meanwhile, viewed Southern soldiers as disorganized and undisciplined troops who would be easily overwhelmed by superior Union firepower. Only after the war began in earnest and the casualties began to mount did either side fully begin to appreciate their opponents' dedication to their cause.
Celebrations of the impending war
In the days and weeks following the Confederate seizure of Fort Sumter and the Union and Confederate calls to arms, citizens of both the North and South celebrated the coming war with amazing energy and enthusiasm. Towns and cities across the Union and Confederacy erupted in flag-waving celebrations and rallies. These gatherings further inflamed each side's passionate belief that their cause was a just one. One observer in the North wrote that "the whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favors and flags." Another Northerner commented that "I look with awe on the national movement here in New York and all through the Free States. After our late discords, it seems super-natural." Similar scenes unfolded across the South. A citizen of Richmond, Virginia, for example, wrote that the entire city "seemed to be perfectly frantic with delight. I never in all my life witnessed such excitement."
This frenzy of flag-waving, parties, and patriotic speeches made it easy for both sides to recruit soldiers. Thousands of young men in both the North and the South volunteered to become soldiers in the weeks after the war began. Most people did not expect the war to last very long, so some volunteers worried that it would be over before they got a chance to join the action. The large number of early volunteers completely overwhelmed both the Union and Confederate governments. Neither side had enough weapons, ammunition, food, or clothing to supply all their prospective recruits, and they had not yet set up programs to train them. "One of the greatest perplexities [complications] of the government," President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) admitted, "is to avoid receiving troops faster than it can provide for them." Gradually, though, both armies learned to adjust to the heavy flow of soldiers pouring in from big towns and small farming villages alike.
In both the North and the South, countless communities watched regiments of volunteer soldiers depart for war with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. As the soldiers left home, they were almost always sent off by cheering crowds of adoring friends and neighbors. "The war is making us all tenderly sentimental," admitted Southern diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut (1823–1886) in June 1861. "[So far the war is] all parade, fife, and fine feathers."
The North builds its army
In the spring of 1861, when the Civil War finally began, the Union did not have a significant military advantage over the Confederate states. The North controlled the country's regular army, but this force consisted of no more than 16,000 men. Most of these soldiers were stationed at frontier posts scattered all across the far western territories. The Union also controlled the Federal Navy, but this branch of the military was very small as well. In early 1861 the navy owned only about ninety warships, and a majority of these vessels were falling apart or patrolling waters thousands of miles away.
As President Abraham Lincoln looked over his small military force, he knew that he would have to strengthen the Union's might dramatically in order to triumph over the Confederacy. He thus ordered a big increase in shipbuilding in the North. He also told Gideon Welles (1802–1878), his secretary of the navy, to purchase or lease merchant ships to be used in the coming war. This determined effort to boost the North's naval power paid off. By the end of 1861, more than 260 warships were patrolling the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and 100 more were under construction. The North's tremendous advantage in manufacturing capability eventually enabled it to establish firm control over the Southern coastline.
Lincoln also recognized that he would need to increase the size of the Union's small army through the enlistment of volunteer soldiers. His first appeal for volunteers—when he called for seventy-five thousand soldiers after the attack on Fort Sumter—asked for only ninety days of service. But within a few weeks, the Lincoln administration realized that the Union might need soldiers for longer than three months. Later calls for volunteers usually asked for three-year commitments, though a few states offered two-year terms.
The Union's efforts to increase the size of its army were spectacularly successful. The Federal army added thousands of soldiers from existing state militia units, and it incorporated thousands of other volunteers into its ranks as well. Each state acted as its own little war department, recruiting new volunteer regiments and appointing officers to lead them, before turning control over to the Federal government. The Union had a sizable advantage in its population of white men of military age. This advantage became evident during the final months of 1861. By early 1862, more than seven hundred thousand men had joined the Union Army, most of them for two- or three-year terms.
As it turned out, however, the Union Army's rapid growth made it very difficult for the North to provide adequate supplies to all its soldiers. The Northern states had a far greater capacity than their counterparts in the South to manufacture ammunition, rifles, boots, clothing, and other provisions for their soldiers. But in the early months of the war, supplies intended for Union regiments often did not reach their destination. Instead, the process of supplying Union soldiers became riddled with problems. For example, some Northern businesses charged excessively high prices or produced inferior goods. Complaints of War Department corruption and mismanagement became so great that Secretary of War Simon Cameron (1799–1889) submitted his resignation in January 1862. He was replaced by Edwin Stanton (1814–1869). Fortunately for the Union, many Northern governors and mayors made special efforts to provide food, clothing, and weapons for their soldiers until the Federal army could get itself organized.
