Mobilization of the Confederacy

views updated Jun 08 2018

Mobilization of the Confederacy


The Battle of Seven Pines. Gen. George McClellan came within six miles of Richmond by the end of May 1862. Relying on inaccurate intelligence reports, McClellan claimed that his Confederate counterpart outnumbered his massive army, and as a result he stopped his advance toward the Confederate capitol in order to await reinforcements from Washington. President Abraham Lincoln denied McClellans pleas, stating that he needed a strong military presence along the Potomac River to thwart a possible Confederate counterattack upon the Union capital city. Lincoln also bluntly reminded his general-in-chief that the Army of the Potomac had the advantages of size, manpower, and resources over any enemy army. While McClellan hesitated in the face of his adversary, the Confederate commander guarding Richmond, Joseph E. Johnston, attacked. The Battle of Seven Pines (31 May-1 June 1862) produced no strategic advantage for either side. To McClellan the surprise attack was enough to confirm his suspicions and delay a counterattack. For the Confederates the battle

was a turning point as a wounded Johnston was taken from the field and replaced by Robert E. Lee.

Lee Takes Command. The change in command ended the string of Union victories in 1862. During the first year of the war, Lee served as a military advisor to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Before secession he was a high-ranking officer in the United States Army, graduating second in his class at West Point and gaining distinction as a field officer in the Mexican War. Recognized as one of the best officers in the U.S. military, Lee turned down an offer to command Union forces in April 1861 and resigned his commission in order to fight for his native Virginia. Unlike McClellan, Lee possessed the qualities of a great general. Throughout the war he boldly took risks in anticipation of Union advances and displayed a fearlessness to attack stronger enemy forces. Lees superior leadership skills first became evident a

month following the Seven Pines conflict. While McClellan lobbied Lincoln for reinforcements, Lee attacked McClellans right flank on 26 June, engaging Little Mac in a series of battles called the Seven Days Battles. Lees 80,000-man army pressured McClellans 100,000 and by 1 July drove them to a point on the James River twenty miles from the capital city. Casualties on both sides were high (the South lost 20,000 to the Norths 16,000). The staggering death rate, coupled with McClellans failure to counterattack and take Richmond, swung the momentum of the war back to the Confederacy. In a year when Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans fell into Union hands and many eagerly anticipated Richmonds capitulation, Northern morale took a severe blow.

The First Military Draft. Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government instituted measures designed to intensify Southern commitment to the war. The defeats at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson shook Southern confidence and convinced Davis to move beyond the euphoria following Bull Run and mobilize for a longer struggle. In April 1862 Davis issued a conscription edict, the first military draft in American history. All able-bodied white males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five were to be inducted into the Confederate army for three years. The draft immediately produced resentment from the yeoman class (small landowning farmers) that later intensified when the government exempted planters holding twenty or more slaves. In addition, those who could afford it were given the option to hire a substitute from the lower classes until the next call for men. Although it drew criticisms from some Southerners, the draft did spark volunteer enlistments as many young men opted to organize units from their local communities and pick their own officers.

Internal Conflicts. Davis also strengthened Confederate commitment by imposing martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus (requiring specific charges in order to hold an individual in jail), especially in areas threatened by immediate Union attack such as Richmond. Many Southern leaders rejected these measures as an attempt by Davis to strengthen the central government and encroach upon sovereign rights. The measures revealed the internal conflicts within the Confederate nation as some leaders worked against Davis. For example, Gov. Joseph E. Brown of Georgia fought conscription at every step and refused to fill the states manpower quota. Nevertheless, these conflicts in and of themselves would not halt the Southern independence movement as long as Lee and his subordinates continued to master their Union counterparts on the battlefield.

Counteroffensive. By the spring of 1862 Union forces controlled fifty thousand square miles of Confederate territory in the West. At this point in the war, the Union army was not prepared to occupy the confiscated lands with a strong force. Conversely small Northern detachments found themselves deep in enemy territory far from Federal supply trains and the main fighting force; these isolated units were vulnerable to Confederate cavalry raids. During the summer and fall of 1862 Confederate cavalry assaults led by Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan played havoc with Union occupation troops in Kentucky and Tennessee. They destroyed bridges, tunnels, and railroad tracks while seizing supply bases and capturing Northern garrisons. By August these cavalry raids weakened the Union stranglehold over the

western lands and opened the West to a spirited Confederate counterattack. Southern troops moved northward through east Tennessee and Kentucky before reaching the Ohio River in September. If they crossed the Ohio River and invaded Indiana or Ohio, then a Union advance in the West would be delayed.

Antietam. In the East, Lees war machine pressed forward its counteroffensive in Virginia. By the end of August, Lee and Stonewall Jackson moved north to defeat Union forces for a second time at Bull Run Creek. A week later Lees men reached the Potomac River and moved into Maryland, just forty miles from Washington, D.C. Lee hoped to split Maryland from Washington in order to weaken Lincolns political strength and convince Northerners to sue for peace. France and England watched from the wings, anticipating one more Southern victory as a sign of Confederate military superiority. The foreign powers might then side with the South and support the Confederacy as an independent nation. As with many events during this Civil War, a surprising twist of fate turned the tide at a critical moment in history. A Union infantryman found Lees invasion plans wrapped around three cigars that were dropped earlier by a Confederate officer. This time McClellan acted with uncharacteristic speed and blocked Lees advance at Antietam Creek near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. On 17 September, in the bloodiest day of the war, McClellan forced Lee back into Virginia. In less than seven hours, both sides had six thousand men killed and over seventeen thousand wounded. Claiming that overwhelming enemy reinforcements awaited his advance, McClellan refused to finish Lee and allowed the invading Southerners to escape back to Virginia.

Lee Survives. A month later, in October 1862, the Confederate cavalry raiders in the West were turned back at Perryville, Kentucky. Thus the failed invasions denied the Southern government propaganda material to win coveted European assistance. Despite these setbacks, Lees army survived and repulsed two Northern offensives at Fredericksburg in December 1862 and Chancel-lorsville in May 1863. The Battle of Chancellorsville proved costly, however, as Lees ablest general, Stonewall Jackson, was mortally wounded by friendly fire. By the end of May, Lee looked northward one more time. In the West, Union armies were moving closer to another victory. Lee planned to invade the Northern states for a second time in an attempt to divert troops from the Mississippi. This time it would be more of a gamble as the Confederate general decided to cut his supply lines and live off the land. Lee would bypass Maryland and move into Pennsylvania in order to frighten civilians and weaken Northern resolve. At the same time, he also wanted to revive European interest and sway foreign powers to intervene on behalf of Southern independence.


Known as the Thunderbolt of the Confederacy, Confederate cavalry commander John Hunt Morgan played a prominent role in the Western coun-teroffensive of 1862 by conducting raids into Kentucky. A year later in June 1.863, Morgan again moved toward the Ohio River Valley to raid Union supply lines and simultaneously divert Federal reinforcements from reaching Tennessee, where Confederate General Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee were retreating in the face of a stronger Union force.

Morgan, a veteran of the Mexican War and a businessman by trade, decided to move his two cavalry brigades into Indiana and Ohio. He surmised that a trek across the southern counties of those two states would be more effective in relieving the pressure on Bragg. Morgan planned to raid Cincinnati, move east to the Ohio River, and then ride through Pennsylvania to join Lees army. Although Bragg ordered him not to undertake such a risky venture, Morgan disobeyed his superior officer. After several small skirmishes in Kentucky delayed their advance, Morgans 2,400 raiders entered Indiana on 8 July 1863. There the invaders battled a local militia unit, scattering them with cannon fire from two rifled Parrott artillery pieces.

As they progressed through enemy territory, Morgans men continued to tussle with small militia units. The Confederate cavalrymen decided to make these civilian soldiers feel the war and began to live off the land, stealing food, horses, and household goods. In some places, they burned farmsteads used by Ohio militiamen as hiding places. Pressured by Federal cavalry, Morgan decided to race non-stop across Ohio and ford the Ohio River into West Virginia. Morgan did not anticipate, however, the mobilization of 50,000 militiamen who slowed his men with small arms fire. Riding hard for sixteen consecutive days and nights, Morgan reached Ohios eastern border on 18 July. Stranded on Buffmgton Island and surrounded by Union river gunboats, half of the Confederates surrendered. Morgan escaped with over a thousand Southern horsemen but finally surrendered at New Lisbon, Ohio, on 26 July after failing to secure safe passage across the river. Although the South lost two cavalry brigades, Morgans raid did delay the advancement of the Union Twenty-third Army Corps into Tennessee. More importantly, by bringing the war to civilians, Morgan assisted Lee in scaring unsuspecting civilians and damaging their will to continue supporting the war effort.