The South struggles to provide for its soldiers
The military situation in the South was somewhat different. The Confederates did not really have a navy, since the North retained most Federal ships and personnel. And unlike the Union, which had a vast network of shipyards and factories that could be used to produce new ships and naval weaponry, the South had an extremely limited ability to manufacture warships. It had few qualified shipbuilders, few factories capable of producing the necessary parts, and little in the way of shipbuilding materials. Given these handicaps, the Confederacy never had a chance to create a navy capable of challenging the Federal navy. As the war dragged on, this inferiority on the high seas would emerge as a key factor in the South's eventual defeat.
The Confederate Army was in far better shape though, at least in terms of manpower. As each state had seceded, it had taken steps to make sure that its militia—which in some cases had faded away over the years because of disuse—was revived and made ready for battle. As a result of this preparation, the South already had a sixty-thousand–man army in place by the time Lincoln issued his April 15 call for seventy-five thousand volunteers. Many of these sixty thousand soldiers in the South were outfitted by their cities or states. Other Confederate soldiers brought their own personal horses and weapons with them when they joined their units.
But as the weeks passed and the Confederate government worked to further increase the size of its military, the South found itself confronted with a shortage of basic supplies for its soldiers. This shortage, which would become severe over the course of the Civil War, also could be traced to the South's farming-based economy. While the North developed a diverse blend of farming, shipping, manufacturing, mining, and lumbering industries during the first half of the nineteenth century, the South had stuck to its agricultural roots.
The South's decision to cling to its slave-based farming existence meant that it never developed the manufacturing capacity that would prove so vital in the North's final victory. The Confederacy lagged far behind the Union in its ability to produce everything from bullets to boots to railroad cars. In 1860, for example, Northern states produced 90 percent of the nation's boots and shoes. That same year, Northern factories accounted for 93 percent of the nation's pig iron, 94 percent of its cloth, and 97 percent of its guns and rifles. Moreover, the North was better equipped to distribute supplies, transport food, and move soldiers than the South because it had a far more advanced system of railroads, shipping canals, and roadways in place.
The South's weakness in the areas of manufacturing and distribution thus hampered its war preparations from the beginning. These problems became even worse after May 1861, when the Confederate Congress authorized the enlistment of four hundred thousand additional volunteers for three-year terms. Nonetheless, young Southern white men enlisted in the forming Confederate Army by the thousands, eager to defend the South from the bullying "Yankees" of the North.
North and South scramble for military leadership
At the same time that the two sides rushed to build their armies, they also scrambled to find military leaders to command those inexperienced troops. In the South, President Jefferson Davis (1808–1889)—himself a veteran of the Mexican War of the 1840s—and the Confederate War Department filled most command positions with people who had some military training. Some of these officers were Southern graduates of West Point (a prestigious military training school in New York) who had resigned from the regular army after secession (of 266 Southern-born West Point graduates who fought in the Civil War, only 39 served the Union). Others were cadets and graduates from such Southern military colleges as the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington and The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.
In the North, however, selection of commanding officers depended to a much greater degree on political factors. Military units in both the North and the South selected many of their company and regimental officers through votes taken by the troops themselves. Southern units usually elected officers with previous war experience or military training. Northern troops, on the other hand, often elected men as officers simply because they were community leaders in the towns from which the company or regiment hailed.
Political concerns influenced the North's selection of officers for major commands, too. Some Northern governors filled the officer ranks of state regiments with their friends. In addition, many Northern politicians influenced Lincoln to have themselves or friends named as generals for the forming Federal army. The president often did so, because he thought that ignoring some of these requests might erode political support for his decision to pursue the war. Prominent Northern leaders like Benjamin F. Butler (1818–1893), Daniel E. Sickles (1825–1914), John Mc-Clernand (1812–1900), and Carl Schurz (1829–1906) thus received generalships despite their lack of military experience.
Confederate president Jefferson Davis also passed out generalships for political reasons, but he did so less frequently than did Lincoln. "For a variety of reasons, the South had a keener appreciation of military professionalism than the North did," Herman Hattaway wrote in Shades of Blue and Gray. "Early in the Civil War the South did a better job than the North in identifying its more able officers and getting them sooner into high levels of command. More to the point is that the South—from the outset—was much more welcoming to its military professionals and capitalized upon their talents."
Amateur officers and West Pointers
The performance of the socalled amateur officers of the Civil War—civilians who were made captains or generals despite a lack of military training or experience—varied tremendously. Some of these officers were completely incompetent, and their companies or regiments suffered accordingly. The shortcomings of many of these officers were discovered fairly quickly though. Both the Union and the Confederacy eventually created military review boards to examine officers and remove those who were unable to do their jobs. After these boards were created, hundreds of officers were discharged or resigned voluntarily rather than face examination. The practice of electing officers on the basis of political considerations also faded away over time. It was replaced by systems that rewarded military experience and battlefield accomplishments.
Many civilian officers proved unable to handle their military duties, especially in the North. But a considerable number of them recognized the extraordinary responsibilities of their new positions. These men studied hard to gain a mastery of military strategy and an understanding of their many other duties. In fact, a number of officers pulled from civilian life performed admirably during the Civil War for both sides. In some cases they even outperformed graduates of West Point, The Citadel, and other military schools.
Still, students and graduates of West Point and the Southern military schools comprised the backbone of both sides' armies. For many of these men, the decision to fight for the North or the South was a difficult one, influenced by sometimes conflicting loyalties to family, state, and the Federal army. West Pointers who had become officers in the Federal army were courted by both sides. For example, West Pointer Robert E. Lee (1807–1870)—who eventually assumed command of the entire Confederate Army—was offered field command of the Union Army in April 1861. But he reluctantly declined the offer, choosing instead to fight for his native Virginia on the side of the South.
As West Point cadets and graduates serving in the Federal military left to take their places in the Union and Confederate armies, a strange situation took shape. The opposing armies would be led by men who in many cases had served together under the same flag only weeks earlier. In fact, many of the veterans who took command positions with the North and the South assumed their duties with the grim knowledge that they would likely face former comrades—men with whom they had become friends during the Mexican War or during stints at frontier outposts—on some future field of battle.
The Northern strategy
By the early summer of 1861, tens of thousands of Union troops had gathered outside Washington, D.C., in preparation for the coming war. This army, which came to be known as the Army of the Potomac, was the Union's largest and most important. It was charged with defending the nation's capital from any Confederate offensive, and it was the biggest weapon in the Union's arsenal. But as the Federal army worked to outfit its troops and organize its chain of command, impatient Northerners began to wonder if the campaign to crush the Southern rebels would ever get underway. Ordinary citizens and newspaper editorial writers alike urged the Union Army to march southward as soon as possible. These people were convinced that the North's superiority in manpower, supplies, and military experience would result in a quick and decisive victory over the Confederacy. The influential New York Tribune, headed by Horace Greeley (1811–1872), emerged as a particularly vocal advocate of swift military action. It repeatedly urged the Union leadership to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond before July 20, when the Confederate Congress had scheduled its next session.
Some Northern leaders, however, expressed reluctance about conducting a full-scale invasion of the South. The reasons for this reluctance varied. Some Union leaders were concerned about the quality of the troops that the North was fielding. Others maintained that the Union could still win back the loyalty of the Southern people if it proceeded carefully with a limited offensive plan. Finally, some leaders, such as General-in-Chief Winfield Scott (1786–1866), believed that an immediate invasion was a strategically flawed idea.
Scott was the commander of all Union forces at the onset of the Civil War. He did not share the opinion of other Unionists who thought that the Southern rebellion would collapse after one or two Union victories. He thought that the war might last for quite a while. He also believed that a full-scale invasion—even if successful—would produce "fifteen devastated [slave states] not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors, but to be held for generations, by heavy garrisons."
Instead of an invasion plan, Scott devised a strategy in which the North would concentrate its efforts on blockading Southern ports and controlling the Mississippi Valley and the mighty river that ran through it. The general believed that such a plan would slowly squeeze the life out of the Confederacy by cutting off its main means of supplying itself with provisions. Once the South was rendered helpless, argued Scott, the Union could then invade and smash what was left of the Confederate Army into pieces.