Source: Shelby Foote, The Civil War, a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), pp.678-683.


Douglass S. Freeman, R. E. Lee, 4 volumes (New York: Scribners, 1934-1935);

Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, volume 2 (New York: Scribners, 1960);

Emory M. Thomas, The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 (New York-Harper & Row, 1979).

Mobilization of the Union

views updated Jun 11 2018

Mobilization of the Union


A Dismissal. Gen. George McClellans Peninsula campaign mirrored the rise and fall of Northern morale during the spring and early summer of 1862. Northerners sensed victory in May when McClellans force camped six miles outside Richmond, but morale collapsed in July as Lee drove a hesitant McClellan twenty miles backward to the James River in seven days. Once again claiming that he and his men were outnumbered, McClellan called for reinforcements and planned a second march to Richmond. Lincoln responded by replacing McClellan as general-in-chief of the army with Henry W. Halleck and ordered Little Mac back to Washington.

Militia Act. Unlike a year earlier, when Northern resolve hardened after the first defeat at Bull Run, the Northern response wavered after Lees counteroffensive in 1862. New recruits trickled into Union recruiting offices after the Seven Days fiasco. Congress then passed a Militia Act in July authorizing the president to institute a draft in order to force state governments to meet recruiting quotas. The following month Lincoln made plans to conscript 300,000 men, but before the draft could be implemented, Federal military forces received 421,000 three-year volunteers and 87,000 nine-month militiamen. Lincoln thus avoided a national draft and deflated civilian resentment, but the message was clear: Northern support for the war waxed and waned in direct correlation to Union success or failure on the battlefield.

Decision for Emancipation. In July Lincoln moved to escalate the war beyond preserving the Union. From the beginning, Radical Republicans and abolitionists pushed for emancipation as a war aim. Swayed by their arguments and the recent Union retreat from Virginia, Congress passed a Second Confiscation Act in July 1862 authorizing Union commanders to free all slaves that came within Union lines. Acknowledging the growing sentiment that to fight slaveholders without attacking slavery was a half-hearted business, Lincoln informed his cabinet at a 22 July meeting that he planned to issue an emancipation proclamation. The revolutionary edict would abolish slavery in the seceded states. Union soldiers would not only fight to save the Constitution, but also to free the slaves, turning the rebellion into a war of liberation. Lincoln hoped not only to hurt the South militarily but also to undermine renewed Confederate efforts to obtain European recognition. The president decided to wait for a Union victory on the battlefield before signing the proclamation into law after Secretary of State William Seward convinced Lincoln that to do otherwise would make emancipation appear to be an act of mere desperation.

Preliminary Proclamation. Following the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln released a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on 22 September 1862. It stated that unless the seceded Confederate states voluntarily returned to the Union by 1 January 1863, all slaves within those states would be free. The act specifically excluded the Union slave states (Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky) and Southern territory under Union control. Approximately 830,000 slaves out of a total of four million were excluded under the provisions of this decree. On paper the Proclamation liberated all enslaved persons south of the Mason-Dixon line, but in reality they were not liberated until the arrival of Northern troops. Opposition to Lincolns policy grew nevertheless in the North as Peace Democrats agitated for an immediate cessation of hostilities without destroying slavery. To prevent criticism from undermining recruitment, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus throughout the Northern states in September 1862. This gave Union authorities the power to arrest anyone suspected of disloyal or antiwar activism and hold them indefinitely without trial.