Scott believed that his strategy was a sound one, but he worried that impatience in the North would make it unacceptable. "Our patriotic and loyal Union friends . . . will urge instant and vigorous action, regardless, I fear, of the consequences," he said. Scott was correct. As news of his plan leaked out, Northern newspapers and community leaders ridiculed it as unnecessarily cautious and slow. They called Scott's strategy the Anaconda Plan, after the large snake that kills its victims by slowly squeezing them to death. These critics remained convinced that one big Union victory in battle would bring a swift end to the secessionist rebellion. Lincoln quickly recognized that the Northern uproar for action would soon have to be addressed.
Ultimately, some of Scott's Anaconda Plan was implemented by the Union. The Union Navy established a blockade of Southern ports that eventually became extremely effective. In addition, his proposal to seize control of the Mississippi Valley became a key part of Union strategy by 1862. But the calls for invasion could not be ignored, and even those who recognized that the war had the potential to be a long one realized that any Union victory would ultimately have to be grabbed on the field of battle. During the summer of 1861, Lincoln and his military advisors studied various plans to invade the South. These plans hinged on using the Union's superior troop sizes and materials to defeat the rebellious secessionists.
The Southern strategy
At the same time that the North was consumed with debate about various invasion plans, Jefferson Davis and the leaders of the Confederate military prepared to defend themselves from the coming assault. Southern leaders recognized that although the Union Army enjoyed significant advantages in men and materials, the Confederacy had some factors that weighed in its favor as well. In fact, many Southern political and military leaders believed that the North would never be able to accomplish its goal of restoring the Union.
One of the chief reasons for Southern confidence in an ultimate Confederate victory was the sheer size of their territory. At 750,000 square miles, the secessionist states occupied a region that was larger than all of western Europe. They knew that the Union would have to devote a huge amount of its troop strength and supplies just to maintain control of any significant segment of territory that it conquered.
Southern strategists believed that Confederate soldiers had a psychological advantage over their Northern counterparts as well. Whereas Northerners would be fighting on unfamiliar terrain for the abstract notion of preserving the Union, Southerners would be defending their beloved land, homes, and families from Northern aggression. Moreover, most Southerners were certain that they could outfight their Northern opponents. After all, Southerners were raised in a primarily rural culture that placed a high value on such skills as hunting and horsemanship. They viewed the gathering Union Army as a collection of meek store clerks and inexperienced city dwellers.
Ironically, the Southern soldiers' confidence in their superiority to the Northern soldiers made it difficult for Jefferson Davis to adopt the sort of strategy that he wanted. Davis recognized that the Confederacy would continue to exist if the people of the North lost their desire to fight. The Confederate States of America did not have to win the war against the North; they simply had to avoid losing the war. Davis and some other Confederate leaders thus favored a defensive strategy. They planned to use strategic retreats, counterattacks, and raids rather than all-out assaults in an effort to exhaust and demoralize the Northern invaders. If the war dragged on long enough, Southern tacticians (war strategists) believed that disillusioned Northerners might decide that the war was not worth it and leave the Confederacy alone.
The temperament of the Southern people, however, made it difficult for Davis to fight an exclusively defensive war. Taking their cue from popular sentiment, Southern newspapers cried out for an advance into the North, certain that Confederate soldiers could whip far larger numbers of Yankees. "The idea of waiting for blows, instead of inflicting them, is altogether unsuited to the genius of our people," exclaimed one newspaper editorial. This confidence, coupled with several significant Confederate victories, eventually spurred the South to undertake a number of major offensives into Union territory.
Lincoln makes a new state out of western Virginia
The first meaningful fighting of the Civil War took place in July 1861 in western Virginia, a region that remained sympathetic to the Union despite Virginia's decision to secede. This mountainous area's culture and economy were more closely linked to the neighboring free states of Ohio and Pennsylvania than to the slave economy of Virginia's more heavily populated eastern counties. In addition, western Virginia's white citizens, who owned few slaves, had long been resentful of eastern Virginia's influence over the state's government and economy. "Western Virginia has suffered more from . . . her eastern brethren than ever the Cotton States all put together have suffered from the North," claimed one regional newspaper during the winter of 1860–61.
By June 1861, Union loyalists in western Virginia were calling for the establishment of a new state—initially called "Kanawha"—that would separate from Virginia and join the Union. These loyalists then elected pro-Union senators and administrators to represent them in Washington, D.C., and at home. But the effort to establish a new state out of western Virginia did not really pick up any momentum until Union generals George McClellan (1826–1885) and William S. Rosecrans (1819–1898) led a mid-July assault against a small Confederate force stationed deep in the region's hills and valleys. The successful offensive chased most Confederate troops out of western Virginia, and cleared the way for Unionists in the region to move ahead with their plans for establishing their own state.
Confederate forces led by General Robert E. Lee attempted to regain control of the region, but Union troops forced them back. Afterward, the white citizens of western Virginia held an October 24 referendum to vote on leaving Virginia and forming a new Union state. The voters approved the measure over the objections of pro-Confederate communities within the region. The vote established western Virginia as a pro-Union region from that point forward, although rebel guerrillas harassed Federal troops stationed in the area throughout the war.
On June 20, 1863—two years after the region passed its referendum—West Virginia joined the Union. Interestingly, West Virginia joined the Union as a slave state (less than five percent of its population were slaves). But West Virginia's political leaders recognized that Lincoln and other Republicans would never welcome the region as a new state unless it expressed its intention to eventually do away with slavery. As a result, West Virginia's constitution called for the freeing of all slaves born after July 4, 1863, and the freeing of all other slaves on their twenty-fifth birthdays.
The Union Army moves south
Northerners were tremendously encouraged by the early Union victories in western Virginia. Northern newspapers characterized the clashes as major battles. Calls for a major advance into Confederate territory thus grew even louder among impatient Northern newspaper publishers and political leaders, and Lincoln called his staff together to discuss his options.
The Lincoln administration ultimately decided to launch a major attack on a large Confederate encampment at Manassas (pronounced muh-NA-suss) Junction, Virginia. Located less than thirty miles from Washington, D.C., this rebel force was seen as a significant threat to the Federal capital. In addition, the Confederate troops gathered at Manassas blocked the Union's path to the rebel capital of Richmond, now viewed as the very heart of the Confederacy.
Some of Lincoln's counselors warned against launching a major offensive so quickly. General Scott, in particular, believed that the Union troops needed several more months of training before they would be ready for combat. But Lincoln did not accept this argument, pointing out that Confederate troops also were inexperienced. Instead, Lincoln approved the plan. He thought that a victory at Manassas would satisfy Northern calls for action, ultimately leading to the capture of Richmond and an early end to the war.
On July 16, 1861, thirty-five thousand Federal troops under the command of Brigadier General Irvin McDowell (1818–1885) set out from Washington, D.C., to join forces in Virginia with a fifteen thousand–man army led by Major General Robert Patterson (1792–1881). (The aged Patterson was a distinguished veteran, having fought in the War of 1812). Awaiting the Union forces were two Confederate armies. One of these armies was an eleven thousand–troop force commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston (1807–1891). This army was camped at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia), in the nearby Shenandoah Valley. The other rebel army, led by Brigadier General Pierre G. T. Beauregard (1818–1893), who had captured Fort Sumter earlier in the year, consisted of twenty thousand men stationed around Bull Run, a river that ran past Manassas.
The Union offensive called for Patterson's troops to keep Johnston's rebel forces busy. McDowell would then use his advantage in troop size to push Beauregard out of Manassas. But a Confederate spy network headed by Rose O'Neal Greenhow (c. 1815–1864) kept Beauregard and Johnston informed of the Union plan, and they devised a strategy to defeat McDowell.
The First Battle of Bull Run
"There is nothing in American military history quite like the story of Bull Run," wrote Bruce Catton in The Civil War. "It was the momentous fight of the amateurs, the battle where everything went wrong, the great day of awakening for the whole nation, North and South together. It marked the end of the ninety-day militia, and it also ended the rosy time in which men could dream that the war would be short, glorious, and bloodless. After Bull Run the nation got down to business."
The First Battle of Bull Run (also sometimes known as the First Battle of Manassas) began on the morning of July 21, 1861, when the Union's McDowell launched his assault on Beauregard's Confederate outfit at Manassas. Initially, McDowell's troops seemed to have the upper hand, even though misunderstood orders and undisciplined troops bogged down the Northern attack. But Beauregard's troops were equally disorganized, and the Southern hero of Fort Sumter watched in dismay as his planned counterattack crumbled in confusion.