Gettysburg. In November 1862 Lincoln fired McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac because he failed to follow his victory at Antietam with a vigorous pursuit of Lees army. He replaced McClellan with Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, who suffered defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December. An exasperated Lincoln then replaced Burnside with Gen. Joseph Hooker, who nearly lost the entire Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863. One month later Lee moved north into Pennsylvania. George G. Meade, the latest commander of the Army of the Potomac, positioned the Union army between Lee and the nations capital to check the Confederate advance. On 1-3 July, Union and Confederate forces fought the wars most famous battle after reconnaissance teams from both armies accidentally collided at the small town of Gettysburg. Following two days of failed assaults, Lee sent thirteen thousand screaming infantrymen, under the command of George Pickett, to assault the center of Meades forces, entrenched on Cemetery Ridge. Picketts Charge was Lees greatest mistake, because

Union defenders killed or wounded more than half of the charging Confederates and forced Lee to retreat once again into Virginia on 4 July. Lees defeated Army of Northern Virginia lost nearly a third of its men at Gettysburg, and the severely weakened Confederate army never again threatened the Northern states with invasion.

Vicksburg. Independence Day 1863 also marked a turning point in the war because of the dramatic news that came from the Western theater. After a prolonged siege, Vicksburg, a Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, fell to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Four days later, the last Confederate fort on the Mississippi, Port Hudson, fell to Union troops. These stunning victories now placed the entire Mississippi River under Union control and split the Confederate nation geographically, as Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas were cut off from other Southern states.

Draft Riots. The summer of 1863 also signified a stronger Union commitment to the war. In March Congress had turned to a national draft which included a clause allowing men to hire substitutes for $300 (a years wage for a worker or ordinary farmer) to take their places. Not surprisingly, the draft produced much resentment, raising cries that the conflict was a rich mans war, but a poor mans fight. Soon antidraft protests turned into antidraft violence. The worst incident occurred on 13 July in New York City when mobs of Irish workingmen and women took to the streets. After four days of rioting and more than a hundred deaths, the rioters were stopped by Federal troops fresh from Gettysburg. It was the worst riot in American history and represented one of the last acts of public defiance against the Union war efforts. Afterward, antiwar sentiment declined, especially following the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

Battery Wagner. Inspiring news from South Carolina brought further criticism upon the rioters. On 18 July African American soldiers attempted to take Battery Wagner, a Confederate stronghold at the entrance of Charleston Harbor. (Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation had called for the enlistment of African Americans into Union ranks). Led by Col. Robert Gould Shaw, a product of Bostons high society, the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment became the first Northern black unit to engage Confederate soldiers in a major battle. At Battery Wagner the regiment unsuccessfully charged the enemy defenses and lost 40 percent of its strength, but the defeat was hailed as a moral victory throughout the North. Eradicating popular myths of black inferiority, the African Americans under Shaw proved they could fight aggressively for their freedom. Before the war was over, some 180,000 blacks would fight for the Union.


Organized in April 1861, the Louisiana Native Guards, an African American regiment, served in both the Confederate and Union armies. After the fall of Fort Sumter, the free black community of New Orleans answered Jefferson Davis call to arms and formed an all-black militia unit. The regiment numbered 35 officers and 870 enlisted men; more than 80 percent were mulattoes, individuals having both white and black ancestry.

Ignoring the units requests to fight, Southern military leaders relegated the regiment to parades and other public displays. When New Orleans fell in April 1862, Confederate authorities quickly disbanded the unit before Northern soldiers occupied the port. Union General Benjamin F. Butler took control of the city in May. Attempting to gain political favor with Republican officials, Butler mustered the African Americans, including many runaway slaves, into the Union army in September 1862, several months before the Emancipation Proclamation would officially sanction the enlistment of black soldiers. They were formed into three regiments, designated the First, Second, and Third Louisiana Native Guard Infantry. In May 1863 the regiments fought at the battle of Port Hudson, a Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. Although they fought bravely, the attack was repelled by the Confederate defenders and the Union commander placed the fort under siege. Nevertheless the Louisiana Native Guards became the first black regiment to fight in a major Civil War engagement. Afterward, like so many other African American regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards were relegated to rear echelon details.

Source: James G. Hollandsworth, The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995).


Dudley Taylor Cornish, The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1987);

Shelby Foote, The Civil War, a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian (New York: Random House, 1963);

Mark E. Neely Jr., Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

About this article

Military mobilization

All Sources -
Updated Aug 08 2016 About content Print Topic