As the clash continued, the scene on the smoky battlefield became progressively more confused. One major reason for this confusion was the bewildering array of uniforms that each side wore. Some Union troops were outfitted in blue uniforms, but others wore gray or other colors. Similarly, a number of the Confederate units wore gray, but others were garbed in blue. This situation made it very difficult for soldiers to determine the identity of other soldiers. On a number of occasions, soldiers fired on friendly troops by mistake or withheld fire on enemy troops in the mistaken belief that they were allies. (Such mistakes eventually convinced the Union to outfit all of its soldiers in blue and the Confederacy to use gray as its uniform color.)
McDowell pressed his numerical advantage over Beauregard through much of the afternoon. At one point, Union troops nearly broke the Confederate defenses at a place called Henry House Hill. But during an extended period of fierce fighting, a brigade commander from Virginia named Thomas J. Jackson (1824–1863) led a successful effort to hold the position. Jackson's determined stand at Henry House Hill earned him the nickname "Stonewall." Jackson went on to become one of the Confederacy's most legendary figures.
McDowell continued to push on against the outnumbered Confederate enemy. Before he could grind out a victory, however, the Confederate defenses were boosted by the arrival of thousands of Johnston's troops via the Manassas Gap Railroad line. McDowell did not know it, but Johnston had completely outmaneuvered Patterson over the previous three days. Using Confederate calvary personnel led by Colonel Jeb Stuart (1833–1864), Johnston fooled his Union counterpart into thinking that rebel troops were about to launch an attack on the Union position. Patterson promptly withdrew his troops to prepare his defense. Instead of attacking, however, Johnston snuck away and loaded his men on railroad cars to go help Beauregard at Manassas. The addition of Johnston's troops saved the day for Beauregard's forces. Their combined firepower forced McDowell to break off his attack, and a Confederate counterattack sent the Union Army stumbling in retreat.
The South spoils the North's grand picnic
At first the Union retreat was conducted in somewhat orderly fashion, despite the soldiers' lack of experience. But midway through the retreat, Northern soldiers, wagon trains, and artillery units ran into a panicky swarm of Washington civilians who had gathered on the hills east of Bull Run to watch the battle. Supremely confident that McDowell's Union forces would crush the rebel army, these spectators held a massive picnic as the battle roared in the distance. But when the Union forces began their retreat, hundreds of suddenly frightened Washingtonians rushed to return home, clogging the main road with carriages and wagons. The scene quickly dissolved into chaos, as civilians and soldiers alike dashed for the safety of the capital, discarding picnic baskets and rifles along the way.
Southern confidence and Northern anger
The Confederate victory at Bull Run thrilled people throughout the South, although the battlefield losses endured by the rebels (almost two thousand killed or wounded) muted the celebration somewhat. One congressman called the First Battle of Bull Run "one of the decisive battles of the world" and argued that it "has secured our independence." Southern newspapers mocked the Union Army and confidently predicted that the North would quickly abandon its attempts to restore the shattered United States.
In the North, meanwhile, the defeat shocked the population out of its belief that the rebellion could be snuffed out quickly. Confidence was replaced by anger and shame at the whipping that the Union had endured in the war's first major battle. The U.S. Congress promptly approved Lincoln's call for five hundred thousand volunteers to serve three-year military terms, and thousands of white men rushed to serve. The disaster at Manassas also resulted in the removal of McDowell as commander of the Army of the Potomac. He was replaced by General Mc-Clellan, the star of the Union campaign in western Virginia. A few months later—on November 1, 1861— McClellan was promoted to commander of all Union troops, taking over for the elderly Winfield Scott. Finally, the defeat convinced Lincoln to take a more active role in the Union's military planning and strategy.
Words to Know
Civil War conflict that took place from 1861 to 1865 between the Northern states (Union) and the Southern seceded states (Confederacy); also known in the South as War between the States and in the North as War of the Rebellion
Confederacy eleven Southern states that seceded from the United States in 1860 and 1861
Enlistment the act of joining a country's armed forces
Federal national or central government; also refers to the North or Union, as opposed to the South or Confederacy
Guerrillas small bands of soldiers or armed civilians who use raids and ambushes rather than direct attacks to harass enemy armies
Militia an army composed of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers
Rebel Confederate; often used as a name for Confederate soldiers
Regiment a military unit of organized troops; regiments usually consisted of one thousand men and were divided into ten companies of one hundred men each
Secession formal withdrawal of eleven Southern states from the Union in 1860–61
Union Northern states that remained loyal to the United States during the Civil War
People to Know
Pierre G. T. Beauregard (1818–1893) Confederate general who captured Fort Sumter in April 1861; also served at First Bull Run and Shiloh
Jefferson Davis (1808–1889) president of the Confederate States of America, 1861–65
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (1824–1863) Confederate lieutenant general who fought at First Bull Run, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville; led 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign
Joseph E. Johnston (1807–1891) Confederate general of the Army of Tennessee who fought at First Bull Run and Atlanta
Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) Confederate general of the Army of Northern Virginia; fought at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville; defended Richmond from Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac, 1864 to April 1865
Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) sixteenth president of the United States, 1861–65
George McClellan (1826–1885) Union general who commanded the Army of the Potomac, August 1861 to November 1862; fought in Seven Days campaign and at Antietam; Democratic candidate for presidency, 1864
Winfield Scott (1786–1866) general-in-chief of U.S. Army, 1841–61; proposed so-called "Anaconda Plan" for Union in Civil War
As the Civil War got underway, both the North and the South accepted as many volunteers as they could and began forming them into groups called regiments. Regiments usually consisted of one thousand men and were divided into ten companies of one hundred men each.
Most regiments were made up of recruits who came from the same state, and sometimes even the same city or county. Members of the same family often served in one regiment, as did members of certain ethnic groups, such as Germans and Italians. As a result, many soldiers felt strong loyalty toward their regiments. "Localities and ethnic groups retained a strong sense of identity with 'their' regiments," according to James M. McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. "This helped to boost morale on both the home and fighting fronts, but it could mean sudden calamity for family or neighborhood if a regiment suffered 50 percent or more casualties in a single battle, as many did."
Lee's Decision to Join the South
During the spring of 1861, members of the Lincoln administration tried very hard to convince Robert E. Lee to join the Union side. After all, he had built an outstanding military reputation in the Mexican War (1846–48). That battlefield experience, along with his performance as a cavalry officer and superintendent of West Point Military Academy, made him one of the most highly prized officers in the entire army. U.S. general-in-chief Winfield Scott had such a high opinion of Lee that he urged President Abraham Lincoln to appoint him field commander of the Army of the Potomac. But after receiving the offer, Lee regretfully turned it down and announced his intention to join the Confederate Army.
Lee's decision to join the Confederate cause was a very difficult one for him. He had always opposed slavery. In fact, he once called it "a moral and political evil." In addition, he did not like the idea of seceding from the Union. But when his home state of Virginia joined the Confederacy, Lee felt that he had no choice but to stand with his fellow Virginians. "I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children," he explained.
Lee subsequently resigned from the U.S. Army and joined the forming Confederate military. But he did so with a heavy heart. "I should like, above all things, that our difficulties might be peaceably arranged," he wrote to a girl from the North who had asked for a picture of him. "Whatever may be the result of the contest [between North and South], I foresee that the country will have to pass through a terrible ordeal."
How the Armies Decided on Their Uniform Colors
During the first months of the war, the Union and Confederate armies sometimes had a very difficult time identifying battlefield military units. This confusion stemmed from the fact that army units on both sides initially wore uniforms with a wide range of colors.
When the North and the South first formed their armies, they combined state militia units that were already in existence. Many of these state militia units wore uniforms featuring colors that were not used by other militias. In the South, for instance, Confederate military officers discovered that some soldiers wore yellow uniforms, while others wore blue or green or red clothing. Northern officers had the same problem. Some of their regiments showed up for duty wearing gray, blue, or red shirts and pants, while others arrived in extremely colorful uniforms patterned after those used by French soldiers stationed in Africa. These uniforms—which included red pants, blue belts, and lacy shirts—were also used by some Confederate regiments. This similarity in uniforms made it even more difficult for soldiers to determine whether another soldier on the battlefield was a friend or an enemy.
At first, both sides tried to get along with the different uniforms. But both armies changed their minds after it became clear that the different uniform colors were causing widespread confusion on the battlefield. On some occasions, soldiers accidentally shot members of their own army. Other times, they mistakenly identified enemy soldiers as friends, only to come under deadly attack.
By the fall of 1861, both sides realized that they needed to decide on a single uniform color for their troops. The Confederacy selected gray as its official uniform color, and the Union made blue its official uniform color. By the summer of 1862, nearly all soldiers on both sides of the war were garbed in their army's colors.